This is a belated memorial to a man that I admired at a distance. His actual memorial has come and gone and many who love him have released him into the hands of GOD. Those closest to him still bare the grief and pain of his absence I am sure. And though he is physically gone – his legacy and the voice of his “tribe” serve as a signpost to the Church at large – a sign that points us down a path that leads to a fullness of faith in the reconciling work of Jesus, our Messiah – who’s blood washes over all nations.
This man I speak of is the late Richard Twiss, husband, father, spiritual leader, bridge-builder, founding president of Wiconi International and Native American/First Nations voice to the Church and the world. Richard passed away February 9th, 2013 after having a heart attack in Washington D.C. three days earlier. Richard traveled extensively and my personal encounter with him occurred years ago at the small independent Charismatic church I was a part of in northern Virginia.
I honestly don’t remember his message on that day but I brought home some music from the band Broken Walls and Richard’s book ‘One Church Many Tribes‘. I have been drawn to Native American and Indigenous cultures ever since I was young and Richard’s voice echoed deeply in that place of GOD-given affinity.
Years later, not long after my wife and I and our kids moved onto the farm we live on, I picked up Richard’s book again and reread it. Ironically, around the same time, I was told of a local legend that described the initial white settlers who came to this valley here by the Peaks of Otter. A deal was struck between a tribal chief and the settlers. They would give the Chief a gun in exchange for freedom to settle in the area. When the time came to make the transaction, one of the Chief’s braves was sent to collect the gun but the settlers instead gave him a mere gunstock. Not knowing what a gun looked like, the young warrior brought the gunstock back to the Chief. As the story goes – the Chief became infuriated at this breach of the agreement and the settlers were slaughtered. From what I understand this legend has never been verified but in local history documents I have on file it is said that this story was passed down from elders in the community years ago.
I know many Christians believe our country has it’s roots in Christian faith but when I hear legends like this one I am reminded of the trail of broken treaties and many times the violence that we, as newcomers, inflicted on the indigenous tribes of this continent. Our nation has a multifaceted past and so I do not believe we can view our nation’s founding as some kind of singular event. But I believe, before GOD, we Americans bare the bloodstains of a thousand broken covenants with a people who we have – even to this day – chosen to despise and push aside in exchange for progress and (at our worse) a twisted sense of “divine” destiny that is akin to madness. It’s a history of violence and oppression we ignore that is alive and well today. I often wonder how this aspect of the founding of our nation could ever be called Christian – and the reality is – it cannot.
As we mourn the loss of Richard Twiss – let us be reminded of this hidden wound – this need for a deeper forgiveness and reconciliation through Jesus who calls all nations before the throne of our Father and Creator. Let us also be reminded that the future of this nation, and even the Church, may well rest in a new generation of native sons – indigenous men and women who can “re-locate” us in a “dis-located” time. May the mantle of Richard Twiss be given to us who are willing to bare it.