The water ran fast and high. Snow melt from the mountains hundreds of miles away flowed through the veins of this creek, filling its banks and covering the roots of the trees whose company it loved. Named the Long Man by the Tsalagi (Cherokee) of old, creeks and rivers like this one were honored for the liquid life it brought to the land. Throughout the year when things were out of balance, they would visit the Long Man to reset themselves with the pains of the past flowing downriver while the life of the new waters covered them from above.
Though I was thousands of miles from the origins of the blood and the land of my youth, I needed to find the Long Man. My shoulders hurt from the weight of the last few weeks and the decisions made and being made. Easter, that time of renewal for the followers of Jesus, was a dark time this year filled with pain and hurt. The screams of Jesus of Nazareth on the cross were felt more powerfully in my core this year than ever before. I needed a reset. Only I didn’t know how to break away from the daily grind and the insolation of the Covid home rest.
On a whim I decided to humor my oldest son with a bike ride through the neighborhood. Starting off without a plan, we rode forward into the West – chasing afternoon sun towards the darkening land of death as symbolic known to the Tsalagi. Today’s death was to be the weight on my shoulders as we stumbled upon the Long Man winding his way through the land. Finding him was a surprise as we did not expect to locate him where we did. He’s path was further south, or so we though.
Laying down our bicycles, we proceed to climb over the trees leaning out into his path. Water flowed rapidly under us as we sat and watched. Reaching down, the cold snow feed water froze my hand as the force of the flow pulled me downward. Now was the time, he seemed to say. Let go your stress; let go your burdens; let them flow downward into the depths.
Perhaps, I thought, this is why the ancient Israelites made the annual pilgrimage to Jerusalem to celebrate the Passover and other such festivals. They knew that they need to let things go as we all take on too much. Perhaps, even, this is why Jesus told us to partake of Communion when we gather together. We all need to be reminded that he took our burdens while on the cross. It isn’t just the burden of salvation, as important as that is, but of daily life. We need to be cleaned on a regular basis. We need to jump into the water and let the waves of the Long Man wash over us.
On a theological basis, I understand why people only get baptized once. However, there isn’t a hard rule as to why we can’t continue to die to ourselves and be baptized again and again. We need to be reset from time to time. We need to have the flow of water – the Long Man or the Living Water of the Spirit – flow over us, washing us clean and carrying our burdens downstream away from us.
I write this a day after this event and even though something mystical happened that day at the Long Man, I can feel the burdens of life starting to come back. Keeping them off is a hard thing. Second by second, the weight of the world tries to come back to rest of the shoulders of those of us who walk this land. Thank you, Creator, for walking with us and for knocking off these burdens as they fly back to us! We survive only because of your mercy, love, and grace. May we always look to you each moment of each day. Wado and Amen.
In the beginning of the world, when people and animals were all the same, there was only one tobacco plant, to which they all came for their tobacco until the Dagûlʻkû geese stole it and carried it far away to the south. The people were suffering without it, and there was one old woman who grew so thin and weak that everybody said she would soon die unless she could get tobacco to keep her alive.
Different animals offered to go for it, one after another, the larger ones first and then the smaller ones, but the Dagûlʻkû saw and killed every one before he could get to the plant. After the others the little Mole tried to reach it by going under the ground, but the Dagûlʻkû saw his track and killed him as he came out.
At last the Hummingbird offered, but the others said he was entirely too small and might as well stay at home. He begged them to let him try, so they showed him a plant in a field and told him to let them see how he would go about it. The next moment he was gone and they saw him sitting on the plant, and then in a moment he was back again, but no one had seen him going or coming, because he was so swift. “This is the way I’ll do,” said the Hummingbird, so they let him try.
He flew off to the east, and when he came in sight of the tobacco the Dagûlʻkû were watching all about it, but they could not see him because he was so small and flew so swiftly. He darted down on the plant—tsa!—and snatched off the top with the leaves and seeds, and was off again before the Dagûlʻkû knew what had happened. Before he got home with the tobacco the old woman had fainted and they thought she was dead, but he blew the smoke into her nostrils, and with a cry of “Tsâ′lû! [Tobacco!]” she opened her eyes and was alive again.
