25 Books by Indigenous Authors You Should Be Reading

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So here’s the thing.

It’s time.

I’m constantly asked for resources on how people can move forward learning about Indigenous culture, and I’m often repeating the same thing: read books.

Read books.

First and foremost, this supports Indigenous peoples who are writers and creators. It directly gives back to Indigenous communities and reminds the reader that Indigenous peoples are still here, creating new content for the world.

It’s also important to have this conversation for well-meaning allies. Indigenous peoples cannot do the work for you. You must dig in and learn yourself, and the best way to do that is lean into our cultures. Learn about us. Do your research, and then we can have a conversation that isn’t a one-sided history or cultural lesson.

So I’ve compiled a list of 25 books, some that I’m reading now, some that I’ve already read, some that I can’t wait to get my hands on.

These are books by people of many different tribes. When asked by Christians who they should read by Indigenous theologians, this is my answer: read everything. Read books by people who are and aren’t Christians, because if you really want to know about and engage Indigenous cultures, you have to read from a variety of voices.

If you want to break cycles of colonization and assimilation, you must take the time to learn from Indigenous experiences, through our own words.
To truly learn who we are means you engage with us on our terms.

Some of these books are fiction, some are non-fiction. A few are children’s books, and I encourage you to buy them whether you have children or not.

Spirituality is a thread throughout many of them, because Indigenous culture is felt through our spirits, our ancestors, and the land. Some are books of poetry and prayers, some are strictly unpacking history.

I hope you find exactly what you need here, and please know that this is only a few of the many amazing books out in the world written by Indigenous peoples.

More lists to come!

Some of these books will take you directly to Amazon, but many of them can be bought through independent bookstores or university publishers, so I encourage you to put money into these spaces to support booksellers and authors outside the huge retail giant that is Amazon.

 

Braiding Sweetgrass: Indigenous Wisdom, Scientific Knowledge and the Teachings of Plants by Robin Wall Kimmerer (Potawatomi Citizen Band)

Drawing on her life as an indigenous scientist, and as a woman, Kimmerer shows how other living beings―asters and goldenrod, strawberries and squash, salamanders, algae, and sweetgrass―offer us gifts and lessons, even if we’ve forgotten how to hear their voices. In reflections that range from the creation of Turtle Island to the forces that threaten its flourishing today, she circles toward a central argument: that the awakening of ecological consciousness requires the acknowledgment and celebration of our reciprocal relationship with the rest of the living world. For only when we can hear the languages of other beings will we be capable of understanding the generosity of the earth, and learn to give our own gifts in return.

God is Red: A Native View of Religion by Vine Deloria, Jr. (Standing Rock Sioux)

God Is Red remains the seminal work on Native religious views, asking new questions about our species and our ultimate fate. Celebrating three decades in publication with a special 30th-anniversary edition.

Why Indigenous Literatures Matter by Daniel Heath Justice (Cherokee Nation)

Part survey of the field of Indigenous literary studies, part cultural history, and part literary polemic, WhyIndigenous Literatures Matter asserts the vital significance of literary expression to the political, creative, and intellectual efforts of Indigenous peoples today. In considering the connections between literature and lived experience, this book contemplates four key questions at the heart of Indigenous kinship traditions: How do we learn to be human? How do we become good relatives? How do we become good ancestors? How do we learn to live together?

Why Storms are Named After People and Bullets Remain Nameless by Tanaya Winder (Duckwater Shoshone, Pyramid Lake Paiute & So)

In “Why Storms are named after People but Bullets remain nameless,” we find Tanaya Winder in the thick of a beautiful burn, where “pain demands to be felt,” where joy or maybe something more decolonial than it bubbles up from the black hole of the past.

