So, my new housemate, who is one of my closest friends, is getting her Masters, and part of that involves an assignment to go to a religious gathering outside of her own religion, and to put herself in an uncomfortable position. I’m one of those people who loves experiencing new things, so I decided to go along with her. My friend is Assiniboine Sioux, and practices her traditional faith, so she decided we would meet a classmate of hers at a Native American Church (Not TheNative American Church, aka, peyotism, to be clear, just one with a Native preacher and congregation) in the middle of the Flathead Reservation, which is the domain of three tribes, the Salish, the Kootenai, and Pend d’Oreilles (Interestingly, the Salish and Kootenai are the only ones mentioned on the sign, which my friend and I chalked up to an increasing lack of Pend d’Oreilles in the area) Once you enter the reservation, the road signs are bilingual, in Salish and English, and the area is absolutely gorgeous. We were in awe of the majesty of the land, and I felt like I’d entered another realm entirely, so far outside of urban Missoula, it was difficult to comprehend that they existed in the same state, let alone being a 20 minute drive away from one another.
We made it to the church, which was all purple. The exterior, the interior, the curtains, the quilts on the walls, and the cloth hanging across the cross. I went to a Catholic middle school, and I always thought that purple was the colour of the lenten season, and not really appropriate for this time, but it was a Methodist church, so perhaps the customs are different.
It was… rather banal. My friend and I are both smartmouths who have a hard time holding our dirty thoughts at bay wherever we are, and during one of the hymns (To my ears, all the hymns sounded the same and were rather monotonous, with uninspiring lyrics) which had the lyrics “Jesus is my doctor, Jesus is my lawyer”, my friend whispered to me “That’s because he’s Jewish!” and I had a hard time not laughing. Post-music, there was a rather convoluted sermon, focusing on yesterday’s rapture talk, followed by several testimonies. After it was all done, my friend and I slunk out, hoping to go to a nice dive joint which had fantastic huckleberry pie and bison burgers. While on the way, we discussed how empty and dry the whole church experience had left us, though that could be because neither of us are Christian. We saw that several people were really into it, and we felt that was fine for them, but my friend especially was downhearted by how lacking in traditional Native ritual it was, even though she’s not Salish or any of the other Flathead tribes. It was still stripped of any meaningful connection to the traditions of the tribes of the Flathead, which seemed curious, and sad, and was, unfortunately, dull. Though I’m not super-religious, the last thing that should describe a religious gathering is “dull”.
As we discussed our respective religious traditions, my friend and I realized how interconnected our cultures are to our religious traditions, and how they reacted to being detached from each other. We concluded that religion suffered a lot more when devoid of culture, than culture did when devoid of religion.
Either way, I shall not be going back to the Methodist church. I’m happy with my own path.