|What Is Church?|
#013, March 2001
WHAT IS CHURCH?
I ran across the following under the title "An Old Question" By Juliana Lewis
Question: "Can I be a Christian without going to church?" Answer: Yes, it is possible. It is something like being: a seaman on a ship without a crew; a soldier who does not join the army; a tuba player without an orchestra; a baseball player without a team; an explorer with no base camp; a bee without a hive.
C. S. Lewis wrote "When I first became a Christian, I thought that I could do it on my own, by retiring to my rooms and reading theology, and I wouldn't go to the churches and Gospel halls. But as I went on, I saw the great merit of it. I came up against different people of quite different outlooks and different education, and then gradually my conceit just began peeling off. The New Testament does not envisage solitary religion; some kind of regular assembly for worship and instruction is everywhere taken for granted in the Epistles. So we must be regular practicing members of the church. Some people (like me) find it more natural to approach God in solitude, but we must go to the church as well. For the Church is not a human society of people united by their natural affinities; but the Body of Christ, in which all members, however different, must share the common life, complementing and helping one another precisely by their differences."
I was immediately struck by the question, what do these people, one quite famous, the other unknown to me, mean when they say "church?" Any minister worth his salt will tell you that the Church, with a capital C, is the people, not a place or a building.
C. S. Lewis alludes to that in his statement. Yet, I cannot help but suspect that each of them has in mind a certain place, most likely with a building. And, quite likely some kind of worship format which has come to us through our European descendants. But is that exclusively what church is?
It seems to be the natural human condition to perceive whatever way we do something as individuals, or as a group, as the right way. Usually we hold, at the very least, a hidden desire to have others see and do things as we do. Sometimes such attitudes are blatantly displayed and pushed. Nowhere is such behavior, and thought process, more prevalent and predominant than in religions. With perhaps the Christian community at the top of the list. The most critical judgment of the things I do or say usually comes from fellow Christians. Few denominations see other denominations as equally "correct" in the way they worship and do things. Heaven forbid that someone step even further outside the norm that most of them fall within. But, does a God who created incredible diversity wherever you look, truly expect, or even desire, a sameness in worship. Is that what church is all about? Or, are we confusing uniformity and unity when we talk about the "body of Christ" as a single unified entity? Uniformity and unity are very different concepts, but often mistaken for one another. Especially by those who wish to use Scripture to convince others their way of doing things is an absolute.
Am I suggesting there is anything wrong with attending church according to the imported European way that things have developed? Not at all. I attend such a church and am quite comfortable coming together with others in that circumstance. I am, however, suggesting that we not box God in by our own narrow minded thinking. God was around a long time before there were Jewish synagogues, European cathedrals, or American country churches. Indeed, I recall no mention of a church building, or specifically structured worship service in the Garden of Eden. God simply came and walked with Adam and Eve in the garden. In my own experience, when I want to feel really close to God, I do not seek out a church building. I head for the woods. Usually seeking a trail which will lead along a creek, or river. This, of course, does not fall into the category of "some kind of regular assembly for worship and instruction," since I am normally doing this alone.
But what if I were not. What if I were a member of a group of Christian environmentalists, who met each week somewhere in the mountains, perhaps even a different spot each time, to marvel at the awesome creation our God has made, and give thanks for it. Taking time to study both Scripture, and something of this natural world around us. Would that be church?
Or, what if I were a part of a group of Cherokee Christians who met in an open air ceremonial grounds, to give thanks to the Creator for his Word, and the traditions He has allowed to pass down through my people granting us heritage, and a sense of connectedness in the circle of life. Would that be church? What if I am dancing to traditional drums -- still church?
The Head of the Church we call Christian was hardest on those who drew lines which excluded others because of their differences. Intolerance, and the arrogance of thinking our way is the only way, is not a new concept. It need not even be done with malice. Sometimes it is simply ignorance which has grown into arrogance. I am reminded of the quote I once heard about misguided rescuing: "let me help you from the water so you do not drown said the monkey to the fish as he put him in the tree." Yes, I do believe it is important to lead or encourage others into a relationship with Christ, as long as somewhere along the line we do not cross over, and start playing God. Where, exactly, is that line again?
(My poems "The Trail Where They Cried"
"Let No One deny You" and "Cherokee Bill"
SO HOW ARE WE "CHURCH" GOERS DOING?
Not much really needs to be said here. Anybody who has ever attended or belonged to a church can fill volumes on the problem of "looking at the speck in your brother's eye and paying no attention to the log" in our own eye (Matthew 7:3-5 and Luke 6:41-42). But, I had set aside several things in my "newsletter" file which caught my attention.
One is from the book Life Strategies by Phillip C. McGraw, PhD who wrote, "In every church I have ever attended, the people with real problems hid them rather than seeking support, and those who did not hide them wished that they had, after the doses of guilt, judgment, or alienation they received."
Another was from a Focus on the Family newsletter by James C. Dobson, PhD. He was quoting Dr. Blackaby, who wrote the book, and training materials, Experiencing God. (I believe these are put out by the Baptist Convention. They are very good, and widely used. I read the book a few years ago.) Anyway, Dr. Blackaby was apparently speaking at The Cove (the Billy Graham Training Center in Asheville, North Carolina) when someone asked him, "What do you see as the future for the United States?" The following is but a portion of what Dr. Dobson refers to as his "striking" reply.
"If you put the U.S. up against the Scriptures, we are in trouble. I think we are very close to the judgment of God. The problem of America is not the unbelieving world. The problem of America is the people of God. You see, right now there are just as many divorces in the churches as outside the churches. There are just as many abortions inside the churches as outside the churches. There is only a one percent difference in gambling inside the churches as outside the churches. George Barna did a survey of 152 separate items comparing the lost world and the churches, and he said there is virtually no difference between the two. So we have brokenness in the churches [and] no reconciliation.
How then should we live? This is a long answer to a short question, but it depends on the people of God. I hope if you did not hear anything else that comes from this conference, that you will understand that it is God's people who hold the destiny of America. Do not fuss at the world. It is acting just like its nature. We have got to be salt and light again. We need to have an observable difference.
So God's attention right now is on His own people, and if I gave one statement, it would be, 'The future of America rests in our hands.' "
My son was telling me about those who try to "convince" him about the "truth" of Christianity by beating him into submission with their arguments. He suggested that if they think their beliefs are a better way, then they should live them out in their own lives. When, or if, he sees how much more joy and fulfillment they have in their lives than he, then he would be begging to know what to do to have it too. I told him I could not agree more.
It is all very easy to give advice on how someone else should run their life, and what they should believe. It is quite another matter to have our own lives match up with what we say we believe. Unfortunately, too many Christians think that when Jesus said to spread the "good news" it gave them free license into other people's business, leaving them precious little time for getting their own house in order. All the church attendance in the world will not change a bad example set outside, and sometimes inside, those walls a professed Christian might be trying to encourage others to enter.
In his book Reaching Out, in the chapter From Hostility to Hospitality, Henri Nouwen puts a related perspective this way, "The fact that so many students do not care for religious instruction is related to the fact that their own life experience is hardly touched. There are just as many ways to be a Christian as there are Christians, and it seems that more important than the imposition of any doctrine or precoded idea is to offer the students the place where they can reveal their great human potentials to love, to give, and to create, and where they can find the affirmation that gives them the courage to continue their search without fear . . . . . . The Church is not an institution forcing us to follow its rules. It is a community of people inviting us to still our hunger and thirst at its tables . . . . . . when we are willing to detach ourselves from making our own limited experience the criterion for our approach to others, we may be able to see that life is greater than our life, history is greater than our history, experience greater than our experience and God greater than our God."
One last quote about church which I saw on a poster,
"We do not care what you wear to church. And considering he walked around in a sheet, Jesus probably will not either."
I think this is the longest I have gone between newsletters since I started them. If you have no further connection with me or the Center, it has been well over a year since we have communicated. Like always, I had the best of intentions of doing one six to nine months after the last one in January 2000. But, time has a way of getting spent on other demands. Then before you know it, well, here we are 15 months later.
On the flip side of that coin, it has been that long or more since I have heard from some of you. So I am going to take the opportunity to do a renewal check with anyone whose membership number appears below:
BB050 RB049 LB089
TB077 DC062 JE070 NF041 JF071
If your number appears here you should have a postcard enclosed with this newsletter, which is pre-addressed back to me. If you wish to remain on the poet’s circle mailing list, all you need to do is X the appropriate box, put a 20 cent stamp on it, and drop it in a mailbox. If I do not hear back from you, I will conclude you want your name removed, and do so.
