Last week at church, I sat in the midst of a discussion about the will of God.
We took turns telling our stories, sharing our points of view, discussing whether or not we can hold the will of God for another person, and what the will of God means for each of us.
Inside, I told myself over and over again that God is not culture. Because what we know in our churches is that God is good and Jesus is just, but it takes a lot to swallow that neither are American. Neither are any other culture, for that matter; they do not belong to a nation or a people, but hover over and in all of us, with the vastness of shalom as their greatest attribute.
I walk this ever- dissonant line between learning my Native American heritage & spirituality and my place in today’s western Christian world, and as those lines become thinner and the black and whites become grayer, I discover that the journey toward God is the journey out of every culture I’ve ever known and into something sincerely other.
So all the characteristics that used to define my days are being re-arranged and re-structured, and I find that while it is difficult to strip myself of western culture in order to find God, it is possible.
As a young girl and on into my teenage years, I followed every rule according to my Baptist upbringing. I never kissed and hardly dated, I worried myself silly over missed assignments or classes, I feared for my salvation because I felt excessively guilty over sins like forgetting to do my quiet time or my judgmental attitude. Some was personality, some was baggage, but a lot of it was culture.
In college I took a world literature class, and when an old testament bible story was called crazy by many of the students sitting around me, my childhood world was shaken and shattered and I faced a big, wide open world that I hadn’t realized existed– and I had to ask myself, what relationships had I missed living in that bubble?
While I let a western Christian culture define me, what good things were actually waiting on the outside of that culture?
While fear and guilt felt overwhelming, what brought me true peace all those years?
I cannot say that I regret my childhood, of course. It created and molded me, sent me into the world as who I am. But I certainly see that as the woman I am today, the shift has been a liberation.
There are a lot of problems we face today– problems as citizens, as creators, as investors, as families or parents or friends, as leaders or followers, as human beings. Perhaps the best way to break apart the cultured answers to those problems is to forget culture all together, to unpack it from where we stand now, and to ask ourselves, those closest to us, the waiting air, the God who’s always known a way– Who am I and where am I going?
Last week at church, I asked that question again.
And God answers with snippets of dreams and voice and relationships that speak truth.
God answers in the life of my great-great-grandmothers and their mothers before them who knew that journey was a sacred, good thing.
God answers in my modern day, Cooperative Baptist Church, where I lead people in singing out, in proclaiming that we are all hungry and wanting and waiting for liberation.
So I plant my feet in my moccasins in the morning, I greet the autumn air, I wish for my boys to know the world through song and dance and story and miracle, and I wish it for myself, too.
And next week, you and I will gather in our churches or shake hands in our communities or bring friends into our homes, and a few weeks after that we will stand in line at polling stations and make decisions and ask what is next for ourselves, for those we love, even for those we disagree with on every level but that still belong to us.
May we hold those spaces with reverence, accepting that what we know to be true today shapes us tomorrow, and what journey awaits us in the days and nights from here on out could be something completely other, a reality foreign to us, but forever necessary.
While reading poetry with my boys, I came across a poem called “Evolution” by Sara Holbrook and I think that’s exactly us, exactly what the journey is meant to be, a deep want and need to move and exist and change:
out of radio,
came out of rhyme.
coming out of middle school,
changing all the time.
It’s time to lose the water wings,
crawl out of this lagoon.
I want to stand upright.
Get on my feet.
I want it soon.