Reconciling the Past through Spirituality and Justice
On day two of The Desmond Tutu Center’s first Biennial Conference, Dr. George Tinker joined the conversation to “stir the pot” in a session called “Reconciling the Past Through Spirituality and Justice.” Tinker is one of the world’s top scholars on American Indian Liberation theology and other cross-cultural and Third World theologies. He is a professor at the Iliff School of Theology in Denver who teaches and lectures on Native American culture, including religious traditions, justice, and peace studies. Although his mother comes from a Lutheran background, Tinker was able to share more about his personal and unique experiences as a member of the Osage Nation, with whom he identifies more.
At the conference, Tinker drew on past ideas of our society already being destructed and related to this idea he spoke about how we address issues of damage that already happened many centuries ago. He constantly referred to the idea of drawing nature and humanity together. Throughout this session, Tinker reminded us that we as humans are all different because not all think alike and not all are born alike. As a result, we see these enormous divides between us and because of this we have created an incredibly individualized society. It isn’t until we look at who we are, what we do, and how we live that we achieve balance and harmony with one another.
As Tinker described it individualism is the barrier that stands between North Americans and the American Indian people. North Americans automatically live in a world that teaches us to be individuals whereas the American Indian people know who they are as part of their community first. Further exploring this complex idea, Tinker said it is when we overcome this fixation on individualism that we achieve balance and harmony. Tinker reminded us that balance and harmony are what keep us in check. It is then when we learn more about each other that we can walk hand in hand.
Tinker concluded with a Q & A session, in which audience members challenged his ideas about how American Indians regard their relationship with other repressed people that were talked about at the conference like African Americans and Muslims. He spoke about the fast bond that is formed between American Indian and other indigenous people from around the world who have suffered due to colonization. As Tinker described it there is a great sympathy for others who struggle, particularly people of color and those persecuted for religious convictions, and because of this, these “repressed people” are able to stand with American Indians.
Tinker shared examples of white communities that come from his mother’s Lutheran world and they just simply don’t “get it.” There are friends and allies in these communities who want to understand the ideas of balance and harmony Tinker espouses, but they have been shaped to think in a different world. Tinker’s session certainly challenged us to think first of ourselves as members of our communities before we think of ourselves as individuals. Tinker firmly believes the reverse mindset has done much damage to the Earth and to our fellow human beings, and this might be evidence enough that a change in thinking might do us all some good.
By: Alyssa Szeto
Partner: Center for Faith and Vocation at Butler University