Recently I read a short story from the book, Spider Woman’s Granddaughters, which is a collection of traditional tales and contemporary writing by Native American women. The particular story was by E. Pauline Johnson and titled As It Was in the Beginning written in the early 1900s. She is of the Mohawk tribe out of Canada. In this story she tells of a young child who witnesses the visit of a stranger to her parents’ teepee . . . “He wore a long black coat, which I now know was the sign of his office, and he carried a black leather-covered book, which, in all the years I have known him, I have seen him without.”
The Anglican priest and her father soon become friends despite the reluctance of her mother to embrace the man or his intentions. He convinces the writer’s father that the best chance for his daughter and the tribe’s future generations is to allow him to take her to his boarding school to be re-educated in the ways of the white people. Against the mother’s protest the father allows the priest to take the girl. Thus begins the story . . . one the Anglican priest would call a “love story”, and the writer would call a story of betrayal and false love.
The girl is raised in the boarding school embracing the ways and education of the white people . . . her past and traditions are buried in the closet of her room in a small bundle of that once was her bison dress. In the best tradition of the times, Richard Henry Pratt—one of the original originators of Indian boarding schools in the United States, espoused the philosophy of “Kill the Indian and save the man.” Such was the experience of this young girl; but, of course, the priest would tell you it was all done in the act of love.
The girl becomes the favorite of the priest and is accorded a place—more or less—in the priest’s family. As she grows up she befriends the priest’s nephew—a handsome and blond young man. They become the best of friends over the years until one day they recognize that they are in love. The young man proposes marriage and they begin making plans for their future together.
Later, that evening, the young man shares the news with his uncle . . . a conversation that the girl overhears. The priest tells his nephew that it cannot be . . . he cannot marry “one of those” . . . that it would destroy the young man’s future. He tells his nephew to go away for a while and forget the girl, then come back and marry a proper and dignified young woman . . . someone like himself. And, the young man agrees to the suggestion of the older man. All the while, the girl is hearing the whole conversation much to her disbelief . . . she is crushed in the betrayal by her true love and by the man who treated as if she was one of his own . . . betrayal based on the fact that she is Indian. That is all that they see.
Yet, as she states at the start of the story . . . “They account for it by the fact that I am a Redskin, but I am something else, too—I am a woman.” Betrayed and crushed in who she is as a person . . . betrayed and crushed in her love . . . she remembers something that her mother had given her as she left with the priest—an arrow tip that had been dipped in poison. A gift meant to be a way out if the boarding school became too much . . . she was to use it to take her own life. But she never did, though it suddenly came to her mind. She runs to the closet and finds her bundle . . . finds the arrowhead . . . and, then, slips down into the room where her true love lies sleeping. If she cannot have him, no one can. She gently cuts the sleeping man with the arrowhead and leaves. She returns to her parents, to her people, never to return. The young man dies in his sleep.
They suspect the girl, but can prove nothing. She ends the story with these words: “They account for it by the fact that I am a Redskin. They seem to have forgotten I am a woman.”
And, a child of God.
Plain and simple, the message this girl received from the priest and her supposed true love was: “Love ya, but . . .” In what the priest was declaring an act of love was a whole bunch of conditions . . . in the end she was not loved as a child of God or even for herself . . . she could never be embraced and fully welcomed into the family because she was one of “them”.
The writer of our reading this morning states: “Dear friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God. Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God. Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love . . . God is love. Whoever lives in love lives in God, and God in him . . . if anyone says, ‘I love God,’ yet hates his brother, he is a liar . . . And he has given us this command: Whoever loves God must also love his brother.”
There are no strings attached to the love of God . . . God loves all. God loves each and every one of us for who God created us to be . . . there are no “if, ands, or buts” to God’s love. All are welcome into the family of God . . . all have a place at the table. And, so it is for those of us who proclaim a love for God . . . a love demonstrated and lived by Jesus himself. We are to love as God has loved us . . . a love shown to us in the life of our savior Jesus.
This is something easier said than done. We all get trapped by our words and actions when it comes to “love”. We all do. As I look about the world in which we live there seems to be a lot of animosity and hatred out there. I have seen in the past year a whole lot being written about the incongruency between the words that are spoken and the actions that are taken or not taken when it comes to this idea of “love” . . . especially love from those who call themselves the followers of Jesus. It is true that love is being proclaimed . . . proclaimed with a footnote . . . “Yeah, we love you, but . . .”
But . . . you are not like us. You are not my race. You are not my gender. You are not my political party. You are not age. You are not in my tax bracket. You are not of my religion. And on and on come the “buts” . . . is this “love”? Is this what the writer of our reading this morning is talking about when telling us that we need to “love”?
Here is where the “church” . . . the “big church” . . . is damned. The “church” stands for “love”—God’s love . . . a love demonstrated to us and the whole world in the presence and being and life of Jesus. A love that goes beyond mere words but into action . . . action that even moves to the point of giving one’s life for another. Such is the love that our morning reading calls us to; yet, we have a difficult time embracing it without putting in our stipulations . . . our “buts”. Trust me, people notice . . . God notices.
I think that we all long to know such love as shared by the writer of our reading this morning. I think that we all long to love in such a way. I think that we all want to love one another. Yet, we realize that it is hard to let go and really love another . . . it is scary . . . we might get burned . . . we might get hurt. If that is the case then let us hear the writer’s words once again: “There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The man who fears is not made in perfect love . . . We love because he first loved us. If anyone says, ‘I love God,’ yet hates his brother, he is a liar. For anyone who does not love his brother, whom he has seen, cannot love God, whom he has not seen. And he has given us this command: Whoever loves God must also love his brother.”
It seems that we have forgotten . . . forgotten that we are many things, but we are also the children of God . . . created in the image of God. We are called to love. There are no “if, ands, or buts” to God’s love. Amen.