Sunday, December 04, 2005

Getting Saved at the Potlatch

Getting Saved at the Potlatch: Accepting Indians as your Personal Equals

My friend Bill Bob Tom is half native and trained in the church. But recently he went to a potlatch and saw the light. He got saved and accepted Indians!

Lots of Christians accept Jesus, but they seem to stop there. They hear Jesus' story about planting seeds, but instead they plant church buildings, and all the stuff that goes with it, like Bible-college-factory pastors and lots of books on theology and how to do anything meaningful in 40 days.

But when my friend (Tom Bill Bob) went to a real potlatch, he experienced a very godly event, with many examples of love, generosity, of forming lasting bonds of faithfulness and care. The potlatch included singing, dancing, feasting, naming, young teen rite of passage, and more.

I know why he was stunned -- I have seen the reactions at 2 potlatches that I held in Seattle. The church has nothing like it. Of course, some tribes and bands have lost the potlatch and need help in bringing it back. Some churches see the opportunity to "fill the void" buy bringing in "church" but I think the seeds of the Gospel could go much further if they were planted in a potlatch.

In fact anyone doing the big tent ministry should repent and switch to potlatches. Instead of taking the people's money, come prepared to give generously to the people.

I am not sure if I am joking about "getting saved and accepting Indians". There is another story that is published and has a video version called "The Pineapple Story" about an angry missionary who preaches love but but doesn't get much of a hearing, especially since the natives keep stealing his pineapples -- which take 3 years to grow! (

The story is that the missionary finally (after years) repents of his anger but the natives take this as evidence that the missionary has finally gotten saved! He now treats them like Jesus did, not being angry when they steal his pineapples. So did he get saved when he accepted Jesus? Sure -- but at what point did he get transformed?
Doesn't Romans say to be transformed by the renewing of the way you think?

Culture doesn't save people - being reconciled to Creator through Jesus does. No amount of turning natives into Mid-Western suburnanites is going to get them closer to Jesus -- in fact that kind of assimilation leads us in the other direction.

So I am grateful for my friend Bill Bob Tom and his potlatch experience. There are now so many things that I don't have to explain -- it is something that can only be experienced -- it is better "caught than taught".

Thanks for listening... I guess I better get some coffee now...


Friday, December 02, 2005

Reconciliation: "If I Steal Your Car" - By Robert Francis

Fellowships Talk
October 2005

Stories: “The Daughter of the Sun,” “One Came from the Heavens,” “An Eye for an Eye – A Son for a Son,” “Child’s Play” and “If I Steal Your Car”

Primary Scripture: Ephesians 4:22-5:20; Matthew 5:21-26, 6:12, 14-15; Luke 17:3-4
Supporting Scriptures: Psalm 82:3; Proverbs 21:3; Matthew 7:21-23; Mark 13:8;
2 Corinthians 7:10; Revelation 7:9-10 N.I.V. unless otherwise noted

Robert Francis

This is the third in a series of talks on what I call the Four R’s: the four essential values of respect, reciprocity, reconciliation and relationship. Far from being mutually exclusive categories, these four values are interdependent to the extent that no one of them may be brought into practice apart from the other three. Inasmuch as we want to live balanced lives, lives characterized by harmony and love, we do well to hold fast to all four of these values.


The Daughter of the Sun

Note: In most but not necessarily all cases, old Cherokee stories refer to the Sun as female.

According to the old ones, the house of the Sun is in the east, beyond the sky dome, but the Daughter of the Sun used to live in the middle of the sky. Every day, in her travels, the Sun stopped at her daughter’s house for lunch. It was at this hottest part of the day that the Sun would also pause to look down at her grandchildren on the earth. When she saw the people squinting back up at her, the Sun grew angry. “My grandchildren hate me!” the Sun exclaimed to her brother, the Moon. “Just see how they scrunch up their faces whenever they look my way.” In her wrath, the Sun grew hotter and hotter, until all the crops dried up.

In desperation, the people looked high and low for a solution to the problem. Finally, the Little People came up with what seemed to be a logical solution. Now, the Little People are spirit folk. There are some spirit people who are good and some who are bad. The Little People have much in common with us human beings, in that, they can go either way. They may be helpful, or they may be mischievous. They may act wisely, or their actions may prove hurtful. Here’s what the Little People did in this situation: They changed two men into snakes. The first they changed into the Spread-Head snake. The second was transformed into the Copperhead. These two were instructed to travel up the sky vault, to wait at the house of the Daughter of the Sun. “When the Sun arrives outside her daughter’s door,” the Little People said, “strike quickly with your deadly fangs.” The two snakes slithered away to accomplish their task, but when the Sun arrived, her light so blinded the Spread-Head that when he struck, he forgot to even open his mouth to bite. He flattened his nose against the Sun. Then, in his fright, he rolled on his back and played dead, stinking like a rotting carcass, just as he does to this day. The Sun called him a nasty thing and went on into her daughter’s house. The Copperhead was so afraid; he crawled quickly away without even trying to bite, and so these two returned to the earth.

After this first failure, the Little People decided to try again. They changed two more men into snakes. One of these became the Rattlesnake. The other became the Uktin, the Great Horned Serpent. So, you see, all of these four: the Spread-Head, the Copperhead, the Rattlesnake and the Uktin were once men. Well, just as the others had done, the Rattlesnake and the Uktin traveled up the sky vault to lie in wait outside the door to the house of the Daughter of the Sun. The Sun was still in there, having some lunch with her daughter.

The Uktin was very big and dangerous. His poison was so potent that even a little splashed on the skin could be deadly, and the mere look of the Uktin’s eye could kill. All the people were thinking, “As big and mean as that Uktin is, he is sure to do the job and kill the Sun.” But the Rattlesnake was quicker than the Uktin. Getting there first, he coiled up outside the door, nervously shaking his tail as he waited for the Sun to emerge. The Rattlesnake was so eager, that as soon as the door opened, he struck. But instead of striking the Sun, the Rattlesnake struck the Daughter of the Sun. The Sun went on her way, but the Daughter of the Sun died from the poisonous bite. As with the others before them, these two snakes returned to the earth.

