Wednesday, June 29, 2005

White Buffalo Woman...

I grew up going to church on Sundays.

As a kid, I went to Sunday school and learned that Noah built an arky arky and it was built out of hickory barkie barkie and in it Noah saved two of every animal when God flooded the world. This was of course different from learning that rain washes spiders down garden spouts, but then the sun comes out and dries up all the rain allowing the itsy bitsy spider to resume his climbing adventure.

I liked the Noah story and I really liked the song, but I never really got why God would flood the world and I really didn't get how all those animals could fit on one boat.

It wasn't all gloom and doom in my Sunday school classes. I did learn that Jesus loves the little children, all the children of the world. That was pretty nice to hear since I was a children at the time. It was also nice to hear that he loved all the children in the world... even black ones and yellow ones and red ones. Even though I had never seen any children that were those colors, I thought it was nice that Jesus loved them.

Later, I was older and Sundays still meant church. But there was also youth group on Sunday night and youth choir in the middle of the week. There was a bit more to the religion thing than arkie arkies and Jesus loving little children too.

I went to a United Methodist church which meant that we were into the whole social activism thing.

Our church sponsored a Cambodian family, helped get them a small house and tried to make their new life in the U.S. a good thing. A group of us in the high school youth group helped the kids learn English by spending time with them, walking around and pointing at things, and playing games. I cried when I received a little Valentine card from the youngest girl in the family, in block letters it said, "I love you. Muoy Sim."

We never talked about God or religion to the family. The church had decided at the beginning of the process that we were going to help this family regardless of what they chose to believe in. No one wanted them to feel that they were obligated to embrace this new religion. Regardless, they still became Christians. They joined a Vietnamese church because they could understand the language better than English, but they invited a bunch of us to their baptisms.

Over the last decade or so there has been a shift in Christian religion. Now it's all about spreading the Gospel, sharing the good news and witnessing. That's all fine and good as far as I'm concerned, but it does get a tad annoying to those who prefer to keep their spirituality a private thing, or those who -- gasp! -- might choose to not follow the tenets of Christianity.

It seems to me that many Christians, along with being more evangelical, have become less tolerant of other's beliefs. There's a certain condescension as well. I've heard many a Christian chuckle at the thought that people could believe the world was created out of a void and held together by song and then fervently argue that of course God destroyed nearly all life on the planet with a 40-day rainstorm, saving only two of every animal and a handful of people to repopulate the world.

The argument usually hinges on a the fact that the story appears in the Bible and the belief that the Bible is divinely inspired. There's often a seasoning of having faith, looking around and just knowing that the world isn't an accident so therefore there is a God, and if it wasn't true, it would have gone away a long time ago...

None of this is a knock on Christianity; it is a knock on close-minded and self-righteous Christians. In other words, it's a pretty long-winded way of saying that there are many belief systems out there and there is a lot that can be learned from them without dismissing them with a wave the Bible.

Here's a story from the Sioux people. It's really no less believable than a story about God talking to a leader of a tribe of Israel from a burning shrub.

The Story of the White Buffalo Calf Woman

As told by Joseph Chasing Horse

Traditional Leader of the Lakota Nation

We the Lakota people have a prophecy about the white buffalo calf, and how that prophesy originated was that we have a sacred bundle, a sacred peace pipe, that was brought to us about 2,000 years ago by what we know as the White Buffalo Calf Woman.

The story goes that she appeared to two warriors at that time. These two warriors were out hunting buffalo, hunting for food in the sacred Black Hills of South Dakota, and they saw a big body coming toward them. And they saw that it was a white buffalo calf. As it came closer to them, it turned into a beautiful young Indian girl.

At that time one of the warriors thought bad in his mind, and so the young girl told him to step forward. And when he did step forward, a black cloud came over his body, and when the black cloud disappeared, the warrior who had bad thoughts was left with no flesh or blood on his bones. The other warrior kneeled and began to pray. And when he prayed, the white buffalo calf who was now an Indian girl told him to go back to his people and warn them that in four days she was going to bring a sacred bundle.