The above story was recorded by James Mooney in the late 1890’s during his time with the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians and the Western Cherokees in Indian Country (i.e. Oklahoma). Tobacco to the ancient Cherokee was a sacred plant that was used as the “guarantee of a solemn oath in nearly every important function—in binding the warrior to take up the hatchet against the enemy, in ratifying the treaty of peace, in confirming sales or other engagements, in seeking omens for the hunter, in driving away witches or evil spirits, and in regular medical practice.” As such, loosing access to the tobacco plant was a bad thing that caused a lot of harm to the People. To help the People, the Hummingbird braved the circle of Dagûlʻkû geese and took back some leaves and seeds so that the Cherokee could regrow the plant and be restored.
Accordingly, it is said
that the Hummingbird is the hero of the story with the Dagûlʻkû geese being the
antagonist. However, I’m wondering if there isn’t another way to read this
story in which these roles are switched. Stories, after all, typically have
layers of meanings within them that come to light depending on the situation at
hand. They are not meant to be static text but rather dynamic tellings that
help us navigate this crazy world.
As a proponent of the Holy Spirit being the Wild Goose (An Geadh-Glas), I see the workings of the Spirit in the actions of the Dagûlʻkû. In his last hours, Jesus of Nazareth told his followers that he would send the Holy Spirit to guide them into truth and “convict the world concerning sin and righteousness and judgment” (John 16:8). Because of this job, the Spirit sometimes must get our attention and let us know that what we are doing isn’t healthy.
Therefore when the Dagûlʻkû steals the tobacco from the People, he isn’t doing it out of spite or to harm the Cherokees. Rather he is trying to bring them to the understanding that tobacco isn’t the ‘thing’ that is going to save them. The only true savior of the People is the Creator himself who brings health, peace, and balance to our lives. Our guarantee for life isn’t found in a plant, but rather in the Spirit himself who is our seal of salvation (Eph. 1:13).
This interpretation of the story gains strength when you realize that the Dagûlʻkû flew south with the tobacco. To the ancient Cherokee each of the four cardinal directions had their own symbolic meaning. Mooney records that Power (War), Peace, Death, and Defeat were the symbolic meaning of East, South, West, and North respectively. When the Dagûlʻkû flew south, he went towards peace and happiness rather than west which would have been death. This is a small detail, but an important one when considering the value of the tobacco plant to the Cherokees. The ‘theft’ of their sacred plant didn’t usher in pain and death, but peace and happiness.
The Hummingbird, when he left, flew east towards power, war, and success. This direction foreshadows the recovery of the sacred tobacco as told within the story. Though the old woman is healed (or resurrected?) by the smoke of the plant, she will eventually die again. There are a lot of things in this world that bring temporary health to our lives even though the end is actually death. Fame, wealth, pride, greed, and selfishness are few ‘plants’ of this world that we seek after – and may even find – only to discover that they leave us empty and hollow. After all, like the Red Letters say, “What does it profit us to gain the world but lose our souls?” (Mt 16:26)
Something to think
about. And in pondering it, perhaps you may see that it is right.
Click here for part one and two of this series about the our allegiance to the Creator King.
Lest we forget, claiming Jesus as our Lord and King goes
beyond giving him priority over our country, religion, and holy book. There is
a very real, albeit unseen, transfer of allegiance that happens when we bow our
knees to the Risen King and call upon him to rescue us (e.g. Romans 10:9-13,
Colossians 1:12-13). At that precise moment in time we are “delivered from
Satan’s kingdom and catapulted into the kingdom of God.” No longer are we bound by the chains of sin, addictions, pain,
sorrow, death, and evil. We are now children of the Living God, joint heirs
with Jesus the Messiah (e.g. Romans 8:17, Galatians 4:4-7).
unseen, and sometimes even unfelt, this spiritual exchange of sovereignties is
at the core of the good news of Jesus. Throughout the Scriptures there is a
paradox where the Creator God is described as both the current King and the
coming King of the world. This paradox is set against the backdrop of a battle
being raged across the visible and invisible dimensions of creation between the
forces of evil and the Lord Almighty. Though the origin of this war is shrouded
in mystery with the Scriptures being silent on the details that we so
desperately crave, the biblical authors understood that fighting against “such things
as injustice, oppression, greed, and apathy toward the needy was to participate
directly or indirectly in a cosmic war that had engulfed the earth.”
