New Book Weaves Native American and Christian Spiritualities

“The book shows it’s OK to experience God differently,” said Rev. Chad Johnson, pastor at First UMC Jacksboro and a member of the Chickasaw Nation

Chad JohnsonRev. Dr. Chad Johnson has always been a history buff.

When Dr. James Lee first asked Johnson and his fellow Doctor of Ministry students at Perkins School of Theology to consider a problem or issue within Christianity that the students could tackle for their dissertations, and pair that with what is unique about the student, Johnson immediately knew he wanted to trace the historical links between his Native American heritage and his Christian spirituality.

What was borne from this effort is Johnson’s new book, “Finding God on the Indian Road: Exploring the Intersectionality Between Native American and Christian Spiritual Living published by Wipf and Stock.

“I was already exploring my Native American heritage and how it impacts me,” said Johnson, a member of the Chickasaw Nation. “I started looking at it historically and how we got to where we are. There’s such a disadvantage that we separate Native American spirituality and Christian spirituality. The Oklahoma Indian Mission Conference is doing a wonderful job bringing these two together but in other areas there’s still a disconnect.”

Johnson, the pastor at First UMC Jacksboro, recognized the importance of learning from the past. When colonizers saw Native peoples as foreign and did not take the time to recognize the spirituality that Native peoples had in their experience of God, they missed an opportunity to learn from this other way of approaching spirituality.

“The book shows it’s OK to experience God differently,” Johnson said. “What I have found is that we don’t do this well in Christianity. We like to find God in the ways we know that we can trust that’s how God shows up. In order to embrace a Native American way of living it’s going to take finding newness in that process. We can’t make that fit into our box.

“The book ends with how we can take the spirit of Native American practices and live into it, like drumming for instance. Not taking that away from Native American people or misappropriating that, but how can we take that practice and incorporate it.

“Another example is the connection between beading and Anglican prayer beads. Christianity is celebrating the same things that Native Americans are celebrating even if it looks different.”

Another important avenue for healing that the book addresses “is the need to be very real and honest about the truth of our violent past – colonization and residential schools that brought a lot of pain especially by the Christian church,” Johnson noted.

With this book, Johnson hopes to continue the work of others before him in both an honest reckoning with Christian history in this country and lifting up the value of seeing spirituality from a different perspective. This book is one step forward in bridging that gap between Native and Christian spiritualities – both for himself and others who find themselves in both worlds.

“Writing this has been the most formative experience of my life,” Johnson said. “It’s been the most freeing experience because it has allowed me to live into who I was raised to be. It has allowed me to bring these two worlds together, when there was a time I thought I had to keep these worlds apart.”

He recognizes that some don’t feel like their Native spirit can fit with a Christian identity so they only bring parts of themselves to that practice of faith. Johnson hopes “Finding God on the Indian Road” can help continue the work of braiding these spiritualities together.

Said Johnson, who is working on a second book that will dive deeper into the tenets of Native spirituality from a theological perspective: “I can be Native and Christian and be fully both at the same time. Just as Christ was fully human and fully divine, that parallels this so much. I want to encourage Natives to be both fully.”

Buy a copy of “Finding God on the Indian Road” at Target or order online.

Published: Tuesday, November 14, 2023