So the warrior did as he was told. He went back to his people and he gathered all the elders and all the leaders and all the people in a circle and told them what she had instructed him to do. And sure enough, just as she said she would, on the fourth day she came. They say a cloud came down from the sky, and off of the cloud stepped the white buffalo calf. As it rolled onto the earth, the calf stood up and became this beautiful young woman who was carrying the sacred bundle in her hand.

And as she entered into the circle of the nation, she sang a sacred song and took the sacred bundle to the people who were there to take of her. She spent four days among our people and taught them about the sacred bundle, the meaning of it. And she taught them seven sacred ceremonies: one of them was the sweat lodge, or the purification ceremony. One of them was the naming ceremony, child naming. The third was the healing ceremony. The fourth one was the making of relatives or the adoption ceremony. The fifth one was the marriage ceremony. The sixth one was the vision quest. And the seventh was the sundance ceremony, the people's ceremony for all of the nation.

She brought us these seven sacred ceremonies and taught our people the songs and the traditional ways. And she instructed our people that as long as we performed these ceremonies we would always remain caretakers and guardians of sacred land. She told us that as long as we took care of it and respected it that our people would never die and would always live.

When she was done teaching all our people, she left the way she came. She went out of the circle, and as she was leaving she turned and told our people that she would return one day for the sacred bundle. And she left the sacred bundle, which we still have to this very day. And the sacred bundle is known as the White Buffalo Calf Pipe because it was brought by the White Buffalo Calf Woman. It is kept in a sacred place on the Cheyenne Indian reservation in South Dakota. It's kept by a man who is known as the keeper of the White Buffalo Calf Pipe, and his name is Arvol Looking Horse.

And when she promised to return again, she made some prophesies at that time ....One of those prophesies was that the birth of a white buffalo calf would be a sign that it would be near the time when she would return again to purify the world. What she meant by that was that she would bring back harmony again and balance, spiritually.


tshsmom said...

Wouldn't harmony and spriritual balance be great?
I'm sick to death of being asked if I'm "born again". My answer: "Don't have to, never lost my faith".
I loved your church's attitude with the Cambodian family. That's TRUE Christianity!

Sadie Lou said...

I can't help but feel partly responsible for this blog-post. Was my evolution vs. creationism the inspiration for this post, or is your timing THAT uncanny?
I have to know. Also, have I offended you in any way, shape or form? I like to think that I am open minded about some things and close minded when certain beliefs would have me compromise my own.
I like to think that I give people the opportunity to be witnessed to and I don't try to force something apon them.

Jason said...

It's been a while since I heard that story. Are you into Joseph Campbell?

Miranda said...

I wish I could tell you I wasn’t close-minded or arrogant, but I am sometimes, particularly when I get defensive. For a Christian, it is hard to understand how someone can reject faith in God because there isn’t any proof of him, and then have faith that man came from a void. As you say, believing that
man came from a void isn’t any stranger than believing in a God, but it isn’t less strange either and when people look down on us for believing in “Fairytales” we can’t help but look at them a little strangely.

That’s not to say that our arrogance is justified. Arrogance is what got the Pharisees in trouble and as James says, “Pure religion and undefiled before God and the father is this, To visit the fatherless and the widows in their affliction, and to keep himself unspotted from the world.”

I am used to evangelism in Christianity and I think that it is important, in fact, the scripture commands it, but there’s a right way to go about it and a wrong way (uh oh, I suppose saying that makes me judgmental, but I’ll say it anyway). In my opinion, your church did it the right way. The whole point of Christianity is change through love. It’s hard to remember that at times, though, particularly for someone who is as political as I am, so I thank you for the reminder.

Note that this does not mean I think we should be silent in debates or that there aren't places where objections and firmness are needed.

Sorry for such a long post.

Miranda said...

Being "born again" comes straight out of the bible.

"Jhn 3:3 Jesus answered and said unto him, Verily, verily, I say unto thee, Except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God."

Jessica said...

I thought it was Utnapishtim who built the arky arky after he had a dream in the darky darky. But what do I know?

