‘Land Acknowledgment’ is a first step toward justice for our Native American neighbors

JOY AND HEARTBREAKThis 1585 watercolor painting of a traditional dance among the Roanac (spelled Roanoke by settlers) is both joyous and heartbreaking, because it is one of very few images we have of this Algonquian-speaking people who once lived in present-day Dare County on the far eastern coast of North Carolina. English visitor John White, an explorer, cartographer and artist made a series of watercolor illustrations in 1585 to accurately educate the British about Roanac culture. Today, his watercolors, including this one in London’s British Museum, are among the few traces left in the world of this once-vibrant community. (NOTE: This image is in the public domain and can be shared along with this story.)


Learning from Our Native American Neighbors, today

EDITOR’S NOTE: This year, our magazine is highlighting emerging stories about our relationships with our Native American neighbors. We have been reporting on both the tragic challenges and the multi-faceted opportunities, right now, in establishing such cooperative relationships. As residents of North America, today, we have an enormous amount of work ahead of us, including coming to terms with centuries of trauma in North American Indian boarding schools, which we have reported on earlier. This week, we asked journalist and author Bill Tammeus to report on an important nationwide effort to open up these relationships with a small first step: land acknowledgments.


Learning to take the small first step of ‘Land Acknowledgment’


Contributing Columnist

In the midst of racial unrest around the nation last year, my Kansas City congregation, which began at the end of the Civil War as an anti-slavery church, started a renewed anti-racism effort.

As part of this, I was especially drawn to explore how to educate ourselves about—and respond to the needs of—Indigenous people in our area. The gaps in my knowledge about American Indian history and culture were and remain legion. (Most of what I knew about “Indians” came from living for two years as a boy in India, but that wasn’t much use for this.)

EARLY NATIVE AMERICAN LANGUAGE GROUPS: This U.S. government map is in the public domain. Remember that this is just one visual representation of lands that once were home to native peoples. Many smaller tribes were not included in this map. This map is also a snapshot from one era. Over many centuries, groups of people moved across the continent and these rough boundaries changed. As Bill Tammeus reports, the way to authentically explore land acknowledgment in your own part of North America begins with contacting Indian leaders in your region. (NOTE: Clicking on this map will display a much larger and more readable version. You also can right click on this map and save a copy on your phone or computer.)

So I began reading such books as An Indigenous People’s History of the United States, by Rosanne Dunbar-Ortiz; Land: How the Hunger for Ownership Shaped the Modern World, by Simon Winchester; How the Indians Lost their Land: Law and Power of the Frontier, by Stuart Banner, Diné: A History of the Navajos, by Peter Iverson, and Braiding Sweetgrass: Indigenous Wisdom, Scientific Knowledge and the Teaching of Plants, by Robin Wall Kimmerer.

Learning and Listening

Along the way we invited Native Americans to teach us about food sovereignty as well as land acknowledgements and other matters that were mostly unfamiliar to many of us. (Note: This link to “land acknowledgements” will take you to the Smithsonian’s informative website; a second “land acknowledgments” link below will take you to the Native Governance Center’s website.)

In that journey, we found that it was important to let the Indigenous people we were contacting know that we were there to learn—and not to assume we knew what they needed and wanted.

So, when we learned of the Kansas City Indian Center’s practice of providing food and other necessities to people in need, we asked if we could help. The result was a collection of more than 250 pandemic-era items, such as wipes and hand sanitizers. Then, when we learned of the organization’s hopes to build a new commercial kitchen to process Native-grown crops, we asked again if we could help. The result was that our members donated more than $15,000 toward the kitchen’s construction.

Let me repeat this point, because it is important: We don’t go to Indigenous people to tell them what they need and what we’ll do about it. We go to learn and listen. And, where appropriate, to walk with them.

So when I learned about land acknowledgements, the idea especially intrigued me. This practice provides a chance for the current (usually white) owners of particular parcels of land to recognize in public ways that the land they own—or the land on which, say, their church building sits—is considered ancestral tribal land by Indigenous people from whom it may have been stolen or taken via broken treaties.