FROM IN GOD’S CARE
Although God is all-powerful, we are not forced to love God. Love attracts; it does not compel or promote . . . . . . We are free to be just as close to — or as far from — God as we wish.
"Eventually, most of us discover it is not very difficult to find God somewhere in our life. We may find God in the simple beauty of a flower when we are out for a walk in the woods. Or we may experience God working through the women and men who share our journey. In time, many of us come to believe that God is everywhere, always, and never more than a thought or a breath away.
When we have achieved full acceptance that wherever else God is manifest, God is within us too, we will walk easier through our dark and troubling times. But even when we know that God is with us every moment, we may forget. Then, just pausing and praying for help will relieve our anxiety, and God’s presence will be felt.
We may still fear the outcome of a situation because we are not certain God wants the same things for us that we want. But by recalling our past, when God’s direction has brought us where we need to be, we can rest our mind and turn our life over again." "I will remember that I do not have to look very far for God today."
CHEROKEE BILL’S TRADE CENTER
For the last few years I have been giving a little background, one per newsletter, on each of my DBA’s. The fifth heartbeat (aspect) of a touch of william is Cherokee Bill’s Trade Center (originally: Cherokee Bill’s Trade Center & Counsel House)
Many years ago I was told by my mother that my maternal grandmother had told my sister that we were part Cherokee. I was also told that my sister researched it when she was considering colleges to see if we qualified for any grants, but that we were one generation too distant. Today, nobody seems to recall any of this.
For a long time I accepted a partial Native American heritage without much thought one way or the other. I told my family however, I thought maybe they had confused the tribes, since the Cherokee were not indigenous to the Michigan area. I suggested perhaps we were Chippewa, or something, since they both started with CH. But, I never bothered to look into it.
From 1985, when I began my spiritual searching in earnest, through 1994, when I left my State Farm career to do what I do today, Cherokee "coincidences" seemed to crop up with some regularity. One such coincidence occurred when Donna and I were traveling through Missouri. I decided on a whim to stop and read a historical marker along the road we were on. It was a commemorative marker showing where the Trail of Tears had passed through that area of Missouri. That piece later played into how my name came about.
I knew that the Cherokee were a southeastern United States tribe. So, when I received a scholarship in 1995 from the Billy Graham Training Center (The Cove in Asheville, North Carolina) to attend a seminar there, I prayed to God about all the "Cherokee stuff" that had been cropping up. I offered that if I was supposed to be paying attention to this, and there were a place where I could learn about the Cherokee close to where I was going, I would stop there to see where it lead. As it turned out, the Eastern Band of the Cherokee Nation is located 50 miles from where I was, and practically right on my way home.
That first visit to Cherokee, North Carolina was not all that impressive. It is a very touristy place. But, I did manage to find the museum, Occunaluftee Village, the Qualla Arts and Crafts co-op, and a few other things which gave me more accurate information about the Cherokee, and their (our) history. But, the Center was only just beginning at that time, so I had no idea if God’s plan included any of this.
In June 1995 a chance occurrence created the name Cherokee Bill. Step by step, my Native American connection came to be a major part of a touch of william. Like all of the aspects it has changed or been adjusted frequently as I attempt to find my way along this path.
But, it has become a very joyful part of what I do. Not necessarily the historical aspects, which are more often than not very tragic. Yet, on the whole, I enjoy both learning about and sharing the history, the heritage, the philosophies, and the creativity of the Cherokee, and other Native American tribes.
While I have never taken the time to verify the blood connection, it would likely not change much. I see Cherokee Bill as a called, God ordained, spiritual path.
CHEROKEE HISTORY OF DATES
10,000 B.C. – 8000 B.C. Paleo-Indian (nomadic, present in North Carolina)
8000 B.C. – 1000 B.C. Archaic Period (trade networks, pottery)
1000 B.C. – 900 A.D. Woodland Period (agriculture, permanent log homes, ceremonial & effigy mounds)
900 A.D. – 1600 A.D. Mississippian Period (flat-topped pyramidal mounds; Etowah)
1540 DeSoto expedition (1st contact with Europeans)
1690 "Seraqui" captives sent to West Indies
1697 first smallpox epidemic among Cherokees
1721 treaty with South Carolina (1st land cession)
1730 Cuming takes Cherokee delegation to England
1738 smallpox kills half of Cherokee population
1755 2nd land cession
Between 1768 and 1819 the Cherokee ended up ceding land to European or American governments 33 more times, including a treaty in 1798 which guaranteed their remaining lands forever, which actually worked out to be until 1804 when their 15th land cession took place.
Between 1808 and 1810 some Cherokees saw the writing on the wall and migrated west of the Mississippi.
1821 Sequoyah introduces syllabary (similar to an alphabet, this was based on Cherokee language sounds, and allowed an Indian language to be written for the first time)
1822 Cherokees establish a Supreme Court
1827 Cherokees write a constitution claiming sovereignty over their remaining land.
1828 Andrew Jackson elected president of the U.S. >> Gold discovered on Cherokee land >> the first issue of the Cherokee Phoenix appears (Cherokee newspaper in Cherokee & English)
1829 Jackson announces Indian removal policy >> Georgia extends laws over Cherokee Nation
1830 Indian Removal Act >> Georgia law requires citizen allegiance oath >>Missionaries are arrested and imprisoned
1832 In Worchester vs Georgia the U.S. Supreme Court upholds Cherokee sovereignty but Georgia holds a land lottery and begins dividing and distributing Cherokee land.
1834 Georgia confiscates Cherokee Phoenix press, declaring the newspaper subversive.
1835 Treaty of New Echota is negotiated with a handful of Cherokees without tribal authority
1836 U.S. Senate ratifies fraudulent treaty
1838 Forced removal of Cherokees begins
In 1836 at the ratification of the fraudulent New Echota treaty the U.S. government gave the Cherokees two years to emigrate or face forced removal. "By May 1838 only two thousand of the 16,000 Cherokees had migrated west. At that time the government sent in 7,000 militia and volunteers to remove the remaining Indians. Armed with rifles and bayonets, the soldiers rounded up the Cherokees and herded them into stockades. The Indians were allowed little or no time to gather possessions. As they turned for one last glimpse of their homes, they often saw them being ransacked for valuables by whites, or in flames. Poor or rotten food, extreme cold, and disease were among the factors which resulted in the loss of approximately one-fourth (4,000) of the Cherokee Nation on the infamous Trail of Tears (quoted text by William L. Anderson)."
About 1000 Cherokees escaped into the mountains of North Carolina (ask me about the Tsali story). From 1843 through 1861 a man of conscience, William H. Thomas, purchased land for the remaining Cherokees and held deeds for them. In 1876 the Qualla Boundary was formed and some eastern Cherokee lands secured. In 1889 the rights of the Cherokees were established by the North Carolina legislature, granting a charter which formed The Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians.
Those who were herded west in the Trail of Tears, along with the Cherokees who had earlier migrated, are now known as the [Western Band of the] Cherokee Nation. Hopefully, about the time you are reading this, I will paying a brief first-time visit to the area around Tahlequah, Oklahoma where the western capitol was established. We are visiting friends in Arkansas which is not too far from there.
The image most Americans seem to still hold of Indians is that of half-naked, feathered, savages on horseback attacking a circled wagon train. While some of that certainly occurred, in general, nothing could be further from the truth. Particularly where the Cherokee are concerned. The sketches at the bottom of this page are from a U.S. National Park Service brochure. On the left is John Ross, who was elected Principal Chief in 1828, and still held that position at the time of the removal in 1838. In the middle is a traditional Cherokee homestead of the 1820s (illustrator is Charles O. Walker). On the right is Major Ridge who led the minority faction that signed the Treaty of New Echota. The history behind all this is way more than can be related here, but I wanted you to see how far this was from the stereotype of a savage living in a teepee, waiting for the next opportunity to scalp some innocent white person. The removal of the Cherokee was just as much a tragedy based in greed and prejudice, as was the holocaust perpetrated on the Jews by the Germans we so easily denounce. Far fewer actual numbers died, but one fourth of a nation perished, as their lives and possessions were forcefully and often brutally taken from them. And, to add insult to injury, the Cherokees had played a decisive role in Andrew Jackson’s victory at Horseshoe Bend during the Creek war which made him a popular hero. Yet, it was President Jackson, who implemented the U.S. Indian Removal Policy.
