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February 9 – Richard Twiss

Today’s Bible reading

The Word became flesh and blood,
and moved into the neighborhood.
We saw the glory with our own eyes,
the one-of-a-kind glory,
like Father, like Son,
Generous inside and out,
true from start to finish. — John 1:14 (The Message)

More thoughts for meditation about Richard Twiss

Richard, Tayoate Ob Najin “He Stands with his People,” was born on the Rosebud Reservation (Sicangu Lakota Oyate) in South Dakota in 1954. His father was a member of the Oglala Sioux from Pine Ridge Reservation also in South Dakota. After his parents split up when he was seven years old, Richard moved to Denver, CO with his mother during a period of Indian urbanization (see the Federal Indian Relocation Act). They eventually moved to Oregon where Richard finished high school. They made visits back to the Rez, staying in touch with relatives.

Twiss moved back to Rosebud to attend his first year of college at Sinte Gleska (Spotted Tail) University where he became involved with the radical politics of the American Indian Movement (AIM). He participated in the famous takeover of the Bureau of Indian Affairs office in 1971. He wandered and experimented with many substances. One night in 1974 on the island of Maui, Jesus responded to Richard’s desperate prayer. There began a transformation that was coming into its fullness at the end of his life as a Lakota follower of the Jesus Way.

Two years later he married Katherine (Scottish and Norwegian decent) while living in an intentional community in Alaska. They had four sons. Richard served as pastor of a mostly white church (their family being the notable exception) in Washington State for over a decade. While there, Richard felt a nudging of the Holy Spirit. Across the US and Canada and around the world, Indigenous People were sloughing off the colonial residue that lifted up dominant cultural norms above other God-endowed cultures such as their own. This residue is typified by the U.S. policy of “Kill the Indian, Save the Man” that resulted in the abuses of the  residential schools.

In 1997, he and Katherine began Wiconi International, a non-profit ministry “to work for the well-being of our Native people by advancing cultural formation, indigenous education, spiritual awareness and social justice connected to the teachings and life of Jesus, through an indigenous worldview framework.” Richard taught and spoke in many contexts, local to the Portland area, around the U.S. and the world. Richard not only taught about the wonders of creation but also the negative affects of Christian mission in the U.S. — all with his disarming sense of humor. He received a doctorate from Asbury Theological Seminary in 2011 (Intercultural Studies) and authored two books One Church, Many Tribes: following Jesus the Way God Made You and Rescuing Theology from the Cowboys: An Emerging Indigenous Expression of the Jesus Way in North America as well as many articles. His contributions to contextualizing the gospel have been a source of healing and inspiration for Indians and non-natives.

Richard was one of the founders of the North American Institute for Indigenous Studies, an Indigenous learning community that now includes several seminary programs. He served on the board of directors of the Christian Community Development Association and the Native American Youth and Family Center in Portland and others as well as being the U.S. representative for the World Christian Gathering of Indigenous Peoples.

Dr. Twiss did not live without critics of his work from within native communities and from Christians. Toward the end of his life, he often talked about the next generation carrying on the work. He had a knack for expressing love and including people. His capacity to forgive astonished and did not dissuade him from working for justice or inspiring people to fall deeper in love with Jesus and walk in His Way.

In 2013, while in Washington, DC to participate in the National Prayer Breakfast, Richard suffered a massive heart attack. He died three days later on February 9th, surrounded by his wife and their four sons at 58 years of age.

Richard Twiss often received credit for the work and wisdom of his community because of his notoriety, charisma, and because he thought it was funny. He did not promote himself nearly as much as he did the movement. His goal was to build the community. He gathered people, encouraged them to love and give of themselves to fulfill a vision of reconciliation, to move toward what his close friend Randy Woodley describes as “the community of creation.” He always tried to speak from a place of community, and did not strive to be a celebrity as much as a demonstrate the Lakota value of being Ikce Wicasa, a common human person.

Want more?

Obituary on Wiconi International’s site [link]

A short article for Mission Frontiers “Making Jesus Known in Knowable Ways” [link]

Video of Richard’s keynote speech at CCDA 2011 [link]

Wiconi International’s Youtube page, several short pieces [link]

To browse Richard’s books [link]

Red Letter Christians’ tribute page to Richard [link]

Suggestions for action

Richard Twiss did not have an intact family or an easy youth, yet Jesus called him, healed him, and made him an influential proponent of radical Christianity. Consider how Jesus is calling you.

This ancestor in faith may have introduced you to many aspects of American culture that were unfamiliar to you. Spend some time learning and allow your heart to become large enough to include brother and sisters unlike you.