Sunday, April 01, 2007

First Nations Christianity Value System

I am a First Nations person from Canada and I come from a strong history of First Nations and Metis peoples (history and cultures). I am going to give you a little glimpse into a model for faith that is being used within FN Christian circles - oh it's not very kosher - but then again - neither am I.

First Nations people use the circle a lot - and in particular something called the 4 Directions (I happen to be Cree and Ojibwa) as a teaching mechanism. This is part of my FN history and I think the model of the 4 directions can be used in synch with the Christian value system - or as a way of teaching about our faith in First Nations circles.

The 4 directions are encompassed in a circle - which symbolizes that life is continuous and that all things mesh together in life (from birth to death - and then our next generation carries that on again - and the circle continues). There are 4 stages to life - birth, youth, adulthood, and elderly and in each stage of life you are in constant learning mode with the 4 aspects of human self.

The 4 aspects of the human self are: physical, emotional, mental, and spiritual - and in this you are always struggling to remain balanced in each area (and each area effects the other). This is the model that relates to our value system (what we value as important).

(1) Physical: We are physical beings and this is part of the balance act. We need to eat, sleep, be healthy, work out, etc. If we lack in the physical area it can effect our life in a diverse ways. Being overweight causes some to lower their self-esteem (ex: emotional and mental effects). If someone has a healthy sleep pattern it can also boost their productivity and emotional state (ex: more happy). We also interact one with another all the time - and this is relationships - and part of that is physicality.

(2) Emotional: We are made of emotions and being out of balance here effects us deeply. If we develop ideas of low self-esteem this can result in a variety of ways to find balance (ex: addictions, anger, pity). If we are emotionally healthy we deal with our pains and hurts in a constructive way - where we learn from them and heal. This is also only one part of the 4 aspects of self and relying simply on emotions can de-value the aspect of the mind (or overlook it for 'feeling good').

(3) Mental: As humans our mind is something we always use and we need to find balance here since this is the aspect of the self that acts as a filter (or choice). If we are allowing our mind to consider ideas of racism, hatred, de-valuing others, etc...then the mind is being used to develop ideas that 'hurt us' and 'slant our perspective' (which isn't very balanced). We need to use our minds in constructive ways and to help us develop logic that keeps harmony with the other 3 aspects of our self.

(4) Spiritual: We are created by the 'Great Spirit' (God - Creator) - which means we have to develop our spiritual selves also. This includes all the aspects within faith and communicating with God (via books, ceremonies, teachings, prayer, etc). To deny this aspect leads to an imbalance in our 'selves' - we become too intellectual, too emotional, or too physical - and we lose some of the strength our faith can bring to us (ie: there is a definitie humility in knowing we 'are not the final answer'). Our spiritual aspect is in balance we develop ideas of humility, good relationships, and faith that builds us and others 'up'.

The meaning of it all is that we are inter-connected within us and if one part suffers - then it all suffers - and balance is something we forever live to develop and perfect (throughout our whole lives). With my faith I have to use all aspects of my 'self' and become a healthy person - whether it be physical (action), emotional (feelings), mental (intellect), or spiritual (faith and hope) aspects.

This is my history, I am not a Jewish person, and God was revealed to my people(s) as well - as a Creator with values very similar to Christian values. In some senses, this is my Tanakh (OT) and I have to respect my culture and lineage (as a service of love to what God gave us). For me, it all lines up quite well and the teachings of Jesus help to develop a greater and deeper understanding/affection of God (also can help one to create a balance they desire). I don't see a mis-harmonization of the Christ-ian faith (Alliance churches have this focus) with the First Nations teachings - actually - one can elaborate on the other (and bring greater perspective for a worldview).

What do you think about a system like this - is it serving the purpose of the teachings of Christ? Does it help to build a model (value system/paradigm) for some people to make sense of faith? Or is this 'too much' mixing and in some sense a 'betrayal of the faith'? Just how does this all make you feel?


My Garden said...

The danger with mixing things is that sometimes people take the symbol and make it greater than God...but that can be done no matter what faith you are looking at...I have made peace with who I am as a Cree person and who I am as a Christian, and I know that God left his impression on and in some of the things that were done long ago, but it is people that distort things. So, in the end I accept what Honors God and what I know is peaceable to Him...its not very definitive, but it is what I have.

the_burning_bush said...

I like the four divisions: physical, emotional, mental, and spiritual. We are to love God with all of each aspect.

If I were a member of a first nation I would be proud of it. On the other hand it is important to note that "There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free man, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus." Gal. 3:28

Soul Food Dude said...

"Love the Lord your God with all of your heart, and with all of your soul, and with all of your mind, and with all of your strength." :-)

Steve Scott said...

Interesting question. I believe that all systems of truth contain some truth, even anti-christian ones, because a consistent anti-christian view is not possible. Jesus showed it was possible to keep all the Law, but a consistent anti-christian view would require, as an example, both murdering our neighbor's wife and committing adultery with her. If we commit adultery with her, we necessarily need to view the command not to murder as good for humanity, as evidenced by keeping her alive in order to have her!

