That was the question 150 Native American students and staff from around the country gathered to discuss November 9–11 in Window Rock, Arizona (the capital of the Navajo nation).
I have been to Native American student conferences before—in fact, I have planned them for InterVarsity for the last six years—but none have ever been anything like this. Native Alaskans came, and brought the snow with them, which was a thrill for the Native Hawaiians, who had never experienced the icy white stuff before. For their part, the Hawaiians blessed the group by teaching us a haka, a Maorian dance proclaiming the might and majesty of God.
Students from Montana to New Mexico, from Florida to California, shared their flute and drum songs, their dances and chants, weaving together a beautiful mosaic of worship to Creator and to his Son, Jesus. “I think I saw a small glimmer of heaven this weekend,” one of my students remarked on the last evening.
The Two Sides of Frybread
On Sunday, keynote speaker Mark Charles addressed the frybread question head-on. Frybread is part of any Native American celebration—weddings, funerals, birthday parties, laughing parties, graduation parties. It wouldn’t be a party on the rez without frybread.
At the same time, it is a symbol of oppression. Native peoples learned to make frybread from government rations while being moved from their traditional lands to reservations, which is why almost every tribe has some form of it. And while frybread certainly tastes good, it’s not at all good for you and definitely isn’t helping the high rate of diabetes in Native communities.
So would Jesus eat frybread? It’s more than just a clever conference title; it’s a question about incarnation and identification. “Would Jesus celebrate with us, mourn with us, eat our traditional foods and dance our traditional dances? Would he consume the food of our oppressors? Perhaps most importantly, would he be willing to suffer and die with us?” Mark asked. Or would he stand at a distance, as so many have, condemning the food we eat, the way we worship, the language we speak, and call to Native peoples to come follow him as he leads them away from the reservation?
The Bible says that “the Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us.” God didn’t just visit humanity; he came and lived among the messiness, the disappointment, the pain and joy that are our human existence. And he loved us enough that he not only lived but also died as one of us. He did not keep his distance.
So the answer is yes, of course Jesus would eat frybread. He would celebrate with us, experience the pain of oppression with us, and, yes, even die with us. Because that is his nature; that is exactly who he is: Emmanuel. God with us.
The Frybread of God
At the end of Mark’s talk he led us in Communion. Holding up a piece of frybread, he said, “This is the body of Christ, broken for you.” Then he tore it and distributed it. As I looked at the small bit of Native culture resting in my hand, I thought about all the various ways I had taken Communion—wafers, crackers, loaves of bread—and all the different people groups those bits of Christ’s flesh represented. And I thanked Creator that he has made himself available to all of us, whether we are in a city cathedral or a reservation church.
“The frybread of God is he who came down to give life to the world.” I experienced the life of God on the reservation that weekend—the rich, abundant life that truly is a glimmer of heaven—and for that I am deeply thankful.
Willie Krischke works at Fort Lewis College in Durango, Colorado, with Native American students. He has worked for InterVarsity since 2006. His wife, Megan, is an area director, and they have two kids, Flannery, 3 1/2, and Soren, 22 months.
Want to learn more about InterVarsity’s Native Campus Ministries? Visit the website and find a chapter near you. You can also stop by the Native Student Lounge at Urbana 12 (there’s still time to register) to meet new friends or continue discussions started at the Would Jesus Eat Frybread? Conference.