Thursday, September 3, 2015

Still Not Feelin' the Love: An Open Letter to Pope Francis

Dear Pope Francis:

So the Vatican has launched its canonization PR machine for your big visit to the U.S. later this month, and of all the offensive, insensitive, I-can't-hear-you-la-la-la-la-fingers-in-the-ear slogans, they chose this:

Now, Pope Francis, I admit that I cannot bear the word 'mission' even in a normal, non-missionization context.  As a professor, I work hard to use other words in conversation, like "Our FOCUS here is to get students writing," or "My real INTENT with this assignment is to ..." - substituting just about anything so that I don't have to say, "My mission today is to teach you First Years how to write a decent essay."

Heck, if I could, I'd re-write Mission Impossible so that the infamous taped warning reads, "Your task, Mr. Phelps, should you choose to accept it..." - simply because the word MISSION makes the postcolonial fillings in my Indian teeth cringe like a nice big chomp of tin foil.

But this little line drawing with the back of your slightly chunky, grandfatherly figure raising one benevolent hand in graceful blessing and the words LOVE and MISSION together in peaceful blue sans serif font is much, much worse than tin foil shudders.

And that cute word play on "mission" (get it?) makes me go just a touch crazy.

Okay.  I'm pausing for a few deep breaths here, fighting the urge to shout at you like this:  THE WORDS LOVE AND MISSION TOGETHER IN PEACEFUL BLUE SANS SERIF FONT AND THAT CUTE WORD PLAY MAKES ME GO A LOT CRAZY.

But there, I did it, and I feel a teeny bit better.  Just a teeny bit, though.  Trust me, Francis, shouting is only a temporary outlet.

This PR image makes me want to pull my hair out because I am on the other side of the mirror.  As a California Indian whose Ancestors were the subjects of missionization, I can tell you that the Spanish missions were not about love.

As the population graph above shows, the missions - for California Indians - were about death.

Death from the murder, disease, starvation, European-spread syphilis and rape directly brought about by the missions founded by Catholic missionaries.

Deaths that were brought about by one thing:  greed.  Rapacious, self-serving, unmitigated greed - the acquisitive desires of Spanish royalty, military and yes, Catholic priests.

Francis, I know this might be hard for you to hear.  Clearly, a petition asking you to cancel the canonization has gone unheeded, as have multiple news stories, interviews with California Indian peoples, and letters such as this.  But with the Catholic Church's immense power (financial as well as world-wide scope) comes great responsibility.  Does that sound familiar?  Perhaps you know it better as "To those who much is given much is required" (Jesus Christ; Luke 12:48).

Francis, you've been busy proclaiming a 'mercy year' for Catholic women who have had abortions so that they can confess, be forgiven, and rejoin the Church; you've encouraged your priests to welcome divorced Catholics back.  You've recently spoken mercifully of LGBTQ individuals, saying, "A person once asked me, in a provocative manner, if I approved of homosexuality. I replied with another question: ‘Tell me: when God looks at a gay person, does he endorse the existence of this person with love, or reject and condemn this person?’ We must always consider the person. Here we enter into the mystery of the human being."  This past June, you even announced "a specific process by which the Vatican can deal with bishops who are negligent in handling cases of abuse in their territories," speaking to the decades-long sexual abuse of children by Catholic priests that has been covered up by the Church itself.

Of course, all of these actions on your part have yet to play out fully, given the centuries of punishment dealt by the Church to women who had abortions, divorced people, LGBTQ Catholics, and victims of abuse by priests.  And many of these announcements by you are phrased as spiritual expressions rather than outright changes in Catholic dogma; "we enter into the mystery of the human being" is one of those phrases that doesn't, really, pin you down to any actual change. 

Still, Francis, you seem to have no fear of voicing a kinder, gentler Church for the 21st century, despite more conservative pressures from within the Vatican. 

Yet you can't quite seem to bring yourself to apply this kind of clarity and perspective to Serra's canonization. 

