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  • Writer's pictureThe Church for the Fellowship of All Peoples

Our Shared Humanity | September 3, 2023 Rev Dr. Kathryn Benton

This opening video clip is from Haudenosaunee (Iroquois) teacher Oren Lyons of Upstate New York. He is an important chief in his tribe who has been outspoken for many years. He continues…

We can't afford now to have these national borders. We can't afford to have racism. We can't afford apartheid. We can't-it's one of those luxuries that we can't have anymore as human beings. We've got to think now, in real terms, for that seventh generation and we've got to move in concert. We've got to sing the same song. We've got to have the same ceremony. We've got to get back to the spiritual law if we are to survive.

Chief Oren Lyons of the Onondaga Nation is from a place near where I grew up. He is saying that we cannot afford to be separate…to distrust and hate each other. Instead, we need to come together as people in order to survive. He is saying that we need to set aside our differences and recognize our commonalities…our heritage and all our relations…our shared humanity. This is a beautiful sentiment, but I feel that we may be so far away from this, that we cannot come back…we cannot recognize our common origin and common fate. We are instead separated. We saw this so clearly during the pandemic, where many of us were forced to stay at home in quarantine. The consequences of this pandemic have been clear. We have become so separated that we are suffering deeply.

This seems like an impossible task…to come together again with common language and common goals. We have hurt all our relations to such a large extent, that we may not be able to find our way back. But there is hope. There is the hope of a tree…

At least there is hope for a tree: If it is cut down, it will sprout again,

and its new shoots will not fail.

Its roots may grow old in the ground and its stump die in the soil,

yet at the scent of water it will bud and put forth shoots like a plant.

This passage reminds us of the resiliency of nature…the ability for things to grow back, even when we think they are dead. This happened recently when I neglected a blueberry bush in my back yard. I was pretty sure it was dead…the leaves were mostly brown and there were no more berries on the plant. I was going to just throw it out on the compost heap but then I decided I would try to bring it back to life. I watered it on a regular basis for the rest of the week and it came back to life! I now can enjoy the blueberries that I thought would never return. This is the hope…that we will be able to recover…through the scent of water…our common element.

It is important, I think, to see ourselves as part of the earth. It is when we separate ourselves from the earth, that we no longer care about it. We waste our precious resources, we do not honor the plants and animals that share our home…that even provide us with sustenance…without which we suffer…without which we die.

Our separation from water and other elements is what is killing us. We have stopped recognizing our relationship to the earth and to each other…we have become unaware of the water we live in. David Foster Wallace told the story of two fish who were asked, “How’s the Water?” They responded, “What the hell is water?” Walker was saying that, “ …the most obvious, ubiquitous, important realities are often the ones hardest to see and talk about.” And imagine how important it is to be aware of and to talk about water…it is our life’s blood…as 90% of our blood plasma is water. We are water, so to speak, and yet we are not protecting it. To a large extent, we are not even aware of it, much like the fish. Yet, we know that the water crisis is perhaps the most important crisis of our time. Clean water is often sold and goes to the highest bidder. Our own “clean” water is probably not as clean as we think it is.

And clean water is not the only thing that is at risk. The soil, the air, the actual earth that we depend on…these are all at risk, mainly because of our continued belief that they are all separate from us. Instead of the Native American belief in “All Our Relations”, we separate aspects of life out, so that we can no longer see the connections.

A teacher of mine, Gabor Maté recently wrote a book entitled, The Myth of Normal. In it he outlines the toxicities of modern society and how this influences our health, including our mental health. Of some of the premises in the book, Susan Griffin writes,

Because we think in a fragmentary way, we see fragments.

And this way of seeing leads us to make actual fragments of the world.

And when we view the world as fragments, we are unable to see the whole picture, much like the fish in water. When we are unable to see the big picture, we do not know how to move forward…we cannot heal and adapt to our changing world. Maté’s discussion of trauma is far-reaching. He sees many experiences as having a traumatic effect on us. He points out that we all probably experience instances of trauma but it is the effects on us that are important. Trauma can affect us in ways that follow us for our entire life. He says that trauma causes fragmentation, which leads to illness throughout the lifetime. Of course, this is when we are not treated for trauma…when it goes unnoticed. This is when it goes into hiding until a time when it is revealed.

Instead of seeing the world as fragmented, it is important that we see the entire picture, like our opening writer Oren Lyons. He is able to see the web of creation…the interactions and influences between individuals and within organisms. It is this web that is calling out to us right now…telling us that we are not paying attention…we are not caring for the most basic building blocks of life…water, soil, food, air. These are all things that we need but that we are taking for granted.

Of course, this may not be true in areas of the world that are truly struggling…with hurricanes, extreme poverty, violence and more. In areas like that which illustrate the fragmentation of the world…the suffering of the world. These are just previews of what our entire world will look like. Maté discusses this premise of the Myth of Normal below…

Back to my Haudenosaunee teacher, Oren Lyons. His thoughts are quite extreme! He says that we can’t afford to have national borders. This artificial separation breeds racism and other forms of hatred. He says that we must think about the seventh generation and that we have to sing the same song. The spiritual law he is talking about is the law of nature…of our creator. It is the law that says that we are related to each other and have a common fate.

May we take this call to heart…may we recognize our common heritage and present…our common future. When we do this, then we are able to find wholeness and fight fragmentation…we are able to find healing amid a world that is broken. Let us work for the sake of All Our Relations.


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