Old Habits Die Hard: Lent 2018

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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?”

It’s the subtle things, right?

This Lent, we’re not going to decolonize or deconstruct every part of ourselves for good.

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 the women in the church around me, to speak words of empowerment over them in the face of constant misogyny and patriarchy. 

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.

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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:

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. If you are part of a church, ask why it is or isn’t diverse or inclusive. Explore what it would mean to start a Be the Bridge group or to simply have new conversations, like how the church was complicit in the genocide/assimilation of indigenous peoples in America. Ask who the indigenous people were who once lived on the very land where your church is planted, and put a sign out front honoring them.
  6. Join this Facebook group, where we’ll have serious, respectful and safe discussions about these institutional habits and how they affect us. 
  7. 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.

Join me.

#oldhabits

“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

 

Deconstructing American Christian Worship

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I’ve been tired during church lately.

If you’re someone attempting to deconstruct or decolonize your faith like I am, you might feel it, too.

As a Potawatomi woman, I am suddenly going over every word of every song, every word of every sermon, asking if those words are inclusive of my own culture within the views of the American church.

And so we show up at church, asking all the questions, making all the critiques we can, because these things matter.

And we end up leaving exhausted because the church has not yet understood that Jesus really was a poor, brown carpenter and still has something to say to us today. I’m exhausted that I don’t yet understand that in my own skin.

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.

Amen.

 

Christmas Eve: don’t miss the beauty of the Before

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In America, and many parts of the entertainment world, people really like dramatic Before-and-After experiences.

We watch a home go from a hoarder’s filled mess to a dream home;

We watch the un-groomed man or woman become fashionable;

We watch a special nanny whip disrespectful kids into shape;

We praise the salvation experience– before we were heathens, now we are saved.

We love the drama.

We’re addicted to the adrenaline of the outcome.

Today is Christmas Eve, and if you’re a Christian like I am, we celebrate that today is a Before-and-After experience, too.

Before Jesus and After Jesus.

Before salvation and After salvation.

As much as the world ached for the Savior, we can’t forget that it was still a world in which God was present. Too often, we demonize what was Before, and we say that the After picture means true victory.

Sometimes, this is absolutely accurate.

But let’s not forget the life blood still pumping in the Before.

Let’s not forget the heart and soul of people struggling to be truly kind and good in the Before.

I’m reminded of America’s history here.

To the European colonizers who came to make something great out of this land, the After picture was the true pride and victory of what we now call the United States.

But remember, friends– what was here in the Before?

Groups of indigenous people, thriving on our land, tending to the earth.

We were still hurting people who sometimes fell into war and malice.

But we, as people of the Before, were still humans searching for and listing to the voice of the Creator.

Let’s remember that our opinions of the Before are not always accurate, and let’s trust that sometimes the After actually takes away our humanity, too.

So on Christmas, while God dwells in the After of Jesus, God always dwells in the Before, too.

As an Evangelical, I grew up, with my community, painting salvation stories really clearly– I was lost, now I’m found.

It’s the ultimate Before-and-After.

But lately, I’ve had to break myself free from that paradigm.

Because too often we begin, as people of the After, to demonize those of the Before. We belittle their existence and experiences, and in doing so, the grace of God to truly be with us–our Emmanuel.

So as you watch Before-and-After experiences unfold, remember that both may not always be what they seem.

After all, Jesus taught, as an adult, that his very presence exists in people you’d least expect– children, the poor, widows and orphans, the alien. They are people that the world pushes impatiently into transformation.

If he teaches that, maybe the Before experiences are worth paying attention to.

At my in-laws’ house on Christmas Eve, I’m watching snow fall and cover everything in its wake.

As I watch this tiny spot of the world transform into the After, I can’t help but look out and say a word of gratitude to the Before, to yesterday, to the snowless moments that prepared me for this very instant of awe.

Merry Christmas, friends.

May you find glory in the Before as well as the After, and in every space of transformation along the way.

 

Remembering Our Single Parents This Christmas

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I’ve been doing what a lot of Americans do during the Christmas season: watching cheesy Christmas movies on Netflix. Recently I watched one called My Santa, a movie about a single mother who falls in love with Santa’s son. While I wouldn’t recommend you spend an hour and a half watching it like I did, it reminded me of the difficult time so many single parents have at this time of year.

