A Mountain of Bones
Written by Mark Van Steenwyk : March 24, 2008
I live at the pinnacle of a great mountain of the bones of the oppressed. Native Americans and African Americans and Latino Americans and others died to give their bones to my mountain. As a white man in the Americas, I was born profoundly privileged…even though I grew up in the lower class or at least lower-middle class. My place in the world (and in the Church) is lofty.
The land for my mountain was taken from Native Americans–like the Ojibwe and Sioux. The foundation was laid, in part, by the sweat and blood of African slaves. And every week a Latino gardener comes to tend the shrubs and flowers at my home on the pinnacle of my mountain.
I was born on this mountain…so in a certain way of thinking, its existence isn’t my fault. But I notice that the decedents of those entombed in my mountain tend to be much worse off than me. When White America was being created on the backs of African, Native, and Latin Americans, it left fewer resources for them to pass onto their children. So when my ancestors sailed across from Europe and were able to cheaply and easily buy farm land to start their towns and farms, there were entire dispossessed and struggling ethnic groups already here who couldn’t buy that land–for a variety of reasons. Not my fault, I suppose. But I live on the mountain. And I can’t help but think that its wrong that Natives and African Americans and Latin Americans and others live at the foot of my mountain.
I am a follower of Jesus Christ, but many of my brothers and sisters live below. In fact, most of the biggest churches with the largest budgets and the highest honors are build on top of this mountain. They think they are entitled to the view, while the churches at the base of the mountain struggle for resources and respect.
Some say that my place on this mountain is a birthright that I cannot sell. Nevertheless, I’m trying to climb down this mountain to live at the lower heights. In all things I must place my spiritual kinship above ethnic ties and racial ties and even family ties. I don’t do this out of guilt, but because I honestly believe that I can experience more of the Kingdom this way, and experience more of Jesus this way.
And so, I live at the top of a mountain of bones. A white-washed mountain of bones and blood and oppression. As I sit on my back porch, taking in the view of the valley below, I whisper to myself:
Every valley shall be filled in,
every mountain and hill made low.
The crooked roads shall become straight,
the rough ways smooth.
And all people will see God’s salvation.
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