Tag Archives: stigma

History

“The last chapter in any successful genocide is the one in which the oppressor can remove their hands and say, ‘My God, what are these people doing to themselves? They’re killing each other. They’re killing themselves while we watch them die.”

If you have not yet watched Aaron Huey’s TED talk, “America’s native prisoners of war,” you should probably do that before reading this post.

The quote above, taken from Huey’s speech, has taught me so much about loss, abandonment, and the legacy of systemic oppression. His description of the Native American experience describes so well the power of stigma and blame: “You are the savage,” says stigma, “you did this to yourself.” It’s the same way much of America still views inner-city neighborhoods that were abandoned by the middle class decades ago. It’s the sort of condescending lens through which the exploiter will always view the exploited. The effect can be seen in West Virginia and Louisiana, oil-rich Nigeria, and even Wounded Knee, South Dakota: #4 on Wikipedia’s List of the four poorest places in the United States. Still.

Huey continues to explain his perspective on European settlement throughout American history. “This is how we came to own these united states.” He says, “This is the legacy of Manifest Destiny. Prisoners are still born into prisoner-of-war camps long after the guards are gone. These are the bones left after the best meat has been taken.”

People are trapped by the past, he says, they cannot escape because their identity has been crushed. They cannot escape. And where would they go? While federally recognized Americans inhabit much of the fertile soil on this continent, there are still Native Americans living in the desserts, the outskirts, the badlands of our nation. He earlier describes the word Wasi’chu (lit. “taking the fat) as the word used to describe white people. This is a derogatory word, but it is not negative in a sense because it is directed at the exploiter, the “one who takes the best meat.” And so this nation continues to stretch its influence across this land, one settlement at a time.

I suppose my charge is simple: remember the past to have a context for the present. And don’t just remember Gone with the Wind; remember the stories that haven’t been packaged and sold to you. And “Give back the Black Hills,” says Huwy, “It’s not your business what they do with them.” In other words, when there is reason to believe that wrong has been done, the best time to work through the past is now.

Haunted Houses

Yesterday, I published a post titled, “The Memories That Haunt the Mind,” and today all I can think about is “haunted houses.” I see now that in many ways we are vessels of the past, old houses carrying memories of ghosts into the future. We are haunted houses.

I know this is a bit of a stretch, but I am, after all, a spatial thinker. It usually helps me to understand concepts if I can map them out in three dimensions. So when I encounter descriptions of places, I often read them as metaphors for life. Perhaps that is even the foundational process of this blog, but I digress. This morning as I read through Isaiah 64, I was struck by the language of lament for lost places. Babylon has invaded and destroyed all that was loved in Jerusalem and her people are mourning the loss. Verses 10 and 11 read,

“Your holy cities have become a wilderness; Zion has become a wilderness, Jerusalem a desolation. Our holy and beautiful house, where our fathers praised you, has been burned by fire, and all our pleasant places have become ruins.”
 

I feel in these verses such a nostalgia for places as they once were: the idealized past. This nostalgia also points to the attitude of the refuge struggling to find meaning in a foreign land. Of course, there is certainly the desperation of a prophet in exile: crying out to a God to which he has committed his life’s work. But most of all, as I moved through this passage, I sensed the sadness and defeat of desecration. At the time, the Jewish people believed that God actually dwelled in these places that were endowed with a holy purpose. The tabernacle and later the temple in Jerusalem. This place was everything. Losing the city and the temple was likely more devastating than anyone could have imagined.

I was most profoundly struck by one phrase:

Our holy and beautiful house.”

Just stop for a moment and think about the attitude of these words. “There was once a perfect place,” they seem to say, “and we have lost it.”

Then my mind began to wander through some old thoughts about Christianity. I began to think about how the death and resurrection of Christ was supposed to have replaced the need for physical places of worship. When Jesus died on the cross, it is said that the curtain in the temple was torn from top to bottom. The centralized era of this faith had come to an end.

Now, we believe that the human body itself is indwelled by the spirit of the Lord.  In I Corinthians 6:19-20 it states, “Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God?  You are not your own; you were bought at a price.  Therefore honor God with your body.” Additionally, Matthew 19:20 reads, “For where two or three gather in my name, there am I with them.” Thus, we collectively constitute the holy places of worship in this decentralized era of the Christian faith. Forget the buildings, we are the church.

And then it hit me: everything in this passage in Isaiah can be read as a description of people’s lives on earth. I am the temple. Human civilization is the city. We are the “holy and beautiful house.” And we have been defiled. Created with a purpose, we have been invaded and torn down.

We have lost our dignity, hope, joy, confidence, heritage, tradition. Foundations have cracked. Collectively, we are Zion: struggling, wandering people far from each other, far from home.

And I immediately began to embrace this idea of desecration in myself, my family, my friends, my students, my community, my country. Every day I see people engaging the weight of life. They fight, they embrace, they give up. Every day. We may not fully comprehend our personal shame. Perhaps we don’t think that we were created for any sort of higher purpose. Perhaps we don’t think we have been desecrated. But as I continue to engage the darker side of life I see that we have a deep need to be restored to each other.

We need to painfully return and embrace ourselves: chaos and all.

We need to walk the halls of this haunted house, to run our hands over dusty railings, to notice what has been broken, and perhaps to even find that our fears were unfounded. Haunted houses, after all, are just houses with a stigma. But as the stigma pervades, the house deteriorates. The structure fulfills the prophecy of the stigma … and the cycle continues.

So my thought for today is this: Seek restoration or you may begin to believe the lies that you have been told about yourself. Your life may then follow the lies and become their conclusion. Restoration is not a quick process — it may take a lifetime — but I feel that it is the only proper response. As Dallas Willard writes in The Spirit of the Disciplines, “The very substance of our bodies is shaped by our actions, as well as by grace, into pathways of good and evil.” The spiritual disciplines, Willard would say, are the daily habits which continually align our lives to our purpose.

I don’t have answers (see the Rilke quote at the end of my previous post for my opinion on answers), but as I continue to engage my questions, I continue to find that we often have more need for healing than we desire to admit. I am a prime example of this.

At this point, I am thankful for where I am in the context of where I could be. Now, I continue to hope and pray for continual restoration in myself and in others.

That is all.