We Don’t Choose Who Gets Peace

“Peace be with you.”

If you come from a liturgical background, the passing of the peace is a part of the church service in which we are called to turn to our neighbors and proclaim peace over them.

“Peace be with you.”

“And also with you.”

Depending on how many people you know in the church and are comfortable with, this can be a lovely moment or a terrifying one. I wonder sometimes about the gravity of this statement, if we really mean it when we say it.

I wonder if we realize that we are proclaiming the peace of God over people whose darkest secrets we don’t even know, whose stories are not fully told to us–

and vice versa, that they don’t know my struggles as they call peace over me, as they proclaim that Jesus is still peacemaker in my life.

So this is a beautiful and terrifying reality, friends.

Jesus wishes full and perfect peace over all people and all creation, and when we proclaim it, when we say it over each other, we’re inviting the world into the wake of shalom.

I may be saying it to my neighbor who voted for Donald Trump,

to someone I’m in a fight with,

to someone who reads the Bible literally while I lean to the metaphorical side,

to those who wouldn’t step foot in a church–I say it to them, too, because we belong to each other.

You see, peace doesn’t discriminate.

Peace is the ultimate way of making everything right that has been wrong–the world’s violence and oppression, tensions caused by hate, the secrets we keep from each other and the manipulative ways we gain control over each other’s lives.

Because even abusers have at one time been broken, so Jesus wishes peace in the deepest parts of them, to redeem in them what was lost.

To my progressive brothers and sisters, I say, yes–even Donald Trump is in God’s eyesight.

Even he is a target of peace for Jesus’ love.

We pray peace over our neighbors in Iraq,

we pray peace over our own nation’s violence,

we pray peace over the people all over the world who are dying of starvation,

and we beg peace over the governments who oppress and abuse them.

“Peace to you.”

“Peace, be still.”

Peace, true peace, does something that I don’t think we even comprehend.

It is the essence of who Jesus is–love that is greater than any other, peace that partners with that love to transform the world.

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In the Cherokee (and other tribes) tradition, there is a Green Corn Ceremony in which the corn harvest is collected for the season and the people celebrate that harvest.

They also use this time to cleanse themselves, their homes, their bodies, their spirits. It is a time of reconciliation, a time of ceremony, of dancing, of singing, of believing that there are better days ahead.

If there is a feud, they meet with one another and resolve it. They fast and pray and wash themselves in the river’s water. They lean into their humanity, into the work of peacemaking. They make space for that because it is essential to their well-being and their wholeness, it is essential to the blessing of their harvest, and to their people.

Perhaps we have some cleansing to do.

Perhaps we need to meet with each other, stripped to the most raw parts of ourselves, and proclaim peace between us.

We do not think that everyone deserves peace–

and that’s precisely why it is needed.

On all sides of every argument, at both ends of every spectrum of belief and doctrine, Jesus’ level ground is the same.

“Peace to you.”

“Peace, be still.”

For all people and all creation, over all time, the wish is for true and lasting peace, for an enduring and un-manipulated love.

And that is still the wish today.

We don’t get to choose who receives the peace of God, just as we can’t choose who receives the grace of God.

We simply remain the vessel, the proclaimer, the ones who look each other in the eyes and say,

“Peace in and over all of this, for all of us.”

Amen.

 

 

God For Those Still Holding On 


Taste and see that the Lord is good.

This word is not for the faint of heart.

It is for the ones who have been through something.

It is for those who have had reasons to think that life is not good,

Those whose senses are blurred, who cannot see or hear or taste,

who are broken and afraid, those who are struggling but know–

at the end of the day, there is always a sunset.

And when the morning comes, the sun will always rise to bring light upon us.

So the people we consider weakest in our society are actually the ones who carry this with them the most. They are the ones who know that tasting of God is all the goodness that is needed for this life.

When we are stripped down to the most essential parts of ourselves, we know there that we can taste and know God.

In the book Christianity Rediscovered, we read about a place called Bagamoyo, based off the Swahili words bwaga meaning to lay down and moyo meaning heart. The book says:

Bagamoyo was the place where the captured slave, after his long trip from the interior, would put down his heart, put down the burden of his heart, give up hope–because it was his last contact with his own country before the trip to Zanzibar and a life of misery.