‘A Very Small Gesture’

Click on the cover to visit the book’s Amazon page.

I used a land acknowledgement statement in September when I preached and led a discussion of my new book, Love, Loss and Endurance, at a church in Chicagoland. I told people that such acknowledgements are a very small gesture—but they’re not nothing.

And by “very small gesture,” I mean exactly that.

As Ed Smith, a staff member of the Kansas City Indian Center told me about land acknowledgements: “I don’t think much of them. If all they do is acknowledge that you’re on stolen land but aren’t going to do anything else after that, it wouldn’t be much different than me driving by after my grandpa stole your grandpa’s car—admitting that my grandpa stole it years ago and leaving with it anyway.”

Well, what “car” are we talking about?

The quick answer: The land that makes up the U.S. today.

As Banner writes in How the Indians Lost Their Land, “Between the early seventeenth century and the early twentieth century, almost all the land in the present-day United States was transferred from American Indians to non-Indians.”

True, but it’s more complicated than that. For one thing, his verb “transferred” makes it sound like it was a simple sale of land from Indians to whites. As Banner notes, however, “Indians had different conceptions of property than European settlers had. . .so they couldn’t have understood what the settlers (“settlers” refers mostly to European invaders) meant by a sale. The Indians were really conquered by force.”

But he acknowledges that even that’s an over-simplified version.

Banner again: “At most times, and in most places, the Indians were not exactly conquered, but they did not exactly choose to sell their land either. The truth was somewhere in the middle. . .Whites always acquired Indian land within a legal framework of their own construction. Law was always present, but so was power. The more powerful whites became relative to Indians, the more they were able to mold the legal system to produce outcomes in their favor—more sales, of larger tracts, at lower prices than would have existed had power relationships been more equal.”

That’s a lot to say in a simple land acknowledgement statement!

‘Architects of Removal’

And yet there’s more. As Winchester notes in his 2021 book, Land, “(W)estward was. . .the direction to which white men moved to fulfill their promised destiny. Westward to the ever-shifting frontier, with the Indians moved ahead and into the unknown, beyond their own Pales of Settlement, and to places where, in the white men’s eyes, they could do no harm except to their savage and miserable selves. There were many architects of the removal plan.”

Among those architects he mentions Presidents Thomas Jefferson, James Monroe and John Quincy Adams, “(b)ut then, and most notoriously, came the seventh president, Andrew Jackson, a Democrat who would have no further truck with an evidently recalcitrant aggregation of Indian feeling in the fertile settler country of the American southeast. He wanted all to go—particularly those acknowledged to be advanced, settled and self-governing, and condescendingly known as the Five Civilized Tribes. They were told. . .go head out. . .”

In a phone interview, Winchester described himself as uninspired by land acknowledgements, though he thought they had some small value. He called such acknowledgements “outwardly pointless but they get people thinking,” noting that acknowledgements began years ago in Australia and New Zealand.

Still, he said, “a lot of Native Americans are quite right to scoff at it. But in its defense, I think it means that some people are starting to consider the problem, which they’ve long glossed over and decided not to pay any attention to. I am hopeful that it will prompt a few people to consider what we’ve done to Native Americans.”

Indigenous People Still Live Among Us

So I plan to continue using land acknowledgement statements at appropriate times and my church will be using them to recognize the bloody history that has brought us to today and to acknowledge that Indigenous people are still here and have a future.

But if we don’t do more than that by, say, trying to respond in helpful ways to the needs of Indigenous people, such acknowledgements will barely be worth the paper on which they’re written.


Care to learn more?

One way to determine which Indigenous peoples once occupied any particular area of the U.S., the Native Lands app is useful. Native Land Digital, which produces this app, is a Canadian not-for-profit organization, incorporated in December 2018. Native Land Digital is Indigenous-led, with an Indigenous Executive Director and Board of Directors who oversee and direct the organization. Numerous non-Indigenous people also contribute as members of the nonprofit’s Advisory Council.


