Friday, October 17, 2008

Audio Interviews

Thanks to Luke Morton (a student at Covenant Seminary and friend from the Seattle area) who let us know about this site.

There are some very interesting audio files/interviews about Native America on this webpage:

One that is particularly intersting is this interview:

Tuesday November 27, 2007, 11:06 AM
Dream Catchers: How Mainstream America Discovered Native Spirituality
Philip Jenkins, Distinguished Professor of History and Religious Study at Pennsylvania State University

We obviously don't agree with everything that is said in the various interviews. We just want to get all of us talking and thinking about these topics as believers who long to (and are called to) love our first neighbors well.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Update on Wendell, his family, and the events surrounding Tanya's death

This is Errol a few years ago

(below) Wendell on a better day

Hey Everyone,

Here's an update from Chris regarding Tonya's funeral, Wendell and his family:

First, I want to thank each of you for praying for Wendell, his family, and for us. More than any other time in the last 5+ years we have felt the power of the prayers of God’s people. He has strengthened us, given us wisdom, sustained us, and protected us over the last few weeks more than we know.
Thank you also for sending cards and letters to Wendell. I asked him how many had come in and he shook his head in disbelief and said he didn’t know but it was a lot. He has been amazed and encouraged by the outpouring of love, prayer, and concern for him and his family. I know that through your prayers and condolences he has tasted the goodness and love of the Lord even in the midst of this tragedy.

I wanted to take a moment to update you on the events surrounding the funeral and the week that followed.

Tuesday three weeks ago, we were ready for Bible Study at the longhouse. I was driving a van load of folks to the longhouse and my phone rang. It was Wendell. He and Errol were at home getting ready to come to Bible Study when Errol walked out back and found his mom, Tanya, hanging in the wood shed.
I dropped the folks in the van off at the longhouse, told Mary what was going on, asked her to go ahead and feed everyone there dinner and do the kid’s lesson with everyone, then I headed to Wendell’s as fast as I could. When I arrived Wendell came up to me weeping and gave me a long hug. He wanted me to try to talk with Errol who was in shock.

I was glad that Wendell expressed a lot of emotion that night instead of holding back. I was impressed with his presence of mind, too. As other family members arrived he assigned each of the men present (brothers and friends) to stay with the various women and children who were arriving to make sure they were safe and didn’t do anything drastic themselves.

I was assigned to Naomi, Wendell’s ex-wife and Tanya’s mother. On one hand, I was deeply honored that Wendell would trust me on that level. On the other hand, while I recognize that this is where ministers are called to be, honestly, I can’t think of anywhere I would hate to be more than with the mother of a child who had just committed suicide. Without going into a lot of detail, you can imagine that everyone there that night saw and heard things that no one should see and hear. This was the second time in two years that I was side by side with Naomi just minutes after one of her children committed suicide.

That night I was with the family as the police came and went and the men from the funeral home took Tanya’s body away. Wendell gathered everyone together and asked me to pray before we went our separate ways. Naomi took the children and her son, Marshall, home. Wendell went to stay with his brother, Lee.

The funeral proceedings began about 36 hours later with a traditional “dressing ceremony” where the body is dressed in white buckskins on the floor of the longhouse. That evening the funeral ceremony begins and goes all night. At sunrise the body is taken to the graveyard and there is a graveside service. After that everyone went back for a “crying” ceremony where a leader from the longhouse walked through the room with some of Tanya’s favorite clothes and tells the family and people there that they will never again see her wearing these things and going to her favorite places again. The goal is to get everyone to get their “tears out” and to mourn. After this Tanya’s name is not spoken for a year (until the “release” ceremony). The traditional belief is that you can only cry on that day for the lost one then never again. It is a rough rule and a rough ceremony. After that is a dinner and a “give away”. During the “give away” the family gives away all of Tanya’s possessions, everything in the home where she lived, etc.

Altogether Mary and I were at the various services and ceremonies for about 26 hours out of three days. Wendell surprised everyone present (except his immediate family) by asking me to speak multiple times. At the graveside one woman and one man are asked to speak and he chose me. At the beginning of the funeral service he asked Mary, our kids, Veronica, Roger Anderson, Martin Prince (both of whom came from Liberty Bay Presbyterian in Poulsbo, WA), Briggs Macon (who flew out from Birmingham, AL!), and me to stand up in the front of the longhouse in order to pray and sing! We were all a little surprised by this. I’m not sure it’s ever been done before at a traditional longhouse funeral. Wendell asked Roger, Martin, Briggs, and me to stand in as “his brothers for the day” (and representatives of all of you who were praying) at various points in the services. In essence, he treated us like family. This too was a shock, no doubt, to the traditional leaders. It sends a powerful (and purposeful) message to the community from Wendell.

