When The Good Things Become Visible

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Mno waben. Mno waben.

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

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

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

We continue the tradition today.

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

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

Mno waben. 

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

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

We spend so much of our time running.

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

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

We run from the things that make us uncomfortable.

We run from intimacy, from vulnerability.

Sometimes we run from God.

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

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

It is good that we say hello to another dawn.

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

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

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

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

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

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

We’d embrace the light.

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

Mno waben, friends. 

Go now into the visible light.

 

 

To My Sisters Who Mourn on Mother’s Day

Sister,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Is hope finding that the pain hurts a little less?

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

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

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

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

Nevertheless, we are here.

You are not alone.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

For you.

 

JESUS & US: a shared wilderness

Mark 1:4-12

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

The Baptism of Jesus

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

The Temptation of Jesus

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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CHRIST IN THE WILDERNESS by British Artist Stanley Spencer

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Let yourself listen.

Do not hush the wilderness.

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

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

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

It may very well be your calling.

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

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HE OVERTURNED TABLES: Jesus’ Teaching on Responsibility and Blame

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Photo by Suzanne Vinson Art

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

This is fighting diffusion of responsibility and ending blame.

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

And everything in us knows, we need it.

AN ATHEIST & A CHRISTIAN WALK INTO A BAR…

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ACTUALLY, it was a social work classroom. She had a shaved head and I had some sort of pixie cut, and we slowly began sitting together, working together, answering questions in class, passionate about the people and stories we studied.

After a few years of being in the social work program together, we knew that we were called to the same spaces, in the same ways, to care for those that have been broken and abused, to take up the cause of the weary.

We sat through lectures on LGBTQ rights, even in my naivety of knowing nothing about sexual orientation; we worked on projects together, talked about family and communities and how to make them better. She was patient with me as I fell out of my conservative bubble, and as I learned, we learned together.

She was a friend who celebrated my first pregnancy with me, expectantly waited for my first little boy to enter into our world.

We were a part of each other’s realms in so many ways, and yet, we were different.

She calls herself an atheist, and I call myself a Christ-follower. She may say I’m kind, and I might say I see Jesus in the passionate things she says & does.

These days, our dividing lines keep us from understanding that there is a thread of humanity that holds us– it’s a sacred thread, and because we belong to each other, we belong to the great conversation, based on care and compassion and justice.

When I was pregnant with my second son a few years later, we’d swapped places. I had a buzzed head and she had the full locks. Somehow, we’d meshed into each other, and learned in the midst of it that there are spaces in humanity, in friendships, that hold us steadily in line with each other.

Pelagius said it like this:

There are some who call themselves Christian, and who attend worship regularly, yet perform no Christian actions in their daily lives. There are others who do not call themselves Christian, and who never attend worship, yet perform many Christian actions in their daily lives. Which of these two groups are the better disciples of Christ? Some would say that believing in Christ and worshipping him is what matters for salvation. But this is not what Jesus himself said. His teaching was almost entirely concerned with action, and with the motives that inspire action. He affirmed goodness of behavior in whoever he found, whether the person was a Jew or Roman, male or female. And he condemned those who kept all the religious requirements, yet were greedy and cruel. Jesus does not invite people to become his disciples for his own benefit, but to teach and guide them in the ways of goodness. And if a person can walk along that way without ever knowing the earthly Jesus, then we may say that he [she] is following the spirit of Christ in his [her] heart.

 

It is a dangerous space we inhabit in today’s America. We are polarized and splintered, and it is more unbearable than I’d ever imagined.

But this story, it is not just about the Christian and the atheist. It’s not about the bar or social work classroom where they sit down next to each other and talk.

It’s about the people who know these two together, the onlookers and the bystanders. It’s about recognizing the organic relationship between people that leads to a life centered around care and justice for anyone who is marginalized.

Do you know why my relationship with my dear friend is so important to me?

Because it happens outside the walls of the church. We meet at a coffee shop on a warm afternoon, and we look at each other and cry with each other and know that on either side of salvation, we are working ourselves to the bone to love and care for whoever is around us.

And Jesus is in those spaces for me.

And humanity is in those spaces for us.

We remember again that we are not alone.

So what the world needs now is for dividing lines to be seen but stepped over, to be recognized but not given power, so that on either side of everything, we understand who we are to be–

people to other people;

friends to enemies;

lovers in the midst of hate;

warriors of peace;

creators of resistance;

lifelong learners;

prophets who speak truth;

creatures longing to be whole.

An atheist and a Christian walk into a bar–

or a social work classroom–

or a community event–

or a synagogue–

or a protest rally–

or a home–

and what they create together makes this reality sure:

that the world is never the same again.

Shalom: her magnetic heart

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You and I are “other” to each other,
foreign creatures,
locked in our independent skin.

You and I, we’re unnerved
when we’re together,
we’re fractured, disconnected,
thin as moth-wing.

And yet, the same stuff
that tears us from each other
gravitates us to each other,
and all along,
the earth keeps spinning
to help us shake the
regret-dust from
our shoulders.

I cannot assume you,
and you cannot assume me.

And yet, we began in the same
womb of thought,
the same dream of beginning.

We started and we will end,
and in between we can
detonate bombs
or
unmake them;

We can tighten the noose
or
make climbing ropes;

We can pull triggers
or
bury our weapons
beneath the trees
in our city parks
and let our
oneness
grow out of their
metal mouths.

You and I are “other” to each other,
but desperate enough to invade
these spaces–

desperate enough to fill up the
missing places,

patch up the broken links,

re-engage where we’ve
abandoned.

Shalom– She is a sacred word,
an everlasting act.

Shalom– She is an enduring
vision on the
darkest night,

and that magnet-force that keeps
fighting against our
pulling
and
tugging,
because she puts us
always back
where we were before–

hand in hand by the fire.

Shalom– She knows us better.

Shalom– She binds together the
blistered souls,

and we quiet ourselves,

eyes locked,

all “otherness” dissipated
in a stream of
perfect light.

One of The Church’s Greatest Mistakes: to those for whom there is no room

There’s a story about a laboring woman and the baby inside of her, a story about how far they journeyed together to find a safe place to rest, a suitable place for a birth.

They travelled and travelled and finally the innkeeper said to them, “Sorry, no room,” and they found their way alone.

And today, a lot of people– a lot of churches, a lot of Christians– have taken up the mantle of telling the “other” the same thing.

No room, no room.

No room for the woman who seems impoverished, waiting for her daughter in the church building;

No room for the socially awkward or outcast to find community;

No room for those who have made mistakes and wish to be redeemed;

No room for the Native Americans to keep their own land and find God in it;

No room for the women to lead;

No room for the curious, for the people who ask questions and admit that they seek God outside the church walls;

No room for the children to be children, their little voices heard and considered.

No room. 

And as the privileged voices become louder and the marginalized become quieter, they say, “Speak up, we can’t hear you….No room, no room inside of me for you.”

Maybe those marginalized voices have been speaking, reaching, trying to break glass ceilings and enter the in-crowd for decades.

But still, no room.

And Jesus said, “Those who have hears, let them hear…”

But maybe today He says, “Those who have always had ears and means but haven’t really been listening to anyone but their own…close your mouths for a second.”

And then He looks us in the eyes and says, “Because someone told my mama once, ‘no room, ma’am,’ and she birthed me in a cave.”

And so today, new voices shout from the street corners and church parking lots, “No room! No room for displacement, prejudice, hatred.

No room for xenophobic social circles and secret gossip clubs.

There is no room for the one-person agenda,

No room for the top-down scheme.”

And with every breath of Kingdom, that man who was born in a cave says, “Room…there is room at this table and plenty to eat…

…Come with your questions and let us journey together. Let us make room.

And there, the new church is born.

 

Hallelujah and Amen.

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We sit together, one, together,

pressed into green chairs, shoulder to shoulder

with the glory and remembrance of sainthood carved into our hearts,

with cake on our laps and coffee steaming the air between.

We, the broken and undone,

We, the cherished and welcomed in.

We, the family.

And we bring to this windowed room our

thunderous laughter and our stone-heavy tears,

and we pour forth the nectar of our opened hearts and stilled souls.

And we speak of quiet Spirit and of leading Voice,

when it booms in our deepest places.

And I see that our shoes are all tied to our feet,

each of us in our shoes that have journeyed each single journey

to come here, to this mecca of community.

And we open our Book, whose pages

cover us and count us,

words that gather us in.

And it’s an hour, but our time here is forever,

for the Kingdom We Seek is not bound by time or secured by

our fingertips.

No.

It weaves itself through and between us, sewing us into

a tapestry meant for the world.

Hem us in, hem us in.

And we run to You in the beginning, each of us both prodigal son and brother of pride

embodied.

We come to You,

and gathered up in Your embraces,

we leave with the joy of sainthood sheltering us,

All is well, all is well.

 

Amen.