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Featured Book for December 2023

We Survived the End of the World: Lessons from Native America on Apocalypse and Hope

by Steven Charleston

From the moment European settlers reached these shores, the American apocalypse began. But Native Americans did not vanish. Apocalypse did not fully destroy them, and it doesn’t have to destroy us.

Pandemics and war, social turmoil and corrupt governments, natural disasters and environmental collapse–it’s hard not to watch the signs of the times and feel afraid. But we can journey through that fear to find hope. With the warnings of a prophet and the lively voice of a storyteller, Choctaw elder and author of Ladder to the Light Steven Charleston speaks to all who sense apocalyptic dread rising around and within.

You’d be hard pressed to find an apocalypse more total than the one Native America has confronted for more than four hundred years. Yet Charleston’s ancestors are a case study in the liberating and hopeful survival of a spiritual community. How did Indigenous communities achieve the miracle of their own survival and live to tell the tale? What strategies did America’s Indigenous people rely on that may help us to endure an apocalypse–or perhaps even prevent one from happening?

Charleston points to four Indigenous prophets who helped their people learn strategies for surviving catastrophe: Ganiodaiio of the Seneca, Tenskwatawa of the Shawnee, Smohalla of the Wanapams, and Wovoka of the Paiute. Through gestures such as turning the culture upside down, finding a fixed place on which to stand, listening to what the earth is saying, and dancing a ghostly vision into being, these prophets helped their people survive. Charleston looks, too, at the Hopi people of the American Southwest, whose sacred stories tell them they were created for a purpose. These ancestors’ words reach across centuries to help us live through apocalypse today with courage and dignity.

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Community Questions

Community questions from Claudia Love Mair.

Week 1

  1. How has Steven’s view of what an apocalypse is shifted your understanding of the meaning of the word?
  2. Name an apocalyptic event that you have been particularly struck by.
  3. On page 3 Steven writes that his book grew from the seed of an idea that people can survive an apocalypse in “…the liberating and hopeful survival of a spiritual community.” What are some ways this hope can look like?

Week 2

  1. Steven writes that the people not only heard and read prophecies, but they embodied them in sacred dance. p. 10 What is a way that you can embody words of prophecy and prophetic visions?
  2. The prophets Steven chose to write about were “all very human and very much a part of their own time.” p. 11 Who would you consider to be a prophetic voice today?
  3. On page 17 Steven writes that the Hopi people maintained an culture of apocalyptic process for centuries. Where do you see a similar culture of apocalyptic process today?

Week 3

  1. Steven tells us on page 33 that our goal is not to appropriate the culture or remove it from its context. What is one way we can avoid this kind of appropriation?
  2. On page 42 Steven shares how the Haudenosaunee people point us to turning our own culture upside down. Describe a way we can shift from individualism to embracing the social network to a greater degree.
  3. When discussing the Hopi people Steven refers to reconciliation as, not pretty, but “often covered in blood.” What are some of the most painful aspects of reconciliation?

Week 4

  1. What are some ways you can keep your heart open to and engaged in the process of reconciliation?
  2. Steven describes the Native American tradition of vision quest as “waking up from illusion.” p. 175. What does a vision quest look like in your life?
  3. In the final chapter Steven invites us all to become prophets. How will you accept this invitation?