There are Indigenous rituals and traditions in the Americas that might alarm the Christian white Euro-centric culture that are not involved or aware of the history and cultural aspects surrounding them. There is nothing wrong with having culture and customs per say. However, I have seen where some ceremonies clash with the word of God and many of them become unsavory salt amongst the salted disciples. Christian Indigenous leaders must discern the parts of our culture which lead us away from God but also those which will benefit our spiritual walk.
In one ceremony, the Navajo people celebrate a baby’s first laugh with the family and friends' celebration, called a First Laugh Ceremony. The Ceremony in Navajo tradition welcomes a new baby into the family with a party that honors loved ones and the act of sharing and generosity. In the Navajo tradition, a baby’s first laugh demonstrates their readiness and willingness to fully join their families in life and love.
The Navajo place great value on generosity as a virtue
The lucky family member or friend who caused that little baby to laugh, plays a special role in the party. She or he is honored as the organizer of the First Laugh Ceremony, where guests are invited to the home to fully welcome this new life and honor his or her new family. Everyone invited will not be able to get enough of the laugh.
With the help of his or her parents, the baby ceremonially gives each guest a plate of food, rock salt and a swag bag, usually candies, as tradition holds. The Navajo place great value on generosity as a virtue, and this first act of generosity during a First Laugh Party teaches this important lesson early.
Sometimes while the baby distributes the rock salt to each person, the granular salt sticks on the tiny tot hand and the parent must un-grasp the grainy salt to give to guests. Family members and friends smile on how the baby is inherently selfish and wants to withhold some salt for themselves.
Perhaps this is an area where we can appreciate the variety that God created
This part of the tradition dates to antiquity when salt was a commodity that was hard to come by. It represents giving in hopes that the baby remains generous with their joy and happiness and shares it with others in their lifetime. Navajo culture values attributes of generosity and sharing, and frowns upon excessive material accumulation and consumption.
We are not as good as we should be. The Bible says God created humans to be like him, that is we ought to always display qualities such as love, faithfulness, justice, and mercy, and not display any opposite characteristics such as selfishness.
So when we consider the Laughing Ceremony we can see Biblical values reflected. Perhaps this is an area where we can appreciate the variety that God created and see God in nations allotted and appointed times in history (Act 17:26). Our differences are an invitation to get to know one another for the edification of mankind, deeper community, and honest dialogue.
Ministering that has substance includes love and compassion
I started with a Laughing Ceremony narrative because in order to have this relationship Euro-Americans must first honor Native people by seeking to understand, appreciate, and deeply know them. If we continue not to invite Indigenous people to the table, for mutual mental and spiritual nourishment, we will only reinforce the skepticism, wariness, and distrust that so many already have toward Christianity and the dominant cultures.
I encourage you to strive to learn not only people’s personal stories but something of their diverse history, culture, and lament with them as well. Ministering that has substance includes love and compassion, a listening ear, prayers, and laughter. When we come together we may all experience love and a cheerful heart are a Laughing Ceremony for the Soul.
Taking the cross off our church sanctuary’s wall and going into the world and interacting with people, who are different from you, is not “comfortable” action that we readily schedule in our phone calendar. It can be challenging work. Building relationships is inconvenient, uncomfortable, and arduous work. In Native ministry, we must emphasize the same heart that Paul shows to the believers in Corinthians:
"Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres." 1 Corinthians 13:4-7.
Originally Published on Do Justice from columnist Richard Silversmith.