Growing up on or near Native American communities we are exposed to a lot of implicit teachings such as when you leave, learn something but come back and help your people. Another teaching, which is often based on traditional teachings is to strive to live in a good way. And, I can already envision the question from my non-Native friends, “what does a ‘live in a good way’ mean?”
Valid question, but what I enjoy most about Native philosophy is its ambiguity and vagueness. Much like in storytelling it is up to the listener to decipher and decide for oneself what is the meaning of the story and how to apply it to one’s life. The same is true for how to interpret and live out living in a good way. For some living in a good could be living on the reservation raising sheep and cattle. For others living in a good way is leaving the reservation to go to college and go back home to become teachers.
For me personally during this pandemic I have had a little more free-time aside from my Zoom calls and pretending to be a homeschool teacher to rediscovered my passion for woodworking. During the first weeks of the lockdown, I made a desk for my mother-in-law, a small desk for my youngest daughter, and a bookshelf out of reclaimed wood pallets. During this season living in a good way has been building things that are useful.
Fortunately for me, living in a good way is relatively safe, but I think about the healthcare workers during this pandemic. How they are working despite the risk exposure to the coronavirus. Living in a good way may not always be safe. But, because the nurses, doctors, janitors, and many others risk the danger of the virus many who are sick might be well again and I ASSUME that makes the risk worth it (if I am wrong please let me know).
If you are a Jesus Follower, then you have been called, commanded, and/or encouraged to live in a good way in the home and in society. During this pandemic, everyone is encouraged to wear a mask not so much for your protection but for the protection of others. Wearing a mask keeps others safe from you and in its own way shows love for others. Living in a good during this pandemic is trying to stay home, but if you have to go out then wear a mask, and check in on your relatives and neighbors (staying 6 feet apart of course).
But what happens when certain people believe their rights are being impinged upon and they decide to defy stay at home orders. Recently, in Michigan, some people tried to storm the capitol building after hearing Governor Gretchen Whitmer extended Michigan’s state of emergency in response to the coronavirus pandemic. On social media, they were being deemed ‘terrorists’ because they many brought guns with them to the capitol building.
The protestors, or terrorists, however, you describe them may believe they are living in a good way by practicing their right to protest, right to bear arms, and hope to re-open their state for economic purposes. Herein lies the difficulty in trying to define the word ‘good’ and how to ‘live in a good way.’ It may be up to each person to decide what it means to live in a good way, but I think there are some ways in which most people would agree is NOT living in a good way.
The following questions may help in the discussion of determining if a person is living in a good way:
- Can a person be living in a good way if they are putting other people’s health in danger?
- Is living in a good way good only helpful for a few or for the whole community/country?
- Is it possible for a person to be living in a good way if that person is threatening to use force to send a message?
Have you ever watched Groundhog Day? The main character in the movie is Phil Connors, played by Bill Murray, is a reporter on an assignment in Punxsutawney, PA. Phil is a ‘normal’ guy who only wants to do his job and get back to his life in the big city. In the movie, Phil becomes trapped in a loop and relives the same day over and over again. Phil decides to try everything, rob a bank, eat everything possible, talk to and learn about everybody in the small town and eventually tries to drive off a cliff in hopes of ending the loop.
At one point of the movie, Phil has been re-living the same day for some time and he begins to reflect his life with his two friends and says, “What would you do if you were stuck in one place, and every day was exactly the same, and nothing that you did mattered?” One friend responds with a glum look on his face, “that about sums it up for me.” Phil at this point has pretty much given up on the meaning of life and lives by the motto: do whatever you want. The live free motto landed Phil and his friends in jail after joyriding around town. I think most people can agree that is not living in a good way.
Followers of Jesus Way are called and taught how to live in a good way from the Bible. For some help on this subject I would like to bring in 1 Peter chapter 2, beginning at verse 9:
9 But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light. 10 Once you were not a people, but now you are God’s people; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy.
11 Beloved [Jewish & Gentile believers in Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia, and Bithynia] I urge you as sojourners and exiles to abstain from the passions of the flesh, which wage war against your soul. 12 Keep your conduct among the Gentiles honorable, so that when they speak against you as evildoers, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day of visitation.
