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Get Behind Me, Satan! What Was That?!

February 26, 2015


Last July, Denise and I made a pilgrimage to a holy and thin place on the Natchez Trace near Florence, Alabama where she grew up.  The site was Tom Hendrix’s hand-made memorial to his great-great-grandmother Te-lah-nay who was part of the Yuchi Indian tribe that lived near there along the Tennessee River in the 1800s. Te-lah-nay was a part of the “removal” of the native people from the Southeast part of the US to the Indian Territories of Oklahoma.  The more accurate name for this “removal” (don’t you love our euphemisms for describing despicable acts?) was “The Trail of Tears”.  Te-lah-nay was unique amongst all of the native people in that she actually returned from Oklahoma (she told her sister who had gone with her that the rivers didn’t sing there like they did back home and before her spirit died in Oklahoma she had to return home).  It is an incredible story, steeped in sadness, perseverance and, at the end, joy as she was able to return to her beloved “Singing River” and begin a new life.  To hear the story from Tom is indeed to hear a deeply mystical and spiritual story of deep-seated evil (what else can you call the forced removal of a native people from their land?) and, in the end restoration for not only Te-lah-nay but for her great-great-grandson!  If you want to learn more, check out this blog or google any of the names I have mentioned.

The above picture was of a grouping of rocks that Tom had laid in the wall which symbolized Te-lah-nay’s return journey to the Singing River.  When Denise and I saw them, they immediately took our breath away.  For me, the almost eerie way in which the empty eye sockets seemed to stare back at me was a stark and horrifying reminder of what so many endured because of the evil acts of a few “men of privilege”.  They haunt me still each time I look at the pictures and reflect on Te-lah-nay and all those who were never able to return to the land of the Singing River because of the actions of the Empire.

This does actually tie in, quite appropriately (for me at least) to Mark 8:31-38, the Gospel reading for this Sunday.  Immediately following the triumphant declaration of faith by Peter (you are the Messiah), Jesus begins to tell the disciples about what is coming up.  How he himself was about to walk his own trail of tears at the hands of the Empire.  “…the Son of Man must undergo great suffering, and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests, and the scribes, and be killed, and after three days rise again.” (Mark 8:31)

Wait a minute, Jesus. Seriously? The Messiah is going to Jerusalem to die?  God forbid it!  I can’t fault Peter for his strong rebuke of Jesus.  Peter, a passionate man, who often speaks before thinking (I call him Peter, the “Ready, Shoot, Aim” disciple), was horrified by this revelation.  I can imagine him speaking passionately and loudly enough for the other disciples to hear.  However, Jesus quickly stops Peter in his tracks with some very harsh words.  “Get behind me, Satan!  For you are setting your mind not on divine things but on human things.” (Mark 8:33b)

That was quite a rebuke if you ask me!  Really, Jesus?  Did you need to be that hard on Peter?  I am sure he meant well… or did he?  Peter was speaking selfishly of things he didn’t fully understand.  Not that I can blame him or condemn him, even with the “guilty knowledge” I have of knowing “the rest of the story” unlike Peter did when he spoke his words.  Did Peter want to see Jesus suffer and die at the hands of the Empire as so many had in times past?  No, he didn’t.  Plus, at that point, I doubt that Peter was even thinking ahead to what would happen to him as a Christ follower and leader of a new religious movement which would be a threat to so many religious and political leaders in the Empire.

No Peter, Jesus was simply, yet cryptically, stating the facts of what would happen to him in the days ahead.  Of course, the exchange with Peter opened the door for Jesus to share with the disciples the gritty reality of what it was going to cost them to be his followers.  And neither the cost, nor the journey, would be pleasant.  Deny yourself, take up your cross and follow me… You want to save your life?  Then you will have to give it up, lose it!  But what is your life without your soul worth?  Nothing!

Te-lah-nay had to make a very difficult decision in the Oklahoma Indian Territory.  She had survived a year there, but knew she was dying inside.  She could stay, but her spirit would be gone.  Instead, she had to turn her back on her sister and family in order to return home to the Singing River that strengthened her spirit.  She gave up a lot to make the return journey and the journey was far from easy.  Yet, in the end, she did return home and was incredibly blessed with a man who loved her (Jonathan Levi Hipp, a white man, who wasn’t legally allowed to marry her, but was her lifelong companion, and also Tom’s great-great-grandfather) and a new life where her spirit could sing with the river.

Peter and the disciples had to make a very difficult decision.  They had to choose to live in the cross-hairs of the Empire and spread a renegade “Good News” that would get them imprisoned, beaten, tortured, and killed.  They had to make a hard choice to live outside of the “law of the Empire” with all of its promises of “protection”.  Yet in their choice, their spirits were able to sing!

Jesus’ statement could very well be made to each of us today.  Are we setting our minds on human and earthly things?  Are we bowing and worshiping the Empire and the material finery of this world?  Is the gospel we choose the false “prosperity gospel” of the television false-prophets?  We each have to answer those questions for ourselves, dear reader.  Do we follow the Empire or do we follow the Lord?  As for me, in the words of Joshua — “Choose this day whom you will serve… but as for me and my household, we will serve the Lord.” (Joshua 24:15)

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