Saturday, October 15, 2005

"I walk a tension between profound respect for a culture and their language--and divine orders to make disciples of that nation"

I just discovered an fascinating new blog, Spirit and Life 4.0, by "Preacherman" (Jeffery Warner) a Lutheran missionary to the Omaha Indians in Nebraska.

I was involved in a debate over terms at Here We Stand, and Preacherman, who was on the other side of the debate said this:

Another, exclusively cultural angle, the Omaha are on the verge of losing their language, because the Presbyterians and the Reformed (RCA, thank you) literally beat it out of them and intimidated them (such as "you don't want to appear stupid do you?") into forsaking their heathen tongue and speaking God's perfect English. The elderly generation I serve are the last which grew up in a house that spoke it. I am not of the opinion that one ought EVER be browbeaten or fisticuffed into forsaking their traditional tongue--not even Lutherans.

The largest part of Omaha language that remains *commonly* grasped by the Omaha might be termed their "liturgical" language--the songs, the dances, the rubrics--the things they hear at pow-wow and native ceremonies.I think the Omaha can keep the language God gave them. I think the Lutherans can too, if they want to.

I walk a tension between profound respect for a culture and their language--and divine orders to make disciples of that nation. I don't think either purpose is well served by my declaring the terms they use are "moronic."

Well, as an Augsburg Evangelical who loves and respects the culture of once shamanist and now Buddhist Mongolia, I walk that same tension. And like preacherman, I am often impelled to turn around and say that the same imperative of "cultural survival," of "respecting the paths of our ancestors" is something we ought to hear more about, not just about distant "tribes," but also about ourselves.

Not to mention that there are many parallels (along with many differences, of course) between the cultural and historical experiences of the Mongols and other peoples of Northeast Asia, and the Indians, Aleuts, and Eskimos. There is the fact that the Indians (at least most of them) are descended from Siberians, the facets of similarity in shamanism (for example the use of cedar in censing he mentions in common to Mongols as well), the horse nomadism (ancient or recent) on the great plains following flocks of herbivores (domestic stock, wild bison), the involvement of the forest peoples in fur trades (Russian, French, English, American), and there is massive loss of land suffered as farming peoples (Americans, Canadians, Russians, Chinese) discovered the fertility of the plains. So I have built up a smallish library of ethnohistory and folklore of the North American Indians, as well as about the fascinating Russian Orthodox mission work among the Aleuts, Alutiqs, and Tlingits of Alaska. That my brother-in-law is also Indian, of the Chippewa nation, only adds to the sense of connection.

His most recent post* on the reality and daily-ness of spirits in Omaha life is very much worth reading. It reminded of this very interesting book, How About Demons? by a former academic, Felicitas Goodman, who studied spirit possession and voodoo so much, she was incapable of understanding them any more as socially constructed expression of anxiety about capitalism and the cash nexus, or as ways of the socially marginalized to achieve agency, or all that. No, spirits and demons are real, and they have a very interesting typology -- those of Eurasia are rather different from those of Africa, for example. And spirit possession in Christian communities has its own distinctive features. Of course this point of view made her an odd duck in academia, and she now has her own independent institute.

So, Preacherman, I hope to read more about the mission field, about culture and religion, and about Omaha life. And I hope you might find posts about Mongolia and related topics interesting as well.

*He doesn't seem to have permalinks, but if you go to his site and click on Mission Stuff, you should find it.