Bill Tammeus, a former award-winning columnist for The Kansas City Star, writes the “Faith Matters” blog for The Star’s website and columns for The Presbyterian Outlook and formerly for The National Catholic Reporter. His latest book is Love, Loss and Endurance: A 9/11 Story of Resilience and Hope in an Age of Anxiety. Email him at [email protected].



School of Joy: Meeting the needs of at-risk children in a challenging corner of the world

Contributing Columnist

Meet Father Mamdouh Abusada, director of the School of Joy in Beit Sahour, Palestine. Father Mamdouh is a Catholic priest in the historically Christian town of Beit Sahour, just East of Bethlehem. Father Mamdouh was a pastor of family programs in the early-1990’s when he saw a significant need for children with disabilities to receive an education. In 1993 he and his family started the “School of Joy” for children with intellectual disabilities.

School of Joy now has 51 students, including nine residents, with various intellectual and developmental disabilities. School of Joy teaches Christian as well as Muslim students. Father Mamdouh says that education without discrimination is part of the school’s public witness.

Around the world, people with disabilities experience various forms of stigma and discrimination. That is especially true in Beit Sahour, where poverty affects many families’ diet, health care and the overall learning environment for children. In fact, the founders of the school initially were prompted by a significant number of homeless children with disabilities they noticed in their area. Some of School of Joy’s students were abandoned by their families. Some are orphans.

Father Mamdouh says he sees people changing their attitudes toward their children. To illustrate this, he told me the story of a father, frustrated by the slow learning of one child, who exclaimed, “I wish that God hadn’t given me this child.”

Father Mamdouh responded, “If you don’t see in the face of your child the face of your Lord Jesus, you’ll never be a good man.”

That child eventually joined School of Joy’s vocational training program and learned to work with olive wood. Over the years, he developed his talents as an artisan. Ironically, the child who once had frustrated his father grew up to become the main breadwinner of the family.

As Father Mamdouh puts it, at the School of Joy, “The most neglected become the most important.”

Old biases against the disabled continue in many families. Parents may even try to hide one child’s disability. Sometimes staff from School of Joy can only discover a child in need of education upon visiting families in their home. As a result, the School of Joy has on staff a psychologist and social worker to help children and their families.

Stigma is not School of Joy’s only challenge. Teaching online during the COVID pandemic has been as difficult for School of Joy as for schools in other parts of the world. The staff decided they could host just 10 students in person and would have all the others learn from home, which required extra planning for teachers and especially for low-income families. Few families can provide Zoom for their children’s classwork because of daily challenges with maintaining electricity and the Internet in the West Bank.

Funding is the school’s most significant need, Father Mamdouh says. Families often are only able to contribute small amounts to the cost of their children’s education. Donors are the main backbone of the school’s budget, but a typical donor only sponsors a child for a year or two, requiring constant attention to fund raising. Since tourism to Bethlehem has dwindled during the pandemic, this also has decreased awareness of the school among foreign visitors.

All of these dynamics also must be navigated through the ongoing Israeli-Palestinian conflict and the resulting maze of legal and financial requirements both for students and the school itself. Farah’s story illustrates just one of the complications. She has been a student for several years at School of Joy after having been refused enrollment in public schools. Farah was caught in a legal requirement that all public-school students must have a birth certificate. She does not have one because birth certificates in the region must name both parents and Farah’s unmarried mother declined to name the father. Thus, she has no birth certificate and no access to local public schools. Father Mamdouh repeatedly tried to help obtain a waiver for Farah from authorities, but so far has been unsuccessful.

When asked why Father Mamdouh is so committed to this work, he says, “We’re human. Jesus came for all. Humanity is very important to me. Humans should treat everyone the same, without discrimination. We’ll all be okay if we do this.”

School of Joy is one of many institutions in the Bethlehem area in which Christians and Muslims work together. According to Father Mamdouh, the Church can play a unique role in helping people to realize their shared humanity. That requires, he says, seeing the face of the Lord Jesus in the face of one’s neighbor, whether Christian, Muslim or Jewish, whether able-bodied or disabled.

Students celebrating their school work in a photo taken before the COVID pandemic.

