I’m glad the Pilgrims came here to Indian country. Otherwise, I might never have known about the Hebrew Bible, or the Gospel narratives. Was it a fair exchange, the land for the Lord? The destruction of Indian people for the establishment of America?
I might never have known about Persia, or heard Artur Rubinstein play the piano. I would never have seen the paintings of Frederick Church, Kaspar Friedrich, nor the eyes of Diane Von Furstenberg.
But the Pilgrims came.
Yet I can’t ignore the outrageous tragedy of Indian history. I can’t accept the treachery, and murderous, steam-rolling aggressions of the “Christian” race as the will of God.
How then can an Indian believe in the Bible, much less trust the Europeans that brought it here?
My complaint is not to the Hebrew God, nor to the people who brought His name. My complaint is to the Indian spirits. I protest Indian religion, and all the spirits. Where were they in 1492, 1620, or 1835? When we needed guidance from the medicine men, wisdom from the chiefs, warnings from the spirits, assurance from the ancestors, where were they?
Could they not foresee the future? Were they not wise enough to unite us Indians against the coming hoards? Were they too weak to defend us from the invaders?
How shall we trust the spirits now?
I have always felt profoundly betrayed by Indian religion. Yes, I’m angry with the spirits. They failed us. They failed all Indian people. With profound grief, I deny them.
But my protest is only pragmatic. Comanche were known for pragmatism in the early days. The disposition still haunts me. We never believed in anything, in the early days. We did not have ceremonial “religion,” just like we didn’t have “politics.” We lived by deep intuition.
We were once known as the “agnostics” of the plains. To us, religion did not relate to riding the horse more skillfully, or shooting straighter. Religion was a waste of time.
It is not religion that now attracts me to the Hebrew God, nor is it the aggression of the people who brought the Bible here, who remain just as greedy today.
It is the character of the Creator that draws me. I have learned of Him through years of personal Bible study.
I said as much, on Thanksgiving Day in Hamden, Connecticut, back in 1981. I lived next to a loving Jewish family, and the father, Ralph always invited me to every holiday—except Christmas and Easter! At Thanksgiving, Ralph asked each member of the family around the table to offer a word about whatever he was most thankful for.
I remember saying, “I’m thankful for the knowledge of the true God.” I just left it at that.
I say the same thing today. I am overwhelmed by the creative power of God, by His superior ways, His grandeur, and His beauty.
I admire also the delicate compassion He shows any sincere person, however humble or desperate.
When the felon being executed next to Christ said, “Lord, Remember me when thou comest into Thy Kingdom,” the answer given was extraordinary.
“Verily I say unto thee, Today shalt thou be with Me in paradise.” Luke 23:43.
That word “paradise” appears only three times in the New Testament. The New Testament was written in Greek. The Greek word used for “heaven” is almost always ouranos, meaning the sky, or the abode of God. Why this one time did Jesus say paradeisos?
This word is from the old Persian paraidaeza, meaning a royal park, a terraced garden.
The man was apparently not Jewish. He was a foreigner, maybe even a Persian. But he was about to die, and there was no time for a doctrinal lesson in Hebrew eschatology, theology, or even Christology.
The answer he needed in his soul was given to him in the language he understood, in the imagery that meant something deepest to him.
“You’re there!” was all the Lord’s answer to him.
That’s what everyone wants to hear.
As an Indian, I hear my own answer too. I see a place where there are no fences, no roads, and no cars; a place without wires, metals, and poisons. I want to live without betrayal, without cruelty, and without politics.
Paradise? Elesian Fields? Abraham’s Bosom? Happy Hunting Ground?
I’d rather have a new earth. And that is the final promise of the Bible: new earth created by God. That sounds Indian enough for me. I’m thankful for that hope.