13 Be subject for the Lord’s sake to every human institution, whether it be to the emperor as supreme, 14 or to governors as sent by him to punish those who do evil and to praise those who do good. 15 For this is the will of God, that by doing good you should put to silence the ignorance of foolish people. 16 Live as people who are free, not using your freedom as a cover-up for evil, but living as servants of God. 17 Honor everyone. Love the brotherhood. Fear God. Honor the emperor.
A chosen race. Peter is reminding the Jewish and Gentile believers of their standing before God. They are set apart or born again with a new, pure heart as Peter laid out in the first chapter. 1 Peter 1:22-23: 22 Having purified your souls by your obedience to the truth for sincere brotherly love, love one another earnestly from a pure heart, 23 since you have been born again, not of perishable seed but of imperishable, through the living and abiding word of God.
According to Peter living in a good way for Christians is to abstain from the passions of the flesh, which wage war against your soul. Living in a good way for Christians is living a life devoid of sin. This way of living gives honor to a perfect and holy God and can also keep a person out of trouble or being called an ‘evildoer’. If these first-century Christians are living or trying to live a good life why would they be called evildoers?
Rome during the first century was a pluralistic society and accepting of all religions. Where Judaism and eventually Christianity got in trouble was when they said their way or religion was the only way to live and know God. Fellow citizens who disagreed with Christians for whatever reason may have been turning them in to the authorities for not obeying the laws of government or preaching against the other religions.
Ideally, I think Peter’s hope was that when Christians were being falsely accused or even persecuted the government would see their good deeds and bless God, but I doubt that happened because of the persecution the early Church would eventually endure. Peter does address the worst-case scenario of being falsely accused or persecuted later in the book by calling Christians to endure suffering like Jesus who did nothing wrong yet was hung on a tree (1 Peter 2.21-24).
Be subject for the Lord’s sake to every human institution, whether it be to the emperor as supreme. When first reading this verse, we gloss over human institutions (authority in other Biblical translations) as referring to just the government, specifically the United States government if you are an American. When you re-read the verse, it says be subject to every human institution. Everyone does not refer to only nations, governments, or countries, but every human institution. When reading through an indigenous lens, the human institution is not only the US Government but also tribal societies and tribal governments.
A subject can also mean being a good citizen of any and every society. Living in a good way in any human institution is obeying the laws, social customs, and cultural norms of a particular society. To those who may contest or defy Peter’s word to local law or to respect social customs and cultural norms of society I would offer the words asserted by Paul in 1 Corinthians 9:22-23: I have become all things to all people so that by all possible means I might save some. I do all this for the sake of the gospel, that I may share in its blessings.
During Paul’s missionary endeavors he respected the local laws, customs, and norms of all the societies he visited in order to share with them the blessings of God. Would societies during the first century be willing to receive God’s blessings or hear the story of God from Paul if he began by telling them how wrong they are and how they should live? Paul began his missionary work by being with the people and maybe even becoming like them. I believe share in its blessings is a two-way street where Paul went to ‘save’ some may have also been blessed by learning a new culture, eating new foods, and laughing with the locals.
For this is the will of God, that by doing good you should put to silence the ignorance of foolish people. Peter declares to Jesus Followers to live in a good way by not sinning, being good citizens, do good deeds and other people cannot speak ill of you. Foolish people live by doing whatever they want and put themselves before everyone else. Randy Woodley defines sin as living as if one has no relatives. Foolish people live as they have no responsibility to anyone or anything. That is not what Peter is referring to when he says live as people who are free, we must read the rest of the verse, not using your freedom as a cover-up for evil, but living as servants of God.
Peter sums up his thought by telling Christians to honor everyone because everyone deserves respect, not just important people such as celebrities, governor, and emperors. Christians must honor all people, but must only fear God. For it is God who sent his son as a two-legged to bring the stories of the Creator on how to live in a good way. Terry Wildman, in his First Nations Version of the Bible, calls Jesus Creator Who Saves because of his sacrifice for all people who can once again be rightly related to the Creator. Creator Who Saves laid down his life to cover the times we live like we have no relatives and when we are not living in a good way.