Thursday, June 11, 2015
"Lost Tribe" Cherokees
(Art: "Back to the Wilderness")
This is something that has bothered me for some time. Granted there is a lot of logic and obvious historical problems, but that's not the root of what I want to write about. Still, I must write out some of it anyway.
The idea, the theory among some people of Cherokee descent (rarely espoused by those with membership in the three recognized Cherokee tribes) is that Cherokees are descendants of the so-called "lost tribes" of Israel.
Never mind that to Jews, those tribes were never "lost" but instead scattered in the Middle East by wars, and many of the people of the tribes returned to live in Judea. Never mind that the scientific and linguistic consensus doesn't support the Cherokee-Israelite theory.
These kinds of theories can be found all over the world. Even here in Japan, where I am now, there are some Christians who find obscure words of ancient Japanese language and religious practices, and conclude that Japanese descend from a "lost tribe." Never mind that descendants of Israel kept circumcision and Sabbath, and know who they are. Once the theory catches hold on a soul, the "proofs" all make sense to the person and no amount of glaring contrary evidence will convince them otherwise.
There is a *spiritual* attraction to the theory that takes hold of people.
In short, it's that somehow if we are descended from Israel, we are a bit more special than people who are not. We are a bit closer to God or more "chosen" than others.
One only needs to look at how the theory of the "roots" supplants the gospel and becomes the new thing to tell people, the bulk of their conversation and tool for evangelism. Somehow the feeling is that if our people (or other people) only knew their true "chosen" heritage, then they would believe in God, Christ, etc.
It should be noted that the same kind of fervor can be redirected to believing in the special chosenness of *other* peoples, even or especially Jewish people—and so you have many dispensational Christians who seem to believe that the Christian's primary obligation towards Jews is to tell them how "chosen" they are.
If somehow a believer in a "lost tribe" theory for their people were to suddenly see irrefutable evidence that they were wrong, the disappointment would be tangible. It would be a huge let down, because somehow the deep idea has taken hold that non-Israelites are not as "special," not as "chosen" by God. We want to believe that we are THE special ones, the center of God's plan and activity. We want to believe we are the main thing on earth, and that all revolves around us, even God.
It's somehow not enough for us that Jesus died for all people and wants each person to be with Him forever—from every tribe, language, race and nation. We want to think we have something extra on top of that, as if it were possible to be more special than to have the Son of God love us and give His life for us!
It's a seductive idea, and it can seduce both those without actual Israelite heritage and those *with* actual Israelite heritage.
The idea fails to see through the heart of God, through the eyes of His love with which He saw us all from the Cross. It fails to see the bit of Himself than He has put in *every* culture. It can't hear the witnesses He has given in *each* culture and tribe. It is unable to see His image in *each* race and nation, because it believes He is in one (and loves one) more than the others.
Cherokees who reject the lost tribe theory tend to find it insulting to their culture. They can hear the Creator's witness in their history, traditions and spirituality. They also believe that their history in Turtle Island (North America) goes back further than the Hebrew diaspora.
Looking for evidence of a Hebrew ancestry (or being enthralled with actual Hebrew ancestry) is like a "short cut" to God's favor, an automatic ticket in our blood to sitting next to Him on the throne, so to speak. It's a way by DNA to instantly be in His good graces— instead of seeing through the grace of the gospel, instead of seeing and rejoicing in the fact that He has "chosen" all of us through His grace given to us on the Cross.
The theory appeals to pride and holds out an alternate way (Hebrew roots) by which we may "get closer" to Him rather than by His Son:
Instead of finding simple joy in learning our true heritage and learning about our ancestors, the pursuit of the journey is mixed with a subtle (or sometimes not so subtle) belief that as we learn more Hebrew language, wear more Jewish clothes and symbols, keep more Jewish feasts and customs, as we do those things we are growing closer to God.
Journeying into one's heritage should instead be about discovering who we are, who our ancestors are, and who our relatives are—getting in contact with the people today and forming relationships with them. It shouldn't have the pressure or subtle motivation that this somehow brings us closer to God.
Mind you, of course by forming relationships with our relations and ancestors we actually *are* getting closer to God, but it is because He is in each person and when we love each other, we love Him. But we shouldn't use other people or our heritage as a means to get closer to Him. We should love them for their own sake, not as a means to an end. We should love them because they deserve to be loved, not because our loving them somehow curries us with more favor or makes us more spiritual. We aren't supposed to love people in order to get blessed, but because the sheer act (gift!) of loving them is itself a blessing, and above all they deserve to be loved just as we ourselves deserve to be loved, because He has told us so and given us His own love.
Edoda, I don't know how to pray. I just feel the ache of our hearts—Yours and mine—when I see brothers and sisters enthralled by "Hebrew roots." I've found so much joy in discovering my own heritages and connecting with them. It's difficult and painful to watch others journeying into heritage like a wild goose chase to get closer to You... because You're right here! You already love us!
You've already chosen us no matter what our tribe, culture or heritage is! Our heritages are a blessing and a gift, but they are not THE gift! The Gift is Your Son, who You gave for all of us, all of us from every heritage on earth.
Help us find peace, contentment and joy in the chosenness of Your Son and His blood shed for us on the Cross, instead of in the blood in our veins. Help us love and rejoice in our heritages as one beautiful gift among many others, among the many other beloved heritages of our neighbors. Help those of us who have lost our tribes by trying to become a "Lost Tribe of Israel," Lord!
All of us are loved and special, Lord. Yes, we can often say that, but our blood obsessions may show that we don't really believe it. Please help us believe it right, deep in our hearts. In Tsisa's name, amen.