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Richard Twiss: You, Too, Left Too Early

February 18, 2013

As Lent began last week, the season of penitence, I learned of the sudden death of Native American Christian leader Richard Twiss.  I mourn that I knew Richard too little.  He put a strong challenge to me at the 2010 Lausanne Cape Town Congress to engage with Native Americans.  But mostly we enjoyed our brief but intense time of sharing life stories.  Later in the Congress we worked with others to advocate for less triumphalism and more lament, with Richard coming close to leading a public protest.  His gift was to be the gadfly, and Lord knows we needed that, given pervasive American Christian amnesia regarding the Native American trauma and the devastating residual effects.  Richard was only 58, another early death of pioneers and colleagues I’ve known at the frontiers of divisions seeking a new reality – among them Lem Tucker (37, 1989), Spencer Perkins (44, 1998), John Alexander (60, 2001), Allan Tibbels (55, 2010), and Glen Kehrein (63, 2011).  As someone put it after Spencer died, reconciliation is not a romantic bandwagon to jump on.   Choosing to make a home in the lonely, intense “in between” takes a toll, carries a high cost. There is no other way to name it.  And as I reflected recently on the 15th anniversary of Spencer’s passing, loses are real, wounds do not disappear.  Yet there is also a bigger picture, a mystery: it is God’s work, not ours.  In Richard we were given good, prophetic seed.  As we begin the season of Lent, may Richard Twiss’ journey with Jesus into Gethsemane and Calvary draw us to see and name the trajectories of Native American history we have not faced, and be turned toward repentance and new life.  A good start would be reflecting on his book, One Church, Many Tribes.

About the Author:  Chris Rice is Director of the  Center for Reconciliation at Duke Divinity School. He is author of Reconciling All Things, Grace Matters, and More Than Equals. He writes at the blog Reconcilers.

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