That said, it is possible to see truth, even large chunks of it, in non-christian systems. The apostle Paul referenced the pagan religious beliefs on a number of occasions in his discussions with unbelievers to show them that even parts of their religion point to the necessity of God or Christ.

Personally, I would hesitate to "mix" the two or try to harmonize them, but to show (like Paul did with the altar to the unknown God) that while it is possible to hold much truth, Christ is the missing piece or the ultimate truth. The truths they hold should ultimately be reoriented to show how they work in relation to Christ, and that without HIM, these truths mean nothing in themselves.

jim said...

I think that what most of us fail to recognize or at least badly underestimate is Jesus Jewishness. God chose to reveal himself to us in a man that was a Jew in the lineage of a chosen people for that purpose. So all of us who are not Jews have to harmonize this most clear witness of the Father (Jesus said if you've seen me, you've seen the Father) with the witness we have had of him in our own cultures. None of us should be offended that God chose the physical lineage (and now the spirtual lineage) of Abraham to bless all the families of the earth. Paul embraced all culture and the witness of God found in it while at the same time believing that God had revealed himself in a very special way in the person of the Jewish Jesus.

I think I recognize that in you, you rightfully embrace your culture recognizing how God has revealed himself in and through it and you also know that seeing Jesus is seeing the Creator up close. Not that God is Jewish. My goal is to become more and more Christ-like myself so that others may see the Creator up close in me. I'm not Jewish. I'm white, I'm Canadian. You're Cree and Ojibwa. I think that we should embrace that and celebrate it. In my opinion it is not a betrayal of the faith. How does make me feel? The same way I think it makes God feel. It is good!

BruceD said...

I feel like you worry too much...

SocietyVs said...

"I feel like you worry too much..." (Bruce)

Then I need to get more balance - good observation (lol) - fact is - I do very little stressing over much of anything - I just like to discuss issues pertaining to the bible.

"who I am as a Cree person" (mygarden)

I never knew this or I forgot this - where from?

"it is important to note that "There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free man, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus." Gal. 3:28" (BBush)

I agree totally - no culture makes one more important than the next. At the same time I would say in a positive tone that each and every culture is also created by God (ex: babel story) and that each has something great to offer us.

"Love the Lord your God with all of your heart, and with all of your soul, and with all of your mind, and with all of your strength." :-)" (Soul Dude)

I see that seem parallel and is one of the top reasons I embrace this model.

"I would hesitate to "mix" the two or try to harmonize them, but to show (like Paul did with the altar to the unknown God) that while it is possible to hold much truth, Christ is the missing piece or the ultimate truth" (Steve)

I agree. I think the pieces fit together and make a lot more 'real' sense when the symbolism of the religious stuff meets the Jesus of the bible - or it gets more well rounded (where the level of mythos meets some level of reality).

Thanks for the comments everyone.

Anonymous said...

I think it is one thing to compare the new truths that we all learn in Jesus to that from which we came but it is another to mix in that which we have been called from with the Truth and teach that to others. That causes confusion and the rise of false traditions. There is already so much of that in Christianity that causes confusion and often masks the Truth.

I try to stay a close to scripture as possible and I'm sad to say that the more I learn of scripture the more I see that much of church tradition is false. I guess we all have to decide whether to add to that confusion or try to clear some of it up.

Jesus was a Jew and would have thought and acted as a Jew yet, Jesus is for all people. He is not tradition or traditional teaching He is a person, both man and God Who gave His body and blood for all so that all could be reconciled to God regardless of tradition. There simply is no need for tradition for all is complete in Him.


SocietyVs said...

Pam I agree with your assertation in general but I am merely offering a model for placing what we learn about Jesus into some sort of paradigm. I also agree that a lot of church tradition is somewhat 'warped' but I am not asking to teach any of this as something that has to be done in order for someone's faith to have meaning - or in essence - my model is a 'traditon of a certain culture' and not neccesary to Christianity. Like you, I also some 'beef' with church tradition and the confusion issue.

"He is not tradition or traditional teaching - He is a person, both man and God, Who gave His body and blood for all so that all could be reconciled to God regardless of tradition." (Pam)

I would say Jesus was traditional in the sense he functioned in a set cultural paradigm of this planet (ie: Jewish). Also a lot of his teachings ring true about humanity but also come from a very Rabbinical context (in the 4 gospels). And the 'body and blood' analogy of Jesus (communion) comes from the Passover event (that Timothy from Gracehead points out quite a bit)...which is a straight Jewish custom.

I get it that he is alive - but while he traversed earth he was functioning in a known Jewish role - and was understood as the Messiah (also a Jewish ideology).