Taste and see that the Lord is good.

When you are literally staring at your home for the last time, your land for the last time, or know full well that you are one of the last people to carry on the language of your tribe or culture, all that is left in that moment is to know that despite everything broken in this world, the Lord is good.

During the era of Native American boarding schools, the common phrase was “kill the Indian, save the man,” which meant that these Catholic or Christian run schools would do everything in their power to break the children of their culture.

They would burn their ceremonial clothing, their dolls, their feathers; they would throw away any artifacts deemed evil, and they would beat the tribal languages out of the children.

Taste and see that the Lord is good.

People are living in invisible prisons today, friends.

Despite our intimate conversations in our homes, our moments comparing hardships with one another, there are people all over the world who, in their most raw moments, care only to sit in the presence of a God who calls them good and sits with them in an abundant goodness.

Perhaps we lack the ability because we are spiraling in a reality that is not grounded in an original reality of God.

But those who have lost hope in human love, those who have been broken and abused–they see God in the step by step, in the simple, in the essential.

When I cling to the rocks as I climb outside, or grab the holds on the climbing gym wall, I am telling myself that in that second, God is good and I am alive.

I don’t need to know what came before or what will come next.

All I know is that I can taste and see.

And it is indeed good. 


 

IDENTITY CRISIS: on faith, color & call

FAITH.

Last week when my husband and I took a trip to a small lake to rock climb, I found a walking stick. I’d been looking for one for over a year–a tall, slender, sleek stick that I could hold in my hand as we hike.

It was laying there in the woods, right off the path. I saw the smooth skin beneath the brown bark and I grabbed it right away. It was the perfect height, the perfect thickness, the perfect color. I knew it was for me.

I sincerely believe in ebenezers–signs that I have seen and known God. In fact, they are strewn throughout my upcoming book, moments in my life in which God has spoken something over me and given me some sort of momento from which to remember that glimpse of Kingdom.

That day at the cliff, I carried this walking stick around with me. I found a rock shaped perfectly for peeling the bark off, so after we climbed I sat down and began breaking off the bark bit by bit. I felt like I was living into this small bit of my indigenous identity–using a rock instead of a knife or sandpaper to get the bark off of this stick. It was therapeutic to find and use the tools nature had gifted me with.

As I broke off more and more of the bark there, and more and more of it when we got home, I felt like I was breaking pieces of old life off of myself. I was becoming something new, something smoother, something of a slightly different color, created for a different use.

Faith is breaking without knowing what comes next. Faith is trusting that what’s beneath everything is worth finding.

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COLOR.

I was born on Indian Territory in Oklahoma, and grew up living there and on reservations in New Mexico throughout my childhood. And when I was nine, my family was living in Missouri when my parents divorced and very quickly most experiences connected to my Potawatomi identity were shadowed.

When I was maybe 11 years old, my father took me to the Potawatomi Citizen Band tribal headquarters, where they took my picture and gave me an identification card, officially registering me on the tribal rolls of the Citizen Potawatomi Nation.

I didn’t understand as a child what was happening. I knew I was Native American, but I didn’t know, really, that it was something that was meant to mark my life, to guide my identity, to speak into my being, even into my faith. I was just a little girl with a name card.

I read an article on NPR recently that described a few of the many, many unique stories of people who are racially mixed in today’s America. I resonated with this in-between, a really difficult way of living into two realities but never feeling like I am fully either one. And speaking and writing into those spaces feels odd, too, and I tread lightly, constantly checking myself inside the journey I am called to, constantly checking myself in humility.

I’ve written about it before here, about how my identity is shifting, how I’m seeing things like the church in a new light and with a new tension.  

When I shared the difficult split between my native and white identity, a friend on Twitter shared this with me:

“Native identity is not defined by color. We don’t have to fit into someone’s idea of what a Native should ‘look’ like.”

There are many layers to the “identity crisis” that biracial people face, and because my journey in embracing and delving into my own native identity is still pretty fresh, I’m feeling the tension of a white life and a native life clashing inside of me every single day.

But now when I look at that identity card, I carry all of my memories with me in it, good and bad, those that have stayed shadowed and those that have come back into the light. And so I walk in how I am colored today, in an identity that relates both to native people and to white people, to who I was and who I am becoming.