Thanks for the story of the White Buffalo Calf Woman.

Laurie said...

I love this post, Shawn. You're so dead-on about how much religion and "spreading the word" has changed. I was approached by a Jehova's Witness the other day, WHILE I WAS FILLING MY GASTANK, who started to preach her gospel to me...She started telling me about her religion and tried to pass me her paraphenalia...I wanted to say "Did I go to YOUR car while you were filling it with unleaded and start telling you about MY belief system? What makes you think you can come over to me and, in essence, say that whatever it is that I believe in is wrong?" I know that everyone thinks they're doing the masses a favor by "saving" them, but what about respecting someone else's beliefs? I hate to go on and on...But when I was Mormon, we actually did Baptisms for the DEAD! Where Mormons trace their family trees, choose members of their families (or just random people) who weren't LDS. Then all the people go to the temple, get in the baptismal gear, and get dunked/baptized using the dead person's name. It's supposed to give these unsaved souls a chance to get to the Celestial Kingdom, Mormon's highest form of heaven. Talk about overstepping your boundaries.

The Zombieslayer said...

I try to refrain from religious posts because the Zombieslayers are very private about our religious beliefs. however, what you said is very sad. If one really want to promote one's religion, it would be best to do it the way you all did it, by being genuinely good people. People see that and want that. Condescending only alienates people.

Shawn said...

Where to start? Tshsmom -- harmony would be great. I wish more people were interested in that, rather than checking off another item on their 'I'm more PC than you list.'

Sadie -- Although your post got me thinking about it, my apostasy goes way deeper than that. So you're not responsible for turning a wayward waif like me from the righteous path. And no, you haven't offended me. By the way, I hope you're feeling better.

Jason -- I wasn't actually familiar with Joseph Campbell, but I looked him up and think I would like to read some of his stuff. I'm pretty sure he had a big impact on Neil Gaiman, a guy I find pretty entertaining... Thanks for turning me on to him. Hope the house thing is working out okay.

Miranda -- Well said again. We can agree to disagree for right now. Maybe someday we can debate the various merits and shortcomings of the Septaguint, Samaritan Pentateuch and the Masoretic texts and their effects on the early Christian Church, but today I'm just too tired. I must nap and dream of small rice-covered ice cream balls... somehow that almost sounded dirty.

Jessica -- Okay, you're officially the first person I've met to bust out Gilgamesh stories... holy crap!

Laurie -- That proves it... Mormon girls are indeed hot! I sort of knew that already, but you prove it beyond a doubt.

It sounds like there's an interesting story in there somewhere. Maybe if you tell me yours, I'll tell you about why I never quite got to be Temple worthy and why I would have wanted to be anyway... I swear it doesn't have anything to do with wanting to date a rodeo queen who was Mormon... okay, maybe it has a little to do with that...

ZS -- Wise as always... which is much better than wise ass always! I have no fear that your compound will be an island of reason in a sea of confusion when the Zombies strike. Also, I'm thinking of choosing Spoons as my new found path to salvation. I'm going to teach my nephews how to play one of these days thanks to your post.

Sadie Lou said...

"Sadie -- Although your post got me thinking about it, my apostasy goes way deeper than that. So you're not responsible for turning a wayward waif like me from the righteous path. And no, you haven't offended me. By the way, I hope you're feeling better."

Hey Shawn. I'm just cautious because I have friends and family that are way more confrontational than I am about these matters, and I want my blog to be a place where everyone feels welcomed.
I never want to be the kind of Christian that looks down my nose at others.
I am glad that my post provoked some thought, it's the most I can ask for.
I am feeling much better today, thanks.

Jason said...

Gaiman has Campbell influences all over the place. Try The Power Of Myth series on DVD if you can find it -- more accessible than some of the intensely academic stuff. Understanding his work is understanding storytelling, and really understanding humanity.

Miranda said...

Agreed! I'd love to discuss any of topics you mentioned sometime, but
the sandman's calling me as well.

Dream of the strawberry ones!
They're the best.