Lately in our DM’s we have been sharing stories about Jesus’ life, death and resurrection and commenting on how diverse the stories are that have come down to us.  We have invoked Howard Thurman’s celebration of that very diversity.

Rod McAfee on a horse. Used with permission from his wife, Linda Neal.

The Via Positiva and Via Negativa blend when someone we admire and loves dies.  The pain of the loss is real but so too are the memories of beauty, insight and courage manifested in the lifetime of the person whose stories we want to share.  Joy and meaning abound in that sharing.  Stories we tell about the deceased are part of how we honor the ancestors and carry on another person’s life, spirit and work.

Recently, an honored friend of mine, a native America elder, died.  His name was Ron McAfee and his wife, Linda Neal, wrote this eulogy (slightly edited) to her beloved husband which I happily share.

Rod McAfee was Akimel O’odham, a proud member of the Gila River Indian Community, an agriculturally rich and generous society which was the first Indian reservation created in Arizona.  Rod came from the most remote region of his reservation, where many powerful medicine people lived.   As a child, Rod loved spending time with his grandfather and other traditional elders who taught him the O’odham dances and culture. 

Gila River Elders share Native Legends of the community. Originally posted to YouTube by Kevin de Miranda

His parents, however, converted to the Presbyterian religion and wanted all their children to become educated in the Western Culture ways, so they sent him to school.  Rod ran away from school when he was in the sixth grade and never returned.  

Instead, he rode horses and worked for white ranchers in the area.  He was a good rider, and loved breaking horses.  He made a little money riding bucking horses in local rodeos when he was a teenager, against his parents’ wishes, who were convinced that Rod was going down an “evil” path. 

Rod praying with his hand drum. Used with permission.

In 1964 he left the reservation and worked picking fruit, and as a ranch hand until he wound up in Potlach, Washington, where he worked as a logger and had his own rodeo school.  Rod battled alcoholism for the first half of his life, and in the late 1970’s ended up on the streets of Portland, where he was found by a Native American Rehabilitation Association outreach worker who asked him if he wanted to sober up and go into treatment.  He said yes.

Rod’s treatment and recovery from alcoholism led him into an entirely new life.  He soon became a drug and alcohol counselor for NARA, and later was the spirituality director.  He began working with incarcerated native men around the Northwest, and built sweat lodges at many prisons.  Rod’s sweat lodge ceremonies were open to all, and soon his work expanded beyond NARA and the prisons to include people from all races and religions.  

Rod met his future wife Linda Neale in 1990.  They married in 1995 and moved to their home in SW Portland where they began to hold monthly community sweat lodge ceremonies.  

To be continued

See Matthew Fox, One River, Many Wells: Wisdom Springing from Global Faiths, pp. 2-11.

Banner Image: One of 20 bald eagles found dead in Eastern Maryland between 2016-2019, some due to the extremely toxic and illegal chemical carbofuran. Photo: Maryland Natural Resources Police

Consider your efforts to participate in peoples’ worship or shared action whose religion was different from yours.  What did you learn?

One River, Many Wells: Wisdom Springing from Global Faiths

Matthew Fox calls on all the world traditions for their wisdom and their inspiration in a work that is far more than a list of theological position papers but a new way to pray—to meditate in a global spiritual context on the wisdom all our traditions share. Fox chooses 18 themes that are foundational to any spirituality and demonstrates how all the world spiritual traditions offer wisdom about each.“Reading One River, Many Wells is like entering the rich silence of a masterfully directed retreat. As you read this text, you reflect, you pray, you embrace Divinity. Truly no words can fully express my respect and awe for this magnificent contribution to contemporary spirituality.” –Caroline Myss, author of Anatomy of the Spirit

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2 thoughts on “Honoring Our Ancestors: Rod McAfee”

  1. Avatar

    Two times I have had the opportunity of engaging in a sweat, led by a Dine (Navajo) man. I’m a light-weight and couldn’t stay in the lodge the entire time, but was blessed to engage in it for as long as I was able. Brother John Hotstream used to offer the sweat to a group of us who were visiting and taking donations to St. Anne’s Catholic Mission near Ganado, Arizona. Brother John has retired and the new brother hasn’t organized sweats during recent visits, but I still love visiting the mission. Most Sundays, after service, the native congregation and visitors are offered both the Eucharist and to be smudged at the close of service. I always tell people, the mission doesn’t even feel “Catholic,” except in the original meaning of the term “Universal.” The mission is simply there to serve people, not to preach–not ever. I have other native friends who engage deeply in their own, traditional ceremonies; and I could not honor that more. Nonetheless, I see at St. Anne’s the beauty of deep ecumenism as the sister and brothers continue their service to the Dine people living on the reservation.

    1. Richard Reich-Kuykendall
      Richard Reich-Kuykendall

      Michele, you sound like you’re on the same page with us in terms of incorporating other practices along side of your Catholic practices. That is “Deep
      Ecumenism” in the making. Thank you for your comments and for those who help the Mission’s worship practices more meaningful for the people. Bless you and your adventurous spirit…

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