Guess what? I started a podcast!! 😎 Like my life, it is going to be a bit odd with a variety of content from Indigenous spirituality, book reviews, theological conversations, historical studies, decolonization, and commentary on recent events. Check it out on Spotify!
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 harm.
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.
Some thoughts and reflections on Philip Jenkins’s book Dream Catchers: How Mainstream America Discovered Native Spirituality
Some thoughts and reflections on David Wilkins and Tsianina Lomawaima’s book Uneven Ground: American Indian Sovereignty and Federal Law
In reading various books on the history of the Cherokee people I kept hearing one name mentioned repeatedly: James Mooney. So, I bought his book. =)
Mooney was a first-generation Irish American who grew up on the stories of the old country. As a teenage in the mid-1800’s he started to memorize the names of all the Native American tribes in the North America. This led to a job with the newly formed Bureau of American Ethnology. From that point one Mooney would dedicate his life to recording the stories of the Cherokees and other Native American tribes across the country.
His first book, The Sacred Formulas of the Cherokee, was published in 1891. Nine years later in 1900 his masterpiece Myths of the Cherokee was released. The first half of this book is devoted to telling the history of the Cherokees from their first contact with European explorers in the 1500’s to the end of the nineteenth century.
In order to gain the information necessary for these books, Mooney spent years living among the Cherokees. Most of the time he was in North Carolina and Georgia among the Eastern Band of Cherokees, which were those people who remained in the ancestral land after the Trail of Tears (1838-1839). However, he did make a few visits to Cherokee Nation in Oklahoma (then Indian Territory) to collaborate the stories he was hearing in the east.
On a personal level, it was awesome to hear the stories my ancestors would have told each other. Stories about creation, the animals, and the land. In researching my family, I discovered that my great-great-great grandfather Zachariah T. Langley would have been in and around the area Mooney was in the 1880s. Both he and his son, John W.D. Langley, was listed on the Eastern Band’s rolls during this time before moving to Oklahoma in 1890. Most of Zachary’s family, including his mother, would stay in the east among the Eastern Band.
The tribe was introduced to Christian in the early 1800’s. Recognizing the shifting cultural tide, the tribal leaders invited the Moravian Church to start a school within the nation. This opened the door to other groups, most of which were helpful to the Cherokee Nation as a whole. As in, several Christian pastors fought for the tribe against the US Government during the 1830s when the government was forcing them to move west. Though it would be remiss of me if I didn’t note that there were other Christian leaders who were not so kind to the Cherokees. History, like today, is a mixed bag of good and evil.
As a side note, I think it is really cool that the Moravian were the first group to engage the Cherokee people. My own personal faith journey was impacted by the history and writings of the Moravian as longtime readers of this site will no doubt know. Though I have yet to personal meet anyone who journeys within that stream of the faith, they have left an impact upon my soul.
In the interest of time I will end this review. It is enough to say that I am incredible thankful for James Mooney’s foresight to record the stories of my people. I am also grateful to the elders of the tribe who told the stories to him. It is a blessing to be able to read these stories over a hundred years later.
Grace and peace.
“You can feel the youthfulness of the land. It’s like a child full of energy and unpredictability.”
Those were my words as we walked through the woods a stone throw from the Sawtooth Wilderness. The two of us had left the trail a while back and were picking our way along a ridge north of Pettit Lake. Our conversation during this hike was wide ranging, but the land was front and center for most of it.
Though it is easy to miss, the land around us has a vibe or spirit that telegraphs its character to those who listen. The Sawtooth Mountains, for example, sends a vibe of youthful energy. It is a young range with unpredictable mood swings – going from burning hot days to freezing cold nights to perhaps a lightening storm or two.
The Ozark mountains where I spend my childhood telegraphs a different vibe. They are an old range full of history and stories. Every nook and hollow within the range has a story to tell. The few times I’ve visited the Appalachian Mountains I’ve felt a similar vibe though I have not had the honor of listening to their voices as much as I would like.
Years ago when I first came to Idaho I worked in the high mountain deserts in the far south-west of the state. Deep canyons cut through the deserts like wrinkles on an aged face. The desert is a shy place, hiding its secrets from visitors. Only those who slow down and watch are given a glimpse into the deep mysteries of the desert.
