Ken Whitt invites a friend to tell the Indigenous story ‘The Man Who Stands Up Out of Ashes’

By KEN WHITT
Contributing Columnist

Of late, not too late I hope, I have been listening to many Indigenous stories: podcasts, books and articles all bearing witness to what we must learn from native peoples if we are to stand any chance of living well within the earth community. Often the speakers open their presentations by sharing sacred words about the particular place on this earth where they are with their audience at that moment. They identify the people who walked here for centuries, even millennia, before Europeans arrived in the Americas. Words may be spoken in a native language and communities may be identified with both ancient and more common westernized names.

Without knowing that this practice of “land acknowledgment” had a name, I often have identified the First Nations peoples, Adena, Hopewell, Shawnee, Iroquis, Delaware, who lived on and cared for this land, trees, water, air, animals, as if they were members of their families.

For my spiritual formation newsletter, I create weekly videos for children and families. Their purpose is to teach children how to care for the creation. The collection can be found on YouTube.

Years ago, I met and Fred Shaw, who often tells Native American stories. I spoke with Fred recently of this practice called “land acknowledgment.” He suggested that I—as I present to groups including children—could begin like this:

Children, we are not the first people to walk on this land. There have been various human beings here for thousands of years. Scientists, called archeologists, have given them names, like Adena and Hopewell—but these are not what they called themselves. Where we are today was the home of Algonquin-speaking peoples, including the Shawnee, Miami and Delaware, and  Iroquoian-speaking people, including the Seneca. We give thanks to these people for taking good care of the land, air, water, trees and animals, as members of a family.  May we learn from them to take care of all our family members in this beautiful creation.

 Then Fred began to tell me a story about hope and transformation:

 

Ken Whitt: Rediscovering our love for the world’s beauty in the hearts of trees

Wood art and photographs by Ken Whitt.

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We do not want merely to see beauty, though, God knows, even that is bounty enough.
We want something else that can hardly be put into words—
To be united with the beauty we see, to pass into it,
To receive it into ourselves, to bathe in it,
To become part of it.
C.S. Lewis

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By KEN WHITT
Contributing Columnist

We live among the beautiful hills, farms, forests, gorges and waterfalls of the Hocking Hills region of southeastern Ohio. Our lives are sustained by this luxurious canopy of life.

This sustenance is more than simply good. It is utterly necessary.

Click this cover image to visit the book’s Amazon page. Ken Whitt’s new book is available in hardcover, paperback and Kindle eBook versions. The book also is available via Barnes & Noble, Walmart, Powell’s Books and many other online bookstores.

We long to actively participate in the creation of beauty. My wife Kathy weaves stunning rugs on one of her two looms. I create wood art in my workshop.

These activities are more than simply good. They are utterly necessary.

Why do I stress those words? Because so much that is beautiful is passing away. So must that is lovely, scenic, gorgeous and magnificent is passing. Will my grandchildren see the glaciers or the redwoods or the reefs?

Utterly necessary? This very day, grief threatens to overwhelm us—we who are among the most blessed and privileged. Scientists—and reports in publications like National Geographic—tell us that the overall bird population across North America is declining. My neighbors and I have noticed that song birds are suddenly gone from our back yard and much of this region.

There are so many sources for our grief in the midst of this pandemic. Just recently another traumatic loss pierced our lives, lives that we anxiously hoped were inoculated against such tragedy by the miracles of medicine.

If your visit our home, you might be tempted to think of us as strange folks. You couldn’t miss two large compost bins, one waiting for the spring when it will provide nutrients to our organic garden. You would certainly notice the 330 gallon water tank that is about to become part of a rain-collection system. Wood piles line the front of the house to feed our just-installed wood stove. We are adapting to the many intersecting predicaments that threaten our world. We are growing some of our own food—and canning fruits and vegetables, while knowing full well that we cannot be sure what adaptations are most needed, or how soon.

In the meantime, we absorb and create beauty.

Why do we devote time to creating beauty?

Ken and his grandson Maxton

Let me tell you about a recent experience.

One morning, I was sitting on my porch at the start of what promised to be a beautiful day. However, I was deep in grief at so many levels that I had stopped trying to keep track of them.

I had kept trying to avoid them all, but such an effort is exhausting. I had barely dragged myself into this new day and had pressed myself into prayer. Finally, striving to remember God’s love and the safety I feel when I connect with God, I began to weep.