As I transform, as I see things the way I’m meant to see them within a native cultural lens, I am pulled further and further from an everyday American experience, and with that, of course, comes a lot of tension as well.

But because the culture of God knows no color, I am at home in God.

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CALL.

I first encountered the call into my native identity while we were hiking in Georgia. God spoke to me as we hiked, as I held and nursed my 1 year old baby. I was reminded of the women who walked the Trail of Tears and the Trail of Death, their memories somehow entering into mine, our lives becoming one. I left with them, and I’ve continued with them.

Since then, God has spoken to me in dreams, in the wind, in experiences that I didn’t think possible. So my view of God is stretched as I realize that God is capable of calling us into a journey we didn’t know we could be called into.

But with that comes a tension between who I am becoming and who the church has always been to me. Is it possible for a person to transform and the church to transform with it? Only time will tell, but I know that the people who are church to me during this season of my life are upholding me and walking with me in this, so I am never alone.

So while I may feel native and be native but look white, I remember that who I am called to be, who I was called to be that day at Sweetwater Creek, is beyond color, beyond hairstyle or clothing options. It is a lived reality in which I choose everyday to walk the path that God has set before me, and that means living as an indigenous Christian in an attitude of constant learning, constant journeying, identity transformation included.

Because we know that the call of God is sufficient and whole. The call of God is for us and never against us. The call is for us. Now.

LEARNING TO BREATHE IN THE WORLD

When we got home from an afternoon at the pool, my oldest son took a nap. While he was sleeping I crept in to lay down beside him for a few minutes. I looked at his fresh haircut and his eyelashes, listening as he quietly breathed in and out.

For a minute, I synced my breathing with his– in, out, in, out, in— and watched as he slept, dreaming of brighter and brighter tomorrows.

I am often asked how I do this–how I write and parent and manage work and family and joy and sorrow in all places.

What I’ve realized is that when I do something that I am passionate about, something that has ripple effects out in the world and connects me to humanity and to God, it is directly tied to the way I parent my children.

What I write is affected by my relationship with them, mostly by what they teach me about myself and about being a better person every day. So when I synced my breath with his, I thought about how we are tied to one another, connected to one another, a team in the things we set out to do in this world.

That doesn’t mean I’m not still his mother, still his parent, still someone who should guide and lead him, but it does mean that what I care passionately about I share with him, and what he thinks is important, he shares with me.

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So how can I teach him to sync his breathing to the world? As a five year old, seven year old, fifteen year old, fifty year old? What can I do for him to understand that the way he moves and breathes and has his being is meant to be of use and impact every place he inhabits?

What does it mean to work and live with the pace of the world, and not just our experience of it? What does it mean to live into a reality that our way is not the only way, that our story is not the only story?

Our children, when they are young, before we teach them otherwise, have an innate curiosity to know things, to dream things, to imagine things.

While they are still young, they seek to understand how things work, why the world is big but looks so small on a map, what it means to be human.

Is it possible that as adults we can re-learn those things from the little ones who make those curious thoughts their reality?

Absolutely.

So in watching the way he engages the world, I learn how to engage the world. When I listen to his dreams, I am listening to the dreams of God, a vision for all of creation to be restored to and known in its original beauty.

When I sat still enough to breathe in and out with my son, I felt the whole world breathing. I felt faces and names, places and stories come alive to me in a way they never have before, and with that, the love of God spread itself out across everything, this beautiful and deep root system that gives life to everything under the sun.

We read things about breathing in Jewish stories– the name of God, Yahweh, meaning simply breath, simply being alive to the reality of the Creator. As my friend Bob shares in a post about Breath Prayer, our spirits are intermingled with our breathing.   

That means that when we practice breathing with the world and with our own spirits, we align ourselves with the things God.

In Native American culture, breath and stillness are important parts of daily life, because with quiet breathing comes steady listening– to the world around us, to ourselves, to the voice of God. When I am still enough to notice the ant on the ground, or the birds chirping at sunset, I enter into the practice of coming more fully alive.

When I light sage and let it cleanse the space around me, or lay tobacco on the ground as I pray to Mamogosnan, the Creator, the good Father, my breathing interacts with that sacred space and I meet God in the quiet. I meet God in the world. 

