Sunday, October 29, 2006

God's People- Community, Culture and Citizenship

Well, I have been meaning to get around to explaining my "Native" citizenship and cultural issues and concerns more fully for some time. I feel that the time is right at this moment as I am now riffing off of the thread entitled “For What Its Worth” two posts back. I feel that it is important to make things clearer for several reasons. I feel this need first, because I need for my friends and fellow Christians to understand this on a personal level. I simply need the understanding and moral support from my friends and family if I am to accomplish what I feel I need to as far as healing the relationship between Christ and my "Indian" brothers. Secondly, I think it is imperative for Christians to go back and examine the relationship that has been created between themselves and Indigenous people- not only in the history books- but NOW in places like the American Indian reservations, the Amazon basin and the Arctic. Next, I believe that a close examination of these relationships will reveal powerful lessons not only about culture, but about ideology, spirituality, religion and the intent of the Creator for all people. Not only will it help the natives heal and understand the true nature of Christ- but it will help "Christians" take a sobering look at their own culture and sometimes skewed values...which should, in turn, help the whole planet and all the dwellers upon it.
I want to make it clear that do not think of what I am about to say as a diatribe or a rebuttal- but as a clarification and perhaps mission statement. Some things I will say here may be perceived as an intellectual head-slap or as divisive and hurtful to Christian or national unity. Please know that my intent is the exact opposite…that of education, healing and unity. I would simply ask you to hear me out and turn off the filters. The two gents that will most likely be the first to read this are in fact two of the people I respect the most and wish the least to offend. The fact is that my mission is none other than to combat the indoctrination of the world- not to play cultural favorites. I remember once an uncle of mine made the comment that , “Scott (a “half breed”) was a regular suburban white kid for all his life and then one day he woke up and decided he was an Indian because it was more romantic and mysterious and it made him feel adventurous and gave him an “identity” that was something other than ordinary". I will tell you that this was not what happened at all. What did happen was strictly between God and I and was not part of my personal quest for “identity” at all. It was purely spiritual and about me following a path that I was being instructed down by God- nothing more and nothing less. I will eventually speak more about this later.

The first thing I would like to address is the term Native-American itself. I wish I had a coin for all the times that I have ever been lectured about or read somewhere about the evils of “hyphenated Americanism”. So the logic goes- if I call myself a Native- American, an African-American, Asian-American, Dutch-American or whatever else- that I am not really a good American at all…that I am clinging to some outmoded or outdated ethno-cultural identity that is somehow subversive and destructive to the whole- to the very fabric of America. Let me just say that anyone that thinks that this is the root of the problem is simply not in touch with history or racial realities at all. I will leave it alone other than that. Now, for the point that I wish to make the most of: The term Native-American itself is nothing more than accommodative language. The term was created by some well studied scholar or social scientist- not by a “Native-American”. The term is often used by other “Native-Americans” because otherwise people don’t know what to call us or how to categorize or compute our ongoing presence. There is a whole other topic in itself on that point alone. I will simply leave that sidebar alone for now. I recently read a chapter in Lee Camp’s “Mere Discipleship” that asserts that disciples of Christ do not necessarily make good Americans, Englishmen, Frenchmen or so on. This would also mean that Disciples would not make good Cherokees either. And so it is true. Nevertheless, this does not mean that I can realistically become NOT Cherokee anymore than I could become NOT a member of my family, NOT a member of my community, state or nation. The responsibilities I have to each of these people groups remain...especially with regards to carrying forth the Word, the Way and the Truth and the Light. The Bible tells us to remain content with whatever situation we find ourselves in when we become Christian…and also to fulfill that role, even if we are a slave, to the glory of Christ. We are simply to regard ourselves as not only players in that role but primarily as members of the Kingdom of God which is already now at hand. We are to simply to consider ourselves as God’s people then - each with different functions and roles to contribute through. The Bible does not ask us to homogenize or sacrifice our roles within family or community people groups – but to view these roles within a larger context of God’s family.
The fact is that most of the "American Indian" Nations or tribes have never had a problem considering themselves as one part of a larger scheme and/or family. Most tribes have names for themselves that simply mean “The People”. The Cherokee, for instance never called themselves Cherokee. Cherokee is a English bastardization of a term used by another tribe when referring to the “Cherokee”. The “Cherokee” actually called themselves either Ani-Yunwiya, which means “The First People” ( the Original People, the Principal People are also sometimes used in translation) which means essentially “God’s people”-or Ani- Keetoowah, which they assert is the religious, ceremonial and personal name given to them by God himself when he placed them upon this Earth and gave them instructions about how to live (which they are still attempting to follow despite the cultural onslaught and the pressure to assimilate). So, please note that the term Native-American is a term used for the language accommodation of a larger cultural force that never really much tried to comprehend, respect, co-exist with or learn anything either from or about the people that lived upon this continent before them. On that note- we “Native- Americans” generally stopped caring what “Americans” called us or thought about our cultural identity a very long time ago- regarding it as nearly hopeless to reach them. However, I still believe that there is hope. Hopelessness means victory for the real enemy of all men. The problem is that the “mainstream” culture and the “powers that be” cannot be ignored or left to carry on without our voice of protest and resistance raised because that in itself would definitely ensure the final destruction and assimilation of “Native” culture and traditional values. These values and worldviews have withstood the onslaught because they are relevant to the whole, because they work and because they have power... a power that originates from none other than God. These views are often closer to the original intents of the Creator and I dare say even the Bible than what we see today being practiced by “Mainstream Christians”. I will address these areas specifically as time allows.
Now, let it be understood without a doubt that this concept of cultural resistance by “Natives” not only applies to “America” at large- but also to “Christendom”….or to put a finer point on it with reference to other discussions here…”THE DOMINATION SYSTEM” which the Cultural Church has most definitely participated in (see the post “A Violated Covenant”). The point of all that is this: One cannot hide behind or take shelter in their patriotic sensibilities and/or jingoistic image of America OR their concept of homogenous Christian unity and expect this impasse to simply be surrendered or go away. It won't... not until people like me have been totally exterminated or bred out of existence.
The fact is that when Jesus commanded us to love our neighbors as ourselves- he did not mean for “Us” to go out and try to homogenize everyone. To love your neighbor necessarily means to fellowship with them, listen to them, to respect them, to learn about them and from them, and to honor our treaties and covenants with them. It also implies that we should in fact be willing to somewhat BE LIKE them in the interest of being missionaries- instead of always requiring them to culturally be like “Us Good Christians”. Needless to say, little of this was ever done historically in the relationship between “Natives” and “American Christians”. Also people generally think in historical terms regarding “Natives”- that they are a dead culture. Native Culture is LIVING- not just an archaic and nostalgic relic of imagination, museums and dusty history books. Today, people like me who are “Native”, “White”, “American” and “Christian” all at once- remain citizens of each of these groups in the interest of evangelizing those of our respective people groups that we cannot leave behind- and are meeting with little understanding and much resistance in the process. I mean- if I isolate and just say I am a Christian and only that- forsaking the other people groups that I am a member of- what happens to the others? Moreover, I have chosen to speak on these things for another reason- that being that not only am I hoping to show my fellow “Natives” and indigenous people the true nature of Christ as I understand him- but also my fellow Christians.

I remember once reading somewhere about an elder “Indian’s” encounter with a psychologist/anthropologist. The “Indian’ said to the scholar, “You presume to analyze me as you listen to me speak and answer your questions- but you ought to know that I am also analyzing you by the questions you ask and do not ask and by the way that you respond to the things I say.”
The point of this little anecdote is not to suggest a paternalistic approach that says, “Silly pilgrim, just listen to me/us- we have all the answers and all the right questions too.”
In fact that approach is the very thing I am trying to break through because “Christians” have held this approach far too often. The results of this approach speak for themselves. The point is: Please listen…this is important not only for “them” but for you.

There are in fact some very good and very deep reasons that indigenous people have resisted “mainstream cultural values for over 500 years. These reasons also bleed over into resistance to “Christianity” because very often “Christianity” has become polluted by the cultures inside which it resides. The sad part is, as previously stated, that the "Native" values often more closely approximate the biblical model of the Kingdom of God than anything one can point to in contemporary culture including the present formulation of the Churches themselves. I will speak more about specifics on the points of contention with “Native” and Pop-culture as soon as I can think about it a bit more before writing and compiling exactly which of those issues that should be addressed. Meanwhile, it is sleepy time.

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Knoxiee said...

Being " Whatever" means different things depending on the group giving it definition. For example Being Cherokee to a member of any tribe other than Cherokee means you aren't "Indian". It's almost worse than being white.
Being Indian to someone other than a member of a American Indian Tribe means different things. For example to some folks being Indian means you are stupid, a drunk, unemployed and un-employable, etc.
I was once told by a member of the Kiowa Tribe that there are Indians and there are Indians but I wasn't one. Because I am Cherokee.
As a young person who grew up in Eastern Oklahoma with full blood Cherokee relatives, I was told I was less than human because I was not full-blood. I could speak the language, participated in the stomp dances, and lived among them, but I was not one of them because I was part something else.
As a young boy at a Government Boarding School for American Indians I gave speaking Cherokee because a matron beat me for speaking Cherokee.
I am pround of my Cherokee background, and proud to be an American. But it's been very difficult to fit into a society that has lables. So I eventually decided that it didn't matter what lable people gave me, I was who I was and am. If they didn't like that I couldn't change that.
Being a Christian and telling another Indian that can get you a lot of different reactions. Because being Christian to some American Indians has a bad conatation. So I am a Christian Cherokee American and am proud of that regardless of what someone else may think.