The Sun burned hotter and hotter, so vengeful was she for the death of her daughter. The people could no longer leave the shade in the daytime. The trees and grasses were dying. Great fires were burning in the land. People were getting sick. It was really bad.

The Little People said there was only one solution. Seven men would have to travel to the West, to the Jusgina Ghost Country, and bring back the Daughter of the Sun. The Little People gave each man a sourwood stick, with instructions on how to use these when they arrived at the Ghost Country. The men also carried a large box in which to bring back the Daughter of the Sun. The final instructions of the Little People were these: “Once she is in the box, don’t open it, for any reason, until you are back here, in your own country.”

The men set out on their journey. Seven days later, arriving in the Ghost Country, the seven men found the people dancing in a great circle. Positioning themselves outside the circle, they waited for the Daughter of the Sun to come around. As she came by, the first of the seven men touched her with his sourwood stick. When she came around the second time, the next man touched her with his sourwood stick. This same pattern continued until all seven men had, in turn, touched the Daughter of the Sun with their sourwood sticks. At the touch of the seventh stick, she fell backward, as in a swoon. The men put her in the box, securely fastened the lid and headed back to their own country.

As the men walked along, carrying the box, the Daughter of the Sun awoke and began to complain. “I’m hungry,” she said. “Please open the box and give me something to eat.”

“Oh no,” the men said, remembering the warning of the Little People. “We can’t open the box until we are back in our own country.”

As they walked on, the Daughter of the Sun complained again. “I’m thirsty,” she said. “Please, oh please open the box and give me just a little sip of water.”

“Oh no,” the men said. “We can’t open the box until we are back in our own country.”

Finally, the Daughter of the Sun complained again. In a faint voice she said, “I can’t breathe. Please, please open the box. I think I may suffocate!”

The seven men stopped and looked at each other. It was well known that a person could live a long time without food. There were some who had lived as much as seven days without water. But air was something a person could not live without. “Maybe we should open the box,” one man offered.

“Don’t forget what the Little People said,” another cautioned. “We can’t open the box for any reason.”

“But what if she dies,” yet another man said. “We’re back where we started.”

Finally, someone offered an acceptable compromise. “Let’s open the box just a crack,” the man argued, “not enough for her to get out, but enough for her to get some air.” This course of action seeming reasonable to all, the box was unlatched and opened just the tiniest crack.

“What was that?” one man exclaimed. They had all seen a flash of red light, flying out from the box to disappear in the brushy woods.

“I don’t know what that was,” another man said, “but I think we’d better keep the lid closed tight on this box from now on, no matter what she says.”

The men went on their way, hearing no more complaints from the Daughter of the Sun. They worried that maybe she was dead. The next day, the seven arrived back in their own country. The box was opened, and to everyone’s dismay, it was empty.

When the Sun saw her daughter would not be returned to her, her wrath turned to sorrow. She began to cry, and the tears of the Sun threatened to flood the whole earth. The people tried their best to cheer her up. They sang their best songs and danced until their feet were sore. The heart of the Sun was touched by this effort, but her sorrow was not taken away. Then a flash of red was seen in the edge of the woods and a beautiful song was heard. Looking down, the Sun saw her daughter, who had become the Redbird, the Dojuwa, and had elected to stay in the earth. The Sun saw her daughter in the earth, and the Sun smiled.

Note: I have been told recently that the Cherokee word “Dojuwa” may not have originally referred to the crested redbird known as the cardinal, but rather to the summer tanager, the uncrested redbird of the deep forests of southeastern North America.

One Came From the Heavens

Of course the Uktin, the Great Horned Serpent was in the earth. He was still very angry and very dangerous. Even the look of the Uktin’s eye was sure death, not only for the person heedless enough to make eye contact, but even for that person’s whole family. Having failed to destroy the Sun, the Uktin wanted to destroy the Earth, along with all her children, and it looked as though he would do it. But then, one came down from the heavens. This is the one the Cherokees call Jiya Unega (White Otter). Now, this name does not mean this was a white person any more than it means this was literally an otter. It is simply the name by which the Cherokees knew this person. Names have significance. Colors have significance. White, for Cherokees, is the color of the South and signifies new life, new beginnings. Jiya Unega fought against the Uktin and defeated him. Although the Uktin had children who remained in the earth, the Great Uktin himself was sent to the place where dangerous beings are kept. In his fight with the Great Horned Serpent, Jiya Unega was horribly wounded. With one arm torn from his body, Jiya Unega’s blood gushed out onto the earth, and Jiya Unega died in the earth. But Jiya Unega did not remain dead. Rising from the dead and ascending into the heavens, Jiya Unega became the Morning Star, which in Cherokee is called Unelvnvhi Uweji (Creator-Offspring).

We Cherokees understand that it was Jiya Unega who gave our people the Sacred Fire that has been kept now for some 5,089 years. Jiya Unega gave the Fire as reminder of Creator’s presence with us, and he gave us the ceremonies with which to keep the Fire. Jiya Unega, Creator-Son, instructed us that as long as we keep this Fire, we will continue to survive as a people.

An Eye for an Eye - A Son for a Son

Note: When I was a little boy, my mother told me this story. At the time, I imagined it was something that had happened recently, perhaps somewhere near where we lived. As I grew older, I came to understand that this story has been passed down through the family from long ago when the Cherokee clan system was still in effect. There are those today, even among the Cherokees, who consider the clan system, especially the aspect of clan restitution, often erroneously called clan “revenge”, to have been a set of savage customs we are better off without. As with any legal system, there may well have been abuses and miscarriages of justice within the clan system, yet, as illustrated in the story below, the ancient clan system, including the laws of clan restitution, had the potential of working especially well.

There were two young men who were the best of friends, yet one day something happened that caused them to be very angry with each other. The two were so angry that they got into a fight, and in the fight, one young man killed the other.

It was decided that the surviving young man was guilty of murdering his friend. The mother of the murdered young man was asked, “What do you want done? Shall we take your son’s murderer out and kill him?”

“If you kill him,” the mother asked, “will his death bring back my son to me? Will his death not instead leave yet another mother devastated with the loss of her son? No, don’t kill him. Send this young man to my house; let him replace what he has taken away.”

On the day he was to go to the house of his murdered friend, the young man was afraid. How would they treat him there? They must hate him. After all, didn’t he hate himself for what he had done? How could he ever face this family? Facing death would have been much easier.

The mother met the young man at the door of her house. Hugging and kissing him on the cheek, she said, “Welcome home, my son.” He was brought into the house and fed, given warm clothing, a place to sleep and yes, some chores to do. He was treated not as a murderer, but as a true son of the household, brought miraculously back from the dead. He was uncomfortable, at first, because he had a hard time forgiving himself, and the acceptance and forgiveness of others seemed, at first, to compound his own sorrows. Even so, he did his best to be the replacement of what was taken away, and in time, the hearts of the people were healed.

Reconciliation is the process of bringing back together, restoring friendship or harmony through the settlement or resolution of differences. The use of the word presupposes or assumes that there has been a past state of friendship, harmony or conciliation between the parties involved. Each of these stories: “The Daughter of the Sun,” “One Came from Above” and “An Eye for an Eye – A Son for a Son” has something to say about the value of reconciliation. Mostly, these three stories teach how costly reconciliation may be.

There are other stories from the Cherokee oral tradition that also convey truths about the value of reconciliation. In the story of “The Origin of Strawberries,” as Kanati and Selu, the first man and first woman, are estranged and brought back together; we see that, in the process of reconciliation, words are not as important as actions, especially the action of sharing.

In the story of “Home Boy and Wild Boy,” after the two brothers inadvertently release all the animals the people depend on for food, Wild Boy runs away to live by himself in the mountains. Along with Wild Boy, we learn that one cannot live happily in separation from the people. As Wild Boy returns and is reconciled with the people, we learn that, although it may be impossible to undo the wrongs of the past, one may listen carefully and do something to make things better.

In the story of “Ga’na’ and the Seneca Peace,” we learn that while the process of peace-making or reconciliation between two peoples may begin with one person, consensus must be reached among the people before reconciliation is complete. We also learn that reconciliation is a weighty matter, involving prayer, spiritual preparation and purification as well as costly demonstrations of sincerity. Finally, we learn, along with Ga’na’, that we may all be a little more related that any of us may have guessed.

In the story of “The Moon-Eyed People” we learn that genocide, the destruction of an entire people, is the greatest of all wrongs. From this story we also learn about repentance and restitution. We are reminded that we must never forget the wrongs our people have committed in the past nor seek to excuse them, lest the same atrocities be repeated again and again.

In the story of “The Boy and the Snake” we see a young man become an unwitting participant in his own destruction. Once again we take warning not to forget the past, and in the present to walk warily and with our eyes open, or there will be no future for our peoples.

And then there’s the story of “The Origin of Disease and Medicine,” in which the animals get together to do something about the “human problem,” and the plants take pity on the humans before our kind is entirely killed off. Even this is a story about reconciliation - the reconciliation of human beings with the rest of creation. So, you see, reconciliation is a very common theme in the Cherokee oral tradition, as I suppose it must also be a common theme in the oral traditions of other indigenous peoples. Reconciliation is also a major biblical theme. Just think of how the story of Jesus’ death on a cross shows the costly nature of reconciliation. Paul, in his letter to the followers of Jesus in the city of Ephesus, in what is now Turkey, wrote extensively concerning the value of reconciliation.

Living in the Light

You were taught, with regard to your former way of life, to put off your old self, which is being corrupted by its deceitful desires; to be made new in the attitude of your minds; and to put on the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness.
Therefore each of you must put off falsehood and speak truthfully to his neighbor, for we are all members of one body. “In your anger do not sin”; Do not let the sun go down while you are still angry, and do not give the devil a foothold. He who has been stealing must steal no longer, but must work, doing something useful with his own hands, that he may have something to share with those in need.
Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen. And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, with whom you were sealed for the day of redemption. Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice. Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.
Be imitators of God, therefore, as dearly loved children and live a life of love, just as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.
But among you there must not be even a hint of sexual immorality, or of any kind of impurity, or of greed, because these are improper for God’s holy people. Nor should there be obscenity, foolish talk or coarse joking, which are out of place, but rather thanksgiving. For of this you can be sure; No immoral, impure or greedy person – such a man is an idolater – has any inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and of God. Let no one deceive you with empty words, for because of such things God’s wrath comes on those who are disobedient. Therefore do not be partners with them.
For you were once darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Live as children of light (for the fruit of the light consists in all goodness, righteousness and truth) and find out what pleases the Lord. Have nothing to do with the fruitless deeds of darkness, but rather expose them. For it is shameful even to mention what the disobedient do in secret. But everything exposed by the light becomes visible, for it is light that makes everything visible. This is why it is said:

“Wake up, O sleeper,
rise from the dead,
and Christ will shine on you.”

Be very careful, then, how you live – not as unwise but as wise, making the most of every opportunity, because the days are evil. Therefore do not be foolish, but understand what the Lord’s will is. Do not get drunk on wine, which leads to debauchery. Instead, be filled with the Spirit. Speak to one another with psalms, hymns and spiritual songs. Sing and make music in your heart to the Lord, always giving thanks to God the Father for everything, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.
- Ephesians 4:22-5:20

Just as with the value of respect, Jesus, in his Sermon on the Mount, also has much to say concerning the value of reconciliation.

