Jesus and the Great Spirit

by Mitakuye Oyasin

Ever since the first white man landed on our shores, the Natives of Turtle Island have been hearing stories about Jesus. While Native Americans could never understand why Jesus was murdered by the people he came to help, they could understand and believe that the Great Spirit had become a man to show people how much he loved them.

The childlike nature of the Indians, together with a deep and abiding faith in the Great Spirit, a faith that was common to all Native American Nations no matter what name they put on the God they worshipped, made them ready listeners to the faith-stories of others. It was not just little children that Jesus was referring to when he warned his skeptical adult listeners that, unless they became like children, they would never enter the Kingdom of Heaven. He was referring to the childlike and trusting Natives of the world who would quickly and wholeheartedly hear and accept the message of God's love for all people.

But there has been, and there is now, a problem. It was a problem for my ancestors. And while I, personally, believe that the Great Mystery has never been better explained than in the life and teachings of Jesus, the problems with 'Christianity'' for my ancestors are some of the same difficulties I encounter today.

Of all the white men who sought to introduce their Christian faith to the Natives, the least offensive were some of the ''black robes,'' Catholic priests. Those were the ones who went to the villages, lived with the Natives, lived like the Natives did, and shared their hearts with them. These were the exceptions.

The more usual approach was by those who showed no tolerance for the Indian culture, religion, or way of life. These were the missionaries who insisted that the Indians must dress like the whites, cut their hair, speak English, settle in houses and become farmers or find some other means of working for a living, and cease all of their traditional religious practices. They had to be taught the importance of land ownership by individuals, and with this, they had to be taught to be selfish. When these missionaries found that they were making no progress with their ''let's make white Christians out of these Indians'' approach, they kidnapped the children and sent them away to a brainwashing institution that they called a school.

Please show me in the Bible where Jesus says this is the way to treat people. Chief Luther Standing Bear, an Oglala Sioux, says it even better. ''The attempted transformation of the Indian by the white man and the chaos that has resulted are but the fruits of the white man's disobedience of a fundamental and spiritual law.'' What the white man sought to impose upon the Indian ''has not added one whit to my sense of justice, to my reverence for the rights of life, to my love for truth, honesty, and generosity, or to my faith in Wakan Tanka, God of the Lakotas.

''For after all the great religions have been preached and expounded, or have been revealed by brilliant scholars, or have been written in fine books and embellished in fine language with finer covers, man-- all man-- is still confronted with the Great Mystery.''

And when the dust had settled from the onslaught of missionary fervor, the Indian family had been destroyed, the culture had been obliterated, the religious practices were against the law, the language was dead or dying, the good land was gone, and on every reservation the biggest landowners were the churches. Unemployment, poverty, alcoholism and drug addiction are what remain of these nations, and the churches that started it all are busy clucking their tongues. Show me where it says this is what Jesus wanted for these people.

ln the words of a modern-day priest, ''But that was a long time ago. The Church has changed.'' He may be right Maybe they wouldn't engage in cultural genocide today.

On the other hand, (forgive me for my doubts), I'm having trouble believing that many churches in America are anything but self-serving business ventures. Churchianity has, in many cases, replaced Christianity. Look at their budgets. Each one is supporting a building and a professional staff. Members are convinced that being ''active'' in church, serving on committees, teaching Sunday School, singing in the choir, or hosting a pot-luck is ''God's work'' and most of the money and effort goes to the propagation of a church building where people gather for one hour on Sunday morning.

The leader of this thing called Christianity lived off of welfare and had no place to lay his head. He was so far removed from padded pews and air conditioning that his disciples had to borrow a cave to bury him in. His message was simple: feed the hungry, clothe the naked, visit the sick and imprisoned, and bring them the good news of a loving Father.

Do you seriously believe he has anything to do with the Christian Coalition whose message is that Christ was a right-wing, arch-conservative Republican? But then the Greek word for ''sin'' is hamartia, which means ''to miss the target.'' So why not? When Jesus fed the 5,000, did he tell those people that they needed to get jobs first? That if they didn't, he wouldn't feed them? No, but he did say that a lot of people are going to come to him listing all the religious things they've done and he is going to tell them that he never knew them.

Red Jacket, a Seneca chief, laid a challenge before a missionary who came to convert him:

''Brother! We are told that you have been preaching to the white people in this place. These people are our neighbors. We are acquainted with them. We will wait a little while, and see what effect your preachIng has upon them. If we find it does them good and makes them honest and less disposed to cheat us, we will then consider again becoming Christians.''

The challenge was never answered.

It is recorded that when Jesus went up in the hills and looked down upon the religious people of Jerusalem, he wept.

Surely he is weeping today.

Uploaded to The Zephyr website November 2, 1999

Back to The Zephyr home page at: