Answers in a World of Opposites

IMG_0469.jpg

Some of the most frustrated people I know want to make sense of the world’s mysteries so that their lives fall into place in a way that makes sense.

It’s understandable. After all, the age old question is why do bad things happen to good people? isn’t it?

The most beautiful and most frustrating thing about mystery is that it doesn’t make sense. It simply IS.

But how do we find what we’re looking for in mystery if we cannot make sense of its ways?

Perhaps we look to what opposites can teach us.

Maybe we go outside of ourselves to figure out what’s happening inside.

Maybe we make our own voices quiet so our soul’s voice can be louder.

Maybe we kneel so that we are lifted up.

Maybe we become like children to really mature.

Maybe we love when we should hate.

Maybe what is small opens up the whole world to us.

Maybe we trust when all we want to do is worry.

I asked my husband recently if I should continue writing weekly letters to the president, something I’ve been doing since inauguration day. I told him that I’m tired, and that I don’t really know what to say anymore. I told him that I don’t know if it’s helping.

He told me that people often give up when they don’t see results. He reminded me that many movements fail because the people leading them decide that the efforts aren’t worth it anymore.

I sat quiet for a few seconds and said, “Well, then. I won’t stop writing.”

I choose the opposite. I choose to do what shouldn’t be done. I choose what doesn’t make sense because I know it produces some sort of fruit in me.

When we are so tired, maybe instead of working harder like the world tells us to do, we actually stop and rest.

Maybe instead of telling ourselves we can’t do it, we say that we know it’s possible.

Maybe I learn to listen to my ancestors, to be grateful when things are anything but great.

Maybe, like Jesus, we flip tables over when we’re not supposed to and we make messes when the church asks us to keep it neat.

Friends, there is a whole world of opposites, and if we live in fear, we miss them.

And if we live in fear, we might miss the irony that is the mystery of God, this strange thing called Spirit that we get to encounter.

I go outside and see a hawk in the sky, and I am grounded.

I shut up for a minute and my two young sons end up teaching me a lesson.

I pray for leaders I don’t agree with and God floods me with compassion and courage to do the right thing in the face of all that is wrong.

The Mystery simply is.

But always, there is an invitation. Always, there is a world waiting for us.

It’s just often not what we think.

It’s just often the irony that gets us going in the right direction.

Because somehow, the rain falls on the just and the unjust, doesn’t it?

Somehow, the wind blows around all of us and we are just here to do the work, the good work, called to make peace where there is war and beat weapons into tools of harvest.

That is the work of Mystery. The work of Spirit.

 

Staying Rooted in an Uprooted World

IMG_0350.jpg

Have you ever noticed that the tops of the trees sway wildly when it’s windy?

I took the boys to one of our new favorite spots in Atlanta, a walking trail with a lake and two picnic tables where we sit and read, where we thread fallen leaves onto pine needles  and make habitats with sticks and dirt.

Last week, my oldest found an arrowhead there, and so it is, in many ways, sacred space to us. It is our getaway right outside the city.

We’ve been watching the new Magic Schoolbus series, and there is an episode about architecture and the Big Bad Wolf–they are trying to design the perfect house for the Three Little Pigs that won’t get blown down. When the kids and their teacher realize that the trees are the answer to their problems–that their rooted trunks do not easily break in the wind–they apply the circular tree design to their house for the Three Little Pigs play and it is a success.

You see, they discovered that the way the trees were grounded during the storm was the answer. Most of the trees were steady and safe, despite harsh winds.

IMG_0354.jpg

These days are full of acute, concentrated heaviness. We mourn and long, we hope and despair, constantly and all at once. That is, of course, the human condition, but it is exhausting, and it often leaves us feeling listless and unsettled.

And so, we have to find rootedness. We have to be grounded in something.

And if you’re a Christian like I am, the American church doesn’t feel like the safest place right now.

As a Native American woman, the church isn’t always the best place for me to find God. Because I’ve realized that the church is also out there. It is in the wilderness where I am grounded. 

