In 1855, Native American Nez Percé chief, Joseph the Elder, signed a treaty with the United States government that allowed his people to retain much of their traditional lands; however, eight short years later, there was another treaty enacted and enforced by the U.S. that the Natives say they never agreed to. The second treaty, brought into play because of the Gold Rush and the determination of prospectors not to be hampered by Native Americans, dramatically reduced the land they could officially claim as theirs.
When Old Joseph died in 1871, his son, Joseph, was elected as chief of the Nez Percé tribe. The “new” Chief Joseph is best remembered by historians for his utter stubbornness to cooperate in any way with the U.S. government in matters that threatened to reduce any further the claim on the land that had been his people’s long before the settlers arrived on this continent.
By 1877, there was a formal threat by the American Cavalry under the leadership of General Oliver Howard to attack the Nez Percé people unless they left their land and moved to a reservation. Joseph was not in favor of fighting, but neither was he inclined to lose the land his ancestors had passed down to those in his generation. While negotiations continued--and, of course, to call them “negotiations” is misleading as if there were any reasons to believe that the U. S. government had any intention of doing anything other than getting rid of them--twenty or so Nez Percé Natives, enraged about the loss of their hallowed lands already and the threat of losing more, attacked white settlements near them and killed several of the white settlers. The army came after them at once.
Chief Joseph joined with the war leaders among his people even though he opposed war. He and his fellow Natives fought, but they retreated; and white military leaders were amazed at their skill to hold their own as the military pushed them further and further away from the land that they, the Nez Percé, held sacred. There were only about 700 Natives with Chief Joseph, and only 200 of those were officially trained in war. Yet, they protected themselves from some 2,000 white soldiers in four major battles and several skirmishes. Of course, there were Native casualties, but not nearly as dramatic as the deaths of cavalrymen. The unsympathetic General William Sherman could not help but be impressed and once said that the Natives “throughout displayed a courage and skill that elicited universal praise.... [T]hey fought with almost scientific skill, using advance and rear guards, skirmish lines, and field fortifications.” Even so, the Natives were forced to take up residence on a reservation.
By the time Chief Joseph finally formally surrendered, he had words for all who would hear:
I am tired of fighting. Our chiefs are killed. Looking Glass is dead. Toohoolhoolzote is dead. The old men are all dead. It is the young men who say, “Yes,” or, “No.” He who led the young men is dead. It is cold, and we have no blankets. The little children are freezing to death. My people, some of them, have run away to the hills, and have no blankets, no food. No one knows where they are--perhaps freezing to death. I want to have time to look for my children, and see how many of them I can find. Maybe I shall find them among the dead. Hear me, my chiefs! I am tired. My heart is sick and sad. From where the sun now stands I will fight no more forever.
The reservations for the Nez Percé and for all Natives who were forced from their homes and ancestral lands were places of exile, and to a great degree that remains true yet today for Natives who are stuck on Indian reservations. Places of exile are and always have been places of tragedy, places where anything positive is grayed over by the fact of being in exile, under someone’s control other than yours or your people’s.
Chief Joseph’s 83-year-old granddaughter, Agnes Davis, is one of a handful of Nez Percé Natives today trying diligently to hold onto what was distinctively theirs, notably their language. Last year, a newspaper article told her story:
Today, nearly 130 years after the last great battle of the Nez Percé War, descendants of Joseph’s band continue his struggle to preserve the old ways even as they live in perpetual exile on the Colville Indian Reservation, 200 miles from the land they call home. In Nespelem, in a cluttered reservation office, a group of Nez Percé gather three days a week to preserve the language that they believe ties them to Mother Earth and that will one day grant them entry into the hereafter. “When you die, [the Creator] is going to speak to you in Nez Percé,” said Agnes Davis... “and you have to have an Indian name.”
In March of 1959, there was in Lhasa, the capital city of Tibet, what has come to be known as the “Tibetan uprising” or the “Tibetan rebellion.” It was a revolt by the Tibetan people against Chinese control of their country, and it was a dramatic protest against Communism. Immediately leading up to this event, the Chinese government had invited the fourteenth Dalai Lama, the one we know today, to attend a theatrical performance at a Chinese military settlement not terribly far from Lhasa. There was to be no formal procession of the Dalai Lama’s movement from his residence to the performance; this would have very atypical. Also, the Chinese government insisted that his body guards be entirely unarmed for the event. If you think those kinds of requests should raise suspicions, you’re exactly correct.
The Tibetans were afraid that the Chinese were making plans to abduct their revered leader--or worse. Some 300,000 Tibetans surrounded the Dalai Lama’s palace to prevent anyone from coming in or going out.
