As many of you have heard, Native activist and theologian Richard Twiss died suddenly last Saturday. Twiss was a powerful leader, a challenging theologian, a pastor at heart, and one of the best men I've ever met.
Others closer to Richard have reflected on his contributions to indigenous peoples and to the church. If you're not familiar with his life or work, you need to do some catch up—it's well worth your time.
I knew him, but only as a dot in his peripheral vision: first as a pimply college student introduced to him in passing at a Portland university; then as a face in the crowd during speeches and community workshops; later as a handshake and a few jokes at a conference coffee station; finally, as a name in his email inbox asking him to tell his story for Leadership's pastoral audience. Another email I sent (an hour before he collapsed in Washington, DC) asked for advice on how to connect pastors with their local Native communities in sensitive and empowering ways. I'm genuinely grieved that that message will never receive his reply.
Central to Richard's life and ministry was the drive to walk in the path of Jesus as a proud and faithful Native man. He challenged the institutional church with his bold and joyful worship of triune Creator through his traditional dances and ceremonies, and with his sharp theology that refused to allow the "cowboys" to co-opt the gospel. He had a vision of a Christ-sprung justice that joyfully drummed down racial barriers. He was bold in speaking the truth, often blending cultural confrontation with a dark, hilarious sense of humor that lightened a room while twitching the truth just a little deeper into our ribs.
But there is so much left to do. The global church, for all its strides forward, is crippled by ignorance, by remnants of colonial folly and oppression that cling to the gospel and poison its truth in the mouths of indigenous peoples on every continent. Richard was right—the gospel we preach is far too often that "the old is gone, all things must become white."
I'm just a white boy, a goofy "Q-tip" that alternates between forgetfulness of the oppressed around me, and the occasional spasm of white guilt. But in brief moments of clarity, I catch a vision of the church that Richard saw—one made whole by the blood of Jesus, standing free, strong, and humble. He saw us worshiping Creator in a din of diversity: a lovely cacophony of praise that drowned out even the loudest echoes of old sins and modern systemic evils. He saw the joy of a people made whole, living lightly on the land, dwelling in a harmony that trounced the American dream and all the attendant lies it brings with it into the Western church. He saw Christ, the incarnate one, reflected in the lives and prayers of his people of every tribe, tongue, and nation.
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