A few days ago when I took my boys back to our favorite spot and watched the trees quietly sway, I listened. I listened as acorns fell from the heights above us. I lay on the bench of the picnic table, once again in awe of a created world that I get to belong to, tend to, learn from. I felt rooted again.

It was in a similar place that I was brought back to my identity as a Potawatomi woman a few years ago, on a walking trail. In that moment, when God reminded me of who I am, opened up my world, and lifted a veil that had been covering my eyes, I saw everything clearly, and I found that even though my journey is difficult, its beauty outweighs its heaviness, and it brings me to a rootedness that I’ve never had before in my life.

The answers have always been outside, whether we notice or not. They are in the trees and the dirt beneath my feet. Somehow, the wilderness allows us to ask questions of life, of God, of ourselves, of each other, and whether we find the answers we’re looking for, what grounds us to this earth and to this journey is that we belong. We are held steady in the chaos, rooted even though things are broken.

And the wilderness does not discriminate. The trees do not look at me differently than they look at you. The lake lets you see your reflection on her face, and the ducks still float by gracefully. The acorns still fall from the trees, the squirrels still bury their winter food in the dirt, and the bees still search for honey and sting anyone who gets in their way.

But when we become a part of that, when we get to sit in the company of a created world, we see ourselves.

We remember that we are small, created things, made to belong, to be interconnected, and that is the grandest mystery, isn’t it?

That in itself is all I need, and it’s all you need, if only for a moment of re-charging and remembering.

So when the brokenness of the world makes you tired, run to the forest.
Remember how small you are.
Watch the leaves change.
Listen to acorns fall from the heights.
Let the wind and the water talk to you about what it means to heal.
Let The Creator show you the benevolent, secret places.

And root yourselves again. Dig your heals into the dirt and remember that it is okay to long for wholeness, and it is better to seek it out where it can be found.

It is better to seek and find that we are, indeed, grounded, than to never look or ask and feel like we’ve wandered our whole lives and never landed.

So let the wildernesses– the rolling hills, the forests and the lakes, the rivers and the rocks, be your guide. Let them bring you back to yourself, to that still, small voice that has always called us rooted in an often uprooted world.


 

 

My book, Glory Happening: Finding the Divine in Everyday Places is out for PRE-ORDER! You can order your copy here.

Can’t wait for you to read it and find your own stories in mine.

 

A Chemical Reaction of the Soul

chemical reaction: n. a chemical change that occurs when two or more substances combine to form a new substance.

FullSizeRender 42.jpg

I’ll be the first to admit that I know little about chemistry.

But recently I had a conversation with my son about chemical reactions, how something as simple as baking a cake becomes a chemical reaction–because the cake can never go back to being flour, salt, sugar, or eggs. It has transformed.

Neither can my coffee, that is ground and immersed in water inside the coffee maker, go back to being the original bean again.

I’ve been thinking a lot about the process of deconstructing or decolonizing my faith.

I’ve written about it here, and if I stop with one piece, I’ve obviously missed the point.

About two years ago I had a conversation with a friend that ended in the realization that I am no longer the person I was in high school and college.

My perspectives on faith and the church have shifted, along with who I believe should be included and excluded in such matters.

It seems I’ve become someone else, but still hold in tact the original essence of who I’ve always been.

Is it possible to have a sort of chemical reaction of the soul? Is it possible that we transform so that we cannot be what we once were?

I believe that’s a healthier version of ourselves, and if we’re really honest, fighting transformation will leave us unhappy, missing out on new aspects of ourselves that are waiting to be discovered.

When we refuse to change, to evolve, to transform, we become stuck in only what we’ve known, because we’re scared to ask questions. But the question-asking, the wondering and wandering– it’s what helps those chemical reactions of the soul take place. All of those substances combine in us to bring transformation.

My coffee, steaming in my cup with cream and sugar, will never be a coffee bean again.

It has some sort of new purpose.

Just the same, my life journey today, seeking my Potawatomi identity and asking the American church how it can be better, is a version of myself that cannot forget what it has seen or go back to what it once was.

