Tuesday, July 28th Psalm 139:1-10

“O LORD, you have searched me and known me. You know when I sit down and when I rise up; you discern my thoughts from far away. You search out my path and my lying down, and are acquainted with all my ways. Even before a word is on my tongue, O LORD, you know it completely. You hem me in, behind and before, and lay your hand upon me. Such knowledge is too wonderful for me; it is so high that I cannot attain it. Where can I go from your spirit? Or where can I flee from your presence? If I ascend to heaven, you are there; if I make my bed in Sheol, you are there. If I take the wings of the morning and settle at the farthest limits of the sea, even there your hand shall lead me, and your right hand shall hold me fast.” Psalm 139:1-10

I have some relatives who are fond of making mission trips to southeast Asia. I have mixed feelings about that. On the one hand, I’m all for the gift they are receiving in expanding their sense of the world and the renewed appreciation that experience brings. I’m all for reaching out and establishing relationships that cross boundaries of space, language and culture. But on the other hand, there is something a little stinky to me about the idea of “bringing God to the godless.”

Throughout history, stories abound about the Christian missionaries who traveled with the troops as people “discovered” new lands and new peoples. We now realize as we revisit those stories that “bringing God to the godless” was hardly the point of the journey. Bringing gold back home to Spain, bringing glory to the empire, bringing miners to the hills, bringing settlers to the land – these were the drivers. If anything, the Church was there to grease the wheels, to offer justification for very ungodly practices, and to make sure that the Church got a piece of the action as well.

The college I attended had a dormitory named after Bishop Henry Whipple, the first Episcopalian bishop in Minnesota. His experience as a pastor and missionary was indicative of what happens so often when we seek to carry the faith to new places. He traveled with a certain unconscious arrogance – he had news to carry that the Sioux and other people needed to hear. But as he came to know those he was sent to serve he began to understand that God was already there. Though not naming “Jesus”, the Sioux clearly had a deep spirituality that recognized God’s presence in everything, that saw life and all that life encompasses as a gift from God, and that led to a communal life with codes of honor and exemplary mutual caring.

But he also saw the exploitation, the corruption, the graft and the heartlessness of the men tasked with overseeing the “treaties” which the Native Americans had been forced to accept. Bishop Whipple spoke up on their behalf, reaching all the way to President Lincoln in 1862 with a plea for more honest and capable men to serve. And yet even there, what the bishop was after was a more honest and humane means of upholding the status quo – of removing the Native Americans from their home to make way for the white settlers – rather than interceding to stop the territorial expansion.

Later, that same bishop was among those who went to what is now South Dakota with the final (and successful if you want to think of it that way) attempt to remove all the Native Americans from the Black Hills, their holy land, and herd them into reservations on the most useless and desolate land in the state. His intercessions for fair and just treatment were ignored. And the Church, rather than being the source of health, healing and harmony that God intends, became yet another extension of white arrogance, greed and oppression.

Failing to see God “already there”, the Church imposed a “god” without ears, without hands, and without a heart.

Let us pray: Gracious Lord, help us see beyond the veil of our prejudices and fears. Help us see you present in places, among people, where we often are unprepared to look. Help us learn the lessons of our past, that we might more faithfully represent you in the world as people of love, justice and service. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

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One Response to “Tuesday, July 28th Psalm 139:1-10”

  1. Daryl Dense Says:

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