2000 years ago, the Igneri people settled at the mouth of the Salt River, believing the small bay to be blessed with a spiritual presence.
(Media-Newswire.com) - 2000 years ago, the Igneri people settled at the mouth of the Salt River, believing the small bay to be blessed with a spiritual presence. Almost 700 years later, the Taino people likewise arrived and believed in the northern shore cove of the island today known as St. Croix in the Caribbean Sea. The Sea's namesake, the Carib people, arrived another 700 years later, extending their empire, enslaving the Taino. The Caribs practiced a special kind of spiritual ethnocentrism. They believed that only they were human, and therefore ate the flesh of "non-people."
On 14 November 1493, Christopher Columbus anchored off the Salt River. He sent a landing party into the cove, taking some Taino slaves as their own. The Caribs did not take well to this encroachment and a skirmish resulted ( with one killed from each side ). Columbus called the Salt River mouth the "Cape of Arrows." Apparently, however, Columbus also felt some spiritual dimension to the place and named the entire island Santa Cruz ( "Holy Cross" ).
The Spanish would soon describe the Caribs as the canibales, giving us the word, "cannibalism." The Spanish also wanted what the Caribs had taken for themselves. Despite a 1509 agreement with the governor of Puerto Rico, Ponce De Leon, the Spanish returned to the island shortly thereafter, raiding it for 140 slaves. [i] By 1513, the Spanish had issued "El Requerimiento" for the entire region, providing religious rationalization for the conquest and subjugation of all lands and peoples in the "Western Hemisphere." In time, a different kind of cannibalism took place as many of the indigenous peoples were decimated by the diseases and slavery brought by the Spanish.
( Of course, for those fans of political-religious geography, the term "Western Hemisphere" is itself a term rooted in the self-referential service of the Spanish. It is "western" in reference to east from which they came, the result of a 1494 decree by a Spanish-born Pope that reacted to and divided the "New World" that Columbus had "discovered"—i.e., North and South America—between the Spanish and Portuguese empires of the "Old World." If you have never watched the movie, The Mission, well, you need to; it takes place in this context, providing different individual and institutional perspectives on the Christian faith and the use of force, with superb music and cinematography to boot. )
Other powers would also recognize the strategic importance of the Salt River, a gateway to the slavery and sugar cane riches of the island. During the 17th century alone, the English ( twice ), the Dutch, the French, and the French chapter of the Knights of Malta would each seize this little bay. ( It was the French who re-named the island "St. Croix," in 1653, retaining its original meaning of "Holy Cross." ) Finally, in 1733, the Danish West Indies Company bought the island from the French; and in 1754, it became a royal colony. In 1917, the United States bought the island from Denmark, concerned about the German Navy and the protection of the recently completed Panama Canal ( itself not a story of altruism ).
The things you don't know about your Christmas vacation spot...we arrived for the week at Salt River on Christmas Eve 2012. We were there to celebrate Christmas, and the 70th birthdays of my parents—IGE's co-founders.
That first evening was spectacular, the moonlight revealing a placid river mouth and cove protected by the wave-breaking reefs just outside its entrance. I must confess, not knowing any of the above, the only thing I could imagine anchored off that cove was Captain Jack Sparrow's beloved Black Pearl ( from The Pirates of the Caribbean ).
When I asked my dad what he saw out there, he reflected that the reefs looked something like the shallows off of Malta where Paul was shipwrecked on his way to imprisonment in Rome. So much for Captain Jack.
Paul, of course, would write several "prison epistles" from Rome, among them, Ephesians: the subject of a Monday night Bible study that my dad and I are teaching this winter at our local church. More on that in a moment.
Back to shallow. I spent part of Christmas Day afternoon watching "Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom." At one point, Indy's side-kick, Short Round, asks why they are going to this temple. Indy gives a honest, and human, answer: "Fortune and glory, kid, fortune and glory."
As I read up on the history of St. Croix's coveted cove—I had foresworn emails and the news for the week's vacation, but not my ipad—and as I began to dive into the commentaries I had on Ephesians, Indy's words came back to me: Fortune & Glory.
The obvious eventually occurred to me: empirically, there was no difference between the Caribs and the Spanish. Both were colonizers, de-humanized their enemy—in order to take what they wanted—to the literal point of eating them ( the Caribs ), or committing de facto genocide ( the Spanish ). They wanted riches and glory for themselves, validating the process with religion.
More obvious, I finally realized, I could not, as a Christian, condemn the Carib culture anymore than I could Spanish culture. Spiritually, there was no difference between the actions of the Caribs and the Spanish because they both did what sinful humans do, no matter their religion, culture, era, or hemisphere: They define against the other, destroyed fellow humans, becoming less human themselves. They were idolatrous imperialists, worshipping themselves, no matter the consequences.
That said, I do hold the Spanish and subsequent Europeans to a higher standard as they suffered the descent of their fearsome faith into a religious reflection of themselves. Seemingly, if the slavery, sugar cane, and spirits ( rum ) were selling, then Sundays, if that, were for God, as six-day secularists ruled the roost. The body of Christ had become a building, its singular Way of life, a single morning.
Ephesians, on the other hand, reveals the mystery of what was intended. It boldly states that the reconciling power of the Holy Cross is so cosmic and consequential that it fundamentally re-defines our understanding of riches and glory, not to mention the body of Christ ( The Church ) across time and into eternity.
Ephesians begs the reader to begin to comprehend a simple fact: the heavens and earth are in rebellion against their Creator, but they will be reconciled through Christ. Why? Because God has demonstrated a power unimaginable to humans: He has raised up Christ from the dead and seated Him at His right hand, far above any earthly or heavenly authority, in this age or the next. And, he promises His chosen humanity the same eternal life, through His Holy Spirit, if it chooses to choose Him back.
If one allows for the power that the Holy Cross represents, then "fortune & glory" take on different meaning as the mind and behavior transform. Once we recognize that each of us is no different than that Carib or Spaniard, and that we are forgiven for our sins, then we cannot help but appreciate the priceless, unearnable, and "unsearchable" gift of grace through Christ's resurrection. These are the "riches of God's grace" ( Ephesians 1:8; also 1:18 and 3:8 ).
Coming to such full awareness requires the Holy Spirit, the present and practical promise of eternal life with Christ. The Spirit is simultaneously the tangible seal of His love, and a sign toward our common forever future; the Spirit is a cold cash guarantee, guiding us into a reconciled eternity with Him.
Such awareness only takes place in the fullness of time. It is a process of wisdom and revelation that enables one to gradually understand how childish, immature, and insecure we are without Christ ( 1st Corinthians 13: 11-13 ). It is the process of coming out of the darkness and into the light as we experience full redemption ( Ephesians 5:8 ). ( While it is different for everyone, consider Robert DeNiro's former slave-trading character in The Mission, once he is forgiven for his past, literally cut loose from the burden of his sin by the people he had once enslaved. )
Transformed women and men result, called into constant Communion with God. They are citizens of His Kingdom—irrespective of caste, color, or culture—serving as His alien ambassadors in a foreign land. As with the Holy Spirit, they bring His Kingdom, a practical promise of the life to come. They are an indwelt insurrection, a rebel outpost in a rebellious world. This inviting light amidst the darkness is also known as the Church.
Such a process of consideration and communion, guided by the Holy Spirit, brings two ineluctable conclusions ( at least for me ). First, there grows deep within the ever-increasing desire to praise God for the riches of His grace; that is, to glorify Him. Second, per the Spirit, the persuasive paradox of praise presents itself: there is no glory apart from choice. God receives no glory unless it is freely given.
Yes, He chose us. But unless we choose Him back, daily, under deepening guidance from the Spirit, we cannot truly glorify Him. What kind of God is so jealous for glory that He leaves His creation to freely choose whether or not to praise Him for the riches of His grace? Fortune and glory indeed!
And so we followers of Christ come to His Communion table, for His glory, grateful for His grace. We partake of His body and drink of His blood to remind ourselves of this new covenant in Him; as we seek not to forget that we, His body, become more fully human when we love our Neighbor and therefore Him.
Imagine if the Spanish had introduced a new meaning of fortune and glory to the Caribs, through His body and the Holy Cross, just as Christ introduced a new meaning of Passover at the Last Supper ( Ephesians 2: 14-18, Luke 22: 14-20, Exodus 12: 18-27 ). Imagine if His fallen followers each tried to do the same, this day, in communion with Him, and each other.
As this New Year becomes old, as we tend to seek our own fortune and glory—forgetting that the regal purpose of Christmas is the reconciling power of the Cross—I ask my fellow Christians to daily invite the "Spirit of wisdom and revelation" into our lives, that we might see this world as He does, with the "eyes of the heart" ( Ephesians 1:17-18 ). And when some of us don't, may the rest of us be ready to remind, rebuke, and restore our brothers and sisters, as they will us.
Some reflective questions for your consideration, as you think about the place where you live, or the place where you might visit or take a vacation:
What is your local narrative? How does it reflect His narrative for us, as well as the earthly and heavenly spheres? Do you find your story in His, locally? What is the reconciling role that you, your family, or your church are called to play, if any, at home, or away?
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