November is National Native American Heritage Month 2015 in the US. November 8-14 is the worldwide “Rock Your Mocs Week” in which Native Peoples stand together in solidarity by wearing their moccasins. Columbus Day has come and gone, but most indigenous First Peoples of the Americas wish that it was gone forever. The sentiment is captured in the t-shirt that pictures First Peoples with the caption, “Fighting Terrorism Since 1492.” We are glad to be called Christian because Jesus walked in our moccasins, but not so much because Native Theology has been underappreciated, squelched, subverted, and persecuted by so-called “Christian” European theological doctrines and the “Doctrine of Discovery,” a papal bull that formed the basis for a series of US court cases that stole Native lands for non-Native use and ownership.
The Washington Redskins are still named as such. Wouldn’t it offend you if they were called the “Black Skins” or the “White Skins?” “Redskins” is so offensive because it is something Native People don’t call themselves. It is a designation by oppressors against their enemies. The Pilgrims better be glad that the First Peoples that took care of them didn’t use their numerical advantage to their benefit. Thanksgiving is just around the corner and the Pilgrims who numbered around 50 should have been thankful that the American Indians at the celebration, numbering over 90, were peaceful. That peace didn’t last long because the Pilgrims in their strict Calvinism felt they were made in God’s Legal Image and were “called” to subdue the land and the Native Peoples. They broke the peace and have been doing it ever since. I am thankful that Wesleyan theology in the United Methodist Church promotes that we are all made in God’s Moral Image and Social Image. These better reflect both the theology and the principles of First Peoples.
God’s Moral Image denotes that God does right and not wrong, and doesn’t break treaties or steal land. United Methodism’s most distinctive doctrine is based on Matthew 5:48’s injunction, “Be perfect as your Heavenly Father is perfect.” United Methodists emphasize that God doesn’t save us through Jesus Christ to leave us the way that God found us, but transforms us for the transformation of the world. First Peoples understand full well the need for rules and respect for elders. We know that society works best when we reflect the Creator’s support of reciprocity; i.e., that one cannot expect to live without consequences and interdependence. Respectful give and take is God’s solemn plan for the way that we should live in the world.
Interdependence is held in common as a core belief of all Native Peoples. This is truly an acceptance of the United Methodist belief that all humans being are made in God’s Social Image. If God exists in the community that we call the Trinity, so should we live in harmony. First Peoples also know that it doesn’t just mean that we should work together as humans, but also in harmony with all of creation: two-leggeds, four-leggeds, and no-leggeds. Conference, which is such a keen word in United Methodist polity, is a distinctly Native value and custom. Wouldn’t the world be a better place if we embraced the values of doing what is best for everything and work together for the common good?
We find that these values permeate the Bible. In Genesis 1 the creation poem is a wonderful way to teach interdependence and reciprocity. Day One with the creation of light and darkness corresponds with the two things made on Day Four that have stewardship over the light and darkness: the sun and moon. Day Two gives us the creation of sky and water and Day Five reveals the creation of the birds and fish that have stewardship over the sky and water. Day Three is the creation of land and vegetation, and Day Six has animals and humans as stewards over those. Day Seven’s Sabbath rest for God shows that Creator God has stewardship over everything. It is a beautiful poem of interdependent relationships that should promote harmony and value among all of creation. Native Peoples are not pantheists that believe God is everything, but we are people that are panentheists who believe God is in everything.
Interesting, isn’t it, when Satan tempted Jesus at the beginning of his ministry, he offered Jesus the “kingdoms of the world and their glory (Matthew 4:8).” This presupposes that there is innate glory among the nations, all nations. There’s also glory among all people and all things and we should treat them so. What this means to me, as I celebrate National Native American Heritage Month, is that I need to do everything that I can to appreciate God’s glory and image in everything. If God’s glory is to be unveiled in society, I need to do my part in doing the unveiling.
We need to unveil the glory of God in our churches, schools, arts, entertainment – in every social structure known to humanity. The students of the University of Missouri have taught us a lesson this week, and so have First Peoples. Let’s work together and see God’s glory everywhere. Where it is marred, let’s clean it up. Where it is lacking, let’s recreate it and unveil it. Jesus came to walk in our moccasins to do this very thing, the Incarnation leads to Redemption and to Entire Sanctification!