The Chinese and Tibetan forces began to establish positions for battle. The Chinese dropped two bombs near the Dalai Lama’s residence, and it was clear to the Dalai Lama’s closest advisors that he had to get out of there.
Disguised as a Tibetan soldier, he passed through the crowds of protectors and was taken to a small village at the foothills of the Himalayas in the north of India, and that has been his home. He and his government have been in exile since, and China rules Tibet completely.
Shortly after his escape, open combat between the Tibetan forces and the Chinese began. It lasted only about two days; massive numbers of Tibetans were killed as the Chinese forces outnumbered the poorly armed Tibetan fighters. There was no question after that about who was in control.
In exile for nearly fifty years, the Dalai Lama has consistently pushed for greater autonomy for his people in relation to the Chinese government. All efforts have consistently been rebuffed by the Chinese.
Recently, and I saw this report just yesterday, the Dalai Lama has said officially that he has given up on further talks with the Chinese, that such talks have never led to anything productive for the people in exile and that they never will. Negotiations between the two groups remain scheduled for next week as far as Chinese authorities are concerned.
Said his holiness the Dalai Lama,
The issue of Tibet is not the issue of the Dalai Lama alone. It is the issue of 6 million Tibetans. I have asked the Tibetan government-in-exile, as a true democracy in exile, to decide in consultation with the Tibetan people the future course of action. Generally, the Tibetan people have supported the Dalai Lama’s push for greater autonomy for them--at least insofar as they can protect and preserve key aspects of their culture and their practice of Buddhism. Only one group, the Tibetan Youth Congress, advocates total independence for Tibet.
China claims that it has controlled and had the right to control Tibet for centuries. Tibetans in exile, however, say that theirs was an independent nation until the Chinese invaded Tibet in 1950 and laid the groundwork for deposing the Dalai Lama, which happened, as we have said, in 1959. Fifty years of exile!
Many Protestant churches around the world will celebrate today as “Reformation Sunday.” Not a single Roman Catholic church, however, will celebrate. Roman Catholics remember Luther and Luther’s actions leading to the establishment of Protestantism in the world as an essentially illegal schism caused by one of its own lunatic priests.
Tragically flawed hero that he was, Luther still became the spokesperson for the poor, whom the church hierarchy had clearly determined to overlook except when the church needed them to further its purposes. The church leaders were happy that practically no laypersons could read at all, especially that they couldn’t read the old Latin texts in which almost all the church documents and the Bible in use in the church were written. Parishioners had to be dependent on their priests to get all their information about God, proper behavior, and the afterlife. The priests, of course, were obliged to pass along what the Pope told them to pass along; and almost all of them, as far as we know, did so.
Beginning about a hundred years before Professor Doctor Martin Luther challenged the Roman Catholic Church, the Church had begun to withhold the cup from the laity during the celebration of the Holy Eucharist, which we usually call “communion” or “the Lord’s Supper.” Only the priest partook of the holy wine. The laypersons came for communion, and the priests would serve each one of them a small piece of bread and then they, the priests, would take a sip of wine on behalf of each of the communicants. This explains why serving the Eucharist was the favorite task of most priests at the time and why they always felt so very good when communion was over!
The Roman Catholics at the time affirmed a theological position called “transubstantiation.” Transubstantiation is the belief that the bread and wine in communion actually become the body and the blood of Jesus. In one of Luther’s three major treatises entitled, “The Babylonian Captivity of the Church,” he attacks both the notion of one-part communion--that is bread only for laypersons and wine galore for the priests--and the idea that the bread and wine actually became Jesus’ body and blood. Luther said that Jesus served bread and wine to all of his disciples and so should all Jesus’ disciples in every age be served; there was nothing special about the priests, in other words. Luther also, in “The Babylonian Captivity of the Church,” said that while the presence of Jesus was with the elements of the Lord’s Supper and, thus, with those who partook of the elements, the bread and wine certainly did not physically become flesh and blood to be eaten and sipped by cannibals and vampires (my words, not his exactly).
You can imagine that by the time a little known monk of no real influence gathered together courage sufficient to challenge the Vatican, he was seriously riled up. Challenging the Pope in those days could result in punishment and, under the right circumstances, death. Luther was willing to risk it, and part of how he framed the situation in which he saw the church of his day from the point of view of everyone except the highest ups in the hierarchy was to call the place of laypersons and the lower-ranking clergy “captivity.”