Cities and town also give off their own vibes. Each one as unique as the people who dwell within their boundaries.
It is easy to miss these signs – to simply go about living on top of the land without thinking about it. The Creator, however, crafted each stone, blade of grass, tree, and dirt particle. As such it beholds us to stop and listen to the spirit of the land in which we reside. They have stories to tell us if only we pause.
Every author’s dream is to craft something that connects with the soul of the reader, transporting them into a realm beyond the black and white letters on the page. This type of experience is rare – for both the author and the reader.
Hence why it is so powerful when it happens.
This past Monday I had the honor of experiencing such an event for the first time as an author. I was sharing a chapter from my newest book with a local writers group when the air in the room began to change. The emotions and atmosphere shifted, moving the five of us on to a different plane of existence.
It was quite simply amazing and humbling.
wow…. perhaps one day I will be able to share this chapter with you all (hopefully in the form of a new book!!). In the meantime, thanks again for your support and prayers. May blessings pour down on you all. =)
Born in Florence at the beginning of the Italian Renaissance on March 6, 1475 when “Mercury and Venus were in the house of Jupiter,”  Michelangelo di Lodovico Buonarroti Simoni seemed destined to become a famous in the arts. And as fortune had it, he was able to study at the famed Garden of San Marco started by the famous patron of the arts, Lorenzo de’ Medici. Michelangelo’s skill as a sculptor soon became apparent with him creating “two extraordinary bas-reliefs, the Madonna of the Steps and the Battle of the Centaurs” by the age of fifteen or sixteen as noted by Thomas Cahill. However it wasn’t sculpting that would propel him into the realm of the uber famous, but rather it would be his skill with a paint brush that would set him apart. The canvas for his art, as the fates would have it, was a box-shaped chapel in Rome whose foundation was laid a mere two years before his birth.
The journey from sculptor to painter was not an easy one for Michelangelo. Rather it was a journey full of political upheavals, family drama, personal rivalry, and four long years perched on a scaffold bend backward staring at a ceiling. In his book Michelangelo & the Pope’s Ceiling, Ross King weaves these complex issues together into a single story showing how Pope Julius II pushed Michelangelo beyond his comfort zone and into the history books.
Like most people I had heard about Michelangelo’s paintings on the vault of the Sistine Chapel and even seen replicates of famed Creation of Adam fresco. However my knowledge of these amazing paintings did not extent beyond simply recognizing their existence in the world. King’s book was a ray of sunlight into the darkness of my ignorance, bringing with it the understanding that the context surrounding the creation of a piece of art is just as important as the piece itself. This realization may sound simple as it is a common method of exegesis for literature, especially the Scriptures. Yet I must admit that before reading King’s book I had never considered studying the cultural and history context of a piece of art.
Though it was not the topic of the book, King did provide some crucial information about the cultural and political context of the Protestant Reformation. Pope Julius II steadfast focus on recovering control over the Papal States, for example, was new information previously unknown to me. Similar to some of the cardinals of the day, I was “thunderstruck” that the “vicar of Christ” would personally “lead an army into battle.”  Add sexual misdeeds to this tragedy misinterpretation of the role of the church in the world and it is no small wonder that Martin Luther would say that “Rome was the seat of the devil and the pope worse than the Ottoman sultan.”
In closing I have to admit that while Ross King’s book Michelangelo & the Pope’s Ceiling was outside my typical reading patterns, it proved itself to be a valuable text. Ross King does a great job painting a picture of why Michelangelo is considered one of the great Renaissance painters and sculptors. Somehow this gentleman managed to capture the “expressive possibilities of the human form”  in a way that no one else had ever done before while working in an unfamiliar medium in the midst of a city full of political upheaval and human indecency. Writer and Episcopal priest Ian Cron once stated that “artists help people to see or hear beyond the immediate to the eternal.” Perhaps this is why Sir Joshua Reynolds described Michelangelo’s work on the Sistine Chapel as “the language of the Gods”
 Thomas Cahill. Heretics and Heroes: How Renaissance Artists and Reformation Priests Created Our World (New York: Nan A. Talese, 2013), 111.
 “Sistine Chapel,” Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, accessed December 19, 2017, https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Sistine_Chapel&oldid=810499765.