Maybe this is why I hear so many parents talk about why they love watching their children sleep– the deepest peace settling over them, the deepest quiet, a vision of humanity at rest in shalom.

We know that after hard work comes rest, and after something momentous happens in our lives we have a catharsis–a moment to stop and quiet ourselves, to process, to breathe. 

The steady breathing afterward is just as important as the hard work beforehand. The world teaches us this in its changing seasons, in its cultivation and evolution, in its growing and steadying.

So next time I go to sleep, I’ll remember that in those moments before my mind slows and enters into a dream world, I am communing with God, with creation, with the world in the call of Yahweh.

And when we wake again to the dawn, we stop and breathe. We look out the window and listen to the steady in and out that gave life to us in our very first moments.

And we know that it is good to be alive and breathing in this sacredly created world.

Amen.

 

 

PEOPLE WHO HOLD SPACE WILL HEAL THE CHURCH

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When I married my husband, he’d just cut off his dreads and was an avid rock climber. He married me– a girl from a small town, comfortable in everything that I knew, in everything that I’d been and was going to be.

As Johnny Cash says, we got married in a fever, and before we knew exactly what we’d done, we were home from our honeymoon, beginning the long journey toward figuring out who we were–together.

When he married me, he loved who I was, but also saw who I could one day become, and he held that vision steady. And it wasn’t a vision for what he thought I was supposed to be, but a vision still unknown to him, held by the mystery of God.

He took me climbing in one of his favorite spots not long after we married. I had a dislike of nature, but was idealistic about it, and there was abounding irony in the fact that I’d married someone like him.

He took me to a place called Lincoln Lake, a climbing spot in Arkansas that had been home to him for a long time.

All that I remember thinking is that the lake water was really brown and there were a lot of bugs. I couldn’t see then the way I see now.

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Nine years later, close to our anniversary, we went back there. He took me to the top of the rocks to set up the climbing rope, and I sat and drank my coffee. There were large black ants crawling across my feet and the humidity in the air was rising little by little.

“It’s beautiful here,” I said.

“I didn’t appreciate it before.” I looked back with tears in my eyes.

“I know,” he said.

There seems to be a difference between being with someone to change them and being with someone as you hold space for them to change.

My husband has always held space for me.

He’s held space for me to grow up from the 19 year old who married him.

He’s held space for me to learn motherhood.

He’s held space for me to ask questions in my faith.

He’s held space for me to walk into my Native American culture without fear.

In holding space, he has loved me.

And he continues to hold space for who I’ll become tomorrow.

I’m convinced that space holding people are the ones who will heal the church.

They are the ones who bring justice and shalom, because they are patient people who hold onto a long-off vision. We need them in our churches, because they will not force change. They will not sit in pews and bear judgment over the people around them, but they will sit with those people and wait for God to show them the way.

The church has very publicly become a place that tries to manage others, and it often leaves people wounded. It wounds the church by distorting who the church should really be, and it wounds individuals in the church by making them feel like they aren’t good enough for Jesus.

So we need to learn to hold space.

Like my husband saw in me, we need to see what is good in each other, to hold onto the longer vision that God holds for each of us, and we need to wait.

I did not understand as a 19 year old who I was marrying or who I was. And in the process of learning, I needed someone who could be gentle yet steady with me, just as God is gentle and steady.

People like my husband, who hold space, show the unique character of God in a way that we are all hungry for.

So let’s practice holding space instead of holding one another hostage to our own ideals.

Let’s remember that God has an individual vision for each of us, and it’s worth waiting for.

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As I climbed up the rocks that morning, I felt like I was communing with a space of the world that I’d never known existed before. I felt drawn in by my inability to know exactly where to put my foot or my hands, but that unknowing gave me energy to try anyway, like I was trusting this thing that was calling me back to God.

And on the one climb when I reached the top, I turned around and scanned the treetops with my eyes. I looked down at the brown water and across the horizon of that Arkansas day and thought, “I am so glad I am alive.”

If we hold space for each other, we learn how to truly be alive with one another, as we cast off judgment and wait for the grace of God to journey with us into unknown and sacred places.

And my friends, it’s absolutely worth the wait.

