The Great Spirit meets the great lie
That’s a line from the song “Hanging from the Cross” by John Trudell. John Trudell is an Indian activist/poet/blues singer/philosopher. His path through life is intriguing. To many Native people he’s seen as a prophet while others see him as a troublemaker. I like his music and am interested in what he has to say. I don’t agree with all of his stances, but some are spot on as they say. As those lyrics would indicate, Trudell’s poetry cuts right to the bone and is intense. This particular song is about “evangelizing” Native people and is honestly quite uncomfortable to listen to. I mention this because this year, more than in past years, I’ve seen more passenger vans touring the Rosebud Reservation emblazoned with various church logos. (Disclaimer, we’re traveling in one such vehicle.) The noteworthy aspect of these vans is that they are generally touting some “bible church” or other evangelical-leaning denomination. One group we ran into while getting gas this morning asked us about what we were doing, basically said “oh, that’s nice” and proceeded to tell us about all the children they were saving during the vacation bible school they were holding for them. In my humble opinion there are so many things wrong with this kind of evangelizing that it sickens me and makes me angry. (So, as you read this keep in mind, I’ve been fixing up a trailer home that 99% of Americans would have bulldozed. There is absolutely no excuse that people are living in these conditions in this country. Period.)
First, there can be no way these people have any idea of the damage that has been done to the Lakota people in the name of Christ. If they are clued into the history of the Lakota, then as Trudell says in the song, “they lie to us, then lie to themselves about lying to us”, and they just don’t care what’s really going on around them.
Secondly, I think this truly gives these kids a false sense of hope and believe me, hope around here is as rare as surplus, commodity brie. It’s pretty damn easy to live in an air-conditioned dorm, drive around in an air-conditioned van, get out, play some games and tell kids that if they just believe in Jesus, everything will be O.K. The saddest part of all that is then they’ll pack up the vans, head home thinking they’ve saved the world. Meanwhile, more than half of those native kids will be going without food until school starts in a couple of weeks.
Additionally, in my mind this shows a great deal of disrespect for the Lakota culture and spirituality. The opening line from “Hanging from the Cross” states, “we weren’t lost, and didn’t need any book”; the more I understand the spirituality (and I’m just scratching the surface) of the Lakota, the more I’m convinced of the truth within this statement. The more Meister Eckhart I read, the more St. Francis I read, the more Hildegard of Bingen I read, the more I’m convinced of the truth in that statement. Think about this, Vine DeLoria, a famous Lakota writer and cultural historian correctly notes in his book “God is Red” that no indigenous culture on earth has a messiah figure in their spirituality. His stance is that it was only the Christian, Hebrews and Muslims that really needed a savior figure! Lakota culture and spirituality are rich and beautiful and we need to respect that.
Finally, I can’t get past the remark “for them”. I honestly don’t see mission trips as something “for them”. Each time I come to Rosebud, I leave with much, much more than I came with and I honestly feel guilty about that. People who are among the poorest of the poor give me more than I can give in return. Sure, I can replace a few windows, put in an insulated door, offer a sandwich to a homeless guy walking down the street and all of that is slowly making a difference. But in each case, it pales in comparison to what I receive in return, and like I said, I struggle with that.
One reason Tree of Life is so successful here is that it follows what I feel are Benedictine values; that is, to see Christ in every person you meet and to offer the same hospitality to that person as you would if that person were Christ. There are no preconditions when homes are fixed, or when meals are served. There is no cramming Christ down people’s throats, evangelizing is done by living as Christ. All are treated as children of God because they are children of God.