A first-century Palestinian Jew was born to an unwed mother, in a barn, in a middle-of-nowhere village called Bethlehem, in a land occupied by the Roman Empire. And many believe this man was God.
I join with those who celebrate the birth of this spirit-child, even while knowing his life led to murder at the hands of a corrupt Roman regime that for years had been using power and wealth to silence and oppress people. It is said that after his murder, this same person rose from the dead, his body and bloodshed becoming a bridge from violence and trauma to wholeness and healing — showing that hope could conquer hate, and that the power of integrity, justice, and love could win over corruption, fear, and violence.
Yet this person’s story has also been co-opted by European-descended colonizers and white supremacists for the purposes of further theft, abuse, and genocide. A story about justice and righteousness has also been twisted into one of power and privilege. I acknowledge the history and trauma of colonization inflicted by white Christians on people of color.
What, then, does it mean to celebrate Christmas?
For the past several months, many of us have lived at Oceti Sakowin Camp, land of the seven council fires, in North Dakota — occupied Lakota territory, where a wealthy oil company has funded a pipeline to tear through sacred burial grounds and disregard treaties, and where the United States government has aided this oil company through the use of violent retaliation on anyone who impeded the progress of the Dakota Access pipeline. Many of my friends and family members have been jailed, beaten, and attacked by dogs, water cannons, tear gas, and LRADs (Long-Range Acoustic Devices, nonlethal weapons), to name only some of the violence. Some are facing felonies. Many are experiencing trauma.
We have stood in opposition not only to a pipeline, but also to 500 years of oppression and genocide. I personally have wrestled with calling myself Catholic, as I stand with many people whose culture and history has been silenced and whose people have been murdered on account of Christianizing in settings known as Catholic boarding schools. In the face of this violent history, I stand with those who are choosing to say that enough is enough. We have risked our safety to stand on the side of justice, trusting the possibility of a more healed, more whole future.
A Palestinian brother recently told me that in the Palestinian struggle, they say, “Let my body be the bridge for my people to liberate Palestine.” At Oceti Sakowin Camp, we have lived in a gift economy, have sung and danced, and have held onto the hope that our bodies might be a bridge for the liberation of people and land.
This is what it means to celebrate Christmas.