I was a child of a single parent at one time, and right now I’m solo parenting for a few weeks. Every time my partner goes on a trip, I’m reminded of that time when my mother had to care for three kids and work full time. I remember that she was tired, and while the holidays are still really sweet memories, simple memories—I don’t think as a child I picked up on the stress that she carried constantly. What I remember is that we listened to Nat King Cole and Harry Connick, Jr. while we decorated the tree. What I remember is gratitude that I was loved.

After my partner had been away for a few days, I shared a thought on Twitter about how hard it is to be parent, and at the end I said, “Please tell me I’m not alone in this?”

A flood of responses came in, parents of all ages telling me that I am not alone, that parenthood is hard and beautiful, that our children are a handful and that’s absolutely okay.  I was given permission to breathe a little instead of telling myself over and over that everything was fine and I shouldn’t be stressed because I have a good life. I was forcing gratitude on myself so that I couldn’t admit that it’s just hard sometimes.

And because we don’t like to admit it when things are hard, we don’t let others admit it, either. We often make it more difficult for our single parents, especially in a society that prides itself on consumerism and the idea that kids can ask for whatever they want from Santa and will get it.

It puts single parents, who are often struggling to make ends meet, in a difficult, exhausted position, not to mention the fact that they are missing out on the partnership that gives them the opportunity to receive their own gifts on Christmas morning.

It snowed here in Georgia recently, and that morning, I noticed a lot of birds flocking to our empty bird feeders that hang from hooks out front. So I refilled all of our birdfeeders out in the yard, and watched as birds flocked to the newly filled feeders, stocking up on food before the snow began to fall and the temperatures dropped. I watched, with great honor, the creatures I had the chance to care for. I was in awe that I had the energy to care for creatures other than my two boys and our puppy, because while I’ve loved our time together, it’s been exhausting.

I remember single parents who do not always have the ability to step back and rest and care for others because they are exhausted and this season requires so much from them. I remembered that the years when I had a single mother, we struggled but found grace in the kindness of others who took the time to care for us, whether it was our  landlord or family friends.

So during this holiday season, let’s remember our single parents. Let’s remember that those of us who have partners shouldn’t take it for granted. Let’s practice sensitivity over judgment, and follow a few simple rules in honor of the single parents around us:

Don’t Assume.

This isn’t a time to wonder if a parent is single because they are divorced, or because they had a child out of wedlock, or because their partner died. It’s not a time to wonder how much they’re putting in the offering plate or why they seem so exhausted around their kids. This is a time to hold space and to give as much grace as possible. It’s a time to listen instead of talk. It’s a time to embrace the idea that our souls are connected to one another because of our humanity, and that is enough.

Let go of consumer culture.

One of the best things we can do for our children, for our culture and those who are less fortunate in it, is to pull ourselves away from the constant consumer culture that involves Black Friday sales and expensive shopping malls. For those of us who love gift-giving, consider shopping at antique malls or thrift stores, making homemade gifts or sharing an experience with a loved one. If we can change our culture, maybe we can make space for the single parents in our midst to do what they can for their own families with our full support.

Offer Holiday Help.

If you know people in your life who are single parents, reach out to them. Let them know that you see them, that you’re aware of the difficulties they face during this time. Offer your time so that they can wrap some presents or have an afternoon to themselves, or invite them over for a holiday meal. Drive around and look at Christmas lights together. Bring them into your spaces, put yourself in their spaces, and learn what it means to be community to one another.

 Be Kind to Strangers.

As a general rule, right now everyone needs to be kind to everyone else. This goes beyond social, political and religious circles. We cannot afford to continue living in such a toxic, dual mindset that seeks to divide anywhere we can divide. Actions and attitudes like this begin in the heart and trickle out to everyone around us, creating waves of chaos and hurt.

Often, our children get caught in our fights, and this holiday season, we need to make space for our children to simply be children, and for our single parents to have peace to care for them without worrying about being judged by their neighbors or a stranger on the internet. So we practice kindness in the grocery store, in the airport where a single parent is traveling with their children. We buy someone a cup of coffee. We practice it at the park, standing in line at the post office to mail packages.

