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KTF Weekly Newsletter: Hiding Empire, a Caravan of Martyrs, the First Nations Bible
August 19, 2021
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This has been a heavy week with everything happening in Haiti, Afghanistan, and around the world. We hope you have managed to pause, grieve, pray, or do whatever else you need to do. Jonathan and Suzie have some resources on Afghanistan to share this week, and we would like to ask you to consider giving to the relief effort in Haiti. Here is a list of trusted on-the-ground organizations that have been working in the affected regions for some time, shared with us by Gabrielle Apollon, Sy’s wife who works closely with activists in Haiti. Whatever you do, do not give to the Red Cross.
So, here are this week’s resources to help us leave colonized faith for the Kingdom of God.
The Taliban reclaimed Afghanistan in a time span shorter than the Olympics – 11 days. This episode of Fareed Zakaria’s GPS and “The Fall of Afghanistan from The Daily bring what feels far, far away as close to here as possible with unflinching commentary, clear-eyed analysis, and voices from the ground. In another short podcast, Slate’s war stories columnist lays out the history of this geopolitical conflict, extending back before the Russian occupation to explain “How Afghanistan Ended Like This.” Followers of Jesus must “learn to do right” (Is 1:17) and these three pieces hold lessons that help that happen. They give us concrete people and places to pray for, and a necessary invitation to lament, confess, or repent. Lord have mercy.
How to Hide an Empire: The History of the Greater United States is an invitation to look at the depth and breadth of pride, exceptionalism, and entitlement that mark the outlook of the United States toward the rest of the world. To decolonize our faith and uncouple it from Christian Nationalism, we must wrestle with the sheer scale of the American Empire. This is especially true considering that there are many places that America calls its own but don’t show up on the maps shown to the children in this country. As the author, Northwestern University historian Dr. Daniel Immerwahr, makes clear, we rarely mention that the Philippines were part of the US from 1898 until Japan invaded on the same day as the bombing of Pearl Harbor. Moreover, few people are aware of the policies and postures towards Puerto Rico, Guam, the Virgin Islands, Samoa, and the other nine territories that the United States claims as its own. Yet, the experiences of these people mirror those of enslaved Black Americans and Native people displaced by western expansion. The book is focused, fast-paced, and informative.
In the upside-down Kingdom of Christ, hope often greets us in the places where we least expect it. There is a miraculous courage and strength that God can provide in times of great hardship and suffering. This is one of many reasons why we should look to our brothers and sisters at the center of tragedy and on the margins of empire to learn how to grapple with the overwhelming brokenness of the world. One testimony to this type of active hope can be found in the words of Arab Baptist Theological Seminary President, Elie Haddad. His recent address speaks out from the desperation and despair of Lebanon, a nation brought to its knees by a corrupt ruling political class, and proclaims a message of engagement that the Church across the globe should hear. “It is somewhat easier to communicate words of hope to a suffering Church. The Church understands the gift of suffering, the power of the resurrected life, and the eschatological hope that we have in Christ. In addition, the Church can readily recall its past experiences of God’s grace and provisions despite all circumstances,” writes Haddad. “But what about the unchurched?... If the Gospel is not Good News to the poor and oppressed, then it is not Good News.”
As pundits and political parties continue to opine and mudsling over the rapidly unfolding tragedy in Afghanistan, American Christians need lenses that de-center debates over the expediency of foreign policy and center the experiences of the Afghan people. Anthropologist David B. Edward’s book, Caravan of Martyrs, offers more than a partisan hot take on what went wrong in Afghanistan. It presents a poignant, complex, nuanced perspective on the breakdown of Afghan society and cultural mores caused by foreign intervention dating back to the Soviet invasion. The Afghan people have long been the victims of brutal proxy wars and attempts at imperial expansion and preservation. Edward’s book brings that gut-wrenching reality into sharp focus through his ethnographic study of young suicide bombers framed through the paradigm of sacrifice.
When the pandemic began, I was working as a defense attorney for parents caught up in the child welfare system. Reports and cases of child abuse and neglect fell because everyone was at home and the legions of mandatory reporters involved in poor people’s lives had nothing to report. I watched with frustration, though without surprise, as the child welfare agencies and much of the media concluded, without evidence, that there must be a hidden outbreak of unrestrained child abuse happening at home. But what I and my colleagues knew is that the pandemic would be, as the New Republic put it in an article from yesterday, “an unplanned experiment in abolishing the child welfare system.” The article explains how the available data undermines the media’s narrative and supports what parents and activists have said for a long time: the system is far too large and harms many more families than it helps. The article also quotes and references many of the people and organizations we brought up in our podcast on foster care, and it’s a very informative read.
Mostly white Europeans and Americans are the authors of our English Bible translations. The vocabulary choices, theology, and worldview reflected in those translations have therefore come from a narrow cultural lens, to say nothing of the direct importation into Scripture of European mythological ideas like Lucifer and the Norse realm of “Hel.” Next month, we will have a new translation written with the aim of putting Scripture in words that speak directly to indigenous North Americans, the First Nations Version (FNV). Faithfully Magazine has a really interesting interview with the lead translator, covering the development of the idea for the version, the feedback received from native and non-native communities, the translation’s relationship to efforts to recover indigenous languages, and more. You can pre-order the FNV here.
All three of us were on this week’s episode of the podcast Can I Say this at Church hosted by Seth Price, one of the authors in our anthology. We had a great, long conversation about some of our goals at KTF Press and the messages we’re trying to get across, as well as some more personal questions like how we each individually think of and experience God. We also had a really good time and laughed a lot. Check it out!
Shake the Dust preview
This week’s Shake the Dust is Sy and Jonathan’s fantastic interview with Keli Young, a lawyer and community organizer in New York City. We talked about what it looks like for those most affected by oppressive systems to lead movements for change, what it actually means to defund or abolish the police, redefining the idea of public safety, how our language can dehumanize people, what keeps Keli going in her difficult work, and a lot more. This really is an important one if you want to understand a frequently misunderstood perspective, instead of listening to the often inaccurate characterizations of pundits and critics. Listen wherever you get podcasts!
Thanks for reading, and we’ll see you next week!
The KTF team