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Reflections from the Hogan – Mark Charles

It has been a while since I have posted anything on my blog, but this was too important to miss passing on to others. I have known Mark Charles for over a year now, spent time with him and his family at Fort Defiance on the Navajo Reservation, and at a gathering he led in Washington DC.

This is good, strong medicine. Take as needed for religious dysplasia. –Terry M. Wildman

Without Exception

By Mark Charles (Navajo)


Wireless Hogan

The other day I observed a Twitter exchange between Pope Francis and Miroslav Volf.

Pope Francis (‏@Pontifex) Tweeted:
“God does not reveal himself in strength or power, but in the weakness and fragility of a newborn babe.”

To which Miroslav Volf (‏@MiroslavVolf) replied:
“@Pontifex How true! And yet the babe grew and taught with power and authority, and the crucified one was raised from the dead in glory.”

Since moving to the Navajo reservation more than a decade ago I have done much thinking, studying, praying and reflecting on the dynamics between power and authority. And God has given me a few insights over the years. So when I read these tweets I had an instant desire to jump in and be a part of the discussion. But there was a problem. Pope Francis is the leader of the Catholic Church with over 1 billion members worldwide. And he has 11 million Twitter followers (between his various accounts in 9 different languages). Miroslav Volf is a national, even global, voice in his own right. He heads the Center for Faith and Culture at Yale University and is described as a Croatian Protestant theologian and public intellectual who is often recognized as “one of the most celebrated theologians of our day.” And he has 11 thousand twitter followers.

And then there is me, Mark Charles. I do not lead any organization nor do I work solely for a specific group, ministry or church. I am merely the son of an American woman (of Dutch heritage) and a Navajo man, who is living on our Navajo Reservation and trying to understand the complexities of our countries history regarding race, culture and faith so that I can help forge a path of healing and reconciliation for our people. And I have a grand total of 710 twitter followers (@wirelesshogan).

In terms of power, platform and voice, Pope Francis is Goliath, Miraslov Volf is David, and I am Jesse’s long lost nephew, the youngest son of his step-sister’s fourth cousin. On a power scale, I have no place in this discussion. And even if I were to tweet something in response to Pope Francis or Miraslov Volf, the worldly chances of actually being heard by either of them are almost non-existent.

But to me, that is the beauty of Pope Francis’ tweet. God’s rules are different than the world’s rules. God does not use the mighty things of this world to proclaim his glory, but the weak, the forgotten, and the over-looked. And that is the hope which I both hold onto, and preach to our Native peoples and communities throughout the country. For living on the reservation is very lonely. Our nations and peoples have been pushed aside to scraps of land that are largely unwanted and out of the way. As a result, a majority of the country is unaware that Native communities actually exist. And of the few who are aware, those who do come to visit us are either giving us charity or taking pictures at the “Native American Zoo,” and then quickly leaving before any real relationship can be built.

And so, after many years of living in solidarity with my people, studying the scriptures, and looking closely at the model of Jesus, I can wholeheartedly agree that, as a rule, “God does not reveal himself in strength or power, but in the weakness and fragility of a newborn babe.”

But, Miroslav Volf is also, mostly, correct when he says “The babe grew and taught with power and authority, and the crucified one was raised from the dead in glory.” Yes, Jesus did teach with authority and yes, he did rise from the dead, in glory, three days later. But the overemphasis that Dr. Volf places on power, making it a method equal, in the ministry of Jesus, to authority, I believe is inaccurate.

Power is the ability to act. Authority is the right of jurisdiction (the permission to act).

In the Gospel of Mark, Jesus comes onto the scene quickly. Already in Chapter 1 he is amazing people for “he taught them as one who had authority, not as the teachers of the law.” But he doesn’t stop there. Just a few moments later, while in the same synagogue, he is confronted by a man with an unclean spirit. Unfazed, he speaks sternly to the spirit telling it to “Be quiet!” and “Come out of him!” The spirit responded by violently convulsing the man and coming out of him with a shriek. And then we are told, “The people were all so amazed, that they asked each other, ‘What is this? A new teaching and with authority! He even gives orders to evil spirits and they obey him.'” (Mark 1:22-27)

Sometime later, Jesus was crossing the lake with his disciples. He was tired, so he took a nap in the back of the boat. A furious wind storm came up and waves began breaking over the boat. The disciples woke Jesus up and asked him “Don’t you care if we drown?” Now that line is frequently misinterpreted as the disciples crying out in fear for Jesus to rescue them. But I do not see evidence of that. I think they were mad. Several of them were experienced fishermen. They spent much time on the water and had undoubtedly experienced situations like this before. This storm was dire enough to warrant an “all hands on deck!” The boat was taking on water. This was not a time for sleeping, no matter who you were! I don’t think the disciples had any other expectation of Jesus than for him to wake up, grab a bucket, and help them bail water out of the boat. This is evidenced by their reaction to what Jesus actually did. For he didn’t grab a bucket, but instead he stood up, rebuked the wind and said to the waves “Be still!” And nature listened. The storm died down and it was completely still. Only then are we told that the disciples were terrified, and asked each other, “Who is this? Even the wind and the waves obey him!” (Mark 4)

