Excerpt from a Final Paper

As James W. Loewe laments in Lies My Teacher Told Me, descriptions of Native religions are often presented as “make-believe, not the sophisticated theology of a higher civilization.” In fact, this is what I myself thought for many years concerning Native spirituality – that it was myth and legend, not the truth of my sacred Scriptures. Consequently, I learned that my sacred Scriptures are also in many ways myth and legend. Yet, both reveal the sacred truth of God. Native and Christian spirituality are not the same spirituality, but they are not so different either that one cannot inform the other. Or so different that they cannot in some ways combine to make the outward working of religion richer. However, the differences are truly deep, and we must understand them before any true engagement of interfaith dialogue can occur. Julia Alicia Rains explores one such difference in her analysis on Vine Deloria Jr’s Reconciliation Theology – that of sacred space versus sacred time. She states, “The Christian religion bases its theology on a linear perspective; all things that hold relevance to Christianity happened at a specific time in history….For Native Americans, however, religion is inherently tied to space.” Here we see a cosmological difference in religious orientation that in some fundamental way explains how the colonists could falsely justify the displacement of Natives. I could not help thinking about this as I read Apess’ autobiography: he seemed to always be on the move, a man without a home. We could also consider this for the Diaspora in 598 BCE of the ancient Israelites, whose religious identity was also tightly linked to geographical location. Such displacements of indigenous peoples have repercussions which we still see even today. Our religion arises from our cosmology, and informs the way in which we engage the world before us. Because of this, a starting point for us as Christians to engage our faith, which has allowed atrocities throughout history, is to first engage the cosmology undergirding it. In fact, “Massacres of Indian villages in New England were justified by citations from the Old Testament; the Sand Creek massacre was led by an ordained Methodist minister.” (Not Apess) A Christian spirituality that emerges from a cosmology of hierarchy, power, dominance, and theology of “fallenness” will be vastly different than one arising from interdependence, interrelatedness, and mutuality. Here is where Native spirituality can truly transform Christian spirituality. Vine Deloria, in “Christianity and Indigenous Religion,” asserts than Native spirituality is built on concepts of mutuality where all creation participates in fulfillment. He declares, “The universe is a fabric, a symphony, a tapestry; everything is connected to everything else and everything is alive and responsible to its relationships in every way.” Responsible to its relationships in every way. Imagine what this orientation could do for Christianity. And ultimately, what is more life-affirming? What is more in line with what Jesus taught? I love the idea of all of creation participating in fulfillment.

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