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Do you know your King?

2 Dec
Carrie and Chuck

Photo courtesy CPT-Indigenous Peoples Solidarity Team. November 2015. CPTer’s Carrie Peters and Charles Wright, along with CPTer Peter Haresnape (not pictured) accompanied and supported Haudenosaunee hunters who conducted a deer harvest in the land now known as Short Hills provincial park, in the face of protest and harassment. The team was part of a local coalition to support the hunters and honor the treaties.

Romans 13: 1-7

In November 2011, President Obama with then Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and National Security Advisor Tom Donilon began a publicity campaign describing how the United States would “pivot” towards Asia.  “After a decade in which we fought two wars that cost us dearly, in blood and treasure, the United States is turning our attention to the vast potential of the Asia Pacific region,” President Obama said while addressing the Australian parliament. Several years later Tom Donilon described the policy as “economic engagement” and “sustained attention to regional institutions and defense of international rules and norms.”

With the pivot emerged a secretly negotiated trade pact, known as the Trans-Pacific Partnership (“TPP”).  If passed, signatory countries will probably include the United States, Australia, Brunei, Canada, Chile, Japan, Malaysia, Mexico, New Zealand, Peru, Singapore, and Vietnam.

Although called a “free trade” agreement, the TPP is not solely about trade. Of the 29 draft chapters, only five deal with garden variety trade issues. The TPP is actually a grave threat to the planet because it undermines climate change measures and authorizes de-regulation of mining, land use, and bio-technology.  Alarmingly, the TPP intellectual property chapter also provides international legal protections for corporate patents on plant and animal life, granting companies ownership and sole access to all of creation.

We only know about TPP’s implications because of ‘unauthorized’ leaks – we, the public, are not permitted to see the text. Even members of Congress, after being denied access to the text for years, are now only provided limited, specified sections. Incredibly, more than 500 official corporate “trade advisors” have special access to the entire document.

The TPP has been under negotiation for six years.  The Obama administration, now with an appeal to patriotism, wants the deal signed in the coming year. Opposition to the TPP is growing in the U.S. and throughout the world.

While most of the U.S. coverage about the TPP analyzes overall implications for ‘every day working Americans,’ with a dash of environmental vignettes, another significant aspect needs to be addressed and highlighted: TPP’s detrimental impact on First Peoples and indigenous communities located within each nation state.

I wonder if St. Paul would really sneer, saying the organized opposition is resisting what God has appointed. Some may say people of ‘good conduct’ can resort to international law, or rules, with appropriate tribunal authorities to seek remedies and protections.

Putting aside the known problematic provisions within the TPP regarding dispute tribunals, international law is the ‘go-to’ for everyone it seems, regardless of cloth, from Christian Peacemaker Teams to multinational ‘think-tanks’.  International law is a body of generally accepted legal rules that are supposed to govern the conduct of nations vis-à-vis other nations.

The concept of agreed upon rules of conduct ironically originates from the Doctrine the Discovery. The doctrine was developed between the 15th and 19th centuries and used by European countries to justify their presumed claims to sovereignty over Indigenous Peoples.  It also was used to govern disputes between themselves over exploration, trade and colonization of “the New World.”  And we proudly continue to be a ‘nation of laws.’

I write from the U.S. as I observe the Thanksgiving celebration.  Even after working alongside indigenous communities for the past several years, it actually remains one of my favorite holidays- the concept of giving thanks anyway.  In our ever increasing consumeristic society, setting aside at least a day to acknowledge the multiple blessings in life, regardless of challenges, is certainly a good holy discipline (See Leviticus 20:26; Deuteronomy 8:11-14, 17; Luke 17:11-19).

While many refuse to budge from the notion that, while “such a darn shame,” the conquest is ancient history, many others are attempting to live in right relationship.  An increasing number do look to indigenous voices, in humility, for guidance.  I am quite thankful for this.

And at times, living in right relationship requires open defiance of established norms.  Thus, as a Christian, I applaud the TPP opposition.  Like St. Paul, I look to Scripture and embrace mystery.

Paul’s relation to Scripture was not for pure memorization but that of a disciple of Jesus living the text.  Paul let the Spirit use the Scriptures to form Christ in him.  And throughout Scripture is endless mystery, of which he delighted in: “O the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgments and how inscrutable his ways!” (Romans 11:33).  Mystery for Paul was simply the very nature of who God is and how God works.

To believe is to obey and to obey is to believe wrote Dietrich Bonhoeffer in The Cost of Discipleship. Living the text does not mean we can simply cherry pick a verse or two to support a position.  Paul references conscience when “one must be subject.”  Peter and John also referenced the principle of supremacy of conscience over even religious institutions by telling the Temple council, “Whether it is right in God’s sight to listen to you rather than to God, you must judge; for we cannot keep from speaking about what we have seen and heard.” (Acts 4:19-20).

Indeed, Jesus was quite clear that the demands of the state and the demands of God are not the same (see Luke 20: 22-25).  He does suggest that it is quite possible to meet both at the same time, but he does not command that obeying one is exactly the same as obeying the other.  We are not to “Give to Caesar what is Caesar’s, and also give to Caesar what is God’s.”  Even those in the early fledgling community knew a time would come when obedience to God would mean blatant disobedience to the emperor.  Returning to Acts, “We must obey God rather than any human authority” (Acts 5:29).

We are to obey-and submit- to the will of God. Dallas Willard, author of Hearing God, advises us to look to circumstances, impressions of the Spirit and passages from the Bible.  “When these three things point in the same direction…we [can] be sure the direction they point is the one God intends for us.”

Scripture has countless examples of God taking the side of the marginalized, often in unexpected ways.  When will we truly get that God does not see as mortals see, and God’s ways are not the world’s ways (see 1 Samuel 16:7)?  Bartolome de Las Casas (1484-1566), a Dominican friar and known as “Defender of the Indians” repeatedly challenged the Court of Spain to realize that no salvation in Christ is possible apart from social justice.

I often wonder how ‘the church’ would be today had it chose to follow the monastic model of the Celtic church vs. the Roman model of authority at the Whitby church synod in 664 C.E. I also question if there is any hope left for what I cheekily refer to as “American Christianity.”  The institutionalized literal seems to have replaced the living ruach.

Our ancestors too were once an oral history peoples, with many accounts combining to form “the story.”  If we could remember this, we would have a better appreciation for Noah.  The recent movie, from a Jewish director, thankfully did not indulge dominate U.S. cultural norms.  He pulled from the Talmud, Midrash, Zohar, Book of Enoch and other extra-biblical sources that we Christians have simply lost awareness of and appreciation for.  Noah then represents the very fact that we do not walk with God for ourselves alone.  The call to righteousness carries with it a responsibility for all of creation.

Do you know your King?  We continue to anticipate the King of Kings, Lord of Lords, liturgically waiting, remembering he initially came as a little vulnerable, weak child.


…..God’s blessing be with you, Christ’s peace with you, the Spirit’s outpouring be with you, now and always. Amen. (source: Celtic)