People are not born saints, and in fact the Church has (or had) an elaborate process in place to scrutinize the lives of people nominated for sainthood.  However, as the linked Catholic website above notes, Popes are free to waive some of those steps, including the number of years before being canonized, or even - in the case of Serra - one of the two required miracles. 

Unfortunately, the waiving of Serra's second miracle means that his canonization can be pushed through with an incomplete investigation.  I've speculated before (see earlier link to previous post) that you might be looking to use the Serra canonization as a way to celebrate the Church, rather than constantly apologizing for its failures.  Forgive me, Francis, but your organization would benefit from some good PR these days.

Hence, "Love is Our Mission"?

Let me tell you why that phrase and your campaign to canonize Junipero Serra doesn't work for the very people Juniper Serra was tasked with 'saving.'  Let me tell you why many California Indians (and our allies) are protesting this celebration.  Let me help you see our perspective.

You see, we know that everyone wanted (not needed) something from California's indigenous peoples: if not gold, if not some weird tally of Spanish God-points for 'saving' Native souls from Hell, then slave labor to defend land claimed by Spain from other invaders like Russia, France, and the United States of America.

We know that that land, those souls, those lives, were taken, not given freely.

We know that makes missionization a crime.

Yes, I'll say it.  Missionization is a crime against humanity by humanity.  No human being should have to defend him or herself against someone else's religious aggression.  Not in 1770, when Junipero Serra showed up in the homelands of my Ancestors near what is now the greater Monterey Bay area, and not in 2015, on Indian reservations in the U.S. or in impoverished Indigenous communities South America.  Religion is a deeply personal, often culturally-based belief system that means nothing if it is not freely accepted or chosen.  Sure, human beings have the right to offer their religious beliefs to others for consideration.  But human beings also have the right to decline participation in any religion, as well.

To be missionized - i.e., forcibly 'converted' - at gunpoint, by physical beatings, rape, murder of one's families or community members, by psychological coercion, lies, trickery - is a moral, ethical, spiritual crime.

Any religious figure who uses force to benefit a religious organization is not a religious figure.

Yes, I do have high standards - thanks for pointing that out.  Yes, I do realize that the Franciscan priests who missionized California lived in a different time period where missionizing was a European norm.  But no, I do not believe in honoring anyone who participated in that kind of colonization simply because they worked really really hard at forcibly beating religion into Indigenous people.  Or simply because "everyone else was doing it, too."  You know what?  Even if that argument (voiced by every teenager since time began) were valid, the truth is that everyone else was NOT doing it.  Not even all priests were doing it.

To quote myself in an earlier post,

Serra, many of his his supporters have argued, was simply "a man of his times." In other words, colonization happens, and we should not blame those caught up in it. But that has a flip side to it:  if Serra was, in fact, “a man of his times” in 1769 when he founded the first California mission in San Diego, he should have known better: Bartolome de las Casas knew better in 1552 when he published "A Brief History of the Destruction of the Indies," and spent his entire life working for the freedom of Indians and return of their lands (a wealthy man, a priest, and former Indian slave-holder); a document Serra and all priests in training would have read and debated. Padre Antonio Horra knew better in 1799 when he protested soldiers' rapes and beatings of Indian converts at his California mission.  The Church officials in California and Mexico sent poor Padre Horra home saying he had gone insane from the stress of missionization and his inability to deal with the hardships of The New World.
As it turns out, Padre Horra asked to be sent home because he knew that his Franciscan brethren had it in for him and he feared for his life after blowing the whistle on their Spanish Inquisition conversion techniques.

History of California. 1884-90  By Hubert Howe Bancroft

[Many other Europeans of the time also left behind records stating the over-the-top cruelty of California missionaries and, as Cutcha Risling Baldy points out, Spanish records contain thousands of accounts showing that Native people thought it was wrong, too - by fleeing, fighting back, setting fire to missions, even killing priests in an effort to defend themselves.  Those accounts, of course, are written by the missionaries themselves about bad, bad Indians who wouldn't listen unless flogged, imprisoned, starved, or otherwise 'persuaded' to accept their enslavement.]