What Box? said...

"There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus" (Galatians 3:28).

"However that may be, let each of you lead the life that the Lord has assigned, to which God called you. This is my rule in all the churches. Was anyone at the time of his call already circumcised? Let him not seek to remove the marks of circumcision. Was anyone at the time of his call uncircumcised? Let him not seek circumcision. . . . Let each of you remain in the condition in which you were called. Were you a slave when called? Do not be concerned about it. Even if you can gain your freedom, make use of your present condition now more than ever. for whoever was called in the Lord as a slave is a freed person belonging to the Lord, just as whoever was free when called is a slave of Christ. You were bought with a price; do not become slaves of human masters. In whatever condition you were called, brothers and sisters, there remain with God" (1 Corinthians 7:17-24).

"For though I am free with respect to all, I have made myself a slave to all, so that I might win more of them. To the Jews I became as a Jew, in order to win Jews. To those under the law I became as one under the law (though I myself am not under the law) so that I might win those under the law. To those outside the law I became as one outside the law. . . . To the weak I became weak, so that I might win th eweak. I have become all things to all people, that I might by all means save some" (1 Corinthians 9:19-23).

Et al.

Christianity can and should be embodied in the cultural forms of any society. God created us all in his image, and all unique and different from each other.

Last summer, in the Philippines, a young preacher asked a rather uncomfortable (both for him and for me) question. He said: "So many times it seems that American missionaries have told us exactly what to think and exactly how to act, so that, to many in our society, we look like 'little brown Americans.' What do you think about that?" My response: "Stop it. Find your cultural identity, and figure out how to be a follower of Jesus within that cultural identity. Be a Filipino Christian." The problem with the Filipinos (and this may also be somewhat a problem for "Native-Americans," though I suspect somewhat less so in many cases) is that the Philippines have been ruled by the Spanish, the Japanese, and then the Americans (with some heavy Dutch influence at one time) to the extent that the indigenous culture barely exists anymore. Filipinos do now know WHO they are! This was my observation, and I asked about its accuracy many times and received endorsement from the Filipinos. They are such a mixture of cultures that it is now difficult for them as a society to remember just who they are, and therefore it is difficult for them to figure out how to be Filipino followers of Jesus.

What would a "Cherokee"/Ani-Yunwiya/or Ani- Keetoowah follower of Jesus LOOK like? Those of us of European descent have indeed been cultural imperialists, mostly out of ignorance, but too frequently out of malice. How can you undo that damage?

On one point I think Lee Camp's language needs clarification. When he says that disciples make bad Americans, or Frenchmen, etc., I think he is applying the general cultural or nationalistic definition of what makes a "good citizen" of a particular nation or culture. On the other hand, as Luke seems to be arguing in the book of Luke/Acts, we make pretty good citizens of anywhere. We'll be good for the nation or society or culture, even if we won't follow all of its rules, because our "rules" are higher and better. As followers of Jesus, we will be better citizens than others, though the others will frequently fail to recognize it. That's where we end up being labelled as "bad Americans," etc.

What would a "bad Cherokee" look like? :-)


ccwman said...

The labels will always be important to all who live in the world, for one simple reason, all who live in the world are under attack. Recognition of this fact is indisputable.
The labels tend to build physical fences to keep out the “undesirable” forces at work to destroy those within the boundary of the label. (This metaphor is all too real with the new law, that was signed last week.)
This will be perceived as an insult, whether intended or not (although it is a farce to not see it as an insult), to all who exist beyond the fence.
When we leave the confines of our boundaries, to rescue those lost souls in the Ani- Keetoowah, the people we leave across the way will surely criticize us.

And, if we leave the confines of our boundaries, to rescue those lost souls in the American Christian sect, the people we’ve left across the way will criticize us, no surprises there either.

I might refer you to my current web log posting, as to the reasons why, I believe this is so. (
Suffice it to say, that when we suspect people are out to get us; then we must look for the distinguishing physical signs to prove or approve our physical security.
I believe this is why God’s plan involved Jesus’ taking the physical form of humanity. And yet, he never took up arms against humanity, even while we were attacking Him because of our suspicion of His motive.
When you go into the Ani-Keetoowah’s you will be suspect, just as Jesus was. And when I go into the Democrat’s, I will be suspect, just as Jesus was.
If we attempt to tear down the fence, this is obviously seen as an attack against those on both sides of the border.
God did not intend for the Church to storm the gates of all the boundaries that exist in humanity. But, rather we are to build bridges over the boundaries to allow people to make the free will choice to come outside of their prisons or not.
I find no fault in being Ani-Keetoowah to the Ani-Keetoowah.
But, will that help you to build the bridge to a Slovenian? Will you be willing to be a Slovenian to a Slovenian, so that by all means some might be saved?
In your current context the point you make is valid, but it becomes a stumbling block when you need to take on a different identity to a group behind a different physical fence.