Probably my favorite TV show of last year was Reservation Dogs, a comedy about four Native kids growing up on a reservation in Oklahoma. The four kids are reeling from the death of their friend Daniel, who had dreamed of leaving the reservation to live in California. The show is hilarious and heartbreaking, a seamless representation of what reservation life looks like and the tensions between longing to stay and wanting to leave.
My favorite character is a young woman named Willie Jack (played by Paulina Alexis), and there’s a moment in the episode that focuses on her that sort of haunts me. Willie Jack and her dad have gotten up before sunrise to go hunting – they’re after a deer that has eluded them for seasons. As she drinks coffee, Willie Jack looks at a picture of Daniel hung on the wall. She begins talking to him, telling him she misses him and that they’re going to go hunting. She asks him to help her bullet fly straight.
It hit me that she’s praying.
And then, she underscores that prayer by glancing at a picture of Jesus (it’s actually a painting called Christ on the Mount of Olives that has become a commonly available print). She takes another sip of coffee and says, “Sup, White Jesus?” before heading outside to begin the hunt.
When Willie Jack prays, she doesn’t pray to Jesus. And why would she? The only Jesus she knows is this pasty, disinterested white man who looks down on her from his perch atop a mountain.
Is it possible, though, that Jesus is the God of Willie Jack, too?
That the hurting teen growing up in the most marginal of spaces our country has, the grieving teen who feels most solidarity with a dead friend, that she might find comfort, power and hope in the God who became human?
I say yes, because Jesus looks a lot more like Willie Jack and Daniel than me. But to see how God is good news for someone like Willie Jack, we’re going to have to confront some idolatrous images we have of God. Today, we’re going to face the truth that God is not white, and God is not male. A white, male God has little in common with someone like Willie Jack. There’s no reason for her to pray to someone like that. (And the truth is, it’s bad for me, too!)