Defining Myself Without Fear

Photo by Amy Paulson Photography

I’ve never been one for confrontation. My need for inner and communal harmony is pretty high, so you can imagine that with the current dividedness of our country, and the ongoing pain of learning about my native ancestors’ struggle over what we call Turtle Island, I am pretty emotionally exhausted.

Since the election, I’ve been wary of calling myself a liberal or a progressive out loud, because with every mention of a political or ideological title, things can get hateful pretty quickly. My own church is an umbrella church under which there is a mixture of people, a mixture of beliefs. I’m grateful for it, because when we are together we are forced to step outside of ourselves for a few hours and rest at the bottom-line of Jesus.

Still, as I continue to write and find my voice as a leader in the church and as a native woman in America today, I feel I need to make a decision.

Am I truly a progressive?

I checked to see.

Progressive: happening or developing gradually or in stages; proceeding step by step; a person advocating or implementing social reform or new, liberal ideas.

Then, I looked up liberal: open to new behavior or opinions and willing to discard traditional values.

But on our Facebook and Twitter walls, we attack each other for such titles, so I’ve had a hard time placing myself in a particular group. Is it possible that I am a female, Christian, Native American, Progressive, Liberal?

It seems that it is.

And while I claim the title, I am so many other things beyond it and within it. We have to remember that we are varied in every belief or stance, ranging from extreme to somewhere in the middle and back to the extreme side again.

So that’s what we need to see in each other: we exist beyond our labels, but our labels guide the spaces we inhabit and the arguments we make.

So I argue for change, as it happens step by step, as it moves with our lives, as it journeys within our journey. And in the midst of an ever-changing society, I wait and watch.

I wait and watch as the world asks what’s next.

I wait and watch what native peoples will fight for in the coming years, with a realization that those things are the same things we’ve fought for since the beginning.

I wait and watch as the world asks what it means to be a woman, and what it looks like for women to have the ability to choose what their lives are about.

I wait and watch as people learn to be human to each other, to step over dividing lines to remember that we belong to each other.

I wait and watch as the church — my church included — decides what to do with the chaos in the world, decides who to stand up for and who to listen to when things get heated.

Mostly, I watch the trees outside my window and my two young boys play with Legos on the kitchen floor. I watch the everydayness of my life, and know that I am tethered to that shalom kind of sacredness in this country and in this world, even if that means constant change and a future that looks different than the past.

So if I am a progressive liberal, can I begin as one with a blank slate?

If I call my brother or sister a conservative, can I see their blank slate as well?

If we are afraid of the titles we hold over one another, then we must learn to give each other grace within those beliefs, and from there, to hold each other accountable on the basis of our humanity, our responsibility to care for one another and the world around us.

Dividing lines will always exist.

But they don’t have to define us.

— — — — -

Jesus,

You had a reputation, you know.

You stood with women that you shouldn’t have stood by.

You neglected the important aspects of worship.

You ate meals with dirty fishermen

and you gave the poor the rich man’s best food and clothes.

You were called every name, I’m sure.

I’m sure when you walked by groups of dissent,

whispers slithered back and forth like snakes,

and you were always the culprit,

always the man who should never have been

called Messiah.

And yet.

And yet, you stood by the wells

and ate meals with the dirty

and kissed lepers.

And yet, you called the children

close and told them the whole

world belonged to their dreams.

You, Jesus,

lived beyond every title,

lived only by the rules of the

shalom you created.

May we live that way.

May we live that way.

May we live that way.

Amen.

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