Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Chenoa's Spiritual Journey 3: Bad Points and Conclusion

In explaining what I take to be the problems of Becky Dice's Chenoa's Spiritual Journey, I must note that problems need more clarification than strong points do. So this section is usually going to be longer than the section on the strengths.

1. Culture. I don't believe there's a completely good or evil culture, so one of the jobs we have (especially missionaries) is to identify what's good and bad, nurturing the good and uprooting the bad. For example, in general American culture there's a glorification of personal liberty at the expense of personal responsibility and interpersonal relationships. We also idolize sports and entertainment figures. We respect life by having handicapped parking spaces, but we support abortion.

There is no monolithic Indian culture. The various tribes and nations differ dramatically from one another. However, in general Indian culture emphasizes respect for the elderly and for tradition (good points), strongly believes in a spiritual world (neutral), and accepts or even encourages magical and necromantic activity forbidden by Scripture (bad). (In case you wonder, I grew up in Alaska, where this problem is a big deal: Natives there always have to choose between their traditional spirituality and biblical ways, and I've seen the choice and its consequences played out many times.)

The business about the Great Spirit bothered me because I'm always uncomfortable when someone talks a lot about God but not about Jesus. There is a definite difference between Chenoa's parents and her grandparents: the parents are evidently Christians, while the grandparents give no such impression. The grandparents' belief is like that of people who talk about The Man Upstairs: they believe in a God, but the connection with the biblical God is unclear at best. Yet it is the grandparents who define the spiritual landscape.

So we have a dream in which Chenoa's deceased mother, in spirit form, enters Chenoa. No. Mom is with Jesus, not tucked away inside Chenoa. I'd suggest an exorcism myself, because it's a safe assumption that something other than the mother was trying for entrance. In fact, the whole matter of the parents' death, besides its predictability, points in a New Age or occult direction. It's the major sticking point I have with what is otherwise a good story.

A closely related matter is the uncritical acceptance of all things Indian, which is as reckless as an uncritical acceptance of all things American (Jewish, Black, Chinese, etc.). I got the impression that "practicing" Indians such as the grandparents were saved by their culture, which is every bit as silly as saying that someone is Christian because he is an American.

2. Morality. Dakotah, the Indian boy Chenoa's interested in, is way over the line both physically and spiritually in his "romantic" actions toward Chenoa. He puts serious moves on her when she is unavailable because she isn't saved, and no, being in love doesn't excuse it. We already have kids who are pushing the line; they need examples of peers who have better control and more respect for the one they supposedly love. They also need examples of people who refuse to pursue even an attractive unsaved person, which in the real world ends badly just under 100% of the time.

Dare to be counter-cultural on romance!

3. Race. The preoccupation with race annoyed me, though it fits with the emphasis on Indian Culture (whatever that may be) being invariably right. Chenoa is strongly bigoted, and even Dakotah's sister Marie has to observe that her own crush is the best-looking White boy in school.

Now, I know that racism exists, and perhaps all this leads up to a point where Chenoa and the others confront their bigotry. But it's unpleasant in the meantime.

Conclusion. So am I opposed to the book? No. I just think a different target audience would be better. Instead of young adults, I would pitch this toward those who want to understand the "Reservation mindset." That would include anyone wanting to work with or simply understand what could be called "practicing Indians," as distinct from those who have assimilated and simply consider themselves Americans. As such, this would be a good read for adults and even (with supervision) older teens. For that matter, as racism is universal, it would be good for understanding that aspect of fallen human nature, regardless of the specific race.

Such stories can be very useful. As a "cradle Christian," I have little understanding of those who grew up outside God's grace. It revolutionized my life years ago to see, of all things, the Beatles film Yellow Submarine on TV because it (especially through the song "Eleanor Rigby") gave me a good look at life without God. Chenoa's Spiritual Journey could have the same impact for someone else.

Some other blogs on the CFRB tour:
Cathi Hassan's at Shoutlife
Rebecca Wire
Laura Davis
Queen of Convolution (Caprice Hokstad)


cathikin said...

