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Christianity and Empire
Christianity and Empire

The Shadowlands of Domination

Tuesday, October 19, 2021

Christianity and Empire

The Shadowlands of Domination
Tuesday, October 19, 2021

Facing Christianity’s entanglement with empire building means learning how to incorporate the “shadow side” of reality. This is necessary and yet exceedingly difficult to do, which is why Richard returns to the subject of the shadow so often:

Western civilization has failed to learn how to carry the shadow side of all things. Our success-driven culture scorns all failure, powerlessness, and any form of poverty. Yet Jesus begins his Sermon on the Mount by praising “the poor in spirit” (Matthew 5:3)! Just that should tell us how thoroughly we have missed the point of the Gospel. Instead, we developed a system involving winners and losers, which is not Jesus, who identified with the losers without hating the winners. What a recipe for transformation of culture! We avoid the very things that Jesus praises, and we try to project a strong, secure, successful image to ourselves and to others.

Because we did not teach our people how to carry the paschal mystery (the universal entanglement of life and death) that Jesus embodied, it is now coming back to haunt us. Many of us have little ability to carry our own shadow side, much less the shadow side of our church, group, nation, or period of history. But shadowlands are good and necessary teachers. They are not to be avoided, denied, fled, or explained away. They are not even to be forgiven too quickly. First, like Ezekiel the prophet, we must eat the scroll that is “lamentation, wailing, and moaning” (2:10) in our belly.

American Indian scholar George Tinker offers a clear view of the shadow side of the Western conquest of the Americas, particularly in the United States.

American Indians continue to suffer from the effects of conquest by european immigrants over the past five centuries—an ongoing and pervasive sense of community-wide post-traumatic stress disorder. We live with the ongoing stigma of defeated peoples who have endured genocide, the intentional dismantling of cultural values, forced confinement on less desirable lands called “reservations,” intentionally nurtured dependency on the federal government, and conversion by missionaries who imposed a new culture on us as readily as they preached the gospel. . . .

[Indian peoples] suspect that the greed that motivated the displacement of all indigenous peoples from their lands of spiritual rootedness is the same greed that threatens the destruction of the earth and the continued oppression of so many peoples and ultimately the destruction of our White relatives. Whether it is the stories the settlers tell or the theologies they develop to interpret those stories, something seems wrong to Indian people. But not only do Indians continue to tell the stories, sing the songs, speak the prayers, and perform the ceremonies that root themselves deeply in Mother Earth; they are actually audacious enough to think that their stories and their ways of reverencing creation will some day win over our White settler relatives and transform them. Optimism and enduring patience seem to run in the life blood of Native American peoples.

May justice, followed by genuine peace, flow out of our concern for one another and all creation. [1]

[1] George E. “Tink” Tinker, American Indian Liberation: A Theology of Sovereignty (Orbis Books: 2008), 42, 56.

Richard Rohr, The Wisdom Pattern: Order, Disorder, Reorder (Franciscan Media: 2020), 183, 185.

Story from Our Community:
What a joy to hear Father Richard clearly express what I have felt all my life (and often been mocked for). The well-being of this earth and its people are to be treasured and protected. The old saying “the rich get richer and the poor get poorer” will provoke more and more human misery and pain. Will we ever learn? I have experienced through Father Richard’s teachings a confirmation of my innermost feelings. Thank you. I no longer feel alone. —Deborah W.

Learn more about the Daily Meditations Editorial Team.

Image Credit: Barbara Holmes, Untitled 13 (detail), 2021, photograph, United States.
The creative team at CAC sent a single-use camera to Dr. B as part of an exploration into contemplative photography and she returned this wonderful photo.
Image Inspiration: Our state-sanctioned history celebrates explorers who chose separation, conquest, and domination. What if we chose differently and looked instead through our own “windshields” with humility, reverence, and awe for the diversity of God’s creation?
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