What it Means for A White Guy Like Me to “Sit At the Table”

By Dan Lowe

Editorial Note: [Dan’s post was initially a comment to the post I made prior called “Is the Emergent Movement A Colonizing Influence?” Since his post is a bit lengthy and he has some great things to say (especially addressing relevant questions of other White folks), I thought it was worthy of starting a new thread here. There are also some other great comments on the other thread, so please read those if you want to read this post in its complete context. Also, the metaphor of “the table” is one I have been using for years to talk about dialogue, reconciliation, etc. between people from diverse ethnic backgrounds. It comes directly from my favorite chapter in the Scriptures in which Luke 15:1-2 set the context for Jesus’ 3 stories of disconnectedness and community. I’ll explain this further in a future post-in the next several weeks].

Here’s Dan’s post:

I’d like to jump in on the “table conversation” if I may. I suppose the best way to do so, as I’ve learned from Randy, my father-in-law, and other close friends/uncles, is to tell my own story.

Seven years ago, while attending seminary in Kentucky, I ran across a group of Native North American men (and one extremely beautiful woman – now, my wife) who were also attending school there. They were there in a partnership between that seminary and what is known as the North American Institute for Indigenous Theological Studies (NAIITS), one great story about what it means to be at the table (but if he wants to, I’ll let Randy tell that one; it’s not so much my own to share). While attending school there, Randy, who was one of these men, invited me to join him and his friends at his acreage. Being extremely curious, I agreed to come; plus, my now wife was going to be there and I wanted to be wherever she was (needless to say, I was smitten at first sight). I think that this was my initial invitation to the table; however, I had a number of large lessons to learn.

The first lesson I had to learn is, for me as a white, American male (i.e. one of the majority), the most important lesson to learn and continue learning while accepting an invitation to the table. And that lesson is learning how to listen. What I learned about myself is that I had been created with two ears and one mouth, but I was living as though I had been created with one ear and two mouths. I had to learn how to be quiet and listen to the stories of those who have now become my elders.

Another lesson that I had to learn is that listening to these stories can be extremely painful; I had to come to realize that, historically and presently, my actions and the actions of my ancestors that led to the oppression of indigenous peoples in North America had to be repented of. The problems weren’t just “back then;” they were very much current (and still are current). Essentially, I had to come to the realization that I was guilty. There’s much talk about white guilt; for me, admitting white guilt is part of the healing process of the oppressor(s).

Another lesson that I have learned is that the West needs to stay at the table, no matter how painful the conversation becomes. As a side note, I’m not meaning to paint this picture as though it is all painful; there is an equally beautiful side to being at the table. However, due to the historical actions of the majority, there are many many painful stories, questions, and things for which we have to be held accountable. I have seen a few people leave the table because of their refusal to listen to these stories, hear these questions, and be held accountable for their actions.

For me, the table exists in relationship and patience. It is not my table; as history and fruit have proven, the Western table is headed by dominance, greed, and arrogance. However, if there is one table, then the West (for me and my culture, white, American males) needs to sit in its seat rather than sitting in the middle attempting to dictate and drive the conversation.

Jonathan Stegall [in the prior thread] asked the question, “Can I invite others to the table?” My family participates in a sweat ceremony four times a year; I have no right to invite others to this ceremony without asking permission of my father-in-law. For me, at this point, I approach this concept of the table in the same way. If I have a friend who is sincerely asking questions, seeking to grow with, or seeking to walk alongside indigenous folks, then I try my best to put them in touch with Randy [Woodley], with Richard [Twiss], with Ray Aldred, and/or others over emails, phone, coffee or dinner. It then becomes the decisions of those two parties to continue the conversations. I always ask permission of these guys before I put folks in contact with them. For me, it is disrespectful to attempt to tell their stories for them. [Randy, if you’ve gotten this far in reading, do you feel as though protocol speaks to this idea about the table at all?]

As a result of being at the table for the past seven years, I have grown to come to see the world in ways that I never would have imagined. I have had the blessed opportunity to have my worldview shattered on numerous occasions (thank you Randy, for the gift of carrying both an iron and velvet glove on each hand). Little did I know at the beginning where this invitation would lead; I only see glimpses, now, of where it is going. I am one person of the majority culture who will say that moving away from the center, taking my place in my seat around the table, swallowing my pride, and listening to those who can guide me into the healing of myself and my culture will always and forever be my suggestion to others like me.

If the West doesn’t learn how to listen, take its correct place at the table, and admit that we need the correction that indigenous Jesus followers have to offer, then the only result will be that all of our talk will make us deaf, and our deafness will lead to our ultimate demise.

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One Response to What it Means for A White Guy Like Me to “Sit At the Table”

  1. Larry Shelton says:

    Dan,
    From one white guy to another, I think you fit a good place at the table. I appreciate your sensitivity. I, too, have learned a lot from these same individuals. I’ve know Richard for a while, Terry, Randy, Ray, Adrian, John GrosVenor, Robert Francis and others have been more recent. I have the privilege of having Randy as a colleague, and we have had many intense conversations along these lines. For those of you who know Randy, he has a gift of sublety. (kidding, of course!).
    Of course, your points about repentance, reconiliation, etc are well made. But your point that these issues are still happening is the most troubling issue you have pointed out. Penance, restitution, and a lot of words may help the penitent ones, but do little to heal the soul wounds our forebears have helped to create. IMO, the best way to help heal these wounds is to work to end the causes of the wounds themselves. The issues of healthcare, education, resource exploitation, lack of proper representation in government agencies, etc. are all still with us. My suggestion is that we seek counsel from our indigenous friends about which particular issues those of us in non-Native cultures might address most effectively. I don’t have any credibility in politics, healthcare, natural resources, but I do know a bit about education. I’m trying to help there. What issues can we each address?

    Larry Shelton

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