But the question-asking, the wondering and wandering-- it's what helps those chemical reactions of the soul take place. All of those substances combine in us to bring transformation.-2.png

If coffee transforms, so can we.

And each fall leaf,

every flower,

every bird’s egg that hatches,

each child that grows and matures,

a caterpillar that will become a butterfly,

every pumpkin pie or fortune cookie or veggie omelet–

a chemical reaction in the world, a transformation.

So if we aren’t who we were yesterday, and we’re not yet transformed into who we’ll be tomorrow, who are we today?

Maybe we simply ARE,

this transforming thing,

the cake that’s still in the oven,

the coffee that’s being ground.

Maybe we’re inside the middle of transformation, where it hurts a little, the caterpillar making its way toward the butterfly.

While we are in this cocoon, dreaming of who we’ll be, working toward it, we acknowledge that this space, right now, is necessary and good in the process, and we cannot skip it.

You and I are in the midst of our chemical reaction of the soul, and we cannot go back now.

The only way is forward,

and into glorious, unknown light.

Amen. 

 

GOD NEVER STOPS CALLING YOU

IMG_5362

Do you remember what it was like inside the womb?

Maybe some of us have some sort of memory there, embedded deep inside of our minds and hearts. But most of us are just told what it’s like, and what it was like the day we left the bodies of our mothers to enter the world.

In the womb, everything seemed to be taken care of—everything in place to keep you safe and growing to fullness, so that you could make your way into the world.

No matter how much we long for it, though, we cannot go back because we have been called out into the world.

This weekend we celebrated my youngest son’s birthday. This little boy was named after two different prophets, and so we were ready for him to be filled with a little fire from the time of his birth. I wasn’t prepared for how beautiful it would be, though.

Every year that we celebrate with him, I see the things that come alive, the ways in which he finds his place in the world, even as a four year old. His father gave him the task to “find the things that are wrong and make them right,” and nothing could speak truer to his warrior heart.

He was called from within the womb, and now every day of his life, he’s still called.

We all are.

So what now?

What now, when we may be 80, 40, 2 years separated from that womb?

Dear friend, we’re still being called.

I spent the last month away from my husband, solo parenting my two little ones.

It’s been a season of stretching, a lot of time to be alone, to make decisions on my own, and still I’ve found that God is calling.

We’re being called to grow up, to begin making decisions and walking in directions I never thought we’d be walking in. And while it’s hard and scary, I know that it’s really what we’re always doing– we are always answering a call.

And it’s a call that starts in the beginning.

I don’t mean grow up like, hey, get some chest hair!

 I mean grow up by taking on the calling of our lives, growing up by aligning ourselves with the reality of God by coming to the realization that we are forever-learners.

Sometimes we’re called to be quiet.

Sometimes we’re called to leave what we know for something we don’t know.

Sometimes we’re called to be more like the children again.

Whatever it is—God never stops calling.

And the difficult balance is between what we know and trust inside ourselves and what we need to know and hear from others in friendship and community. Somehow, God works in the midst of all of those things, and somehow, the truth of God is where we’ll find ourselves at the end of this life.

But until then, we trust the reality that we are always called.

 If we stop and look at the world around us, we’ll remember that things still work as they’re created to work. It’s a cooler day today for summer in Georgia, and still the squirrels and birds fight over bird feeders. Still the world spins and works its magic and shows that it’s simply existing in its own creation–in its calling.

We are experiencing this volatile moment in history in which we all say that God calls things one way or another way. We say that our leaders are ordained by God, or we get up and leave our churches in huge droves because we don’t trust that leadership anymore. It is exhausting to find the call of God on our lives sometimes.

And it’s even more exhausting to figure out that calling for an entire nation or people group or little church parish, for that matter.

Despite what we believe about ourselves and each other–God is still calling us. And we don’t get to tell each other what that calling means, but we get to line up that calling with the words and life of Jesus, who lived into a calling that toppled systems of oppression, a calling told in beautiful metaphor and stories.

That same Jesus also taught us to pray, to gather ourselves up, jump in a boat, and run to the wilderness for quiet, for refilling–to hear what is being called of us.

Right now I can say that I have no idea what my future holds, except that I’ve got a book coming out on November 7th, a book that was called out of me. I know that I am called to be a mother and a wife, a writer, a storyteller, to walk in my Potawatomi heritage and my Christian heritage, to ask questions of and to challenge the church that I love and want to see become healthy again.

But it’s scary outside the womb. It’s cold and sometimes lonely and there are people capable of great good and great evil.

Growing up is hard. Leaving the womb is hard.

Identifying the call is hard.

But it’s possible, because God never, ever stops calling.

Nearly a year ago, as I began asking what it means to be a Potawatomi woman and a Christian, I began having dreams. In native culture (and in many cultures for that matter) dreams are really important–they are a way of being called. My dreams were significant. They were dreams that gave me a name, that called me, that beckoned me into transformation. They were dreams that I knew were both a call and a response–God was responding to my questions and calling me deeper in at the same time.

Even in being called, we continue to ask. We continue to dream and cast vision and wish and hope for a deeper and more whole kind of living–a shalom kind of existence.

Even if you’re not having dreams that call you, there is a whole world waiting to show itself to you and to me. Our calling today, far removed from that womb we once knew, is the same calling that we had inside that womb–to ask, seek, and knock, just as Jesus will always ask, seek and knock.

This is the back and forth of calling and receiving, of dreaming and believing, of asking and answering.

With every call comes a response.

As we grow up, our choice to respond, no matter how scary and unknown the call, may be what saves us.

This is the beckoning of shalom.

Hallelujah and Amen.

 

IT’S OKAY TO DECONSTRUCT YOUR AMERICAN FAITH

In college, I took a world literature class. We spent some time with famous stories from all over the world, including the literature of the Old Testament. Being a born and raised Christian, I thought that when we’d gotten to that section, I’d be able to share my wisdom, have a bible study right then and there with a classroom full of people.

Instead, when we got to the story of Abraham and Isaac, those who sat around me said things like, “This story is ridiculous! Why would God tell someone to kill their own son and then change his mind? Why do people believe this is a real story?”

I went home that day terrified, eyes open to the reality that the whole world doesn’t view the Bible as this all-righteous book of literal truth I’d been taught to view it as. I was terrified for the people in the room who believed God was different than my own beliefs. Suddenly the world was torn in two, and I was asking who was right and wrong. Because we couldn’t all be.

The problem was, I’d never questioned anything until college. I questioned myself a lot, mostly questions revolving around whether or not I was doing the right thing, if I was considered righteous enough in the eyes of God. My questions were ticks on a list to keep me from going out of line, to keep me in good standing with a God that I was terrified might leave me if I didn’t. It was based on answering the right questions to keep my guilt and shame at bay.

But this is not the way of Christ.

Suddenly, in my third year of college, I wondered if there were some other questions I needed to be asking. Suddenly, the world was older than I thought it was, and I found myself more ignorant than my non-religious fellow students, more aware of my lack of understanding.

It was clearly time to deconstruct, and I didn’t know if I was ready.

IMG_8612

Fast forward six years. I’m walking a famous Southern cemetery in Atlanta with my two sons. We pass trees with acorns still intact, workers picking up the nuts that have fallen to the ground. They are working to care for the graves of Jews, African Americans, and confederate soldiers. My little boys don’t understand war, and neither do I, to be honest, especially when the nation is on fire with fresh-wound arguments that have been aching to come to the surface and finally have again.

This time, deconstructing faith means deconstructing everything, because in America, faith is mixed with empire, whether we want to admit or not. 

As humans, we are called to deconstruct. We are called to question and break apart to put back together again. As Christians, we believe it was the way Jesus worked and for too long, we’ve shamed people for following in his footsteps.

It’s gotten people of color, people who are different, people who are “rebellious” kicked out of churches again and again because their questions bring up discomfort and challenge the almightiness of the white evangelical church.

