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.