Imagine that I never talked to my wife of 16-years. No sharing of dreams, passions, likes or dislikes. Nothing.
Knowing that talking could lead to miscommunication, I, instead, choose to experience her presence through snuggling up next to her or simply by being in the same room. After all, I reason, experiencing her presence is more life changing than any conversation could be.
Or so goes the common thought when it comes to God. Over and over again well-intention people pit experience against theology with a bias towards one or the other. To do this is to reduce the fullness of God, placing him inside a self-defined box where he ceases to be who he really is.
Theology, contrary to popular culture, isn’t having information about God or holding to the right doctrine. Simply put, theology is the study of God – meaning that we are dong theology every time we think about Jesus, talk about Jesus, read the Scriptures, ponder the deep meanings of life, etc. Stanley Grenz & John Franke defined theology in their book Beyond Foundationalism as the “ongoing conversation among those whom the God of the Bible has encountered in Jesus Christ.” Accordingly I love theology as it brings me closer to Jesus while also giving me a glimpse into the different facets of him.
Experience, similar to theology, is another way of knowing God. Which is to say that it is a way for us to emotionally encounter the living God who actively seeks us out. Experience in this way is more than simply having a charismatic phenomena happen in, through or around you. Sadly, though, I would have to say that charismatic phenomena is what most people think about just like folks tend to reduce “theology” into “doctrine.”
In returning to our analogy, reducing God to an experience would be akin to snuggling up with your spouse while never talking to them. While snuggling up with them is great, it doesn’t capture the fullness of who that person is as you would never hear their dreams, passions, hearts, or concerns. Similarly if you just talked to your spouse while never snuggling with them, you would lose a portion of who they were as skin to skin contact brings an intimacy that can never be replaced by conversation.
This is why I am a HUGE proponent of embracing both experience and theology. I want to know Jesus in all his glory – meaning that I want to both experience his presence as well as hear his thoughts.
To think back over my life is to note that I have been dramatically changed by encounters with God through both physical experiences and theology. For every charismatic phenomena I’ve experienced or every sweet time of just being in his presences, there is an equally powerful encounter with God through a theological chat with a friend or via an amazing book.
The way I live my life – the way I see the world – the way I talk to my children – the manner in which I treat my wife – the way I approach my work – everything I do is influenced by the memorial stones of experience and theology. I cannot and will not separate experience and theology. They are two wings of a plane that work together to give flight to that which should never fly.
The fact that we are even having this conversation about experience and theology is amazing thing. The ancient world, as noted by N.T. Wright in Paul and the Faithfulness of God, did not separate action (experience) and belief (theology) as they saw the two explicitly intertwined. The idea that we fallible humans can somehow can stand above the fray of life and come up with the “correct” view of God is a modernist bound-set reductionary concept.
We can no more separate our experiences from our theology or our theology from our experience than we can turn lead into gold. The ancient world was correct in that the two concepts are intertwined to the point that they almost become one.
As such, I would say a better way forward would be to embrace the mystery of the entanglement between experience and theology. Let us do both with an eye towards walking with Jesus into the unknown of the future.
“A true seeking after God results from an experience of God which one falls in love with for no reason other than finding God irresistibly lovable. In this way the lovers of God are the ones who are the most passionately in search of God” -Peter Rollins, How (Not) to Speak of God
The book “Experiencing Healing Prayer” was written out of Rick Richardson’s experience as an Anglican priest helping people find healing for the soul. Rick’s own personal journey in inner healing started when he told a friend about a recurring dream about a man coming at him with a knife. His friend suggested that they pray about Rick’s relationship with the gentleman in his dream. When they did this, Rick experienced “the healing touch of God and the blazing light of his wisdom” (page 13). That day marked a turning moment in Rick’s life as it was the start of a journey helping others experiences the healing power of Jesus.
The book’s seventeen chapters can be broken into seven major sections with each part focused on a different subtopic of soul healing. The first section (Ch. 1-3) serves as an introduction to inner soul healing. From there the remaining chapters are split among the six signposts Rick proposes as guides “along the way on the healing journey” (page 33). The first signpost or second selection of the book (Ch. 4-6) is focused on God’s presence and hearing “God’s still small voice” (page 46). The third selection (Ch. 7) talks about gender identity and replaying our “diseased images and memoires” with “healed and transformed images” (page 89).