Settle Matters Quickly

“You have heard that it was said to the people long ago, ‘Do not murder, and anyone who murders will be subject to judgment. But I tell you that anyone who is angry with his brother will be subject to judgment. Again, anyone who says to his brother, ‘Raca,’ is answerable to the Sanhedrin. But anyone who says, ‘You fool!’ will be in danger of the fire of hell.
“Therefore, if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there in front of the altar. First go and be reconciled to your brother; then come and offer your gift.
“Settle matters quickly with your adversary who is taking you to court. Do it while you are still with him on the way, or he may hand you over to the judge, and the judge may hand you over to the officer, and you may be thrown into prison. I tell you the truth, you will not get out until you have paid the last penny.”

- Matthew 5:21-26

“…. Forgive us our debts,
as we also have forgiven our debtors.”

“For if you forgive men when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive men their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins.”
- Matthew 6:12, 14-15

At another time and place, Jesus said to his followers,

“…. If your brother sins, rebuke him, and if he repents, forgive him. If he sins against you seven times in a day, and seven times comes back to you and says, ‘I repent,’ forgive him.”
- Luke 17:3-4

Reconciliation happens at several different levels, each level being just as important as any other. We hear most often about reconciliation between human beings and God or the Creator. I assure you that Creator wants nothing more than for all his children to be reconciled to him, but Jesus tells us we cannot be reconciled to Creator so long as injustice committed against a brother or sister is holding us apart. We must first be reconciled with our brother or sister. Of course, there is also the internal warfare going on within many people. For American Indian people, this may be a battle between the spirituality given directly by Creator to our people and demands of the church to lay that spirituality or aspects of that spirituality aside or at least to make our indigenous spirituality secondary to teachings or dogmas that come from other lands and other cultures. Most Indian people have been exposed to and affected by Christian teachings, often by the most fundamentally conservative and exclusive of Christian teachings. At the same time, many Indian people are feeling a pull of the Spirit to reaffirm or reenter the ways given by Creator to our own people. In and through organizations such as Mid American Indian Fellowships, Creator is helping American Indian people reconcile the truths that have come to us through the Bible with the truths Creator has given directly to our people - that the people may live. So, to recap concerning the various levels of reconciliation: There is reconciliation between humans and Creator which cannot happen without reconciliation between individual humans (brothers, sisters, husbands, wives, etc.), which in turn, probably won’t happen without reconciliation within the human heart. There is also reconciliation between groups of humans, between nations or peoples who have brought hurt, damage, death or destruction one on another. There are those who have a very hard time understanding the need for this corporate reconciliation, since many, especially in the Western Cultural worldview, have never been taught the concept of corporate responsibility. Achieving reconciliation within our hearts is difficult. Reconciliation between individuals is more difficult. Reconciliation between people groups is more difficult yet, sometimes next to impossible. But with Creator, nothing is impossible.

Child’s Play

Note: This story is from a dream that came to me in the wee hours of the morning, October 3, 2005.

A group of children were playing in the yard of a house. “Come and hold my brother!” one boy shouted to the other children. “Hold him tight; don’t let him squirm.” And so the boy tested the sharpness of his pocket knife by severing his brother’s arm at the elbow.

The father of the two boys was horrified upon discovery of what had transpired in his yard. His first concern was saving the life of his mutilated child. After the hospitalization and homecoming of the terribly injured son, the father’s next greatest concern was the reconciliation of the brothers. The father loved all his children and was afraid these two would be severed from one another as surely as the one’s arm was severed from his body.

In the assembly of all the people, the father arose and spoke aloud to the two brothers concerning their need for reconciliation. He was greatly troubled by the attitudes of both boys. The one who had done the deed was saying, “It’s no big deal; what’s done is done. He’s still alive.” The other, unable to comprehend the enormity of his loss, was still expecting his arm to grow back. Also, seeing himself as the lesser of the siblings, he was not so sure whether what was done was a crime or just the normal outcome of child’s play. He lacked the capability even to hold his brother to account. He was, therefore, likely to be victimized by his brother again and again until there were no parts of him left for his brother to cut away.

In his letter to the Ephesians, Paul writes of the importance of the honest expression of anger and truth-telling with a view toward reconciliation. Paul writes of changed behavior, “He who has been stealing must steal no longer, but must work.” He also writes of the danger of being taken in by “empty words.” Both Jesus and Paul speak of the need and power of a forgiving heart, yet from the passage in Luke we see that two things happen prior to forgiveness, these being rebuke and repentance. Rebuke is that honest expression of anger at the offence, the truth-telling outlined by Paul. This is where the offending brother or sister is held to account. We are often told, “Just forgive and forget,” but holding to account must precede forgiveness. Otherwise, forgiveness is nothing more than a license for unacceptable behavior to go unchecked. The two sons in the story would be better off forever sundered than for the abuse to continue. I’m not talking about simple oversights and mistakes here; these are part of the human condition and should be forgiven without mention. What I’m talking about are genuine hurts, crimes, abuses and oppression that are ongoing in nature. I think we know the difference, at least we should. In these cases, rebuke, or a holding to account, must precede forgiveness. The repentance of the offending party also precedes forgiveness. Repentance is a change of heart, a change of mind, a change of attitude which leads directly to a change of behavior. Kathy Whitley, helper for the Indian Fellowship of Lathrop, says, “Repentance is changing sides in a battle.” It’s like what the Irish infantry does in the movie Brave Heart. I’ve been fighting on the one side; now I’ve come over to fight on the other side. It’s not because I see the side I was on is losing. It’s because I see the side I was on is wrong.

We may reconcile ourselves to those who have been our oppressors, but we must never ever reconcile ourselves to oppression. This is what happens when forgiveness precedes or supersedes rebuke and repentance. When we forgive without the truth being told, when we forgive without the behavior having changed or even without so much as the promise of change, we are, in reality, forgiving the oppression along with the oppressor. We are saying, “It’s alright. Continue with what you were doing. Go ahead cutting parts off me; I have plenty and to spare.” When we reconcile, in this way, to oppression, we oppress ourselves. In this way, American Indians are committing suicide as peoples. For each indigenous people, the first and foremost instruction from Creator is to survive as a people.

