Yesterday, the world lost a great voice and a beautiful man. Richard’s impact on Christianity and those around him cannot be overstated. Regarding Red Letter Christians, Richard was one of our first TV show guests and was an advisory member to our annual gathering, consistently encouraging and challenging us to diversify our voices and challenge colonialism in our faith.
In memory and tribute to Richard, many Red Letter Christian speakers and authors have expressed their love of Richard and impact he had on their lives:
Richard was a dear friend and a truly wonderful man. This is a deeply sad day and is an incredible loss to his family but it is also an incredible loss to all indigenous people who are struggling for identity within the context of their own cultures while holding firm to the Christian faith.”
Jarrod McKenna – non-violent peace activist – World Vision Australia:
With tears we give thanks for the work and witness of uncle Richard Twiss. Gone too soon is our dear brother who did so much to call God’s people to decolonize our hearts that we might follow Christ. Not a false ‘christ’ of Western Empire used to wipe out cultures, languages and peoples. No. Uncle Richard called us to the Creator’s great powwow, around the throne of the nonviolent Lamb, in whose reign every nation and tribe and people and language are present, protected and celebrated. My prayers are with his family and friends as we grieve his death and celebrate his life. And I pray we might all –like uncle Richard’s son and my friend Daniel– continue his work to decolonize our faith and revitalize our worship of the One who has always spoken to all peoples, and in Jesus we have come to know as calvary-shaped Love. We will miss you greatly dear brother, rest in peace.”
Mae Elise Cannon – World Vision USA:
Deeply grieved. Just received news Christian leader & hero of the faith Richard Twiss was taken to heaven. He leaves a profound legacy…It has been a great privilege to learn from the leadership and example of Richard Twiss. His bold and prophetic voice – calling all of us toward a deep and authentic reconciliation with each other and with our Creator – has had an impact beyond that which we currently understand. Although he has been taken from this earth, his legacy will live on in the years ahead.
Andrew Marin – The Marin Foundation:
I was at the hotel in DC last week when Richard had his heart attack. In fact, I was hanging with him a little over an hour before it happened. When I got the text from Tony Kriz, who was also in DC at that time, that Richard was in the hospital, I met Tony and a few others in the lobby–staying, praying and conversing right outside Richard’s room in the ICU until 3:30am. With each update from the doctors’ the reality of Richard’s recovery seemed less likely. The gravity of the situation hit when the hospital chaplain sat down with Tony and I around 1am.
Richard has meant too much to too many people for his life to be cut this short. I don’t think either Tony or I could wrap our heads around the situation–especially for Tony, who was relating each of the doctor’s updates to Richard’s wife, Katherine, who at that point was across the country in Portland trying to get to DC. When the news came about Richard’s death, I thank God for Twitter, as the diversity of people mourning Richard’s passing reflected his personhood, character and the extreme impact he has had all over this world.
For the past five-plus years, Richard has not only been a great friend, but a mentor to me in some of the most left-in-the-balance spaces in my soul. Not once did Richard never have time for me; for any of us. He poured out his years of oppression, journey and wisdom to all who would listen, and even to those who never would.
For this, Richard was a hero of mine. He was someone who fought, and taught, what he believed was right–right for his people; right for our nation’s sins; and right for the common good of humanity. There have been too many times to recount over the years that Richard and I shared a deep confessional conversation over drinks under the moon’s bright light. Each time he gave me way more than I could ever have given him.
From organizational, personal, spiritual and cultural mentoring, Richard opened my eyes to the best of what peaceful and productive engagement and contemporary activism must look like if our world is to move forward in any mutually beneficial direction centered on Christ’s justice for His people.
Richard always had your back. He always kept it real. He always represented his people, heritage, faith, family and friends with the utmost reverence–combining in love what many thought never congruent. Richard taught us all about the truths of unity, dignity, fairness and friendship.
My soul breaks each time my mind wanders with the realization that I can no longer wrap my arms around Richard while burying my head in the chest of his tall frame of assurance. Instead of crying with emotion during our journey’s to the deep, I’m crying with sadness that he’s gone. But only for a short while, until we are together again.
I love you Richard. And I promise to do my best in carrying on your legacy of working to right the worst of the political, religious and cultural wrongs that our government, Church and society have ignored and covered up for too long. I can only pray that I will be able to do you, your family and your people proud. Thank you for believing in me, investing in me, and advocating for me because in some small way, you saw a little of yourself in me. You are already greatly missed. May we all continue working to be ikce wicasa in the way you showed us. Much love.
