Sunday, April 24, 2011

White Dog of God?

Today, Christians are remembering Jesus' sacrifice, whether they celebrate or not. I made an interesting discovery this week. I picked up a book about Native American festivals. As I was reading it to the girls I was struck by the Iroquois' worship of the Great Spirit. At their mid-winter New Year they had a festival called the Festival of the White Dog. When the white dog was sacrificed it was first strangled, then decorated, finally the skin was burned and the flesh was eaten. The Iroquois believed that the white dog was a messenger to heaven.

When I did a Google search, I found the Festival of the White Dog is also called Most Excellent Faith and included public and private confession of sin. Prayer was offered to He Who Made Us as the white dog's skin was being burned. All of their other five festivals celebrated the harvest and included thanksgiving to He Who Made Us.

While their understanding was clearly not complete the similarity between a sheep and a white dog to people who had no sheep excited me. I also saw a connection in Jesus as a messenger between us and heaven. I wondered if anyone had caught the parallels before. Unfortunately, I think that Christians working among the Iroquois missed it. In this 1905 account, a local minister describes their prayer to He Who Made Us and calls them pagan Indians in the same sentence.

It is truly sad to see all the missed opportunities of the past to use existing pieces of native culture to build a better picture of God. Yet the misunderstandings continue. On Facebook this morning, I was offended to see a pagan classmate from high school call today "Jesus zombie day." Then, as I saw another post by a Christian declaring today a pagan holiday, the irony was inescapable. Could it be that a conservative Christian reaction to Easter led to this pagan response? Whatever the reason, I don't want to be the catalyst of division or a barrier to understanding God and his love. Let us work today to understand each person around us and their beliefs before we presume to teach.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

The Freedom in Bankruptcy

Lately, my mind has been exercised on the subject of forgiveness. It strikes me that sometimes we forget that we even need to forgive when we feel very hurt. It is such a blind spot at times that if someone reminds of the need to forgive and the benefit to us if we do we feel the other person's actions are being condoned and we, the victim, are being attacked. I have had a lot of stuff happen to me yet seems that maybe it is easier to notice our need to forgive the "unforgivable" because of the pain it causes us than the little things that happen everyday. If we decide that some things are "unforgivable" how are we ever going to forgive the little things?

I believe the biggest reason for unforgiveness is not seeing ourselves in the light of the sacrifice of Jesus. We need to fully realize our depravity. I can not think of one sin I have not committed, no, not even one - from sins against God, against others, and against my own mind and body. If a person understand who they really are inside as well as how much God loves and forgives them, they will not be able to hold anything against someone else not matter how great the hurt. This is the reason why we can't be forgiven if we don't forgive. If we don't forgive, we don't feel our need and thus can't confess our sin and ask for forgiveness

I am not denying the difficulty of forgiveness at times, but God is able to help us when we understand the necessity of it and ask him to change our hearts. Knowing that we have nothing makes us free to receive the gifts of love, joy, and peace Jesus offers us, and life becomes a marvelous adventure.

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

What God Brought In

Things have been exciting here lately. Firstly, I am encouraged that two men in their thirties are beginning to attend church with us. As much as we love seeing the growth in our older members, it feels good to have some fresh younger faces worshiping with us.

Our house has been empty of visiting kids and it was quiet, too quiet. Despite the fact that we had trust issues with the kids who were coming, it didn't feel right. But in the past two weeks, a completely different group has been coming. There are five girls and up to three of them have been here at a time. Sara, Abby, and Miriam are enjoying playing school and other games with them. It is so nice that my girls have friends again.

Yet, what I like best is that they have an interest in vegetables. Two nights ago I served alfafa sprouts and spinach to make sandwiches. J and K, who were with us, seemed to really like them. We had been given some alfafa seed to share and I had a couple sprouting kits to spare. I hadn't given any away yet, because I wasn't sure who would be the most interested. This was the opportunity I had been waiting for. J and K are very excited to be growing their own sprouts now. They also asked to take some of the spinach home to show their parents. How could I say no? I am hoping to get some of the quality lids I have seen at Sproutpeople to give others interested in sprouting.

My girls have started us on a new project that I am hoping to spread in the village. It began with a sprouting garlic clove that Sara wanted to plant. Then they wanted to plant any seed they had. That got Warren interested in indoor gardening. Finally I got the gardening bug. I am hoping to grow snap beans, snow peas, carrots, collards, kale, lettuce, peppers, cucumbers, and tomatoes. If we are successful, we will have viable gardening option to share with Selawik besides all the enjoyment our family will get from it.

Sunday, February 6, 2011

Maniilaq: Health Then and Now

Maniilaq started taking bath and told the people that someday they would take baths regularly. This was his only message related to health. The Bible, on the other hand, had laws about what to eat and how to deal with mildew, disease, bodily discharges and waste, and purity. I believe bathing was the only issue Maniilaq addressed because it was the only thing they were capable of changing for the next hundred years.

Inupiaq lifestyle has changed drastically for Maniilaq's people. There is little resemblance to the way things used to be. Hunting and fishing are still quite common, but this is only a portion of the modern Inupiaq diet. The younger the person the more this is true. Tuuqsaaq (took-sack) food takes most of the refrigerator, table, and cupboard.

If Maniilaq were alive now he would have much to say about diet. He would not insist on vegetarianism, though he might have to advocate caution, especially with fish that travel in polluted waters. He would grow a garden, sharing freely. His table would make use of a wide variety fruits, vegetables, and whole grains. He would share the best recipes with friends at every opportunity.

I believe that healthier attitudes are slowly coming through. I am seeing a small variety of whole grain and lowfat items in the stores. But the biggest challenge is the children, any change will only be temporary at best unless the whole family accepts. I am considering how best to help them enjoy more natural food.