Various layers of grief caught my attention, one after the other. All I had to do was silently cry out, “I miss you!” Grief took over again. Each grief evoked its unique expression, yet each also led me deeper and deeper into God’s embrace—until I was spent and began to just rest.

“Come to me, all you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest,” Jesus says.

Eyes closed. Stomach tension gone. Breathing softly. Resting.

Suddenly, I realized that from within the inner quiet I was seeing images. New patterns, new combinations of color and design—new projects waiting for me to see if they could be created in my woodworking shop.

“I’ve never done that before. Is that even possible? How can I know unless I try?”

As a direct result of what I saw as I rested—only after I had grieved and prayed—I found myself, over the next few days, magnetically drawn into my workshop at every opportunity. I began playing with new ideas, staring long and hard at the various woods that are found on dozens of my shelves and smaller pieces in a plethora of boxes.

I was seeing this wood as an artist and, at the same time, kept asking: Why? What is the good of this calling to creativity?

Apparently, it is healing!

Creativity can be birthed in suffering, because suffering sees reality through God’s eyes. Possibilities of beauty are hidden when we hide from the shadows. Beauty, as Brian Zahnd says in the title of his book, Beauty Will Save the World.

How can that possibly work? Well, for one thing, creating beauty and seeing beauty may cause us to fall in love, finally, or all over again, with the creation.

Can falling in love with the creation compel us to stop destroying it? Falling in love with the creation, spending time creating, draw forth every last ounce of beauty from the creation, just might compel us, at last, to action to help preserve the wonders of our earth.

And a Reminder from Isaiah 41

From the era of the Babylonian Exile, more than two millennia ago, comes this reminder that all of humanity are caught up in this divine process:

When the poor and needy seek water,
and there is none,
and their tongue is parched with thirst,
I the Lord will answer them,
I the God of Israel will not forsake them.
I will open rivers on the bare heights,
and fountains in the midst of the valleys;
I will make the wilderness a pool of water,
and the dry land springs of water.
I will put in the wilderness the cedar,
the acacia, the myrtle, and the olive;
I will set in the desert the cypress,
the plane and the pine together,
so that all may see and know,
all may consider and understand,
that the hand of the Lord has done this,
the Holy One of Israel has created it.

Let’s look at the hearts of these trees

Here are more of Ken’s photos from his woodworking shop.

Care to Learn More?

Ken Whitt’s book God Is Just Love is full of stories like this one. How can people of faith foster love and resilience in our children while building sustainable, diverse communities? That’s the big question Ken Whitt’s new book answers in light of the many threats looming in our world. Through wisdom he has gleaned from scientists, scholars and lots of real families, Ken shows how God’s love is a hopeful compass in our lives. He encourages enjoying stories, songs and explorations of the natural world with children, and closes with “100 Things Families Can Do To Find Hope and Be Love.”

You’ll also find lots of stories, columns and videos at the homepage for Ken’s ministry group: Traces of God Ministries. While you’re visiting that website, please sign up for Ken’s free email updates, which contain inspiring reflections, columns and updates that Ken shares with his readers.

 

In ‘The Sandbox Revolution,’ Lydia Wylie-Kellermann helps us to raise kids for a just world

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By KEN WHITT
Author of God Is Just Love

Click on this photo to visit the book’s Amazon page.

More than a year ago I learned that Lydia Wylie-Kellermann would be publishing a book in 2021 on the theme of parenting and justice. For many years, beginning in 1973, I led many intergenerational religious education groups.

At that time, my indispensable resource on teaching justice themes to families was Parenting for Peace and Justice, by Kathleen and James McGinnis, which is now out of print. Of course, the world has changed, becoming much more unjust, less peaceful and far more perilous in my view.

I am now the father of four and the grandfather of thirteen. My passion for the well-being of children, now and in the future, has risen to the top of my priority list. When I heard about Lydia’s plans, I was about to publish my own book (God Is Just Love: Building Spiritual Resilience and Sustainable Communities for the Sake of Our Children and Creation). My attention was turning rapidly towards spending the rest of my life working directly with children and families seeking to live abundant, just and loving lives, no matter what was happening around them.

I hoped to find new allies in the most important work I would ever do.

I could not have been more pleased to discover Lydia’s new book, The Sandbox Revolution, Raising Kids for a Just World.  I am tearfully grateful to learn more about Lydia Wylie-Kellermann, and her many partner and parent writers. In them, I recognize friends on this journey.

So, that is what I needed to say, from a most personal point of view.

Then, I also want you to read Lydia’s book, so here are a few additional insights.