Oh, and speaking of the Spanish Inquisition, Francis, surely you know that Padre Junipero Serra actually was an agent for the Spanish Inquisition in Mexico?  The LA Times reports on this fact:
Even by 18th century standards, Serra's religious fanaticism was over the top. With beliefs grounded in doctrines inherited from the Middle Ages, he took pleasure in extreme self-mortification and worked as a loyal comisario, or field agent, for the Inquisition, tracking down witches, heretics and practitioners of “cryptojudaism” in Mexico City. According to UC Riverside historian Steven Hackel's biography of Serra, he was “a calculating and unrelenting interrogator of those he thought had committed crimes against the Church.”
Just what does "calculating and unrelenting interrogator" mean?

As Steven Hackel writes in his biography of Serra, "Only two full records of [Serra's] actions as a comisario have come to light, but it is unlikely that these reflect his full involvement with the Holly Office in New Spain, given the secrecy that always surrounded the Inquisition" (124).

(Hmmm, interesting.  If there are more records rattling around in the Vatican's archives, Francis, would you consider sharing?)

In one of the two cases Hackel was able to find, he reports that Serra's investigation gathered enough incriminating evidence against a "mulata" or "loba natural" (part Indian and part African) woman named Maria Pasquala to have her sent to Mexico City.  There, she spent five and a half months imprisoned in a filthy, dark dungeon while the judges of the Inquisition 'examined' her further.  The day after she was finally judged guilty of witchcraft, guards 'found' Maria outside her cell, beaten nearly to death (it was called "a grave accident" in Spanish records).  She lingered a few hours, then died, and was buried in an unmarked grave.  Hackel concludes,

"Maria Pasquala's fate was tragic, and Serra as an agent of the Inquisition played a major role in it.  ... Serra knew that Maria Pasquala would most likely be punished severely when he sent her to Mexico City.  But he saw her as a witch and could not have done otherwise.  Nothing in the historical record suggests that Serra knew of her death.  Yet he would not have been surprised to learn that one who had gone so far astray had suffered such a gruesome end" (136, emphasis added).

In other words, when Serra ordered Maria Pasquala sent to Mexico City, he knew that she would be found guilty based on his inquisition testimony, and furthermore, that while the punishment for this was a severe flogging and banishment, Serra knew that her murder by guards with the implicit permission of Church authorities was also just as likely.  

That's 'our Blessed Serra'?  Well, Francis, maybe he's yours, but he's not ours.

That's your Blessed Serra, the man who - four years later - would be given complete control over the lives of thousands of California Indians.

That's your "Mission of Love."

There is much more evidence that Serra does not deserve to be honored by anyone, but I can only guess that you have ignored that too, since you have yet to respond to any of these points.

Prove me wrong, Francis.

By canonizing Junipero Serra, you are saying that

A) religious violence, aka terrorism, is okay, and

B) the rape of California's people and land - which we are testifying to - was not rape, so we must be deluded, or liars, or both! and

C) violence today is okay tomorrow, because by tomorrow it will all be in the past and that excuses everything.

For all these reasons and more, here is my response to that poster at the head of this post. Here is a glimpse into the Indigenous California side of the strange mirror we call history.

Wednesday, August 5, 2015

The Wisdom of August

I wake up on the threshold of a prayer,
knowing that the words “Dear Creator…”
are hyperlinks opening a thousand doors. 
I awake knowing that when we speak or think
those words, we shift worlds, change the direction of time,
move in a dance that unlocks, releases -
now I can’t express it – the pathway I saw,
that liminal gate; all the precise silver
verbs slip away from me.  What I have left:
Dear Creator.  I repeat it to myself
in bed, in the garden’s green light,
my face full of sun.  Try to follow the words
back in, breadcrumbs back into the mystery.

Deborah A. Miranda

Thursday, July 16, 2015

Poem for Linda: "Compassion."