"There simply is no need for tradition for all is complete in Him." (Pam)

I agree that tradition can get in the way of knowing about God - we know this all to well in Christian churches (symbols take the place of the truer meaning of the event). But I also think tradition is there in every church and we all fully embrace some culture in the church (whether it's a European viewpoint, Jewish, or another culture)...and that's historically true. I don't think as humans we can ever fully remove cultural context from the church. I mean, to be honest, I have inherited a system within the church that is European - and being Aboriginal some of it misses the mark for me.

chris said...

Dude, I think it's a great system. If you can find peace with your creator through using it great!!!

John Shuck said...

I really appreciate what you wrote about the four directions. I personally think it is a great way to teach about Jesus.

All religion is harmonization. We usually don't even realize it. Thanks for sharing that!

Anonymous said...

I don't think it is possible to have a really good grip on the Bible without understanding its Hebrew underpinnings. The falacy of human tradition suplanting truth is much deeper than most Christians realize and we can be so blinded by them that we will actually maintain the false image planted in our minds while reading scriputure and not see the truth that is actually written there.

The traditional teaching of hell is a good example. Eternal concious torture is not Biblical and it is not Hebrew. The idea of Hell as most of us are taught it is very pagan. Yet, it is so much a part of our thinking that it takes great effort and deep study to actually see the truth.

Jesus also defied many traditions in favor of revealing the truth about God and what God desires from man.

As far as Timothy goes, I don't know his writing well enough yet to be sure of what he is teaching and I don't want to get in to trying to explain another. Personally, I celebrate Passover every time that I take the Lord's Supper for Jesus is my Passover Lamb. Spiritually, I feed on Him ever time I read scripture, pray, or meditate upon God's Word and that too is of that which the Passover was a type of. Jesus is the reality of Passover and the Passover was a shadow of the fullness of Jesus Christ. If I understand Timothy correctly, I think he too sees The Lord's Supper or Communion (which is what Jesus commanded we do until His return) as the Christian celebration of Passover. For since Christ, there surely is no reason to kill a lamb, place it's blood upon thd door posts and eat its broiled flesh. It is good though to read about the Passover and gain a deeper understanding of Jesus as the true Passover Lamb. It is a good thing for us to remember at this time of year and refreshing as compares to what most churches will do to mark the importance of Christ's death and resurrection.

Interesting though that as a teenager with no one to care about me, I spent a few years with a Pueblo family who cared for me as their own. This was before I accepted Christ and many of their traditional ways that they lived before me and taught me are a part of the Holy Spirits calling in my life to Jesus. Many things they taught me and the way they loved me prepared my heart for Him. When I read, "What-so-ever you eat or drink or whatever your hand finds to do, do it as unto the Lord." it is then that I remember those deat Tamaya who lived what they believed daily and not just on special days.

John Shuck said...


Have you found Scott Starr's blog yet?

He found one of my posts "God is Red" (from the title of the book by Vine Deloria) and commented on it.

He also is working on a First Nations and Christian sprituality. Thought you might be interested.

Jim Jordan said...

John wrote **I really appreciate what you wrote about the four directions. I personally think it is a great way to teach about Jesus.**

John's onto something there, in that Christ is self-evident in nature. In this case the four directions can represent the cross, which I believe he's alluding to.
And as Burning Bush said, we learn to put God first in all these aspects with love.
Interesting perspective, society. I'd like to see your future elaborations on this topic.

Heather said...

thanks for commenting on my blog @ WordPress! I try to be joyful. I'm not always that way, but I do my best:) Hope you'll come by again and read real soon. Have a great evening!h

Anonymous said...


Interesting thoughts. But they do not make a lot of sense to me, personally. You can’t mix something together and think it is the same thing–when other nechis “mix” Cree spiritual tradition with European spiritual tradition, it is no longer traditional Cree spirituality. Something new has been created.

I guess this works for some people, but for me, I do not see the need to “mix” what I understand of traditional Cree spirituality with anything else—it is strong, peaceful, respectful, fulfilling and meaningful all on its own. Why would I see the need to “mix” it with anything else when it is perfect as it is?

Also, the direction the thought goes is really interesting to me and is something I do not really understand: in the posts here, the people act as though Cree traditional spirituality is useful for explaining about their Jesus and God….as though Cree spirituality in and of itself has no ultimate use or value other than what it can do to bring their point home.

To me that is typical of a lack of understanding of what spirituality is. It is also typical of the white way of dismissing anything indigenous unless it somehow benefits the white way.

I think Christians could learn a lot about how to be a Christian from a traditional Cree person as the Cree have for millennia had at the root of our culture humility, respect for others’ beliefs & differences, an understanding that not everyone’s spirituality has to be the same as ours, acceptance of differences in other people as natural and normal….But from this thread it looks like the white people still don’t even know how to do that….they are still trying to take Cree spirituality and make it mean something else as though…? I don’t know. I do not understand how white people think.

Anyways, in the Cree way all people are born sacred and do not need to reject their personal and individual spirituality in favor of European (or other) beliefs in order to be good people, to live good lives and to be respectful, humble and peaceful.

Nehi Katawasisiw
Pipikisis Cree Nation
File Hills, Saskatchewan