Sunday, January 30, 2011

Maniilaq: A New Picture?

Maniilaq was born in the area of Qala, which is uninhabited now, but was in the upper Kobuk River area, near present day Kobuk and Shungnak. His birth date is uncertain, but most place it in the early 1830's

I have picked up some interesting facts in my reading that would somewhat alter the traditional view of this godly man. The first fact is that nothing is ever said about his father though his mother and sisters are well-documented with their names and the names of his sisters' descendants.

The second fact is that at about the time Maniilaq was born Qala was an Athabascan village, not an Inupiaq one. Athbascans and Eskimos have traditionally been enemies. Could it be that none of the Inupiat elders, who are the source of all we know of Maniilaq, know anything of his father because he was not Inupiat, but Athabascan?

The last fact is that at least one of the elders recounted that Maniilaq sometimes talked in a language that no one could understand. Being of the persuasion that the gift of tongues is given to help people who speak different languages better understand each other, this was uncomfortable for me to read. But it does fit perfectly if Maniilaq's father was not an Eskimo and thus Maniilaq was bilingual.

Maniilaq's story is full of unexplored details that we can not know the answers to until we meet him and his family in heaven. Then every tongue and tribe and nation will praise God together in one mighty voice and I know that many of Maniilaq's family will be there among them.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Maniilaq: Questioning his way to God

Over the past couple of years, I have been repeated challenged in my Christianity as I followed the dialogue between Warren and a former Christian turned atheist that I will call Kelly. Each time I have come away stronger in my beliefs. I have come to see it is important for every Christian to regularly examine their beliefs to truly understand the essence of Christianity. This is best done by getting to know non-believers.

This week I again examined my beliefs courtesy of Kelly. This time I realized that like Kelly there is no middle ground for me between atheism and Christianity. But for me the desire for righteousness and the evidence for Christianity are too strong to abandon my beliefs. I believe for Kelly the pain caused by Christians is too deep to trust "their God", though Kelly would tell you the reasons are scientific.

Maniilaq must have been asking questions as well before God revealed himself. God can only show himself to those who are looking for him. I see Maniilaq as a boy with a tender heart who didn't like what he saw in the shamanistic beliefs around him such as restrictive taboos, shamans who used their powers against others, and the isolation of teenage girls. God saw a boy he could use to show his people a God who loved them and a better way to live.

God choose a very gentle way to begin to talk to him. It began with a small white bird Maniilaq had never seen before. This bird spoke of Father and Son, Father and Son. Source of Intelligence, Source of Life. This is a very trinitarian and biblical picture. The dove (strange, small white bird) didn't talk about himself, but instead about God the Father and God the Son. I believe further revelations helped Maniilaq to know the Father as The Grandfather and the Son as "One in White". (Jesus was revealed to Ezekiel, Daniel, and John the Revelator as dressed in shining white linen.)

People need satisfying answers to their questions. We need to be people who are always exploring. This is the only way that we can know what the questions are and thus be always ready to give an answer for our hope with meekness.


Sunday, January 23, 2011

Maniilaq: Prophet Who Cared

Maniilaq's message was dominated by his desire to see his people less fearful and their lives easier. He often confronted the shamans and showed his people that God was stronger. But what really stands out to me is his caring for adolescent girls.

God really does work circumstances out so we learn the lessons he wants us to. Maniilaq had three younger sister and God began to speak to him when he was in his teens. Now the people of his area had the custom of sending girls to live by themselves for a year when they began adolescence or, if they got to stay at home, they had to wear a hood that would keep people from seeing their faces for that year. So about the time God would have shown him that this practice was wrong, his sisters were experiencing this themselves. His sisters were certainly the first girls that he began to visit and comfort during their year of isolation.

God has always cared about all of his creatures. He demonstrates this in his frequent denunciations by Jesus and the Bible prophets of the mistreatment of the poor and helpless.
His messages to Maniilaq were no different. What a loving God we serve!


Sunday, January 16, 2011

The Maniilaq Key

Many who are familiar with Native Alaska are aware of the story of Maniilaq the Eskimo Prophet. It is a wonderful story of how God can use a willing seeker to teach truth to those who have never heard of Jesus.

Maniilaq began to hear God as a boy though a small white bird. Soon he was lead to choose a supportive wife and he began to challenge the shamans' and their taboos. He kept the Sabbath, and promoted cleanliness and the rights of girls.

I feel his story has much to teach us about how to reach the Eskimo culture and we need to dig deep until we have learned how create solid native congregations who can lead and bring in new seekers. Of course it is not the only key, but it has not been used to its full advantage.


Friday, January 7, 2011

When there are no words

Pain. How do you deal with it on a daily unrelenting basis?

Right now, I have a friend who, in about one week, has been raped, had a close cousin die, discovered her boyfriend was cheating on her, was evicted from her place, and felt forced to give up her parental rights. She grew up with people making bad choices that hurt her deeply and she turned to alcohol. Not long ago she turned to Jesus and was trying to live a straight life. But her daughter was temporarily staying with someone else and that person molested her. This hurt my friend all over again and her life spiraled downward.

There are no easy fixes for problems like this. Selawik is a place dealing with constant tragedy. There have been four deaths (cancer, suicide, old age, heart attack) and a home burned to the ground since early November. This is in addition to the usual daily conflicts.

I do believe that Jesus is the answer, but that sounds like just a cliche when you don't trust anyone and feel no one really cares. It takes a lot of work to believe, to change, and to stick with it when you are surrounded by those who don't and won't.

Our job is come alongside people who are hurting and just care for them as Jesus did. We need to hold them up as best we can without encouraging destructive habits. Then when they are ready and able to trust and change, we will be able to help them. It doesn't matter how many times they fall, every step they take with Jesus will be there as a memory of what life can really be.