But Jesus was about deconstruction, about re-wiring belief to understand God in new ways, because we will never fully understand the mystery, and so the questions are the important part.

IMG_8610

War is a complicated thing.

War takes people and divides them. It takes belief and elevates it to the point that it is a tool used to hurt and kill.

War tears families and friends apart.

War creates chaos to the point that it’s hard to tell who is who and what motives exist on every side.

War is difficult to deconstruct.

But it’s possible. And so, here we are.

If you grew up in the evangelical church, maybe you’re asking yourself what it meant to be a Christian all those years. I know I am.

And as a native Christian, I’m asking what it means today for me to deconstruct and decolonize my faith enough that I can see clearly the trajectory of Jesus’ love from the words of the Bible to my own culture and people.

But institutional church is a complicated thing.

Church takes people and divides them. It takes belief and elevates it to the point that it is a tool used to hurt and kill.

Church tears families and friends apart.

Church creates chaos to the point that it’s hard to tell who is who and what motives exist on every side.

Church is difficult to deconstruct.

But if we do not try, we do not get closer to the gospel. If we do not try, we only sit in what we’ve been told all these years. We only continue the cycle of Christians who go into world literature classes clutching their Bibles so close to the chest the they miss the beauty of a world in which the Bible can be viewed as an important work of art, a tool of metaphor and history that teaches us what humanity means.

It’s to teach us how to navigate a world full of war, not to create it.

And so, we continue to deconstruct.

We’ve got to ask questions if we want to get America and its people back to a healthier place again, because it never should have mixed church and empire to begin with.

And the deconstruction process means churches will hurt. It will stretch everyone. It will be very, very uncomfortable.

It requires lament and repentance. It requires honesty, and probably a whole lot of therapy.

I’m meeting more and more people who are in a kind of post-church PTSD, and many people of color who have been sitting in that tension their whole lives. Even admitting that it’s hard brings a certain level of shame and criticism. We pile shame on ourselves, and the American Evangelical way piles shame on us for trying to ask hard questions.

So to deconstruct things, to turn something upside down so it looks different, to pick apart pieces and try to put them back together again a little differently–well, that’s the work of Jesus over and over again.

So it should be our work, too.

To get to the questions, we have to know that there is no shame in wanting to ask.

And the asking means we ask everyone, all kinds of people, so that the full mosaic of the kingdom of God can be understood in our time and in our spaces.

Maybe if we start with the want, we’ll get to the actual asking, and there will be hope for our country, our faith, our relationships– for shalom to do its work in and through us.

The only way to reconstruct things toward a closer image of kingdom is to deconstruct what once distorted the gospel of Jesus. That’s where we go from here.

Hallelujah and Amen for the Work of Deconstruction.

IMG_8605

 

THE GRAVITY OF GOD: a prayer

IMG_5689

O Jesus,

Pull us into your gravity.

It is something that we cannot understand,

something we long to know

and experience,

to embrace with our senses.

Still, we see yet a glimpse of you,

a sliver of embrace that pulls us

constantly,

constantly,

closer

to you.

Your gravity is like that opening

at the top of the tipi,

that glimpse into a sky-bound reality

that we simply reach for,

yearn for,

tell stories of.

We long to see the stars

and know that you

always find us.

And when we are found,

as we always are,

your gravity

does not cause us to forget the world,

but it causes us

to sit still

in the busyness the world

and to love

in the hatred of the world.

Your gravity calls us both to ourselves

and to each other.

Your gravity calls us to you

and to every created thing,

a lament of what should be–

a celebration of what can be.

Your gravity is called Spirit

or Being

or Quiet

or Pause.

Your gravity

is Beauty embodied

and Shalom

in constant motion.

So pull us.

Usher us into a cosmic reality

that calls us good

and wishes better–

a better and better world.

O Gravity,

we long for you.

Beckon us, we pray.

Amen.

 

The Tension of the Lord’s Supper for Today

This is life. This is the tension of the meal.

