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PEOPLE WHO HOLD SPACE WILL HEAL THE CHURCH

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When I married my husband, he’d just cut off his dreads and was an avid rock climber. He married me– a girl from a small town, comfortable in everything that I knew, in everything that I’d been and was going to be.

As Johnny Cash says, we got married in a fever, and before we knew exactly what we’d done, we were home from our honeymoon, beginning the long journey toward figuring out who we were–together.

When he married me, he loved who I was, but also saw who I could one day become, and he held that vision steady. And it wasn’t a vision for what he thought I was supposed to be, but a vision still unknown to him, held by the mystery of God.

He took me climbing in one of his favorite spots not long after we married. I had a dislike of nature, but was idealistic about it, and there was abounding irony in the fact that I’d married someone like him.

He took me to a place called Lincoln Lake, a climbing spot in Arkansas that had been home to him for a long time.

All that I remember thinking is that the lake water was really brown and there were a lot of bugs. I couldn’t see then the way I see now.

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Nine years later, close to our anniversary, we went back there. He took me to the top of the rocks to set up the climbing rope, and I sat and drank my coffee. There were large black ants crawling across my feet and the humidity in the air was rising little by little.

“It’s beautiful here,” I said.

“I didn’t appreciate it before.” I looked back with tears in my eyes.

“I know,” he said.

There seems to be a difference between being with someone to change them and being with someone as you hold space for them to change.

My husband has always held space for me.

He’s held space for me to grow up from the 19 year old who married him.

He’s held space for me to learn motherhood.

He’s held space for me to ask questions in my faith.

He’s held space for me to walk into my Native American culture without fear.

In holding space, he has loved me.

And he continues to hold space for who I’ll become tomorrow.

I’m convinced that space holding people are the ones who will heal the church.

They are the ones who bring justice and shalom, because they are patient people who hold onto a long-off vision. We need them in our churches, because they will not force change. They will not sit in pews and bear judgment over the people around them, but they will sit with those people and wait for God to show them the way.

The church has very publicly become a place that tries to manage others, and it often leaves people wounded. It wounds the church by distorting who the church should really be, and it wounds individuals in the church by making them feel like they aren’t good enough for Jesus.

So we need to learn to hold space.

Like my husband saw in me, we need to see what is good in each other, to hold onto the longer vision that God holds for each of us, and we need to wait.

I did not understand as a 19 year old who I was marrying or who I was. And in the process of learning, I needed someone who could be gentle yet steady with me, just as God is gentle and steady.

People like my husband, who hold space, show the unique character of God in a way that we are all hungry for.

So let’s practice holding space instead of holding one another hostage to our own ideals.

Let’s remember that God has an individual vision for each of us, and it’s worth waiting for.

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As I climbed up the rocks that morning, I felt like I was communing with a space of the world that I’d never known existed before. I felt drawn in by my inability to know exactly where to put my foot or my hands, but that unknowing gave me energy to try anyway, like I was trusting this thing that was calling me back to God.

And on the one climb when I reached the top, I turned around and scanned the treetops with my eyes. I looked down at the brown water and across the horizon of that Arkansas day and thought, “I am so glad I am alive.”

If we hold space for each other, we learn how to truly be alive with one another, as we cast off judgment and wait for the grace of God to journey with us into unknown and sacred places.

And my friends, it’s absolutely worth the wait.

 

CHRISTIANS, IT’S TIME TO APOLOGIZE TO CREATION

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This is beyond that glass bottle that wasn’t recycled last week.

It is beyond the car that we sometimes use for carpooling, beyond riding a bicycle instead.

When, as a whole, an entire nation has been created and sustained on the basis of lack of care for the earth, there is a problem.

One of our greatest needs as humans and Christians is to be humble before the earth, and in order to get there, repentance is involved.

So today, Christians, we should repent. But it’s not going to happen for everyone, and so many are left thinking that still, humans are at the center of everything, able to make whatever decisions we want, no matter the consequences.

We are no longer students of a wise earth, but pillagers of it.

We have leaders that look to the other countries on this earth and say, “You’ve all been laughing at us for doing the minimal amount of care we could, and so now we are saying ‘no more.’ ”

If America is ridiculed, it is for our lack of care, for the way we take advantage of what we have been given– the resources that have been here since the beginning. Even the people who first knew a relationship to this land were punished for it, all in the name of a created god that twisted worship into abuse.

WE are not the center of the universe. Creation moans with the grief of our decisions.  How big we think we are as humans. How little we are.

Dear church, it is clear that we have work to do, but that work becomes more and more important everyday. In a world where the poor and people of color live in places that are taken over and abused by corporations, it is time to step up and care for the least of these, including this earth.

We live in a bubble, and if the advantage of a social media world has taught us anything, it’s that what we do locally has an impact globally.

OUR WORLD is not AMERICA. OUR WORLD is everyone. We must stop tunnel-visioned-thinking. We must reach our hands out in reconciliation toward everything that has been oppressed because of us, from the people to the oceans, every creature that has known destruction because of our decisions.

Because we can no longer say that we did not know, the only option is acceptance and repentance or continued abuse.

And doing nothing is abuse.

Christians, this is your invitation.

Creation stands with the Spirit of God at the front of the church with her arms held out and says, “Come, all who are weary. Come and be made new.”

Some are already there waiting, those that have fought every day of their lives. Some just showed up to the church late, disheveled, but ready to do the good work of the Gospel.

The Gospel.

The Spirit of Jesus, celebrated first in Trinitarian relationship that poured salty water into the seas and created animals that know how to work and play. That same Being taught the soil to grow a garden and the leaves to change color when fall winds blow.

Who are we to say that we are above and beyond what was once so good and ready to carry this Gospel through history?

And so today, we repent.

And tomorrow, we repent and resist.

And while the world groans, we open our ears and close our mouths to hear her and whisper in the deepest parts of our being, “Christ, have mercy.”

 

 

When The Good Things Become Visible

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Mno waben. Mno waben.

I held my three year old son in the early morning light,  held him in the middle of my room as he stumbled in after waking up from his night of rest.

We are learning our language, the language of the Potawatomi people, words that were carried for centuries by word of mouth and then put down on paper in a readable and writable language.

The words carry so much in themselves. The stories, the imagery, the use of body language to tell the tale– this is how the world has worked for centuries.

We continue the tradition today.

It will take a good long while to be comfortable in speaking the Potawatomi language. We sit down at the computer and we recite the words again and again, hoping they stick.

We aren’t quite learning through immersion, but we’re trying to immerse ourselves, anyway. So in the mornings, I try to say mno waben, good morning to both of my boys.

Mno waben. 

Literally, it means that good time when things become visible.

So I wake with my sons and we proclaim that it is good for things to come into the light. It is good for our lives to become visible to the light of day.

We spend so much of our time running.

We run because we don’t know how to slow down.

We run from our pain, our worries, our sorrows.

We run from the things that make us uncomfortable.

We run from intimacy, from vulnerability.

Sometimes we run from God.

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But in the morning, we wake to find that things are made visible– and it is good.

It is good that we lay our souls bare to the light.

It is good that we say hello to another dawn.

It is good that we journey into an awareness that we are not alone, and therefore, we are invited to know ourselves, to know each other, to know God, to know this world that we inhabit.

What if, when we wake in the morning, we call each other into the light? What if we beckon each other into a kind of living that says, you are good, and it is good to become visible, to become known, to be seen.

I think our days would fall into place a little differently.

I think our interactions with each other would be a little gentler.

I think the way we see ourselves would become a little clearer,

and maybe, just maybe, we’d finally stop running.

We’d embrace the light.

We’d lay ourselves bare at the dawn of the day, and carry the light of a benevolent world into our every encounter.

Mno waben, friends. 

Go now into the visible light.

 

 

Do Not Be Afraid If God Is Not What You Expected

When we are young, we are taught to believe certain things about God— about what we can see, feel, understand.

When, in fact, God is beyond our senses or our understanding.

The church has been set up as an institution to hold those beliefs for us, to guide us in understanding them, but not always in questioning them.

 

So what happens when we find out that God is not what we expected?

We find that the world is far from what we believed it is, a world diverse in its expressions of God.

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The first time I went kayaking, it was on a small lake, covered in lily pads.

I was there in the quiet, and the most amazing part was that I’d never seen a lily pad up close before.

How could I have missed, for twenty six years, such a beautiful aspect of creation– of God?

The first time I cooked a meal with our Muslim friend in my tiny kitchen and she took off her head covering in my presence, I thought how could I have gone my entire life without knowing intimate moments like these?

In growing my first full garden, I realized that I could have spent my life not tending to something so beautiful and tender as a garden bed of vegetables waiting to be harvested.

What then, are we missing in our lives? What gets in our way of an existence fully lived with God?

The church is, again, at a crossroads, a battle to determine who we are– and who Jesus is.

Many are uncomfortable with the uneasiness, with the change, with the unknown.

How could God be something other than what we've learned all these years?

The problem with that question is that we are not the first to learn the ways of God.

And we are not the only ones who are learning.

That means that in all facets of the human condition, God is experienced in this world.

Who-- or what, then, is God? God is anything and everything.

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God is the good– not our earthly or moral good, but some other Good that encompasses all goodness.

God is in you, me, him, her, creation– some pieces of us, our human, sacred parts.

And the truth is, we hold a healthy amount of fear in the things we do not know– in the adventures, on the journey, into the Mystery that is life and God.

But the church sometimes pulls us into an unhealthy fear, fear that threatens what the institutions have always deemed to be true.

But that healthy fear– that kind of fearful expectation mixed with the joy I felt when I saw those lily pads– that opened me up to God, to myself, to creation, to the world.

Just as we should not be afraid of God, we should not have to be afraid of expressions of God, the church, the ways we see God manifested in our lives, even in ways we cannot understand.

If we deny ourselves the gifts of God, we will miss something. 

And if we miss something here and now, we are actually missing pieces of the kingdom, friends.

We are missing it.

And any hope of adventure, of this journey tethered close to something sacred and Mysterious, falls flat or gets destroyed by the belief systems we clung so closely to for dear life.

I know, because I was there. I was there a few years ago, when the things I’d learned as a child were suddenly challenged in every capacity, and I had to make a decision. What kind of journey was I going to take with God, and how would I encounter this world along the way?

And I continue to ask.

The important part is the asking– the thing we aren’t always taught to do in the church.

And I pray that we actually find that God is nothing like we expected in that other-kind-of-Goodness that can only be Mystery.

I pray that we find ourselves there.

And in that, we find that everything is just as it should be, adventurous joy abounding.

Amen.

To My Sisters Who Mourn on Mother’s Day

Sister,

I wish you could have been with us in that room, four walls surrounding a Hannah Service to acknowledge the grief of children lost, never born, sometimes not even named. We gathered because someone said she did not want to leave you out of this Mother’s Day experience, because you may very well be more deeply affected by it than others.

Sister, I lamented with you, for you, because I have not known what it is like to lose a child, to lose a baby or a pregnancy, to struggle in this way. I cannot understand it, so I hold the silence with you and for you.

I was there to lead worship; I was there to sing a few songs about the faithfulness of God in seasons that are so raw.

Someone said, “I don’t want a hope that will make me deny my grief,” and I thought that so many people should hear this message.

It is universal. It would calm so many hearts and ease so much pain, just a little, if we were allowed to out-loud-grieve and wail and try to make sense of what doesn’t make sense– together.

I cried for you in that space. I grieved with you in ways I didn’t know how, but still, I tried.

We remembered Hannah, who was not afraid to come to God and demand to be heard. We remembered her courage, and I thought of you, of all of you who have been courageous.

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We lit candles to mark our lament. There were only a few of us, but we lit more candles than I’d imagined, because I realized there that you are hurting with more than one kind of hurt today. We counted our grief and I so wish I could sit with you and count yours, so that you know you are not alone.

We remembered how our grief burns like fire, how we carry heavy loads as women. So we demanded there that God hear us, and we turned to trusting that God does.

We had three strings to braid together to remember that grief, hope and trust are often intertwined in our lives. As I braided it, not for my own grief or loss, but for yours, I challenged the church to be better to you and for you.

I challenged myself to remember, to not forget, to hold silent space, to learn what it looks like to lament beside others who lament.

I prayed for everyone who may not know what it’s like to hold their own child, let alone two, like I do.

I thought of women in my life who have fostered and cared for children in their homes, who have tried to adopt and it has fallen through; I thought of you, how loss comes and comes again and it hurts.

We ended the evening with hope, but we asked what hope looks like.

Is hope the realized dream of a baby of your own?

Is hope finding that the pain hurts a little less?

Is hope that Mother’s Day will one day feel different than it does now?

We sang, “You make me new, you are making me new,” over and over again as a proclamation– not that we know the answer to what newness looks like, but that we trust in a waiting God who hears the lament, the cry of grief brought from the people.

This Mother’s Day, I pray that the church does better by you, sister.

I pray the church sees you, I pray that the church is quiet and humble enough to understand that we can’t possibly understand, but walk beside you.

Nevertheless, we are here.

You are not alone.

Daily my work is to try to make the church better, to see things she didn’t see before, to notice the things she’s been missing.

I believe the church has work to do to get closer to the call of Jesus, and wrapped up somewhere inside of this call is the challenge to better learn how to grieve with each other.

At the end of the day, it doesn’t matter what we believe politically or religiously, how our views of God are different.

We literally set it aside and we wade into grief together, unashamed, unafraid, to let it do its slow and steady work.

And along the way, we pray for hope and trust to settle in somewhere, to make a home among our grief, to commune with our grief so that we know that we are not alone.

This Mother’s Day, I’m leaning in with you, sister.

I’m holding space that I don’t understand toward a God who holds space far better than I ever could.

For you.

 

JESUS & US: a shared wilderness

Mark 1:4-12

John appeared, baptizing in the wilderness and proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. And all the country of Judea and all Jerusalem were going out to him and were being baptized by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins. Now John was clothed with camel’s hair and wore a leather belt around his waist and ate locusts and wild honey. And he preached, saying, “After me comes he who is mightier than I, the strap of whose sandals I am not worthy to stoop down and untie. I have baptized you with water, but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.”

The Baptism of Jesus

In those days Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan. 10 And when he came up out of the water, immediately he saw the heavens being torn open and the Spirit descending on him like a dove. 11 And a voice came from heaven, “You are my beloved Son;[d] with you I am well pleased.”

The Temptation of Jesus

12 The Spirit immediately drove him out into the wilderness. 13 And he was in the wilderness forty days, being tempted by Satan. And he was with the wild animals, and the angels were ministering to him.

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After Jesus was baptized, he was sent out to spend time in the wilderness. Over the years we’ve examined different ideas for why we think he spent time there, why it was necessary, but what we know is that the wilderness experience was the beginning of a new season in Jesus’s life.

We were sitting in church talking about this passage, and I was growing weary within a few minutes of the conversation, trying to understand what all of this could have meant in an indigenous perspective and not an American or western one. It’s new for me to look through this lens at the stories I heard all through childhood, but it’s a challenge I enjoy if I have the time to make connections in Jesus’s life to my own indigenous identity. And in that space, in a conversation about baptism and wilderness experiences, I did.

In some Native communities, young men are sometimes called to go out into the wilderness to receive their life’s calling. Sometimes an elder might accompany them, oftentimes they go alone. They enter the wilderness because they know that on the other side they will come out a new version of themselves.

Kavasch and Baar in their book, American Indian Healing Arts, put it like this:

Endurance training and spending nights camping out alone with little or no food help to prepare each youth for the rigors of his spiritual journey. As the time for the quest approaches, rituals of purification, such as fasting and smudging– the burning of one or more sacred substances and bathing in their smoke– take place, accompanied by special prayers.

Then the boy goes off by himself to seek a vision. He spends four or five days and nights fasting, alone with his thoughts, on a windswept butte or within a shallow pit. He learns to deal with fear and find out about his own personal strengths. Each boy also looks for power and meaning in the natural world. The vision quest frequently brings on life-changing visions and dreams that provide glimpses into mystical and spiritual realms beyond his ordinary experiences.

A vision quest draws a person deeper inside himself and at the same time allows him to look at himself from outside. So much does a person learn in the process that in many tribes it is thought to be essential to the proper evolution of a healthy life path. Pete Catches, a noted Lakota medicine man, once said, ‘I do believe every young Indian, about high school age, should do a hanblecheyapi (vision quest) to get direction in life, to know what life is all about.’

I grew up being taught a very negative side of Jesus in the wilderness, when Satan came to him and tried to destroy him and ruin his life calling before it was about to start.

But now, I see something different. I see a kind of communion with the wilderness that taught Jesus about himself, that prepared him for his coming ministry and journey. We cannot know what kind of conversations happened in that quiet, but I can imagine there were a lot of thoughts coming in and out of Jesus’s existence. And in his struggle with spirits– evil and good, past and present– he found himself, his voice, and his own spiritual journey unfolding.

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CHRIST IN THE WILDERNESS by British Artist Stanley Spencer

Just as the youth cleanses himself before he enters the wilderness, Jesus cleansed himself– in baptism– and entered into his own wilderness experience. Do you see the sacred connection here?

What if part of Jesus’ experience of the Holy Spirit came in the wilderness, in the place that wasn’t expected?

This is what I see in the wilderness experience of Jesus: a time of calling in the midst of what were often, I’m sure, difficult conditions. Still, he listened. He quieted himself, engaged with the voices and energies around him, asked questions of the world he’d entered into, and received visions and dreams of his future.

You may be in the wilderness, but that doesn’t mean it’s an empty wilderness.

Glory is still found there. Sacredness, even when it’s uncomfortable, even if you’re alone, even if you’re a little afraid.

A wilderness sometimes still has voices and wind, sun and shade, flowing water.

And many cultures probably have similar practices to this, but growing up in the southern baptist church, I completely skipped over the wilderness experience of Jesus, because it only had negative connotations. Instead, in some denomination contexts, we are skipping over a beautiful and pivotal time of Jesus’s life: his purification and vision quest– his sending out experience.

So, let’s look at our own wilderness experiences differently. If you are in the middle of your wilderness now, look for what it teaches you. Let the wilderness speak to you, let the lone quiet, perhaps the lonely quiet, breathe something back over you.

And the truth of it is that it is often painful, there are surprises we’re not prepared for, quiet that is too quiet. But instead of running from that pain, lean into it.

Let yourself listen.

Do not hush the wilderness.

Do not rush the learning and the listening, the ending or the beginning, the birth or the re-birth.

Let the wilderness song sink into your bones, let your dreams of the future guide you out and back to a busy and waiting world, ready to welcome you.

And not forget what the wilderness taught you, for it may very well be your namesake.

It may very well be your calling.

Just as Jesus began in his wilderness, so maybe you must begin again in yours.

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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. 

 

HE OVERTURNED TABLES: Jesus’ Teaching on Responsibility and Blame

Diffusion of Responsibility: simply put, when a task is placed before a group of people, there’s a strong tendency for each individual to assume someone else will take responsibility for it—so no one does. {psychology today}

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Diffusion of responsibility is based on the phenomenon that if something urgent must be done in a situation, the more people there are present, the more likely someone else will assume that the other people will step up and take action. It usually ends with blame—“YOU should have done something!” “YOU should have known better.”

We are pretty good at this blaming game, especially in our political and religious circles. But blame is a dirty and vicious cycle, and I don’t believe it leads anywhere. As of last weekend, the DNA of the leadership in our country shifted, and along with it, a heightened awareness of what needs to be done in the future of our nation and in the future of the church. This must be handled without pointing fingers at everyone else who should be doing something but with a check in ourselves to pay attention to what WE are or aren’t doing.

Countering diffusion of responsibility is personally acting to take on the least of these, the othered, the outsiders, and calling them back in again. We’ve seen it this week, in a rising up to care for immigrants and refugees, for Native American brothers and sisters, for the earth.

To those who have been ignored, or who are now being singled out for who they are or what they stand for, there is a dire need for care and support. For the next four years, countering diffusion of responsibility doesn’t mean blaming republicans or democrats for what they did, but moving forward to make sure that what we do as individuals counters hatred, racism and neglect.

People thronged to Standing Rock throughout 2016, some who had never journeyed to North Dakota before, especially to live with native peoples for weeks or months on end. Instead of diffusing their responsibility, people showed up with support and encouragement, and a movement between native and non-native peoples began, one that continues to grow and challenge the world to care for the earth today.

But with every new member of Donald Trump’s cabinet, I am heartbroken again at the lack of care for the least of these—the economically downcast, people of color, immigrants and refugees, my LGBTQ brothers and sisters, women, and the working class.

And with every new person added to the target, something grows inside of me, a deep-seated realization that with the prayers I pray and the words I write, with the compassion I choose to stretch into every corner of my daily life, I answer a call.

Jesus didn’t say, “Democrats, care for the Muslims. Republicans, you handle the Native Americans.”

He said, with every breath that he breathed, that the way forward is with care and compassion, no matter what, toward whoever was in need.

Remember the tables that he overturned in the city? He wasn’t blaming. He was calling out a hideous diffusion of responsibility that had filled the house of prayer with thieves, and had ostracized the crippled and poor. He threw tables over to demand an end to the bickering, calling for justice to become the sole responsibility of the leaders again.

The Savior didn’t waste his moments blaming. He held up responsibility to the light and called people to walk in it, and that included a harsh reality: we’re all capable of debilitating or encouraging others through the things we say and do.

So what are we doing today? What is our fight, and what is coming out of us to make sure that the cycle of blame is broken?

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Photo by Suzanne Vinson Art

I fight it when I write, when I teach my boys what immigration is, what a refugee is, what the word for “heart” is in Potawatomi, or why birds fly south for the winter. I will use the power of learning to fight, while my dear friends use their own creativity to engage the world, to bring justice, to create healing like my friend Suzanne does.

My best friend does it as she cares for kiddos in her art programs, and as she raises money for Preemptive Love Coalition through selling t-shirts. 

And Rachel does it through her story, through sharing the power of slowing down and listening, especially to the ones who are nearest to us. Through active listening and engaging, we empower each other to act and believe in our own passions.

You do it when you make eye contact with a refugee in your city, when your write your Congressman a letter, when you recycle to care for the earth, when you sit down to coffee with someone from the other political party.

We’ve tasked our two boys with challenges for their lives, based on both their personalities and the things that make them happy: one makes the world more beautiful, and the other takes what is wrong and makes it right.

Both boys, in drastically different ways, are charged to take who they are and what they care about to create spaces that lift up others. And we pray that every day as they grow, they see with clear eyes who has need, and they choose to respond no matter how many others are around.

Last night they joined thousands at the airport in our city to welcome in refugees and immigrants. With a sign that said, “My wife is Potawatomi Citizen Band, Cherokee, and Chickasaw! My great-great grandfather a German immigrant from Russia. Our Children are America,” these two along with my husband broke the cycles of blame and diffusion.

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Our youngest pictured Gotham City around him, himself as Batman, working to protect and provide for everyone in need. And my oldest, with every chant, knew that he was making space for love and creativity to come into the world.

Social media is a window through which we see everything, as ghastly as it sometimes is. And the last things we need to see are pointing fingers and lack of action through that window. To move past blame is to move forward to justice, to take whoever feels vulnerable and help them feel safe, to take uncared for places and make them beautiful again, and to take whatever it is that is wrong and make it right.

This is fighting diffusion of responsibility and ending blame.

This is reconciliation, and the way of Christ’s shalom.

And everything in us knows, we need it.