When you get the book and read it. Read every word. Digest the words. Live the words. For me, this was especially critical when I got to chapter 13 and chapter 14.

In chapter 13 we hear from Lydia’s father—pastor, author and prophet Bill Wylie-Kellermann. He writes about what I will call “the community imperative.” You cannot know just love and be just love—in a very broken world getting more fragile every day—outside of community.

Back in the times when Lydia and I were being raised, this was true for the Wylie-Kellermann family and just as true for the Whitt family. The community imperative is one of the three vital messages of my book also: 1. Spiritual resilience, 2. Beloved Community and 3. Adaptation. Yes, I’m urging you to read both of our books. I think Lydia’s book addresses a broader range of sub-topics from the point of view of more writers. My book invites you deeper into the current predicaments and their intersections and the future that must be shaped by Just Love.

In these times, as we are walking with our children and grandchildren, the community imperative may well mean the difference between fear and love, despair and hope, violent assaults and peaceful partnerships.

When I reached chapter 14, I found even more valuable lessons. I already knew that the beloved communities of the future must adapt many of the ways of indigenous peoples. But now I would be specifically instructed by a parent who, herself, was learning to pass on her tribal traditions to children.

It is way past time to begin putting children, the creation and the future first and foremost in the priorities and decisions of our lives.

You can find a way to afford the price of a book. You cannot afford to miss this wisdom.

Lydia Wylie-Kellermann

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Care to read more?

GET THE BOOK. The Sandbox Revolution is available from Amazon in paperback and Kindle, plus Barnes & Noble sells the book in paperback and the Nook format.

If you preview the book at either online retailer’s website, you can look at the entire Table of Contents, which includes chapters such as:

  1. What Makes a Family? Infertility, Masculinity and the Fecundity of Grace
  2. Money: Nurturing a Family Culture of Generosity and Justice
  3. Education: Learning at the Speed of Trust
  4. Where to Live: Putting Down Roots and Being Known
  5. Spirituality: Entrusting Our Children to the Path
  6. Moving beyond Normativity: Family as a Haven for Authenticity, Self-Expression and Equity
  7. Raising Antiracist White Kids: Some Rules Need to Be Broken
  8. Resisting Patriarchy: Messy, Beautiful Independence
  9. Ableism: Opening Doors and Finding Transformation
  10. Honoring Earth: Healing for the Carceral Mind and Climate Crisis with Joyful Interconnectedness
  11. The Power of Story: Subversive Lessons from Grandmother Oak
  12. Building Community: Choosing Life in the Certainty of Death
  13. Risk and Resistance: The Cost and Gifts to Our Children
  14. How Do I Heal the Future? Reclaiming Traditional Ways for the Sake of Our Children

You can learn more about the diverse contributing writers in this section of the book’s website.

Then, if you wish to contact Lydia about this book, here’s the part of the book’s website where you can send a message by U.S. mail, email or via a message through that website.

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PLUS! A DISCUSSION GUIDE—AND—CHILDREN’S BOOKS! Lydia also has developed a discussion guide, packed with ideas for conversation and activities as you read each chapter either individually or with friends. AND she recommends some great children’s books that could accompany various sections of her book. You’ll find those free resources on the book’s website.

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Click the cover to visit the geez magazine website.

LEARN MORE ABOUT LYDIA’S COMMUNITY OF WRITERS. In addition to editing and contributing to this new book, Lydia is the editor of the quarterly magazine called: geez—contemplative cultural resistance, where you can enjoy her work along with many other writers and teachers, including many of the folks who contributed to the new book. If you want to know much more about the ongoing life of this magazine community, stop by the Blog area of the geez website. You’ll find lots of helpful news there.

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LEARN MORE ABOUT THE REMARKABLE WYLIE-KELLERMANN FAMILY. Get a copy of Bill Wylie-Kellermann’s memoir Dying Well: The Resurrected Life of Jeanie Wylie-Kellermann. Jeanie was an internationally known journalist, editor, filmmaker and peace activist—and was Lydia’s mother. If you are interested in learning more about faith-based ways of approaching family milestones, including the death of a loved one, then you will want a copy of this book, too.

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GET KEN WHITT’s BOOK. Finally, Ken urges readers to consider his book and Lydia’s new book as companions in this important niche of inspirational challenges for multi-generational experiences of faith and justice. Ken’s book is God Is Just Love: Building Spiritual Resilience and Sustainable Communities for the Sake of Our Children and Creation.