Sunday, August 23, 2009
The Writing Is On The Wall.
Dear ones have just returned from an adventure into the Navajo Reservation in Arizona. They spent a good deal of time preparing food and curriculum to provide a Bible school for our Native American neighbors, thousands of miles away. It was a noble undertaking, under any World view. Nothing less than love can motivate folks to give up their routine and comforts to brave the harsh elements and sacrifices necessary to make the trip. And love they did.
The photographs sent back, simultaneously as they were posted on the Internet, showed a less than glamorous, rubber meets the road kind of endeavor, rather than the picture in my mind. They had that slice of life, National Geographic kind of flavor, unpretentious and... shocking. It looked like an outreach in a faraway country. A place like the Gobi desert or some poverty-stricken wasteland where people are treated with heartless ambivalence. How, or why could this happen here?
There are many theories, explanations and excuses. Some would still argue that these people have a right to pursue their ancient customs, and in fact they are encouraged to. If they do not like it, all they have to do is go get a job somewhere and leave the Rez in the rear view mirror. The way we left our friends and families when we were young, and faced the world and all its challenges. But our traditions and cultures did not have near the hold on us, as theirs does them, as we almost had none. Our “culture” was rapid changing technology and rock & roll. We left home, spread like a covey of quail, and many never looked back. WE are the real nomads.
“Americans” are not a culture but rather an amalgamation of like-minded peoples who have made comfort and entertainment and fun our primary purpose. Few of us know the names of our great-grand parents, or the tongue they spoke, or the kinds of products they knew how to fashion with their bare hands. We have never planted a seed. And surely we have never known the pleasure of reaping what we have sown. All we care about is ourselves, our momentary whims, what we want next. We think that personal fulfillment, vacations, retirement, and new cars and yes, lovers are something we have coming to us. We have lost our cultural soul.
The photo above is of an interpretation I did for a very creative client in Washington County who made a Navajo hogan for himself and wanted Native American motifs on the walls. He showed me some rock art done by Texas Indians, perhaps five thousand years ago. I found the drawings, almost caveman like, to be fascinating. A man, thousands of years ago, was speaking through these glyphs, in the now. As I copied them, I meditated about them, and understood them the only way I could, through my own shallow cultural background. Those few days in that Hogan stirred me, and I felt as if I might be actually deciphering his code. And it was quite simple.
He was telling me of the most amazing, exciting, memorable event of his life, maybe even his whole culture. And Hebrew writings almost as old might help us understand what he was trying to convey... and in fact did so quite effectively: “There were giants on the earth in those days, and also afterward, when the sons of God came in to the daughters of men and they bore children to them. Those were the mighty men of old, men of renown.”
Christian scholars have debated the meaning of these words for centuries. Many think it is a reference to angelic beings, much like the serpent at the Tree of Knowledge, who walked, interacted and even procreated with humankind. This is spoken of as the catalyst for Noah’s Flood, some six thousand years ago, which left its traces on every continent.
It was a time of great debauchery, near spiritual bankruptcy, and even supernatural men having their way with the daughters of men. God did some downsizing and Noah found himself on a mountain in the Caucasus, his children destined to be the ancestors of the tribes of Israel, and the Mediterranean and Arab peoples. It was the single most important natural disaster in human history. Strangely, two thousand years later, even Moses wrote that his people had come from a place he had never been, across the Mediterranian Sea, thousands of miles away. Peoples do not forget such things very easily. Even Native Americans have numerous Flood stories that are similar in many details. All we can assume is afterwards, the “sons of God,” were constrained and sent back where they came from. Archaeologists have studied skulls, perhaps ten thousand years old, dug up in North America that have more kinship to Noah than to eastern Asian peoples. Don’t be surprised. In fact what Noah’s adventure tells us is the obvious and most important truth about ancient men: They were a sea-faring people.
And they were here, scratching their calendars and religious beliefs on North American walls, long before ancient Koreans and other Asian peoples hiked across the Bering Strait. No wonder our Native Americans do not look like them, or Eskimos that much.
That message copied faithfully on the Hogan wall is a message from my ancestors as well. Your ancestors. The artist saw something so fantastic, so memorable, he had to put it down, even if he did not know how to. Angelic beings. Beings without the human constraints of physical reality like gravity, or ignorance, or failing health, or ugliness, or human inhibition. Perhaps like the serpent, they too had animal characteristics. What might they have looked like? How might they have transported themselves? Just look at the painting at the top of the page. I could not have done better myself.
And they were remembered as “giants in the land.” I’d like to think my church family, after a week in another reality, would be remembered, and talked about, even portrayed on a Navajo blanket somewhere, in the same way. But in a positive way. Giants who brought love, healing and hope. It has been a long time coming. But even today, these people are still terrorized by memories of the supernatural that cannnot be understood by us. They still harbor irrational superstitions, and real fear of shapeshifters, and "skin walkers" and such. And they will not leave it. The giants still have a magical hold on the desert tribes. The same scenario was played out in every ancient land... India, China, Egypt, Greece, even Norway. The great, epic misunderstanding came when these unfortunate victims began to worship these counterfeit gods, perhaps in fear, who still whisper in some ears... In some ways these oppressed desert folk are the proverbial children of perdition.
And still, I cannot end the Sunday school analogy there. The next verse, the very next verse in the Bible says:
“Then the Lord saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every intent of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually. And the Lord was sorry that He had made man on the earth, and He was grieved in His heart.” Gen 6: 4-6
So imagine this ancient Native American is sitting on a mesa in West Texas, around six thousand years ago, pouting about his beloved wife disappearing into the sky with some kind of eagle-man, as some dog men and lizard men chase the village women around the village... and killing or daring any humans who might protest. Then suddenly a wall of water slams through the landscape. Just like in Oh Brother Where Art Thou, except even bigger. Everybody is wiped out. Our hiding draftsman is suddenly all alone, with nothing else to think about for the rest of his life. With no one to talk to, or to share the apocalypse with, he puts it on a wall. He tells the whole sorry fiasco as best he can, using symbols that he understands, to warn future generations... with a hearty “Thank God, THEY left! For now..”
And some day, much later, after wave after wave of human migration, people look upon his intriguing wall art and fail to understand his desperate message of spiritual warfare, and his miserable fate, and the end of his world as he knew it. Since history is known to repeat itself, it's too bad we never can read the writing on the wall. Perhaps someday the various cultures will be able to compare notes and figure it out. Before God gets grieved for the last time.