Then he took a loaf of bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and gave it to them, saying, “This is my body, which is given for you. Do this in remembrance of me.” And he did the same with the cup after supper, saying, “This cup that is poured out for you is the new covenant in my blood.” –Luke 22

If you’ve heard this story as many times as I have, the events of the evening are memorized in our brains. There was a foot washing, then there was a meal, then there was communion—the body and the blood.

A few weeks ago at church, as the Eucharist was being prepared, I heard the teacher say, “And after they ate, he took the cup…” This is the version we find in Luke, and I’d never caught that it was different before. But it is.

First the bread, then an entire meal, then the cup.

And I thought what an awkward meal that would have been.

 Imagine an extended meal right after Jesus tells you to eat some bread because it’s actually his body. Imagine everyone reeling, trying to understand. Imagine the awkward side glances, someone trying to bring it back up again in casual conversation.

“So, you mentioned that bread before…” to which Jesus responds by popping another olive in his mouth. It’s so hard to be in the tension. It’s so hard to sit with the in-between faith.

Maybe the disciples lived differently. Maybe they walked in a mystic way, understanding that everything is infused with life and with spirit. So maybe what Jesus said about the bread made sense and gave them some sort of eternal-looking hope.

Still, that would have been a long meal. A mysterious meal, one that was hard to grasp.

But that’s exactly where we sit repeatedly in our faith stories.

The tension that the church must willingly sit in is knowing that we are not better than the rest of the world. The tension is that everyone belongs at that table with Jesus, and everyone deserves a meal.

The tension is the actual meal, sitting in the presence of Jesus, knowing that we-all of us-are capable of good and evil.

All of us are John and Judas, Peter and Pilate.

After the disciples ate at the table a while, Jesus grabbed some more wine and shared it with his friends, telling them the next odd and terrifying thing. “This is my blood, it’s covenant.”

Again, with the heart of a mystic, he called them to metaphor and to reality at the same time. He called them to see that the blood makes things new, that his own journey, his own story, was going to create something new in the very foundations of this life.

And that’s still the life we continue living in today, friends.

Can you feel it?

We live in the meal. That whole time in between the bread and the wine, that whole time of relaxing at the table wondering what’s next for the life of Jesus, for the life of his friends, and Jesus sitting at the table with a friend he knew would betray him.

The tension of this life is that we sit with our friends. We watch as one betrays us, manipulates, hurts us, or we betray, manipulate or hurt them. We sit and look around at the people who keep us tethered to what is good, to what we need, to our true stories.

But all the while, we’re waiting on a new covenant.

We’re waiting for something we don’t understand yet.

We’re waiting for a world to call us to itself, for God to call us to whatever it is God finds good.

But first, the bread. But first, the long, awkward, pass-the-mashed-potatoes kind of meal in which everything is chaos and quiet all at once.

This is life. This is the tension of the meal.

May we simply understand that we are to hold on. We are to keep eating and embracing one another right now, today, in this tension. We have eaten the bread, claimed that we belong to the body of Jesus. Now we wait for the blood to fully show us the way, for our hearts to be made new.

Let’s eat, friends.

WHAT I’M LEARNING ABOUT DEATH & LIFE

 

DSCF8259

My son brought a furry caterpillar home with him from our camping trip at the Wild Goose Festival. He found his new friend on our tent, and he named it Cali the caterpillar after one of his cousins. He played with it all morning as we prepared to leave North Carolina and head back to Georgia.

As we sat on the ground and listened to Frank Schaeffer speak in the closing session of the festival, Eliot showed that caterpillar to everyone around us, and when Frank was done speaking, Eliot ran up to him and introduced him as well. Frank put his hands on Eliot’s face and spoke a kind word of blessing over him, saw in him a love for all created things. He played with his caterpillar the whole drive home, watching it crawl around in a cup, on his leg, in the palm of his hand. He brought it home and put it in a bug container where it stayed all night.

But the next morning, we found him, and he’d died. His furriness was gone and he was tiny and broken looking. My son wept.

