The City Siren Song & Journeying Back to the Land

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I need her– the land– though for a long time I’d forgotten why.

It seems the city lights and sounds, a siren song, called me into an alternate reality.

I stayed there for years, because I didn’t know better, and then she called to me again– the land.

I took my boys to the Indian mounds here in Georgia, where we climbed stairs up to a plateau of grass overlooking the landscape.

We could see factory smoke in the distance, but we could feel the pulse of an old earth beneath us– she remembers.

We sprinkled tobacco over a mound that was used as a gravesite, a place to bury all the people who died of European disease– nearly 90% of the tribe.

We sprinkled tobacco and we prayed, thinking of our own ancestors from a different tribe and a different place. Still, their stories come together and remind us that we belong to this history.

My boys watched as gravity took the thin brown strands from their palms, as the wilderness around them accepted their child-prayers.

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I grew up with New Mexico dirt, in poor neighborhoods where we didn’t really realize we were poor– we knew we were children with friends and roofs over our heads, and that’s all we needed to know.

As a preteen living in Missouri, my step-dad took me to American Eagle Outfitters for the first time, and I left with a brand new outfit, never before worn by someone else. I became someone different that day, someone who could see my own reflection in the storefront windows, among the racks of bulk-manufactured items.

 

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It was beautiful while it lasted.

But in living a loud life, I’d forgotten what it means to learn from the quiet, small voice of the land.

So as I get older, I long for the “tonic of wilderness,” as Thoreau called it.

I need the wind to remind me that the world is made up of rustling leaves and carried-away seeds.

I need the open fields to tell the story of the people who lived on the land long before I came here.

If we are to listen to the Creator, do we not also listen to the beauty that is created?

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And if we do not journey out of our cities, out past the boundaries, out into the unknown, we will not learn to truly embrace the long-standing Mystery that is gifted to us in creation.

We climbed the stairs of those mounds, we looked across the land, and we asked, for ourselves, what it means to belong.

We have friends who have a farm in Arkansas, and the moment I step across the threshold and into their house, I know it to be a place of peace.

We can see the horizon through the dining room widows, out past the back porch. We watch the horses run through their little field while lambs play across the fence.

They live in the land, and they practice listening.

As with many things, stepping away from the city life we know and into what we don’t gives us a chance to re-evaluate, to re-define, to re-examine. Shopping malls and chain restaurants can’t do that. They don’t understand or heal our ache. 

Remember those times Jesus stepped away from his city, from his friends, to meet God in the hillside or the wilderness? Even Jesus learned something in that quiet, learned from the breath of the earth and voice of the wind as it rushed by.

And so we are to learn something in these hillsides that surround us.

The stories are old, and the storytellers are wise, and if we humbly listen to them, we’ll learn our way, past the siren songs of our youth and into an understanding of the sacred-kept truth waiting for us in the wilderness.

Amen.

 

SEVEN GRATITUDES: life & death

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{Seven Gratitudes is a lovely link-up I participate in some Fridays with my dear friend, Leanna. Head over to her blog for wonderful lessons and beautiful, honest writing.}

This week, two people (that I know of) in this world committed suicide. One was someone I didn’t know, but have connections to his work, and the other was a friend from my youth.

I would never presume to decide what happened in the world to lead to their decision, nor would I attempt to judge what they were feeling in the last months, weeks and days of their lives.

So in my grief, in my lack of understanding, I pray for their families and friends, and I turn to gratitude, to the things that give me life today.

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  • My sons’ second violin lesson. I thought that I loved music, that it orchestrated and moved my life through every season, and when I had Eliot, I found out I’m not the only one. In fulfilling this dream, he’s coming alive.

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  • This garden. There is something really sacred about growing plants from seeds. It brings out a nurturing spirit, and I guarantee that if you invest in these little seedlings and watch them grow into adult plants, harvesting their produce for your table, you’ll learn something wonderful about the cycle of life.
  • The latest endorsement to my book, the day after having my first podcast interview with Steve Wiens, author of f Beginnings: The First Seven Days of the Rest of Your Life and Whole: Restoring What is Broken in Me, You, and the Entire World:
“Kaitlin Curtice is the kind of writer whose words carry you to spacious places where you can breathe again. When I read Glory Happening, I was in a frantic season of my life, hurried and harried and kind of lost. With each of Kaitlin’s stories and prayers, I was gently invited back to a place of rest and grace. If you can stand it, please sip this book. It’s too delicious to drink all in one gulp.”
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  • Easter (and everyday life) with this man. He’ll be starting a fellowship with the Carter Center this summer, and I can see the fruit of his hard work coming to life in a way that I always knew it would. He’s one of the most beautiful souls I’ve ever known.
  • A moment with one of my co-workers at church in which he leaned into my life as an indigenous woman and spoke to me about the whiteness of the church, about how, after all these years, something must change. In that moment, he honored the lives of people of color and our place in this world and in the church.