 

O God, Make Us Rich

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O God,

make us rich

by the richness of a Kingdom–

created by you,

sustained by you,

untangled time and again from the mess we make of it.

That Kingdom– a place where prosperity gospel is turned upside down–

is a wild culture that is so “other” we could not seek to explain it.

It is the firefly in flight,

dashes of lightning that we try to catch and hold

for as long as possible.

It is the ripple of water,

expanding into unknown territory,

then quietly disappearing into the depths.

This Kingdom is a structure that we cannot design

but get to co-create,

one tiny space at a time.

O God,

make us rich in Kingdom,

poor by the standards given in this world we know.

Make us rich in experiences,

rich in the knowledge of your goodness

shown to us in this created existence.

Remind us of the rich promise

that you will not abandon us,

that every day is meant for

a more alive kind of living.

O God,

our joy is boundless

by your standards of wealth,

and our way is known

because you walked the path ahead of us and behind.

O God,

make us rich,

simply because we are tethered to the grand things

while we stare at the smallest specks of miracle–

the sprouting seed,

the toddling child,

the hammock swing on the front porch,

the gift of companionship.

Because using a Kingdom currency

means we live outside of ourselves,

beyond these walls,

with bigger tables

and emptier pockets,

because the Kingdom currency

is somehow only the gift of giving,

endlessly and honestly,

with everything eternally good in return,

even with our suffering in tow.

So,

O God,

make us rich in that,

if only we get to know you

here and now

in every little everything.

Amen.

 

WHY I STILL CALL GOD “FATHER”

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When I first came to my current church, I noticed that in many worship songs, a line would be changed here or there for a very particular reason. Instead of referring to God as a “he,” it would become more inclusive, reflecting an idea that God is without gender, opening up the possibility of God as a woman, even.

One of the most amazing things about God is this way the boundaries that we create for God are transcended, yet our ideas of God keep us tethered to mystery. Even so, I have not needed to transfer the gender of God from a man to a woman for the same reasons that others have, though I’ve certainly appreciated the idea behind it.

In Native American culture, God is called “Father” and the earth, crafted by the Father/Creator’s hands, is the Mother that sustains and cares for us, a gift given for us to know that we are loved and cared for.

But in the Christian tradition, we’ve continually given ourselves over to a patriarchal, even mysoginstic model that says God is an authoritarian father figure who looks down from the heavens with a checklist, or a judge calling out sentences for all who broke his law.

And in the light of the absence of my own father’s close presence in my adolescence, I found a love with that God, but also constantly sat in the fear that he would abandon me if I did’t obey.

Now as an adult I am slowly finding my way out of that idea of God, into a way of embracing the Mystery of God in all its gendered ideas.

And I know of others who have always viewed God from a mothering perspective, which is beautiful and right in its own way of revealing the heart of the Spirit of God.

So why do I still call God “Father,” or “Papa?”

I call God “Father” in the light of a belief that I am honored for being a created woman in this relationship.

I call God “Father” because throughout my life I have never been in want of a father figure– a friend or mentor who cares for me and my family, who is literally the heart of God in tangible form in my life.

I have seen the tender love of God in ways that have taught me what a father is supposed to be–a gentle and steady hand on the small of my back that leads me out and lets me go, holding steady his high and kind regard for me.

But for so many, the western church has taken women and put us in a quiet corner. Or maybe if we’re allowed to go to seminary, we get to take “special courses,” are able to only teach certain classes, instruct only women, or achieve goals thought fitting for our gender.

Yet despite the church, I see God as a fathering God, Mamogosnan in Potawatomi, meaning Great Father/Spirit/Creator.

I can call God “Father” because I am valued in my native, female skin.

I can call God “Father” because God is not threatened by my body or my wisdom or my abilities.

As described by Sonny Skyhawk in Indian Country Media Network:

Women have always played a significant role in the existence and administrations of tribal nations. They have been instrumental due to their innate ability to reason and dispense wisdom. They also were characterized as wise because they originated the teachings for the children. The men were allowed to articulate, enforce and deliver these teachings, but it was the women who monitored and allowed them to speak. They were the faith keepers…

The women allowed the men to speak. Can you even imagine it?

