Something twists and churns inside me, causing an actual physical reaction to the stories I am hearing. Dee Brown’s Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee had been on my to-read list for years, and it is just this year that the tragic stories of the USA subduing the Native American tribes are working their way deep into my soul. The book chronicles the American take-over of the Native American tribes and their lands, mostly focusing on 19th century treaty-breaking and the associated broken promises, lies, and carnage. This evil was sometimes overlooked by the Washington-appointed commissioners and army leaders, but often they were the sinister master-minds. It would not be so tragic if, early on, the manifest destiny believers would have just told the Native Americans outright: “Look, we WILL take all your land, so we are not going to promise you anything. We will come after you, your wives and children, and your land. Your best option is to fight us to the death.” Instead, broken promise after broken promise led to death, destruction, and taking of land. Tribes all over the Midwest, west, southwest, and northwest faced lies, broken promises, death, destruction, pillaging, and starvation. It is a historically documented tragedy. How can people dare to call the USA a “Christian” nation with this awful historical sepsis lingering in our sordid past? Father, forgive them (us), for I’m afraid they knew what they were doing.
30-60 minutes at a time is about all I can take from Bury my Heart at Wounded Knee, so I switch to Alexander Solzhenitsyn’s Gulag Archipelago, Book 2, and listen for a while. This is a kind of memoir/documentary account of communist Russia (USSR) and the prison labor camp atrocities. Stalinist thugs and self-righteous proletariats come to power after the Bolshevik revolution, basing their “revolution” on the compelling call to depose the Czar and the bourgeoisie so that the peasants and working class can rule “fairly." The communist/socialist call for equality and unity fuels the revolution, but from 1919 on in Soviet Russia there are thousands and then millions who are arrested and forced into prison labor camps. Solzhenitsyn estimates that 20 million people died in the prison camps between 1919 and 1960. That in itself is a tragedy. The unspeakable horrors and deprivation that others faced who did not die are also reported in this book. For example, a 17 year old girl who happened to ask the wrong question to a prison guard is made to stand outside barefoot in 12” of ice water all night for her “violation.” This is in sub-zero temps. She gets sick from this, does not die, but her lungs never fully recover from the forced deprivation. Or the bedbug tortures. In some camps, they keep 3’ wide by 7’ long by 4’ deep prison “chambers” infested with thousands of bedbugs. And those who “deserve” tough treatment are made to go to these bedbug chambers. The first hour or two they swat at the bedbugs, but eventually they just lie there as the bedbugs do what bedbugs do. I wonder if Bernie Sanders has ever read this book and considered the negative realities and unintended consequences of forced socialism. Forced socialism has historically led to communism even if it did not begin with communism; communism has always been propped up by totalitarianism and repression of speech. Father, forgive them and us, for I’m afraid they (and we) know what they (we) are doing.
Maybe I should read Pollyanna's memoir. My digestive system will thank me.
Closer to home, this year I have blocked phone numbers from two NYC friends I have known for years. It has taken a long time for me to come to this decision, but Titus 3:10-11 provide timeless instructions for dealing with divisive people, and that passage provided some of the rationale for blocking those numbers. I won’t go into the details, because that is personal and private information for me and for them, but in making these decisions I have grappled with I Corinthians 10:12 “Therefore let him who thinks he stands take heed lest he fall.” Yes, Rich, your warnings have gone unheeded. Yes, Rich, those two men have been contentious and divisive. Yes, Rich, you are probably right to block those numbers. But remember, watch yourself and your doctrine. You have been shown much mercy. You have been forgiven much, Rich. As I mull these matters, I say “Father forgive us. We may not know what we are doing, but we still need forgiveness.”
The evening of my 45th birthday a few weeks ago brought a wave of gratefulness into my heart as I considered the amazing mercies extended towards me through the grace given by Jesus, the Lord of the universe. Those sure mercies of God have been extended to me, a sinner. I have had to confess my own mistreatment of others, I have had to confess my own self-righteousness, my own divisive and contentious spirit, my own tendency to try to be number one. And our Father in Heaven has graciously extended his hand of mercy, his healing touch of forgiveness. Father, thank you for forgiving me. There have been times I did not know what I was doing, and you forgave me when I confessed and repented. There were times when I absolutely knew that what I was doing was wrong, and you still extended forgiveness to me when I confessed my sins to you and and repented. Your gifts of repentance and forgiveness are treasures that I never want to lose. Father, please keep on forgiving me.
Son of the Father, husband to Sandy, father of six amazing gifts, Bronx brother, active participant in Believers in Jesus Church, insurance adjuster, occasional runner