iEmergence NA: Hawk Feathers and Jesus

Hawk Feathers and Jesus

As the sun dipped in the western sky, I danced with hawk feathers in hand, a Euro-American woman raised in a Midwestern majority culture. I spun around and bowed before the Creator, humbled by his forgiveness for my recent acts of colonization and grateful for God’s grace.

“How did this come about?” you might be thinking. Okay. Let’s rewind.

When my husband and I moved to Blackfeet Country thirteen years ago with the goal of learning, listening and walking in Jesus’s way, we knew we wanted to do it differently than the 500 years of missions to First Nations People that might have been branded with Christian language but focused on assimilation and destruction. We came to build relationships, to gain trust, and join in where Creator is already at work in the community. However, I guess I underestimated the powerful pull of ethnocentrism and my mission-centered evangelistic background. Over time, I succumbed to my desire to feel “productive” and began to run programs seeking to “disciple” the nations in disempowering ways we westerners all-to-often do across the globe. Discipleship is healing when we share what Jesus truly taught, but can be damaging when we impose our own cultural requirements, preferences or expectations.

But nine months ago, I sat across from a good friend, who was courageous enough to be honest with me and lovingly challenge me. “You ARE paternalistic,” she said. The words sank into my heart and stung, because that was not what I wanted to be. Yet I had been describing for her all the ways I was wanting to help a troubled Blackfeet young mom, who had come to live with us. I wanted to help this mom understand the Bible, help her learn healthy patterns in raising her daughter, and even help her understand how to manage her finances.

“Did she ask for your help?” my friend asked. She came to us in crisis, but really desired a safe place with love and acceptance.

I had not only been paternalistic with her, but I had driven my grand plan for productivity and spiritual success in so many program relationships over the years. Here I was stuck in the cycle of wanting to push my agenda on someone else in what I now recognize as another 19th century missionary way of “telling these people what to do.” I realized so many of my non-believing Caucasian friends have better relationships with the Blackfeet because there isn’t a sense of ulterior motivation. I forgot the devastating effects of colonization and didn’t grasp that the way I was acting spoke harsh criticism rather than affirming good news. The way I live in a community can continue to support barriers or build necessary conciliation. Following Jesus’ way does not require me to replicate my version of relating to Him— rather it compels me to love others in such a way that they want to relate to and follow Him on their own.

As is my practice when my heart and soul aches, I went for a jog. Enter the hawk. We live on the gorgeous Rocky Mountain front and there are two hawks living in the area. On my jog I came upon one perched on a fence post. I stopped to watch her for a bit and heard Creator saying, “You were wrong. Just accept it.” After the hawk flew off, I continued to run and found some of her feathers along the way. I picked the feathers up and a new song began playing on my iPhone. The inspiring lyrics spoke of His grace; so freeing that we can sing, shout, run and dance!

It’s easy for me browbeat myself for personal failures until I sink into a deep hole of self-loathing. But in this moment, it seemed as if Creator urged me, “Daughter, see your pride, accept my grace, and dance in the freedom I dream of for you!”

So I did. I danced. Hawk feathers waving in the fading light, accepting forgiveness for the prideful heart that diminished other beautiful souls by implying, “Why don’t you just be more like me?”

But I can’t stop there and I can’t leave this moment in the foothills. It has to impact my actions daily. I have to set aside my conditioned, narrow ideas of what faith and following Jesus look like. I need to open my heart to let another person be and grow without meddling and micromanaging. I will no longer demean others with my predetermined results for their lives and I will accept the journey of lovingly walking beside with them with respect and love to dream and become all Creator has for us.
I believe this is Jesus’ way. ---Summer Graham
November 2019
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