richard twiss

A Sacred Beat

AT THE WORLD Christian Gathering of Indigenous People in 1996, our North American Native delegation was unable to find any “Christian” Native powwow music that we could use to dance to as part of our entrance into the auditorium. This was important at the time, as we didn’t feel the liberty to use “non-Christian” powwow music for a distinctly Christian event. A contemporary Christian song by a Caucasian worship leader using some Native words and a good beat was selected.

Except in a handful of cases (believers among the Kiowa, Seminole, Comanche, Dakota, Creek, and Crow tribes, to name some)—and those always in a local tribal context—Native believers were not allowed or encouraged to write new praise or worship music in their own languages utilizing their own tribal instruments, style, and arrangements.

What they were encouraged to do was translate Western-style music, hymns, and songs (for example, “How Great Thou Art,” “Amazing Grace,” “The Old Rugged Cross,” “A Mighty Fortress is Our God”) into their own languages, fully retaining Western cultural musical constructs.

Participation in traditional powwows, with their key features of drumming/singing and dancing, for many Native Christians has been discouraged or forbidden. Long considered a seditious threat to government control and an obstacle to the evangelization of tribal people, there was a long-concerted effort on the part of the U.S. government and missionary organizations and workers to put an end to these practices. Were it solely in the hands of some Native evangelicals to determine what Native ceremonies, rituals, or other cultural practices would be allowed, all would disappear forever, considered by the historic evangelical mission position to be “of the devil,” thus requiring total elimination.

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Richard Twiss Allowed Himself to be a Lightning Rod

It was one week ago that I received the email I had been dreading. On Feb. 6, 2013, while in Washington, D.C., for the National Prayer Breakfast, Richard Twiss suffered a major heart attack. He remained in a hospital in the D.C. area for several days as friends and family rushed to his side. But on Feb. 9, at the age of 58, Taoyate Obnajin, he Stands with his People, crossed over to meet the Creator. He is survived by his wife Katherine and his four sons Andrew, Philip, Ian, and Daniel.

If you ever had the privilege of meeting Richard Twiss, chances are he invited you somewhere. Richard was an incredible host. I remember last summer I attended a symposium for the North American Institute for Indigenous Theological Studies, of which Richard was a board member. No sooner had I walked through the door when I was greeted by Richard and asked if I would like to join their drum circle up front to start the next session. I felt extremely honored by this invitation and gladly accepted. I am not a trained theologian nor am I a prolific powwow drummer, but this small gesture immediately made me feel at home and communicated that I was welcome there and was given a voice should I have something to contribute.

Richard was involved in many conversations. As a follower of Jesus, president and co-founder of Wi

In Memoriam: Dr. Richard Leo Twiss

Dr. Richard Twiss

Dr. Richard Twiss

On Friday afternoon, I received an email and call from Sue Martel, the editor of Richard Twiss' forthcoming book,Rescuing Theology from the Cowboys: An Emerging Indigenous Expression of the Jesus Way in North America. As we finished the conversation, she shared that she had a vision of someone anointing Richard’s feet with oil. I shared that earlier in the day I felt called to do the same, but I didn’t know the meaning of the vision. On the way to the hospital, I read the story of Lazarus and the grave (John 11: 1-44) and felt called to read it over Richard. So, when I arrived at the hospital, I learned that during the day, Richard’s kidneys failed. I shared the conversation with Katherine Twiss, Richard’s wife and co-founder of Wiconi, and she blessed me to read and to anoint Richard’s feet. As I read, we all wept. I never noticed this before, but the scripture begins with an explanation that Lazarus was the brother of Mary — the one who anointed Jesus’ feet for burial. I anointed Richard’s feet and prayed.

In the prayer, it was clear that we were being called to believe that God was going to do a miracle. It was one of two kinds of miracles: either God was going to say “Richard, come forth!” and call him out of the grave to walk among us once more or God was going to say “Unbind him” (John 11:44a) from this broken body. “Let him go.” (John 11:44b) “It is finished … Well done good and faithful servant,” thus completing the miracle that was Richard Twiss’ life. As we stood around his bed that night we didn’t know which miracle it would be, so we waited.