Throughout his ministry, Jesus continually demonstrated that his words and actions were not demonstrations of his power, but an exercising of his authority. And this quite literally freaked people out. For he did not talk like someone who studied the scriptures; he spoke like someone who wrote them. He did not cringe when confronted by the blowfish tactics of the demons. Because he knew, that they knew, that they were submissive to him. Nor was he fearful of the destructive power of nature, because he was there when his Father spoke all of creation into existence.

For power to be effective it must be demonstrated. Authority is inherent and requires no demonstration.

If you were a guest at the wedding at Cana, you went home, not amazed with Jesus’ power to turn water into wine, but instead with the incredible extravagance of the hosts of the party, for they saved their finest wine and served it last. (John 2)

If you were one of the professional mourners outside of Jairus’ house, you went home that evening, not amazed at Jesus’ ability to raise a girl from the dead, but instead ashamed at your own stupidity, for you could even tell the difference between a dead girl and a sleeping one. (Mark 5)

Throughout the Gospels, Jesus was confronted with the temptation to demonstrate his power. Satan tempted him. The scribes and Pharisees tempted him. The people tempted him. Even his own disciples tempted him. But again and again Jesus declined, sometimes forcefully with a rebuke, and other times quietly by simply walking away. He did not need to prove himself to anyone. He knew he was the Son of God and his identity did not need validation from the world.

But it cannot be denied that Jesus did some pretty spectacular things and that God showed His pleasure and His approval in some very powerful ways. After all, Jesus’ birth was announced by a host of heavenly angles. Yes, they were singing to shepherds, but nevertheless, very powerful. And how about the rising from the dead? The curtain ripping? The dead being raised? The earthquakes? And the mid-day darkness? All incredibly powerful displays.

So why am I writing this post? Aren’t they both right? Has not the truth been proclaimed to both the 11 million and the 11 thousand followers on Twitter? Does clarification really need to be made to yet another measly 710 Twitter users. Yes! I believe it does. Because I have seen exchanges like this numerous times before from my powerless position here on the Navajo Reservation. I have seen the uncomfortable truths of God’s character and His call immediately explained away with the quick pointing out of a few exceptions to the rules. This happens so frequently that I fear we may have forgotten what some of the rules actually are.

God chooses the foolish, weaker, lowly, despised things of this world – and the things that are not – to nullify the things that are, so that no one may boast before him. (1 Corinthians 1:27-30). These are God’s rules.

The weaker, second-born son, Jacob is the rule.
The slave, become prisoner, Joseph is the rule.
The prostitute, Rahab, is the rule.
The foreigner, Ruth, is the rule.
The shepherd boy named David is the rule.
The fisherman, Peter, is the rule.
And the babe, wrapped in cloth, and born in a barn is the rule.

The highly-educated Pharisee named Saul is the exception.

The rich, young ruler, walking away from Jesus, is the rule.

And the camel, named Zacchaeus, going through the eye of the needle is the incredibly rare exception.

As American Christians, these rules make us uncomfortable. For we live and follow Jesus in the wealthiest, most militarily powerful nation in the history of the world. And even though the founding fathers read the Bible and prayed to God, our nation has an incredibly dark and unjust history. Yet many still fancy the United States, and the American church, as the new Israel, with this continent being our “promised land” over which we have a manifest destiny. And so we cannot even begin to imagine that we just might, instead, be one of the other empires in the Biblical narrative, on the receiving side of God’s anger.

This is because we have taken the exceptions and made them our rules. And so when we hear the rules, because we do not align with them, we must quickly point out the exceptions. For the exceptions are what explains our existence and what justifies both our actions and our in-actions.

Pope Francis articulated the rule.

And Miroslav Volf quickly countered with an exception.

I do not know why he did it, nor can I judge what was in his heart. If he had said it in a lecture, I would have raised my hand. If he preached it in a sermon I would have approached him during the coffee time. However, he tweeted, so I was compelled to respond through my blog. Because for the past 500 years my people have experienced the fruit of a nation and a church which arrogantly proclaim that they are the exception: the Doctrine of Discovery, the forced assimilation, the boarding schools, the marginalization, the empty charity, the flaunting of wealth, and the refusal to reconcile. And while I do not deny that God is at work and has accomplished much good through both the United States and the American church, I feel the need to exhort us to be silent and allow God’s prophets to speak and remind us of His rules. No matter how uncomfortable they may make us feel.

