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Shifting Perspectives

“Throughout most of human history, people have lived as tribal groups in small villages in relatively isolated areas… A radical transformation of all human societies occurred when the European explorers discovered the Western Hemisphere… European languages replaced tribal languages in many lands, first French and then English became the tongue of the civilized world, of diplomacy and trade, and finally of the accepted expressions of civilized values.”  - Vine Deloria Jr.[1]

Language and culture is often taken for granted by the normative dominant society. European descended people have benefited from the privilege of the English language being widespread and characterized as globally powerful (even as I typed that sentence, my spelling autocorrected European and English to capital letters, signifying importance and power). 

Thanks to authors like Deloria Jr. and countless voices of Indigenous Peoples, we are learning the history, of how that Eurocentric view tried to erase the culture and language of the indigenous peoples of turtle island (interestingly, neither of those last terms were auto capitalized). But shifting our perspectives, even just a tiny bit, could cause our hearts and minds to stir and to be curious of other ideas, possibilities and peoples. 

Here are three examples I want us to consider:

1. If you type 1492 & Columbus into Google, you get things like Columbus discovered a new people, found a new world, etc. But, shifted to consider a new perspective, I have seen it written as… “In 1492, the Indigenous Peoples of the Americas discovered Christopher Columbus.” [2]

Now doesn’t that give us a moment of pause, to consider the historical account from someone else’s view and to wonder what that must have been like for Indigenous Peoples, what their reactions would have been and to remember them as hosts of this land. 

Take a couple moments to look around your room, out a window, reconnect with your physical reality and then bring your thoughts back to that new phrase.

2. The second shift I want to think about is from author, blogger and podcaster, Erin Davis. She takes a very simple, well known Christian phrase and turns it on its head in a beautiful way. You all know the song “Jesus loves me, this I know”… but Erin wants us to consider, “Jesus knows me, this I love.” [3]

Again, a simple shift but it changes the perspective so much. 

3. The final one to consider is a single verse from Psalm 91 where the Psalmist subtly asks us to consider another perspective of the almighty and wonderful God. 

Psalm 91:4 - He will cover you with his feathers,
    and under his wings you will find refuge;
    his faithfulness will be your shield and rampart.

Former director of the faith organization Citizens for Public Justice, Joe Gunn, recently said the following on a webinar when reflecting on the work of faith communities over the past couple of decades. We (people of faith) should not be afraid of change, we should be adventure guides; not museum curators. [4] I found this to be excellent advice in my consideration of listening, being open to others and shifting my own perspectives. But coming back full circle to Vine Deloria Jr. we get a word of important caution.

“Without such a search [examining the insights of many traditions], all societies will simply proceed to replace the pieces of the mosaic without discovering the meaning and process of change or the possible new patterns that can be emerging. Change in itself is not sufficient to determine the meaning of human existence, and if we have only change initiated by the governing class, we march in a parade of meaningless fads rather than participating in meaningful change.”[5]

As we go through our day and in the weeks to come, a challenge to us is try to not view our normative culture as an endless parade, but to consider how other ideas and peoples could enrich our view the world and our mysterious Creator.  I will end with the words of poet Layli Long Soldier … “Creator; help us step deeper in. We ask how we can love more. We seek to serve. We cherish these moments and these spaces, and we understand that God calls us in, once again, to communities of shaping, healing, molding and seeking.” Amen. [6] 

1. & 5. The Metaphysics of Modern Existence – Vine Deloria Jr. 
2. Common Prayer: A Liturgy for Ordinary Radicals – Shane Claiborne & Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove 
4. Zoom webinar - Kairos Gathering: 20 Years of Spirited Action for Justice – Joe Gunn
5. Whereas – Layli Long Soldier

Photo provided by the author.

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