All posts by Joshua

Cherokee Seven Direction Dreamcatcher

For the past few years I have been sitting with the Cherokee concepts of seven directions. I knew that I wanted to create something to physically represent the concepts held within these seven directions. However I couldn’t quite figure out how to do this….then during a Labor Day backpacking trip, things just fell into place with a picture of what could be. Though the final result was a bit different, the concepts and points given to me by the Creator on that trip stayed the same. And with that, I would like to share the seven directions with you all. =)

The Seven Directions

Like a lot of Indigenous people across Tuttle Island (i.e. North America), the Cherokees assigned a color and a meaning to each the four cardinal directions:

  • East -> red -> success; triumph
  • North -> blue -> defeat; trouble
  • West -> black -> death
  • South -> white -> peace; happiness

What is unique (at least as far as I’ve been able to determine) is that the Cherokees recognize three other directions:

  • Above -> yellow -> the sky above
  • Below -> brown -> the earth below
  • Center -> green -> where we are right now

Though I’m still researching the symbolism of the latter three, I do know that ‘above’ doesn’t represent ‘heaven’ nor does ‘below’ represent ‘hell.’ Heaven and hell are Greco Roman concepts that were combined with Hebraic thought through the move of Christianity into Europe.  Cherokee cosmology has a different outlook on those directions of which I have barely scratched. Hopefully I will be able to understand more about them as time goes on…but for now just know that ‘above’ and ‘below’ are separate from the modern cultural concepts of ‘heaven’ and ‘hell.’

Praying to the Directions

For a lot of Indigenous people prayers physical in nature. We will commonly turn to the four directions (east, west, north, & south) while praying to the Creator. It is a way to physically connect with our surroundings while lifting our voice to the Lord. I would connect this to the ancient Hebraic practice of sacrifices or the offering of incenses at the Temple. Both practices include a physical action in conjunction with prayers to the Creator. Modern Christian practices along these lines include prayer walking, pacing during prayer meetings, dancing, flag waving, clapping, etc. The primary difference being, of course, that these latter actions aren’t necessarily done in a specific order whereas praying to the directions includes turning to face a certain direction before saying a prayer.

In pondering the seven directions of the Cherokees, there have been times when I have physically faced each of the directions while giving thanks to the Creator. Though it seemed strange at first, there is something refreshing about having a physical response to act out while praying. It is also a good reminder that Jesus surrounds and protects us from harm in all directions. I would liken it to Saint Patrick’s Breastplate:

Christ with me, Christ before me,

Christ behind me, Christ within me,

Christ beneath me, Christ above me,

Christ at my right, Christ at my left,

The 8th section of Saint Patrick’s Breastplate

Dreamcatchers

As you all no doubt noticed from the title and below picture, the end result of my art project was a seven direction dreamcatcher. This was because the circular structure of the dreamcatcher just seemed to fit with the theme and concepts I wanted to convey. Historically dreamcatchers are from the Ojibwe people of the Great Lake region and southern Canada. They were adopted as a generic symbol of identification for Native Americans/First Nations cultures during the Pan-Indian Movement of the 1960s/70s. The mainstream public also started seeing them around this time with dreamcatchers being a craft item in the 80s and 90s.

Among the Ojibwe people, dreamcatchers were associated with Asibikaashi (Spider Women) who would protect them from harm by weaving a spider web around them. Hence the spider web design of the dreamcatchers. Noting, of course, that the Ojibwe concept was less about dreams and more about protection from harm in general. The dream component became attached to the object as it went out from the Ojibwe to the rest of the country.

Though I’m not one for charms, I do like the symbolism of the dreamcatcher with protection. It goes back to Saint Patrick’s Breastplate and the prayers to the seven directions for Christ to surround us with his protection. Psalm 91 would be a good example of prayers of this type as would Psalm 139. This latter psalm, by the way, includes several of the seven directions as King David declares the presence of the Creator around himself:

You know when I sit and when I rise;

you perceive my thoughts from afar.

You discern my going out and my lying down;

you are familiar with all my ways.

Before a word is on my tongue

you, Lord, know it completely.

You hem me in behind and before,

and you lay your hand upon me.

Psalm 139:2-5, NIV

The Materials

I have often said that the way in which you do something is just as important as what you do. In this case, I sought out seven different biological materials to form the foundations of my seven direction dreamcatcher. Circles were used as a primary design motif due to the symbolism of circles in the cycle of the seasons, life, time, and nature itself.  I initially wanted seven circles (one per direction) but in the end I went with six circles due to the ease of construction and overall look.

