Miamis honor their ancestor Kilsoquah, Huntington County, Indiana, 2005.
Every ancient nation and tribe has a creation myth, which answers certain basic questions everyone needs to know: Who are we? How did we get here? What is our place in the grand scheme of things?
For instance, the creation story of the Miami Indians goes something like this: “We crawled up out of the mud at the source of the St. Joseph River near South Bend, Indiana.”
It’s as plausible as any other explanation, and I don’t disparage it at all when I call it a myth: every society does need a story that conveys this kind of information.
The Miamis’ story, which I’ve oversimplified into a single sentence, conveys three key bits of what their society values: first is the mud. The People are descendants of the earth. This exactly parallels Genesis 2:7 (NRSV), “Then the LORD God formed man from the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and the man became a living being.”
The first thing we encounter from the Miamis is a reverence for the earth. No wonder they’re such a proud People.
The second detail we find is that it wasn’t just earth that formed humanity; we didn’t rise up out of a cornfield, but out of the mud in the river. That is, the water is a very important element; and not just water like the rain, but the moving, constantly renewing water of the river.
Do you know where the river comes from? I don’t either.
Of course we have more scientific explanations now, but the miracle of the river as a lifegiving source is front and center with the Miamis.
Third, it’s not just any river, but a particular one, now called the St. Joseph; obviously the St. Joe was renamed by a White man, as the Maimi name is Sakiwasipiwi, the Coming Out River, while the name for their birthplace is Sakiwayungi, the Coming Out Place (Stewart Rafert, The Miami Indians of Indiana: A Persistent People, 1654-1994).
The Coming Out River is located in a particular spot near South Bend, so in a single sentence, we know where home is.
(Geography lesson: the St. Joe starts in southeast Michigan, then takes a southerly dip into Indiana at South Bend, then shoots back up north to empty into Lake Michigan near Benton Harbor. So South Bend has always been a descriptive name, both in the Miami language and in English.)
Mud, river, Indiana; in fact the Miamis ranged over a wide area of the Midwest, but that particular river in that special spot was/is the holy place. I love creation stories.
The Torah of course has two of them; “In the beginning,” with its seven-day cycle culminating in the Sabbath, when God rested, is a Priestly meditation on creation that was tacked on to the beginning of the much older narrative that starts at Genesis 2:4a. That older story is the Hebrews’ original creation myth.
People who take the later meditation of Genesis 1:1 to 2:3 as a literal description of “God made it all in seven days” are some of the stupidest people on earth; that is, they’ve been misled by fundamentalist preachers who either don’t know any better, or don’t care.
Every priest in the Episcopal Church knows better, and most clergy in other denominations, wherever basic Biblical literacy is a requirement of ordination. Every Hebrew-literate student can see it themselves, because the language evolved over hundreds of years, and what starts in hip-hop ends up in Shakespearean. It’s that obvious, these two text-blocks come from two different times. They have two different purposes. They don’t belong together—and yet they do.
“And there was evening and there was morning, the first day.” This is why Jews go to temple on Friday night, even though the Sabbath is Saturday; “days” start the night before. For the same reason Episcopalians and Catholics often go to Sunday mass on Saturday night; once the sun goes down it’s tomorrow. This exactly fits the human experience; we go to sleep, the day changes and we wake up tomorrow.
I love creation stories; even though they’re not scientifically correct, they never pretend to be; they’re psychologically and culturally right on the money.
Episcopal Church 101: the Bible is not a science text. Fuhgeddaboudit.
The Bible instead is a human response, from multiple times and places, to the #1 reality there is: the Higher Power.
Imagine a Miami mother in an ancient village teaching 4-year-olds where they came from: “We didn’t make the trees, or the stars or the sun or anything else you see. They were already here. All the living things come from the earth and The River. The stars you see in the night sky? Those are other planets, other bodies; we didn’t put them there. The sun makes everything on earth grow, and the moon and stars light up the night so we can see in the dark. These are all things we reverence, because they’re beyond our understanding. We just know they give us life, so we’re grateful to them and try to live in harmony with what they give us, our food, our water, all the things we need.”
The capital of the Miami Indians of Indiana is in Peru, Indiana, the seat of Miami County, and the Nation’s website is here.
The Hebrews’ innovation, their great discovery, was that there is one God, one Higher Power, behind it all. Not a sun god and a moon god, much less Apollo, Athena, Zeus and that crowd; just One.
In the two creation myths of Genesis, YHWH is the actor. The Hebrews don’t have an adam rising up on his own two feet out of the mud or adamah; God sets things in motion.
I thoroughly believe the Hebrews got it exactly right. They are the original discoverers of monotheism and the entire world owes them a debt.
It’s not hard to move from that discovery to the idea of God’s favor towards Israel as the first to discover him and live in relationship with him, so that God made a covenant with his chosen ones. That’s why we can never be anti-Semitic. Jesus Christ was a Jew, and that ought to shut Mel Gibson up.
I employ the male pronoun because it’s traditional, but one could just as easily say her. God is beyond gender, but that brings up a very interesting point.
The four-year-olds say, “Why did God make boys and girls?” And the mother says…
She doesn’t want to tell them about sex; they’re only four. She says, “To be friends with each other; to love each other and help each other.”
Good answer, but not the last word.
Lately I’ve run into some weird claims by radical schismatics trying to tear up the Episcopal Church and the Anglican Communion regarding this. They claim that “God instituted marriage in Genesis” and therefore heterosexuals should enjoy 1300 tax advantages paid for by homosexuals.
Genesis doesn’t support any such claim; no marriage takes place between Adam and Eve. The claim willfully distorts what the text is about, and willfully misunderstands the purpose and function of a creation myth.
Genesis 2:4 and following, the Garden of Eden story, talks about human origins as if in the beginning, there was only one man and one woman, from whom we all derive. But no one believes that now and no one believed it then; the myth-makers had a much higher purpose than literal explanation of what to them was unknowable (that is, evolution). Genesis makes no attempt to fill in the blanks of where the additional women came from, only that Adam and Eve’s sons married someone else’s daughters. No attempt!
The Genesis writers were every bit as smart as we are; fossil remains show they had the same brain capacity as modern Homo sapiens. The Genesis writers knew there was a bell-ringing logical inconsistency in their story. But they didn’t care, because they weren’t there to do anthropology, they were there to describe humanity’s relationship with the loving God.
Adam and Eve didn’t so much as jump over a broom. They didn’t make any vows, they didn’t sign a marriage license, they didn’t do anything. They just… well, you know. Lo and behold, a baby came out!
Adam and Eve are literary creations—of the highest order, one might add. But it cannot be said from the text that they “got married” in any sense like we use the term.
What God instituted was sex, not marriage, for humans as for most other animals. And thank God he did!
Back to the Miami village, the four-year-olds who asked, “Why girls and boys?”
Well, it’s about the most basic question there is. Forget the sun and moon, why have I got a pee-pee and she doesn’t?
We know why; life demands reproduction, just like it also demands death.
If there were no death, the earth would be eaten up by kudzu; the Garden of Eden would run amok. Then the whole earth would become like Easter Island, where overpopulation killed everyone. The earth is finite; it can only do so much.
The Garden of Eden was “in the east,” that is, the Fertile Crescent between the Tigris and Euphrates (rivers again!) in modern Iraq.
Anti-Gay zealots from the pope on down love to quote Genesis to justify homophobia, but they ought to pay more attention to the text: Genesis 2:18, “It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him a helper as his partner.”
I want a helper as a partner; I admit it.
Next we have the creation of Eve out of Adam’s rib; “at last here is ishshah, for out of ish this was one taken.”
The complementarity of heterosexuality is a beautiful, life-sustaining thing. But two men are no less complementary, only in a different way; same for two women, they’re complementary, “helpers as partners.”
That is the main message of the Gay/Lesbian rights movement; love is love, and we’re complementary too, just different.
Do I think Genesis should have included queers? No, because that’s not the function of a creation myth.
There are animals who reproduce asexually; they’re not written in either, much less the sexual lives of plants. Creation stories aim to answer, “Who are we? How did we get here? What does life mean?” And Genesis serves extremely well that way.
But let’s go back to the kudzu, and death.
Genesis ascribes death as due to sin, not because death is essential to life. Adam and Eve ate of the tree of life, and of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.
It’s a parable, kiddo, it ain’t science. Humans are mortal because we absolutely must be, or the whole earth turns into Easter Island; too much sex, not enough fish, cut down all the trees so we can make canoes to search for fish, ohmygod there aren’t any trees!
“Be fruitful and multiply” is the one and only commandment humanity has ever obeyed. Yet the pope still bleats about it as if it’s the last word.
But God is a really thoughtful, smart God. He said one day, “If all they ever do is have sex, my whole ecosystem is unsustainable. The kudzu alone will kill ’em.”
So God said, “What if I make some of them find partners and helpers who are their own kind? There will be a natural brake on overpopulation. If men find men and women find women, we’ll get fewer babies. They’ll still have sex just as much, but hey, they’re mortal, give ’em a break. They need something to remind them of joy.”
And so it was, from the very beginning, that God created unusual ones in every species.
Did this make it into the creation myth? No. Such myths are written to answer the big questions, not the little ones.
Nothing in Genesis ordains heterosexuality; what Genesis does is describe it. And it’s good. Genesis is not The Hetero Manifesto.
Heterosex happily provides us with a never-ending supply of queer folk, so we need not recruit. Heteros have already got it covered.
God knew about global warming from the very beginning. He foresaw the day (which is fast coming) when six billion earthlings will turn into seven billion by 2050, every last one of them wanting a car.
Earth’s got plenty of oil and gas and coal, but ya know, this joint’s only so big. One day the resources will give out, just like Easter Island.
God is awfully smart. We don’t need to “subdue the earth” but to live in harmony with it like the Miamis.
God did one other thing when he created my kind, the greatest proof of all that a Higher Power’s at work: she made sure that the queers were a little bit smarter, a little more loving, a bit more artistic, even a scoche more spiritually aware—not to make us better than the other mortals, but to give us more work, more purpose.
Not having kids is an awful thing to do to someone, unless it makes us caregivers for everyone else’s.
And that I believe is our special Gay calling, to spread love around, as caregivers for communities. That’s why we’re teachers, waiters, businesswomen, priests, politicians, doctors and community organizers. We’ve got more time on our hands than parents do, while those of us who are also parents are role-models for the nurturing, guiding vocation all of us are called to.
What God did was to make reproduction less likely as a statistical matter, and nurturing and guiding more likely in wider venues. Don’t cut down all the trees!
Awfully, awfully smart, this God the Hebrews discovered.
Adam and Eve never purported to answer everything, much less to sanction hetero tax subsidies. They’re figures to describe a central fact of life, we are sexual beings and part of the plan.
Once that was in place, God moved on to the next step: Don’t murder, don’t steal, don’t lie, and remember that I’m always here waiting for you. Your bodies will die, ’cause they have to, but your being is immortal in relationship.++
The arc in the upper left is the southern shore of Lake Michigan; the topmost river is the St. Joseph with its South Bend, and the next one down and west is the Kankakee in my home county.
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