recapture your story

I’m writing from the twin cities in Minnesota. John Perkins’ annual Christian Community Development Association (CCDA) conference is happening here in downtown Minneapolis. A bonus is that I get to visit one of my co-bloggers, Pamela, who resides in this beautiful chilly neck of the woods.

The first night’s plenary speaker was the remarkable Richard Twiss, a Rosebud Lakota/Sioux reservation, South Dakota Native American. Wearing his hair in two long braids and dressed in his cultural apparel Twiss admonished us to recapture our true stories because our stories matter. In that context he proceeded to challenge the grand American meta-narrative of conquest, superiority, and imperialism. These are stories we tell ourselves about ourselves and they are problematic and sometimes simply wrong. If we believe that American lives are more valuable than other lives it becomes easy to justify violence against those others. I was most struck when Twiss said he was invited to take part in a panel where he and the other panelists were asked if it was possible to imagine a different response to the 911 attacks on the U.S. in 2001. His answer to the question was no, the U.S. could only respond as it did because of the stories the U.S. has told itself about itself, stories of American chosen-ness and exceptionalism. How dare anybody attack the United States of America.

This led me to thinking about our Christian narratives, and how even those stories have been interpreted and framed in a language of chosen-ness, us vs. them, and other exclusive and narrow lens. Even expressions of Christian faith that don’t line up with some interpretations are called into question. I still have students who refuse to believe or accept that Catholics are also Christians. Many Christians I know have elected to go to war to kill real and perceived enemies of America, simultaneously interpreted as enemies of God. Dangerous narrative.

Stories matter. They define and shape identity and purpose. Stories explain who matters, and who doesn’t, what matters and what doesn’t. Stories tell us how to respond. Many of us latch on to stories that aren’t our own and stories that may even be detrimental to us, but we believe and accept them without scrutiny.

Twiss said that many of us probably didn’t give a “rat’s patootie” about Native people because of where they fit or didn’t fit within the grand American narrative. We have written them off, after their land was stolen, they were drugged, enslaved, murdered, sent to boarding schools to extinguish their culture and their stories, and then pushed to the borders and piled on reservations to be fed versions of Christianity that would keep them in bondage to white men. Oh yea, that’s a story too, one this country tries to forget or rewrite. Twiss says theology must be rescued from the cowboys and the stories must be retold from a Native perspective through a Native lens. What’s your story? Does it need recapturing?

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About Calenthia Dowdy

Calenthia Dowdy (PhD, American University) is a cultural anthropologist and youth ministry educator who focuses on urban youth and culture in the U.S. and Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. Alongside teaching, speaking and writing on youth, cities, race, gender, and faith, she serves as the director of faith initiatives at a comprehensive community health center that specializes in HIV/AIDS care