the choice to follow Jesus is also a choice not
to follow the ways of the evil one. Hence
the early followers of Jesus understood that the “one who professed in response
to the gospel, ‘I believe,’ was the one who said simultaneously: ‘I renounce
you Satan, your pomp, your service, your works’ (Chrysostom); ‘I renounce the
devil and his work, this age and its pleasure’ (Ambrose).” Theologian and pastor Don Williams elaborates on this
exchange of sovereignties in declaring that:
To say, ‘Jesus is Lord’ means to renounce all other lords. No ideology, political philosophy, drug or person can have a higher claim on our lives. All our idols must be pulled down, repented of and crushed at Jesus’ feet. The idols of pride, power, control, self-medication, family, friends, illicit sex, internet pornography, legalism, self-righteousness, mind-altering meditation, witchcraft, magic, cults, gambling, work, self-advancement, children, health, and security in old age must go. Anything that takes the place of Jesus in our hearts, in our passions and in our devotion is an idol. As Elijah the prophet said to the nation of Israel, ‘How long will you waver between two opinions? If the Lord is God, follow him’ (1 Kings 18:21). God has called us and revealed Jesus as Lord to us. Follow Him!
 Don Williams, Start Here: Kingdom Essentials for
Christians (Ventura, California: Regal, 2006), 7.
 Gregory A. Boyd, God At War: The Bible and Spiritual Conflict
(Downers Grove, Illinois: InterVarsity Press, 1997), 14.
 Paul R. Hinlicky, Beloved Community: Critical Dogmatics after Christendom (Grand Rapids, Michigan: William B. Eerdmans Publishing
Company, 2015), 221.
The four historical narratives of Jesus’ life and ministry
(i.e. Matthew, Mark, Luke and John) all agree that Jesus’ primary message was
that the active, dynamic rule and reign of God (i.e. the kingdom of God) had
broken into the world. No longer were the people of God waiting for the promised
day of the Lord when all would be made right. That day had come in and through
Jesus, though he also told them that the kingdom was yet to come in its
fullness. It was a paradox in which the age to come had come, is coming, and
would one day fully break into the present evil age.
Writing a few decades after Jesus, the Apostle
Paul would summarize the message of Jesus in terms of “incarnation and
enthronement.” Jesus was the promised one about whom the prophets had
foretold. Furthermore, he was also the incarnated Creator King of heaven and
earth who entered into the world through “David’s seed in terms of flesh”
(Romans 1:3, TKNT). While this statement itself is powerful, Paul goes to say
that Jesus was resurrected from the dead and enthroned as “the King, our Lord”
(Romans 1:4, TKNT).
The enthronement of Jesus as the King of
heaven and earth can be seen most clearly in the first chapter of Acts. After
giving his followers some last-minute instructions, Jesus is lifted up into the
skies and hidden from sight by a cloud (Acts 1:9). This action harkens back to
Daniel 7:13-14 (NIV) in which “one like a son of man” approaches the Ancient of
Days with “clouds of heaven” and is enthroned with “all nations and peoples of
every language” worshiping him. Jesus,
the Son of Man as he commonly called himself (e.g. Matthew 9:6, Mark 8:38, John
8:28), is now the “true world ruler, with all the warring pagan nations made
subject to him.”
Though we don’t think much about such
language, for Paul to say that Jesus is the “blessed and only Sovereign, the
King of kings and Lord of lords” (1 Timothy 6:15, ESV) is to effectively commit
treason against the Roman Empire and its divine ruler. Starting in the days of
Caesar Augustus (63 BCE – 14 CE), the emperors of the land were seen as divine
gods with temples dedicated to their worship being built across the empire from
Spain to Judea. Accordingly, for Paul to claim that Jesus of Nazareth was
the Creator God and the true King of the earth was to effectively deny the
exclusive rule of the Caesars (e.g. Acts 7:6-8). Later followers of Jesus would
face death at the hands of Roman authorities for upholding these claims as they
refused to renounce their loyalty to Jesus and offer sacrifices to the human
emperor of the land.