Shalom and the Community of Creation by Randy Woodley (Keetoowah)

In Shalom and the Community of Creation Randy Woodley offers an answer: learn more about the Native American ‘Harmony Way,’ a concept that closely parallels biblical shalom. Doing so can bring reconciliation between Euro-Westerners and indigenous peoples, a new connectedness with the Creator and creation, an end to imperial warfare, the ability to live in the moment, justice, restoration — and a more biblically authentic spirituality. Rooted in redemptive correction, this book calls for true partnership through the co-creation of new theological systems that foster wholeness and peace.

Whereas by Layli Long Soldier (Oglala Lakota)

WHEREAS confronts the coercive language of the United States government in its responses, treaties, and apologies to Native American peoples and tribes, and reflects that language in its officiousness and duplicity back on its perpetrators. Through a virtuosic array of short lyrics, prose poems, longer narrative sequences, resolutions, and disclaimers, Layli Long Soldier has created a brilliantly innovative text to examine histories, landscapes, her own writing, and her predicament inside national affiliations.

Heart Berries by Terese Mailhot (Seabird Island Band)

Heart Berries is a powerful, poetic memoir of a woman’s coming of age on the Seabird Island Band in the Pacific Northwest. Having survived a profoundly dysfunctional upbringing only to find herself hospitalized and facing a dual diagnosis of post traumatic stress disorder and bipolar II disorder; Terese Marie Mailhot is given a notebook and begins to write her way out of trauma.

One Church, Many Tribes by Richard Twiss (Sicangu Lakota Oyate)

In this captivating chronicle of the Native American story, Richard Twiss of the Rosebud Lakota/Sioux sifts through myth and legend to reveal God’s strategy for the nation’s host people.

The Round House: A Novel by Louise Erdrich (Turtle Mountain Band Chippewa)

The Round House is a page-turning masterpiece of literary fiction—at once a powerful coming-of-age story, a mystery, and a tender, moving novel of family, history, and culture.

Onigamiising: Seasons of an Ojibwe Year by Linda LeGarde Grover (Bois Forte Band of Ojibwe)

In fifty short essays, Grover reflects on the spiritual beliefs and everyday practices that carry the Ojibwe through the year and connect them to this northern land of rugged splendor. As the four seasons unfold—from Ziigwan (Spring) through Niibin and Dagwaagin to the silent, snowy promise of Biboon—the award-winning author writes eloquently of the landscape and the weather, work and play, ceremony and tradition and family ways, from the homey moments shared over meals to the celebrations that mark life’s great events.

The Manitous: The Spiritual World of the Ojibway by Basil Johnston (Ojibway)

Manitous lived in human form among the Ojibway in the early days, after Kitchi-Manitou (the Great Mystery) created all things and Muzzu-Kummik-Quae (Mother Earth) revealed the natural order of the world. With depth and humor, Johnston tells how lasting tradition was brought to the Ojibway by four half-human brothers, including Nana’b’oozoo, the beloved archetypal being who means well but often blunders. He also relates how people are helped and hindered by other entities, such as the manitous of the forests and meadows, personal manitous and totems, mermen and merwomen, Pauguk (the cursed Flying Skeleton), and the Weendigoes, famed and terrifying giant cannibals.

There, There: A Novel by Tommy Orange (Cheyenne, Arapaho)

Here is a voice we have never heard—a voice full of poetry and rage, exploding onto the page with urgency and force. Tommy Orange has written a stunning novel that grapples with a complex and painful history, with an inheritance of beauty and profound spirituality, and with a plague of addiction, abuse, and suicide. This is the book that everyone is talking about right now, and it’s destined to be a classic.

Glory Happening: Finding the Divine in Everyday Places by Kaitlin Curtice (Potawatomi Citizen Band)

Glory Happening is a book of stories and prayers that remind you to take a closer look at your everyday circumstances, to find the magical beauty in everyday experiences. It is an invitation to live deeply into every moment with the expectation that something good will find you at the end of the day. And once you experience glory, you have words to speak, a prayer to pray, and a story to tell. And so glory grows from person to person, and community is created around the reality that God is truly in our midst.

Native American DNA: Tribal Belonging and the False Promise of Genetic Science by Kim Tallbear (Sisseton Wahpeton Oyate)

In Native American DNA, Kim TallBear shows how DNA testing is a powerful—and problematic—scientific process that is useful in determining close biological relatives. But tribal membership is a legal category that has developed in dependence on certain social understandings and historical contexts, a set of concepts that entangles genetic information in a web of family relations, reservation histories, tribal rules, and government regulations. At a larger level, TallBear asserts, the “markers” that are identified and applied to specific groups such as Native American tribes bear the imprints of the cultural, racial, ethnic, national, and even tribal misinterpretations of the humans who study them.

American Indian Liberation: A Theology of Sovereignty by George Tinker (Osage)

Why Christian understandings of Jesus and God clash with American Indian worldviews. “Tink” Tinker of the Osage Nation describes the oppression suffered by American Indians since the arrival of European colonists, who brought a different worldview across the ocean and attempted to convert the native population to the religion they also imported.

Colonial Entanglement: Constituting a Twenty-First-Century Osage Nation by Jean Dennison (Osage)

By situating the 2004-6 Osage Nation reform process within its historical and current contexts, Dennison illustrates how the Osage have creatively responded to continuing assaults on their nationhood. A fascinating account of a nation in the midst of its own remaking, Colonial Entanglement presents a sharp analysis of how legacies of European invasion and settlement in North America continue to affect indigenous people’s views of selfhood and nationhood.

Two Old Women by Velma Wallis (Gwich’in Athabaskan)

Based on an Athabascan Indian legend passed along for many generations from mothers to daughters of the upper Yukon River Valley in Alaska, this is the suspenseful, shocking, ultimately inspirational tale of two old women abandoned by their tribe during a brutal winter famine.

Though these women have been known to complain more than contribute, they now must either survive on their own or die trying. In simple but vivid detail, Velma Wallis depicts a landscape and way of life that are at once merciless and starkly beautiful. In her old women, she has created two heroines of steely determination whose story of betrayal, friendship, community, and forgiveness “speaks straight to the heart with clarity, sweetness, and wisdom” (Ursula K. Le Guin).

Drowning in Fire (Sun Tracks) by Craig Womack (Muscogee Creek-Cherokee)

Interweaving past and present, history and story, explicit realism and dreamlike visions, Craig Womack’s Drowning in Fire explores a young man’s journey to understand his cultural and sexual identity within a framework drawn from the community of his origins. A groundbreaking and provocative coming-of-age story, Drowning in Fire is a vividly realized novel by an impressive literary talent.

I Am Woman: A Native Perspective on Sociology and Feminism by Lee Maracle (Stó:lo Nation of British Columbia)

I Am Woman represents my personal struggle with womanhood, culture, traditional spiritual beliefs and political sovereignty, written during a time when that struggle was not over. My original intention was to empower Native women to take to heart their own personal struggle for Native feminist being. The changes made in this second edition of the text do not alter my original intention. It remains my attempt to present a Native woman’s sociological perspective on the impacts of colonialism on us, as women, and on my self personally.

Power: A Novel by Linda Hogan (Chickasaw)

When sixteen-year-old Omishto, a member of the Taiga Tribe, witnesses her Aunt Ama kill a panther-an animal considered to be a sacred ancestor of the Taiga people-she is suddenly torn between her loyalties to her Westernized mother, who wants her to reject the ways of the tribe, and to Ama and her traditional people, for whom the killing of the panther takes on grave importance.

Trail of Lightning (The Sixth World) by Rebecca Roanhorse (Ohkay Owingeh)

Maggie Hoskie is a Dinétah monster hunter, a supernaturally gifted killer. When a small town needs help finding a missing girl, Maggie is their last best hope. But what Maggie uncovers about the monster is much more terrifying than anything she could imagine.

