Human beings are designed for covenant. Unique among the creatures of God, we are capable of voluntary, reciprocal, and developmental relationships. Dogs are either pack or solitary – they don’t choose social or solitary each morning. If your dog bites my dog, mine will likely bite back; but if your dog bites me, I will likely call a lawyer. And when a dog reaches maturity, he is all the dog he can be. When I reach adulthood, I will continue to change and – hopefully – grow the rest of my life. This maturity occurs in relationships in which I live and move.
Covenant – as opposed to a contract with fixed terms, conditions, and boundaries – is a shaped relationship remaining open at the front end. When God tells people (Micah 6:8) they know what He requires – to act justly, love mercy, and walk humbly with Him – He shapes the relationship without limiting its growth. Ditto when Jesus calls the heart of covenant with God that we love God with all our might and neighbor as ourselves. We are not just designed for covenant living; we attain the fullness of humanity only within that context, whether in the most intimate setting of the marriage covenant or in the social covenants of friendship and constitutional community.
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In California, we’ve done a poor job – at best – of keeping covenant with God and with one another.
We lead the nation in divorce and co-habitation without marriage; and these are covenant breaking and refusal to covenant at all, respectively. Yet most of us remain blissfully unaware of – and in denial of – the degree to which covenant breaking is a lifestyle in our culture and history. When our ancestors arrived in California, they discovered more varieties of Native American tribes than in any other state. They entered into covenants – treaties – with more frequency than in any other state – and we have broken virtually all of them. That breaking has often been accompanied by violence of a unique ferocity.
The Natural Bridges Massacre is one of the worst examples. The gold miners of Weaverville lived in peace with the Nor-el Muk band of the Wintu nation, until a famine came and six Indians begged food from a hate-filled Weaverville grocer. He suggested they eat grass instead. When his body was found with grass stuffed in his mouth, a posse formed and reacted. They never found the suspects, but they murdered more than one hundred fifty women, children, and elderly Wintu at Natural Bridges for revenge. To this day, tourists and locals alike think of the area as a playground instead of the shrine it ought to be; graffiti covers the rocks where the dead are still not permitted to rest in peace.
Even worse was the Etna area massacre of Shasta people. Whites entered into a peace treaty with the tribe and – to celebrate – invited the tribe to a barbecue. They laced the beef with strychnine, and three thousand Shastans died. Those who did not succumb to the poison were gunned down as they fled. To this day, the federal government denies the event took place; but I saw xeroxed copies of contemporary newspaper accounts of the slaughter. It happened; denial only worsens the atrocity.
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