Presbyterians Today

AUG-SEP 2018

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Pr e s by te r i a n s To d ay | AUGUST/SEPTEMBER 2018 27 Even with her tolerant viewpoint, McCabe believes it is vital that the Christian message stay away from traditional Navajo beliefs. Otherwise, she says, there is danger of blending and losing the true gospel. She points to the Native American Church, which mixes a belief in the Great Spirit, peyote usage (a hallucinogenic common in Native American ceremo- nies) and the affirmation of "Brother Jesus." It is the largest indigenous religious movement in America. Christ is risen As Francis Draper finishes his Easter homily, Halwood asks those gathered to kneel in the red dirt and pray. Alternating between Navajo and English, he pleads for God's blessings upon the leaders of our world, the United States and the Navajo people. The newly risen sun greets the communal "Amen." Afterward, a young member of the congregation who no longer lives on the reservation lingers, taking in the view of Fortress Rock — an island in the canyon where a brave and ingenious band of Navajos resisted the Long Walk for weeks, baffling the U.S. cavalry. It is still a source of pride among the Navajos. "There are many stories to be told here," the young man said. I, too, linger for a few moments, soaking in the view, the wind on my face. I think of the oft-quoted verse from Hebrews: "Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever." I say a final prayer that we will incarnate Jesus' purposes through the abundance of his love and the extravagance of his grace. I turn to leave with a final word on my lips. A Navajo word. Hózhó. Harmony. Krin Van Tatenhove, an ordained PC(USA) minister for more than 30 years, is now enjoying his time writing and traveling. He is co-author of a book on congregational renewal due out from Westminster John Knox Press in the spring of 2019. He lives and works in San Antonio. classes in Phoenix. He was commis- sioned by Grand Canyon Presbytery in 1999. He and his wife receive no pay for their tireless service. Rather, they survive on pensions from the Navajo government. Halwood is known to speak of tra- ditional Navajo practices as "the work of the devil," and he is unequivocal when asked about the church's rela- tionship to this aspect of its culture. "We are separate from those tradi- tions," he said. "We believe that Jesus is the only way to salvation. After all, this is scriptural, with Jesus himself saying in the Gospel of John, 'I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.' " The Rev. Norma McCabe has a more moderate stance. McCabe is stated supply pastor at First Presbyterian in Kayenta, Arizona, and the only Navajo woman ordained as a Presbyterian minister of Word and sacrament. She also serves as a consultant for Northern Native American Ministries of the Presbytery of Grand Canyon, overseer of Navajo congregations. Though McCabe's father, a medicine man, raised her and 13 siblings in traditional ways, she also endured the "re-education" of the Bureau of Indian Affairs' Tolani Lake Indian School. They forced her to cut her hair and to cease speaking Navajo, with discipline enforced by spankings. Once a week, a Presbyterian missionary named Charles Smith provided obligatory lessons in Christianity. Later, after her mother's death, McCabe's sister became a Christian through the influence of the Cook School for American Indians in Tempe, Arizona, a Presbyterian- affiliated institution. She convinced McCabe to convert to the faith. From the beginning, McCabe was devoted to her church, but her call to ordained ministry came while she was working as chief clerk for a Navajo judge. "I saw so much hardship among the people who came to court," she said. "I felt that somebody needed to pray for them, minister to them, show them compassion." Responding to that need, McCabe began a long, arduous education, ultimately graduating from Dubuque Theological Seminary. Grand Canyon Presbytery ordained her in 2002. Recently, despite the warnings of others that it was not befitting her faith, she attended a healing ceremony for an extended family member who holds to traditional ways. "We need to go beyond ourselves into whatever culture we find our- selves as Christians," she explained. "There is good and bad everywhere, and we must reach out to people who are hurting. This is what Christ meant when he called us to recognize him in the hungry, the naked and the sick." Keeping to the gospel There is no scarcity of need in the Navajo Nation. Unemployment is seven times higher than the U.S. average, and per capita income is far below the U.S. poverty level. Many family members leave the reserva- tion simply for economic survival. Adequate housing is scarce, and homes often lack sufficient plumbing and electricity. Though progress has been made in health care, Navajo rates of diabetes, tuberculosis, alcoholism and heart disease exceed national averages. Water is critically precious; moreover, uranium mining threatens a people who endured the tragic breach of the Church Rock uranium mill's disposal pond in 1979, an event that released more radiation than the Three Mile Island disaster. McCabe says the Navajo congrega- tions do what they can to help, but they have limited resources. Many of them offer hospitality through meals, showers, used clothing and newborn baby packages when people find themselves stranded or in dire need.

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