Pledging our undivided allegiance to Jesus
doesn’t mean, however, that we can’t be proud of our nation, religion, or holy
book. Paul, for example, was a Roman citizen who obeyed the laws of the land
even though he disagreed with common worship practices of the day (e.g. Acts
16:37-38, 22:25-29, Romans 13:1-7). He also was proud of his Jewish heritage
and Scriptures of his youth even if he now reinterpreted them through the lens
of Jesus the Messiah (e.g. Acts 22:3-21, Philippians 3:2-11). As Paul’s life
shows us, following Jesus means that our first allegiance is to Jesus our King
and Lord. We are first and foremost disciples of Jesus before we are citizens
of a nation, followers of a religion, and/or readers of a holy book. If ever
there is a disagreement or test of loyalty between these things, may we echo
words of Simon Peter and the apostles as they stood before the same Assembly
who tortured and killed Jesus a few weeks previously: “We must obey God, not
human beings!” (Acts 5:29, TKNT)
 Joshua S. Hopping, The Here and Not Yet: What is Kingdom
Theology and Why Does It Matter? (Ladysmith, South Africa: Vineyard
International Publishing, 2017), 23-38
 Matthew W. Bates, Salvation by Allegiance Alone: Rethinking
Faith, Works and the Gospel of Jesus the King (Grand Rapids, Michigan:
Baker Academic, 2017), 30-34.
 N.T. Wright, Simply Jesus: A New Vision of Who He Was,
What He Did, And Why He Matters (New York: HaperOne, 2011), 196.
 N.T. Wright, Paul and the Faithfulness of God: Book 1 (Minneapolis:
Fortress Press, 2013), 311-343.
Every morning at 8:30 am during the school year my son
lines up with his classmates to recite three pledges before starting the day.
They start by reciting the Pledge to the American Flag before moving on to the Pledge to the Christian Flag and the Pledge to the Bible. Though these young students may not realize the full
impact of their words, they are declaring their loyalty to the nation they live
in (i.e. United States of America), their religion (i.e. Christianity), and
their holy book (i.e. the Bible).
would wager a guess that there are millions of people around the world reciting
similar pledges. They may even recite
these pledges in the same order – giving allegiance first to their nation (e.g.
USA, India, China, Israel, Russia, Canada, etc.), then to their religion (e.g.
Christianity, Judaism, Islam, Hindu, Wicca, Atheism, etc.), and finally to
their holy writings (e.g. Bible, Koran, Tripitaka, Vedas, etc.). I would
further guess that most of these people, Jesus followers include, don’t even
think twice about the pledges they are reciting. After all, it is normal to
love the nation you live in, the religion you follow, and the holy writings you
if I may vocalize a nagging question in the back of my head, should a follower
of Jesus pledge their loyalty and allegiance to a nation, religion, or holy
book? And if so, should we be concerned about the order in which we pledge our
allegiance? Say, instead of pledging our loyalty to our nation first, maybe we
should pledge our allegiance to our religion, our holy writings, and then to
our nation…. or should we just stop saying the pledges all together?
followers throughout history have come to different conclusions concerning
those questions. They are not easy questions to answer as they have wide
ranging implications for how we live our lives and how we interact with the
world around us. For my part, I go back and forth between saying all three
pledges, saying some of them, and not saying them at all. My country, religion,
and holy writings have all impacted my life to a degree that words cannot fully
express. Yet despite of my love for all three, there’s a war deep inside of me
for I know how my love for my nation, religion, and holy writings can, and
does, compete for my love for Jesus. And
that concerns me.
I was first introduced to Jesus by my parents who met him
from their parents who likewise met the King through the influence of their
parents. I remember early morning livestock feedings on the farm with my father
talking about Creator or times under the hood of a vehicle talking about doing
all things unto the King. There were also times of talking with my mother about
the strange and odd verses in the Scriptures that didn’t seem to make
sense. Though some might think that this
genealogy would lead to a lackluster religion more concerned about keeping
tradition than knowing the person of Jesus, that wasn’t the case for me.
