People a lot smarter than me say there were never any permanent native settlements in this area. The Shenandoah Valley was instead a kind of ancient superhighway that various tribes traveled through on their way from one place to another. Mohawk, Oneida, Onondaga, Cayuga, Seneca, Catawba, and Delaware Indians visited this area at various times, as well as my ancestors, the Cherokee.
The problem was that in a fairly limited amount of space, one tribe was bound to run into another. The results weren’t pretty. For thousands of years, much of our valley was one big battlefield.
Evidence of these tribal wars can be found every spring when the farmers start plowing their fields. There are arrowheads by the millions, flint scalping blades by the thousands, and sometimes, the head of a tomahawk.
I’ve spent many a lost moment with this tomahawk in my hands, asking the unanswerable.
Who made this? When? How did it end up in a cornfield?
Why, I suppose, is a question that that doesn’t need asking. To the Native American male, a tomahawk was his most prized possession. Much like the samurai and his sword, the tomahawk held an almost mythical position. It was the weapon of a warrior. A instrument of death.
But maybe asking why it was made does matter. Maybe that’s the question that matters most.
I never go hiking without a tomahawk. From building a shelter to securing food and water, it can perform tasks that a knife simply cannot. One of the wisest pieces of advice about going into the woods came from my father: “You can take a knife into the mountains and live like a prince. But you can take a tomahawk into the mountains and live like a king.”
Though the tomahawk can certainly be used as a weapon, it is first and foremost a tool. It’s a thing. And like all things, it can be used for good or for bad. It can improve life or destroy it. It all depends on the user.
Maybe it’s no surprise that the ancient people who once roamed these parts chose to use their tools to destroy life. After all, they were ignorant savages. Right?
But consider what you’re using to read this post. The Internet is quite possibly greatest invention of the last century. It allows people from almost any country to connect with people they would otherwise never meet. To be exposed to other cultures and ideas. To connect. It is a treasure of information and knowledge. Don’t know something? Google it. You’ll have your answer in seconds.
But this wondrous invention that can improve the lives of millions of people has destroyed just as many. There are an estimated twenty million websites devoted exclusively to pornography. You can google how to make a bomb just as easily as how to make a birthday cake. And for every highcallingblogs.com there is a jihadist calling for death and destruction.
Maybe we’re all ignorant savages.
Not much has changed since that unknown person dropped his tomahawk and my uncle picked it up. We’re still taking what was made for good and using it for bad. And I suppose we always will. We may be smarter and more capable than our ancestors, and our children may grow to be smarter and more capable than us, but we all carry around the same fallen nature.
That’s why I get a little leery when I start hearing about how things will get better when this person’s in charge or that country gets fixed or that peace agreement gets signed. I know better.
And I know this, too: each day we are faced with this one choice: what will I do? What will I do with what God has given me? Will I use my mind to think about how I can help others, or will I use it to think about how I can help myself? Will I open my heart and risk loving even more, or will I close it because I’m too frightened of hurt? And will I use my faith as a salve to pour on open wounds, or as a weapon to fester those wounds more?
This ancient tomahawk sitting beside me was likely used to both preserve the life of its owner and take the life of his enemy. Us? We’re not a matter of both, I think. I think we’re either/or. Either serving God or serving ourselves. Either helping others or not.
Either bringing the world a little closer to heaven or a little closer to hell.
This post is part of the One Word at a Time Blog Carnival: Resolution, hosted by my friend Peter Pollock. To read more stories on this topic, please visit him at PeterPollock.com