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.

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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.

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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.

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THE GRAVITY OF GOD: a prayer

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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

 

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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.

 

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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.

 

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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.

 

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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

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[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

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“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

 

 

 

Chocolat & The Man Who Collected Cans

When I was little, I lived in a small town in southern Missouri. My house was within walking distance to my school, and if you took a stroll around the town very often at all you’d notice an old man riding around on a bicycle.

All the kids were afraid of him, made fun of him, thought he was the crazy old man who haunted the town. He rode around on his bicycle picking up aluminum cans–getting them from trashcans and dumpsters, picking them up off the side of the road.

He was not worth our time, but worth our criticism and laughter. We were a civilized bunch of youngsters, and he was the old man who didn’t quite belong, who we’d never know much of, until years later.

We found out that, so the story goes, that he was one of the wealthiest men in our town, and all those years he’d been collecting the cans to exchange them for money. His wealth was hidden from our sight.

The man we’d thought was crazy and poor was actually intelligent and wealthy, doing something for himself that appeared odd to us. I’m sure my cheeks flushed red that day that we found out. I’m sure we were ashamed, but as it goes in this society, we were taught to fear the other. We feared him, and in fearing him, dishonored him.

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I watched the movie Chocolat for the second time recently. Have you seen it? I’ve yet to read the book, but the movie, in watching it again, became a crystal clear picture of what I’ve seen so many times in our society.

Imagine: A small conservative catholic town celebrating Lent is shaken up by a woman opening a Mayan chocolate shop, a woman who shows her cleavage every now and then and allows her daughter to run around with an imaginary kangaroo, a woman who befriends river rats.

There is so much to this movie about the church’s fear of anything other or “secular” or for heaven’s sake, anything that tastes good or is a tagged a temptation. And because it is Lent, a season of fasting, the mayor of the town turns everyone against this woman and her illegitimate daughter.

Have you seen this scenario before?

In our traditional church pulpits we often give sermons of passion about staying far from temptation, every now and then using a them or they in the scenario.

“If you don’t go to church, you won’t last long here,” says a new friend to Vianne. And the church proves it with every passing day, as only the most heretical enter the Chocolaterie Maya to taste the most delightful chocolates they’ve ever eaten, and in doing so, build a small community.

Vianne takes her friend in, rescuing her from an abusive husband. They work in the shop together, throwing a birthday party for another dear friend who is mending a relationship with her grandson. They celebrate community in a way that many in the small church across the street wish they could, but are too scared to indulge that hunger.

Toward the end of the movie, the mayor, the one who disgraced Vianne’s name throughout the town for months, ends up in the shop, and in a fit of sabotage, eats and literally rolls in chocolate until he falls asleep in the shop window.

It should never come to this for so many of us. There shouldn’t have to be a complete breakdown of our way of life for us to see that we are neglecting those on the margins, on the outside. In this little catholic town, mass was an event designed to separate holy from unholy, those who belonged from the ragamuffins too disgraceful to walk the city streets on a Sunday morning. While this is not every church, of course, it is the identity of some.

Friends, it should not be so.

But, by the end of this particular story, those divisions are broken and the town comes together around Vianne and her chocolate shop. Lessons are learned. Friendships begin. Love flourishes.

Toward the end of the movie, the local priest says this in church:

“We can’t go around measuring our goodness by what we don’t do, by what we deny ourselves, what we resist and who we exclude. We’ve got to measure our goodness by what we embrace, what we create and whom we include.”

Those words should be spoken from every church pulpit. Those words should be spread on our high-rising billboards along country and city roads. Those are words of reconciliation between the ones who have been other for so long and the ones who always seemed to belong.

They sound a lot like the words of Jesus.

It’s what happened that day when I realized with a group of my friends that the man collecting the cans was an actual human being with a story and a timeline to his life.

It’s what happens when we go beyond our own comfort zones into a world that is waiting for us, with pockets of communities who care for one another and would welcome us in a heartbeat.

If only we’re willing to go across the street and taste the chocolat. 

 

 

 

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.