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  • Potawatomi culture and ceremonial practice. I ordered sweetgrass and ceremonial tobacco this week, and in honoring my own culture, I am finding a space with God that helps me slow down, breathe easier, and find true, sacred life in all spaces. I need that in the face of difficulty, when I am hungry for a moment of grace.
  • Sarah Bessey and Nish Weiseth, who both took over Twitter this week to point out the way female writers are treated in our world today (#ThingsFemaleWritersHear) and the reality that many women of color are not given a platform on which to share their work.

I encourage you to find your spaces of gratitude today. It can be as simple as a cup of coffee, a moment of silence, a deep breath, a glance out the window to the world that holds you.

I leave you with this benediction:

You have been called out,
Sent out,
Gathered up and told,
“You. You are the one to fulfill this dream. You are the one to know this journey. You are the one to find God and all goodness.”
And like a hand on the small of your back,
You head out,
Only adventure ahead of you,
Only a path untouched,
Only a story untold,
Only a life yet to be lived–
Yours.
Go, my friend.
Go in peace.

DEAR PRESIDENT TRUMP: a few notes on how to be a man

Dear President Trump,

When I was nine, my father left our family.

I was young, so I don’t remember much. I was young, so the foundations of what I thought a family ought to be were suddenly gone.

So it is encouraging to see fathers who truly work to love their families, who deeply care to protect their children.

I am encouraged when I see men who are humble and able to process their grief with others, who are willing to be open and vulnerable, but also willing to listen.

My husband of eight years is an example of this.

He gives so much of himself to me and to our two boys, that I can’t find all the words to describe how much he means to me. I have hope for the future of the world’s children when I see men like him.

I have hope because he makes way for our boys. He gives all that he has to them and he is present.

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I have seen some of this same fatherly love in immigrant and refugee families that I have had the privilege of knowing– in their lack, they learn how to generously love.

No one can take that from them, and they give everything to the world.

The men of our nation need to be reminded that they can be quiet and tender as well as strong. They need to be reminded that they can stop working to simply be, and the world needs to let up on the pressure that tells them work is the only way toward provision.

Our men must learn to value the ways of our women, to learn how to follow and forgive and believe that a new world is possible.

President Trump, your voice is listened to, your attitude is watched, your every move examined.

Please do not take lightly your role as a man in this world, and as such, do not take lightly the role of the humble servant.

It is, indeed, the way of Jesus, whose life, death, and resurrection we celebrate in our faith places. Jesus, a man who taught the world something entirely new in the ways of servanthood and grace.

Watch his ways, learn from him.

With watching eyes & steady hand,

Kaitlin

I AM WOMAN. HEAR ME MOURN.

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It is no secret that as women, we carry our babies for nine months. We create and nurture and grow life in a womb of water until birth, when we care for them as our newborns and on into childhood.

Some of us, who cannot have children, care for and love the children that are in our lives, the children that become a part of us, whether it’s through a bloodline or not.

Some of us have lost our babies, or we’ve given up children, or we’ve carried some other kind of motherly burden. Some of us have been abandoned by or lost our own mothers, and it bears heavy on us throughout our lives.

We are made to carry heavy loads, and today, we are out-loud-mourning.

Sunday is Easter, and while I’m aware that to many people in this world that is just another Sunday, I gravitate toward the life of Jesus as he speaks into the world we inhabit at this moment in time.

And I think about the woman who bore him.

I think about Mary, who knew from before his birth that Jesus would live an extraordinary life, one that might prove to be difficult. She carried the weight of love for her son, who was also called to be so much more than that.

She watched that son that she bore and carried in her arms and cooked with in her kitchen. She watched him drag a cross through the city and watched as he was nailed to it. She watched as he sighed his last sigh, his last prayer wafted to every corner of heaven around them.

