The white people, who are trying to make us over into their image, they want us to be what they call "assimilated," bringing the Indians into the mainstream and destroying our own way of life and our own cultural patterns. They believe we should be contented like those whose concept of happiness is materialistic and greedy, which is very different from our way.
We want freedom from the white man rather than to be intergrated. We don't want any part of the establishment, we want to be free to raise our children in our religion, in our ways, to be able to hunt and fish and live in peace. We don't want power, we don't want to be congressmen, or bankers..., we want to be ourselves.
*Grand Council of America Indians 1927
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Waiting for whomever would enter the small chapel, hundreds of miles away and years from, my thought goes back to that odd so-called Eucharistic Service in the little Methodist Church in South Florida. I guess it does, for I sit alone and before this Table of the Lord, where soon the Elements of bread and wine will be blessed and we will receive the Body and Blood of Christ. On going as Pastor to that small church in South Florida, only days after, I was met by a disgruntled church member. Possibly, however, he had a good point. I sit here, alone, waiting, and still wondering about if he had a good point or not. See, part of my confusion about tradition and ritual is I have been drawn to both - no ritual, as when I attended a nonprogramed Quaker Fellowship, or ritual, as I much enjoy, since participating in the Episcopal Church. So, those opposites seem to both live inside me, and that may be why at times I feel lost as to the importance and meaning of much of the ritual, but I keep being drawn to some meaning within it. Well, let me first share what he shared with me.
The disgruntled man complained to me about an apparent Eucharistic Service at an every-Wednesday night worship meeting, called an Emergent Worship Service. Mostly, youth showed up, with some adults, not many - actually, about five. Most of the congregation were over age 60, so they were content with things-as-they-were, traditional. This man told me one of the leaders of the Worship had given the Lord's Supper to the youth. His complaint was that the man - who was not recognized by anyone as a clergyperson, rather he was a realtor - gave the youth chocolate milk and cookies for the Elements of the Supper.
Now, sitting here in Southeast Georgia, in this quiet aloneness, waiting before this Table, I explore whether it really mattered that someone offered chocolate milk and cookies for the Elements. I reflect on this during the Service, after others show up in the chapel. I reflect more, after getting in my truck and driving toward home. I needed this reflection, for I needed to understand more the tension within me and, possibly, come finally to some resolution of it. At least, I look back and see the reflection as seeking some conclusion to the inner opposites, seeking a harmony.
So, for the first time, and after years of living in the midst of those opposites, there arose an answer, if not final, temporary. I reflected that I could not see how any Infinite Being would care at all, or be offended at all, by youth having a chocolate milk and cookies Eucharist. Now, many would say I am totally wrong. I guess what we mean by "God" will determine our answers on such matters.
The reflection led me to what I had never been able to "see," and I was surprised by what I "saw." The answer that surprised me was, "No, God does not care, but we need to care." See, God as God does not need ritual, or anything. We know that traditions grew up in religions and were ascribed to Divine inspiration and even Divine command, because such tradition, with its sacred rites and rituals, is something we need. So, yes, we need to care, even if God does not. And what are we really saying when we take rituals lightly? I think we lose something, but Spirit loses nothing - we do. That church member sensed and knew that to approach matters of the Sacred so lightly speaks that we are losing our sense of connection to the ways given us by our ancestors for our good and as a living way. And when we disrespect the Sacred, we show we lack conscious respect for the Holy within us, we lack a healthy understanding of our own sacredness and holy purpose and destiny.
Freedom is not freedom from tradition, freedom is freedom within tradition. Rituals, religious or otherwise, we respect, and in that respect we respect the living generations of ancestors who pulse in our flesh and flow in our blood. And through honoring these ways we affirm we are part of a communion of people with a shared identity, and through this collective body we worship and we live, together. In some powerful and subtle way, through ritual, we connect with the Sacred, we connect with the living, and we connect with those who have lived before us in the Way, diverse yet One, different but not separate.
*Move cursor over pictures for photographer and title.