Category Archives: Grounds

Sermon, May 30

Lectionary texts for today are here. 

Today’s Scripture texts are full of the mystery and awe of God. We hear Isaiah’s vision of the divine throne, surrounded by the seraphim with their six mighty wings, the very floor trembling with the might of their voices as they cry out God’s praise, the air hazy with incense smoke. 

Our Psalm echoes that sense of the power and wonder, even terror, of God enthroned in might… The voice of God shakes the wilderness! 

And then we have poor confused Nicodemus, who has every reason to stay away from Jesus, and yet comes to him by night, drawn to him like a moth to a candle… Here’s my favorite image of Nicodemus and Jesus, by Henry Ossawa Tanner.  It’s actually a study, not a finished piece, but I love the quality of twilight and mystery here. It fits the conversation in our Gospel text, in which Jesus tells Nicodemus: if I speak of heavenly things, you simply won’t be able to understand. 

Awe and mystery. Flame and smoke and trembling earth. God is bigger and stranger than we can perceive or understand. 

But we have been given glimpses, fragments and hints. And we know this: that God’s ineffable unity, God’s one-ness, also somehow contains multiplicity. God holds community, relationship, within Godself – Father, Son, and Spirit; Source, Word, and Breath; Wisdom, Love, Might. The Holy and Undivided Trinity. 

And then there’s our passage from Romans: All who are led by the Spirit of God are children of God… who cry out “Abba! Father!” by the spirit of adoption that God has given us. It’s a provocative and beautiful contrast with the other texts. Paul sees us called into relationship with the awe-inspiring Mystery at the center of things. He sees that figure on the heavenly throne, shrouded in smoke, and suggests that we climb up on its lap. Because that God, mighty and mysterious, has named us as their children. 

God’s Threeness within Oneness teaches us to understand that relationship is at the very heart of the Holy. And we are invited into relationship with that divine Mystery. God loves us, and calls us into love. What does that look like? 

Elsewhere, in his first letter to the church in Corinth, Paul offers this well-known reflection on holy love – “Love is patient; love is kind; love is not envious or boastful or arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice in wrongdoing, but rejoices in the truth. It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.”

Love does not rejoice in wrongdoing, but rejoices in the truth. Or as Presiding Bishop Michael Curry put it in a sermon a couple of decades ago that I’ve never forgotten: God loves you just the way you are, but He isn’t going to leave you that way.

That aspect of love – the part of love that calls us to better and clearer and truer – makes me think of my friends in the recovery community and some of the things I’ve learned from them. In the Twelve Steps, steps 4 through 6 call for making a fearless personal inventory. Admitting your wrongs to God, yourself, and others, and becoming ready for God to help you change. Eventually, if you keep up the work, you arrive at Step 9 – which involves making amends, fixing what you’ve broken and setting things right, as much as may be possible. 

Love does not rejoice in wrongdoing, but rejoices in the truth. 

Your own fearless personal inventory is your work do – though I am glad to be a companion in that work. But I’m speaking here about our vocation as God’s people – together. Our collective examination of where wrongdoing weighs upon us, and where there is truth that needs to be told – and rejoiced in. 

This past Friday was the anniversary of the Indian Removal Act of 1830, signed by President Andrew Jackson, not quite two hundred years ago. It’s one of many dates when the U.S. government took steps against the Native peoples of this continent – but it’s perhaps the most famous such date, leading to the displacement of the Cherokee people and the Trail of Tears. 

There are other dates of local significance to us. September 15, 1832, when a treaty with the Ho-Chunk people, then known as the Winnebago, forced them to cede all their land south of the Wisconsin River, including where we now live and worship. Later, November 1, 1837, another treaty formally removed the Ho-Chunk entirely from Wisconsin – though many refused to leave, and had to be rounded up and driven out in 1840. 

The tribes were paid for the land. But the payments and terms were quite limited. And the tribes were not given a choice about these treaties. They were made an offer they literally could not refuse. 

Ancient Ho-Chunk stories tell of their birth as a people at a place near Green Bay, called Red Banks. As best as anyone can tell, the ancestors of the Ho-Chunk have known and roamed ten million acres of south central and western Wisconsin, for as long as there have been people here at all. Until.

Until population growth in the new European settler nation to the east led to inexorable westward expansion. Until land speculation made the removal of Native peoples profitable.  Until lead ore was found in southwestern Wisconsin, drawing a flood miners into Ho-Chunk territory. 

We know that this area, the region around the lakes, was very special to the Ho-chunk and their ancestors, who called it Teejop. We know that because of documents from the contact period, because of the passed-down memories shared by Ho-Chunk today, and because of the mounds – because over hundreds of years, people marked this sacred landscape by creating images of birds and bears, deer and frogs, out of the earth itself. The closest surviving mound is about half a mile away – a fox.

The ground on which St Dunstan’s stands became the property of the US Government in the 1830s, through treaties and the removal of the Ho-Chunk. It was eventually sold to the Heim brothers, Joseph and Anton,  immigrants from Germany. They settled here in 1848, with Joseph’s fiancé Theresia; built the brick farmhouse we call the Rectory, and cleared and farmed the land. 

Anton’s son Ferdinand lived a very long life – born, probably in the rectory, in 1865, he lived until 1950. As far as I can tell, he lived on the family property his whole life, though in the 1930s he started selling parcels off for development. 

In a 1915 interview, Ferdinand recalled his father Anton’s stories about how, long after their official removal, the Ho-Chunk were still coming around. They would camp on the shore of Lake Mendota, probably right around where Marshall Park is now. There they would hunt, trap, and fish, as they had for generations. 

Ferdinand added that they were great beggars, stopping at the farms to ask for food constantly, and that his father had had to put fences around his hay mows to keep their ponies from eating his hay.

For the Heim family, the persistence of the Ho-Chunk in returning seasonally to this beloved place was an annoyance. Governor Dodge – who governed the Wisconsin Territory for much of the 1840s, after being involved with the massacre of the Sauk tribe at Bad Axe – saw it in the same light. In a speech in 1840 he observed that “the presence of these Indians had given the pioneer settlers great annoyance, and their peaceable removal west of the Mississippi River was a subject of congratulations among the settlers.” 

But even some contemporaries saw the displacement with different eyes. John de la Ronde was a French-Canadian trader who knew the Ho-Chunk well. He served as an interpreter for a group of United States soldiers who were breaking up and clearing out Ho-Chunk settlements in 1840. His account is heartbreaking. 

In one case, he describes a group of Natives who asked to “bid goodbye to their fathers, mothers, and children,” before being forced to leave their camp. When de la Ronde and his companions followed them, they found them on their knees, kissing the ground where their loved ones were buried, and weeping. The captain of the party exclaimed, “Good God! What harm could these poor Indians do among the rocks?” 

It is interesting and complicated to think about all this on the weekend of Memorial Day – a day when we’re invited to remember and honor those who have died in battle. In northern Indiana where I grew up, a frequent field trip destination was Battleground, the site of the Battle of Tippecanoe in 1811 – where William Henry Harrison and his troops defeated the Shawnee leader Tecumseh and the alliance of tribes fighting with him to push back white settlers’ incursions. (Harrison later leveraged that victory into a successful presidential bid, then promptly died of pneumonia.) 

There’s a great big marble monument at Battleground to the white soldiers who died in that conflict. But I don’t think there’s any monument to the Native fighters who died there for their people and their land. 

Who counts as American? Who do we consider our war dead? And does honoring them mean that we endorse their causes or celebrate their victories? … 

Removal did not really work, on the HoChunk. They kept coming back. (Much to Anton Heim’s annoyance.) 

When it became possible for them to buy land, they bought land. Though it’s a tiny percentage of the area their ancestors once knew and loved and lived on. 

The Ho-Chunk are still here. Striving to pass on their language and culture to their children; striving to protect their young and their vulnerable from the impacts of systemic racism and poverty. 

The land that I/we are sitting on right now was beloved to a people from whom it was taken,160 years ago. 110 years later, it was given to a little group of Episcopalians who wanted to start a new church on the west side of Madison. 

Can we love these grounds – as we do – without taking in and taking on the history of how they came to be ours? Can we love the sacred earth of this place without asking what love requires of us, with respect to the people who first knew it as sacred? 

Love does not rejoice in wrongdoing, but rejoices in the truth. 

Telling and receiving this story – these difficult truths – is the very beginning of that fearless inventory I mentioned earlier. It is heavy work, which is why it needs to be shared work. (If you feel called to share it, let me know.) 

But I think it’s essential work… that it is the work of love. We respond to the holy interconnectedness and mutuality within the heart of God by striving to name and restore what has been rent asunder and lost. The God of mystery and awe calls us from comfort, to learn, and change, and mend. The God who loves us like a parent will be with us every step of the way, to encourage and guide us.

Knowing this history – and seeking the Spirit’s guidance as we wonder what it might look like to make amends – this is part of our faithful response to the three-fold Mystery that knows each of us by name, that knows every tree and wildflower of this place, and that calls us, always, deeper into love. 

A concise history of Ho-Chunk displacement:

A little about the Ho-Chunk:

De la Ronde’s account is one of the primary sources linked here:

History & repentance: A 4th of July sermon

The Rev. Miranda Hassett preached this sermon on June 30, 2019. 

Why do we observe the Fourth of July at church?  As a Christian and as a church leader, I’m pretty mindful of the line between my patriotism and my faith, my identity as a citizen and as a baptized follower of Jesus. But praying for our nation and our leaders is in our DNA as Christians in the Anglican tradition. So most years we take the Sunday leading up to Independence Day to pray together for our nation, that it may live up to its boldest ideals and bravest promises. 

There tends to be a lot of talk about freedom at this time of year. It’s a complicated topic, one which we collectively deploy quite selectively. Consider the recent prosecutions of people who leave water in the desert along our borders for migrants who might otherwise die of thirst. People who might well have thought they were free to exercise mercy. 

Our Galatians lesson this morning talks about freedom – Christian freedom. Paul says: Your freedom isn’t to do whatever you want, and it certainly isn’t to hurt others. When Paul is talking about freedom, his point is that the life of faith isn’t about following certain concrete practices and rites, as in Old Testament Judaism. He’s saying that the life of faith is, simply and completely, a life oriented towards loving your neighbor as yourself. And there is a freedom in that, because there are lots of ways to live out love of neighbor. But there’s also commitment in it – an un-freedom of sorts – because if we are in Christ we are NOT free to not care about the wellbeing of others. 

Our freedom in Christ, says Paul, is to strive, by the power of the Holy Spirit, to be people of love and joy, peace and patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. So that’s something to carry with you this week as our nation celebrates freedom. 

Another thing that you might hear about a lot this week is history. The Fourth of July, Independence Day, is an historical celebration. It is, to be specific, the date in 1776 when the Continental Congress, the governmental body of the original 13 colonies,  approved the final wording of the Declaration of Independence, agreeing on all the changes and edits they’d been working on for days.

But history, like freedom, is more complicated than we often think. I’ve been reading up lately on local history. Very local history. As in, the history of the ground under our feet right now. 

It’s easy to begin telling the history of this property in 1848. That’s when the Heim brothers, Joseph and Anton, left Bavaria, Germany, following a failed revolution against the oppressive ruling class. Joseph was 30, Anton was 22. Joseph’s wife Theresia traveled with them. Along with many others, they came to the United States and eventually settled in Wisconsin. They bought this land from the U.S. government, and established a farm, building that brick farmhouse in around 1858. 

This whole area was the Heim farm – from Old Middleton Road to the south up to the lakeshore, and some ways to the east and west. Heim Avenue, half a mile east, still bears the family name of our founding family. 

This is how European Americans usually tell the history of our places.  As if it begins when white people show up. But this land had history, and people, before the Heims, before the U.S. government. 

The Ho-Chunk people, known in the 19th century as the Winnebago tribe, lived in this area for thousands of years before they were largely removed to reservations in the mid-19th century.  Their ancestors, a thousand years ago, built the effigy mounds that still dot our landscape, though many have been destroyed. Effigy mounds are earthen structures that make the shape of an animal or symbol – birds, human figures, bears, and, maybe 1500 feet from where I’m standing, a fox. 

Anton’s son Ferdinand grew up in the old farmhouse we call the rectory. He lived from 1865 to 1950 – a lifespan that bridged the 19th and 20th centuries, and saw this area go from woodlands with a few tiny clusters of homes and businesses, to a bustling suburb. In 1937 Ferdinand donated the fox mound to the Wisconsin Archaeological Society, to keep it safe for posterity as he was selling off the land around it for development into the neighborhood along Mound Avenue. 

Ferdinand also shared memories of the presence of Winnebago Indians in this area during the early decades of the Heim farm. Apparently the bit of lakeshore right behind those apartments – the Swenson estate, perhaps 2000 feet away – was a very popular camping area.  Ferdinand recalled that anywhere from thirty to fifty natives might camp in the area at a time, living in wigwams and hunting, trapping, and fishing for food. He said, “They were great beggars, stopping at the farm houses at all times for food supplies, and his father [Anton Heim] was obliged to erect rough fences about his hay mows in the Middleton Beach marsh to protect them against the foraging Indian ponies.”

Clearly, the native people who had treated this area as part of their territory – a comfortable spot, a beautiful spot, a sacred spot – for centuries or maybe millennia, were trying to continue doing so, even as European settlers moved in and turned the forests into farmland. And just as clearly, the continued presence of the Natives was a significant annoyance to the settlers. 

The history of how the Ho-Chunk and other local Native groups lost this land is hard to tell. Partly because it’s complicated and partly because it’s heartbreaking.  I’ve been reading about it – the 1804 Treaty of St. Louis; the so-called Black Hawk War and the massacre at Bad Axe; President Andrew Jackson’s Indian Removal Act of 1830; the decimation of the Ho-Chunk and other Midwestern tribes by contagious diseases brought by European settlers. 

It’s not easy history to know. But I’m glad I know it. It makes my heart heavy, but I prefer it to ignorance. 

In our prayer of confession, when we hold up the evil done on our behalf, the dispossession and decimation of the native peoples of this continent is among those evils. And when we hold up the evils that enslave us, the fact that we live and work on land taken unjustly, and lack the wisdom or the will to make amends, is among those evils. 

I don’t know what amends would look like, in these circumstances. I truly don’t. But I know that the opening words of the Prayer for our Country in the Book of Common Prayer are a lie: “Almighty God, who hast given us this good land for our heritage…”

Maybe it was God’s intention, part of the ineffable plan, for the United States of America to come to be. But to claim in our prayers that this land was simply given to us by divine fiat obscures the bloody reality that our ancestors took it, by deception and by violence. 

So, this Sunday, and this Independence Day, let us remember that we are gathered on Ho-Chunk land. Let us celebrate the goodness and grace in our history, while courageously facing the unjust and the bitterly sad. And let us turn to the God who blesses our repentance and helps us to will the good, as we pray. 

O God, who created all peoples in your image, we thank you for the wonderful diversity of races and cultures in this world. Enrich our lives by ever-widening circles of fellowship, and show us your presence in those who differ most from us, until our knowledge of your love is made perfect in our love for all your children; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

Lord God Almighty, you have made all the peoples of the earth for your glory, to serve you in freedom and in peace: Give to the people of our country a zeal for justice and the strength of forbearance, that we may use our liberty in accordance with your gracious will; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

A little further reading: