March 2005 Issue #16
WHY AM I A CHRISTIAN - IT’S MORE THAN JUST A CHOICE
With all the wrongs (even atrocities) Christians, their communities,
and their churches have committed over the centuries, including the present
day, there are certainly plenty of reasons to desire not to be identified as
a part of "Christianity." So, why am I a Christian? For me it’s
more than just a choice, as many profess picking a religion or a path is.
In fact, I agree with those who say Christianity, in its truest form, is not
really a religion — it’s a lifestyle commitment. I suspect most people
do not offhandedly reject Jesus. They reject the traditional Christian
Church, in all its diverse manifestations, and all its additional rules (doctrines
and dogmas). I too find it hard to believe that God created life to be
as frustrating and difficult as the Church presents it.
"Christianity doesn’t say, ‘Close your eyes and believe,’ but rather, ‘Check it out for yourself.’ The Bible encourages you to investigate its claims thoroughly, because your conclusion about Jesus is a life-and-death matter."
– Life Application Bible
In my early to mid-thirties I began asking myself the inevitable "life" questions. Up to then, life had been presented as primarily a competition which was all about winning. There were conservatives versus liberals, Republicans versus Democrats, men versus women, young versus old, pro-this versus pro-that, poor versus rich, east versus west, black versus white, Christianity versus other religions (or no professed religion), and even denominations within Christianity versus one another. Some of the categories you were born to, or entered by default, while others you were supposed to choose what you believed, and then help "your side" win.
It wasn’t always put quite that blatantly, but that is certainly how it usually played out in practice.
In that mid-thirties period, I decided life, my life, needed to be about finding truth, fulfillment, and a sense of peace. Ultimately, I discovered it to be about love. There is nothing quite so eye opening, nor disconcerting, than to win (or succeed) at something (or for your side) only to discover a total lack of fulfillment and peace because you are now living a lie. If you have never had such an experience, count yourself among the blessed.
Initially, some of what I did was pretty much like simply making a choice. Asking such things as, "what if those who say there is no God are correct?" I concluded, if they turned out to be right, I was certainly no worse off believing in a God, since we all would end up as nothing but dust anyway. But, if they turned out to be wrong — well, that’s not rocket science. I have since come to believe there aren’t any real atheists. Mostly what I see are individuals who are sufficiently dissatisfied with their lives that their way of striking back at God is to simply profess that he doesn’t exist. And others, who prefer keeping "life" at arms length, experiencing only the surface, who don’t want to be bothered by the dynamics a stated belief in a God would bring. Although, the latter group tends to spill over into agnosticism rather than true atheism. In any case, a step in God’s direction opened up a whole new ballgame. I discovered a God ready and waiting to reveal Himself in absolutely incredible ways sometimes, and simple and everyday ways if I just started paying attention to the hints all around me.
I could talk about the apostles willingness to go to their deaths swearing that what they were saying about Jesus was true. Or, I could use a whole slew of other facts to show the case for Christ. But those things actually came later. Primarily it has been a personal thing, and experientially real. Awakening to the reality of the existence of more than we can see on the surface of things has involved both mystical journeys of extraordinary dynamics and more fully embracing the commonplace.
Pr Paul Pretzlaff, a friend, member of the poet’s circle, and now a trustee of the incorporated Teaching & Sharing Center, tells the story of a minister who scheduled a prayer meeting in a field during a drought. They would be praying for rain. When everybody had shown up he cancelled the prayer. When questioned why he would do such a thing he said simply, "because no one brought an umbrella." It has been my experience that God bursts openly into the reality of your life when you sincerely ask Him. It can begin as simply as "do You exist?" But, you need to be prepared to get an answer.
Twenty-five years ago I would have never believed this would become my life. Today, doing what I do, living how I live, is like being able to work directly for a king (in reality it is serving the ultimate King). In my younger years, when I thought I heard the King was mean, vengeful and nitpicky, I didn’t want anything to do with Him. But, when I came to realize it was just some of His servants who were mean, vengeful and nitpicky, and that the King was just the opposite of these, then I could think of no place else in the entire world to give my life’s work to.
Jesus said, "I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me." (John 14:6 NRSV) Nowhere in those words does it say nor is it implied "listen to Paul, or william, or pick a denomination [many will ultimately develop] and do what they tell you." It is not about emulating one another, or obeying the rules of any given church. It is about emulating Christ. We do not need to do it in a white European protestant way, or a Catholic way, or any particularly prescribed fashion. Keeping the focus on Jesus (the Truth) will provide the way – traditional or otherwise. That’s why I’m a Christian.
WSHARING is sent periodically to members of "the poet's circle." Viewpoints expressed here are those of the poet, william, who is solely responsible for it's content. Permission is granted only for reproduction of original articles and graphics.
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In December 2004 Donna and I visited Tahlequah, Oklahoma. This is the Cherokee Nation (western band) capital. We had the privilege of attending a Gourd Dance Powwow where we purchased some items for Cherokee Bill’s Trade Center from a young woman named Amy Marie Boswell. Amy is part Cherokee and Choctaw. I put a photo of one of her items on the CBTC gift shop page announcing the addition of her work and emailed it to her. She apparently took a look at some of the rest of the site, because I received the following email from her which I would like to share with you in its entirety.
From: Amy Boswell [shared with
Hi Bill. I just wanted to add a few things, that you may or may not wish to use as you talk with people who visit you.
When you first told me you were in ministry, and was asking things about what I do, it was my assumption that the main purpose was to show people how natives are not Christian or not living right. That is my fault. It stems from bad experiences I have had in my life, and I should not assume that other experiences will be the same.
To begin, as you know, I am not full blood. I grew up in a small town where most everybody was at least some Native American. Only one family that I recall was Puerto Rican or something like that. Anyway, the pastor of my home church was also native, yet I would hear him talk of how native people do not live the Christian life, how it is wrong to do what "they" do. He was not full blood either, but I still found it ironic.
When I went to high school in another town, the only people who ever said anything about their heritage was the full bloods. The rest kept it quiet. Again, it seemed ironic. I would hear people question the full bloods about why they are Satan worshipers and do they sacrifice buffalos and ridiculous things like that.
When I went to college, in my first semester I went to a small Christian college in Bethany, Oklahoma. I say first semester because that was all I could stand to be there. They continually chastised me, thinking that I desperately needed the lord. I can't tell you how many pointless conversations I had with people explaining that we do not worship the bears and the trees. I would wear my moccasins all around to the classes, and I even wore them into their church services along with my long earrings. I didn't break out the shawl, though. I thought that would be a little much. I remember one time I had some gospel music sung in Cherokee playing on my tape player, songs like Amazing Grace and How Great Thou Art, accompanied on the tape by drums and flute music. The dorm mom came and asked me to turn it off because only Christian music was allowed in the dormitories. I could not convince her that in fact it was Christian music.
Even today, although I go to church, I do not dare talk about any other beliefs other than pure biblical Christianity. It is sad that in this day and age this sort of things still happens. I can only imagine what my ancestors went through when they were called savage heathens that needed to be saved. There is no explaining the truth to anyone who believed otherwise. They can not understand.
I see that you are honestly trying to bridge the gap between the two cultures, and I greatly applaud you for your efforts. It is never too late to grow in spirituality and truth!
I would also like to share a story with you, that my grandfather told me, about how the Osage people were treated. I grew up in Osage county, but I did not question my grandfather about where he heard this story from. Just north of Skiatook Oklahoma, and just to the east of highway 75 (you can look on a map), there is an old country church I believe it is called happy hill church. It was originally a mission built to educate the savage Osages and to teach them English and the Christian way. Right across the street from this church is a cemetery. The story goes that in the days of the missions and when they were educating the Osages, anyone who refused to give up their heritage and to become as whites were would be killed and taken across the street and buried. Then, the ones who did this would put some alias headstone over the grave with a white persons name, John Smith, or something like that. They did this in order to cover up what they were doing. In the night time, the other natives would sneak into the cemetery and chisel tribal symbols into the stones so that others would know that it was not a white person buried there.