Somehow my parents had managed to escape the religiosity and skepticism of the
day, even while feeling the pain and disappointment that often leaks out from
the rotting corpses housed in whitewashed tombs. And in doing so they taught me
to love Jesus and watch for his presence in all areas of life.
These early lessons of seeing past the
trappings of life to find Jesus helped me navigate the “witch’s brew of
politics, cultural conflict, moralism, and religious meanness that seems so
closely connected with those who count themselves the special friends of
Jesus.” Sadly, throughout history there have always been people
who have used Jesus to support their own political and religious agendas. This
is especially true for those in power in the United States of America, to the
point that to “millions of people around the world, Jesus Christ is synonymous
with Western society and America.”
During the 1st century when Jesus walked the
earth, there were multiple views of the kingdom of God and how that kingdom was
manifested in real life. Jesus could have embraced the strict religious rules of
the Pharisees who sought to perfectly follow the Mosaic Law for one day as to usher in the rule and reign of the Heavenly Father.
Or Jesus could have retreated into the desert to study the Scriptures and
worship the Lord like the Essenes. The Sadducees also offered Jesus a way
forward, a way of wealth and riches through their partnership with the Roman
The Romans themselves would have loved it if
Jesus would have endorsed their way of life. After all, they were the greatest
nation in the world at the time with an empire that stretched across three
continents. Or if Jesus didn’t like the pagan worshiping Romans being in the
land of promise, he could have joined the Zealots and fought to take back the
land for God. There were plenty of
people at the time who would have loved to make Jesus king of Israel. All he
needed to do is say the word and the revolution would have begun.
Jesus, however, did not and does not “endorse
any other way, any other moral code except his own. Jesus was [and is]
exclusively the Way.” He is “the way and the truth and the life” as the
Apostle John wrote quoting our Lord (John 14:6, NIV).
Knowing God is a “matter of personal contact” with Jesus rather than doctrine, religious duties, money,
ethics, lifestyle, or any of the other boundaries people have created over the
 Pledge to the American
Flag – “I pledge allegiance to the Flag
of the United States of America, and to the Republic for which it stands, one
Nation under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.”
 Pledge to the Christian
Flag – “I pledge allegiance to the
Christian Flag and to the Savior for whose Kingdom it stands. One Savior,
crucified, risen, and coming again with life and liberty to all who believe.”
 Pledge to the Bible – “I pledge allegiance to the Bible, God’s
Holy Word, I will make it a lamp unto my feet and a light unto my path and will
hide its words in my heart that I might not sin against God.”
 Ken Wilson, Jesus Brand Spirituality: He Wants His
Religion Back (Nashville, Tennessee: Thomas Nelson, 2008), 1.
 Carl Medearis, Speaking of Jesus: The Art of Not-Evangelism
(Colorado Spring, Colorado: David C. Cook, 2011), 61.
 Additional information on
the different political and religious views of the kingdom of God challenged by
Jesus can be found in chapter seven and nine of my previous book, The Here and Not Yet (Vineyard
International Publishing, 2017).
What did America look like before Columbus? Was the land wild and untamed or were the indigenous people farmers and city builders?
These are the question Charles Mann seeks to answer in his book 1491: New Revelations of the Americas Before Columbus. For century the common myth is that South and North America was a wild land with very few people. Archaeology discoveries, however, disprove this theory and show that 1/5 of the people alive in the 16th century lived in the Americas (i.e. there was close to 100 million people in the Americas with the world population being about 500 million).
Sadly, disease and sickness (e.g. smallpox) brought over by Europeans
killed large numbers of the indigenous people. In some places, 90% to 95% of the
indigenous people died within a hundred years of Columbus’ first trip. This massive
depopulation led to a restructuring of tribal cities, governments, farms, etc. It
also allowed the Europeans to enter and settle the land without much resistance
(though there was some, of course).
This isn’t a slam against the Europeans. Disease, viruses,
and the like don’t care who you are; they are just bugs that seek to kill and
The importance of this book is that it seeks to tell a better story of the indigenous people of the Americas. History as taught in the USA tends to be very much Eurocentric with very little space or time given to the indigenous people of the land. While I understand the desire to tell the history of Europe, I also think it is important to tell the story of the indigenous people. I am a byproduct of both worlds with European and indigenous blood flowing through my veins. As such, I want to know the history of both of my people. Which is why I picked up Mann’s book. =D
No matter who you are, I think you will enjoy this book.