Corporate reconciliation events have become something of a fad in recent years, with activities seeming to have peaked at or around the year 2002. Early that year, one reconciliation organization put the word out that the United States and the United Kingdom are completely absolved of any guilt connected with their governments' intentional introduction of small-pox among American Indian nations. Evidently, an Indian, an Englishman and an American, without the knowledge of their respective governments or the vast majority of their fellow citizens, got together to work out a deal with each other and with God. It doesn’t seem to matter that the United States and the United Kingdom continue to maintain biological, chemical and nuclear weapons of mass destruction. In September 2002, a group of American Indian Christians from Oklahoma rode a bus to Plymouth, Massachusetts where, among other activities, they knelt on the sidewalk before Plymouth police officers to apologize for misconduct of Indians who had taken part in the Wampanoag sponsored Day of Mourning, the fourth Thursday in November, the previous year. Someone who had taken part in that Day of Mourning and was also there to witness the sidewalk apology, told me these people apologized for misconduct that never occurred and that their actions served to undermined the truth-telling efforts of the Wampanoag Indian people and others who participate in the annual Day of Mourning.

There are those who maintain that any attempt at reconciliation is a positive thing. These see the motives behind the current reconciliation movement as pure and applaud the organizations for, at least, trying to initiate some healing. Personally, I believe that many corporate reconciliation events we’ve seen happening in recent years are counterfeit or illegitimate, offering cheap, easy solutions to a 513 year old set of very serious problems. Regardless of the motives, pure or otherwise, I believe that counterfeit or illegitimate corporate reconciliation events are causing harm by preventing, or at least delaying, the start of genuine reconciliation.

Some years ago I received a telephone call from a woman representing a certain so-called reconciliation group. She spoke to me, at some length, of a proposed reconciliation event, the gist of which follows in my own words: There would be a prayer walk around a certain site, considered sacred and holy by many American Indians, but considered devil possessed and in need of exorcism by the non-Indian Christian group planning the event. At the end of the prayer walk, representatives of the white people taking part in the event would give speeches asking forgiveness for themselves, for their ancestors and for all white people back to and including Columbus. Representatives of the Indian people taking part in the event would, at that time, be obliged to speak a word of forgiveness upon all white people, living and dead, for pretty much everything they have ever done, are doing or may want to do in the future to Indian people, winding up with a statement such as, "It's OK, after all, you white folks brought us Jesus. It doesn't really matter that you stole our land and raped, enslaved and murdered millions of us in the process."

The Indian people would then beg forgiveness from the white people. They would ask forgiveness on the part of their ancestors and on the part of all other Indian people, living or dead, for having the audacity to protect themselves, their children, their homes and their way of life from wave after wave of violent European and Euro-American expansionism and conquest. They would ask forgiveness, on the part of all Indians, for refusal to accept a so-called gospel that was, in reality, a manifest of white superiority and supremacy. They would go on to ask forgiveness, on the part of all Indians, for the terrible idol worship practiced at the sacred site, something that had never actually happened outside the fevered imaginings of the non-Indian organizers of the reconciliation event. After that, a general prayer of release would be offered to drive all supposed demons from the sacred site, so white people might feel comfortable visiting and/or desecrating the site in the future.

The woman on the phone followed up by saying, "The Indian people are in great need of this reconciliation. They are so filled with anger and bitterness over the past that we must do something like this, so they will let down their defenses and accept our ways."

When I could finally get a word in edgewise, I shared my own opinion that, all things considered, Indian people are probably the most forgiving people the world has ever seen, but that some of us recognize that the war to exterminate us, as peoples, is not over. I went on to say that I saw the reconciliation event she had described as just one more act of violence against our people. "How can there be true reconciliation?" I asked, "until the truth is told, the violence stops, and the war comes to an end?" Although I expressed a desire to meet with her whole group to further discuss these issues, the woman never contacted me again.

Don’t get me wrong. I don’t think all reconciliation efforts are necessarily counterfeit or illegitimate. I have heard of a few ongoing truth-telling and reconciliation efforts occurring in various parts of the world. South Africa comes to mind as one possible example. One or two such truth-telling efforts or events may have even occurred in North America, but again, these are few, and far between. Religion tends to stand in the way of true reconciliation.

I have overheard Christian people wondering whether or not they may or may not properly include non-Christian people in truth and reconciliation events.

One thing Christian people (especially Evangelical and Pentecostal church people) need to understand is the divisiveness inherent in the attitudes with which we grew up. This divisiveness is revealed in church language which sorts the world into categories of Christian/non-Christian, lost/saved, wise/fools, us/them. Christians wonder whether a reconciliation event may include "non-Christians," even when "non-Christians" are often showing greater understanding of a need for reconciliation. In this present time, I'm wondering whether those calling themselves "Christian" are about to be left behind in what Creator-Son is doing in the earth.

As I said before, often non-Indian Christian people consider the primary purpose of reconciliation events between themselves and American Indians to be the breaking down of Indian resistance to acceptance of Christianity. Here, a question I have overheard is, “How can we persuade Indians to accept the religion that they feel has brought them so much harm?”

My answer to this may come as a surprise or even a shock to some, but as for accepting the religion that has and does bring so much harm to indigenous peoples and to the earth herself: MAY THAT RELIGION BE DAMNED TO ETERNAL DARKNESS!!!! Yes, you may consider that an angry shout. Even so, come Lord Jesus! I am speaking here of Christian theologies that have and continue to encourage and give false legitimacy to conquest of lands, genocide of peoples and the building and maintenance of imperial dominion. If any reconciliation movement or event or whatever, contains, as some open or hidden motive, the further luring of Indian people away from our own cultures to be more firmly ensnared by the empire of the so-called Western-Civilization, may those who have such motives be confounded in their purposes, and may their hearts be finally changed by Creator's love shown to all the world.

