Mark 16:1-6, 15 & 16; Isaiah 53
The Witness Of Native Americans: Resurrecting Geessis Again
Authored By Mike Furey
Dark Rain Thom's talking leaves say, "Lying to yourself is a dreadful disease that causes everyone grief. Be brave. The truth will give you strength, even ugly truths."1
I heard the following account told by a person of Native American ("Indian") background. A Caucasian Christian woman said to the Native American Christian, "Come to our church and tell us how Jesus blessed the Indians. Tell us how the Indians got saved by the gospel." The white woman believed naively that the preacher simply preached and the "heathens" would naturally flock to the altars in tears. And she believed their "savage" lives were converted automatically to joy and bliss. The red person replied, "We can't come and tell you that because that did not happen. Very few Indians were converted, just as very few Americans are truly Christian."
Jesus commanded us to be good witnesses. How can we best share our faith in the resurrected Lord with others? I believe Jesus rose from the dead and my life has been committed to spreading this resurrection message. I would like to examine the relationship between Native Americans and Euro-Americans, between non-Christian and "Christian" peoples. The best way to be a witness for God is to be a good listener and to learn the heart of your audience as well as you can. I don't believe Native American cultures are superior or inferior to "white" cultures. It may sound like I am putting down my own kind here, but that is not the point. The point is to learn by listening to other voices and to learn how to communicate with those who are apparently different. I am not sure if I have succeeded. But I must make a humble attempt as a concerned minister. Finally, the utlimate point is to communicate the gospel message.
To attempt to examine the relationship of the "two" cultures is almost impossible because there are more than two cultures involved. Native Americans consist of at least five hundred different nations, which are further subdivided into splinter tribal groups. As for the European cultures, there are many varieties of cultures also. The contacts with the different Spanish cultures are complex enough. This subject is so complex and susceptible to stereotyping that mistruth and misinformation are likely to be perpetuated, even here. However, since learning cannot be achieved unless we form tentative stereotypes otherwise known as presuppositions, I will continue, yet with reservations and respect for the unknowable. Without categorization the human brain cannot learn and store information. In a sense we spend our entire lives recorrecting, relearning, reshuffling the data, and resynthesizing it. Moreover, with religious truth it is in the continual seeking of truth that we become free. If we ever have all the answers we are then lost to our system. Salvation is in belonging to the person Jesus. Of course, we need answers and explanations of reality, but the fundamental fact is Jesus himself is the answer. A relationship with Jesus is the answer...
So then, my presupposition is that basically the majority of the Europeans who came to the Americas were of the Christian faith and that the governments of the Euro-American colonies, towns, and later states and nation were based on Judaeo-Christian principles. However, if the truth were fully told, the history of the USA would not be gloriously and ridiculously described by some as Christian in all its origins. At least two threads run in American history: God and gold. Groups in this country have been in pursuit of both. Two cultural types have existed in the New World since 1492: there were persons who craved God, but there were more who craved gold. Even some ecclesiastical groups wanted in on the gold. In practice, very few groups in the New Country cared for the indigenous peoples. There were some Methodist and Baptist groups that demonstrated true concern for Natives. The Quakers of Pennsylvania under the leadership of William Penn were the only religio-political group to actually honor their treaties with the Natives. The Puritans of Massachusetts had a nice dinner with the local indigenous people, but in less than a generation that got cold. Every treaty every made by the US government has been broken. When the USA was founded, our Constitution had one sentence pertaining to Indians. For the most part, our white ancestors considered red people as soul-less savages to be exploited.
Perhaps the fear and misunderstanding that all people feel in the face of a different ethnicity causes us to react abusively and inhumanely as fear of the unknown does. Our fear of those with a different face is a fundamental sin and part of our survival sense. However, the motive of fear as the root cause for disunion and disharmony among the cultures is insufficient. The driving force behind exploitation was money or greed. Money drove the whites to push the reds off the land with false treaties and guns. As the natives did, whites learned as well to scalp the red children and to sell their scalps for profit as curios. The early settlers also slaughtered the buffalo for hides and tongues, and left the meat to rot by the millions. In contrast, the Native Americans took only what they needed and respectfully talked to the animal before they took its life. The early settlers wiped out flocks of birds that used to take several days to fly over an area. They knocked down millions of glorious trees hundreds of years old for money. We moderns are no different from our forebears because we continue to exploit the land we now call our own by the onslaught of toxic chemicals, radioactive pollutants, refrigerants, et cetera for the comfort and luxury of modern life. Greed seems to be the god of the white man. As sin goes, this god was acquired by the Natives as well. The Indians say when Native Americans learned the value of money and became poisoned by "wants" instead of needs, their societies began to disintegrate and their ways were destroyed. Greed in the hearts of Indians broke the peace among the tribes. So the Natives wonder, "Is Jesus the god of death?"
I hear what some Indians have said and continue to say about Jesus. They deserve a hearing as people of the American holocaust. Jesus seems to be the god of death. Actually Jesus is the way of life. But the way believers have lived and the witness we have left behind us is a trail of death. One representative of Native Americans is Hyemeyohsts Storm.