Now, I asked, why is this not in any history books. Grandpa says that the missions were funded by other churches and church organizations. The only way that funding would continue is if the missions were continuing to be successful in converting the natives. So, if any natives refused to be converted, then that native was a hazard to the flow of funding and support. Also, it is not in the history books because those who did this covered their tracks. History was written by the whites after all, history from natives was told by the oral tradition, and this is how I learned of this story.
The church still stands today, and the cemetery is open to the public if you ever travel that way. In fact, it may even be listed in the "historical places" of Oklahoma. I believe they even still hold services there. Wouldn't it be ironic if Osages attended church there?
Anyway, I have blabbed your ears off too long. Have a good day, will you?
"It was a nice sunny day in Rapid City when the Indians took the platform in the riverside park near the convention center. Fully dressed in their regalia, or modified forms of it, were Lakota, Cherokee, Dine, Kiowa, Paiute, Mohawk, Apache and many other Indian people proclaiming that Jesus Christ is good news sent from Great Spirit for Indian people - and believing in Him is not a ‘white man's thing.’
The old traditional looking Lakota elder with sunglasses and a cowboy hat approached my buckaroo elder brother and ask what was going on? My brother explained that these are Indians who believe they can serve Jesus Christ and be fully culturally Native American. The old man didn't say a word at first - but there was much about his silence that caused my brother to pay attention. Just when my brother noticed the tears collecting around the bottom edge of the elder's sunglasses the man spoke a very simple phrase with heartfelt emotion and full conviction . . . he simply said this: ‘I have waited all my life for this day.’"
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In the midst of reading Amy’s email, the Eagle’s Wings
statement, and working on this piece of the newsletter, Roman’s 2:17-28 came
up as one of my daily Scripture readings. I am not a really big fan
of Paul’s. I think Protestant churches in particular pay way to much
attention to what Paul did, said, and wrote, while frequently glossing over
what Jesus said and set the example by doing. Anyway, this passage grabbed
my attention as I wondered how it would read for today if I substituted some
key words such as:
|[Christian] wherever "Jew" appeared
[the Word] wherever "the law" appeared
[Baptism] where "circumcision" appeared and
[Ceremony] for "written code"
17But if you call yourself a [Christian] and rely on [the Word] and boast of your relation to God 18and know his will and determine what is best because you are instructed in [the Word], 19and if you are sure that you are a guide to the blind, a light to those who are in darkness, 20a corrector of the foolish, a teacher of children, having in [the Word] the embodiment of knowledge and truth, 21you, then, that teach others, will you not teach yourself? While you preach against stealing, do you steal? 22You that forbid adultery, do you commit adultery? You that abhor idols, do you rob temples? 23You that boast in [the Word], do you dishonor God by breaking [the Word]? 24For, as it is written, "The name of God is blasphemed among the Gentiles because of you."
25[Baptism] indeed is of value if you obey [the Word]; but if you break [the Word], your [baptism] has become [no baptism]. 26So, if those who are [not baptized] keep the requirements of [the Word], will not their [lack of baptism] be regarded as [baptism]? 27Then those who are physically [not baptized] but keep [the Word] will condemn you that have the [ceremony] and [baptism] but break [the Word]. 28For a person is not a [Christian] who is one outwardly, nor is true [baptism] something external and physical. 29Rather, a person is a [Christian] who is one inwardly, and real [baptism] is a matter of the heart—it is spiritual and not literal. Such a person receives praise not from others but from God.
I share this not to debate the need for physical baptism. I became convinced enough to have it performed at age 38 simply because Jesus set the example by having it done to Himself. Nor, am I promoting a "good works" gospel. Paul goes on to preach it is not about us, but about God. We are justified by faith. Yet, throughout Scripture actions are shown to be the evidence of a real faith.
"Christians" entered into literally hundreds of covenants (treaties) with First Nations peoples. Ultimately, we broke every one of them. We lied, cheated, stole, and destroyed them using weapons of mass destruction (repeating rifles, cannons, and other artillery), and even at times germ warfare (distributing smallpox infected blankets). Isn’t it time we stop pretending God approves of this? Can we change the past? No. Does it help to carry an overwhelming burden of guilt throughout our lives? No. What we can do is repent. We can stop perpetuating the same myths and acknowledge we are called to a higher standard. We can show respect and ask for forgiveness. And we too can forgive.