In many tribes, women are the water protectors. In the Potawatomi tribe, women are keepers of many things. The womb is considered sacred, and the wisdom and strength that the women carry keeps the tribe, the language, and the spirit of the people alive. Much has changed over time, especially after the coming of colonialism, which forced a different view on the roles of women into native culture and identity. But it is clear that despite the brokenness that has come to native people throughout history, the women are still standing up to lead.

Standing Rock was led by women, the protectors of the water, and they opened the eyes of the world to issues of human rights and ecology. It was a movement that caused not only the world, but the church, to open its eyes.

If God is the “Father” of a matrilineal society in which women are valued and listened to, perhaps the church can learn something in the way it values women.

And if the church changes the way it values women, bringing us back out of the corners we’ve been sitting in for so long, the world will become a different place, indeed.

And maybe if the church breaks ties with some of the colonial views that brought much of our patriarchal ideas to America, we can see the way Jesus saw God the Father, the way Jesus knew that valuing and responding to the wisdom of women in society is a necessary good that is certainly upheld by the Father of the Trinity.

If Jesus teaches us to pray, “Our Father who art in Heaven,” and yet our society undervalues and distorts the roles of women in our churches, perhaps we’ve missed something huge in the heart of God. 

In the age of Wonder Woman, shouldn’t the church be the first place to say that maybe we’ve gotten something wrong when it comes to our women, and that that wrong should be set right?

And shouldn’t the church be willing to step back and re-orient itself to the ways of an egalitarian God?

Absolutely.

But it will take time.

While our hymnals can’t be re-written or our ideas of God re-wired inside the deepest parts of us overnight, there is a slow and steady and urgent work that needs to be done.

And the church can begin by honoring the cultures like those of native peoples, who have so much to teach about worship of Creator-Father-God and value for women.

Why do I still call God “Father?”

Because the Father that I need is the Father that was in the beginning, the one who so gently brought a benevolent world into being.

That Father is not the Father talked about in the American church today, but it’s the Father who calls me, in all that I am, into the full reality of my femaleness.

That is a Father I can call upon.

That is the Father of the Gospels.

That is the Father of my people.

That is the Father of a future church tethered once again to shalom.

Hallelujah and Amen.

CHRISTIANS, IT’S TIME TO APOLOGIZE TO CREATION

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This is beyond that glass bottle that wasn’t recycled last week.

It is beyond the car that we sometimes use for carpooling, beyond riding a bicycle instead.

When, as a whole, an entire nation has been created and sustained on the basis of lack of care for the earth, there is a problem.

One of our greatest needs as humans and Christians is to be humble before the earth, and in order to get there, repentance is involved.

So today, Christians, we should repent. But it’s not going to happen for everyone, and so many are left thinking that still, humans are at the center of everything, able to make whatever decisions we want, no matter the consequences.

We are no longer students of a wise earth, but pillagers of it.

We have leaders that look to the other countries on this earth and say, “You’ve all been laughing at us for doing the minimal amount of care we could, and so now we are saying ‘no more.’ ”

If America is ridiculed, it is for our lack of care, for the way we take advantage of what we have been given– the resources that have been here since the beginning. Even the people who first knew a relationship to this land were punished for it, all in the name of a created god that twisted worship into abuse.

WE are not the center of the universe. Creation moans with the grief of our decisions.  How big we think we are as humans. How little we are.

Dear church, it is clear that we have work to do, but that work becomes more and more important everyday. In a world where the poor and people of color live in places that are taken over and abused by corporations, it is time to step up and care for the least of these, including this earth.

We live in a bubble, and if the advantage of a social media world has taught us anything, it’s that what we do locally has an impact globally.

OUR WORLD is not AMERICA. OUR WORLD is everyone. We must stop tunnel-visioned-thinking. We must reach our hands out in reconciliation toward everything that has been oppressed because of us, from the people to the oceans, every creature that has known destruction because of our decisions.

Because we can no longer say that we did not know, the only option is acceptance and repentance or continued abuse.

And doing nothing is abuse.

Christians, this is your invitation.

Creation stands with the Spirit of God at the front of the church with her arms held out and says, “Come, all who are weary. Come and be made new.”

Some are already there waiting, those that have fought every day of their lives. Some just showed up to the church late, disheveled, but ready to do the good work of the Gospel.

The Gospel.