Later that day, we found out that a dog we’d owned years ago before gladly passing him onto someone else in our family had been put to sleep. We looked at the photo of Charlie and Eliot. We told stories about him, we laughed and we cried. We had a full day of memorializing his life with us.

 

261530_10151577349993902_104604905_n

12Eighty-One Photography

 

Our husky, Sam, is also growing old. He’s slowed down dramatically over the last few weeks, and we can see it in his eyes–he’s holding on with us, but he’s tired. So we stroke his fur a little more gently now, we tell him he’s a good dog more often than not, and we cherish the moments we’ve got with him. But death is always in mind.

 

20280716_1421035197987207_8295327354714763950_o

Photo by Travis Curtice

 

The boys ask a lot of questions about life and death, a lot of questions about how people and creatures grow old, how health fails and bodies grow frail. As parents, we want to avoid these topics sometimes, but it’s better that we don’t. It’s better that we talk about it and process it so that when it comes, we know what it looks like and feels like, what it tastes like and sounds like. We need to know it with our human senses so that our souls can try to comprehend it.

Death is difficult and complicated and everyone experiences it in different ways. I reminded my five year old son that he had really wonderful moments with this caterpillar on the drive home and the morning he found him on our tent, and to hold on to those memories.

It may seem silly, but it’s a life lesson.

We make memories here and now with those around us, so that when they pass on, we have something to hold on to.

And sometimes, if we let it, death is a doorway into life, into becoming more of ourselves when someone we love leaves us. It is a way to mark our humanity, to mark our dust-to-dustness. 

And sometimes death comes in the close of one season and the opening of another, when one thing ends and another thing begins. Even there, death plays a part in our lives, helps usher us into a new space.

Last week I served my last Sunday as worship leader at the church we’ve called home for a few years. As I drove to the church one Sunday morning, God reminded me that faith is a kind of stretching, and that it’s often painful.

 

IMG_0784

Photo by Kristen Koger

But it’s death and life. As I leave some things that I’ve known for a while now to step into whatever is next on the horizon, I’m acknowledging life and death. I’m acknowledging that when we end, we also begin—steps into a new and unknown journey.

We talk all the time about how, as individuals, we live and die, so that we can be reborn again and again. Do we not allow that same gospel message to reach the church, and those outside the church as people trying to find our way to the kingdom of God?

What if death wasn’t something we feared, the journey ending to make space for a new beginning?

What if this era of the church is making way for a new era, something we don’t understand but something God has always seen on the horizon? Instead of fighting it, we get to embrace it and let it teach us.

If we acknowledge that death is natural, it doesn’t mean we’re saying it’s easy.

It’s hard. It’s really, really hard, and healing doesn’t always show up the way we want it to.

But the world has taught us from the beginning that life and death are what keep us going, and we can’t deny that it’s the journey we’re called to.

May we be kind to one another along the way.

 

 

 

 

 

GENERATIONAL GOD: a wild goose poem

DSCF8263

[I wrote this poem on a Friday afternoon, laying in my tent looking up at the trees through the screen door to the Smoky Mountains surrounding the campsite. I wrote it as I listened to my children playing with Legos beside me, as I remembered that through our ancestors, we learn how we belong to one another. I shared this poem in the OPEN Network tent on Saturday afternoon of the Wild Goose Festival.]

The God of our ancestors has spoken.

But not just the God–

the ancestors speak, too.

If we’re willing to listen,

we might learn

a little more about everything,

a million tiny lessons in a day.

They might warn us not to

be so loud when we speak,

or to speak less and listen more.

Others may tell us that they

were silenced,

and it’s our turn to break

that silence.

There is a reason

that we walk the earth

wondering who came before.

There is a reason we

dream dreams

and

speak history

intermingled

with

truth and metaphor.

Our ancestors,

whose stories still meet us

in the quiet–

our ancestors live in the spaces we make

for one another, today.

And in those spaces,

God speaks.

God moves, breathes, has being.