- For Linda Hogan 

Walking in the yard, I look down, see a pale little frog, belly-up.  Not more than an inch and a half, limbs all splayed out on the hot cement.  And I think, Oh! poor thing.  I bet the dog got it.  Played with it.  I bend to pick it up by its tiny arm and - the creamy throat pulses.  Pulses.  Alive, still alive!  I flip it over in my hand, right side up.  She immediately collects herself into a crouch.  Golden eyes blink.  She’s stunned; maybe playing dead.  I put her down in a damp flowerpot, a prayer amidst a tangle of purple and pink and white and indigo. Shaded, cool.  And I leave her there.   A few hours later, I search through the flowers.  No shiny leopard-skin beauty.  Maybe she made it.  It happens that way sometimes.  Someone passing through; someone else passing through.  Paths crossing.  You reach out your hand, do – nothing spectacular.  Just what you can do.  What you can do.  

Deborah A. Miranda


Saturday, June 13, 2015


Yesterday, I flew out of SeaTac with my heart breaking.  So hard to leave my son, daughter and granddaughter!  I felt as though one of my limbs had been amputated and left behind.  The wound throbbed throughout my entire body.

In Portland, however, I was met by a beautiful person - TC Tolbert - who not only drove me four + hours to Caldera Arts, but shared his life/stories/thoughts and made my transition from mother- and Grammy-land not only bearable, but sweet.  

We were greeted by the flurry of a large red-tailed hawk at the freeway on-ramp, gazed out at alpacas, horses, sheep, cows; feasted our eyes on wide stretches of sage, yellow clusters of flowers, the round fuzzy heads of beargrass, Mt. Hood and the Three Sisters all snowy and busy with their own thoughts.  We crossed the Deshutes River, drove between sheer rock walls, stopped to stock up on fruit and other necessities, breathed in heat and sunlight, crawled through small towns dressed in their tourism costumes of cowboy hats and wagon wheels, on up, up, up to Blue Lake and the Caldera Arts Center.

And then I was welcomed with open arms by faculty, staff, and students of the OSU-Cascades Low-residency MFA writing program, who have invited me to be their Distinguished Visiting Writer (more like, Lucky Visiting Writer).
Last night I slept in an A-frame cabin above a stream.  I slept the deep constellation, Milky Way, underground river of pure water sleep.  My body was open and yet protected, my spirit dreamy yet willing.  I traveled and traveled, yet finally awoke many hours later rested and eager for the day.  Thank you.  Thank you, Ponderosas, copper-skinned Ponderosas whose fragrant needles cleansed my lungs.  Thank you small stream beneath my window; your mindful chant soothes and counsels.  Thank you night creatures - owl, mouse, bat, raccoon - who went about the work of darkness so carefully.  Thank you insects, Sphinx moth and mosquito, leaf-hopper and sack spiders, crawling and fluttering, eating and mating, singing or silent with ancient concentration.  Thank you, A-frame cabin made of pine and cedar; thank you, Pine and Cedar.  

Today I will do my best to make what you have all given me into something that is also useful, healing, a part of this matrix of creation.  Today, I will try.  Today I will do the best that I can do with what I have to do it with.  

Writing just now, Hummingbird - umunipsha - hovered around my head, perhaps attracted by my bright turquoise shirt.  The sound of her wings was somewhere between a buzz and a thrum, a sound of efficiency and perfect balance, made of tiny feathers with tinier barbs that combine muscle and air and wind into a song that uses no voice at all.  Today is no ordinary day.  Today is full of gifts.  

All right then.  Let's get to work.

Wednesday, April 8, 2015


the more I live and breathe

Every family has to skip
many kinds of characters. 
Any character can bring
words and speculate:
what isn’t said
isn’t recorded.
Two worlds tease
the story
of Tribal thoughts
from memory.
Sometimes monologue,
sometimes conversations
or what I imagine to be
true writing,

by Deborah A. Miranda

PersonalBest/My Fresh Idea

Reclaim heavy:
some killed 
a familiar.
I made hardly
a fit challenge,
but cherish
the good
only once.
remember  -
because tiny
as a child
that negativity
as sharp
as before -
now harsh words.
help us.
this prayer:
grace-filled plums
and pig fat
honor the rest.  

