To the editor:
Recently, on a Saturday in July 2011, I attended a wedding at a Missouri Synod Lutheran Church in a small town located in west central Minnesota.
I was invited by the groom to give a blessing in the Dakota language, in the church basement, on the couple and on the food. When my wife and I arrived at the church, the groom rushed out to greet us and explain to us a change.
Apparently, the pastor and church officials were concerned that I, a Dakota man (a "savage?"), a non-Christian, was going to pray in the Dakota Language. They even called the denomination's offices in the Twin Cities for guidance. They, evidently, agreed that I ought not to pray in the church basement nor to pray on the church grounds. I could pray off the church grounds. The groom also informed me that the church officials in the Twin Cities offices wanted a copy of my prayer and a translation to see what I was going to say. To the groom's credit, he refused to do this. I do wonder if they, the church officials, thought my prayer was going to conjure, or summon, a devil or spirit.
Thus, I gave a prayer of blessing, not in the church basement nor on church grounds, but in the wagon, pulled by horses, in which the groom and bride and the wedding party were to ride after the ceremony in the church. My wife and I were invited to ride with the wedding party. So, I said my prayer, standing in the wagon, off church grounds, in the Dakota Language and then I translated the Dakota prayer to English.
Many relatives of the groom who were not members of that church had no problem with a Dakota man offering a prayer of blessing on the couple. So, they stood around the wagon and listened.
As far as I know, none of them were struck down by bolts of lightning from the Lord.
One of the things that I thought about re: the fundamentalist extremists of Christianity was the intolerance and divisiveness of their beliefs. Such Christian extremists are very confident that they, only, have the Truth and that other believers in a god (e.g., the Dakota People who believe in Wakan Tanka, the "Great Mystery," etc.) are worshipping Satan.
They are not unlike the Islamic extremists, for example, the Taliban, who, in their beliefs, refer to any person who doesn't believe as they do as pagans, heathens, savages, or infidels.
I listened to the pastor say, in the ceremony, to the bride and groom that they are "sinners," and that they will deal with "sin" in the marriage. I wondered what they were thinking about the pastor's words? I thought that these words seemed so judgmental and so incongruous with the joy, love and happiness that the bride and groom obviously shared.
I thought about the Hanbde Ceyapi, literally, "Crying For a Vision," or the Vision Quest. One of the teachings of this ceremony is "Respect Another Man's Vision." After several days of fasting, meditation, and prayer, it is usual for the individual to receive a "vision," or a revelation from Wakan Tanka, the "Great Mystery." The individual does not need to set up evangelism programs or to send out missionaries to spread this revelation, or vision. The revelation belongs to the person. I find this idea of respecting another person's vision a refreshing contrast to Christianity or Islam, both of which claim to have the only truth.
Which way of believing will contribute to a better world for all people? A religious group who says "we, alone, have the truth. You, all, must believe as we do?" Or, a religious group who says "respect another person's vision?" Which group will teach and perpetuate religious intolerance? Which group will teach and perpetuate religious tolerance?
The best thing I saw at this wedding was how love transcends all the barriers that humans set up, barriers which divide and cause divisiveness. These barriers include race and color. At this wedding, a white man was marrying a black woman from an African nation. Their love for each other also transcended barriers of religion and language as well.
All together, it was a most beautiful wedding, in spite of the tempest in a teapot that my presence generated.
Chris Mato Nunpa
Yellow Medicine Community