Once again, you hit on some of the same things that I had difficulty with. The difference is that you are able to put them into words much more eloquently than I am. And I always tend to doubt myself. I DO think a book like this is a good fit for teens, generally speaking, but it bothered me that Dakotah was such a Casanova while still apparently serious about following Jesus. And Chenoah is only 13. However, Dakotah is a lot like the real teen boys I have known, even the more serious ones. I didn't really notice that part about Chenoa's mom. Or I conveniently forgot it before I finished. I kind of let the mysticism slide because I basically liked the book a lot. I was thinking that it's possible to honor your culture and even some of the traditions without compromisng spiritually, and it is. Yet, there are those areas that go far afield, as you mentioned.

I know that Becky Dice has written more in a series about Chenow, Hopfully, her grandparents come to know Jesus Christ as their Lord and Saviour somewhere along the line.

Caprice Hokstad said...

Thank you, Steve, for your patient explanations. I did not read the book for genre reasons (YA coming-of-age), so I really appreciate how you've highlighted its worth as a "reservation mindset" study that could be useful to adults on another level.

David said...
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Steve said...
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Frank Creed said...

You said you feel uncomfortable when people talk about God without mentioning Jesus. Yet Jesus always talked about the Father, and took no credit for what He did or said. "I can do nothing but what I see my Father in heaven doing, and I speak only that which I hear the Father speaking." Would you then be uncomfortable with Jesus?

Putting oneself in the cultural context, 99.9% of Jews were uncomfortable with Jesus. It is easy to observe in the rear view mirror that Jesus is the Christ but contemporary Jews did not recognize him as part of the monotheistic Godhead.

Christ also chose his battles and when he is quoted in scripture he rarely refers to his role in the trinity, but he did on occasion. For instance, when Pontious PIlate asked if he was the King of the Jews, he answered, "It is as you say." The majority of Jews did not respond well to Christ's claims.

By the same token, there were not many Christians comfortable with David Koresh or Charles Manson, and they claimed to be God or a prophet of.


Steve said...
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Steve said...
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Becky Dice said...

I am jumping on the band wagon and if I get in hot water so be it. However, are we to go through life with tunnel vision in that we see only our views are the only ones and no one else can be right. i took the heat of your words when you edittd my book and I got the impression you didn't believe it was inspired by God. Chenoa had a dream. It's not like Chenoa physically walked down the street and her mother appeared before her, they spoke and her being or energy entered her. If that was the case I'd agree to an exorcisim. She had a dream nothing else. I could say Sci-fi or fantasty couldn't be spiritual because of the content, I'm not into that genre but if it spreads God's Word that's fine with me. Neither do I read Westerns or Romances but we can further God's Words by the stories they tell my hat's off to the author. I wrote from my heart and if it spreads God Word are we to question God's method of speaking to me? Each writer is unique if we all wrote the same way what a boring world it would be. We are all called of God to write and what He's puts in a writer's heart is between the author and God. We should all cheer for Chenoa because she surrended to God and decided to follow Him, as we all should do.

Steve said...

I doubt you'll get in hot water; your views mirror a common if not prevailing attitude in American Christianity that derives from our culture more than scripture. You would have many defenders. I will say two things, however:

1. While the sequence that troubled me was a dream, I may reasonably ask whether it was only a dream. On various grounds, which I can provide if anyone cares, it seemed in context to be a mystical experience. Given the emphasis on the mystical, and since it apparently also functioned as an echo of the earlier death dream, that seems reasonable and makes the content worth checking.

2. Similarly, to say that God's dealing with a writer makes the writing somehow sacrosanct is unworkable. What if a child pornographer claims to be expressing a God-given message? Would that be off-limits to examination from outside? Of course not. (And no, I'm not comparing your work to pornography of any kind; it's just that an extreme example can clarify the issues involved.)

We are all imperfect. Only in the Bible do we find God's word perfectly transmitted. So it's appropriate to look at other works to see how faithfully they transmit the divine message. If you read my work, you may well find things that trouble you, and I'll want to hear about them. This is how we learn from one another in the Body, and why we do not exist on our own but in community.

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