Thought I would share one more photo with you. The picture below is from a Georgia State Parks & Historic Sites brochure. This is the Chief Vann house. It was built by Chief James Vann within the boundaries of the Cherokee Nation in 1804. That is a full 34 years before the Georgia state and U.S. governments decided these "Indians" had to go. This house like many others was seized and awarded to a "white" land lottery winner.
History has a way of being written and presented by those who hold the power at any given time. But truth eventually will be told. Jesus, himself, made just such a statement. While we cannot change what has already been done, we can learn, remember, and teach the truth. Perhaps facing the truth will make us a little more humble and repentant. Perhaps it will allow us to examine if we are still perpetuating similar injustices through greed and prejudice, helping us to change.
It is interesting that the popular image of Native Americans is that of the warrior upon a horse. The item below was a part of a packet sent to me by the Cherokee school system, when I was requesting materials to do a presentation. I thought it would be a good tidbit to share.
"THE ANIMAL THAT CHANGED HISTORY"
"The Indians took one look at the strange creatures and decided they were the biggest dogs they had ever seen. Only dogs walked on four legs and got along with people, the islanders reasoned as Columbus unloaded his two dozen mares and stallions.
Actually, horses were not totally new to the Western Hemisphere. They had roamed America during the Pleistocene era but vanished along with mastodons and saber-toothed tigers. From the Spanish horses that Columbus 10,000 years later took to Hispaniola descended those that Hernando Cortés brought to Mexico in 1519. Cortés’ animals terrified the Aztecs, who thought each rider and his steed were one gigantic god.
The ‘sky dogs,’ as the Aztecs called them, propagated swiftly. Within a century herds ran wild from northern Mexico to the pampas of Argentina. By 1690, Apaches and Comanches were breaking mustangs north of the Rio Grande. By 1750, herds reached Canada, and the Great Plains abounded with Indians on horseback.
Tribes that existed for centuries on small game and nuts in Missouri and Minnesota moved west to the plains to harvest buffaloes — a task the horse made easy. Diets and lifestyles improved, as did the Indians’ ability to raid other Indians and, more important, to resist the steady westward advance of the white man.
The image of the warrior on horseback endures in popular culture and in the legends of the Indians themselves. Yet it represents merely a blink of Native American history. People inhabited the continent for millenniums, but the plains horsemen rode unimpeded for little more than a century. Their era ended at the Battle of Wounded Knee."
Another little side item, which was on the same sheet as the above article, was titled:
"Naming The Hunting Grounds"
It showed how many names of states had Native American influences. Along with Indiana, which had been so named because settlers wanted to show it had been "the land of the Indians," you can add 26 states whose names are derived from Indian words:
Alabama — Choctaw for "clearers of the thicket"
Alaska — Aleut for "great land"
Arizona — Papago for "place of little springs"
Arkansas — Sioux for a small tribe known as "the people who live downstream"
Connecticut — Pequot for "at the long tidal river"
Idaho — Shoshone for "the sun is coming up"
Illinois — For "superior men," what the Illinois Indians called themselves
Iowa — Sioux for "sleepy ones"
Kansas — Kansa for "people of the south wind"
Kentucky — Cherokee for "meadowland"
Massachusetts — Algonquian for "people near the great hill," a spot outside of Boston
Michigan — Algonquian for "big lake"
Minnesota — Sioux for "sky-tinted water"
Mississippi — Ojibwa for "big river"
Missouri — Sioux for a tribe known as "people with the dugout canoes"
Nebraska — Oto for "flat water"
New Mexico — From the Aztec "Mexica," followers of the war god Mexitli
North Dakota & South Dakota — Sioux for "friends"
Ohio — Wyandot for "beautiful river"
Oklahoma — Choctaw for "red people"
Tennessee — Cherokee for "area of traveling waters"
Texas — Caddo for "ally," a word for the Tejas Indians
Utah — Ute for "land of the sun"
Wisconsin — Chippewa for "gathering of the waters"
— Algonquian for "upon the great plain"
Principal Chief John Ross (left) and Treaty Party leader Major Ridge (right)