Long Powwow Nights by David Bouchard, Pam Aleekuk  (Métis)

The Powwow is a time-honored Native American custom. It is a celebration of life and spirituality, a remembrance of traditions, uniting a people through dance and ritual.

Long Powwow Nights takes you on a wonderful journey, honoring these mystical dancers who keep their traditions alive through dance and song. In its poetic verses, David Bouchard skillfully narrates the story of a mother’s dedication to her roots and her efforts to impress upon her child the importance of culture and identity.

Embers: One Ojibway’s Meditations by Richard Wagamese (Ojibwe) 

In this carefully curated selection of everyday reflections, Richard Wagamese finds lessons in both the mundane and sublime as he muses on the universe, drawing inspiration from working in the bush—sawing and cutting and stacking wood for winter as well as the smudge ceremony to bring him closer to the Creator. Embers is perhaps Richard Wagamese’s most personal volume to date. Honest, evocative and articulate, he explores the various manifestations of grief, joy, recovery, beauty, gratitude, physicality and spirituality—concepts many find hard to express.

Bowwow Powwow by Brenda J Child (Red Lake Ojibwe)

When Uncle and Windy Girl and Itchy Boy attend a powwow, Windy watches the dancers and listens to the singers. She eats tasty food and joins family and friends around the campfire. Later, Windy falls asleep under the stars. Now Uncle’s stories inspire other visions in her head: a bowwow powwow, where all the dancers are dogs. In these magical scenes, Windy sees veterans in a Grand Entry, and a visiting drum group, and traditional dancers, grass dancers, and jingle-dress dancers–all with telltale ears and paws and tails. All celebrating in song and dance. All attesting to the wonder of the powwow.

The Mishomis Book: The Voice of the Ojibway by Edward Benton-Banai (Wisconsin Ojibway)

Written for readers from all cultures-but especially for Ojibway and Native youth-The Mishomis Bookprovides an introduction to Ojibway culture and an understanding of the sacred Midewiwin teachings, aiming to protect this knowledge by instilling its importance in a new generation. Encouraging the preservation of a way of life that is centered on respect for all living things, these vibrant stories about life, self, community, and relationship to nature are just as relevant to the modern reader as they were hundreds of years ago.

 

 

“If we are serious about establishing better relations than those we’ve had in the past– and if we’re serious as a country and as a broader, multination, multicultural, and multivocal community– then we must return our attention to Indigenous voices, perspectives, and experiences. There’s simply no other way of moving forward. To do otherwise is to replicate the injustices and exclusions of the past, and that hasn’t ever served any of us very well.”

— Daniel Heath Justice

 

 

 

Humility Is Not Fun

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Let’s be honest.

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.”

But it hurts.

And it means a lot of really difficult conversations, like this one that Glennon Doyle Melton is having with white women while women like Layla Saad, a Black Muslim activist, are punished for speaking the same truth.

Glennon said it like this:

“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?”

–Louise Erdrich

 

 

 

 

When We Return to the Gift of the Earth

Photo by Amy Paulson

“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.

 

Photo by Amy Paulson

 

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.

If we are alive today, it is because this world that we inhabit has sheltered us, has given to us, an extension of God’s own love.

 

May we return, in 2018, to the garden, to the greens, to the sights and sounds of peacemaking, because the Gospel, which has always been with the people, asks us to.

 

“We spill over into the world and the world spills over into us.” —Braiding Sweetgrass 

Weeping and Wailing: a lament litany

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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.

Weeping and Wailing.

Weeping and Wailing.

Weeping and Wailing.

Until the stars shine on us again.


Day 27: Pocahontas Isn’t Your Joke Anymore

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When I was little, I had a Pocahontas Barbie Doll. I thought she was beautiful. She had olive skin, dark, straight hair, and a beautiful buckskin dress with a teal necklace around her neck.

I watched the movie, sang the songs. It was a cherished part of my childhood. But the reality is, much like most of what I was taught in history books, it was a lie. The true story of Pocahontas, or Matoaka, is not what the movie portrays, and is far more gruesome–far more true to the reality many indigenous women have faced throughout history. 