OK. Let’s shift gears for a while to
some stuff happening at the Center. If you’ve been reading the Mini7News quarterly
newsletters you should be aware that the Teaching & Sharing Center has been filed
with the State of Michigan and is now a non-profit corporation. The paperwork requesting
a 501c3 tax exempt status (which would make your contributions tax deductible) from
the IRS has not yet been filed but is being worked on. Experientially, for most
of you, nothing has changed. The Center still looks and feels the same. Your poet’s
circle card still entitles you to check things out of the library. There is however
a new "membership" relating to the T&SC corporation. A corporation is a separate
legal entity. As a non-profit corporation we are set up on a membership basis rather
than a stock purchase basis. Those who pay a membership fee each year are the "owners"
so to speak (like stockholders would be in a stock corporation). However, in a non-profit
you are not allowed any kind of return (dividends) on your membership fees. You
come together to accomplish a common good or goal. The members elect individuals
to a Board of Trustees who determine the policies, procedures, directions, and goals
for the corporation. I encourage each of you to become a paid member of the Teaching
& Sharing Center non-profit corporation. I also encourage you to get involved in
the new corporation. While a touch of william and Cherokee Bill’s Trade Center are
still names relating to what I do as a sole-proprietor, T&SC is from this point
on a group effort. Your effort will determine its direction, success, or disappearance.
A STORY WORTH TELLING AGAIN — AND AGAIN — AND AGAIN
A few years ago, at the Seattle Special Olympics, nine participants, all physically or mentally disabled, assembled at the starting line for the 100-yard dash.
At the gun they all started out, not exactly in a dash, but with a relish to run the race to the finish and win. All, that is, except one little boy who stumbled on the asphalt, tumbled over a couple of times and began to cry.
The other eight heard the boy cry. They slowed down and looked back. Then they all turned around and went back, every one of them. One girl with Down*s Syndrome bent down and blessed him and said, "This will help it get better."
Then all nine linked arms and walked together to the finish line. Everyone in the stadium stood and the cheering went on for several minutes. People who were there are still telling the story. Why? Because deep down we know this one thing. What matters in this life is more than winning for ourselves. What matters in this life is helping others to win, even if it means slowing down and changing our course.
(From "AND THEY CALL SOME OF THESE PEOPLE ‘RETARDED’" - by Dan Menkin)
In the Winter/Spring 2005 issue of the Mini7News enclosed with this newsletter, I printed An Eco-Prophet's Prayer of Thanksgiving written by one of our T&SC board members. It is very positive and uplifting. If you haven’t read it yet, I recommend you check it out. I debated about including this next prayer in my wsharing newsletter because it is just the opposite. Someone sent it to me a while back from an Alternatives for Simple Living newsletter. Talk about giving yourself a case of indigestion before you eat! Yet, the message is a very important one. We need to start facing up to how our choices impact others, the earth’s resources, and us. Just because we are powerful or rich enough to do things however we please, doesn’t mean we should. Usually the messes we find ourselves in — we created.
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A truthful prayer before meals:
I am sorry God for my intentional and unintentional participation in the current world market that has brought this food produced often through environmentally dangerous and negative farming practices, packaged in resource and environmentally unfriendly containers and harvested in many cases by underpaid, abused migrant and alien labor to my table — a table at which I often consume food in unnecessary amounts and even waste it.
As penance and in hopes of redeeming myself for participation in this daily tragedy which contributes to the unequal distribution of the bounty You do supply, I will strive, with the help of Your grace, to use the energy created by this food in my body to serve someone other than myself and, whenever possible, those in greatest need.
God, please continue through the Holy Spirit, to work with me on my conversion and awareness so that tomorrow I may buy less and eat less. If I accomplish this, my prayer of thanksgiving can truly be one of simple thanks rather than a confession of my indulgence and the over importance given to me as a first-world person so obviously demonstrated by the over abundance of out-of-season, imported, transported and over packaged food on my table.
May God forgive me for what I am about to do.
