This fall of 2022, En Vivo Church invited friends at 2nd UCC to join us for a Bible study we called “Decolonizing Faith”. The study focused on learning about the experience of indigenous Americans, particularly in relation to the Church, and challenged participants to consider the ways they might live in ways that are reparative. Over the course of six weeks, we had conversations over bible passages and food, listened to indigenous voices, and prayed.
Our first meeting was at Graydon’s Crossing for some “pub theology”. We considered the ways our understandings of American history have changed over the years, looked at Bible passages that have been used to justify people’s oppression, and asked hard questions about the ways that indigenous American cultures have been tokenized. For our second week of study, we watched the film RUMBLE: The Indians Who Rocked the World and learned about the history of the significant contributions of indigenous Americans to music.
We watched a TED Talk called “The Truth About We The People” from indigenous American leader Mark Charles on our third week before spending some time talking about it while filling bags of candy for Halloween. We had planned to do “The Blanket Exercise” on our third week of Bible study, but instead elected to review American history in conversations over tables, and then revisit the Bible. We honed in on the question of what it means to be chosen by God and how we are called to live that out in ways that seek justice and reflect the love of God rather than dominance and supremacy.
We made our way to the Grand Rapids Public Library on our fifth week to hear indigenous American writer Angeline Boulley speak about her experiences, inspirations, and the process of writing her incredible novel, The Firekeeper’s Daughter. We wrapped up our study a couple of days after Indigenous Peoples Day with a dinner catered by Bneshi Mijem. We explored the four pillars of white supremacy, how they are at work in the Church today, and discussed how we will work to dismantle them.
As challenging as it can be to shift our understanding of how the world works and how we got here, the real challenge is to continually ask ourselves, “How will this change the way I live?” For too long, people who say they follow Jesus have been complicit in evil because we have failed to respond to the gospel’s call to love one another. Love is not tolerance, it does not merely put up with difference. Love is radical. Love celebrates and elevates one another.
Love also involves sacrifice. Love surrenders power and resources to ensure that the image of God in everyone is honored and affirmed, not in ways that demean ourselves, but that reveal the image of God within each of us. We at En Vivo are eager to continue on this journey of learning as we do life together!
Rev. Shannon Jammal-Hollemans
Pastor of Teaching
En Vivo Church
Available from local libraries and booksellers
RUMBLE: The Indians Who Rocked the World
Available for rent or purchase on amazon.com
5 Native American Artists You Should Know
Google Arts & Culture
American Indians and Alaska Natives by the Numbers
An Indigenous Peoples’ History of the United States by Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz