• Sara Jolena

Founding Fathers, Foundations, and better Grounding

Updated: Feb 20, 2018

In Sacramento, California, several indigenous musicians performed a concert on the Sunday of President's Day Weekend (February 18, 2018) to honor Mother Earth, “the true founder of Turtle Island.” Artists include Mayan lead singer Las Pulgas, Miwok singer Richie Ledreagle, and Mayan singer Tzutu Kan. Funds will be donated to the Decolonization Project.

I just love what the Decolonization Project is creating. Upcoming workshops include a Zine Making Workshop around decolonization and a Decolonizing Gender workshop. They get how decolonization is and must be a creative, life-giving effort, so I’m not surprised that they are finding ways to honor Earth and fundraise through music. (And no, they don’t have a website. Or a fb group. But if you want to get in touch with them, just let me know!)

Their use of the phrase, Founding Mother, inspires me to muse on “foundations.” Presidents Day in the United States was established in 1885 in recognition of President George Washington, and thus has a close association with the “Founding Fathers," and so this time is closely connected with foundations.

What are our foundations? Like all structures, the foundation of a country matters: inevitably, citizens return to the foundations to understand who they are and what structure they are building. Our foundations are, perhaps obviously, connected with the past. In particular, our foundations are connected with what I refer to as the “living past” – the past that still matters and is still present in the present.

One of the challenges the US has is that the country is built on shaky foundations. These are, most particularly, stolen land, stolen/forced labor, and a tendency towards espousing certain values (such as equality) while simultaneously taking concentrated action that obstructs those values (such as consistently treating the first peoples who were here as less than fully equal). To say one thing and do another leads to a lack of integrity. So the founding of the United States includes a fair amount of non-integrity. That’s shaky.

Given the foundations of white supremacy/racism and the blatant destruction of bio-cultural diversity, it should be of no surprise that the US has led the world into climate change, struggles to stay out of international conflict, and continues to struggle with deep racism and non-sustainability. Indeed, it is quite remarkable that so many people have been able to successfully pursue so many dreams and experienced so much happiness on this land; that says something about the power of the land itself, as well as the complexity of individual lives and human societies.

When discussing American “progress,” we often refer to the gradual ending of slavery and the subsequent civil rights movement and women’s suffrage movements and the increasing realization of LGBTQ rights. In some ways, what we are doing is trying to fix the errors of the country’s foundation. We don’t talk about it in terms of healing the past – we talk about it in terms of “moving forward,” a pattern of thinking that derives from early notions of Manifest Destiny and a strong “future focus”, which has both positive and negative dimensions.

But there is something else that is at our foundation, regardless of our citizenship: the land itself, the air itself, the water itself. The “elements” are, well, “elemental”! And those foundations do not look like the square brick and mortar of a house. Artist Janet Strickler crated this beautiful mixed media art piece called Foundations of Earth which conveys a very different way of thinking about "foundations."

And then there is God, whom theologian Paul Tillich beautifully described as, “the ground of being.” For those of us who recognize that the Divine is within the web of life, and that all space is sacred space, the “ground of being” can have both material and spiritual dimensions. After all, without the ground that grows the food that we need to live, we don’t exist at all!

So what does it mean to honor and to consider our foundations?

Maybe one small step is to look at – be with, sink into, relish, enjoy – the ground upon which, under which, the “founding fathers” stood and upon which a government (often compared to a house or a set of buildings) was built. It is not clear how much we can change those foundations – though we keep trying. But in the memories of our past, there are moments of connection and right relationship. Let us lift those up, and hold onto them as a key part of where we find our foundation. And let us recall that for those of us who are seeking to be grounded in God, to have God help us shape and build the foundations of our lives together, that this process is never finished. Truth telling can help us create better foundations – which is, in some ways, a never-ending process.

Some Questions going forward... Thinking about foundations is a big topic, in part because what we consider to be our foundations, and the extent to which we can shift and build new ones over time is super complex - far more complex than I can properly get into here. But it is worth considering. So here are a few questions you might want to ponder.

What are the foundations of your business/work? Your family life? Your faith life? Your country? How are those the same  - or different?

How do you see our "faulty foundations" impacting you - personally, professionally, spiritually, and as a member of your locality?

In what ways do you "ground" or conceptualize your "foundations" as outside of such a tangled history?

I welcome any responses below!

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