She bore the weight. She mourned.

In the last year, we’ve seen care for the earth and the conversation of climate control come to the surface yet again in our communities, in our nation, in our world. Indigenous peoples’ voices have been heard as we proclaim that it is our honor and sacred duty to care for Mother Earth– her spirit as our very life.

So, I think about the women of Standing Rock, the young woman who began the march for her people, the young woman who said that it was enough, too many indigenous people dying, too many giving up. So they stood and they prayed and they sang for clean water, begging and teaching the world that care for Mother Earth is the greatest honor. And a heavy weight. 

I think of the woman who gave birth in that camp, who named her daughter Mni Wiconi, meaning Water is Life. She says in the video, “I firmly believe our men need our women to stand up and be strong.”

And part of that strength is our ability to speak out of our brokenness.

We share the things we carry. We lament and mourn, and we make way for future generations to do the same.

As women, we carry our mourning, because our bodies and our souls have been taught to carry the lives inside and around us.

We mourn in a world that feels heavy today.

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In the last few months of the presidential election and beginning of Trump’s time in office, I’ve seen women torn from one another in battles over who they voted for and what sect of Christianity teaches them to believe in a certain way.

And I’ve seen other women who quietly hold their faith close to their chest, the ones who are steady and strong, the ones who know that there is life outside of this, outside of our fights and our tantrums.

As women, we carry our churches and our faith places, because we care for the people. We hold them inside our hearts, we work toward wholeness and we pray.

Glennon Doyle Melton recently said in a speech, “The generals of justice have always been and will always be the women of color.”

She pointed out to a room full of mostly white women that to do what is right and needs to be done, the best course of action is to see what women of color have been carrying for centuries and follow them.

This is Sojourner Truth.

This is Maya Angelou.

This is Mary Magdalene.

This is Cleopatra.

This is Hildegard of Bingen.

Her words moved me, because in recent months, I’ve been given a platform for my own voice– for my voice of color, for my voice as a woman. I can speak what I believe and I can call you to meet me here in this space.

But many women do not have that opportunity.

So I mourn that we are not there yet.

I mourn for a world that does not recognize the voices of the women as they should be recognized.

I mourn for the fights that happen over the body of a female, over having choices for what that body should look like and act like and seem like.

I mourn for young indigenous women who disappear, who are raped and attacked because of their culture and skin.

I mourn for the women around the world who have lost their children to war, to starvation, to lack of attention from countries like ours that could have done something better.

I mourn because I am a woman.

I mourn because I carry the world.

I mourn because the rivers run with oil and our children are afraid of the places where they live.

I mourn that we do not understand Jesus as a kind and gentle healer who seems to still turn this world upside down.

I mourn that we do not appreciate the hard and steady work of slowing down and listening.

I mourn.

And yet, I hold myself steady in the reality that I live in the beautiful lineage of all the women who came before me and fought in their mourning.

I live in the long-time shadow of my ancestors, those women who walked the Trail of Death and did not give up along the way; those women who nursed their babies without stopping to rest and who built a life out of nothing.

I live to honor the lives of the women who have placed their trust in me, who have shared their stories with me in hopes that together we build a better future for ourselves and for our children.

For those women, I mourn that we are not there yet, but I hope that one day we will be.

 

 

DEAR SYRIA: the worst apology

 

Dear Syria,

I admit that growing up as an everyday American, I did not learn your history. I have to look online to educate myself, to learn the things I need to know to remember that you’re there and I am here.

But there’s another reality to all of this. Something I don’t need to search in google to understand.

You are a country made up of humans. Of mothers and daughters, of fathers and cousins and grandfathers and aunts.

You are a people full of life — joy and sorrow, human beings that experience sacredness in everyday moments. You are also a people who have had those moments ripped away from you.

I do not undersatnd the politics of any of this, of you and of us, of all the countries involved.

But what I do understand is that whatever we claim we are doing, it’s not enough.

I am paralyzed when I see your faces on my laptop screen.

I am disgusted with myself that all I know to do is give money to an organization that might have a few arms there by your side.

This. is. not. enough.

Where I might have some sort of apology, there is only lament.

Like the stories of my own indigenous ancestors, your stories are being swept under the giant rug of authoritarian politics and blame games, and it is everything but humane.

I could try to apologize, but these are the moments in which I claw at my own heart, scratching past the surfaces to try to summon up any sort of prayer to any sort of God who sees this as the tragedy that it is.

Because you are more than a news story, and therefore, our apologies are more than not enough.

I tend to light candles when there is tragedy or death.

I light a candle and I say a prayer. I burn sage and I remember.

But what do I do for all of your lives?

What do I do for all of the babies that could have been my own, had I been born on your shores?

My dear, dear Syria, we say that we have not forgotten, but sometimes we have.

We say that we are with you, but we aren’t.

We say that we will make amends, but we can’t.

We are simply here.

You are simply there.

So, what is left for me is the act of lament. Remembering that I began in ashes and to ashes I will return.

What is left is to seek a deep forgiveness from you and the God who sees you, a deep forgivenss from the very core of my being.

I have no loved you as I should love you, and I do not know how.

So I will attempt to lean into your pain in the knowledge that I cannot understand it, and I will lean into my own selfishness with the knowledge of its devastating reality.

I will practice empathy.

I will stop my day to remember you.

I will store up your stories in my memories so that I cannot say I didn’t know.

It will hurt.

As it should.

If only I begin the process of almost, maybe one day, coming closer to the apology that you deserve.

Today, though, that is simply not enough.

IN THE GARDEN, AT SUNSET: a lesson in listening

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I came outside to listen, but all could I hear was noise– the hum of the car next door, an audiotape blaring through closed windows.

I thought I might hear from the seeds in my garden bed, but they were quiet.

Instead, my dog whines at dogs passing by. The crickets begin to sing, telling me an age-old story, I’m sure.

The birds are quieter tonight than they were this morning, and I understand that I am still practicing how to notice–

how to be aware;

how to hear the

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when the rest of the world is speaking.

But it would seem that the trees speak, too, even in the stillness, and I see up toward the sky a baby bird bobbing left to right in a nest, waiting for its parents to bring home dinner. I’d never noticed before.

Mosquitos are flocking to my skin– early in march, early because heat finds us in winter nowadays and makes the earth hotter than it should be.

I look up again and I can’t find the baby bird, because maybe it was only meant to be found in that one, sacred moment.

I wonder, often lately, what the birds think of us– what the hawks soaring overhead wonder about the gossiping, grouchy, sometimes gracious people below.

I never noticed before that the large pine tree to my right curves a little the higher up her trunk you look. She knows she’s beautiful, I think. She knows she’s wise.

A cardinal enjoys an evening meal at the bird feeder, and I’m close enough that I can hear the seeds crack in his tiny orange beak– it is a gift to notice.

And it is there that I realize, maybe the seeds did bring me here, after all.

Maybe the best place to view the world in this very moment is from the ground, at the edge of the garden, at sunset.

I go inside and the husky asks with his eyes what I’ve seen.

I silently say as I scratch his head, anything and everything, Pup.

Anything and everything. 

 

SEVEN GRATITUDES: to some of the people who carry me

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Every Friday, I join a group of friends as we share seven things we are grateful for. Sometimes they are moments. Sometimes they are people and encounters, stories of community. Sometimes they are challenges to find gratitude in the midst of chaos or pain.

The point of it all is the search and the acknowledgement of what is good in our lives, what keeps us tethered to each other and to God.

Today, I’m grateful for seven people who walk my journey with me. I know some of them, and some of them affect my life with their distant presence.

  1. Richard Rohr. I’m currently taking a class on the basics of Franciscan Theology through the Center for Action and Contemplation, and what he speaks is what I need to hear. Because I grew up leaning into legalism, I need someone to remind me again and again as an adult that my journey is about relationship and not any earned salvation. Richard Rohr does this and so much more through his teaching spirit. I’m so grateful for what he’s equipping me with in my searching and in my own writing.
  2. My oldest son’s new violin teacher and the women that live in a little art community near our city. As a homeschooling family, sometimes it’s hard to get connected to your people. We recently found some new friends, and they pointed us to someone who’d be willing to teach Eliot how to play violin, something he’s been dreaming of for over a year. We met her Sunday, and watching our son thrive in a creative environment made our eyes well up with tears: grateful. 
  3. My oldest sister. She’s got a gracious heart, and my favorite thing about our relationship is the way we laugh together; the way we fall into story-telling and remembering, the way our personalities mesh over a ten minute phone call or a weekend visit. She’s walked hard places in her life, but she seeks beauty and simple moments, all while drinking the strongest cups of coffee. I so admire her strength.
  4. The people in my band at church. As a worship leader, it can be difficult to trust the people around you to fall into worship the same way you expect them to– and often, it’s not the reality. I’ve been leading worship at this church in my city for a little over six months now, and I’m so grateful that I have a rotation of people every week that make me laugh, that just love music for what it gives us, and that follow me as a leader, even if I’m going somewhere odd and unexpected. That is where the Mystery of God thrives, and by the end of every Sunday, my heart is full with gratitude for the people I get to worship with.
  5. The group of people who put together the Language program for the Potawatomi Citizen Band website. Because of the hard work of Justin Neely and others with him, I am able to learn my tribe’s language without living in Oklahoma among other indigenous people. It is an honor to carry the language of my ancestors, and it’s a great challenge. It teaches us to look ahead to future generations. It teaches us to honor our way of life and to remember that though we are “dust to dust” we have a beautiful responsibility to honor our own journeys.
  6. The WWII widow who originally owned the rental house we are now living in. It is spring, and I am watching plants bloom in my yard that I had no idea existed. I am pruning hydrangeas and nandina, caring for autumn fire so that it can bloom in the fall. We have some sort of bluebells that are in full bloom, and we bring bouquets in every day, coffee mugs and glasses around the house full of their purple color and sweet scent. The birds and the squirrels in our yard are happy, because they know they have a home. The bumblebees and a few wasps are already active, because they know they will be fed. Our vegetable garden, full of kale and lettuce and sugar snap peas is slowly but surely growing, and every time I spend time in that yard I think of her, all her hard work as a single mother with children, all that time they must have spent in this very yard that I care for today. For that, I am absolutely grateful.
  7. Elders. I’m thinking a lot lately about the circle of life, about birth and death, about how our young and our old are connected. In native culture, the youngest and the oldest are closest to God, because they are on the front and back end of life. So it’s important that we listen to them, that we learn from them. I go to a multi-generational church, and I long to take my sons and sit with some of these people and learn from them. I live in a multi-generational neighborhood, and I long to go next door to the new widow who lost her husband last year and remind her that she’s not alone, and learn what I can about her life. We fill each other up in this way, so that one day, when we are the old ones, we have more stories to tell, more experiences to learn from, more connectedness to this earth, to each other, to God. I’m grateful for that opportunity, and pray that we remember to use it.

 

Practicing Parenthood In a Time of Chaos

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During long drives in the car, I’ve had some difficult conversations with my boys about justice, the law, the difficult history that we’re a part of as native people and as Christians, and the overall climate of our nation today.

A hundred years ago, we probably would have been told that parenting is hard– just like it’s hard today. Maybe the world is worse in our century, or maybe it’s a little better– whatever it is, chaos is still present, and as parents, we still have a job to do.

So with that challenge in place, we pray that we lead our little ones both in the right way and in their own way— we help them find their gifts, we walk beside them, we teach them to value the journeys and stories of others, we discipline and shape their character, and we let them see the world with the tethering of hope through which Jesus saw it.

Even so.

I don’t like living in a world in which I have to tell my son that laws are meant to protect people…usually.

I don’t like living in a world in which the history of indigenous people is known by stories of kids being taken from their savage parents and placed in boarding schools or with civilized, non-native families.

I don’t like living in a world in which my child’s sexuality is defined by their favorite color or toy preference or ability to be creative.

I don’t like living in a world in which the word enemy is defined by political party and reconciliation is not practiced enough between people of faith.

And yet.

I love living in a world in which my boys can grow up to change laws.

I love living in a world  in which we can challenge social norms with the power of shalom.

I love living in a world in which they can change history for their own people generations down the road,

that they can redefine what it means to be strong and brave and smart,

and that they can love their enemies and engage reconciliation on a daily basis.


 

Sometimes I wish Jesus had been a parent. Then maybe there would have been stories about his encounters with his kids that we could draw advice from–

That time his toddler threw a tantrum in the synagogue and he had to compassionately parent him into understanding;

That time they saw someone poor neglected by the law and he had to tell his kids why before they engaged in protest for the least of these against the rulers of their day;

That time he had to tell his teenager to fearlessly pray for a society  that objectifies her, the same way he told her to stand tall and proud of who she is, that her voice matters, and that love trumps hate.

But we don’t have those kinds of stories.

We have stories that tell us he healed lepers and looked children in the eyes, that he challenged the concept of seen and not heard.

We know his heart, and it guides us in these days, in this country, in this world, in which we have all the things that make living difficult and all the things that make living sacred.

So if we know what Jesus was like, we walk in that spirit of shalom.

We teach our children the lessons that we learned and the lessons we should have learned. We teach them to be better and we don’t fear learning from them.

And in our social, political, and religious climate, we follow the rules of shalom– the rules of peace– and they guide us in our conversations, in our actions, in the way we interact with other human beings.

Because honestly, I don’t know how to be a parent now. I know that there is a Mystery within the realm of God that gives me strength when I need it, and that Jesus leads me, often through the lessons my little ones teach me.

I don’t know that the world today is any worse or any better than it was.

But I know that chaos cannot last forever, and in the midst of it, Jesus still makes all things new.


Jesus,

Teach us the lessons we don’t read on scripture pages.

Teach us the lessons that give us grace in our everyday lives,

lessons that remind us we are not alone,

we are not abandoned,

that you are the partner in all things we do.

You are the partner when we are at our wits’ end.

You are the partner that pushes us through the next challenge.

You are the partner that gives us grace to say no,

grace to change direction,

grace to start over.

So much is given to us in the words of scripture,

and yet,

we learn so much in our humanity,

in our person-to-person encounters,

there is no way we can say

that we did not see you

here in our day,

in our time,

when we thought chaos would win.

And so we remember that you are better.

You are stronger.

You are a kind leader.

And we rest in the lessons you teach us right now, today. 

Amen.

 

 

 

EASTER & BEYOND: the cross as crossing over

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cross: to start one place and get to the other side

When I was young, I saw time and again a drawing of the cross used as a bridge.

We are on one side, completely disconnected from God, while holiness is across the large abyss that is life and sin.

Then, Jesus comes along, and suddenly we know God. He comes along and bridges the gap with the power of the cross.

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Every time I saw that diagram I felt a need to be saved again, to re-commit, to gather up all my ugliness and lay it at the foot of the cross, where Jesus would throw it as far as the east is from the west.

But here’s the problem: I wasn’t all ugliness.

I was already loved by God.

The miracle that happened on the cross and later at the tomb already held me steady.

I heard recently that “Jesus was never Plan B.”

Jesus was never the lightbulb that went off above God’s head, a sudden realization that maybe this wretched universe could be saved, after all.

Maybe Jesus was just the face- the body, the sweat, the blood- of God.

And maybe there is no large abyss between us and God, or maybe the abyss isn’t as large as we draw it out to be. Maybe we can still see God in our everyday experiences.

Maybe our life is holy just because it is. 

What if God is over there, we are here, and Jesus is everywhere in between?

Or what if God is everywhere in between, we are over here, and Jesus is everywhere, too, always with us?

Jesus is like us, but he is like God.

With us, but with God.

With us.

To cross something is to journey.

They crossed the Jordan.

They crossed the bridge at Selma.

They crossed the Trail of Tears.

They crossed the immigrant-bearing ocean.

What if the cross is the journey, after all?

And what if we are crossing from Jesus to Jesus, from God to Jesus, from God to God,

from here to there,

from person to person?

What if the cross of Jesus’ death is a forever symbol, and indeed, we are forgiven?

There could very well be an abyss. The stains of sin could very well still stain us.

But I’m more concerned with the act of crossing right now—

the way I cross over from here to there,

from me to you,

from the way I say that I love to the people I actually show my love to.

I believe Jesus was and is a journeyer, and so he is concerned with the crossing, too.

He’s concerned with what I see when I look from where I stand over to where you stand, and how you look at me from your life angle.

He’s concerned with the way I see God, not as a far off judge, but as a close listener, an active force that steadies us and teaches us, always, that there is a better and kinder way.

So Easter? Lent? The season of the Messiah who died and rose again?

Maybe it’s teaching us in this political, social, economic, religious, and racial climate to be people who are not afraid to cross over, who are not afraid to see Jesus in the journey, who are not afraid to stand up when too many people care too much about that abyss that threatens below.

Love can overcome that.

Crossing can overcome that.

Jesus overcame that.

Hallelujah, for the gift to cross. 

