The thing that I love most about both of you is that while you are mine, you are utterly yourselves.
Your souls cannot be contained or controlled, and that’s exactly what most terrifies and thrills me about being your mom.
Today you started school.
And what I know is that while you are not alone on your new journey, neither am I. I’m surrounded by other moms and dads who are doing the same thing, loving their kiddos while they are with them and while they aren’t.
So here’s what I know.
Transitions hurt, and stretching feels like a small kind of death, and that's okay.
There’s this saying, “Distance makes the heart grow fonder,” and I feel that already, felt it the moment we stepped out that door and left you for a few hours to learn and grow.
When you wake up in the morning, there will be things like oatmeal and strawberries waiting for you, and when you go to bed, there will be stories of Grandmother Moon and Waynaboozhoo.
And the next morning, I will be waiting with sage, so that when we burn it we can remember who we are. And when you go to bed that next night, there will be stories of Harry Potter and Hagrid, Ron and Hermione to lead you to the deepest parts of your imagination.
You see, this is why the stretching is both beautiful and hard.
Because of the stretching, we will make room for the sacred. We will gather when we are together, and when we are apart, we will do the work we’re called to do.
My Dear Boys,
When you see the world, both now and later when you’re grown, I might ask you to report back to me.
I might ask you to let me know what you’ve seen and heard, what overwhelmed your senses, what distracted you, what brought you comfort, what hurt you.
I might ask, because for now, we’ve got things to share with each other, before the leaving and the cleaving that one day will come in one form or another.
Before that, we report to each other so that we grow together, so that this world experiences all of us, our stories meshed and molded with one another’s stories.
We do this now so that one day, when you build family and community far from my grasp, I can watch in awe of the people you become.
I can watch in awe that your souls grew and stretched to bloom into exactly who you were created to be.
So, my dear boys,
Go, and don’t let anyone tell you that you can’t be exactly who you are.
Go, and when you come home, I’ll be there, waiting.
Go, make the world more beautiful and right wrongs, because that’s the shape of you.
Go, and as you go, I’ll be going, so that when we come together we will know how to be ready for whatever lies ahead of us.
Albus Dumbledore says, “there are all kinds of courage,” and I know that to be true, because I’ve seen it in you time and again.
Let your kind of courage be the thing that guides you.
I’ve been thinking for the past six months or so about the process of becoming an adult. This idea was brought on by a few things in my life, one of them being the fact that after ten years of marriage, we are in desperate need of a new couch. I walk across my house, eyeing the black piece of furniture that has been so kind to us over the years, over four moves into different living spaces in different states and seasons of life. I look at her, despondent as she is, and say to myself, I’m ready for something new.
I’m ready to be an adult.
I will be thirty this year, and it seems that after publishing a book last year and beginning therapy this summer, I’m coming into my own way, at least for the next season, at least for the next month. And while I’m so grateful to be where I am, there is always this nagging voice, much like the one that comes right before New Year’s Eve, right before resolutions are pinned to the wall and written in our planners: get your act together, that’s what adults do.
Make more money.
Clean up your house.
Figure out parenthood.
Get your exercise schedule together.
You need to work harder.
Adults know what boundaries are.
You should know more by now.
No adult actually watches Netflix this much.
If ever imposter syndrome abounds, it’s in these kinds of thoughts and feelings, telling me I’m not enough.
I’ve seen people my age and into their early thirties who have nicely dressed kids and the perfect patch of yard outside their dream home. They get up and go to work every day, they make wholesome meals and attend church regularly.
They are doing adulthood right.
Then I think about a lot of other adults I know. People with scars and stories, people who are still trying to get it together in their forties, fifties, sixties. In other words, they’re human.
And what I realize is, that’s what we all are, and the dream of being “an adult” isn’t as cookie-cutter as we say it is.
Adulthood, instead of a series of steps, is an ever-forming cycle of being human on this earth.
Adulthood isn’t that you’ll have kids and a spouse with a perfect A-frame house. That idea carries with it the American dream, an ideal held by the wealthy but unavailable to the poor, an idea that says things need to look and be a certain way to be successful.
It leaves out a lot of us.
And the ones with the perfect yards and the pristine children are also struggling with something, trying to learn what it means to love and live a better life, trying to learn what their journey looks like in that cycle of things.