I’ve heard non-Indian Christian people ask, "What is the moment like when an Indian accepts Christ and becomes a Christian?" It's hard for me to even understand this question anymore. What “Christ” are we talking about? Are we talking about the narrow, contrived Christ of fundamentalist Christians of the United States who fancy themselves as being on the verge of taking over the entire country and the whole world (Save the unborn but kill all the Arabs you can, since Indians are in short supply along about now!)? Or are we talking about The Eternal One, the Unelvnvhi-Uweji (Creator-Offspring) who shines as the Morning Star and indwells every creature, every part and aspect of creation, who is the lamb/deer/bear/buffalo/ salmon/whale/seal slain from the foundation of the earth, whose good news has gone out to the ends of the earth from the beginning, sung and proclaimed by every star, every good spirit, every animal, bird, plant, tree and rock? There are many who say they know Christ. If you want to find the ones who are known by Christ (which is more important according to scripture - Matthew 7:21-23) watch for how they love one another. Watch for how they love all the relations, every aspect of his very-good creation. They may or may not call themselves Christian. The moment or the day or the month or the year or the lifetime in which a person accepts the one identified in the Bible as Christ, is that time when the person humbly says in her/his heart "Creator, you're so big, and we're so small. Have pity on us."

I’ve also heard it said that we Indians need to realize that Christianity is not simply "the white man's religion."

From where I stand, it seems pretty clear that Christianity is the white man’s religion, as bound up as it is with the European and Euro-American world-view. On the other hand, it is also evident to me that the Eternal Creator-Offspring did not wait to hitch a ride here with thieves and murderers. Any god who would do that is completely worthless and should be, must be, rejected out of hand! Please pardon my foolish ranting, but I firmly believe it's time for everyone to take a good look at how, even the very language, the churchy language, works against the hope of reconciliation and what Creator is doing in the earth right now, with or without our help.

I’ll stop here to say it is my observation that most Indian people are more concerned, right now, with survival as peoples than with reconciliation with what we see as the dominant culture or ethnicity. This is as it should be, since our survival as indigenous peoples of this land is still in jeopardy. We are still in the hospital, parts having been cut off of us. We’re barely hanging on. In many cases, we’re on life support. All the while, roaming the hallways and entering our rooms are those who would cut more parts from us or pull the plug, often at the same moment in which they are asking our forgiveness!

I am not saying that all white people are insincere in their quests for reconciliation between peoples. I believe many are very sincere, but we must be careful not to be taken in by empty words. The Father is concerned first with the survival of his children. We must continue as peoples. We must heal and be made whole as peoples. We must be given space to come to some realization of what has happened to us, as peoples. Then, perhaps there may be an accounting, a holding to account. We can and must love our neighbors, all our neighbors, but how can we ever reconcile with a dominant culture or ethnicity? Is this not suicide? The very fact that a culture is dominant presupposes that the culture has sought and taken dominion or control over other cultures or peoples and continues to maintain that dominion or control. In order for genuine reconciliation between peoples to even begin, the dominant or conquering culture or ethnicity must first renounce and give up the position of dominance. Too often, we are still hearing the assimilationist position put forward by those of the dominant culture: “Let’s work together for the advancement of all individuals,” which is to say, “Give up your group identity and lose yourself in our superior melting pot.” We hear this sort of thing even from some who speak of a need for reconciliation.

If I Steal Your Car

Maybe you’ve heard of the Joint Resolution for an Apology to Native Americans co-sponsored by Senators Campbell, Brownback and Inouye. I have not kept up with the status of this resolution on Capitol Hill, but I have read it and am not impressed. An apology without a change of behavior amounts to nothing but empty words.

If I steal your car and later feel pricked in my conscience, is it enough if I write you a formal apology and elect to keep the car? It may well be that I have become dependent on the car. It gets me to work and back each weekday and to church on Sunday. I certainly don't want to miss church on Sunday. I've had my good things in this life and certainly don't want to miss out on any good thing in the life to come. If I give your car back, it may well restore your economic circumstances, but it will greatly reduce mine. It seems to me that you should wholeheartedly accept my apology and be content to walk. It may well be that you also owe me an apology for ill will you have felt toward me since I stole your car. I even seem to remember that you threw rocks at me as I was driving away. You certainly should get on your knees and apologize for that. As for your family members who were killed at the time the car was stolen: PALEASE! There is no point in reliving the wrongs of the past. In the name of JESUS, forgive and forget! What's that? You only want the car every other Saturday? Come on, we've been through all that. You should be grateful that I made the effort to apologize. Apologies don't come easily, you know.

When Christianity was the faith of an oppressed minority, apocalyptic visions were given of the fall of the oppressive empire. When Christianity became the religion of the oppressive empire: Rome, Spain, Portugal, France, England, The Netherlands, Russia, Germany, These United States, the emphasis was placed only on individual salvation and morality - being a good citizen of the empire. Augustine is, I believe, the founder of this great shift in emphasis from corporate justice to a castrated, individualistic Christianity. In this Western paradigm, there is no corporate responsibility for wrong-doing, except when it's the other group who is doing wrong: the Germans, the Japanese, the Soviets, the Iraqis. The empire of which one is a part is above retributive justice, since it has raised itself above God. The trouble is, the apocalyptic vision is still given to oppressed minorities of faith, whether Christian or not. Also, astute readers of scripture see principles of retributive justice in Biblical apocalyptic literature that should make America tremble.

Indeed, I tremble for my country when I reflect that God is just.

- Thomas Jefferson
Notes on Virginia; Manners

But face it; American Indians are nothing but a laughingstock to the world and to America in-particular. We are seen as those who have nothing left with which to bargain. Therefore, when we ask for meat, politicians can hand us a platter full of empty words and feel justified by the effort. They have no idea of the extent of their peril. I weep for America. She is as one whose bitter fate is already sealed, not by God but by herself. Her fate is as sealed as her tightly closed eyes, covered ears and clenched fists. She fancies herself a city on a hill, the New Jerusalem, but she has always been Babylon. It is by our fruits, not our words, that we are judged.

