Monday, August 29, 2022

Today on the Almanac, we head to the mailbag to answer a question about the Patron saint of California.

*** This is a rough transcript of today’s show ***

It is the 29th of August 2022. Welcome to the Christian History Almanac brought to you by 1517 at; I’m Dan van Voorhis.

Happy Monday- heading to the mailbag where I’ve got a question from my own backyard (metaphorical, of course).

“My name is Wade, and I live in Mission Viejo, CA. When I first heard about the Christian History Almanac about one year ago, I wanted to start at the beginning and listen to all the episodes. It's taken longer than I thought, but I've almost caught up despite the fact that you keep moving the goalpost. I'm about a month behind live shows.

I was wondering if you could do a deep dive into Father Serra. The little I know of the man comes from my exposure as my children studying California missions have used building materials ranging from sugar cubes to popsicle sticks to legos as they have constructed missions during their 4th-grade curriculum here in California.

I've listened long enough to know that I won't ask you if he was a good guy or a bad guy, nor will I ask you to comment on whether his statue should stand or fall. But can you dive into the impact his work had on: the Catholic church, indigenous people on the west coast of N America, and the various settlers that benefited from his labors?”

Wade! Mission Viejo is about two blocks south of the CHA Studios- of course, the Viejo “or old thing’ being referenced is the Mission Rancho- a reference to the first mission in the area before it was replaced by the now famous mission in San Juan Capistrano. It is also near the place of the mysterious “legend of the Bull,” from whence the area and local High School “El Toro” got its name. And then there is a fake forest and a couple of fake lakes that give the name to “Lake Forest,” where this show originates, is then sent via the internet to Random Lake, Wisconsin, and then to your ears and heart.

Ok- Wade- great question. If you went to public school in California as I did, as did your kids, you made a mission (I made mine with sugar cubes which then attracted ants), and you learned about the missions. These missions formed the backbone of a centralized government in Alta, California, that would eventually turn into ranchos, then into towns and counties, all leading to the state of California entering the Union in 1850.

The missionaries were long credited and hailed for bringing “civilization” to the natives. And, if you are a Christian, you could celebrate the spread of the gospel and civilization. And the men who ran it all would rightly be praised: thus the sainthood of Father Junipero Serra- the first Saint to be canonized in the United States of America (this during Pope Francis’ trip to America in 2015).

His quick bio: born in 1713, the 3rd of 5 kids to farmers on the Spanish island of Majorca. He joined the Franciscan Order and in 1749, came to Veracruz on the east coast of Mexico and then made his way, with the expedition of Gaspar de Portolá, into modern-day California. He would establish 21 missions in 20 years, baptizing some 6,000 natives.

A post-colonial approach to Serra, however, questions the “sainthood” of such a character because of the deaths that took place. And while Serra never approved of anyone's death, he had been accused of “cultural genocide” in that the culture of the church the trimmed over native culture. This would not be Serra’s “fault”- but often a by-product of missions when wedded with empire.

These missions, unfortunately, were often run on a system that mirrored the encomienda system- that is, labor, efficiency, and a kind of tribute/tax system would mirror the kingdoms of the world instead of the kingdom of Christ.

Serra was known to oppose those Spanish colonists who hurt the natives- he was keen on preaching that the natives were humans in the image of God and not sub-human savages. This takes him further from the slave masters of some eras who denied the humanity of others.

Serra’s goal was baptism and expanding the church- and this is what the Catholic Church has “sainted” him for doing. As a religious figure, he has his faith and bravery in an imperfect situation to hold on to.

As a civic figure, he is not held up for baptism. The expansion of the church and thus his role in a system that could work evil is questioned- maybe he was amongst the best, but a non-Catholic or secular person might wonder why to owe don’t teach what he did but leave the statue-ing and saint-ing for others.

And all of this highlights the difficulty of living in a diverse modern state- but also a conversation about humans and systems and how to best live and spread the Gospel in spite of sin.

Thanks “Wade,” for your question- for listening to so many shows in such a little time, and I’m sure you’re just a good dude all around.

Send me your questions at my first name, last initial

The Last Word for today comes from the lectionary for today from Hebrews 13- a very good word:

7 Remember your leaders, who spoke the word of God to you. Consider the outcome of their way of life and imitate their faith. 8 Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever.

This has been the Christian History Almanac for the 29th of August 2022, brought to you by 1517 at

The show is produced by the man whose various combined vocations put the “Random” in Random Lake- He is Christopher Gillespie.

The show is written and read by a man who puts the “La”? And the “For” in Lake Forest. I’m Dan van Voorhis.

You can catch us here every day- and remember that the rumors of grace, forgiveness, and the redemption of all things are true…. Everything is going to be ok.

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