Jimmy Spencer Jr. – Love Without Agenda:
I’ve said for a number of years that Dr. Richard Twiss has some of the most significant theological and cultural thought in the Western Hemisphere. He called for us to re-examine our western, colonial framing of Christianity and showed us our desperate need to develop a mutual appreciation for one another’s culture. He displayed a sincere hope that Western Christians could move past our modern materialism and begin living with past and future generations in mind. His message has inspired me, and countless young people, in our pursuit of responsible community as fellow humans. I am confident as the years progress, his work will be recognized for the progress it paved.
On a personal note, I grieve the loss of a dear friend and mentor. I am humbled to have learned from him, proud to have smoked with him, and grateful to have worked toward a better world alongside him. While I mourn for his family, I’ll celebrate his life and legacy—smiling that Uncle Richard is finally in a place where systemic injustice has no foot-hold. I know that some day soon we’ll be re-united in that place to once again tell stories, and as is our custom, I’ll bring the best cigars I can find.
You are, and will always be, my uncle.
Travel well friend…travel well.
Shane Claiborne – The Simple Way:
This weekend I was set to speak in Detroit. A few hours before the event, I got news that our brother Richard Twiss had crossed over to the other side, after a massive heart attack a few days ago.
With tears running down my face, we started the event by lighting a candle for Richard and putting his big ole smiling face up on the screen – and we carried him with us through the evening.
Before I went to bed, I read through my emails from Richard over the years – emails giving me advice on everything from marriage to ego… emails helping us honor the First Nations histories as we created Common Prayer… emails teaching me Lakota wisdom and the richness of Native cultures…
…emails that were usually signed “your uncle – Richard”
One of my favorite emails was him teaching me the Lakota phrase “Ikce Wicasa” – which means “common man”. He put it like this:
“In Lakota tradition it is anathema to becoming a bigshot – arrogant, boastful, proud, highminded, etc…. To be humble, simple, “one of the guys” is to be a common man, Ikce Wicasa — it is a thing to be sought after… in my life, I strive to be ikce wicasa — “common man.”
So thank you Richard. May your courage and wisdom continue to inspire us to greatness, and may your humility and common-ness continue to inspire us to smallness.
I went to bed staring at the ceiling, smiling as I thought of all the great memories of Richard. And then I thought of one of the gifts he gave me — a turtle shell which hangs in my office. In Lakota it symbolizes a long, full, healthy life. I went to sleep thinking of that turtle shell and of Richard – though he left us much sooner than I would have hoped, his life was a full, beautiful, life well lived. A life that pointed to Jesus.
May our love and prayers continue to pour out for Katherine – and Andrew, Phillip, Ian, and Daniel and the whole Wiconi family…. as you grieve his death and celebrate his life.
So Richard – our brother – our uncle – we will miss you. But it won’t be long till we’ll sit around a drum on the other side and dance with the angels together.
Brian McLaren – Author and Speaker:
We will miss you, Richard Twiss, Taoyate Obnajin. We will not forget you. We will carry on your work. We will be there for your family. We will tell stories of our times with you … times full of laughter, learning, and real life. We will not be the same because of the blessing of your friendship, and we will carry a scar in our deepest hearts for the loss of your presence and good cheer. Thank you for all you have meant to us … and all the ways your good life will continue to bear fruit in us. We thank God for you, Richard. We will rejoice with you again – dancing, drumming, singing, feasting, and laughing at the great reunion in the spacious tent of our Creator.
Colin McCartney – Connect Ministries:
I had the privilege to meet with Richard on only a few occasions. So, I can’t say much as I didn’t know the man that well. However it says a lot about Richard’s character that in the brief times we shared I was impacted from the core.
I always enjoyed his wonderful sense of humour & gracious heart. He made everyone feel welcome at his table. At the same time Richard was a man with a prophetic calling who loved his people and was able to base his love and drive for justice from a very sharp theological mind. His perspectives from Scripture were challenging to say the least & he never held back on speaking truth & destroying the faulty idol of the euro – centric Christ. This man was special!
However the greatest memory I have of Richard was when he showed me pictures of his family – he loved his family far above his platform. That says a lot about the man.
Richard – Jesus has touched so many lives through you. May we become more like you and in so doing become more like the real Jesus you loved.”
Nikole Lim – Freely in Hope:
Since I heard him speak at Urbana a few years ago, I admired him from a distance. I listened closely to his stories and looked up to his bravery. Being one of the few advocates for Native American peoples, his bold statements were often harsh, but truthful lessons on justice, reconciliation and race. I really resonated with his messages because the focus was on the stories of his people. The few times I would hear him speak or see him at an event, I would get so excited. At the National Prayer Breakfast last year, we passed each other and I turned to my friend and yell-whispered, “OMG, that’s Richard Twiss!”
Just a few months ago, Richard and I formally met at a small gathering of speakers where I really got to learn from his stories and his approach to justice and reconciliation.
I’m not sure why, but he would consistently pull me out of the crowd to ask, “Are you okay? Do you have anything to say?” to ensure that my voice wasn’t getting lost in conversation. I repeatedly told him that I really was okay—happy to simply listen to the voices of wisdom around me. But again, I would feel a tap on my shoulder and he would ask, “What are your thoughts in this?”
There was a point in the gathering where he asked me and other leaders of color to share our stories on race in relation to speaking about justice in a predominantly white culture. I really didn’t want to do it because there were plenty of better, smarter and stronger voices in the room. But he insisted—being that I was the only Asian American woman at the gathering.
My heart felt like it was about to beat out of my body, but I did it. I shared a few personal experiences on how we as Asian American women often oppress ourselves from achieving greater things because of how culture shapes us: we suffer injustice silently, we clutch tightly to our fears of failure and shame, we allow culture to override our faith, we believe that dignity is only achieved by how others define us. But though we have been culturally trained to suffer silently, it doesn’t necessarily mean we have nothing to say. I challenged my white brothers and sisters in leadership to patiently listen to our stories and to platform the silence. As hard, nerve-wracking and emotional as that moment was for me, I am grateful that Richard pulled me out—pushing me to share what was on my heart, even when I was too afraid to say it…even when I was the one oppressing my own voice. That was a transformative aha moment for me. He truly stands with his people.
These images that I took of him at Christian Community Development Association last year portray his charisma and this is how I will remember him: dancing, full of life.
As his legacy inspires the next generation of justice-seeking leaders, may his story be retold to encourage us to embrace boldness, reconciliation and a life lived for others.
Jon Huckins – NieuCommunities:
I love the way theologian Paul Knitter uses the metaphor of a telescope to describe one’s inherited worldview. Based our culture, family or origin, religious tradition, place on the globe, etc., we each view the world through a different telescope. To get a more complete view of the world, and the dynamic ways God is at work within it, we must seek to look through the telescope of people who come from a much different background than ourselves.
Richard Twiss gave many of us the gift of looking through the telescope of a people and form of Christianity that is often overlooked in America. He invited us into the narrative of Native Americans and the dynamic ways they interact with Creation and Creator out of faithfulness to Jesus. Richard not only gave the American Church a gift, he gave a gift to the Kingdom of God by allowing its diversity, beauty and broadness spark the imagination and practice of the Church global. As a friend, uncle and Kingdom partner, it was an honor to know Richard, and will continue be an honor as we tell his story for years to come. Blessings, my brother, and thank you.
Margot Starbuck – Author and Speaker:
In the passing of Richard Twiss there is a gap in the cosmos that can be filled by NO OTHER. I suppose this is true of any loss we suffer, but Richard–who has impacted so many lives–has left a very particular unfillable void. He is simply irreplaceable. Thank you, Grandfather, for sharing him with us.
Bart Campolo – Telos Group:
I can’t remember where I first met Richard Twiss, but there was always something special between us. Magnificent as he was in so many ways, he was crazy about me right from the start, and never once tried to hide it. The way he lit up whenever he saw me or heard my voice on the phone, the warmth of his emails, and the ease of his laughter and touch all spoke to a shared understanding, a mutual respect, and a unique sense of spiritual kinship that set me apart from the rest of his many friends and admirers in a way that made me very proud and very happy.
In fact, I was so proud and so happy with our special bond that it took years for me to realize that Richard made nearly everybody feel that way, not only because he was so bright and charming, but because he genuinely felt that way about nearly everybody. Like his Teacher, Richard generally connected with – and loved – what was truest about whoever stood in front of him. If you knew him at all, then you know what I mean. If you didn’t, well, I’m sorry.
Of course, I’m sorrier still for Richard’s closest friends, of whom he spoke often, and for his beloved wife and sons, of whom he spoke always, in a different tone of voice. I’m grateful for those folks too, because they as much as God made Richard such a gift to the rest of us.
Richard Twiss always called me a heretic, and coming from him I took it as a compliment. Honestly, all I know about eternity is that it appeals to me much more now that he’s part of it.