If you or your community would like to visit the School of Joy on a trip to the Holy Land, contact us at Churches for Middle East Peace (CMEP).

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

Wood art and photographs by Ken Whitt.


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


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.


Did you know 007 is more than Bond girls, high-tech spycraft and hit songs?

Ian Fleming’s Seven Deadlier Sins & 007’s Moral Compass


Long before 007’s global appeal was defined by Bond girls, futuristic spycraft, exotic weapons and chart-topping theme songs, Ian Fleming hoped that his Bond series would have a far different focus. In fact, he wrote the series of bestselling spy novels as a wake-up call to people around the world about the deadliest sins plaguing our planet.

Click on the cover to visit the book’s Amazon page.

Surprising? Yes—but true.

In fact, one of Fleming’s central passions throughout his career—as a former spy, a famous journalist and finally a bestselling novelist—was urging the world to understand the deadly temptations that could destroy our global community.

Before he created James Bond, who became one of the world’s most popular media franchises, Fleming was best known as one of Britain’s top journalists. He was the foreign-desk manager for the news group that owned The Sunday Times, the UK’s largest-circulation newspaper. In that role, he oversaw the paper’s worldwide network of correspondents during the height of the Cold War; and he became convinced that journalists had a duty to alert their readers to the world’s looming dangers. So, he proposed that the newspaper commission a series of seven essays on the so-called Seven Deadly Sins—with each chapter written by one of Britain’s literary luminaries. His colleagues agreed. The essays appeared in The Times and later were bound as a book.

When that major project was finished, however, Fleming was disappointed by the scope of what the authors had written. He worried that those traditional seven deadly sins were not really the most troubling temptations circling our planet. Fleming was convinced that there were even deadlier sins, some of which were masquerading as virtues in our pop culture. Fleming was convinced that the deadliest temptations in our world actually were:

  1. Moral Cowardice
  2. Hypocrisy
  3. Self-Righteousness
  4. Cruelty & Malice
  5. Avarice
  6. Snobbery
  7. And Accidie

Take a moment and read that list again. Is your head nodding? Fleming came up with this list more than half a century ago—but those seven deadliest sins certainly look like forces running rampant across the U.S. and around the world today. Don’t they?

How did Fleming plan to issue his worldwide alert to these dangers? Beginning in the early 1950s, Fleming wrote his James Bond novels as a series of gripping, page-turning parables showing how these seven deadlier sins could run amok—both among Fleming’s super-villains and within his 007 super-agent’s own heart, mind and soul.

To learn more about this adventure-story-within-an-adventure-story, we asked author Benjamin Pratt to tell about his own adventures with Fleming and Bond.

Benjamin Pratt on his own 13-year Bond Adventure:

Many of you have followed my analysis of the Bond tales since the release in 2008 of my book, Ian Fleming’s Seven Deadlier Sins & 007’s Moral Compass. Ian Fleming has generally been considered by critics as a light-weight author. I consider him a heavy-weight who has produced the first narrative treatment of the Deadly Sins in centuries following in the footsteps of Chaucer and Dante.

This all began when Ian Fleming suggested to his fellow editors at the London Sunday Times that they commission a series of essays on the traditional seven deadly sins. Fleming even suggested the authors he hoped would cover each of the seven sins. His fellow editors not only accepted his idea, they accepted six of the seven authors Fleming had suggested. But, Fleming was not satisfied. More was needed. He wrote that the traditional seven deadly sins will no longer keep us out of Heaven—and that there are seven deadlier sins that will get us into Hell.

Taking on this literary challenge himself, Fleming personified those seven deadlier sins as the evil characters Bond pursued—and in the temptations Bond encountered in his own life. The Bond tales are akin to the mythical tales of Saint George and the Dragon—with 007’s vocation ultimately aimed at slaying the world’s seven deadliest sins.

What’s the connection with Bible study in my book about Fleming’s Bond quest?

