Monthly Archives: May 2015

How Should I Then Live?

James Wilson’s book The Earth Shall Weep, a haunting and devastating history of native North Americans since the seventeenth century, made me think of another book I’d been acquainted with many years ago. In 1976, American theologian Francis Schaeffer contemplated an appropriate response to what he considered the “decline of Western thought and culture” by asking fellow Christians, “How should we then live?”

The Earth Shall Weep tells how my ancestors and my government ruthlessly invaded, deceived and removed dozens of distinct North American cultures as obstacles to their acquisition of land, gold and power. Trying to view these events from the perspective of the natives, Wilson illuminates the audacity of the entitlement demonstrated by European settlers, the United States Government and their “brave” armies, and the extent of the suffering they inflicted through elimination, broken treaties and brazen land grabs.

My heart was broken by the natives’ inability to understand the Europeans’ approach to them:

“Why should you take by force that from us which you can have by love? Why should you destroy us, who have provided you with food? What can you get by war? We can hide our provisions, and fly into the woods; and then you must consequently famish by wronging your friends. What is the cause of your jealousy? You see us unarmed, and willing to supply your wants, if you will come in a friendly manner, and not with swords and guns as to invade an enemy.”
Wahunsonacock (Chief Powhatan), 1609

Knowing that my good fortune comes largely at the expense of the sophisticated civilizations that were swept aside to make way for me, how should I then live? Sell my possessions—house, car, television, computers—give to the poor, and move onto one of the reservations where the natives have been herded?

Mmmm…no. At the risk of being trite, perhaps rather, doing on a personal level what wasn’t done by the leaders, soldiers and settlers who assumed and insisted that whoever wasn’t like them was their inferior:

  • In my dealings with others—on the bus, at the store, in the park—offer respect and honor, not hatred and condescension.
  • In my involvement—at work, at home, in my community—pursue common good, not zero sum policies.
  • In my thoughts and dreams—of the past, present and future—ponder and value the thoughts and dreams of others, too.

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Filed under History, People, The Book I Read