When asked to speak, my message centered on Psalm 121 which says, “I lift my eyes to the hills, where does my help come from? My help comes from the Lord, the maker of Heaven and Earth!” I tried to emphasize that our hope can only be found in Jesus, who is the Creator, and that He is the “lifter of our heads” in the midst of tragedies, heartache, and despair.

As you would expect, in the days following Tanya’s death, Mary was cooking up a storm, grocery shopping, and delivering food to the family and the longhouse. Veronica was “holding down the fort”, teaching and taking care of our kids, and trying to maintain a “sense of normalcy” at our home.
When all of the funeral proceedings were coming to a close, Wendell had an opportunity to speak to everyone gathered and to “release himself” of his emotions, regrets, etc. He spoke about his daughter with great love and affection and about his failures as a father and his desire for his daughter to be in heaven. Then he said something surprising to everyone. He acknowledged that the traditional view on suicide was that the one who took their own life went straight to hell. (In fact, when Wendell’s youngest son killed himself two years ago an elder from the longhouse said he had a vision of the young man surrounded by flames and screaming and reaching up for him.) Wendell continued by saying, “I’ve talked to my friend Chris about this and he said that the Bible does not say that.” He was very emotional and paused then said, “I have to believe that’s true. I have to believe it.”

We talk about the devil getting a foothold in our life and certainly he can. I wonder if Jesus may use this “belief” in a very small part of Scripture to get a “foothold” of his own in Wendell. Maybe it’s wishful thinking. Maybe it’s hope or faith or love for Wendell. Maybe I’m making something out of nothing or trying to find meaning in a meaningless tragedy. But I’m praying that for Wendell and his family just the same.

The day after it was all over, we were sleeping in and heard a truck in the driveway. It was Wendell. We scrambled around then opened the door for him. He was coming in to sit and have a cup of coffee. He’s been coming by two or three mornings a week ever since to have coffee, listen to family devotions, and pray before he starts his day.

Unfortunately, Wendell asked some religious leaders from the Lummi reservation near Bellingham, WA to come and do a “burning ceremony” at his home last Saturday. During this ceremony the leaders attempt to make contact with Tanya and her deceased brothers in order to communicate with them. Wendell asked us to come but I explained that the Bible forbade that sort of thing. He understood. We prayed for a week that the ceremony would not happen but apparently it did.

On a happier/healthier note, Wendell’s only remaining son, Marshall, called us a week ago and asked if we could help him with a birthday party for his five year old daughter, Devony! We jumped at the opportunity! After all, if you are going to go to a family’s funerals you definitely want to celebrate the birthdays! Marshall expected about 25 folks to come for the cook out. We helped pull together food for everyone and I volunteered to do the grilling. The highlight of the whole evening for me was when we pulled up and walked toward the picnic area and beautiful, little Devony came running as fast as she could toward me! (Not long ago she was scared of me. Who can blame her?) I got down on one knee and she jumped in my arms and gave me a huge hug! Marshall was smiling from ear to ear. It’s a good thing she didn’t ask me for the keys to my truck, I was pretty much wrapped around her finger the rest of the night.

Surprisingly, 40+ folks showed up and ate enough for about 60 folks! It was a good thing we had the party in a park that was close to the grocery store! I grilled for about two and a half hours straight as fast as I could. There’s no hair on my right arm anymore. Anyway, it was a great party and it was good to see many of the same folks from the funeral, smiling and laughing and celebrating life. It is also special to see our kids playing with and loving on their kids. At the end of the night, Marshall and Wendell gave Mary and me big hugs. It was a good night.

I’d like to put a nice, little bow on all this and wrap it up for you. I don’t think I can. Off the top of my head, I think the bottom line is that the Lord has clearly called all of us to love our neighbors. In essence, this is a call to treat complete strangers as if they were family. After all, that’s exactly what Jesus has done for us. He left his home, gave his life for us when we were not just strangers but actually “enemies of God” and “objects of wrath” (Eph. 2). Native Americans are the very first neighbors the American church had. Over the last 500 years we (the American church) has not loved our first neighbors like family. The result is that only 2% of the nearly 3 million Native Americans alive today claim to be Christians.

Your prayers, financial support, and your willingness to come on one week teams in the spring and summer express the love and the reality of Christ in very visible and tangible and undeniable ways to our first neighbors. You make it possible for us to be here and to do what the Lord had called us to do. You are part of our team. Thank you so much. “Do not grow weary in well doing”.

Grace and Peace,