A few years ago, I sat with others in a casino restaurant in Nevada. Everyone around the table was getting worked up about the Department of Interior's current theft of funds from Indian nations, everyone, that is, but one old Paiute man, a direct descendant of Wovoka. Old Stanley just smiled and said quietly, "Creator's getting ready to do something about that."

It seems to me that, as American Indian people, we need to focus first on reconciliation within ourselves (reconciliation within the heart) and reconciliation within our own fragmented and hurting societies. We must hold one another to account when we act in ways that are disrespectful or not in keeping with the principle of reciprocity even toward those who are our nearest relatives - the people of our own households, clans, bands and tribes. There is also much to account for between tribes. I’ll pick on the Cherokees here: Cherokees have assisted in white aggression against other tribes. Cherokees raided the Tuscaroras and the Sioux remnant tribes of the east, killing many and selling many more into slavery. Cherokees assisted in the United States’ conquest of the Red-Stick Creeks. The Cherokees, as well as many other tribes, have fallen again and again for the age-old divide and conquer strategy. Even today, we constantly aid and abet the real enemies of indigenous peoples, with federally recognized tribes opposing non-federally recognized tribes and non-federally recognized tribes fighting it out with one another. We need desperately to reconcile within our families, within our tribes and between our tribes. In spite of the continuing occupation of our land, we must begin to rebuild our indigenous civilization, our way of getting along in harmony and balance with ourselves, with one another, and with all creation, all our relations.

We American Indians also have much to account for in our treatment of African American people. Although many of the more traditional Indian groups readily adopted escaped African American slaves into their clans, others, copying the whites, themselves bought, sold or held African Americans as slaves, profiting greatly from their forced labor. Since North American Indians were continually taken into the slave population from the time of Metacomet’s (King Philip’s) War, and even before that, all the way through the Civil War (even after the Civil War in California and some other western states), many, if not most, African American slaves, even those held by Indians, were actually of mixed African and American Indian ancestry, as are their descendants. Yet, even today, the Freedmen of the formerly slave-holding tribes are afforded only second-class status within those tribes. There is to be found a great deal of prejudice among Indian people in this country, directed against our African American blood relatives. I’ve seen this not only in the South, but even in the West and in the North. This is another area in which we have a great need for reconciliation.

What about the good-hearted white people who sincerely ask what their community or church may do in order to work toward reconciliation with American Indians? Here’s what I say to them.

First of all, educate yourselves concerning American Indian history and current issues. In so doing, you will quickly come to see reconciliation as more than offering an apology and having a good cry. Reconciliation is neither cheap nor easy. Real and genuine reconciliation involves truth telling, acceptance of the truth, repentance (change of mind and behavior), and restitution or the seeking of justice. If all these characteristics are not present, reconciliation has not occurred or is incomplete. Finally, examine your motives! I will say it again: Any reconciliation effort or event that contains a motive of luring Indian people away from our own cultures to be more firmly assimilated into Western culture is simply a new act of genocide.

Here are some ways non-Indian communities or churches may work toward reconciliation with American Indian communities:

#1. Make truth-telling concerning American history a priority. Many textbooks commonly used in public and parochial schools in the United States do a better job of teaching white supremacy than true history. This is a disservice and an injustice to all students, not just those of American Indian or other non-white descent. Find out whether or not this is true in your local community. Work to make some positive changes. Also, American Indians attending predominantly non-Indian church services often come away bruised and bleeding in their hearts and souls. The most frightening statement I hear on a regular basis is, "We must return to the values of the Founding Fathers [of the United States]." I tell you the truth: We American Indians may not survive a second round of that! I am not joking. Those who forget the past will repeat the errors, mistakes and heinous crimes of the past.

#2. Consider hosting an ongoing series of Truth Leading to Reconciliation events in your community or in your church. Be careful it is not done in a way that brings more hurt. Pray about it and confer, from the beginning, with your American Indian partners. Do nothing without first achieving consensus with them in the planning stages. You might invite several Elders and other influential members of the American Indian community to speak during the events, outlining past and present injustices and hopes for the future. There could be prayers and/or songs by the Indian people as well as by non-Indians who are present. If apologies are offered, be cognizant of the boundaries. Verbal, impromptu apologies should be personal, not given on behalf of groups: the church, the denomination, all Christians, the State of Missouri, the United States, all my ancestors, etc. In many American Indian cultures, it is considered the height of presumption to speak for others without first having consensual permission to do so. One speaks for himself/herself. Personal apologies should be given for one's own actions, lack of actions, attitudes, etc. Personal regret for the actions of groups to which one belongs or even to which one does not belong may be properly given so long as their is clearly no attitude or indication of speaking for or on behalf of the entire group. Personal apologies should never be coerced, which is to say, no one should be made to feel they have to stand and give an apology. Personal apologies should not demand or even convey the expectation of receiving a verbal response. Keep in mind that repentance and apology are not one and the same. Repentance is a change of mind and actions. Repentance is shown in deeds not words. In some reconciliation events, what passes for repentance is simply a plea for the forgiveness of ancestors. Please consider the following:

It is good that we honor and have a proper respect for all our ancestors. It is also good that we do our best to understand who our ancestors were, so that we may also hope to understand more of who we are. However, as we honor our ancestors, we must not feel obligated to take pride in everything our ancestors did or did not do, for such is the heart of ancestor worship. While it is right that we take pride in the good that our ancestors accomplished, we must not take pride in, nor excuse, nor seek to cover up that which was clearly not good.