The Spirit of Jesus, celebrated first in Trinitarian relationship that poured salty water into the seas and created animals that know how to work and play. That same Being taught the soil to grow a garden and the leaves to change color when fall winds blow.

Who are we to say that we are above and beyond what was once so good and ready to carry this Gospel through history?

And so today, we repent.

And tomorrow, we repent and resist.

And while the world groans, we open our ears and close our mouths to hear her and whisper in the deepest parts of our being, “Christ, have mercy.”

 

 

PENTECOST: THE HOLY GHOST & NATIVE CEREMONY

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Potawatomi, Anishinaabe– “the people of the place of fire”

Growing up in the Southern Baptist church, the only holidays on the liturgical calendar in my world were Christmas and Easter. I’d never heard of Lent or Advent, I wasn’t even aware that there were days and seasons throughout the year to commemorate different parts of the church’s life.

As an adult, I lead worship at a Cooperative Baptist Church that practices more liturgically than any of the churches I grew up in, and it’s become a part of my life to examine what Lent, Advent, Easter, Christmas, Pentecost, and other holy days and seasons are meant for.

Native culture is full of sacred seasons as well, and the more that I learn about indigenous ceremonies that my tribe and others commemorate throughout the year, I see connections between indigenous culture and biblical culture in a way that only increases my capacity for faith and the beautiful diversity of God.

We commemorate Pentecost Sunday the seventh Sunday after Easter, the day that the Holy Ghost fell on the people of the new testament church. But this church holiday has other meanings and names as well. Some connect it to Shavuoth, the Jewish celebration commemorating the time when God presented the Torah to the Jewish people, or Whitsunday, another name for Pentecost celebrated by churches in the UK and in Anglican and Methodist churches. Whitsunday is also connected to Beltane, a historic summer festival in Ireland and Scotland.

What connects these church holidays is not just that we remember the Holy Spirit coming alive in the people of our bible stories, but we see a thread of customs, celebration, and ceremony coming alive across cultural boundaries and histories.

Shavuoth, a two-day Jewish celebration, consists of pilgrimages, large feasts, eating dairy, and decorating homes, among other things.

To celebrate Whitsunday there are parades and festivals, and in some cases, commemorations of Beltane, which is often considered a “pagan” holiday but also a celebration of the coming of summer. In a Beltane ceremony, there are prayers and feasting, words of peace and togetherness, a lot like the Jewish celebration, a lot like our Baptist potluck dinners and laying on of hands to pray and embrace one another.

So you see, there is a sacred thread of ceremony throughout these holidays, and I see more and more a connection to the sacred ceremonies of Native peoples, not unlike the druid ceremonies practiced throughout history. Maybe the church calls it “liturgy,” the holy word for those things that others might call “ceremony.”

In the Christian faith tradition, sometimes we push aside the idea of ceremony, especially ceremonies that we deem to have some connection to “idolatry.” This created distance is riddled throughout our faith history, and in relationship to indigenous people, it is no secret that ceremonies and traditions were banned, and native peoples were punished or even killed for celebrations and festivals that were important to their spiritual life.

In the same way, the connection to druid “pagan” ceremonies gives this particular church holiday a chance to embrace a connection through the Spirit to creation and community, and to another culture. This is what I missed in the church growing up which was a tradition based on checklists and beliefs, not on practicing any sort of grounding work besides a daily quiet time and bible study. As an adult, I need to be tethered to God through ceremony, through commemorating the changing of the seasons and life cycles, through the church’s holy days and my own culture’s holy days.

We do not forget that we are to be people of ceremony, celebration, and festivity. Sometimes when we read the words of the New Testament about putting away the old laws, we also put away the ceremony and celebration of the Old Testament, pieces that perhaps were not meant to be thrown away at all. And throughout the transformation of Christianity over time, we tell other people that their ceremonies aren’t allowed, either.

At our church, we will wear red on Pentecost Sunday. Red may be the color that reminds us of Pentecost, of fire and flame, but because I seem to be learning what the bible means through a native lens, I wonder, then, what the red of Pentecost might mean for me, a Potawatomi woman whose tribe literally means “people of the place of fire.” Red, the color of the South on the Medicine Wheel, a tool used by Native Americans to understand life seasons. Red, the color of the earth, the color of summer, the color of youth and vigor.