Carol Howard Merritt – Writer and Speaker:
Richard Twiss and I spent time meditating and praying together, particularly discerning the question, “Who God is calling us to be?”
Richard talked about how he had always been an ambitious person, but he knew that it was time for him to stop striving and be with his tribe. He explained that he was the person that he was because of his relationships with his family and tribe, and it was time to cultivate those connections.
When Richard asked who God was calling me to be, I began to articulate my elevator speech. I had just left my position as a pastor and had been asked by hundreds of people what I was doing with my life. Being an ambitious person myself, I eagerly wanted to prove that I had a plan. So, I had become very adept at outlining my goals succinctly. “I have three hopes,” I began. But as soon as I started, I realized that I didn’t have three hopes. I had one. My canned speech smelled; it suddenly seemed outdated and spoiled.
I looked at Richard as my words faltered. I wondered, Why I can’t I articulate my three goals? Is it because I respect this man too much? Do I just want to impress him, and so I’m ready to change who I am in order to fit his expectations of me? I thought about this as Richard looked at his shoes. He crossed his arms like a man who had all the time in the world. He gave me all the space I needed as I fidgeted in my seat.
I took a deep breath and realized, Richard doesn’t have any expectations of me. I just can’t lie in front of him. I can’t even tell him the lies I’ve told myself for these months. Richard had an unbelievable detector for bull crap and I couldn’t get around it. I had to tell the truth—to him and to myself.
In that short hour, Richard helped me to see beyond my ambitious striving, beyond fulfilling everyone’s expectations—and he helped me to sort out who God was calling me to be.
I’m grateful for Richard’s imagination and love as he took the time to mentor so many of us. He will be missed.
Jamie Arpin-Ricci – Writer and Pastor:
I first met Richard over 15 years ago, after some time corresponding. I had invited him to come out and teach in a discipleship program I was working with. Learning about my background, he opened his week of teaching with a French Canadian joke. And that sealed it: we were friends from that day forward.
While my friendship with Richard will always be something I am deeply grateful for having, I am even more grateful for the prophetic voice he was in my life and in my faith. He helped me see that my place of cultural and racial privilege, wrapped up in my Western Christendom context, was furthering the devastation of colonialism regardless of how well intentioned I was in the process. And while his stark honest about these truths never wavered, he was in no way a judge, but rather a wise teacher and a concerned friend. He saw my bondage for what it was and responded, not with rejection and judgment, but with compassion and truth.
Richard’s legacy will live on for a long time. His words and example shine a bright light- one that no only exposes the the dark chains of Empire that holds back so many Christians today, but also one of hope, of new life, one that shows us the path to follow the Jesus way. I can only hope and pray and dedicated myself to being a part of helping that light shine brighter for others to see.
I will miss Richard so very much.
Margaret Feinberg – Bible Teacher, Speaker, and Author:
Richard was my coffee buddy. At an annual gathering of Christian leaders over the last few years, Richard would always look at me and say, “What time?”
I knew exactly what he was asking.
We’d fill the car with too many people and track down the nearest coffee shop—driving as many miles as necessary, timing our departure on occasion to arrive at the moment the store opened. Along the way we’d talk about life and dreams and hopes and God and faith and the crazytown that happens with being in ministry.
Richard was often the only Native American in the room and I was often the token half-Jewish girl in the room, and we shared a bond of friendship, loving God, and caffeine-infused mornings. I’ll miss my feisty, sweet friend, but look forward to greeting him with a bear hug in heaven. I have a hunch he’ll meet me with a latte in hand.
Bob Lenz – Author, Speaker & Founder of Life Promotions:
Richard Twiss…my friend. You may be gone from this temporal life, but your spirit lives! Your words are still pounding like a drum in my heart causing metenoya, pushing out ugly colonized lies with a Godly righteous Richard anger. You challenged my thinking. Those drums have also caused a dancing in my soul that continues to bring sound waves of beauty, culture, nature, art and thought.
Because of you, my heart’s passion pounded a little stronger in the Bush of Alaska, and rose to new heights in high school auditoriums. I long to honor what you have taught me, to share Jesus with every and all people, while upholding their dignity as we celebrate & honor different cultures. I’ll continue the pursuit of loving God and people.
My last earthly picture of you is that of you praying over me in your native tongue. So beautiful. Thank you.
How did Richard impact your life? In what ways did he challenge you to live more faithfully and more justly? As you consider, please continue to pray for Katherine and the entire Twiss family.