"Already among many of the Peoples, children are no longer taught about the Shield [tribal identity and peace making process] and the Brotherhood. Whitemen in black robes, and others, move among the People and teach about a new Way, the Way of Geessis. This Geessis appears to be a new Power, on which loves death and rewards mightily those who kill."2
His description continues like this.3 Jesus is spoken of as the Medicine Power. Medicine Power is that which helps one along on the Medicine Wheel. Life is symbolized in the Hoop or Wheel. Each person must know his or her gift or heart or place or way of perception on the Medicine Wheel. I quote:
"Among the People, a child's first Teaching is of the Four Great Powers of the Medicine Wheel. To the North on the Medicine Wheel is found Wisdom. The Color of the Wisdom of the North is White, and its Medicine Animal is the Buffalo. The South is represented by the Sign of the Mouse, and its Medicine Color is Green. The South is the place of Innocence and Trust, and for perceiving closely our nature of heart. In the West is the Sign of the Bear. The West is the Looks-Within Place, which speaks of the Introspective nature of man. The Color of this Place is Black. The East is marked by the Sign of the Eagle. It is the Place of Illumination, where we can see things clearly far and wide. Its Color is the Gold of the Morning Star. At birth, each one of us is given a particular Beginning Place within these Four Great Directions on the Medicine Wheel. This Starting Place gives us our first way of perceiving things, which will then be our easiest and most natural way throughout our lives."4
After we learn our place on the Wheel we must learn the way of others and "touch" or borrow from their gifts for we are One. This system stresses listening, learning, sharing, and benefiting from the Whole. This psycho-social approach says if we are sitting in a circle around a leaf, we each will see a different part of the leaf. We must learn how the other sees it from his or her perspective on the Wheel. Again, as a psychological and social tool, I think we could borrow their perspective, which is similar to the Pauline description of the church and its body parts in the Corinthian correspondence. We must travel around the Wheel, that is, we must learn how each person sees the world so that we may have understanding, personal growth, and community peace. This belief was more than theory because it was put into practice on a continental level. The Native American sign language used among Peoples who spoke different languages shows a sensitivity to "listening" on a "national" level. Did not God himself by his grace grant them this socialization tool of peace called "the Medicine Wheel"? Now in addition to the Wheel, the Natives need to see Jesus as Medicine Power for peace that he truly is. We must change their perspective and perception of Jesus as bad Medicine
According to their perspective, Jesus is explained like this.
"Geessis was a Power among them, a chief whom they later killed. He was not surprised that they killed him. After they killed him these men decided he was a Power, and they began to like him. He came back as a ghost and even now he walks among them invisible...This Geessis is the greatest killer of them all. He kills all of their enemies. And he rewards those who follow his path with many things. Believe me, my brother, it is a very confusing thing, this Geessis...These talkers of the Geessis say that it is bad to do many things. And, believe it or not, killing is one of them. But, clearly as I can understand it, this only means not to kill those who follow the warpath of Geessis. All others are to be feared and killed." 5
We need a resurrection of the resurrection witness. First, Jews have
been a poor witness of God's mercy and love. Now Christians have
been a poor witness of the love of God. How can we be a better witness?
- 1. Understand the target audience. Listen to their heart before you witness. Bridge the communication gap.
- 2. Respect Native American culture. Many live on "reservations" allotted by the US government or their own sovereign states recognized by the USA. As a Christian I want to see them believe the Easter story, but they don't have to adopt white man's ways to be saved. They don't need white man's culture to be saved, only Jesus himself. For instance, the peace pipe was like Christian communion to some extent. The smoke symbolizes the prayers going up to God like smoke in biblical sacrifices. An example of both a successful distinctively Native American and Christian church can be found in Oklahoma in the "All Tribes Community Church."6
- 3. Learn from them. Let Indian culture teach us also how to be decent human beings. In my opinion, the two highest gifts of these Peoples are the listening system and the take-from-nature-only-what-you-need orientation. Most US citizens have forgotten that we have learned a lot abut farming, food preparation, hunting, "guerilla" style warfare, and government from Native American peoples. Our statehood and federalist form of government was directly borrowed by Benjamin Franklin from the League of Five Nations formed by the Seneca, the Mohawk, Onondaga, Cayuga, and Oneida (also known as the League of Six Nations after the Iroquois joined the Union). Benjamin Franklin gave them credit and admitted copying federalism from them.
The message I would have from the Lord for the Peoples and all peoples would be that God's people have always been bad messengers and misrepresentatives. What terrible witnesses we have been! We are so bad in representing God that God had to send his own son down to deliver a clear witness. He came down to barren Israel where the Word was scarce. In Isaiah 53, Jesus is described as a root out of dry ground. Indians feel like a felled tree, a stump with a little leaf trying to grow out and give new life to the tree. Jesus is not the god of death, but those he has entrusted with his messages have abused his gifts. Jesus is killed by his own people. But out of his death on the cross comes life. Out of death comes the resurrection. Take care of your eternal business, then your temporal business such as the land. Right now Indians have hardly any land, but if they let Jesus be their chief of chiefs he can be the root out of the devastated land. Out of destruction comes Jesus the savior. Trust the Creator to give you the land as Israel has. Use the US legal system to repossess more of the land you lost as you continue to rebuild your nations on your own sovereign territories.
Dark Rain Thom wrote:7
"It was only after the Alien invaders came and brought their god or gods that Indians ever began to quarrel about there being a 'right way' to worship Creator. I know you have heard that the Alien invaders worship only one god, but they do not all act alike, and each says their god says something different, so we don't know who they worship. Nor do we know how many gods they really talk about in their little black book; we only know they do not act very civilized or loving towards one another or others. Therefore we encourage you to maintain your ancestor's celebrations and worship the Creator in the ways we know work, from thousands of years experience."
This preacher says, "Go to the Cross yourself for salvation. Please study Jesus and his New Testament for yourselves and circumvent white cultural teachings that elevate their own ethnic brand of Christianity. Then let us meet at the Wheel of understanding."
Jesus is not the god of death, but the son of God and the way of life
and resurrection. Hypocrisy is the god of death, bringing hell to
all. I close by re-quoting Dark Rain Thom, "Lying to yourself is
a dreadful disease that causes everyone grief. Be brave. The
truth will give you strength, even ugly truths."