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In 1838 the Cherokee Nation began the process of “relocation” whereby the American Government “assisted” the Cherokee people to relocate from their native tribal homelands of what is present day South Carolina and north Georgia westward to their new “reserve” in modern day Oklahoma. President Van Buren enforced the Indian Removal Act signed by his predecessor President Jackson by dispatching over seven thousand armed U.S. soldiers to the native tribal homelands of the Cherokee people and under armed guard escorted them across the Deep South. Of the 15,000 Cherokee people who left South Carolina nearly 4,000 died and were left alongside the trail.
The Cherokees referred to this as the Nunna daul Isunyi—“the Trail Where They Cried”. You probably know of it as “The Trail of Tears.” My grandmother grew up on a reserve in Oklahoma. Her grandmother, my great-great Grandmother, probably walked the Trail of Tears. At any rate, it is not possible to know with any certainty whatever became of my great-great grandparents. My Cherokee grandmother disappeared when my Father was just a little boy, and she took with her much of my Father’s Cherokee heritage.
I admire the way that the displaced First Nations of North America identify themselves as a people with a common ancestry and heritage despite the fact that they are without a country. They think of themselves as a “people.” They are a nation in their own right, but without a home-country, at least a home country that is legally theirs.
Christians should embrace this worldview. A Christian should exude his status as a child of God the same way that a Cherokee exudes his First Nation heritage. We are a people of a common ancestry – all of us trace our heritage to the Cross. And we should be equally suspicious and reluctant to embrace the world around us, having a shrewd skepticism of everything, being wary of anything that might erode our fidelity to the Great King and compromise our traditions of personal holiness and discipleship.
More than all of this we should have a wistful longing for the future based upon the great promises of our God given in the past. I’m not advocating a backward looking nostalgia for things that will never be, but a persistent mourning for things promised that have yet to come. We should see this world as our own Trail of Tears.
“By the waters of Babylon, there we sat down and wept, when we remembered Zion.” (Psalm 137:1)
What is beautiful about this Psalm is that it understands Zion as a still future City but one that is patterned after the vanquished Jerusalem. This Psalm embraces a sorrow over what was lost, but grounds that sadness in a deeper pain, an insatiable hunger for a future salvation. Let this Psalm be our song that we sing as we walk our own Trail of Tears to the Promised Land.