Here is an excerpt:
I will say nothing of those godless preachers of fables, who teach human traditions instead of this promise. And even if they teach these words of Christ, they do not teach them as a promise or testament, and, therefore, not to the awakening of faith. O the pity of it! Under this captivity, they take every precaution that no layman should hear these words of Christ, as if they were too sacred to be delivered to the common people. So mad are we priests that we arrogantly claim that the so-called words of consecration may be said by ourselves alone, as secret words, yet so that they do not profit even us, for we too fail to regard them as promises or as a testament, for the strengthening of faith. Instead of believing them, we reverence them with I know not what superstitious and godless fancies. This misery of ours, what is it but a device of Satan to remove every trace of the mass out of the Church? although he is meanwhile at work filling every nook and corner on earth with masses, that is, abuses and mockeries of God's testament, and burdening the world more and more heavily with grievous sins of idolatry, to its deeper condemnation. For what worse idolatry can there be than to abuse God's promises with perverse opinions and to neglect or extinguish faith in them?
I try to tell students who have to listen to me, or pretend to, and people like you who volunteer to listen to my views on this subject, or pretend to, that for all Luther gave us for championing the Reformation, his followers immediately took in many of the places Roman Catholics left off--with power plays and threats of death to those who dared rock the boat of the status quo.
Barely beginning to spread, Reformation ideals were taken up in the German-speaking part of Switzerland under the leadership of Uldrich Zwingli. When the Roman Catholic Church was officially unseated in Zurich, Zwingli came to power in a non-separation-of-church-and-state context, meaning he was extraordinarily powerful in both spheres. What did he do with his power? No doubt, he did accomplish some good, but he also became an instrument of evil. He led in having put to death as many Anabaptists as he could round up. They were put to death for not agreeing with the formalized theology of the Swiss state church.
Forebears of today’s Amish and Mennonites and not--despite what they came to be called--Baptists, the Anabaptists were strict pacifists, and they insisted on believers baptism by immersion. When the Protestant Reformers were deciding, which aspects of Catholicism to keep and which ones to toss, they kept infant baptism for some reason. Thus, it was law--infant baptism, I mean. The Anabaptists, nonetheless, practiced believer’s baptism by immersion and were brought up on charges because of it. Some of the Anabaptists were taken to water, and Zwingli’s toughs kept asking them how much they really wanted to be immersed, and they immersed them over and over and over again until they drowned them.
It’s such a horrible story, but we have to keep reminding ourselves how institutionalized religion with power has been just as soulless and bloodthirsty as any so-called “secular” institution or government. Religious groups within Christendom have had no qualms about sending their enemies into exile; of course, they did it in God’s name so that made it OK, didn’t it?
The religious right in this country really scares me. They will do the most un-Jesus-like things and still call what they do “the will of God,” and TONS of people believe them.
When it comes time for a political campaign, each citizen has the right and the responsibility to choose which candidate she or he will vote for. I embrace democracy with gratitude and hope so I certainly affirm the democratic process though one of those doesn’t prevail in every election we hold.
I am shocked that the religious right will preach absolute literalism as the only proper way to interpret the Bible; yet, they will applaud as God’s will a candidate who gets elected by lying or even a candidate who gets elected in an election that is certifiably dishonest. Their fair-haired boys and girls whom they endorse for election can believe anything they want and live and speak like the irreligious as long as they, the candidates, embrace an antiabortion stance. You can have absolutely no clue what the conservative churches mean when they talk about living for Jesus, but if you throw Jesus’ name around here and there and call Israel the chosen people of God, the religious right will baptize and sanctify whatever sleazy tactics it takes to get you, the person whom they have turned into their latest messiah, elected.
This kind of attitude, my dear friends, inevitably leads to exile and, not infrequently, to death for those who are not embraced by the religion in power. History has proven it time after time after time.
A scripture scholar, Luther had a very keen image of what the Babylonian captivity had been like for the people of ancient Israel. Egyptian enslavement and the Babylonian exile were the two lowest of low points for the ancestors.
In 587 BCE, Babylon defeated the ancient Israelites and took many of them into captivity. Torn away from the land that had, in their minds, helped to define them and thrust into a place where enemy overseers determined what they could and couldn’t do, including what was acceptable in terms of the practice of religion, they were lost in every possible sense of that word. Furthermore, their great Temple would be destroyed, and that had truly sickened them and ripped them apart. The Israelites were attached to their Temple in ways that are hard for modern western folk to understand. The Temple was not only the center of their religious life, but also the visible center of who they were as a people ethnically and culturally and in every other way as well. Not only were they being torn away from it, the place where they thought the literal presence of God dwelled, but also once it had been destroyed by the Babylonians; they couldn’t even hope to come back to it.