So that’s what it must mean to be an adult: an awareness of our ever-evolving stories, an awareness of our scars and what they teach us to be in the world.
I’ve just started reading Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone with my sons, and at the beginning of the book, not long after Harry received his infamous lightning bolt scar, Hagrid asks Albus Dumbledore if he should remove the scar so that Harry can live without it.
Dumbledore responds with this:
Scars can come in handy.
What if adulthood means we find ways for our scars to come in handy, for our mistakes and our successes to integrate themselves into our story?
What if we hit adulthood for a few years only to realize we need to turn back to our childlikeness?
There is this idea that if we get ourselves together, if we fix what is broken and clean up what is messy, that means we are healed forever, we are ready to be healthy in every way and will never make the same mistakes again.
But, dear friends, that is not humanity.
Maybe being an adult means realizing there is true, sacred beauty in childlikeness.
Maybe being an adult means we are called to remember our smallness in a huge world.
Maybe being an adult isn’t just about independence but about recognizing our interdependence on a world that needs us—our gifts, our wholeness, our love.
What if our old, beat up couches and our ungroomed yards are just as much a part of our journey to adulthood as the pristine yards and the brand new pieces of furniture?
“Our work, then, is to become the healthiest possible version of who we uniquely are,” writes David Richo, author of How to be an Adult in Relationships. Maybe being an adult is endlessly asking what can bring us true joy and call us to life.
Maybe being an adult is realizing that working through healing is a necessary part of our wholeness.
In that case, the house isn’t the most important thing.
In that case, our children will be loved as we learn to love ourselves alongside them.
In that case, we learn to do this work in community, and we become stronger together.
In that case, the comparison game can’t get to us anymore.
In that case, as we dream about the kind of person we want to be tomorrow, we know that who we are today can count our successes, too.
In that case, adult on, friends. I’m right there with you.
Recently I celebrated my 10 year wedding anniversary with my husband. We decided to get tattoos that day, his fifth and my first. My design was by Chippewa/Potawatomi artist from Canada, Chief Lady Bird, and it’s a symbol of the seven fires of the Potawatomi tribe. As Kasey, our tattoo artist, began the work on my left arm, I felt my body go back to the same space I inhabited when I gave birth to my two sons without pain medication. I would take slow, steady breaths during those contractions, leaning into the pain as I went, and I took slow, steady breaths every time Kasey put the needles to my skin.
Pain is a thing we can’t go around.
I started therapy last month with a trauma counselor in my city, and I’m learning that when we begin the process of opening wounds to take a look inside, it hurts. It hurts for a long time, because at some point we begin to realize that putting bandages on those wounds doesn’t always do the healing.
We’ve got to ask how our wounds got there in the first place and what pain can teach us as a partner in the process.
In America in 2018, we’re all walking around, wounded.And as we begin to have conversations about how those wounds got there, engaging in collective dialogue about justice, reconciliation and reparations, people either lean into those conversations, or they run.
And on social media, those conversations can be entered into and left with the tap of a button. We are reactionary instead of compassionate.
We choose to harm each other instead of healing most of the time.
But if we truly listen, we’ll see that the only way is through.
This phrase, or a version of it, has been echoed by writers throughout time like Robert Frost, who said it in his poem, A Servant to Servants:
He says the best way out is always through.
And I agree to that, or in so far
As that I can see no way out but through—
It’s becoming more clear as we look at the collective work of healing, that it’s going to take time, that it’s going to be painful, and that the only way out of it is through it.
But we have to first convince ourselves that our own healing is necessary.
First, we have to choose to love our own story enough to want healing within it. Are we willing?
I had to decide that the things I’ve experienced, the trauma that is a part of me every day, is worth recognizing, worth processing. And because I’ve seen my own life’s story through this lens, I’m more aware of the life stories of others who are working through their own trauma.
Are we willing to do the digging necessary to find ourselves here, in 2018, more loved and willing to love?
The tattoo on my left arm is a symbol of my own healing. It’s a symbol of the healing of a people. It carries a dream for all of us as indigenous people, but the only way to get there is through. So I light my tobacco, my sage and sweetgrass, and pray.And slowly but surely, I find my way back. Slowly but surely, I find a way to love.
We’ve got to walk through our healing as a people, and as a nation, we’ve got to talk about the wounds that we’ve carried from the beginning, wounds that stem from white supremacy and racism, hatred and misogyny. And we’ve got to recognize that healing must happen from every side, from every perspective, because we belong to each other.
America’s history told from the oppressed side is very different than the side of history we’ve actually been fed. Indigenous people and people of color have lived a history here that is covered up and ignored, a giant bandage with the words get over it scrawled across the top.
But to be people who create wholeness for ourselves and for others, we’ve got to open ourselves up and keep opening, removing those bandages to reveal the wounds we’ve carried for generations. We’ve got to choose to ask how our wounds got here in the first place, and then we’ve got to do the hard, uncomfortable, painful work of healing together.
For me, getting a tattoo was a choice. It was a choice to endure the pain, to mark my body with something significant that will be there for the rest of my life.
So it is with our communal pain. We must choose together to lean into it, and to stick with it, so that we can see what becomes of us on the other side.
I’ve been thinking about you today. I’m thinking about all the ways we get things wrong on this earth, in this country.
I’m thinking about all the different forms oppression can take.
I’m thinking about the reality that we’ve created a social environment in the United States (and in other countries) that doesn’t lend grace and compassion well.
We criticize each other’s weakness. We berate one another’s stories and experiences.
I’m thinking about mental health and self-care. I’m thinking about the work of listening to the needs of the soul.
What does it mean to be lonely?
I’ve heard so many times the phrase “we are lonely, but not alone.”
But it’s okay to feel alone, right?
We’ve created a world that says loneliness is our fault, mental illness is either a myth or a problem that we must suffer with or fix quietly, so we don’t disrupt the way of things.
But loneliness is not wrong.
Depression, anxiety or any host of feelings are not sources of shame, though we shame one another for experiencing them.
We shame one another for going to therapy, for taking medications, for admitting that we are tired. We forget our humanity for a moment. We forget what it looks like to hold one another. We forget that self-care is not laziness.
And we forget that the voice of Love is everything.
And our work right now is to break the chains of shame for ourselves and for one another.
Friend, I want you to know that loneliness is not a sin or human flaw.
It also isn’t just a lie that we believe, because loneliness is real. We see it in ourselves and in others everyday, in every work environment, in every community, on every street corner.
So what if we thought of every space as an opportunity to commune?
What if our digital and physical spaces were considered sacred, just as everyone who inhabits them is sacred?
What if we live in such a way that even our online interactions create space without reducing one anther to labels of weakness or unworthiness?
What if we learn to tell ourselves that we are worthy of love?
Recently in a therapy session, I tried to explain the constant tension I walk as a woman who is Potawatomi and white, Christian but not colonized, American but also indigenous.
I feel like I am never fully one thing or another.
And while it’s lonely, the more I share my story, the more people I find who feel the same way, who are fractured, who are trying to find their footing in a world that doesn’t accept some part of who they are.
Then I remember something.
I remember the stories of Jesus, a man who seemed to be lonely a lot.
He went to quiet places. He had some close friends, but he still struggled.
“Will they ever understand?” he quietly prayed.
“Can this cup be taken away? I’m tired.”
Many of the world’s greatest leaders admit to loneliness. And in those spaces, a lot of soul care is required to remember what it means to be a leader, what it means to carry compassion and empathy as a model for others.
But what about us? What about our daily lives? What about those moments when we are too weary to do the work?
Friend, I want you to know that I’m not expecting anything from you, but to learn to love yourself and then work on the empathy and compassion that fuels you to love the world.
This is not strictly linear work, but cyclical, seasonal, an ebb and flow that doesn’t always make sense.
If you grew up in a religious or social environment that wanted rule following over love of self, you know that even as an adult it’s hard to unlearn those thought and heart patterns. I’m still working, and I bet you are, too.
But it’s possible. And it’s not selfish.
So we re-wire the way we think about ourselves. And over time, we re-wire the way we think of others.
But it doesn’t mean that loneliness isn’t a constant companion. It means that while loneliness is there with us, we are still called.
We still have important things to contribute to our communities, to our families, to the world. We still have good work to do, and that work is connected to resting in the faithfulness of this earth that we get to inhabit.
Maybe the trees can remind us that we are loved and valued.
Maybe the bird on the windowsill or the constant rising and falling tide can tell us that the world wants to continue her work because we are a part of it.
Maybe then, we’re not quite as lonely as we think.
Maybe creation meets us in our loneliness and whispers I'm still here, after all these years. And maybe the fact that we all feel loneliness in a spectrum of ways means that loneliness is universal.
At the worst of times, in the worst of places, we hear the whisper.
“There’s something more to this,” it says.
“Lean in,” it implores.
We aren’t often told that the Holy Spirit and Grief are partners.
Mostly, we’re taught a narrative that they oppose one another, that we should trust the Spirit but keep the words of Grief far, far from our hearts, because she will surely tell us something we don’t want to hear. She will surely break us and we won’t know how to put it back together again.
But if we imagine Grief and the Spirit as partners, the voice of God takes on human flesh all over again, for Jesus's life was full of grieving.
So many of us have been fed a Jesus who is distant and stoic, but says the hard things when we need them to be said so that we can, you know, get back on course for a few hours. He’s not really taken seriously, and if he is, it’s in bits and pieces.
The problem is, if we have a Jesus who is that easy to consume without a second thought, we’ve created a Jesus who doesn’t model the one written about in the gospels.
We want a Jesus who tells us things are easy, that we are always #blessed, that pain is never worth our time, that we get to live out our faith on our own terms with our own people. We want to be told that we don’t have to let go of our pride and that whoever gets in our way is the one to blame. We want Jesus to be the fun guy at the holiday parties.
Instead, Jesus was a rabble-rouser. He stirred things up and turned societal norms upside down. He had bruises and matted hair and callouses on his hands that only a carpenter might have. And when he told stories, they weren’t for entertainment, they weren’t children’s rhymes that we could tote along with us in case we got bored on a rainy day.
No, these were stories that hold up mirrors to our faces and our souls time and time again, asking what kind of people we actually are when it comes to caring for the oppressed and forgotten, when it comes to radical love.
Following Jesus isn’t really about having fun.
Sure, it’s about joy and laughter and knowing that we are loved so we can love others.
But it’s about digging into our humanity, even and especially our pain, digging into the lives of the oppressed, getting honest about often white-washed history and constant societal injustices.
Being an advocate and an ally isn’t really fun, but it’s necessary.
Radical love requires something else that Jesus commands us to have. Humility. If being humble during a marital spat or family fight isn’t hard enough, we’re asked as followers of Jesus to be humble with our enemies, with people we don’t know, with our neighbors, with each other, with ourselves.
Jesus never said, “Hey people! So, we’re going be humble. And it’s going to be GREAT. And we’re going to have all the fun and get all the fame and money and power because of it, so buckle up because it’s going to be quite the ride!”
Instead, he says, “All of you, human just like I am human, let me tell you something. Humility hurts like hell. It’s going to put you on your face. It’s going to force you to say and do things that you really don’t want to do. It’s going to force you to look at yourself and ask who you are and who you want to be. But don’t give up. We are uncovering daily the Mysteries of God, and it’s worth it.”
“I wonder how it feels to be a leader, writer, activist of color and watch a white woman like me earn praise for doing the same work that earns her condemnation. I wonder how it feels to watch me be recognized for doing five percent of the work to which she’s dedicated her entire life.”
It definitely doesn’t feel like fun. And it forces us to recognize that the dose of humility we each need is a little different from one another. What I need right now in my own skin and for my own soul is different from what you need. But we need each other to be honest about it.
It’s hard to be the voice speaking out, and even harder for women of color and indigenous women in America. And yet, we are a part of the gospel’s work if we follow Jesus, right? We are part of the world finding peace, right? We are part of the humble work, right?
It’s for all of us. All of us. And so, our job as allies to one another is to carry the burdens together in community.
Because no one should have to do the work of humility alone.
Jesus wasn’t walking around with a fun wagon behind him, carnival songs blasting from its speakers. He wasn’t the life of the party. He healed people. He said hard things that knocked people off their feet and their high horses.
And he did it in community.
He was always sitting with the people who smell bad and look bad and don’t talk the way a “civilized” person should. He rubbed his bare skin on lepers and used mud to heal people. He told others to listen to the women, to the children, to those that are often considered disposable.
Jesus, who was human, laughed and breathed and cried and railed against a broken system like any person could.
But he did it humbly. He was a servant.
So when we look at him, we should feel the weight of the hard work ahead of us, because following this Jesus is more than getting a pat on the back and it’s more than getting a party mansion in some heavenly realm when we die.
Kingdom here, now, is about a humble trudge through the mud of what we’ve done to this earth and to each other, and how there are still sacred moments in all of it.
Humility is our faces close to the ground, so that we know what it’s like to be on the bottom, so that we know what it feels like to touch the earth. It’s not a party there, but it’s fullness.
Humility is the tool by which we walk this road, the tool by which we protest and we cry out for justice, just like Jesus did—Jesus the protestor, Jesus the prophet, Jesus the protector.
But here’s the beautiful truth. Humility is this fullness that we cannot possibly understand.
It’s the ability to say, “I am small, and I honor you,” while looking at a tree in the forest or watching the ocean, while looking another human being in the eye.
Humility is the way we get to one another and the way our stories do the work of teaching us what it means to love.
So while we learn who Jesus is, while we spend our days getting it wrong and getting it right and getting it wrong again, let’s remember that we weren’t called to just have fun, to take things lightly, or to live for the sake of political parties, blessedness, wealth, prosperity, or even people-pleasing.
We’re called into dying so that we may live, the very lesson taught to us throughout the seasons of the earth, as we tend to our gardens and hope to bear fruit.
We’re called to humility, because it brings us full circle to the person of Jesus, to that moment when we can honestly say that love is love is love and mean it from the bottom of our hearts.
“…which causes me to wonder, my own purpose on so many days as humble as the spider’s, what is beautiful that I make? What is elegant? What feeds the world?”
“But every once in a while, with a basket in hand, or a peach or a pencil, there is that moment when the mind and spirit open to all the connections, to all the lives and our responsibility to use them well.” — Braiding Sweetgrass, Robin Wall Kimmerer
I’m sitting in our newly organized office, a room at the front of our house facing the yard. My husband has a desk, converted from an old oak table with our computer placed on top, and I sit at a tiny desk gifted to us by my sister-in-law Melissa right after we were married 10 years ago.
To be honest, for the past few weeks, the Earth has been closely haunting me with her songs, her stories, her wishes.
Maybe it’s just that I wasn’t listening before. Usually it’s the case that I just don’t know how to. There is too much noise. There is too much Netflix. There is too much I’m just too busy.
It’s the lie of the century, really, placing blame on things like busyness. We are called to be honest people, and so, in a time like ours when the Earth is continually stripped by human greed one tree, river, and piece of land at a time, we need to remember our place.
If you’ve not read Robin Wall Kimmerer’s book, Braiding Sweetgrass,I highly encourage you to. As a poet, a scientist, and an indigenous woman, she weaves together stories through her encounters with the world, a book written by a true mystic if ever there was one.
She describes, in the latest chapter I’ve devoured, the work of creating black ash baskets from the trees. It’s a process that requires the artist and creator to understand that the pieces used to make the basket are a gift, to honor the work and to carry that acknowledgement constantly with her.
We have always lived in a world that gives to us.
And if we’re Christians, our entire paradigm of religion or spiritual practice is based on the idea that grace is a true gift, passed to us in the most unexpected ways from God.
And so, we are constantly on the receiving end of goodness.
And so, we are constantly in need of becoming better givers.
I grew up reenacting the scene from Disney’s Beauty and the Beast,you know, this one:
I spent hours in my yard, wherever I could find little sprigs of weeds that I could watch blow into the wind. I wanted a magical life, where I could sing and dance and be free with the creatures around me who ask to be free.
But along the way, I found television shows and indoor games, and the call of the wilderness became a far off dream. I became further disconnected from my Potawatomi identity, and in losing that, I lost stories that could have reminded me of myself, of God.
I still spent time outside, but I didn’t listen the way I once did. I lost sight of the magicthat once called me, unable to find the wardrobe that led me to my Narnia where Aslan sang songs of creation and benevolent beings stretched out their arms to care for me.
As beautiful and good as this world was created to be, the older we get, we inherit the human trait of deeming it a wasteland, taking whatever we want at the risk of ruining what was once full of life.
We strip trees for paper products.
We build skyscrapers without asking what creatures we’re stealing from.
We desecrate sacred sites for the sake of oil sales.
But growing up in the church, I never heard a word from the pulpit about our responsibility to care.
Sure, we were called to save souls and do our daily quiet time, to love God with our hearts, souls, minds.
But not once did I hear the word, “…and treat this world the way you’d want to be treated. Treat this land as the sacred thing that it is. We are connected to all of it, and so if it perishes, so do we.”
And I certainly never learned the truth of our history as a nation, that we stole land from native peoples and called their ceremonies pagan, savage, vile. We instead decided that our own religion should lift up economy and profit for the sake of the Gospel.
And so, as an adult, I’m returning. For 10 years I’ve watched my husband long to be outside, to find rest among rivers and rocks, to stretch the arms of his own heart out for the world to answer Welcome home, welcome home.
I recently returned to a home that I had never been to, a home that has been calling me back–the Great Lakes region of the United States where my tribe, the Potawatomi people, once lived.
We lived as the Three Fires Anishinaabe alliance alongside the Ojibwe (Chippewa) and Ottawa (Odawa) people.
While there for a conference, I took a morning to tether myself to the land, to the water. I walked to the edge of Lake Michigan and watched the waves roll in, listening for a story, for a word.
I could hear laughter in her wake. I could hear the faint sounds of time, cries of lament, words of encouragement, of keep going echoing along the shoreline.
In essence, the water was telling me, again, the story of life, my own story, calling to memory the journey I’ve taken to get here today.
She was telling me of my own people being removed from the land, forced to walk the Trail of Death toward dusty Kansas and into Oklahoma. She was telling the story of a Creator who sees and bears the pain of it all, speckling grace over us the entire way.
She was telling me that I am not alone, that I never will be.
The world, she asks us to return. She asks us to look back, to laugh, to lament, to tell the whole storyand leave nothing out.
I’m returning to things that have been calling me for a long time.
I’m returning to the work of wonder.
I’m returning to the gifts given.
I’m returning to a time before the busyness to say that these things are worth the hard work of paying attention.
And so, it is truly not enough to put aside one day out of the year to call this Earth good.
It is not enough to blame others for not caring when we ourselves have not learned to care.
It is not enough that some of our institutions care for this world and most don't.
Maybe the stars went black that day because there was nothing else to get their attention, the people gathered around the crosses with dice in their hands and grins on their mouths, a few others hiding, stopping to stifle their quiet sobs.
After all, thieves hung on crosses every day, proclamations of miracles and resurrection on their lips now and again.
Maybe the stars went black because the sound of the nail through skin made them, finally, too tired to shine.
Maybe they just closed their eyes for a minute to weep, while the thunderclouds wailed around them.
Maybe then it only lasted a few moments, but maybe every night while we sleep, the stars go black for a second, and the thunderclouds rumble a low lament– a weep and a wail lasting centuries in this world.
Weeping and Wailing.
For every innocent body executed by the state—
Weeping and Wailing.
For every murdered indigenous person whose killer goes free–
Weeping and Wailing.
For every abused child–
Weeping and Wailing.
For the poor, who are told to pull themselves up or else–
Weeping and Wailing.
For young women, who believe their voices don’t matter in the church–
Weeping and Wailing.
For the tired widows–
Weeping and Wailing.
For young men incarcerated and abused by the system–
Weeping and Wailing.
For the descendants of the oppressed, who live generational trauma in their bones–
Weeping and Wailing.
For the Empires, who for centuries have oppressed in God’s name–
Weeping and Wailing.
For too many tombs filled with those killed by police brutality–
Weeping and Wailing.
For institutional sins of ableism, sexism, religious bigotry, toxic masculinity, white supremacy and racism–
Weeping and Wailing.
For a world that has been abused herself, beaten year after year because we say that we are called to “subdue” her–
Weeping and Wailing.
The stars went black because they had no other choice.
Because if the world went black for a moment or two, maybe the people would gather to one another and make peace.
Maybe they would remember that they belong to each other and the world they inhabit, there in the darkness, there with the thunder calling their names.
Maybe the darkness puts us in the tomb, too.
Maybe we go there to weep and wail ourselves, for injustice, a longing to be whole again.
I recently joined a group at my church called Be the Bridge, a gathering of people from various racial and ethnic backgrounds coming together simply to process race within the church. Started by Latasha Morrison, Be the Bridge works to create people who press on “towards fostering and developing vision, skills and heart for racial unity.”
The first week that we met, I cried while introducing my story as a Potawatomi Christian, because I don’t often have safe spaces in which to share my story. It’s one thing to write about it, but it’s another thing to talk openly about the struggle. It was like a group therapy session, people from different backgrounds sharing their racial experiences with one another.
In another small group setting, someone brought up Lent, asking what we’re prepared to give up (or pick up) this Lenten season. I hesitated.
Because so much of my journey as a Potawatomi woman and a Christian feels like a strange wilderness (you can read more about it here), Lent is just an extension of that. I could give up chocolate or sugar, but I feel like there’s something more here, something else that’s asking to be paid attention to.
So, I have a different idea for this Lent.
What if we decided to look our habits in the face this Lent? And I’m not talking about the way we eat or how often we watch television.
It’s more subtle than this.
I’m talking about our institutional habits that have been crafted over the years, systemic habits that have pitted humans against other humans, humans against the earth.
Habits such as racism, ableism, stereotyping, hatred, bigotry, misogyny, patriarchy, white supremacy, or damaging religious rhetoric are the things I’m talking about.
If you grew up in religious settings that told you what to believe and how, no questions asked, you know that day after day, those beliefs become habits, and after a while, it’s terribly difficult to break them.
As the old saying goes, old habits die hard.
And that’s what Lent is about, when we’re faced with a wilderness experience that asks us to look beyond our skin and bones and see what lies there, deep inside.
So this Lent, I’m asking us to look at what’s underneath. I’m asking us to check into the subtleties of damaging habits and mindsets, ones that have been brought to the surface of America’s landscape lately.
I’m asking us to sit in the wilderness with Jesus as we ask how we got here and where we are going.
I’m asking us to have really difficult conversations.
One of these subtleties happened for me recently when I was asked, not for the first time, “So how far back?” How far back does your Indian blood go?
As my husband lovingly and passionately pointed out later, I could have simply said, “Me. I am an enrolled member of my tribe, and so you don’t need to ask that question. It’s me.” But in the moment, I freeze over these kinds of questions. I explain who my ancestors were. I explain that I am on the tribal rolls of my tribe, that I can trace my people back to the Great Lakes Region of the United States before the Trail of Death.
But you see, that’s not the answer people are looking for. Because we are trained to ask for a blood quantum. We’re trained to say, “So, your native blood is running out, right? How native are you, really?”
But we can begin to break some of those habits and recognize that the things we’ve been institutionally taught have fostered attitudes of racism, hatred and misogyny in America, and in our schools and churches.
So this Lent, I intend to keep my mind alert.
I intend to face my own racism, whether it’s against my African American brother or the white woman who asks how Indian I am.
I intend to watch how I interact with my brothers and sisters with disabilities, how I pay attention to their needs and battle stereotypes that are set up against them.
I intend to have conversations with my Jewish and Muslim brothers and sisters, to learn from them, their histories and stories, their experiences in America.
I intend to pay attention to the mental paths my mind takes when I get defensive, to trace those paths back to institutional habits that have been set in place for years.
Then, I intend to pray into those spaces.
And know this, I am one of those people who believes that prayer is a constant position of the body, mind, spirit. That also means I’m pretty bad at sitting still with the silence.
So I want to sit and face my own habits. I want to face institutional racism, misogyny, hatred, religious bigotry, and I encourage you to do the same.
And as you explore these things too, share what you’ve found with us. Use #oldhabits on social media to begin conversations about where you’ve noticed your mental processes going and how you want to change them. Challenge the systems that put them there, and challenge yourself not only to create new mental and spiritual habits, but to challenge those institutions as well. Challenge them for your children. Challenge them for future generations.
The only way we begin to kill old habits and pick up new, healthier ones is to do it in community, to do it with others in spaces like Be the Bridge groups, in conversations on Twitter or in private Facebook groups, with people we trust, over cups and cups of coffee where we understand that the conversation, as hard as it may be, is far from over.
So here are a few ideas for this Lent, always, always with the work of shalom and grace in mind:
Grab a cup of coffee or dinner with someone who is of a different race than you are, and take turns telling your story. Don’t interrupt one another, don’t get defensive if something difficult is said. Come to the table with the understanding that you want to pay attention to institutional racism.
Listen to some women in your religious circles. Challenge misogyny. Get a group of men together and ask them to share stories about the women who have shaped their theologies. If you’re creative, make a video of those stories and share it with your church community.
Read new books by people of color (here’s a perfect list to get you started!), and read new books that challenge what we’ve been taught about our history, like A People’s History of the United States by Howard Zinn. Honor #BlackHistoryMonth by listening to black voices around you.
Read the Bible with eyes to see that Jesus was an activist, a rebel, and someone who constantly challenged institutions. Ask what that looks like for you in America in 2018.
Give yourself and others grace, because we cannot move forward if we are paralyzed by fear or by how hard this is. It is going to be hard, and it’s going to be terrifying at times. You are not alone.
May this Lenten wilderness call us out of ourselves and into the wholeness of a God who sees color and diversity and calls it good.
May this Lenten wilderness make us uncomfortable enough to ask difficult questions, and patient enough to listen for difficult answers.
May this Lenten wilderness bring more of the truth of gospel to our circles, the heart of justice and shalom always guiding us into a more inclusive faith.
May this Lenten wilderness lead us to deeper love for the created world we inhabit and for one another, precisely because of our differences. May we no longer feel the need to say “we are color blind” but that “we love others because we are not the same.”
May this Lenten wilderness remind us that wildernesses are meant to show us ourselves in the face of a world that reflects all the wild love of God. May we lean into that truth today.
“Thousands of tired, nerve-shaken, over-civilized people are beginning to find out that going to the mountains is going home; that wildness is a necessity.”
― John Muir
And we end up leaving exhausted because we have to hold our own culture’s truths and tensions with the gospel, and also hold all these cultural, racial, belief-based tensions with one another.
As a worship leader, I pay attention to the room during worship.
I listen to the voices in unison.
I wonder where people are coming from when they sing words like, “The Lord is gracious and compassionate, slow to anger and rich in love.”
And as I am analyzing these things and trying to worship through my own experiences, I come back to this idea of nakedness.
Theresa ofAvila says it like this:
You find God in yourself and yourself in God.
To know the true mirror image of God is to know ourselves fully, as we are fully known.
And that means that while we stay tethered to and learn from and engage with our cultural lenses, we also zoom into our souls, into that naked place, to that deepest part of who we are to embrace Mystery, without analyzing any of it.
We embrace Mystery without analyzing any of it.
This means that we even have to allow ourselves to step out of the mindset that worship should look, feel and seem a certain way.
To embrace Mystery is to recognize that worship is something fully beyond us that we step into and participate in, and not just in a church building full of people.
One of the most worshipful experiences I had recently was while I was staying at an AirBNB in the Blue Ridge mountains. I took an early evening walk, mittens on and a cup of coffee in my hand. As I turned the corner, I watched a family of deer run across the street and up into the woods on the other side. Before they disappeared, one of them stopped, turned around, and stared at me for a few seconds.
Sometimes worship happens as a rootedness that we do not expect or even think we deserve.
The mirror image of myself in that deer was nothing but worship, a moment to recognize my own sense of belonging in this world. In the space, beyond my culture, beyond the fact that I am a Potawatomi woman, that I am a mother and wife and worship leader and writer and friend, I was simply one soul looking at the soul of another creature.
We were simply acknowledging one another, and in that, acknowledging Mystery, without analyzing any of it.
So we erase the lines that make rules to tell us when and how to worship. We expand our thinking outside the walls of the church and realize that “occasionally it is not the open air or the church that we desire, but both” (John Philip Newell).
And this is difficult when you’re on church staff, when you’re trying to figure out how to run a church with various cultures, to honor diversity, to honor the life of Jesus. I get that. But leading others in worship means we lead them out of themselves, and we also lead them out of the mindset that worship must look the way the American church thinks it should look.
And soon we find that deconstructing our worship patterns is actually a return back to that nakedness, to that mirror image between us and God, between us and the world, between my own culture and yours.
And then we find that worship has done its work, because the glory of God happens when this created world is fully alive to beauty, to love, to all of those things that we have such a hard time finding because we are so constantly trying to analyze the questions and critiques as they come to us every week in church.
Because of and despite our questions and critiques, the Mystery is still there, still engaging, still asking us to look and respond, to be present with every aspect of ourselves, to the honor and glory of God.