So as an adult, I learn. I know better. And other indigenous people are working to do the same, to educate. And so it’s time.

It’s time we stop using the name Pocahontas in jokes, costumes, and everyday fairytales.

It’s time we hold leaders accountable when they make jokes using her name, when they show the world that their ignorance is justified.

It’s time we tell the truth and we begin with our children, while they are young, while we can change the future.

Today, President Trump stood in front of a portrait of Andrew Jackson, honoring Navajo code talkers. He called them “special,” he patted them on the shoulder, smiled and nodded, joked.

“You were here long before any of us were here,” he said.

“We have a representative here in Congress…they call her Pocahontas,” he said, referring to Elizabeth Warren, like it’s a fun family nickname to throw around during holiday get-togethers.

This isn’t about her, though. It’s not about what she claims, what percentage Indian blood she has. It’s about his countenance, and the countenance of so many who don’t give a second thought to disrespecting indigenous culture and story.

I’ve been called Pocahontas. I’ve had my hair in braids, and someone thought it appropriate to drop a joke because of it.

The difference is, they weren’t the President.

And the problem with that is, if we can’t fix this in our everyday circumstances, in our schools, in our history books, in our movies and costumes, we can’t fix it in our leadership.

It’s time.

It’s time to lament, to wail and mourn over the ignorance and hateful rhetoric.

It’s time for the church to stand up against powers of oppression and claim that it will be willing to set itself under the teaching of the oppressed.

It’s time for Americans from every party, every religion, every corner to face our history’s honest past and make a way forward with that knowledge.

It’s time we do it to honor the life and true story of Matoaka.

It’s time.

 

 

 

 

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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We Don’t Choose Who Gets Peace

“Peace be with you.”

If you come from a liturgical background, the passing of the peace is a part of the church service in which we are called to turn to our neighbors and proclaim peace over them.

“Peace be with you.”

“And also with you.”

Depending on how many people you know in the church and are comfortable with, this can be a lovely moment or a terrifying one. I wonder sometimes about the gravity of this statement, if we really mean it when we say it.

I wonder if we realize that we are proclaiming the peace of God over people whose darkest secrets we don’t even know, whose stories are not fully told to us–

and vice versa, that they don’t know my struggles as they call peace over me, as they proclaim that Jesus is still peacemaker in my life.

So this is a beautiful and terrifying reality, friends.

Jesus wishes full and perfect peace over all people and all creation, and when we proclaim it, when we say it over each other, we’re inviting the world into the wake of shalom.

I may be saying it to my neighbor who voted for Donald Trump,

to someone I’m in a fight with,

to someone who reads the Bible literally while I lean to the metaphorical side,

to those who wouldn’t step foot in a church–I say it to them, too, because we belong to each other.

You see, peace doesn’t discriminate.

Peace is the ultimate way of making everything right that has been wrong–the world’s violence and oppression, tensions caused by hate, the secrets we keep from each other and the manipulative ways we gain control over each other’s lives.

Because even abusers have at one time been broken, so Jesus wishes peace in the deepest parts of them, to redeem in them what was lost.

To my progressive brothers and sisters, I say, yes–even Donald Trump is in God’s eyesight.

Even he is a target of peace for Jesus’ love.

We pray peace over our neighbors in Iraq,

we pray peace over our own nation’s violence,

we pray peace over the people all over the world who are dying of starvation,

and we beg peace over the governments who oppress and abuse them.

“Peace to you.”

“Peace, be still.”

Peace, true peace, does something that I don’t think we even comprehend.

It is the essence of who Jesus is–love that is greater than any other, peace that partners with that love to transform the world.

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In the Cherokee (and other tribes) tradition, there is a Green Corn Ceremony in which the corn harvest is collected for the season and the people celebrate that harvest.

