The Columbus Day Dilemma

October 10, 2011


“In fourteen hundred ninety-two Columbus sailed the ocean blue.” Today in the USA we celebrate Columbus Day on the second Monday in October. We spend the day commemorating Columbus’s terrible navigating skills. It was in this time period, over 500 years ago, that the mistaken labeling of Native Americans as Indians began. We now know we do not live anywhere close to India and somehow the name has stuck.

I have learned, through basic Google searching, that many people do not celebrate Columbus Day anymore. Even some places in the USA have changed the name to things like Native American Day (South Dakota), Berkeley’s Indigenous Peoples Day, or Discoverer’s Day (Hawaii). There are so many mixed feelings today about Columbus Day and it’s significance.

It cannot be denied the terrible things that happened in the early part of this country. So many unspeakable events that took place. In the name of Manifest Destiny European settlers moved in and took anything they desired, not giving thought to the people it may affect. Natives in this country were not even viewed as being as human as the white European. That seems to be written throughout our history. We did the same thing with slavery and women. Anybody we we perceive to be less than us, we treat them as such and what a terrible outcome it continues to have in this country!

In Donald Miller’s book Blue Like Jazz (you can read his blog and get information about his books here), he tells the story of being in college during a campus-wide festival of sorts. Miller and a group of friends decide to make a confession booth. This booth would be a place where Miller and his friends would confess and apologize to guests for not being good examples of Christ. When the first guest comes in it takes him a while to understand. Finally Don Miller says

“There’s a lot. I will keep it short, Jesus said to feed the poor and to heal the sick. I have never done very much about that. Jesus said to love those who persecute me. I tend to lash out, especially if I feel threatened, you know, if my ego gets threatened. Jesus did not mix His spirituality with politics. I grew up doing that. It got in the way of the central message of Christ. I know that was wrong, and I know that a lot of people will not listen to the words of Christ because people like me, who know Him, carry our own agendas into the conversation rather than just relaying the message Christ wanted to get across. There’s a lot more, you know.”

Crazy right?! What a completely revolutionary idea! Confessing for our shortcomings? Confessing that we do not always act like Jesus and it hurts people. Confessing we are not perfect and not making excuses for it.

I am not saying that apologizing now to Native Americans (or even the people in your life right now) will magically fix all the wrong that has been done to them, but it is a start! Confess when you mess up and then change. Don’t do that anymore. Get it out there, apologizing for our sins to others, and then stop sinning like that!

I have heard it said that “The only thing we learn from history is that nobody learns from history.” Let’s put an end to that. We may not be able to change what has been done but we can create something different for the future. Stop treating others as if they are less than human, and instead treat them with the love of Christ.

What is keeping you from speaking and living the love of Christ to others? 

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