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.