Lakota author Richard Twiss visited Belmont this morning, bringing with him a personal mantra that he asked the full Neely Dining Hall audience to repeat: “I am ethnocentric, narrow-minded and have limited vision.” (Click here to view the photo gallery from this event.)
Twiss is the co-founder of Wiconi International, a nonprofit Christian organization that seeks to provide assistance to Native Americans, as well as the author of One Church, Many Tribes, a book that examines how studying First Nations Christ followers can teach new ways of living with nature and one another. His “mantra” seeks to challenge individuals to recognize their own cultural biases and to open their minds to seeing God from Native perspectives.
Twiss shared the story of his own transformation from a drug user who hated Christians to a man who “experienced peace that can’t be humanly comprehended.” After overdosing on mushrooms in 1974 while living in Maui, Twiss noted that God was made known to him one day on the beach. “Even though Jesus looked a lot like Captain Jack Sparrow at the time, I’m pretty sure it was still Jesus.”
Inspired by the Sermon on the Mount, Twiss began to realize that God wasn’t represented by the Christians he had formerly encountered or that his family had suffered from on the reservations and in boarding schools. Instead, he began to see God through the eyes of his own cultural background. “The Bible gives him all kinds of Indian names: Bright and Morning Star, Lily of the Valley, Chief Cornerstone… God was speaking to the Lakota, the Cherokee, Shawnee [and other tribes] long before we discovered Christopher Columbus drifting around in the ocean.”
Twiss concluded his talk by challenging his listeners, “All of you have prayers to dance. In what ways are you allowing yourself to be challenged to see God as bigger than you think?”
Co-sponsored by the Office of Spiritual Development and the College of Health Sciences and Nursing, Twiss’ appearance reflects Belmont’s deepening commitment to Native American cultural experiences. During the past 18 months, groups from Belmont have visited Pine Ridge Indian Reservation seven times for cultural awareness training, relationship building and project development, with more trips planned for 2010.