Margo Solod

Tuesday, April 7, 2015


Found this page from an Irish play in the copy room at work today.  Random submission from Fate.
 "86 RIDERS"

86 riders in a deep grave,

God beginning to ride

the mare beyond and below,

below.  Wash man, make

the finest find. Would it be

a strong wind

raising a star, the moon,

a hundred horses

jumping in

the west wind?

No one looking

for the grave.

Fall down again

or maybe the wind

is fire, a hard cruel

sea.  Listen to the red mare,

the blessing of the black night,

the blessing and sorrow

on this house.

Deborah A. Miranda

"Overlooked Gems"

Just as most 
are lost,
are likely to continue.

In short,
a story day
hums apace,
thoughtful and solemn.

It's obvious
stressed and struggling 
was very
for success.

rarely works.
A bucket
of shortcomings
our competence.

and recognize

Margo Solod

Monday, April 6, 2015

ERASURE DAY 6: "Wondrous Theft" & "Some Stayed"

Wondrous Theft

North to the overlook,
sharp, almost eager crystal
trapped her heart.
Cloves turned
the shining sphere
of silk into the voices
of the dead.  Someone
named Mule dedicated
a proper sweat,
snapped the surprise:
kept you by permission
of February.

Deborah A. Miranda

Others Stayed

They observed
appeared to have 
few reservations.
Some did not exist
west of the celebrations.
They learned
once again,
earnest from essential.
Supreme effort.

Margo Solod

Sunday, April 5, 2015



The stone hour
hit close to home.
We would murder
the different.

At a cross-roads
is a complaint,
a grievance;
Spring events
that handle their own
formation of a violation.

Trust chose not to hear.

A sense of wisdom
has to search 
many a summer
to have one, 
one individual 
that deserves
gray times,
times coming down
with such reality.

Not even a kick,
a murder -
and so 
be different.

Deborah A. Miranda
Any Inconvenience Not Recommended

Up ahead was one
of the two, trying
to call for help.
Didn't get through.  
        Do you think you could?
Not likely.  Why?
        It's hard.
Nearby, horrified
and crazed
with grief.
Just behind, 
just over the edge:
a door.

Margo Solod



a home,
is rooted in
a dynamic
kind of
touch.  All
human lives
open doors,
large spaces.

and submit
and center.

The present
of discovery
also mentors
fosters festivals
of word
and fellowship.
Story is a growing,
intensive work,
a network
of open voices
for our page
and place,
place, place.

Deborah A. Miranda


Despite discipline,
at every turn
restricted, limited.
Who thinks function
alone embraces art?
When I asked,
I wanted how
the excruciating detail –
strength, fatigue, wear
unfortunately an opportunity
to improve before us –
I never did.

Margo Solod

Friday, April 3, 2015



Companion, marvel at the self:
absorb the sea,
an exercise in power.
The song’s spirit
composes, creates
non-human artifact,
a radical maker.
This is why power
represents a union
of blessed rage
and chaos.  The seascape
resists a world beyond
the end; the face of truth
is all skyscapes.  Imagine
the possibility: seduced
by song, forget need.

Deborah Miranda

[If you can guess which publication my erasure poem comes from, I'll send you a surprise in the mail!   -  dm]

"In Perspective"

Stretch across the fringes,
draw over Europe, America,
the Mountain range 
of migrating swallows.
Neither better nor different,
rising swiftly
          to the horizon.
No tilted tabletops
out of sight or anything.
Some fiercely loyal, others
find variety.
           don't follow national 

Margo Solod

Thursday, April 2, 2015

Erasure Poems, Day 2

“The Years”

Glance back –

it is like time-fishing.

Later, soon, back,

back in those days.

At least one summer

my humble luck

changed from fur

to carbon to rock.

Different technology

replaced maps

and incremental

human-shaped bird feathers

made a comeback.

A good piece of “how long” -

just loved to death

sitting in Patagonia

for a decade.

Your first times

last a long time.

A revolutionary

second skin is my own

stainless steel membrane.

More, more – ultimately,

it comes down

to the last more.

Deborah A. Miranda