The rings themselves are made of the following materials:

  • East -> pine -> One of the few trees who stayed awake throughout the seven days of the Cherokee creation story. Since the east is the direction of creation, I placed the pine ring in that direction.
  • North  -> aspen -> When I think of the north, aspen trees come to mind as they are native to the colder regions of North America. Hence the placement of this wood.
  • West -> sage  -> Sage is a ceremonial plant for many Native Americans and is burned when praying as a way to purify oneself. I figured that since the west was the direction of death, it could use some extra prayer and purity.
  • South  -> corn  -> South is the place of happiness and peace to the Cherokee. Hence I used the leaves of the corn plant as the foundation under the white leather in remembrance of Selu the Corn Mother.
  • Up Above and Down Below  -> willow -> Running through and surrounding the other directions is a large ring of willow which represents Jesus of Nazareth through whom all things that were, are, and will be made (e.g. John 1:3, Col 1:16). The weeping nature of the willow played a part in choosing this wood as Jesus wept over Jerusalem when the people failed to respond to his call to walk with him in peace and love (Luke 19:41-44). Furthermore, willows need a lot of water to survive hence why they are normally found near creeks and rivers. Hence the connection (at least in my mind) with the living water of the Holy Spirit that flows throughout Creation (Revelation 22:1-5).
  • Center  ->  oak  -> The oak tree was an important part of Cherokee life with acorns being ground up to make bread, the inner bark used in baskets, and the wood itself used to keep the Sacred Fire alive. Hence the usage of this wood to create the center ring of where each us stands. This is the place where we are; where we live and breathe.

In addition to the six rings, there is a collection of other material used within this dreamcatcher. Below are some thoughts on these items:

  • The Weave – At first I wasn’t sure about the weave as dreamcatchers aren’t really my style. However as I thought about it, I like the concept of the Holy Spirit weaving his way throughout the seven directions and within our lives. He is the one, after all, who calls us toward the Cross which is in the center of life (John 14:15-17).  
  • The Cross – Inside the center ring is a small cross made of spruce. Similar to the pine, the spruce tree stayed awake throughout creation and therefore was blessed with the gift of staying green year-round. The Cross, though bloodied with death and pain, forms the genesis of a new life in and through Jesus. It is a symbol of what was and what is to come.
  • Beads – There are seven small beads within the three center circles (west, center, and east). The three larger gray ones are jasper while the four smaller ones are mahogany obsidian. The mahogany obsidian bead represents the blood of Christ that saves us (east), is saving us (center), and one day will save us (west). There are four obsidian beads in each of the three groups of seven for the four gospel letters which tell us the story of Jesus while the total of 12 is for the twelve apostles who walked with Christ. The three jaspers in each group of seven are for the Trinity (Father, Son, and Spirit). Surrounding the center ring within the weave itself are four jasper beads for the four winds that blow across the earth carrying with them the Spirit of the Living Creator (John 3:8).  
  • Feathers – The feathers are more for me than to share as some things are better left a mystery. Just know that they have a personal meaning that are not connected to the seven directions. =)

BLM, Jesus, and Historical Trauma

A few days ago I attending a Black Lives Matter prayer vigil in front of the Idaho State capital building. There were close to 5,000, if not more, people at the vigil which was very peaceful and well organized. The central part of the vigil was the moment in which we paused in silent in remembrance of the black lives killed at the hands of the police. Every 15 seconds during this time a name was read out loud with the crowd repeating it. To say that this was a holy and powerful experience would be an understatement.

Black Lives Matter prayer vigil on June 2, 2020

Towards the end of the vigil during the singing of a spiritual, a chain of trucks and cars drove around the crowd with Trump and USA flags flying high. Verbal comments were thrown out of the vehicles towards the people peacefully remembering and praying for those lost.

In watching this display, I was struck by the context of a symbol can affect how it is perceive and received. An American flag by itself can bring to the forefront a fairly neutral memory of a nation. Flying this same flag on a vehicle driving around a Black Lives Matter prayer vigil change it to one of horror and pain. You see, it was under the American flag that African women and men were taken from Africa and sold into slavery within this country. And it is under this same flag that modern black women and men are oppressed and killed.

In a similar way, it was those under the USA flag who sought to wipe out the indigenous nations of this land. This includes members of my family who lived and died as Cherokee Indians. The memory of these relatives remain strong despite the years that have gone by.

Before attending the Black Lives Matter prayer vigil, I watched a video by one of the organizers. In this video, the comment was made that they did not trust the police because of the centuries of abuse at the hands of the people in power. This was because the police, National Guard, and USA Military have been used to harm communities of color (black, brown and red) for hundreds of years. Trust, once lost, is extremely hard to regain.

It wasn’t that long ago that the FBI was worked against the Civil Rights and American Indian Movements through their Counterintelligence Program by discrediting organizations the government didn’t like. It wasn’t that long ago that police forces tried to stop Marin Luther King Jr. and the peaceful nonviolent protests of the Civil Right era.

Sheriffs and US Marshals were used by the government to arrest Cherokee citizens living in their land without a warrant and haul them across the national border to prison without a trial. It was the police and other law enforcement members who forcefully took Cherokee children away from their homes to be raised in government sponsored boarding school. “Kill the Indian, and Save the Man” as USA Brigadier General Richard H. Pratt said in 1892.

What we are seeing today is the result of hundreds of years of community trauma and built up rage. People can only be oppressed for so long before they rise up. Shoot, the USA nation itself was founded by people who rioted and looted (e.g. Boston tea party) after been oppressed by a government who didn’t seem to care about them.