Maybe if we put on Christ-likeness this Advent season, we’ll take on the work of being blessing to those who are tired and in need of that kindness, and we will remember that God chose one single woman to bring the Savior into the world in the most beautifully humble way.

May we remember that as we care for the single parents in our midst this holiday season, as we thank them for the hard and beautiful work they do every single day. 

One Gray Hair: a lesson in aging with wisdom

 

I found a gray hair on my head one morning recently.

I smiled at myself in the mirror and nearly ran into the other room to show my husband.

It’s not that I’m longing to get older quicker; but I am longing for more wisdom, for more journey.

 

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That morning I attended a day-long speaking event by Barbara Brown Taylor in my city, and was sure that I’d be stepping into sacred space as I drove my tiny white Kia across Atlanta, listening to a Powwow Song Pandora station along the way.

I was a bit surprised that I was one of the youngest people attending the conference. I found a table and sat down with a group of strangers, women older than I, kind and willing to listen.

I was unaware that they’d be speaking over me, calling me into my own gifts, my own way, leading me the way an ancestor does, the way an elder should.

We’re to listen to our elders, we’re taught in indigenous culture.

We’re to take their stories and wisdom and let them lead us in life. But so much of modern American culture fights against that, says that the older you get the less difference you can make in the world. But I sat in that room, at that table, with those women, and they simply held space for me. It was like I was watching their legacies trailing behind them, a beautiful train attached to their bodies that told their stories as they journey from one day to the next, that keeps record of the ways in which they have learned and re-learned what it means to be human.

I told them I had a book coming out soon and that I’d brought a copy to give to Barbara. They passed it around the table, writing down my name so they could buy it when it comes out. One woman looked through some of the pages, back up at me, right in my eyes, and said, “I think this is going to be more popular than you think it is. Do you feel that?”

I can’t explain to you what happens inside of me in those moments. It’s cocoon-like, a sense that I need to listen and perceive and remember those instances clearly for what they are. And in that moment, I was sitting beside my elder and she was reminding me of who I was, ushering me deeper into my own calling as she told me about her years as a converted Jew and her personal spiritual journeys.

There are a lot of divides that come with generations, but our underlying humanity–our joys and laughters, our gifts and callings, our need for community–they hold the whole world together, no matter what separates.

I left that day-long conference grateful for the spaces in which I was asked to share my story, to speak about how my indigenous identity and my Christian identity are one in the same, and that I’m trying to reconcile the rest of the church to that reality. I tried to sit still and listen for their stories and experiences, and while I received, they were few and far between. It seems this particular experience was to remind me that my ancestors, and the elders I surround myself with, are my leaders today and tomorrow. They walk with me on this path, even if it’s for one afternoon in an episcopal church.

And when I see gray hair, I think of my grandma, who had silver hair that she kept pulled up in a tight bun. Every now and then you could catch it down, trailing her shoulders, her back, long strands of what I imagined years of wisdom that made her the woman she was to me and my family. In our human experience, even in its pain, even in its misery, even in its divine transformation, we find hope along the way, as we age, as we grow, as we choose whether or not we want humility and grace to guide us.

I have hopes for my book, Glory Happening: Finding the Divine in Everyday Places, that comes out on November 7th, this book that I’m literally birthing into the world, pieces of me sent to other peoples’ living rooms, my words on their bookshelves and my heart reaching out from the ink and page to ask another heart to respond. It is a rush of so many feelings, and I am simply overcome with gratitude.

And yet, I have so much hope beyond that.

I hope, too, that when my one gray hair turns to one hundred on my head,

I look in the mirror, glad.

I hope that when my skin begins to wrinkle,

I see memory after memory make themselves known on my hands, my face.

I hope that my ever-brittling bones tell me

that transformation is both painful and beautiful.

I hope that my eyes, what they have seen and known,

will never grow weary of looking another in their eyes.

And I hope that one day, when I am the elder in the room,

I have something to give that is humble and gentle,

full of the glory of a God that stretches across generations and millennia,

who knew my own ancestors then and knows me now,

who will know my grandchildren one day.

