PowWows and Churches: is there a link?

A week ago today our sixteen year old daughter, Emily, returned from a mission trip to Lake Traverse Indian Reservation in South Dakota. One of the events that the mission team attended was a modern day Dakota (a.k.a. Sioux) Indian powwow. If you have the image of Native Americans in traditional clothing with large feathers, all dancing in a circle to drums drumming while they sing, then you\’re dead on. You\’ve got it (see picture above).

From what I can glean off the Internet (http://www.powwow-power.com/powwowhistory.html), powwows originated as medicine men gatherings, religous ceremonies for healing…they had a spiritual purpose. In warring tribes it evolved into more of a victory dance, a way to celebrate and show tribal pride after a successful battle. As years and significant changes have \’hit\’ the Native American people, the powwow has evolved into a social gathering place. A place where all tribes and even outsiders are welcome to take part in the joy, dance and song. There are sacred rules to a powwow that participants are required to adhere to, but the purpose is linked closely to fellowshipping, celebrating the \’circle of life\’ with others, lauding Indian heritage and culture. Oftentimes a powwow is part of a larger festival, complete with vendors, rodeos and parades.

As I ponder Emily\’s mission team\’s powwow experience, I\’ve come to the conclusion that what they observed was a cultural exhibition and celebration of the Dakota tribe, and little else. Today\’s powwows don\’t reflect or even significantly echo (from what I can tell) their original purposes. In reality the mission team didn\’t attend a religious ceremony (although religious songs were probably sung and the dance circle is considered sacred)–instead it was a tribal party, a time of gathering and fellowship, a way to teach the little ones how to powwow properly (children are invited to the dance).

During the days of reflecting on this, it hit me that the church has taken a similar track. Worship used to be, in the first few hundred years after Pentecost, quite a big deal, replete with rituals taken very seriously, oaths and commitments usually undertaken with life threatening consequences, heresy closely watched for and cut off, etc. Conversion to Christianity was a scary step and one not taken lightly. The apostles and early disciples/church leaders reached out and healed, exorcised and taught the people and often died martyrs for their services. As the church got established and Emporer Constantine converted and made it an acceptable, even protected religion in the fourth century, the church settled in, the church got lax, the church started gathering for reasons other than God…it looked the same, but its heart changed. Dare I say, worship became a place where people gathered to see one another, to build bonds of community, to celebrate and reinforce their identity, applaud their work, to teach the little ones to \’powwow properly\’…

I\’m gonna say that many in the church today see church gatherings as little more than that, a time of gathering. A time to yeah, sing the songs, meet in sacred space, perform the rituals, but only in order to preserve and celebrate the tradition, only in order to have a support system or a social group or a good deeds club or a place to instill values in the kids. It may be that for a large part of Christianity the church is little more than a cultural entity, complete with regular ceremonial shows/rituals for the public to attend/take part in…a lot like a modern day powwow.

I realize there are a host of exceptions to this phenomenon…I know God is busy, busy working through His children, wherever they may be/whatever church they attend. The Holy Spirit is not one to sit on His laurels–He is perpetually activating God fearing, spiritually alive Christians all over the place (thank goodness or should I say, \”thank God!\”). I\’m not talking about those folks and those church gatherings…I don\’t think I need to spell this out any more, either, as I have a strong feeling you know exactly what I\’m talking about: a church body that functions well, does the work, sings the songs, cracks the Bible, looks the part, but is alive only in a cultural way…it is spiritually dead, dead as a doornail. No God in sight.

Well, you can imagine where this is going….Where do we worship? Why are we there? What is the heartbeat of the group? Is it the heartbeat of God or is it of the cultural, generational or ethnic setting it snuggles into? Can we step back and see? If not, then maybe it is best to step inside our hearts and see…no doubt where our heart is, is where the heart of those we worship with is. Birds of a feather do flock together…if it feels like home on Sunday morning, then we no doubt have the same outlook, motivation, and spiritual aliveness as those around us. Still cannot see? Then maybe we need to go to the first place consultation should have happened: to the Throne of Jesus in prayer…He knows and, if we ask, I\’m pretty sure He\’ll be kind enough to answer… He\’s always ready to help those who want to be \”true worshipers [who] will worship the Father in Spirit and Truth\” (John 4:23), worshipers who want the Real Thing…

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