God is face

and story

and bones

and just as we cannot escape

our own histories and our own beginning,

we cannot escape the reality

that God is the constant good

that has always met us

through call and response,

question and answer

and more questions.

And if we do not deny where we’re going

and who came before to pave the way,

we will surely find that

God is a generational God,

and we are a generational people,

and our ancestors,

their souls far above and around and beyond us,

call us to remember

how good it is that

we are dust to dust,

story to story,

breath of God in flesh

to

breath of God in spirit.

Amen.

THE ORDINARY TIME OF GOD: a native perspective

IMG_8038

“I want a rocking-chair faith,” my friend Ashley preached from her Anglican church pulpit.

I’ve heard her say things like this in the short time that I’ve known her, and every time I’m aware that where I sit today with God is exactly where I want to be, and at the same time, I want to journey further in. I want to end up in that rocking chair next to my Creator having a conversation about how we got here today and where we think we’re going. I want to laugh and cry and be silent and watch the sunset, drink hot tea and reminisce about where we came from.

There is something in the church tradition called “ordinary time,” and it’s that space in between the great church holidays in which things are pretty quiet. Life is still and, well, ordinary.

It’s those times when we find ourselves having lots of space to be and become. It’s a time to celebrate our humanity and our sacred identity with God in the everydayness of our living.

That’s where we find ourselves today.

The more I learn about my own Potawatomi culture, the more I see connections between church tradition and native tradition unfold. There are ceremonies and celebrations and “holidays” that are meant to be planned and worked out and executed. But then there are the daily rituals, the quiet moments, the hard work, the conversations, the living.

The thing about native culture is that we believe everything is infused with spirit, and so when we’re doing the dishes or taking a walk with our children, laying in the hammock or working to make ends meet, it is necessary that those things make an impact on our spirits as well as our minds and bodies and bank accounts.

You could think of it as similar to the mystic tradition of Christianity, to the work the desert fathers and the desert mothers lived in.

Today I live in the prayer that I prayed this morning as I burned sage and asked if who I am is really who I am supposed to be in the light of the gospel of Jesus. It is a heavy world, a heavy time. Maybe not heavier than other times before us, but when we live in ordinary spaces, when we engage in everyday acts of prayer, we sense it–our need to be a part of the work of shalom.

I found myself praying, “O God, I want to be wide open.”

Because ordinary time is this space in which we open our clenched fists when everyone else is gone, when we are alone and naked before the God who knows us most, who created us and knows our beginning, and who sustains us every day.

In those moments, those rocking chair moments, faith is a conversation. It is a listening and a paying attention.

And out of that comes the things of this life, like a day at the pool with our kids or a morning of hard work or a difficult conversation with a friend.

Out of our naked moments before God come the life we are to live, and that life is a living and breathing image of who God is. 

If our ordinary days matter as much as our celebrations or holidays, our life will be lived in constant connection to the gospel of Jesus.

And in my Potawatomi skin and in my white skin, I can know that Jesus holds me steady in the in-between. In ordinary time.

The gospel is not just for Christmas and Lent, for Easter and Epiphany.

It is not just for the Green Corn Ceremony or the Powwow ceremony. It’s here and now and tomorrow and the day after that. It was yesterday and the year before.

It was before anything we know existed, and it will be after everything is gone.

Somehow, that comforts me.

Somehow, that makes me want for those quiet moments with God.

It makes me want for truth and love and grace and peace, for harmony and a prayer with burning sage to cleanse me of what ails me, for the life of Jesus to call me further into who I am meant to be.

Perhaps ordinary time is not so ordinary after all, if it leads into fuller living.

Perhaps we’ve forgotten what it means to be fully alive.

Perhaps we long for it again.

Surely, surely, we will find it when the time comes, when ordinary time calls us out of our shadowed selves and into fresh living that goes against the grain of injustice and indifference.

But first, we have to know that it’s okay to be ordinary. 

“I pray to the God within me that He will give me the strength to ask Him the right questions.”
― Elie Wiesel