I read a book today that touched my soul. You know the feeling when you read or hear something and you feel the truth of it in your bones. The words of Hiawatha and the Peacemaker by Robbie Robertson connects with one of the questions that has been on my heart lately. I have been praying that God would help me, help all of us, find a way forward from the chaos of the last year.
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What does moving forward in a time of political upheaval, a raging pandemic, and racial tension look like?
With the transition to a new president, many are hoping we can put the negativity aside and just move along. “Nothing to see here folks. All we need is unity” –even if we haven’t dealt with the issues that caused the disunity in the first place.
The story of Hiawatha and the Peacemaker tells of two men who traveled among the Iroquois people to unite five tribes that had been at war with one another, but particularly with an evil chief named Tadodaho.
Hiawatha had lost everything at the hands of Tadodaho–his village, his wife, and his three children. He is broken. And full of rage.The Peacemaker visits Hiawatha. He carried with him a message of healing which he called the Great Law.
The Peacemaker knew that even though the goal was to stop the fighting, this important work could not be done without the coming together of a people.
The Iroquois system of government that grew from the work of Hiawatha and the Peacemaker is believed to be the oldest participatory democracy on earth. The chiefs would come together to reach a consensus. If they could not agree on a way forward they would keep coming together.
keep coming together.
The Peacemaker offered perspective to Hiawatha. He looked at the brokenness before him and declared that this very brokenness was the passage to a new way of life.
“I do not see defeat,” he said. “What I see is a passage—a passage to a new way of life. Join me, and together we can spread peace rather than war. Love rather than hate, unity rather than fear.”Hiawatha and the Peacemaker by Robbie Robertson
A friend once told me that in the face of suffering, lean into the pain. Leaning isn’t wallowing, but it is learning. Leaning in draws us into this sacred passage to a new way of life. A life that will not look like the one we left behind. This is how the Savior is able to bind up the brokenhearted. It is in this passage that we begin to have ears to hear the good news that is liberty to the captives and freedom to the prisoners.
I teach the children in my church using an approach to Christian Education called Godly Play. After each of the sacred stories there is a time of wondering where the storyteller asks the children a series of questions. one of the questions is, “where are you in this story”?
Where are you in this story?
What a worthy question to ask ourselves as we approach this story because the truth is there is a little bit of me in Hiawatha. Who doesn’t want to identify with the good, the hero, in a story? But there is also a part that needs to reconcile my actions with those of Tadodaho.
We can look at the rhetoric being spewed on social media and see the total disregard for people who have opinions that don’t fit with how we see the world. Where do we think this is going? We have already seen violence at the capital, we have already watched our black brothers and sisters fight, sometimes violently, to get our attention.
This is not the time to quietly exit the conversation, but it is the time to evaluate who you are talking to. And perhaps more importantly, who you are listening to.
“we will all perish if we continue this violence. A change must come, and the time is now. Alone, we will be broken,” I said, “but together we are more powerful than the greatest warrior.”Hiawatha and the Peacemaker by Robbie Robertson
Within the self-government of the Haudenosaunee, which means people of the longhouse and communicates that all Iroquois are one family and can live in peace under one roof, every representative had a voice. All voices had equal importance.
The sooner we realize how much we have to offer one another as humans and how much we are missing by our separation, the sooner we will be able to find a way forward.
Tell Your Story
Tell your story, yes. But also listen to the stories of those who are hurting. Those who are different than you. Those who offer a different perspective and a different interpretation.
If you haven’t taken the time to watch the Netflix documentary The Social Dilemma, it is worth a watch. We must begin to understand how the social media algorithms work, and how they curate material that lines up more and more with whatever we take the time to watch. Over time our feeds become monolithic. One story filled with only those who think like us, agree with us, and are enraged over the same things that enrage us.
As we combine this with greater isolation in real life we turn in on ourselves and against people who we probably would enjoy deeply if we could sit down and have a real conversation and a good meal.
Becoming the thing we hate
We become like the people who did not want to listen to Hiawatha. We become the thing we hate and call evil.
We must seek out people who are different than we are. Politically, ethnically, economically, spiritually and morally. This is our work: Seek God. Listen to others. Share life.
We must keep coming together.
This work requires deep humility and fearless vulnerability. But as we tell our stories to people who are listening—really listening. And as we listen, really listen, to the stories of those who are different than us, transformation can begin like it did for Hiawatha.
“But as I spoke, I felt something come over me: Forgiveness. I had not been able to save my family, but on this journey I had been able to forgive myself. I began to understand the meaning of the Great Law.”Hiawatha and the Peacemaker by Robbie Robertson
This tense moment in our American story calls for peacemakers. People with a moral imagination and a will to come together.
The Beauty of Transformation
This is the part in the story where things start to get really beautiful. In the story Tadodaho is the very picture of hatred and evil. His wickedness had led him to isolation and so withered his personhood that he is barely recognizable as human. He is sick and in need of healing. Then the book tells an unexpected story of redemption for Tadodaho brought about by the humble offering of Hiawatha.
“I gathered roots and herbs for the medicine. But how could I help heal a man who had brought me such misery? How could I forgive him? Yet I put my heart and soul into the potion. And with this action, my anger disappeared.”
After three days of caring for Tadodaho, Tadodaho’s withered body becomes upright, the scales on his skin disappear, and the snakes in his hair return to where they belong. Tadodaho transforms into an eagle who becomes the great keeper of peace and the protector of ALL the people.
The newly united people bury their weapons under a tree.
“Beneath this tree we shall bury all our weapons of war. This will symbolize the end of the fighting.” The men uprooted the white pine and threw their weapons into the hole. “Now we will replant the tree, and it shall be called the tree of peace.”Hiawatha and the Peacekeeper by Robbie Robertson
The Call of the Peacemaker
We are very familiar with the verse from Psalm 46, “Be still and know that I am God.” and often interpret it as quietness before a mighty God, but in it’s context it is a call to the peacemakers.
1 God is our refuge and strength,
an ever-present help in trouble.
2 Therefore we will not fear, though the earth give way
and the mountains fall into the heart of the sea,
3 though its waters roar and foam
and the mountains quake with their surging.c]”>[c]”>cc]”>]
4 There is a river whose streams make glad the city of God,
the holy place where the Most High dwells.
5 God is within her, she will not fall;
God will help her at break of day.
6 Nations are in uproar, kingdoms fall;
he lifts his voice, the earth melts.
7 The Lord Almighty is with us;
the God of Jacob is our fortress.
8 Come and see what the Lord has done,
the desolations he has brought on the earth.
9 He makes wars cease
to the ends of the earth.
He breaks the bow and shatters the spear;
he burns the shieldsd]”>[d]”>dd]”>] with fire.
10 He says, “Be still, and know that I am God;
I will be exalted among the nations,
I will be exalted in the earth.”
11 The Lord Almighty is with us;
the God of Jacob is our fortress.
“This is a call for those involved in the war to stop fighting, to be still. The word still is a translation of the Hebrew word rapa, meaning “to slacken, let down, or cease.” In some instances, the word carries the idea of “to drop, be weak, or faint.” It connotes two people fighting until someone separates them and makes them drop their weapons. It is only after the fighting has stopped that the warriors can acknowledge their trust in God. Christians often interpret the command to “be still” as “to be quiet in God’s presence.” but while quietness is certainly helpful, the phrase means to stop frantic activity, to let down, and to be still.
Finding forward requires us to lay down our weapons and keep coming together. We cannot rush this process or expect more from those on the “other side” than what we are willing to offer ourselves. If we want to be heard, we need to listen first. Further, we need to listen with a heart that is open to personal transformation. And with a realization that our weapons often are our opinions held so dear that they have come before the real people we must share human space with.
Thank you so much for reading this humble offering. If you find it helpful, please share it or better yet, get your hands on the book and enjoy it for yourself.