 

 

The Truth About Your Story Is That The World Needs To Hear It

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When I began my blog five years ago, I named it Stories because I needed a space to tell mine, and a space that might encourage others to tell theirs as well.

Many things in my life have changed in these last five years, but the reality that storytelling is necessary in our world hasn’t.

In fact, that necessity has become increasingly more clear.

On March 6th, I hosted an event in my city called DAPL & NATIVE AMERICA: AN EVENING OF DISCUSSION & MUSIC. We gathered at a church that I’ve only been in a few times, an episcopal parish that invited me to take part in an event last November that was a celebration of the earth and a lament that we have not taken care of her.

At that time, things in Standing Rock were particularly heavy, and so in the deepest parts of my heart, I was processing what it means to be a Potawatomi woman in today’s America. So I remembered this church and their support of me as an indigenous person, and I asked them to host my event on March 6th.

I gathered a few speakers, native and non-native, to share their stories, to discuss what it means to care for the earth and take an active role in the community and the world.

For months, I had this event on my calendar, and for the most part, I was ready for it. I was ready to hear the stories of my new friends, who had been to Standing Rock and had things to say about Native America, pipelines and oil, and the treatment of indigenous people.

I wanted a space in which people could listen and learn and have a chance to respond, to bring their own ideas and share their own journey.

For the past five years, I’ve been a sort of public story-teller, and every time I hear another person say to me, “I’ve never been able to tell my story like that,” I know why it’s necessary.

The evening of March 6th was about storytelling, but in a way that I wasn’t at all expecting. It was about my story and my friend Beth’s story, but it became the story of every person in the room: we are called to be good, to be kind, to care for one another and to care for this planet that we call home.

That was it. The simplicity of it astounded me, and the longer we lingered in that space, the more I realized that all of this is about Standing Rock, and it’s about so much more than Standing Rock. It’s about native peoples, and it’s about so much more than just nativeness.

It’s about our identity as human beings, about giving each other the space to share who and where we come from, who we are now, and who we one day hope to be.

A few of the speakers for the event weren’t able to make it, so I struggled with the fear that I’d disappoint my guests, having not been to Standing Rock to share that piece of the evening. If I advertised an event meant to “educate and empower,” was my story enough to do that?

That evening before the event, I posted a picture of myself in my car, sitting in the drive-thru at Chic-Fil-A.

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“I’m ready for this. I think. If you’re the praying type, send one around for me tonight as I speak to a few people about #nodapl,creation care and #nativeamerica ,” I wrote to my social media family on Instagram and Facebook. People began to respond, “We’re praying; you’ve got this; hugs and prayers my sweet, strong friend.”

I carried their words with me into the empty church nave. I carried their words with me into a space filled up with over forty people. I carried their prayers into my own journey.

“Tonight, I want to begin by telling you some of my story,” I began.

“I am a tribal member of the Potawatomi Citizen Band from Oklahoma. I was born in ADA, the capital of the Chickasaw nation, in an Indian hospital. I grew up moving between Oklahoma and New Mexico, where we lived on reservations. My father worked for the Bureau of Indian Affairs until I was nine years old.

At that time, my parents divorced, and I found myself spending my teenage years in a mostly white, southern Missouri town. Much of the native culture I’d spent my childhood in was a distant memory by the time I graduated high school.

Now, as an adult, I’m asking a lot of questions of my memories and my past.  I’m looking backward, to remember, wondering what I’ve missed all these years and how I can step back into my native culture again. It is important that who I am as a Potawatomi woman be found as I look back and as I look ahead. The more I seek my own identity, it leads me to things like caring for the earth, living a simple life, learning my native language, and practicing native culture with my two young boys.

Because this has been a pretty new part of my journey, the events at Standing Rock brought an awareness to my life that I belong to a family of native peoples, and that it is my duty to create environments in which I can share my own story and the story of other indigenous people in hopes that we all begin to learn the true history of America and the treatment of native people, even today.

Tonight is not only for my own story, but yours, too. What happens in our world today is that we neglect the power of communication, of shared stories. What happened in your childhood that matters to who you are today? Who were your ancestors and what do they teach you about the person you want to become?

Tonight we focus on Native America, what we call Turtle Island. We focus on care for the earth, the danger of fossil fuels and pipelines, why native people fight them and why non-native people fight as well.

I’ve not been to Standing Rock, but we see the pattern of colonial struggle that native peoples have prayed against for years—to take a stand for mother earth and our place here. We honor the water because water is literally life to us, and as a woman, I am to care for the water. I tend to the earth with my hands, I plant seeds and I recycle, I learn my tribe’s language, and I do what I can to make sure I care for what I’ve been so graciously given.

And it’s not only native peoples who have felt this way, and that is why I am so thankful you’re all here. I am so grateful to my indigenous brothers and sisters who are here tonight, and I’m grateful to those of you who are non-natives allies. You give me hope to continue to tell my story. You give me hope to hear your story and to decide where we go from here.

Tonight is about who we are as individuals, and about what we are capable of TOGETHER.

This is the beginning of something, not the end, just as Standing Rock was another beginning, and is not over. All over the country there are people coming together to stand up for clean water, clean air, living environments that are respected and cared for.

The Dakota Access Pipeline set the stage for something to happen that the whole world became a part of. We as native peoples have been pushing and praying and speaking for a long time, but this movement of native and non-native peoples coming together was something so sacred for the world to see, and it’s changing things. My hope is that it continues to spur conversations, that it allows us to break up some of the lies that have been told about native americans and native communities for so long. So I ask that as you go from here, you learn more. You investigate and ask questions, you dig and re-evaluate the things you were taught as a child, you engage cultures that are different than yours. We have a chance to change things, even within our faith communities, to build together and partner with indigenous peoples.

I’m here as native American woman to build this world into a better place with each of you.

I pray that this is the beginning of many conversations. I dream that more spaces like this bubble up all over our city, our country, and our world, and I believe they are. It is what we can do with our power, with our power as people, our power as citizens.”

The rest of the evening was full of singing and sharing. Because two of my speakers couldn’t make it, I opened up the mic for anyone who wanted to share. We sat quietly for a few seconds while the first person gathered their courage to walk forward and speak. She shared a song she’d written for Standing Rock, while her daughter stood behind and looked up at the mother who’d brought her to the event.

My friend Julia shared her desire to cut herself off from investments that support pipelines.

Jonathan shared his experiences as a Navajo man. With tears in my eyes, I listened as he asked what it means to live in a good way, as our ancestors would want us to. We live for simple moments, we are good to each other, we care for each other– this is the native way, he said.

Another woman talked about the division she faces in her own skin, and the difficult task of loving her Creole self and her native self in a way that honors both parts of her heritage.

Each of us, inside of our own skin, empathized with each of those stories. Each of us asked in those moments who we are, why we were there, what these issues have to do with us.

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I should have known then that things would happen this way– so organically. I should have seen it when we split into groups and people shared for nearly twenty minutes who they were and why they’d come.

I should have known when I saw the quiet faces watching me tell my story, every now and then with an approving nod in my direction.

I should have known that these people would be ready, without judgment, to care for one another’s journeys.

What I’d hoped for the evening was so different from what actually transpired, and I wouldn’t have wanted it any other way.

At the end of the night, I sang Wade in the Water and an original song that I felt I needed to share with everyone. I described how I’d first found Wade in the Water through a project in sixth grade I’d done on Sojourner Truth, how I fell in love with the song then, and how I’d rediscovered in as an adult.

To end the evening, I said, “I just want you to know that I am okay with spontaneity, and this was perfect! Thank you!” We all laughed and applauded the night in all its rawness, in all its humanity.

Can I describe in words to you what it’s like to gather in a room with people of all different races and say to each other that we are the same?

One of the most powerful ways this can happen is through storytelling, through a judgment free empathy for one another, for the places we’ve been and the hope we hold for ourselves, hope that beats in the hearts in our chests, hope that carries us from one day to the next, no matter who our people are.

We experienced that, and when the night was over, I decided that I will continue to tell my story and invite others to tell theirs. We will continue to gather to listen to one another, to open up the microphone so that someone can come forward and say, “This is who I am and this is who I one day hope to be. Let’s journey together.” This event may have been about DAPL & NATIVE AMERICA, but it was about so much more.

It was about the opportunity to express what it means to be human, to connect to others, to recognize that no matter who our ancestors were, today we have the chance to be good to each other, to make what is wrong right, to use our activism wisely.

It is why I have hope for today’s America. It is why I have hope for my people. It is why I have hope for my own community and the world that my children will one day make their own way in.

We have hope because we have stories.

No one can take those away from us.