You won’t find a biblical connection explicitly detailed in Fleming’s novels—unless you can recognize the key he offers to his readers. I stumbled across it years ago while on a trip, staying overnight in a rustic cabin with a Gideon’s Bible that fell open to the Letter of James, which began with the words: “James a bondservant!” Then, I found that this is the same wording of that first verse of James in Fleming’s personal Bible—and I think this is where he chose the name James Bond. In addition, all the seven deadlier sins are in the Letter of James. Thus, my book is a Bible Study with James Bond.  Many groups have conducted this study and found it rich and challenging.

Join them!



Duncan Newcomer’s ‘Haikus for Sonnets’ capture the wonderment of love for our companions

In Memoriam: Sonnets

Sonnets was a purebred Abyssian. She came under the care of the Rev. Dr. Duncan Newcomer as he entered major life transitions from Washington, D.C. in the year 2008. She was from a breeder in Long Island and for the great sum, to him, of $1,000, as a marker of the important transitions, was delivered, with her papers, to Rev. Newcomer in Cape May, New Jersey, in the fall of ’08. She was his companion from then on for the many transitions they both underwent, and came to her end with an untreatable illness in Maine, in September of 2021. Abyssians are famous for extending their right paw upon greeting or awakening and that was what won Newcomer’s heart at a cat show years before. She was a poem to him and so named after the form so perfectly presented by Shakespeare and Browning.

Haikus for Sonnets



Are you ready, ready

to go up the stairs, eat a treat,

make my life?


When they see your cat face

they stop doing what they were.

They don’t know why.


As if roaring you yawn,

a tiger awakes, teeth and claws,

then back to sleep.


Moving square of sun

on floor, then higher

on chair, closer for you.


It’s your war dance

chasing this feather on a string,

we take off kite-like.


Of course I talked to you,

but like Tao,

silence was knowing.


I had all the language.

You had not a word. You

are how we are together now.


It was the

cool drop on your nose,



Everything was OK

I had my cat

at least.


If I had fur like you

but inside,

lick my heart?


You, Abyssinian cat, round half circle on bed,

me, tall standing man, white hair,

breeze breaks curtains, your left paw stretching.


Of course the sunlight

shown through your ears,

we could all hear it.


There with your E.T. ears

I would always come back

to you, there with your E.T. ears.


Yes, I would at times hold

your paw as we slept.

Not a third thing, just us.


Can you still jump to


Back and forth you tremble.


They say it is best

To put the cat down.

This far? I say.


Your nostrils like

pin holes, but

they put the last needle in your leg.


My head bowed on yours

our two griefs one

lost each other, but you lost you.


Head to head

I breathe full of mourn

no air left inside.


These minutes of joy

did they run out

like the ticking clock?


Shall I bring you

my emptiness

now, or later?


Framed glass door

your place of view

empty now, seeing nothing.


Twelve years never gone.

Two days gone now.

This just doesn’t add up.


Skunk smell outside

acrid air everywhere,

I keep breathing grief.


I’ve never caught a fish

with my hands,

nor this grief.


Leave box of tissues

Anywhere now,

No table-jumping.


Gripping grief

even little paws

scimitar claws.


I’ve had a few

of your white whiskers

retrieved on my wood lamp base.


I look over assured

your absence



The dark side of moon

still full

wanes when?


In bed middle

no cat circle

nothing to curve around.


In dozens of Chinese verbs

overtones of grieving,

like Shakespeare, Sonnets.


So a sonnet for Sonnets.

You, twelve years long.

Where is the couplet?


I experience you in these words

like the room

you just left.


Right now under the bedside lamp

still room made

on bed for you.


So it is the next room

where I will see you again,

the next room.


Last prayer

at end of day,

you raised my spirit.


No, I won’t grieve


I won’t live that long.


There’s a place for us,

it isn’t here,



Stepping slowly

to heaven

did we leave anything behind?


Exist in these words

Cat Tao Cat Tao Cat Tao?

Lick my hand.


Bill Tammeus Preaches Inclusion

An Inspiring Video You Can Share

Bill Tammeus, author of Love, Loss and Endurance, continued his months-long nationwide effort to encourage Americans to “unplug extremism” with a Sunday-morning sermon, addressed directly to Christians in light of the New Testament.

