A question of citizenship, Part 2

Following on Part 1 — what then about this image of Mount Rushmore in the Black Hills of South Dakota, with four native chiefs superimposed above it?  The Lakota / Dakota tribes were violently removed from their land when the U.S. government decided it was time to break the treaties because gold had been found in them thar Black Hills.  But I wasn’t interested in belaboring the old massacres and injustices.  I was actually looking for something positive — a way to express an alternative to the American Dream version of the Bible expressed by the clergy at the recent presidential inauguration (and elsewhere too – no party politics at issue here).

The clergy praying in Washington spoke of “God’s will for America,” but their scripture verses were not actually about America at all.  In Canada, we sometimes (though less often) have the same kind of mistaken public religious references — for example, the Order of Canada medallions patriotically contain a New Testament quotation that says, “They long for a better country.”  The problem is that the rest of that Bible verse adds the phrase “– a heavenly one.”  Ironically, the quotation speaks of people who turned from a focus on the land of their birth or adoption in order to search for something of higher value and of a more inward nature, something called “the kingdom of God.”

So what image could I use to illustrate this ironic difference?  Well, I settled on a picture of Indian chiefs in the sky above the Black Hills monument.  I needed something that would hint at the notion of people trying to hold onto an outlook that is beyond their present situation and country but that is also not removed from worldly realities.  The native people of both the U.S. and Canada have some experience in this.  They were invaded and surrounded by a society to which they did not belong.  They tried to hold on to their own way of life and beliefs but the outside world had many soldiers and guns, as well as thousands of covetous gold-diggers and land-hungry settlers.  That crowding world understood little or nothing of their experience of life and did not hesitate to use any means necessary to push them aside.  They were forced to deal with the European world and to some extent to assimilate to it, even while hoping to keep their true identity as natives.

So here then was a parallel to the concept of the spiritual kingdom.  The disciples of Jesus, when he was telling them about this kingdom, were slow to get it.  At first their minds were looking (according to their religious tradition) to the physical land and its laws, and they kind of expected that their Master would somehow push back the Romans in order to establish himself and his disciples in positions of power in a restored Jewish homeland.  But they eventually came to grasp the notion of a spiritual citizenship, one that was not about national or ethnic politics.  They would have to learn to live as citizens of heaven while continuing to live within the Roman world.

This matter of “being in the world but not of it” is evidently a difficult one to handle but it is made more difficult when some religious leaders use spiritual references in order to promote that other society, thereby clouding the distinctive identity of each. Perhaps “kingdom people” and native people could learn to have more of an appreciation of each other’s dilemma, that is, of the challenge of living in one society, with its national dream and political interests, while holding at heart a passport (so to speak) of a different world with different outlook and priorities.

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