It is not my place to ask forgiveness for my ancestors. This was and is their own responsibility, between them, Creator, and those whom they may have wronged. If I am shamed by some of the actions and practices of my ancestors, I should let shame turn to godly sorrow for "Godly sorrow brings repentance that leads to salvation (peace/health) and leaves no regret, but worldly sorrow brings death" (2 Corinthians 7:10). What does it mean to repent for the misdeeds or sins of my ancestors? Such repentance does not and cannot imply a purchase of historical innocence for my ancestors. What would be the motive in this: To buy the innocence of the ancestors, so we may once more worship them? No, repenting for the misdeeds or sins of my ancestors means acknowledging the truth about the past, including the evil of the past and its connection with the present.... its connection with me; then deciding that I will do my best, with Creator's help, to change course, not to live in that evil, not to live in the sins of my ancestors, but rather, again with Creator's help, to bring some good. The past can never be undone or changed, but each of us can do something to help, in the present, to bring about a better future, that the people may live. This is the best way to honor those who have gone before.

#3. Become a justice-seeking community or congregation. Giving food, clothing and money to American Indian people helps in the short term. Non-Indian communities or churches actively seeking to bring an end to present injustices that dehumanize and hold American Indian people down is help for the long term.

Defend the cause of the weak and fatherless;
maintain the rights of the poor and oppressed.
- Psalm 82:3

To do what is right and just
is more acceptable to the Lord than sacrifice.
- Proverbs 21:3

Make an effort to uproot and deal with theologies and Christologies of conquest that may well be taught in your church or in your children’s parochial or even public school history books. Exclusive, us-them theologies and Christologies were the leading factor in the genocide of American Indian peoples and continue to stand between all indigenous peoples and the justice we seek. Consider that the Doctrine of Christian Discovery, born in the Papal bulls of the 15th century, is the unconstitutional foundation upon which United States Indian policy is built. While seeking to uproot this leading cause of injustice against American Indians at church, denominational, local, state and federal levels, your church or community may also seek to correct specific cases of injustice such as the following:

Recognition of the sovereignty of American Indian nations is at the whim of Congress. In some very significant ways, any local non-Indian town enjoys greater recognition of sovereignty than an Indian nation. A local town may arrest and prosecute outsiders who come in and prey on their citizens. Indian national authorities, on reservation land, may not arrest and prosecute non-Indian offenders. Moneys belonging to Indian people and nations are routinely misappropriated. In the past decade, tens of billions of dollars (roughly enough to rebuild Iraq) belonging to American Indian nations have been mysteriously lost by the Department of the Interior. Over 150 American Indian nations are not federally recognized, which is to say, they have no government to government relationship with the United States, no recognized rights as sovereign entities or existing communal land bases. These include many of the poorest Indian people in the country, living all the way from the east coast to California and Washington State. Note: Sovereignty here means the God-given rights of national autonomy and self-determination.

The United States government has made hundreds of treaties with American Indian nations. Although the U.S. Constitution identifies those treaties as "The Supreme Law of the Land," not one has been fully honored and most are completely disregarded. Before there may be true reconciliation on a national level, American Indian national sovereignty and all treaty agreements must be fully honored.

The United States has a national holiday honoring Christopher Columbus, a man who was personally responsible for the deaths of approximately eight million American Indian people and who set an example leading to the deaths of approximately 100 million people, the greatest holocaust of humanity the earth has ever seen.

While black-faced minstrel shows are, thankfully, a thing of the past, American Indian people and cultures continue to be mocked through the continued use of Indian sports mascots, through the dressing of children in paper vests and feathers for school Thanksgiving pageants and through Indian theme programs in children's clubs such as AWANAS and the Boy Scouts.

Know that the healing and liberation of all peoples is bound together. We are all as the members of one body.

One More Level of Reconciliation

There is one more indispensable level of reconciliation. That is reconciliation with the earth. We are of the earth and are created to live in close connection with the earth, yet we have disrespected the earth and ignored the principle of reciprocity that is everywhere evident in the earth. When we disrespect the earth, we disrespect ourselves, for we are neither separate from nor independent of the earth. When we disregard the principle of reciprocity, by adopting unsustainable lifeways, we put all life on earth at risk.

Reconciliation with the earth is basically the process of re-indigenizing. Someone may say, “What do you mean re-indigenizing? I’m an Indian; I’m already indigenous.” Well, I think being indigenous is more than that. Being indigenous goes beyond driving a beat-up Ford and fancy-dancing at a different powwow each weekend. To me, being indigenous means being of this land where I am, connected to this land where I am, sustained physically and spiritually by this land where I am and giving back to this land where I am. Nowadays, there aren’t even many farmers and ranchers who meet these qualifications, no matter what their ethnicity. I know a soybean farmer who has never eaten soybeans. He certainly would not eat any of the beans he raises, considering all the chemicals he uses. Then there are all these livestock and poultry producers who buy all their meat in the store and wouldn’t know how to butcher a hog or a calf or even a chicken to save their lives, literally. And it may come to that, and before long.

Jesus spoke of wars and of earthquakes in various places (Mark 13:8). In the past year, how many natural disasters have been described with the adjective “most”? “The most violent tsunami, the most devastating hurricane, the most deadly earthquake.” We may look upon all of these as “the beginning of birth pains” (Mark 13:8b). Birth pains lead to something, not to the end but rather to a new beginning. One day our Mother Earth will roll over and cleanse herself of all on her surface that has elected to be not of the earth, not of the land, non-connected, non-indigenous, non-reciprocating, disrespectful and destructive. None of us are ready for that time. We Indian people had better be reconciling within our families and tribes, bringing our peoples, our communities together, so we may reconcile with the earth, learn to live in a good way, in a way that is sustainable for the next seven generations and beyond. We can do this, and we can help others to do this too, when they ask. The time will come when they will ask. The time will come, when all will see their need. The day will come when all peoples, or the remnants of all peoples, will be once again rooted in the earth. When that day comes, all will center on Creator, not on theology or ideology, but on Creator, not on some exclusive God-idea of this or that religion but on “Our God” expressed in every language even as all will center on the lamb/deer/bear/buffalo/salmon/whale/seal slain from the beginning (Revelation 7:9-10). That will be the day of true reconciliation