I hope that all my hoping is bound up in this one voice

that stretches and molds and transforms over time,

a voice that began in creation, in mystery, a voice

that calls out to the deep for more of that benevolent love

that was always there and will always be here,

teaching us as we age that our stories matter,

and that they are never wasted or forgotten.

 

May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace… Romans 15:13

Indeed, the very hairs on your head are numbered. Luke 12:7

 

One Gray Hair: a lesson in aging with wisdom

 

I found a gray hair on my head one morning recently.

I smiled at myself in the mirror and nearly ran into the other room to show my husband.

It’s not that I’m longing to get older quicker; but I am longing for more wisdom, for more journey.

 

IMG_0771.jpg

 

That morning I attended a day-long speaking event by Barbara Brown Taylor in my city, and was sure that I’d be stepping into sacred space as I drove my tiny white Kia across Atlanta, listening to a Powwow Song Pandora station along the way.

I was a bit surprised that I was one of the youngest people attending the conference. I found a table and sat down with a group of strangers, women older than I, kind and willing to listen.

I was unaware that they’d be speaking over me, calling me into my own gifts, my own way, leading me the way an ancestor does, the way an elder should.

We’re to listen to our elders, we’re taught in indigenous culture.

We’re to take their stories and wisdom and let them lead us in life. But so much of modern American culture fights against that, says that the older you get the less difference you can make in the world. But I sat in that room, at that table, with those women, and they simply held space for me. It was like I was watching their legacies trailing behind them, a beautiful train attached to their bodies that told their stories as they journey from one day to the next, that keeps record of the ways in which they have learned and re-learned what it means to be human.

I told them I had a book coming out soon and that I’d brought a copy to give to Barbara. They passed it around the table, writing down my name so they could buy it when it comes out. One woman looked through some of the pages, back up at me, right in my eyes, and said, “I think this is going to be more popular than you think it is. Do you feel that?”

I can’t explain to you what happens inside of me in those moments. It’s cocoon-like, a sense that I need to listen and perceive and remember those instances clearly for what they are. And in that moment, I was sitting beside my elder and she was reminding me of who I was, ushering me deeper into my own calling as she told me about her years as a converted Jew and her personal spiritual journeys.

There are a lot of divides that come with generations, but our underlying humanity–our joys and laughters, our gifts and callings, our need for community–they hold the whole world together, no matter what separates.

I left that day-long conference grateful for the spaces in which I was asked to share my story, to speak about how my indigenous identity and my Christian identity are one in the same, and that I’m trying to reconcile the rest of the church to that reality. I tried to sit still and listen for their stories and experiences, and while I received, they were few and far between. It seems this particular experience was to remind me that my ancestors, and the elders I surround myself with, are my leaders today and tomorrow. They walk with me on this path, even if it’s for one afternoon in an episcopal church.

And when I see gray hair, I think of my grandma, who had silver hair that she kept pulled up in a tight bun. Every now and then you could catch it down, trailing her shoulders, her back, long strands of what I imagined years of wisdom that made her the woman she was to me and my family. In our human experience, even in its pain, even in its misery, even in its divine transformation, we find hope along the way, as we age, as we grow, as we choose whether or not we want humility and grace to guide us.

I have hopes for my book, Glory Happening: Finding the Divine in Everyday Places, that comes out on November 7th, this book that I’m literally birthing into the world, pieces of me sent to other peoples’ living rooms, my words on their bookshelves and my heart reaching out from the ink and page to ask another heart to respond. It is a rush of so many feelings, and I am simply overcome with gratitude.

And yet, I have so much hope beyond that.

I hope, too, that when my one gray hair turns to one hundred on my head,

I look in the mirror, glad.

I hope that when my skin begins to wrinkle,

I see memory after memory make themselves known on my hands, my face.

I hope that my ever-brittling bones tell me

that transformation is both painful and beautiful.

I hope that my eyes, what they have seen and known,

will never grow weary of looking another in their eyes.

And I hope that one day, when I am the elder in the room,

I have something to give that is humble and gentle,

full of the glory of a God that stretches across generations and millennia,

who knew my own ancestors then and knows me now,

who will know my grandchildren one day.

I hope that all my hoping is bound up in this one voice

that stretches and molds and transforms over time,

a voice that began in creation, in mystery, a voice

that calls out to the deep for more of that benevolent love

that was always there and will always be here,

teaching us as we age that our stories matter,

and that they are never wasted or forgotten.

 

May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace… Romans 15:13

Indeed, the very hairs on your head are numbered. Luke 12:7

 

Staying Rooted in an Uprooted World

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Have you ever noticed that the tops of the trees sway wildly when it’s windy?

I took the boys to one of our new favorite spots in Atlanta, a walking trail with a lake and two picnic tables where we sit and read, where we thread fallen leaves onto pine needles  and make habitats with sticks and dirt.

Last week, my oldest found an arrowhead there, and so it is, in many ways, sacred space to us. It is our getaway right outside the city.

We’ve been watching the new Magic Schoolbus series, and there is an episode about architecture and the Big Bad Wolf–they are trying to design the perfect house for the Three Little Pigs that won’t get blown down. When the kids and their teacher realize that the trees are the answer to their problems–that their rooted trunks do not easily break in the wind–they apply the circular tree design to their house for the Three Little Pigs play and it is a success.

You see, they discovered that the way the trees were grounded during the storm was the answer. Most of the trees were steady and safe, despite harsh winds.

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These days are full of acute, concentrated heaviness. We mourn and long, we hope and despair, constantly and all at once. That is, of course, the human condition, but it is exhausting, and it often leaves us feeling listless and unsettled.

And so, we have to find rootedness. We have to be grounded in something.

And if you’re a Christian like I am, the American church doesn’t feel like the safest place right now.

As a Native American woman, the church isn’t always the best place for me to find God. Because I’ve realized that the church is also out there. It is in the wilderness where I am grounded. 

A few days ago when I took my boys back to our favorite spot and watched the trees quietly sway, I listened. I listened as acorns fell from the heights above us. I lay on the bench of the picnic table, once again in awe of a created world that I get to belong to, tend to, learn from. I felt rooted again.

It was in a similar place that I was brought back to my identity as a Potawatomi woman a few years ago, on a walking trail. In that moment, when God reminded me of who I am, opened up my world, and lifted a veil that had been covering my eyes, I saw everything clearly, and I found that even though my journey is difficult, its beauty outweighs its heaviness, and it brings me to a rootedness that I’ve never had before in my life.

The answers have always been outside, whether we notice or not. They are in the trees and the dirt beneath my feet. Somehow, the wilderness allows us to ask questions of life, of God, of ourselves, of each other, and whether we find the answers we’re looking for, what grounds us to this earth and to this journey is that we belong. We are held steady in the chaos, rooted even though things are broken.

And the wilderness does not discriminate. The trees do not look at me differently than they look at you. The lake lets you see your reflection on her face, and the ducks still float by gracefully. The acorns still fall from the trees, the squirrels still bury their winter food in the dirt, and the bees still search for honey and sting anyone who gets in their way.

But when we become a part of that, when we get to sit in the company of a created world, we see ourselves.

We remember that we are small, created things, made to belong, to be interconnected, and that is the grandest mystery, isn’t it?

That in itself is all I need, and it’s all you need, if only for a moment of re-charging and remembering.

So when the brokenness of the world makes you tired, run to the forest.
Remember how small you are.
Watch the leaves change.
Listen to acorns fall from the heights.
Let the wind and the water talk to you about what it means to heal.
Let The Creator show you the benevolent, secret places.

And root yourselves again. Dig your heals into the dirt and remember that it is okay to long for wholeness, and it is better to seek it out where it can be found.

It is better to seek and find that we are, indeed, grounded, than to never look or ask and feel like we’ve wandered our whole lives and never landed.

So let the wildernesses– the rolling hills, the forests and the lakes, the rivers and the rocks, be your guide. Let them bring you back to yourself, to that still, small voice that has always called us rooted in an often uprooted world.


 

 

My book, Glory Happening: Finding the Divine in Everyday Places is out for PRE-ORDER! You can order your copy here.

Can’t wait for you to read it and find your own stories in mine.

 

GOD NEVER STOPS CALLING YOU

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Do you remember what it was like inside the womb?

Maybe some of us have some sort of memory there, embedded deep inside of our minds and hearts. But most of us are just told what it’s like, and what it was like the day we left the bodies of our mothers to enter the world.

In the womb, everything seemed to be taken care of—everything in place to keep you safe and growing to fullness, so that you could make your way into the world.

No matter how much we long for it, though, we cannot go back because we have been called out into the world.

This weekend we celebrated my youngest son’s birthday. This little boy was named after two different prophets, and so we were ready for him to be filled with a little fire from the time of his birth. I wasn’t prepared for how beautiful it would be, though.

Every year that we celebrate with him, I see the things that come alive, the ways in which he finds his place in the world, even as a four year old. His father gave him the task to “find the things that are wrong and make them right,” and nothing could speak truer to his warrior heart.

He was called from within the womb, and now every day of his life, he’s still called.

We all are.

So what now?

What now, when we may be 80, 40, 2 years separated from that womb?

Dear friend, we’re still being called.

I spent the last month away from my husband, solo parenting my two little ones.

It’s been a season of stretching, a lot of time to be alone, to make decisions on my own, and still I’ve found that God is calling.

We’re being called to grow up, to begin making decisions and walking in directions I never thought we’d be walking in. And while it’s hard and scary, I know that it’s really what we’re always doing– we are always answering a call.

And it’s a call that starts in the beginning.

I don’t mean grow up like, hey, get some chest hair!

 I mean grow up by taking on the calling of our lives, growing up by aligning ourselves with the reality of God by coming to the realization that we are forever-learners.

Sometimes we’re called to be quiet.

Sometimes we’re called to leave what we know for something we don’t know.

Sometimes we’re called to be more like the children again.

Whatever it is—God never stops calling.

And the difficult balance is between what we know and trust inside ourselves and what we need to know and hear from others in friendship and community. Somehow, God works in the midst of all of those things, and somehow, the truth of God is where we’ll find ourselves at the end of this life.

But until then, we trust the reality that we are always called.

 If we stop and look at the world around us, we’ll remember that things still work as they’re created to work. It’s a cooler day today for summer in Georgia, and still the squirrels and birds fight over bird feeders. Still the world spins and works its magic and shows that it’s simply existing in its own creation–in its calling.

We are experiencing this volatile moment in history in which we all say that God calls things one way or another way. We say that our leaders are ordained by God, or we get up and leave our churches in huge droves because we don’t trust that leadership anymore. It is exhausting to find the call of God on our lives sometimes.

And it’s even more exhausting to figure out that calling for an entire nation or people group or little church parish, for that matter.

Despite what we believe about ourselves and each other–God is still calling us. And we don’t get to tell each other what that calling means, but we get to line up that calling with the words and life of Jesus, who lived into a calling that toppled systems of oppression, a calling told in beautiful metaphor and stories.

That same Jesus also taught us to pray, to gather ourselves up, jump in a boat, and run to the wilderness for quiet, for refilling–to hear what is being called of us.

Right now I can say that I have no idea what my future holds, except that I’ve got a book coming out on November 7th, a book that was called out of me. I know that I am called to be a mother and a wife, a writer, a storyteller, to walk in my Potawatomi heritage and my Christian heritage, to ask questions of and to challenge the church that I love and want to see become healthy again.

But it’s scary outside the womb. It’s cold and sometimes lonely and there are people capable of great good and great evil.

Growing up is hard. Leaving the womb is hard.

Identifying the call is hard.

But it’s possible, because God never, ever stops calling.

Nearly a year ago, as I began asking what it means to be a Potawatomi woman and a Christian, I began having dreams. In native culture (and in many cultures for that matter) dreams are really important–they are a way of being called. My dreams were significant. They were dreams that gave me a name, that called me, that beckoned me into transformation. They were dreams that I knew were both a call and a response–God was responding to my questions and calling me deeper in at the same time.

Even in being called, we continue to ask. We continue to dream and cast vision and wish and hope for a deeper and more whole kind of living–a shalom kind of existence.

Even if you’re not having dreams that call you, there is a whole world waiting to show itself to you and to me. Our calling today, far removed from that womb we once knew, is the same calling that we had inside that womb–to ask, seek, and knock, just as Jesus will always ask, seek and knock.

This is the back and forth of calling and receiving, of dreaming and believing, of asking and answering.

With every call comes a response.

As we grow up, our choice to respond, no matter how scary and unknown the call, may be what saves us.

This is the beckoning of shalom.

Hallelujah and Amen.

 

IT’S OKAY TO DECONSTRUCT YOUR AMERICAN FAITH

In college, I took a world literature class. We spent some time with famous stories from all over the world, including the literature of the Old Testament. Being a born and raised Christian, I thought that when we’d gotten to that section, I’d be able to share my wisdom, have a bible study right then and there with a classroom full of people.

Instead, when we got to the story of Abraham and Isaac, those who sat around me said things like, “This story is ridiculous! Why would God tell someone to kill their own son and then change his mind? Why do people believe this is a real story?”

I went home that day terrified, eyes open to the reality that the whole world doesn’t view the Bible as this all-righteous book of literal truth I’d been taught to view it as. I was terrified for the people in the room who believed God was different than my own beliefs. Suddenly the world was torn in two, and I was asking who was right and wrong. Because we couldn’t all be.

The problem was, I’d never questioned anything until college. I questioned myself a lot, mostly questions revolving around whether or not I was doing the right thing, if I was considered righteous enough in the eyes of God. My questions were ticks on a list to keep me from going out of line, to keep me in good standing with a God that I was terrified might leave me if I didn’t. It was based on answering the right questions to keep my guilt and shame at bay.

But this is not the way of Christ.

Suddenly, in my third year of college, I wondered if there were some other questions I needed to be asking. Suddenly, the world was older than I thought it was, and I found myself more ignorant than my non-religious fellow students, more aware of my lack of understanding.

It was clearly time to deconstruct, and I didn’t know if I was ready.

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Fast forward six years. I’m walking a famous Southern cemetery in Atlanta with my two sons. We pass trees with acorns still intact, workers picking up the nuts that have fallen to the ground. They are working to care for the graves of Jews, African Americans, and confederate soldiers. My little boys don’t understand war, and neither do I, to be honest, especially when the nation is on fire with fresh-wound arguments that have been aching to come to the surface and finally have again.

This time, deconstructing faith means deconstructing everything, because in America, faith is mixed with empire, whether we want to admit or not. 

As humans, we are called to deconstruct. We are called to question and break apart to put back together again. As Christians, we believe it was the way Jesus worked and for too long, we’ve shamed people for following in his footsteps.

It’s gotten people of color, people who are different, people who are “rebellious” kicked out of churches again and again because their questions bring up discomfort and challenge the almightiness of the white evangelical church.

But Jesus was about deconstruction, about re-wiring belief to understand God in new ways, because we will never fully understand the mystery, and so the questions are the important part.

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War is a complicated thing.

War takes people and divides them. It takes belief and elevates it to the point that it is a tool used to hurt and kill.

War tears families and friends apart.

War creates chaos to the point that it’s hard to tell who is who and what motives exist on every side.

War is difficult to deconstruct.

But it’s possible. And so, here we are.

If you grew up in the evangelical church, maybe you’re asking yourself what it meant to be a Christian all those years. I know I am.

And as a native Christian, I’m asking what it means today for me to deconstruct and decolonize my faith enough that I can see clearly the trajectory of Jesus’ love from the words of the Bible to my own culture and people.

But institutional church is a complicated thing.

Church takes people and divides them. It takes belief and elevates it to the point that it is a tool used to hurt and kill.

Church tears families and friends apart.

Church creates chaos to the point that it’s hard to tell who is who and what motives exist on every side.

Church is difficult to deconstruct.

But if we do not try, we do not get closer to the gospel. If we do not try, we only sit in what we’ve been told all these years. We only continue the cycle of Christians who go into world literature classes clutching their Bibles so close to the chest the they miss the beauty of a world in which the Bible can be viewed as an important work of art, a tool of metaphor and history that teaches us what humanity means.

It’s to teach us how to navigate a world full of war, not to create it.

And so, we continue to deconstruct.

We’ve got to ask questions if we want to get America and its people back to a healthier place again, because it never should have mixed church and empire to begin with.

And the deconstruction process means churches will hurt. It will stretch everyone. It will be very, very uncomfortable.

It requires lament and repentance. It requires honesty, and probably a whole lot of therapy.

I’m meeting more and more people who are in a kind of post-church PTSD, and many people of color who have been sitting in that tension their whole lives. Even admitting that it’s hard brings a certain level of shame and criticism. We pile shame on ourselves, and the American Evangelical way piles shame on us for trying to ask hard questions.

So to deconstruct things, to turn something upside down so it looks different, to pick apart pieces and try to put them back together again a little differently–well, that’s the work of Jesus over and over again.

So it should be our work, too.

To get to the questions, we have to know that there is no shame in wanting to ask.

And the asking means we ask everyone, all kinds of people, so that the full mosaic of the kingdom of God can be understood in our time and in our spaces.

Maybe if we start with the want, we’ll get to the actual asking, and there will be hope for our country, our faith, our relationships– for shalom to do its work in and through us.

The only way to reconstruct things toward a closer image of kingdom is to deconstruct what once distorted the gospel of Jesus. That’s where we go from here.

Hallelujah and Amen for the Work of Deconstruction.

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The Tension of the Lord’s Supper for Today

This is life. This is the tension of the meal.

Then he took a loaf of bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and gave it to them, saying, “This is my body, which is given for you. Do this in remembrance of me.” And he did the same with the cup after supper, saying, “This cup that is poured out for you is the new covenant in my blood.” –Luke 22

If you’ve heard this story as many times as I have, the events of the evening are memorized in our brains. There was a foot washing, then there was a meal, then there was communion—the body and the blood.

A few weeks ago at church, as the Eucharist was being prepared, I heard the teacher say, “And after they ate, he took the cup…” This is the version we find in Luke, and I’d never caught that it was different before. But it is.

First the bread, then an entire meal, then the cup.

And I thought what an awkward meal that would have been.

 Imagine an extended meal right after Jesus tells you to eat some bread because it’s actually his body. Imagine everyone reeling, trying to understand. Imagine the awkward side glances, someone trying to bring it back up again in casual conversation.

“So, you mentioned that bread before…” to which Jesus responds by popping another olive in his mouth. It’s so hard to be in the tension. It’s so hard to sit with the in-between faith.

Maybe the disciples lived differently. Maybe they walked in a mystic way, understanding that everything is infused with life and with spirit. So maybe what Jesus said about the bread made sense and gave them some sort of eternal-looking hope.

Still, that would have been a long meal. A mysterious meal, one that was hard to grasp.

But that’s exactly where we sit repeatedly in our faith stories.

The tension that the church must willingly sit in is knowing that we are not better than the rest of the world. The tension is that everyone belongs at that table with Jesus, and everyone deserves a meal.

The tension is the actual meal, sitting in the presence of Jesus, knowing that we-all of us-are capable of good and evil.

All of us are John and Judas, Peter and Pilate.

After the disciples ate at the table a while, Jesus grabbed some more wine and shared it with his friends, telling them the next odd and terrifying thing. “This is my blood, it’s covenant.”

Again, with the heart of a mystic, he called them to metaphor and to reality at the same time. He called them to see that the blood makes things new, that his own journey, his own story, was going to create something new in the very foundations of this life.

And that’s still the life we continue living in today, friends.

Can you feel it?

We live in the meal. That whole time in between the bread and the wine, that whole time of relaxing at the table wondering what’s next for the life of Jesus, for the life of his friends, and Jesus sitting at the table with a friend he knew would betray him.

The tension of this life is that we sit with our friends. We watch as one betrays us, manipulates, hurts us, or we betray, manipulate or hurt them. We sit and look around at the people who keep us tethered to what is good, to what we need, to our true stories.

But all the while, we’re waiting on a new covenant.

We’re waiting for something we don’t understand yet.

We’re waiting for a world to call us to itself, for God to call us to whatever it is God finds good.

But first, the bread. But first, the long, awkward, pass-the-mashed-potatoes kind of meal in which everything is chaos and quiet all at once.

This is life. This is the tension of the meal.

May we simply understand that we are to hold on. We are to keep eating and embracing one another right now, today, in this tension. We have eaten the bread, claimed that we belong to the body of Jesus. Now we wait for the blood to fully show us the way, for our hearts to be made new.

Let’s eat, friends.