"Four centuries ago we shook off our feeling of being lost by taking matters into our own hands, by focusing on conquering the Earth and using its resources to better our situation, and only now, as we approach the end of the millennium can we see what happened. Our focus gradually became a preoccupation. We totally lost ourselves in creating a secular security, an economic security, to replace the spiritual one we had lost. The question of why we were alive, of what was actually going on here spiritually, was slowly pushed aside and repressed altogether. Working to establish a more comfortable style of survival has grown to feel complete in and of itself as a reason to live, and we've gradually, methodically, forgotten our original question . . . We've forgotten that we still don't know what we're surviving for."
– The Celestine Prophecy
Do you feel like you’re on a roller coaster ride – going up one minute then racing downhill the next? It feels that way to me as I read what I have written. This newsletter has been a long time coming. I actually started writing it almost a year ago. So many other things demand attention and, as several of you know, I am one of the world’s slowest typists. But, beyond that, I often wonder what difference does it really make what I say, or share. Everything is already out there. If books, and magazines, and newsletters were bricks you could build another great wall of China, there are so many of them. We argue, and argue, and argue about who’s right and who’s wrong. Who’s good and who’s evil. We still spend so much time trying to get ahead of the other guy. But, like the last line in the above quote “we still don't know what we're surviving for.” I still don’t know what I’m writing for. But, I know I’m tired of the games. It wears me out when I read or watch the news. It doesn’t matter whether it’s global or local. I just shake my head bewildered. Doesn’t anybody get that we’re all in the same boat? We’re born — and we don’t know why (except for the very rudimentary biological basics). We will all die. The time between those two events is unbelievably short in the overall scheme of things. Do we really think that time is best spent killing one another? Or, trying to get a bigger piece of [insert your choice] – cheating, stealing, lying – whatever it takes. Does anybody really think they have such a lock on the truth it’s worth beating up the other fellow to convince him or her of their “truth?” Doesn’t it all seem just a bit absurd? A lot of questions – but very few answers. As I said at the beginning of this newsletter, some of the worst atrocities in the world have been, and continue to be, committed by Christians. Yet, I am a Christian. Why? Because I think there are answers. And, I think there is Truth. I believe the more I can see everyone, and everything, through the eyes of Christ, the closer I get to both. Those times when I begin to experience that – I do not want to hate anybody. I do not want to hurt anybody. I do not want even to be angry at anybody. I do not want to argue about truth. I do not want to judge what or how the other fellow is doing. I do not want to force anybody to do, or see, or believe it my way. I want to be at peace. I want to live and let live. I want to share the great gifts that God has given to us – all of us. I want to keep my life simple because it has given me the greatest joy when I have been able to do so. I want to BE a Christian – not just call myself one. I do not want to be somebody’s ideal Christian or some denomination’s version of a Christian. I want to be God’s Christian. Whatever He created me to be. However He created me to be. Doing what He would have me do. Showing the love and grace I think He is all about – not just to those who like me – not just to those who agree with me – but to everyone – whatever their skin – whatever their heritage – whatever their challenge – however they treat me. If you want to understand why I am a Christian, you need to try to understand all of this. It is who I am and what I am called to. And, I am incredibly grateful.
Wow. That sort of came out of nowhere and all at once. Don’t know why, but I’m going to go with it.
OK – wrapping things up. Change is in the air. Every time I think I have a handle on this corporate situation, some new dynamic pops up and takes things in another direction. This all began before, but the last 10 years of walking by faith have been the most visible. That faith is the only consistent thing going on right now. So, who knows where its leading. It’s been over a year since I wrote a poem. It’s over two since I wrote one of these longer wsharing newsletters. Depending on how things play out, it feels possible right now that this could be the last one. The shorter Mini7News is more timely, easier to put together, and takes less postage. Plus, I’m truly not sure which side of the fence the poet’s circle will end up on. Maybe fence is a bad choice of words since it makes things seem more split than they will likely end up. But, legally, there does need to be an "arm’s length" relationship between me as a sole-proprietor and the T&SC as a non-profit corporation. Under the guidance of the Holy Spirit the journey continues. I invite you to come, be a part of the process . . .