Being a follower of Jesus of Nazareth, I can’t help but go back and look at him.

Jesus of Nazareth was born in the 1st century to a Jewish family living under the rule of the Roman Empire. The people of Israel had at that time spent hundreds of years living under various oppressive regimes (Babylon, Greek, Roman). Yes, they had a brief time of independence under the Hasmonean dynasty, but that just sought to strength their resolve to be free.

Each of these regimes sought to wipe out the Jewish culture/religion/language (not unlike how the USA treated the Native Americans). In response to this, many of the Jews turned to riots and violence in hopes of finding justice. Jesus himself lived through multiple of these upraising.

Interestingly enough, we don’t have record of Jesus condemning these uprisings beyond the simple statement that those who live by the sword die by the sword. In contrast to this we have TONS of records of him condemning the religious leaders who supported the status quo (Sadducees and Pharisees). We also see Jesus recurring one of the nationalist rebels (Simon the Zealot) along with someone who could be considered a traitor to the nation of Israel (Matthew the tax collector) and making them part of his inner group. Through love and reconciliation, Jesus brought them together as a family who loved and carried for each other.

Building from this place of reconciliation, Jesus added in members of the occupying military force (i.e. various Roman army leaders) along with some Sadducees, Pharisees, regular folks, and, most likely, other Zealots. The unifying point was love and justice as seen in and through the person of Jesus of Nazareth. Noting, of course, that Jesus led multiple peaceful protests and at least one violence protest (i.e. turning over the money tables in the temple) against the powers that be. It was these actions that got him killed.

Bring this back to modern times, I strongly feel that true leadership is one that acknowledges and works to heal the historical trauma experienced by African-Americans, Latinos, Indigenous, and other minority groups within the USA by the government and dominant culture of the USA. We need a national dialogue on race, gender and class through a Truth and Conciliation Commission similar to what happened in South Africa, Canada, and other countries. Without such a commission, we will never be able to truly heal our country and our people.

Top Cherokee History Books

A quick review of nine (9) great history books about the Cherokee Nation.

Below are the books included in the review in order of appearance:

Two bonus books referenced in my video:

Thoughts From The Long Man

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.

HOW THEY BROUGHT BACK THE TOBACCO: A Holy Spirit Reinterpretation of an Old Cherokee Story

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.

Photo by Eberhard Grossgasteiger

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.

Exchange of Sovereignties (Part 3 of 3)

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.”[1] 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).

                Though 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.”[2]

Photo by Ricky Turner

                Accordingly, 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).”[3] 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![4]


Endnotes

[1] Don Williams, Start Here: Kingdom Essentials for Christians (Ventura, California: Regal, 2006), 7.

[2] Gregory A. Boyd, God At War: The Bible and Spiritual Conflict (Downers Grove, Illinois: InterVarsity Press, 1997), 14.

[3] Paul R. Hinlicky, Beloved Community: Critical Dogmatics after Christendom (Grand Rapids, Michigan: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2015), 221.

[4] Don Williams, Start Here, 16-17.

The Enthroned King (part 2 of 3)

Part one of this three part series can be found here.

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.[1]

Writing a few decades after Jesus, the Apostle Paul would summarize the message of Jesus in terms of “incarnation and enthronement.”[2] 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.”[3]

               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.[4] 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)


Endnotes

[1] 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

[2] 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.

[3] N.T. Wright, Simply Jesus: A New Vision of Who He Was, What He Did, And Why He Matters (New York: HaperOne, 2011), 196.

[4] N.T. Wright, Paul and the Faithfulness of God: Book 1 (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2013), 311-343.

Allegiance to the King (part 1 of 3)

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[1] before moving on to the Pledge to the Christian Flag[2] and the Pledge to the Bible.[3] 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). 

                I 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 read.

                Yet, 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?

                Jesus 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.

Photo by Samuel Schneider via Unsplash.com
Photo by Samuel Schneider via Unsplash.com

Loving Jesus

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.”[4] 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.”[5] 

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.[6] 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 Empire. 

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.”[7] 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”[8] with Jesus rather than doctrine, religious duties, money, ethics, lifestyle, or any of the other boundaries people have created over the years.


Endnotes

[1] 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.”

[2] 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.”

[3] 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.”

[4] Ken Wilson, Jesus Brand Spirituality: He Wants His Religion Back (Nashville, Tennessee: Thomas Nelson, 2008), 1.

[5] Carl Medearis, Speaking of Jesus: The Art of Not-Evangelism (Colorado Spring, Colorado: David C. Cook, 2011), 61.

[6] 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).

[7] Carl Medearis, Speaking of Jesus, 155.

[8] Carl Medearis, Speaking of Jesus, 70.

Bradley Jersak has done it again!

Bradley Jersak’s A More Christlike Way: A More Beautiful Faith is another great book looking at how to follow Jesus through the chaos of our current time. Check out the below video for more details about this great book.