Living in the Tension: Columbus Day, Native Americans and a non-innocent history

Given all the Columbus Day posts I’ve been seeing in my friend circle, I figured I should resurrect this one from an earlier version of my blog. At this point, I was in my final year of seminary and regularly having my mind blown by various things. Justo González’s work was one of those things, and when Columbus day came around I posted this.

Last quarter I read Justo González’s Manana, and in it he talked about an idea that I haven’t been able to get out of my mind since, the idea of a non-innocent history.

As a society (possibly as Western society, but I suspect elsewhere as well) we want to see our history as innocent. That our ancestors who struggled, fought and died, struggled against evil, fought for justice and died in a noble sacrifice. History is written by the winners, and we want to believe that the good guys won. We want our history to be innocent. But history is rarely innocent, and Columbus is a particularly powerful example of that for those of us who grew up in the “New World”.

In 1492, the legend goes, Columbus bravely set out from Spain, to do what had never been done before. He set out to defy commonly held beliefs about Sea Monsters and the flatness of the world and sail west to India. Christopher Columbus had reason on his side, and traveling further than anybody had traveled before, he discovered the resource-rich lands of Caribbean Islands, and the American continents. We learn this legend in schools, we learn that we owe what we are today to Columbus’ bravery, ingenuity, and drive to explore. It’s a good history, an innocent one, but it doesn’t stay that way for long.

We learn that the continent wasn’t “discovered”, but that were several civilizations that had lived here for thousands of years before Columbus’ arrival. We learn that these explorers delivered smallpox infested blankets that decimated these civilizations with disease. We learn that the new European settlers tried to enslave those who were already here, that they stole, or took land by force, desecrated that which the pre-existing nations considered sacred, and imported countless numbers of human slaves to these continents like herds of cattle. Our history is no longer innocent, but blood-stained.

So what do we do with this history? There are two responses that are common and, in my opinion, flawed. The first response is to ignore it. It’s in poor taste to mention those who may have suffered, and whatever evil might have been done. If this is our history, then it must be told innocently. The second response is to reject it. This history is corrupt, it is evil, and therefore I will only speak of it to condemn it, and I condemn it often. There is no good here. I believe that the ignore response and the reject response are flawed because they both stem from the same desire, the desire to see ourselves as innocent. We are connected to our history, so we believe that if we can either whitewash that history so that the history is innocent, we will be too. Or if we loudly and strongly condemn the history that is non-innocent, we can separate ourselves from it and maybe even atone for it, making ourselves innocent once again. The problem is that neither of these change the past, and like the prophet Isaiah, we find that we remain non-innocent persons, living amongst a non-innocent people.

Ultimately, I believe that, we can’t create our innocence through our own effort. We must admit our non-innocence and seek grace, not the sort of grace that says “it does not matter”, but the type of grace that looks hard at what has taken place and in spite of that, gives us a second chance, a chance to get it right.

I’d like to introduce my [adjective] wife

Today, my wife and I watched the 2013 United States Presidential Inauguration, and we noticed how much time was given to talking about what Mrs. Obama and their two daughters were wearing, as well as what Mrs. Biden was wearing, yet they didn’t spend any time talking about what the President or Vice President were wearing. It reminds me of how much we communicate that a woman’s value is in her appearance. This post was originally published in August 2011

You may have noticed that I haven’t been posting much recently. There’s a very good reason for that. I’ve been getting married! You may have also noticed the blog name change as well. If you haven’t, the blog title is currently Richard Matson-Daley instead of Richard L. Daley. Getting married has brought into the practical world many of the things that were simply theoretical beliefs (like what I’ve believed about the significance of names). This is one of those things.

You’ve probably heard the standard introduction from speakers, pastors and others that goes like “I’d like to introduce my beautiful wife…”. It’s pretty ubiquitous, and (at least in my case) very true. My wife is beautiful. Stunning in fact, and I have no problem saying so. Unfortunately, the ubiquity is what makes that statement problematic.

