Well Erie, here we are …. finally, “green.” We’ve crossed the threshold into the next chapter of our story, and who doesn’t love a good story?
Given the history here, we have plenty of good stories, some have better endings than others. How we navigate this next chapter might determine how our story ends. A worldwide pandemic has set a path toward economic ruin and, has disrupted much of society. Anarchists are rioting and creating chaos on the backs of peaceful protests, all but obscuring a just cause. But that’s not the end of the story. We can’t change history but we can learn from it and change the trajectory history has put us on.
Does America have a history of turning to God in times of trouble? Yes, we do!
George Washington had a flag made to encourage the troops during the American Revolution. He called this flag an Appeal to Heaven. It first flew over the 13 colonies proclaiming our fledgling nation’s dependence on God. If ever there was a time to call out again to God for our nation, it is now!
Washington knew that winning American independence from imperial rule would require the colonist’s complete dependence on God for guidance. He also knew victory would require divine stamina and an undying will to persevere. Sounds like what Erie and America needs today. The flag was designed with an evergreen tree to remind the colonists that their reliance was with an Everlasting God.
Today, people all over Erie and America are proclaiming faith in Jesus Christ. Communities are positioned to rise up and demonstrate the goodness of God. The Bible tells us our words and actions set divine forces in motion that cause God’s Kingdom to come and His will to be done, on earth (in Erie) as it is in heaven (Matthew 6:10). One of my favorite sayings is, you’ll find what you’re looking for. It’s like Moses said, “If you will seek the Lord your God, you will find Him if you search for Him with all your heart and all your soul” (Deuteronomy 4:29). Words and actions that are rooted in faith in God put one on a path to see His glory and I want to see His glory, His goodness.
Digging further back in history, I was hoping to find stories of God’s goodness and was intrigued to learn of local Native Americans who actually lived out words and actions rooted in faith. You may have heard of the Iroquois Nation or Five Nations. The story behind how these tribal enemies, came together hundreds of years ago to form a league of nations is compelling. They were the first to develop a democratic government with a constitution upholding rights for all those joining the league and abiding by the constitution. Point of interest: this early Native American language group called themselves – People of the Long House or Haudenosaunee (pronounced – ho dee noe sho nee). The French called them Iroquois. The British called them Five Nations.
Haudenosaunee history teaches that centuries ago, ancestors in what is now the state of New York were enmeshed in continuous inter-tribal conﬂicts. The cost of war was high and had weakened their societies. An Huron Indian brave called Deganawide or The Peacemaker received a strategy for peace through a series of divine inspirations. He had an encounter with the Mohawk Chief Hiawatha, a good orator who was ready for peace. Hiawatha regretted his lifetime of war and the terrible loss of his family. Together the pair traveled to the tribal nations who were most closely related by clan, and shared their ideas for peace. Some versions of the story claim a woman, Jigonsaseh, joined them in the quest. The nations, listed from west to east, are the Seneca, Cayugas, Onondaga, Oneida, and Mohawk. A sixth tribe, the Tuscaroras, joined in 1722.
The plan for peace was laid out using symbols. The use of symbols is a great tool to keep accuracy when history is passed orally from generation to generation. A White Pine Tree was chosen as the symbol for the original constitution. Partly because it’s needles grow in clusters of five. And also, because it has broad branches that provide shelter. An Eagle holding a cluster of five arrows represented the messenger. Its function was to alert tribal members of oncoming danger. Four White Roots at the base are symbolic of the four compass points, north, south, east and west. Showing that other nations could find their way to the Tree of Peace. This image of the tree is from Onondaga Chief Oren Lyons’ artwork.
After years of travel and persuasion, four of the five chiefs agreed to peace. The last holdout was Chief Tadodaho of the Onondaga. A cruel warrior with a twisted mind and body, he was merciless even to his own people, and would not give up the evil ideas slithering in his thinking. But the Great Law of Peace would only work if all five tribes agreed and contributed their voice. Some accounts say it was the woman, Jigonsaseh who was able to calm the cruel chief’s mind. In their words she, “combed out the tangles of deception from his head.”
Stories of deception and tangled thinking are as old as time. There is a sticky note above my desk with a quote from the Greek diplomat, Demosthenes. He said, “Nothing is easier than self-deceit, for what each man wishes, that he also believes to be true.” Even David recorded Moses’ prayer to God about deception in Psalm 90:4, saying, “Our secret sins, which we tried to conceal, you have placed in the revealing light of Your presence.” The prophet Isaiah described this long ago, “They say that what is right is wrong and what is wrong is right; that black is white and white is black; bitter is sweet and sweet is bitter. Woe to those who are wise and shrewd in their own eyes (Isaiah 5:19-21). I guess the problem with deceit is, it’s so …. deceiving!
With the five tribes finally on board, it was time to formalize the “Great League of Peace”. 50 tribal representatives joined together at Lake Onondaga. Some historians say it was under a full eclipse of the sun, thus putting the ceremony either in the year 1142 or 1451. The new constitution was based on democratic principles of; respect for all persons, clearly delineated tribal roles in the conduct of government, and gender balance of representation in government. This oldest, living, participatory democracy on earth was acknowledged and celebrated in 1987, by the United States Senate at the 200th anniversary of the U.S. Constitution.
Shown below is a beaded belt, called Wampum, crafted at the formation of the league to symbolize the new union. In it, all five nations are connected by a line of white beads symbolizing peace. The Onondaga are represented in the center by a pine tree.
Tribal representatives stood in a circle around the evergreen tree, demonstrating that if they kept their circle united, they would always be able to keep the Tree of Peace standing. To seal the covenant, they buried tomahawks and weapons of war under the tree. This covenantal ceremony is thought to be the origin of the saying, “bury the hatchet.” But burying their weapons of war did not mean they would no longer fight. It didn’t mean they thought they were creating some kind of Utopian society where they would sit around a campfire singing kumbaya songs! History tells us the Five Nations continued to war. Rather, it meant they would not war against each other. As constitutional brothers, they would stand shoulder to shoulder with each other around the tree of peace. Other nations would be invited to learn from this way of living. “This is what the Lord says: ‘Stand at the crossroads and look; ask for the ancient paths, ask where the good way is, and walk in it!’” (Jeremiah 6:16).
And we can learn something from them even now. In these past fourteen weeks of Covid-19 mitigations, haven’t we learned that we are better together? To succeed and build community, we need to stand shoulder to shoulder looking out for each other. Let’s battle beside each other, not against each other. Today’s conflicts aren’t fought with hatchets, they’re fought with words and faith. “Your hand-to-hand combat is not with human beings, but with the highest principalities and authorities operating in rebellion under the heavenly realms. For they are a powerful class of demon-gods and evil spirits that hold this dark world in bondage” (Ephesians 6:12 The Passion Bible). It’s easy for our thoughts to get tangled up in today’s contradictory messaging. As we allow the tangles of deception to be combed from our minds, and our thinking transformed by the word of God, we will see… and reflect His goodness.