The poet of Ecclesiastes chapter 3 says, “To everything there is a season and a time for every purpose under the skies...a time to scatter stones and a time to gather stones together.” The best scholarship, which is a way of referring to what I could find that I liked the best, tells us that this odd expression to our ears referred to the destruction of Solomon’s great Temple; that was the scattering of stones. The gathering of stones together would be the rebuilding of the Temple, if that day ever came.
Again, the writer of Ecclesiastes wasn’t saying that the Babylonian deportation and destruction were good things and certainly not that God had willed them per se; rather, as I’ve tried to emphasize as we’ve been studying this material, he simply is trying to describe life as it is--not as it should be, not even how he wants it to be. In other words, then, part of life is seeing structures and institutions we adore crumble before our eyes. That is the scattering of stones.
Of course it was horrible for the ancient Israelites. To make matters worse, while the writer of Ecclesiastes may not have taken a theological position on the event, the prophets of Israel did. The consensus was that God had willed the destruction of their Temple and the exile into which most Israelites were forced as twin foci of a punishment for their great sins of idolatry and other expressions of disobedience, violating the stipulations of any covenant they had ever made with God. When your spiritual leaders whom you trust to put life’s tragedies into some kind of perspective if at all possible tell you God did it, that’s what you are left with.
Zedekiah was the ruler of the Jews at the time, and he stubbornly refused to give in to pressures from Babylon under the leadership of Nebuchadnezzar. To teach him a lesson about obedience to a super power, King Nebuchadnezzar had Zedekiah and his sons brought before him. The Babylonian henchmen killed Zedekiah’s sons before his eyes, and then Nebuchadnezzar had Zedekiah’s eyes put out so that the last thing he’d ever remember seeing was his sons being put to death. Prince of a guy, wouldn’t you say?
Nebuchadnezzar moved most of the people of Jerusalem to Babylon; some reports say that he left behind only the poor of Jerusalem. The Babylonians then took Jerusalem. They broke down the walls around Jerusalem, destroyed Solomon’s magnificent Temple, and took everything they could pack inside the Temple to Babylon.
There’s more. The Babylonian official charged with ruling the poor Israelites remaining in Jerusalem was assassinated, as were other Babylonian representatives. In fear of retaliation, the remaining poor of Judah, including the prophet Jeremiah, ran from Jerusalem and settled in Egypt.
Fifty years later--think about that time frame--50 long years later, the Persian Empire overtook the Babylonians. The Persian King was Cyrus, and he was a decidedly benevolent dictator; he decreed that the Jews could return to Jerusalem and that they could rebuild their Temple.
What happens in 50 years? Well, first thing is, almost nobody who had been an adult at the time of the Babylonian deportation would still have been living; those folks didn’t have our life expectations. Second, the way of life that the Jews had grown accustomed to, though it was not a suitable or a desirable life, was all they knew. They had heard their parents and their grandparents talk about how life had been for them in Jerusalem, but very few people would be returning who had experienced the pre-exilic way of life in the beautiful city that had been the center of life. As had been true of the Hebrews who were slaves under the Egyptians, slavery was horrid, but it was what they were used to; and they could survive in the system. Third, people who have been living under foreign domination for 50 years don’t have much money to
invest in rebuilding a Temple or on anything else for that matter.
Still, Cyrus was a hero, and the building of the First Temple began in about 537 BCE and was finished, after many delays, in about 516. This rebuilding is what the poet of Ecclesiastes calls gathering stones together--rebuilding after destruction and exile.
One of the lessons that some of the people in exile learned was that God was not bound by their beloved Temple. God came to them in exile, something they ahead of time thought impossible. “How can we sing the Lord’s song in a strange land?” they asked at first, but they found out they could sing the Lord’s song anywhere. God had not been encased in their beautiful Temple, and they were not robbed of God’s presence though their Temple had been viscously destroyed. Even so, the rebuilding was a good thing, was worth the effort; indeed, there’s a time to gather stones together after our exiles when are weak and poor and uncertain. We cannot let the times and places of exile forced upon us do us in, cannot let the exilic periods rob us of our sense of self-worth and our hope.
It might be worth remembering for us that progressive Christianity has been around a long time and, in certain places, even flourished. In the 1920’s in this country, theological liberalism was more popular than conservatism in many places. Many of us who have felt justifiably exiled by the religious right are not sure we will have what it takes to rebuild. The truth is, we have been freed to challenge what the religious right thinks and how they act; we can rebuild religion progressively as long as we’re willing to let go of our exile mentality. The place to start gathering those stones together is right here.