Recently I happened upon a blog post that led to an article that points out the same thing, that when we meet little girls (like younger than 10) we often compliment them on their appearance. We tell them that they are wearing a really pretty dress, that their hair is beautiful, or simply that they are really cute. And when that is consistently the first thing, and often the only thing we compliment them on, we teach them that the thing that is most important is how they look.

Obviously, little girls are more than that. And I don’t think that anyone who compliments a six-year-old girl on the ribbons in her hair thinks that those ribbons form the entirety of their character. But the ubiquity and primacy of these compliments perpetuate the idea that beauty is a prerequisite for worth, if you are a girl. And if nothing else is said, it implies that beauty is the entirety of a girl’s worth.

And the truth is, beauty isn’t why I’m married. I’m married because my wife is brilliant, she graduated from seminary this year with an almost perfect GPA. I’m married because my wife is caring, she cares about individuals, communities and the world. She works really hard at all she does, and gets an amazing amount done. And there’s a host of other reasons, not just because of her looks. And while I could introduce her as my beautiful wife, she is so much more than that.

So I’d like to introduce you to my brilliant, caring, hard working, capable, godly wife Katie Matson-Daley. Oh, and she happens to be beautiful too.

On Being Wrong

Here’s another post from the previous version of my blog. As I watch some of the election votes come in. I think it’s important to revisit it.

This one’s a little old, but here is a very good talk by Kathryn Schulz on being wrong. Here are two of my favorite lines from this talk

The miracle of your mind isn’t that you can see the world as it is. It’s that you can see the world as it isn’t.

Because, unlike God, we don’t really know what’s going on out there. And unlike all of the other animals, we are obsessed with trying to figure it out.

Take a moment to check out the video below.

The part that I found most insightful, and what I want to blog about today, is the part where Schulz talks about how we react to someone who believes differently from us. Someone who we believe is wrong.

I hope you’ve watched the video already, but in case you haven’t here are the reactions she outlines.

  1. First we think they are misinformed (and as soon as we provide them with the relevant data they will see the light) and when that proves to be untrue,
  2.  we think they are idiots (We’ve shown them the presence of 2+2 and somehow they are coming up with 5) and if somehow we convince ourselves of their intelligence then
  3. we think that they are malevolent, deliberately distorting the facts for their own material or immaterial benefit.

I think she’s right about these reactions. I’ve gone through them myself and I’m going to bet that you have as well. Schulz points out that by sticking to this script we miss the chance to correct mistakes.Read the script closely and you’ll find that it’s all about preserving your own rightness, and thus your own status and your own worth at the expense of the person who disagrees. Embedded in the script is a fantasy of our infallibility, a denial of our own finiteness that we work so hard to preserve that we would deny the value of the other person in order to maintain that illusion.

Earlier this year, I was introduced to the term fundamentalist relational process in the book Becoming Whole and Holy. This term is unconnected to Fundamentalism as a religious movement but instead is a sociological term that describes a family, community or other system that only tolerates a single narrative, or a single truth. Should someone have a point of view that differs from that narrative, that person risks expulsion from the group. The worldview of that family, community, organization or group takes precedence over the relationships between the members of the group. This worldview can be political, philosophical, religious or in any other area, but it is the one place where there can be no compromise, it is the one line across which there can be no love.

I see in these three steps the possibility for fundamentalist processes. When those who believe differently from us even after seeing the same evidence are stupid or malicious, we are a hairs-breadth from saying that this person is unworthy of our love. We are a hairs-breadth away from saying “Thank God I’m not like one of those people.

We are not God. We don’t know all that’s going on out there. Yes there are those who hold to powerful and dangerous incorrect beliefs, and we share with them the same ability to hold powerful and dangerous incorrect beliefs. Thus, if there is nothing else that we can hold in common with those with whom we disagree, we are bound by our common fallibility. That alone should give us pause before we condemn them.