We have an easily share-able YouTube video of that sermon, which is a prophetic call to Christians to confront efforts to subvert the Bible for hateful purposes. He was preaching at First Presbyterian Church of Lake Forest, Illinois, a congregation attended by his sister Mary. In the 9/11/2001 terrorist attacks, both Bill and Mary lost a beloved family member in one of the planes that hit the World Trade Center—so this is a deeply personal message.

Here is a YouTube video of Bill’s sermon, which is “set” to begin when Bill steps into the pulpit. If you wish to see more of the service, you can easily start the video at another point.

Care to share this with friends?

This is a video you may want to share with friends or perhaps a small group within your congregation. (Bill welcomes invitations to meet with groups nationally.)

Here’s a small sample of what Bill says in his sermon:

As we learn in the book of James, faith is not worth much if it does not produce love, mercy and compassion. …

The 9/11 terrorist attacks—and examples of extremism before and after that—have sometimes tried to disguise themselves as rooted in religious thinking. But, do you know how to tell if such so-called religious teaching is not just false but also is a destructive sham? Any time those so-called religious teachings lead people to view others as less than fully human—or lead people to oppress others in some way, you can be sure it’s not the product of healthy religion and that whoever is preaching such things has it wrong. …

I want to be clear that all of our faith traditions can sometimes be subverted and distorted in this way. Yes, the twisted version of Islam that the terrorists bought into on 9/11 certainly was an example of this, but so was the kind of Christianity that slaveholders in the U.S. before the civil war used to justify their evil. And in our time, so is the kind of Christianity that encourages people to try to retain the White supremacy that was built into our nation’s founding documents—or to advocate for Christian nationalism—or to insist that our LGBTQ brothers and sisters have no place in the life of the church. To take those positions requires a distortion and subversion of scripture.

Care to learn more?

Click the cover to visit the book’s Amazon page.

Bill Tammeus, served for many years as the award-winning columnist for The Kansas City Star until his retirement from the newsroom. Now, he writes the “Faith Matters” blog for The Star’s website and columns for The Presbyterian Outlook. Email him at [email protected].

Get his book: Love, Loss and Endurance: A 9/11 Story of Resilience and Hope in an Age of Anxiety. is available from Amazon and other online retailers.

To see the rising tide of terrorism, Bill recommends this summary from TRAC, the research center based at Syracuse University.

For more on the rise in extremism among military personnel and police, Bill points to the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) article, headlined: The Military, Police, and the Rise of Terrorism in the United States

Bill also recommends: Other helpful resources for understanding domestic terrorism better include these books: American Zealots: Inside Right-Wing Domestic Terrorism, by Arie Perliger, and White Hot Hate: A True Story of Domestic Terrorism in America’s Heartland, by Dick Lehr. In addition, here’s an online resource you may find helpful from CSIS: “The War Comes Home: The Evolution of Domestic Terrorism in the United States.”


Major General James Dozier, 40 years after his kidnapping, writes about ‘Finding My Pole Star’

Click this image to visit the book’s Amazon page.


What does courage look like?

Dozier writes about the spiritual core that helped him withstand captivity

Editor of ReadTheSpirit magazine

Major General James Dozier when he was freed from captivity.

Repeatedly over the past month—in the wake of the exodus from Afghanistan, a resurgence of COVID and tragic storms across the U.S.—I have heard people raise the question: What does courage look like?

That question was raised again this week by author Larry Buxton in his Leading with Spirit video, where he explains that this is a question frequently asked by “supervisors, spouses, pastors, parents, managers and bosses.” In the daily stress of our turbulent times, Buxton says that all of us want to know: “What can we do to be more courageous in our lives and in the roles we play everyday?”

Those questions are answered with inspiring true stories in the new memoir by retired Major General James Dozier, Finding My Pole Star. Forty years ago, in late 1981, Dozier’s name and photographs circled the globe as he became the public face of European terrorist groups’ rage about America’s global power.

