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Living with the Land

Christianity and Empire

Living with the Land
Wednesday, October 20, 2021

In the West, most Christians have been shaped by culture and faith into a paradigm that normalizes acquisition, at great cost to others, ourselves, and the land itself. As Richard puts it, “Perhaps the primary example of our lack of attention to the Christ Mystery can be seen in the way we continue to pollute and ravage planet Earth, the very thing we all stand on and live from.” Theologian, scholar, and Cherokee descendant Randy Woodley describes the difference between the attitude of early North American settlers and the Indigenous people who were already present on the land. He writes:

The very land itself meant something quite different to the newcomer than it did to the host people. Something was missing. The difficulty, as the Natives saw it, was with the settlers themselves and their failure to tread lightly, with humility and respect, on the land. The settlers wanted to live on the land, but the host people lived with the land. Living on the land means objectifying the land and natural resources and being shortsighted concerning the future. Living with the land means respecting the natural balance.

To Indigenous peoples, the problems of a Western worldview are obvious. The way of life demonstrated by Western peoples leads to alienation from the Earth, from others, and from all of creation. This lifestyle creates a false bubble called “Western civilization,” which people in the West think will protect them from future calamity. This false hope is detached from all experience and reality.

The problem is that the Western system itself is what brings the calamity. There is little doubt that much of what we are experiencing today as so-called natural disasters have their origin in human carelessness.

How do we avoid the impending disaster brought on by a settler lifestyle of living on the land and against nature? The answer is simple: we learn to live with nature. [1]

In 1990, Indigenous leaders spoke at a global conference on the environment, and provided a hopeful vision for the future:

We have jeopardized the future of our coming generation with our greed and lust for power. The warnings are clear and time is now a factor. . . . We speak of our children, yet we savage the spawning beds of the salmon and herring, and kill the whale in his home. We advance through the forests of the earth felling our rooted brothers indiscriminately, leaving no seeds for the future. We exploit the land and resources of the poor and indigenous peoples of the world. We have become giants, giants of destruction. . . . We must return to the spiritual values that are the foundation of life. We must love and respect all living things, have compassion for the poor and the sick, respect and understanding for women and female life on this earth who bear the sacred gift of life. We must return to the prayers, ceremonies, meditations, rituals, and celebrations of thanksgiving which link us with the spiritual powers that sustain us and, by example, teach our children to respect. [2]

References:
[1] Randy Woodley, Becoming Rooted: One Hundred Days of Reconnecting with Sacred Earth (Broadleaf Books: 2022), 101–102. Book available on January 4, 2022.

[2] “Statement of Indigenous Delegates to the Global Forum on Environment and Development for Survival,” forum paper (Moscow, January 15–19, 1999), in Coming Full Circle: Constructing Native Christian Theology, ed. Steven Charleston and Elaine A. Robinson (Fortress Press: 2015), 68.

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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