Over the past few years, several churches and fellowships in the Chequamegon Bay region have completed a book study on Kent Nerburn’s “Neither Wolf Nor Dog.” While this book was first published over 25 years ago, it continues to speak to people. It’s the true story of a writer, Kent Nerburn, who is invited to be in relationship with a Native American elder and to write the story of their time together. They encounter challenges several times, yet they both do the hard work of staying in relationship and the result is a timeless book that encourages all to deepen perspectives, challenge stereotypes and see the world through another’s eyes. After Messiah Lutheran Church in Washburn completed this book study, Pastor Nancy Hanson contacted Nerburn to see if he would do a presentation. He said yes. The pandemic made this challenging, and several churches and fellowships jumped in to help plan and coordinate. By finding common ground between different faiths and denominations, by being in relationship with one another, we persevered. Nerburn will be presenting to the Chequamegon Bay region on Oct. 28, and this event is free and open to the public.
Being in good relationship was the cultural and spiritual reason why “Dan,” the name used in the book for the anonymous Native American elder, reached out to Nerburn. As I write this column, it is Indigenous People’s Day, yet depending on where you are in America, it may be called Columbus Day. This fact alone is evidence of the complicated and painful history and the broken promises and relationships of colonization. Dan tells his stories and perspectives, through Nerburn’s writing, to especially connect with white readers and help broaden their understanding of Native American experience.
I recently heard a lecture about Clarence Skinner, who was a teacher, social activist and Universalist minister. The lecturer, Susan Ritchie, summarized that Skinner believed that when anyone experiences oppression, all people are impacted.
While only a segment of a population may experience oppression directly, those who don’t experience direct oppression but know about it experience something harder to name. He called it a spiritual isolation that may feel like a lack of connection or wholeness. When there is inequality, it is experienced, although differently, by all. While I’m not saying they are the same, I find it interesting that both a Native American elder and a Universalist minister are both articulating spiritual reasons for healing relationships and doing the hard work of building equity and seeking justice. Healing injustice liberates all and allows us to go forward in good relationships. This really resonates with me, and perhaps is one of the reasons why I see “Neither Wolf Nor Dog” as a story of hope for future generations. Yet this is only possible if we, the current generations, do the work.
What is this work? The Rev. Karen Hutt recently gave an Odyssey Address, which is a Unitarian Universalist tradition of telling one’s life story and journey of ministry to others. At the end, she encouraged those in attendance to stop reading books and start listening to one another, go to one another, be in relationship with one another. I guess this isn’t a new concept. After all, Henry David Thoreau once said, “Could a greater miracle take place than for us to look through each other’s eyes for an instant?” Book learning is a great place to start, but it is just the start. In the forward to “Neither Wolf Nor Dog,” Nerburn writes that through searching for common meaning, understanding, and redemption, it’s possible to become siblings despite being from different cultures. He says, “Brothers and sisters…don’t even have to like each other. But they have to trust each other and stand by each other.” What is it that calls to you to be in relationship with others?
Stacy Craig is the pastor of the Chequamegon Universalist Unitarian Fellowship. She can be reached at email@example.com.