Dozier’s book begins with a scene that takes us right back to those suspenseful weeks in 1981. A terrorist group called The Red Brigades shocked the world by overpowering him and his wife in their apartment in Italy. At the time, he was the deputy Chief of Staff for NATO’s Southern European land forces—the highest-ranking American ever to have been captured in such a terrorist raid.

Chapter 1, called Ride of Terror and Beginnings, starts with this scene:

The Fiat hatchback made its way through the early evening, transporting me from Verona, Italy, to an unknown destination and to an equally unknown future. I was in the back, jammed into a steamer trunk, lying on my left side, knees to my chest, handcuffed with my hands behind my back. Each time I moved to make myself a little more comfortable, the handcuffs would tighten.

So, what does courage look like?

In reading Dozier’s new memoir, you will find out that it looks a lot like the values millions of us learn from our families, from our teachers (in Dozier’s case at West Point), from weekly attendance at our houses of worship and from public-service organizations such as Rotary International, where Dozier is an active member. While that may sound like an anti-climactic answer to the question of courage, Dozier weaves together the significance of all these everyday lessons into the rock-solid wisdom—the pole star—that led him to take a daring and ultimately successful approach toward his kidnappers.

Fortunately for all of us, he lived to tell this remarkable story.

What’s Your Life’s Calling?

For thousands of years, a pole star has been a key to celestial navigation. For Dozier, finding one’s own spiritual pole star is the quest of a lifetime.

“I start with the firm belief that all of us who live on this earth are here to serve some purpose. God put us here for a reason,” Dozier, 90, said in an interview about his new book and his hope that it may inspire readers, especially the young people he works in Florida JROTC programs, near he lives.

He continued, “Then, if we believe there is a reason we’re here, it becomes our life’s work to figure out what that reason is—and to pursue that purpose with all our energy, even though it might take years to identify that purpose. We have to search for it. And we have to do that to the absolute best of our ability.”

Like most of the world’s great quest stories, one’s personal vocation—one’s pole star—is not always easy for a person to discern. This truth is echoed in another memoir of a famous West Point graduate, retired Col. Cliff Worthy, whose story of emerging as one of West Point’s first Black graduates is told in The Black Knight.

“Yes, I think this was true for both Cliff and myself—our ultimate purpose wasn’t obvious to us for years,” Dozier said in our interview. “You might think that a military career was always my career goal from the very start of my life—but, like Cliff, my life unfolded as the result of many fits and starts. Like Cliff, friends and mentor were vitally important to me all the way along this journey.”

Why is this such an important point?

Because many young Americans don’t develop a sense of vocation, researchers tell us. A sense of vocation can transform our lives, give us purpose and even help us to stay healthier longer in life, research shows. One particular group of men and women struggling with that challenge today are veterans who are trying to transition out of military service, writes military sociologist and Florida Gulf Coast University professor Christine Wright-Isak in her endorsement of Dozier’s new book.

“In my ten years of assisting young U.S. combat veterans from the 21st century Middle Eastern conflicts, I have learned from them the critical importance of their developing a personally important vision for their lives as they returned. Therefore, it is very important that the latest generation of Americans have the chance to hear this story,” she writes.

While held in captivity, Dozier was forced to participate in Red Brigades publicity, including this photograph that was widely circulated to news organizations as the Brigades prepared to cast him in a show trial about American imperialism.

Dozier on the Importance of Truth

One of the earliest values Dozier learned from his family and his church was truth—a value that he immediately recognized and embraced when he learned that it was central to West Point’s Honor Code: “A cadet will not lie, cheat, steal, or tolerate those who do.” That pledge is supposed to be part of the bedrock undergirding West Point’s motto of “duty, honor, country.”

“Truth is a very tough standard to live with,” he said in our interview. “And I’m so embarrassed that West Point has just gone through another cheating scandal.” A cheating scandal in 1976 shocked the nation and the Army—then more than four decades passed without incident. The disruptions of COVID isolation are largely credited with the 2020 scandal. West Point officials discovered that dozens of cadets cheated on a math exam that they took remotely due to the pandemic.

“That’s why I think we have to keep reminding ourselves: There is no excuse for not telling the truth,” Dozier said.