“God does not reveal himself in strength or power, but in the weakness and fragility of a newborn babe.”

Thank you, Pope Francis. Please pray with us, the church in America, that we may aspire to follow the example of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ:

“Who, being in the very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself and became obedient to death – even death on a cross.” (Philippians 2:6-8)

For what Jesus modeled so plainly is very unsettling. That the glory of the Father is revealed by following His rules, without exception.

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Posted by on January 8, 2014 in Author's Updates


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Out of Respect, Apology Not Accepted

Mark Charles, Navajo

Mark Charles, Navajo

On December 19, 2009 the United States apologized to its Native Peoples—but no one heard it.

Over three hundred million US citizens were apologized for, and don’t even know it.

Nearly five million Native Americans were apologized to, yet only a handful are aware of it.

December 19, 2012 marked the third anniversary of an an “Apology to Native Peoples of the United States” signed by President Obama on December 19, 2009. Among the ironies of this apology, is the fact that it was burried in the US Department of Defense Appropriations Act, H.R. 3326; and the fact that it was never announced, publicized or read publicly by either the White House or the 111th Congress.

On this third anniversary I (Terry Wildman) had the privilege, along with a diverse group of citizens, of participating in a public reading of this apology in front of the US Capitol in Washington DC.

This event was hosted by Mark Charles who lives on the Navajo Indian Reservation in Ft. Defiance Arizona, the son of an American woman of Dutch heritage and a Navajo man. He is a speaker, writer, and consultant, who has been on a journey seeking to understand the complexities of our country’s history regarding race, culture, and faith in order to help forge a path of healing and reconciliation for the Nation.

During the gathering he stated, “Reconciliation is never easy, which is why it probably doesn’t happen very much. Reconciliation is not an event encapsulated in a moment of time, its not something you can check off your to-do list; reconciliation starts with a conversation and it ends with a relationship restored.”

“Everybody at some point” he added, “understands the value of a sincere and well timed apology.”

He explained the reason for this gathering, “I felt like every Native person deserved two things, they deserved to know that this apology existed, and they deserved to hear it read from the seat of power of our country.”

I joined with several Native Americans as we read portions of the Defense Appropriations Bill to highlight the irony of such important words being burried in an unrelated document.

Then Mark read the apology, found in section 8113 on page 45, in English, followed in the Annishinabe language by Jim Thorpe, Ojibwe. Ben Stoner, a non-native who has lived among the Navajo for 40 years, read the apology section in the Navajo language.

After this Mark Charles said “I have deep respect for Governor Brownback who spent four years of his time in the Senate … working on this apology and trying to get … substantial language included into a bill that stood on its own, but he was unable to do it … attempt after attempt was turned back … and finally he did what I was told they used to do to get treaties passed … he inserted it into an appropriations bill because it was less likely someone would vote against it.”

All this added up to a conclusion by Mark Charles, “I take all of these things as evidence that our Country was not ready to apologize. An applogy should be sincere, it should be from your heart, and should include some act of repentance or commitment to change … I don’t think this apology does that.”

He then offered this request, spoken with humility and authority,  “Today as a Navajo man standing before you, I want to encourage our Native peoples, to not accept this apology. Not out of bitterness, not out of anger, not out of resentment. But out of respect for ourselves, out of respect for Governor Brownback, out of respect for President Obama, and out of respect for our Nation.

He finished with this thought, “Native peoples deserve a better apology than the one found in the 2010 Department of Defense Appropriations Act. And Governer Brownback and President Obama deserve the respect, to be given an opportunity to make another apology, one that is more sincere.”

After this and other relevant remarks Mark opened the microphone to others.

I took this opportunity to address the churches of America, the decendants of those believers who, through mission and church organizations, often cooperated with the Government in ways that oppressed Native Peoples. It was their often silent and sometimes verbal consent that emboldened the US Government in its ill conceived policies and practices.

How can we say we are reconciled to God if we haven’t done all that we can to reconcile with our Native Peoples?

Lets break with the past, enter into this conversation, and make a concerted effort to restore relationships.

After all, it is Jesus who said, “Blessed are the peacemakers for they shall be called the children of God” Matthew 5:9.

Shouldn’t his followers be leading the way?

It was an honor to stand with Mark Charles and help communicate this important message to our Native communities and to all the citizens of the United States. Miigwech Bizandowiyeg (thank you for listening).

Mark Charles: You can watch this entire event on YouTube CLICK HERE 

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Posted by on December 29, 2012 in Author's Updates


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