Over the past few decades Dr. Robert Wicks noticed an uptick in the promotion of mindfulness and positive psychology among counselors. While helpful, these concepts seemed to ignore the “wisdom literature of world spiritualities” that addressed the same concerns long before the rise of modern psychological movements. Accordingly, Wicks decided to write the book The Inner Life of a Counselor to “provide encouragement to professional helpers” to let go of the nonessentials while embracing a greater focus on mindfulness and engaging in practices that enhance a healthy perspective of life no matter what is happening around them.
Though I found myself enjoying and agreeing with the all practices promoted by Wicks, it was the concept of humility that found fertile ground in my soul. Wicks defines humility as “the ability to fully appreciate our innate gifts and our current ‘growing edges’ in ways that enable us to learn, act, and flow with our lives as never before.” As someone with a high ‘learner’ and ‘input’ theme on the CliftonStrengths assessment, I have a desire to seek information which can lead to a paralysis of action due to my appetite for knowledge. Paradoxically, these same strengths can cause me to assume I know something when I really don’t. By adopting a “sense of equanimity” through humility, the hope is that I can learn to appreciate the growing edge of my desire to learn while also embracing the reality that I don’t have to know everything.
The words of Zen Master Shunryu Suzuki as retold by Wick were of special importance to me. In the retelling, Shunryu Suzuki told his disciples that they were “all perfect as [they] are” though they “could all use a little improvement.” This struck me as echoing Jesus of Nazareth who loved people where they were while also calling them forward into a new way of life (e.g. John 8:1-11, Luke 19:1-10). To do this, though, we must be willing to unlearn what we know. As Wicks states in his book, “wisdom comes about when we take knowledge and add humility, but humility is not possible without a willingness to unlearn so something new can be entertained – even about concepts, themes, and philosophies of living that we have known well in the past.” It is giving up a ‘perfect’ life in exchange for another that is also ‘perfect’ that may, in the future, be exchanged for yet another as the Spirit of the Breath of Life transforms us into the image of Jesus “with ever-increasing glory” (2 Corinthians 3:18, NIV).
In his novel ThePickwick Papers, Charles Dickens notes that a horse hitched to a cab is quite often not pulling the cab but running from it. In reflecting on this passage, Metropolitan Anthony Bloom commented that often “we are the horse that runs away from the cab in fear of its life.” If we don’t regularly stop and humbly review our inner thoughts and beliefs, they can capture “our hearts and drive us on” to places that we ought not go. Hence Wicks’ suggestion to create space in our lives to sit in silence and solitude so that the “irrational but as-yet-undisputed thoughts about ourselves and the world” will surface. Once they have surfaced, we can then face and process through them as we grow in humility and self-awareness.
Commonly when in a ministry situation, whether in a
formal counseling session or not, I find myself feeling very inadequate for the
task at hand. No matter what education I have or how much information I have accumulated,
I find myself at a loss in what I am supposed to do. In thinking about the
concept of humility, I feel that it might give me the freedom to be with the
person in need without having to have all the answers. It is an acceptance and recognition
of my “growing edges, defenses, overinvolvement in [my] own ego, and
At the same time, humbly accepting myself as I am means that I can continue on
my journey of personal improvement and information gathering so that I might
have a response, that, while maybe not ‘correct’ per se, would be of benefit to
the person of concern. It is a both/and concept of being comfortable with the
tension of knowing and not-knowing.
Christianity has changed a lot since its early days with “distortions and caricatures…constantly being hawked about.”Clement’s book is an effort to remind people of the mystic roots of Christianity. To that end, the book includes large portions of text written by the early Church Father with Clement’s own words being used to connect the passages along with some brief commentary on the material. Topics addressed within the book include, but are not limited to the mystery of God, the church, the Eucharist, passions transfigured, prayer, contemplation, and love. The primary theme throughout the book is that our lives, hopes, dreams, and prayers should be centered around Jesus of Nazareth. It is a “spirituality of resurrection” that starts today and goes beyond death.