Rock Your Mocs Week

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!

Mocs Image

Native American Ministries Sunday

This coming Saturday I will be attending our South Carolina Committee on Native American Ministries. I do have some good news to share: GCFA and the Connectional Funding Committee have agreed not to do away with all the Special Sundays with offerings. Why does this matter? First, we all know that the more local the ministry the better the connection to people’s hearts, minds, and pocketbooks. Second, there are only two Special Sunday offerings (Peace with Justice Sunday and Native American Ministries Sunday) where local church funds explicitly remain in the annual conference. Fifty percent of the funds raised provide for these valuable ministries on the local level.

This means that the offering for Native American Ministries should receive ample funding, right? Unfortunately, the answer is “wrong.” In South Carolina, for instance, 114 churches out of 1024 contributed to Native American Ministries Sunday. That amounts to 11.13% of the churches. That’s not good. The whole Southeastern Jurisdiction does poorly. Largest in percentage in descending order are Red Bird Missionary Conference, 76%; North Carolina, 26.96%; Florida, 11.78%; South Carolina, 11.13%; North Georgia, 10.26%; Virginia, 10.23%; South Georgia, 8.84%; Holston, 8.47%; Tennessee, 7.28%; Kentucky, 5.95%; Memphis, 4.94%; North Alabama, 1.86%; Western North Carolina, figures not available; Mississippi, figures not available; and Alabama-West Florida, figures not available.

The percentage of churches contributing only tells half the story. The South Carolina Annual Conference  only raised $6,892. The entire Southeastern Jurisdiction raised $64,156. The Northeastern Jurisdiction raised $69,655. The North Central Jurisdiction raised $95,920. The South Central Jurisdiction raised $69,655. The Western Jurisdiction raised $45,568. No matter how you add the numbers it strikes me that the places where the UMC is largest in numbers give proportionally less.

This is so sad. The reason we have Native American Ministries Sunday is so we can help those who need it. I have great fear that this year’s numbers will be worse because Native American Ministries Sunday fell on Mother’s Day. Of course, any Sunday is appropriate and we encourage churches to pick any Sunday during the year for Native American Ministries Sunday, but any time you have to pick an alternate date it can sometimes be like a “Snow Sunday.” The emphasis can lose traction and the money falls short.

Thankfully, I can vouch for the Native American Representatives in the Columbia District. They do a good job of interpreting the ministry of our C.O.N.A.M.  (Committee on Native American Ministries). Each year we have a wonderful training for Native American Representatives. It is excellent! I have promoted among our Cabinet the often overlooked paragraph in the United Methodist Book of Discipline, Par. 654, which says every year at charge conference someone is to be elected to serve as a representative for Native American Ministries. The paragraph really should be in the 200 pars., which are all about the local church, but it is instead located in the 600’s which are all about the annual conference. Maybe we can get it right at General Conference 2012. People should know, without having to look all over the place in the Book of Discipline, that one of the officers required to be elected at charge conference is a Native American Representative.

No matter what we do, I sincerely hope that we will be advocates for American Indians. The statistics are staggering in terms of poverty, diabetes, suicide, and alcoholism. The motto for the South Carolina Committee on Native American Ministries says it all about what we are called to do: “Making the Invisible Visible.”