I want to live a more Christ centered life.
Many of us have spoken or thought those words. But what does that mean? Join a church. Go to bible studies. Live like the bible tells me to. What does it mean?
I've been exposed to the Lakota perspective in the past six months. I've learned more from being out there a few times than any book reading I have done, and that's a considerable amount. My eyes were opened to a great many different things. Most importantly, I feel I have grown in my faith. Wanting to lead a more Christ centered life.
How can this be? You may ask. Are not the Indian religious ways different from ours? Are they not pagan in nature?
Ah yes. I've heard this a lot, too. Spoken by those who know of native religion through movies, TV or the media. Or those who have heard stories about it. How many conversations about my experiences have started with "I've heard that ..."
Well. I heard a lot of that, too. But when I was there and experienced my first sweat, experienced the sun dance, talked with some very smart people about it, well... the plank was removed from my eye. I feel like I can now help remove the speck of sawdust from others eyes.
So. What did I learn? How can Lakota sweat lodges and sun dances possibly relate to my faith as a Christian?
Picture yourself in church. There is an opening song sung, a welcoming of the people to the service. Prayers are said to kick things off. More songs sung, of thanksgiving or glory to God. An offering is made. Communion is shared. A talk is given, a sermon. More prayers, in the form of prayers for people and leaders and other specific things. A sending song is sung, a closing prayer. Then everybody leaves and heads to a communal place to break bread together and share fellowship.
Sound familiar? It should. It happens every sunday in Christian churches all across the world. It also happens in the Lakota sweat lodge. The only differences I noticed were in the language used, Lakota as opposed to English. And the pouring of water on the hot rocks producing steam. Everything else could have just as easily been from any church service anywhere.
It was a sacred ceremony, giving thanks to God, praying for everyone, singing songs to honor and thank the Great Mystery, Wakan Tanka. I even came out feeling cleansed. Physically through the sweat, emotionally and spiritually through the prayers offered up. It was a much more intimate ceremony than a Christian church, as there were only a dozen or so in the sweat lodge. But biblically speaking, "wherever two or more are gathered in my name..."
Then came the sun dance. An event that is hard to talk about in the open forum of a blog. If you want specifics, feel free to contact me and I may share. But for this post, I will say this. If the early missionaries had the slightest bit of sense and a bit more of an open mind, I wonder how much of history would have changed. The sun dancers made a sacrifice of blood, flesh, sweat. Not for glory or bragging rights. Not to pray to a tree. But for God.
From a Christian mindset, it can be argued that when Christ died and spoke the words "It is finished" he meant that no other flesh sacrifices need to be made, since he did that for us on the cross. This was a prime argument for outlawing the sun dance around 1904. But those words were interpreted by men. Men who had no tolerance for any who didn't think like they did. But the sun dance didn't die out. It was continued in secret. It was still going on in secret when our Federal Government lifted the ban in 1978.
The sun dance is all about honoring. The dancers honor their families and their people by dancing and praying for them. The crowd gathered honors the dancers by standing with them as they dance. The entire gathering is there to honor Wakan Tanka and pray. It really was one of the most sacred events I've ever seen or been a part of. God was there that day.
In talking about it later with my Lakota friend, we discussed spiritual laws, or spiritual truths. Those things that seem to be found in all cultures and all religions. It is said that a smile is a smile in any language. Likewise there are certain truths found in almost all religions.
1. Love and honor God.
Jesus said it was the most important commandment. The Jewish and Muslim faith traditions say the same thing. For the Lakota, Wakan Tanka is everywhere and in all things, to be loved and honored.
2. Love your people as you love yourself.
Number two on Jesus' list of top commandments. Everything else was built on these first two, He said. For the Lakota this meant that no Elders or children would go hungry. No child would be an orphan. If the parents died, others would step up and take the children as their own. It was considered honorable for hunters to give the best of the hunt to those who could not hunt. Often the best hunters were designated specifically to hunt for elders or children or others in need.
I think Christ got it right. Any other laws or rules pertaining to any religion should be based on these two universal truths.
So I look at the hot button topics of today through different eyes. Chicken eating to support denying rights to my fellow human beings. Anger and hatred about providing health care to people who need it, because one thing in a long list offends their "religious views". Most shameful of all, crying about being persecuted for not being able to persecute others.
As a Christian, it saddens me. It saddens me because I see "Christians" willing to end relationships with others because the offending party will not fall in step with "our" beliefs. It saddens me because I see these same sorts of people glorify themselves for their "Christianity" without stepping up and acting as Christians should act.
How should Christians act? I'll tell you this. If you want to lead a more Christ centered life, look at how the traditional Lakota live their lives. They take care of their elders and their children. They see everything as a sacred creation of God, and treat it with the respect it deserves. They pray about things big and small, and give thanks to Wakan Tanka, even if they don't get what they want.
They love God with all their heart, mind and soul, and love others as themselves.
They walk the walk, not just talk the talk.
There are many on and off the Rez who fall far short of this, of course. Our society looks down our noses at the "drunk indian" and condemn the entire population for the acts of a few. There are even more indians who don't live by the traditional ways. No sweat lodges, no sundance. Pow wows are like county fairs. And that's ok, too. There are some who exploit the traditional ways to make money. Offering sweats, pipes, ceremonies, even selling tickets to a sun dance.
We also see those who practice what they preach. Living by traditional ways. Honoring the pipe and the sweat. Dancing not for recognition, but for God. And we call them pagans. Or worse.
I wonder what would happen if we turned the binoculars we use to watch them back on ourselves. There are those who are societal outcasts. Drunks and druggies. Those types we wouldn't bring home to eat with our family. Here are the "non-Christians" who go about life day to day, not really caring about spiritual things. No churches, no ceremonies. Christmas and Easter are holidays akin to Valentines day or MLK day. There are those that exploit our faith for profit. TV evangelists, and any church that claims bigger donations to them mean bigger love from God.
Then we have those who supposedly walk the walk. You probably know one or two or ten right now. They can recite scripture. They speak about God's love and seem very committed to what God would have them do with their lives. But, they rail against anything that is not "Christian". Condemning what they believe to be sin, and using biblical references to support their claims. We call them the religious right, fanatics, or worse.
But there is a difference. It is subtle, but it is there. I have met very few people who claim loudly to be Christian that live as Christ would want. Loving God and loving each other. In my experience, though the bible is an excellent book with a myriad of great stories and lessons, it is used too much as a weapon. I have yet to see a sacred pipe being used as a weapon amongst the Lakota.
My friend tells a story of his Grandmother, who carried her pipe bag everywhere, along with her bible. When she was questioned about it, she told people. "These two things? Same thing."
It is said about the pipe that no bad can come from it. That is, if it is used in a sacred way, and used correctly, it is only used for good. Anyone using it otherwise doesn't get it and should not be allowed to carry it.
I believe the same should be said about the bible. If it is used in a sacred way, and used correctly, no bad should come from it.
I tire of those who use their religion to spread hate. That's not what God wanted for us. the bible should only be used for good. Otherwise, you're just abusing it.
I learned from my Lakota friends that if I want to live a more Christ centered life, I'd best stick to the spiritual truths. Love God and Love all His creation. Fighting about God is contrary to God's purpose for us.
So that's what I'm going to strive to do. Prayerfully, mindfully, and with intention. Live more like a traditional Lakota to strengthen my own faith.
Love God and Love all His creation.