Thursday, March 13, 2008

Tahlequah Day 3

Wednesday morning involved getting up just in time for Warren to arrive and inform us that our primary contact, Sue, was very sick and so he would be organizing our day along with Mary, his counterpart at Cherokee Nation. I had just finished toasting the bagels in the oven (the first batch got a little crispy) and suddenly everyone scrambled to get ready and out the door as quickly as possible.

Our first stop was the Cherokee Nation administrative building in Tahlequah proper. We got a tour during which we learned about how the Cherokee government operates and the services they provide. One of the things they do is to run a Cherokee language immersion school. They have developed the curriculum through grade 2 at this point and plan to go all the way through high school. As we were leaving, the chief came by and spoke with us briefly and took a picture with us.

We had lunch at a small park along the lake. It was a beautiful day with sunshine and clear blue skies. After another round of picture taking, we headed to Marble City to spend the afternoon with the community there and the group from the University of Miami that was doing an Alternative Spring Break trip like ours. We learned to play Cherokee marbles, which is more like bocce balls than what I would have thought of as marbles. Then we played with a group of local children; duck-duck-goose was the favorite. We ate dinner with the community; Cherokee tacos with a base of fried dough and piled with beans, lettuce, tomato, onion, salsa and cheese.

We had been invited after dinner to join the community for a service at the church where the day's activities were taking place. It is a pentecostal church and I was very much aware that several of our members are Jewish. I spoke briefly with the trip coordinators about what the service might be like and suggested we gather the group to discuss it and how we wanted to participate. Several members of the group expressed discomfort at the idea of participating. Others thought it would be a good thing to at least observe. As the group conversed, the idea emerged to stay for the beginning part of the service, when the children would sing and then a band would play, to say "thank you" to the community for having us, and then to head home. Even in these initial stages of the service, the pastor was very involved, offering a number of prayers and speaking about Jesus as the only way to salvation, both in this world and the next. The children sang "Amazing Grace" in Cherokee and then performed several praise and worship songs in American Sign Language. The band was actually quite good, especially the guitarist.

It was notable on the hour+ ride home that no one even mentioned turning on the radio. We spent the entire ride unpacking the trip. There were a lot of questions about what we had experienced together, and several expressions of discomfort. There were also many expressions if intrigue and curiosity about this expression of religious fervor. Throughout the ride, I was asked many clarifying questions and then to give an account of all of church history! It was good to see the group unpack the experience together and to move deeper in relationship to one another out of the confusion brought on by this encounter. I was glad to be a part of it and to be able to be helpful. I am also very much aware that not every one of the 2 trips BU sends each year has a chaplain on it.

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