So I remember that on Pentecost Sunday, the Spirit of God came to earth, the fire of God called life out of and breathed life into the people. I remember that as summer comes, we see the Spirit all over this world in the things that bloom, in the hot summer sun, just like those worshippers in the Beltane festival do. And I see that the renewal, a youth-like newness comes with the Spirit’s voice, and we know that we are not alone.

And if we are not alone, then the goodness and all-inclusiveness of Jesus and the whoosh of the Spirit is alive and well in our ceremony—in our dancing, in our praying and smudging, in our fall fire ceremony when we welcome in the cool weather by keeping a fire lit for four days, in the naming ceremonies we use for our children. The Green Corn Ceremony, a time of harvesting corn and reconciling with our brothers and sisters, reminds us that the Spirit of God is alive and well in the people when we practice harmony and shalom toward one another. When Native ceremonies were outlawed by the church and the government, pieces of our cultures were stripped from us.

If the people of the new testament heard that day strangers speaking in their own native tongues, is that not a sign that the Spirit of God moves in us in our own native cultures as well? While the Spirit is something so other that we cannot fathom it, we are somehow comforted by the fact that we are accepted in its embrace, known in our own skin and understanding.

And when the church deprives itself the joy of embracing celebration, tradition and ceremony, it is stripped of something so needed in its identity.

The Spirit that fell that Sunday called the people into a unity, into a newness, into the light.

We are still called, all of us, in all our unique understandings, in all our cultural lenses.

That is the whole-beauty of Pentecost, WhitSunday, Shavuoth, Beltane, The Green Corn Ceremony, and so many others that celebrate God in relationship with people, with creation, with what has always been called good.

Happy Pentecost, friends.


{resources:

Druid Ceremony

Sun Dance Info

What Is Shavuoth?}

When We Pray For Dying Children

Last night when I couldn’t sleep, I got up to walk around the house for a few minutes before getting back into bed. I could hear the breathing rhythms of all four men in my house– my two boys, my husband, and our old husky who sleeps at the foot of the bed.

It’s been weighing heavily on me, news time and again that toddlers drown in a giant ocean, alone and afraid. They’ve left their homes with nothing but their families, and they die with those few things, and my mother-heart cannot comprehend that.

How do we pray for things we cannot possibly comprehend?

Sometimes prayer is tangible, words to heal body parts and minds and souls, questions that are particular and honest.

But other times, prayer is a mist, a cloud covering over something we couldn’t even hope to understand. That’s the kind of prayer I prayed last night and I pray today. It’s entering into something I don’t comprehend to ask questions I don’t know how to ask in hopes that the Spirit of God will know exactly what’s to be done.

I cannot cope with what is tangible about losing a baby to the ocean or to starvation, so I lean into Mystery, a presence that somehow knows and understands.

Yesterday when we visited the river, I walked along a canopied path alone for a few minutes. I found a black and blue dragonfly there, and she seemed to be playing with me. She’d flit from leaf to leaf, watching me watch her.

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She is a symbol of hope, a symbol of transformation, a symbol that reminds us that water is nearby, that we can drink and be taken care of, revived and refreshed.

I held that inside of me as I watched her, and then I walked back to my boys.

How can we hold hope and terror together in the same spaces? They’re beyond my comprehension, beyond my ability to grasp, and so prayers sound a lot more like unsteady breaths than strung out sentences.

But in my breathing, I hold those children and their mothers and fathers inside of me as best I can. Who says I am more alive than they are alive, more valuable than they have value?

Who says I am more capable of human emotions and beliefs than they are capable, more brave than they are brave?

These are waking-up prayers, prayers of rescuing myself out of my tunneled vision, out of my own nation, my own tribe, my own ability to understand grief.

So I lean into this praying, into that sense that we groan and the Spirit knows what’s happening anyway. We pray wordless prayers and God still knows what we hope for.

I still hope that the world can find transformation from war to peace, from fear to comfort, from individualistic living to communal.

I hold this as I pray, watch it slowly take shape over the years, watch it like I watched the dragonfly prance.

And I hold the words of Jesus over all those children, Jesus, who calmed storms and welcomed friends with words that undid every broken thing: “Peace be with you.”

Peace be with you.