Searching for Sacred Ground, volume 7 in the C. Henry Smith Series, tells several stories. The most obvious story is that of Lawrence Hart, Cheyenne Peace Chief and ordained Mennonite minister. Chief Hart is a remarkable mana presence that inspires commitment and courage and a desire to act justly. Only the heartless will remain unmoved by Harts story.
A second explicit story is author Raylene Hinz-Penners discovery of Lawrence Harts story, from his May 1998 commencement address at Bethel College, the opening scene of the book, to her attendance at a Cheyenne Sun Dance, the account which shapes the books culminating chapter. Hinz-Penners personal involvement is important for this book. Beyond the standard data of his family genealogy, education and career path, through her eyes and ears the reader encounters the person of Lawrence Hart. It is through Hinz-Penners questions and efforts to understand Cheyenne culture that readers experience a nonlinear world view, one different from a European, Western fixation on chronology, specific family genealogy, linear progression, and a fixed, centering view point. At times Hinz-Penners expression of not understanding conveys that she really has entered a different world and world view. The answers to many questions during her visit to the Sun Dance "were often lost on me," she writes. "One must grow up with this ritual. The explanations were hollow; it is in the doing. It is in the being." Neither Raylene Hinz-Penner nor Lawrence Hart explains this worldview specificallythat would be already to subvert itbut aware readers can discover it.
Through the stories of Hinz-Penner and Hart, the reader will encounter other stories. The verses of the well-known national hymn, "America the Beautiful," speak of Americas good crowned with "brotherhood," of the "pilgrim feet" that "a thoroughfare for freedom beat across the wilderness," of the heroes who loved "mercy more than life." Without making a point of it, the narratives of both Hinz-Penner and of Hart belie those words, which actually fit the native people, and most certainly Lawrence Hart, more than the songs claimed subjects.
Although Searching for Sacred Ground is not a theology book, it participates in the conversation about the relationship of Christianity to culture. The book will bring non-Native readers to awareness of how European and Western their religious practices are, and thereby will serve as a profound statement that it is possible to express the meaning of the Christian story through non-European cultures and traditions.
Chief Harts story is one of participation in and interweaving of multiple storiesof the survival of the Cheyenne people in the face of white, European immigration, the intersection and interaction of Harts Cheyenne people and Hinz-Penners Mennonite people on the plains of Oklahoma. Hart often pictures the interaction via circlesan interaction is completed by a later kind of return. The Bethel commencement address with which Penner opens her narrative completes such a circle between Mennonites and Cheyennes.
I was once privileged to hear and participate in the completion of a such circle. In late August 2002, Lawrence Hart gave the address in the opening convocation at Bluffton University. Samuel K. Mosiman, the second president of Bluffton University, had served for six years as superintendent of the Mennonite Cheyenne-Arapahoe Indian Mission School at Cantonment, Oklahoma before acquiring more education and moving to then Central Mennonite College in 1908 and assuming the presidency a year later. As Hart told it, Mosimans work in the school at Cantonment had been a Mennonite contribution to the native peoples. Now, a hundred years later, with Harts journey to minister in Bluffton, a Cheyenne offering was being given to Mennonites in returnand a circle was completed. As an image of that completed circle, Hart asked to have a picture taken of himself with Mosiman Hall, the building on the Bluffton campus bearing the name of S. K. Mosiman. I felt like I was performing a sacred duty when I found a photographer to take the picture for Chief Hart.
Many thanks to Mennonite Historical Society, co-sponsor with Bluffton University of the Smith series, for generous support of this volumes publication. I am grateful to Raylene Hinz-Penner for this manuscriptgrateful that she followed up the impulse to learn to know Chief Hart and to tell this story, and grateful that she entrusted the manuscript to the C. Henry Smith Series for publication. It has been a delight to work with her as an author. I have no doubt that readers will share my gratitude to Hinz-Penner for producing this marvelous manuscript.
Above all I am grateful to Chief Lawrence Hart for allowing Hinz-Penner to tell this story. He gave many hours of his time in interviews and in showing sites to Hinz-Penner. And beyond his time, Chief Hart gave his storygave himselfto this project. I trust that readers will treasure this gift as much as I do.
J. Denny Weaver, Editor
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