Chapters 8-9 make up the fourth selection or third signpost with an emphasis renouncing unreal identities and embracing an identity rooted in Jesus. The fifth selection (Ch. 10-14) tries to get to the “roots of pain and problems, not just the fruits or symptoms” (page 12). This is quickly followed by the sixth selection (Ch. 15) which talks about the “physical and sacramental means God has given as channels of healing power” (page 178). The last selection and the sixth signpost proposed by Rick is covered in chapters 16-17 and deals with giving away the healing received from God.
Overall I agree with Rick and the six signposts he proposed. Learning to recognize the presence of God and allowing him to transform the imagines we have about ourselves and others is very important. All too often people pray a simple prayer of salvation without recognizing that the decision to follow Jesus is an “exchange of sovereignties” in which we move from the kingdom of darkness into the Kingdom of God (Williams 2006, 15). This sovereignty exchanged requires that our minds, hearts, bodies, and desires be transformed into those of Jesus. As St. Paul told the church in Ephesus, we are to “put of [our] old self, which is being corrupted by its deceitful desires; to be made new in the attitude of [our] minds; and to put on the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness” (Ephesians 4:22-24, NIV).
There was one point of disagreement I had with Rick. In chapter two, he defines healing as the “transformation of the person into a truer and more whole follower, worshiper and lover of God” (page 27). This definition leaves a lot to be desired as it effectively spiritualizes the healing message of Jesus. Gone is the concept that healing brings physical pain relief or restores the wholeness to a person. Rather, healing under Rick’s definition becomes akin to sanctification in that it deals primary with the transformation of believers into the image of Jesus.
By defining healing as a spiritual transformation, Rick dodges the issue of why some people are physically healed and others are not. Since spiritual transformation happens on the inside rather than the outside like physical healing, there less risk in offering healing as one can claim that it is a lifelong process. Rick states on page 30 that he does not make a “sharp distinction” between physical and inner healing and that there are times when “inside-out healing” will “affects people in very physical ways.” While this caveat is nice, it is noteworthy that physical healing is not mentioned again in the book nor do the six healing signposts proposed by Rick allow for people to experience physical healing separate from inner healing. This limitation of the healing message of Jesus clearly shows Rick’s biases and reaction against the healing models he experienced (pages 21-23).
Rick’s spiritualization of healing can also be seen through the stories he chooses to use from Jesus’ ministry (pages 26-30). According to Rick, the primary reason why Jesus healed the man born blind in John 9 and the hemorrhaging women in Mark 5 was to get them to worship him. Why I’m sure Jesus wanted them to follow him, this is a poor treatment of Scriptures as there are other stories about people who did not choose to follow Jesus after their physical problems were healed. The story of the ten men with leprosy in Luke 17 is a prime example of Jesus healing people without all of them becoming worshipers of God. Rather than holding physical healing hostage for only those people who follow him, Jesus freely offered healing to everyone he met.
The definition of healing I would like to propose is from Alexander Venter’s book “Doing Healing.” This definition states that “healing is the event and/or process of restoring wholeness to the whole person” (Venter 2009, 55). While this definition has some overlap with Rick’s definition, Venter’s view of healing places the focus on God bringing wholeness to a person regardless of whether or not they choose to follow him. God, in his great love and mercy, does not hold healing hostage for only those who follow him. Rather he gracefully holds out physical and emotional healing to people across the spectrum of life. Accordingly, we, the followers of Jesus, are to go out to every nook and cranny of the world declaring that God’s kingdom has come while demonstrating it through healing the sick regardless of their belief system. We have to trust that God will use our obedience to draw people to himself, offering them complete wholeness through an exchange of sovereignties that will last a lifetime.
Richardson, Rick. 2005. Experiencing Healing Prayer: How God Turns Our Hurts Into Wholeness. Downers Grove, Illinois: InterVarsity Press.
Venter, Alexander. 2009. Doing Healing: How to Minister God’s Kingdom in the Power of the Spirit. Cape Town, South Africa: Vineyard International Publishing.
Williams, Don. 2006. Start Here: Kingdom Essentials for Christians. Ventura, California: Regal.