Clearly, the reminders in his book are more timely than ever. Too many Americans—even some West Point cadets—have become un-moored from the pillars of community life that reinforce such basic values as truthfulness.

The Rotary Test: ‘Is it the truth?’

Just as Dozier felt right at home when he first encountered West Point’s emphasis on truthfulness, later in life he recognized that same moral pillar in the century-old service organization Rotary International. At that point in his long life, Dozier was transitioning from the military to become a leader in Florida agri-business.

“You could call me a turn-around specialist,” he said. Initially, he was asked to tackle a management shakeup in a company that ran 30,000 acres of citrus groves. Among his other leadership roles, Dozier worked with a nonprofit that provides transportation for needy families.

“The business and nonprofit worlds are the same as the military in a lot of ways: Your word had better be your bond,” he said. “That’s why I included Rotary in my book.”

As an active member of Rotary, he explains the group’s ethical code. That includes the famous Four-Way Test that Rotarians agree to use in their personal and professional relationships. That test now has been translated into more than 100 languages and is recited at meetings around the world. According to Rotary, the test is:

Of the things we think, say or do:
Is it the TRUTH?
Is it FAIR to all concerned?
Will it be BENEFICIAL to all concerned? 

“Truth develops trust and, throughout my entire life, truth and trust have been intermingled—even when the Red Brigades held me captive and decided to put me into a kind of public trial they wanted to stage to try to show what they thought were American war crimes,” Dozier said. Even though his life was at stake, Dozier told his captors: “You can put me on trial, but you may not like what I have to say. I will not lie to you.”

“And there was something else about trust that I had to remember in that situation,” he said in our interview. “I was trusted not to disclose any information that was classified. And I told my captors that I would never disclose any classified information while they held me captive. I held to that. I never did.”

Dozier on the Importance of Church

As Dozier tells his story in Finding My Pole Star, he shows how that pole star is most clearly visible through the lens of his faith. And that faith depends on a lifetime of involvement with churches from his childhood until today. Currently, he attends Edison Congregational Church in Fort Meyers, Florida, which is coming up on its own centennial in 2025.

In the section of his book on attending West Point, for example, he explains how he carefully weighed his own religious commitments in light of the diversity of other cadets’ faiths. “As I talked with my friends about their religious commitments, and as I thought about religion in new ways, I began to realize why my mother had emphasized certain things in my early religious education. And I think that’s a common experience.  We may start with a faith we grow up with at home—but then all of us go through this process of questioning and learning what makes sense in our own lives. It was really at West Point, talking with my friends about the choices they were making, that I really began to nail down the beliefs that I would follow.

“Like the values of truth and trust and West Point’s ‘honor, duty, country,’ my faith really has shaped my whole life,” Dozier said.

Plus, public health research around the world now shows that active involvement in a congregation contributes to health, wellbeing and longevity.

“I certainly agree with that,” Dozier said. “Our church has a wonderful minister who inspires us. We have wonderful church organizations in which we stay active and we reach out to help other people. Since I’m 90 years old right now, I’m living proof of how important it is to remain sociable every single week. I can tell you: The longer you can maintain your social and religious relationships in life, the better off you are.”

In fact, Dozier says, he took the time to write this memoir—assisted by his friend Commander Douglas Quelch—to share this kind of valuable life lesson with others.

“You could call a lot of what I have learned ‘common sense values’—values that a lot of us grew up with and then develop further throughout our lives—but the truth right now is that we’ve got millions of young people who have not had as much opportunity to learn those values,” Dozier said. “Today, one of the most important things I do in my life is work with young people. So, if I had to describe an ideal reader for this book, I hope it would be young folks who might pick up through my stories how my pole star developed.

“We all face disappointments, setbacks and failures in life. How we respond to those fits and starts is what builds our character,” he said. “No one starts out in life with a clear-cut pole star. That vision develops throughout your life through the influences of people we encounter along the way. I am hoping that, through this book, I might be one of those positive influences in the lives of readers.”


Care to Learn More?

Watch this brief video about Dozier’s memoir, Finding My Pole Star: