On Monday, our nation will mark,
The second Monday in October is Columbus Day. Or maybe it’s Indigenous
Peoples Day. Or perhaps on your calendar it’s just another unnamed Monday. It’s
something of a theme in society these days: public observances of whatever
form, once widely and unquestioningly observed, are increasingly up for debate.
Whether statues, place names, federal holidays, or even businesses closing on
Sunday, it seems that nothing is sacred.
Changes to observations like Monday’s holiday often stir us up. “This is offensive,”
says one group. “It’s our history,” answers another. Both seem to have a point.
Celebrating the ways Italians, like Columbus, and Italian-Americans contributed to
our national culture seems entirely reasonable. But so does the complaint that we
can’t separate Columbus from the awful things he did to Indigenous Peoples.
When both sides make reasonable claims, what’s the concerned Christian to do?
In the parable of the good Samaritan, a man lies on the side of the road, bleeding
and left for dead by bandits. The first two people to encounter him cross the road
to pass on by. Those two, a priest and a Levite, must be ritually clean for their
important duties. Since that ritual cleanliness that would be polluted by touching a
bleeding or dead body, they avoid the wounded man. They judge their duties more
important than his suffering. But the third person—the despised foreigner—sees
the suffering man and stops to help. At the end, Jesus tells us what the parable
makes obvious: The foreigner is one we should emulate. Coming to the aid of
those who are suffering always takes precedence over whatever demands our culture, heritage, or religion lay upon us.
The challenge of Columbus Day is that, whatever the intention behind it, its
celebration conveys to Indigenous Peoples, “You aren’t important; your pain
doesn’t matter.” And now that it’s clear how much pain this it causes, our society
can not keep crossing the road to avoid it. We have seen others’ pain, we have
heard their cries, so how can we possibly avoid coming to their aid?
It can be hard to celebrate our heritage differently. Holidays we grew up with often
resonate with us deeply, as well they should. And yet, we can choose to mark them
differently. We can find ways to celebrate who we are without denigrating others.
We can choose to put our loving concern for others ahead of our own needs.
Indeed, that is exactly what God calls us to do.
Yours in Christ,