They also use this time to cleanse themselves, their homes, their bodies, their spirits. It is a time of reconciliation, a time of ceremony, of dancing, of singing, of believing that there are better days ahead.

If there is a feud, they meet with one another and resolve it. They fast and pray and wash themselves in the river’s water. They lean into their humanity, into the work of peacemaking. They make space for that because it is essential to their well-being and their wholeness, it is essential to the blessing of their harvest, and to their people.

Perhaps we have some cleansing to do.

Perhaps we need to meet with each other, stripped to the most raw parts of ourselves, and proclaim peace between us.

We do not think that everyone deserves peace–

and that’s precisely why it is needed.

On all sides of every argument, at both ends of every spectrum of belief and doctrine, Jesus’ level ground is the same.

“Peace to you.”

“Peace, be still.”

For all people and all creation, over all time, the wish is for true and lasting peace, for an enduring and un-manipulated love.

And that is still the wish today.

We don’t get to choose who receives the peace of God, just as we can’t choose who receives the grace of God.

We simply remain the vessel, the proclaimer, the ones who look each other in the eyes and say,

“Peace in and over all of this, for all of us.”

Amen.

 

 

WHY I STILL CALL GOD “FATHER”

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When I first came to my current church, I noticed that in many worship songs, a line would be changed here or there for a very particular reason. Instead of referring to God as a “he,” it would become more inclusive, reflecting an idea that God is without gender, opening up the possibility of God as a woman, even.

One of the most amazing things about God is this way the boundaries that we create for God are transcended, yet our ideas of God keep us tethered to mystery. Even so, I have not needed to transfer the gender of God from a man to a woman for the same reasons that others have, though I’ve certainly appreciated the idea behind it.

In Native American culture, God is called “Father” and the earth, crafted by the Father/Creator’s hands, is the Mother that sustains and cares for us, a gift given for us to know that we are loved and cared for.

But in the Christian tradition, we’ve continually given ourselves over to a patriarchal, even mysoginstic model that says God is an authoritarian father figure who looks down from the heavens with a checklist, or a judge calling out sentences for all who broke his law.

And in the light of the absence of my own father’s close presence in my adolescence, I found a love with that God, but also constantly sat in the fear that he would abandon me if I did’t obey.

Now as an adult I am slowly finding my way out of that idea of God, into a way of embracing the Mystery of God in all its gendered ideas.

And I know of others who have always viewed God from a mothering perspective, which is beautiful and right in its own way of revealing the heart of the Spirit of God.

So why do I still call God “Father,” or “Papa?”

I call God “Father” in the light of a belief that I am honored for being a created woman in this relationship.

I call God “Father” because throughout my life I have never been in want of a father figure– a friend or mentor who cares for me and my family, who is literally the heart of God in tangible form in my life.

I have seen the tender love of God in ways that have taught me what a father is supposed to be–a gentle and steady hand on the small of my back that leads me out and lets me go, holding steady his high and kind regard for me.

But for so many, the western church has taken women and put us in a quiet corner. Or maybe if we’re allowed to go to seminary, we get to take “special courses,” are able to only teach certain classes, instruct only women, or achieve goals thought fitting for our gender.

Yet despite the church, I see God as a fathering God, Mamogosnan in Potawatomi, meaning Great Father/Spirit/Creator.

I can call God “Father” because I am valued in my native, female skin.

I can call God “Father” because God is not threatened by my body or my wisdom or my abilities.

As described by Sonny Skyhawk in Indian Country Media Network:

Women have always played a significant role in the existence and administrations of tribal nations. They have been instrumental due to their innate ability to reason and dispense wisdom. They also were characterized as wise because they originated the teachings for the children. The men were allowed to articulate, enforce and deliver these teachings, but it was the women who monitored and allowed them to speak. They were the faith keepers…

The women allowed the men to speak. Can you even imagine it?

In many tribes, women are the water protectors. In the Potawatomi tribe, women are keepers of many things. The womb is considered sacred, and the wisdom and strength that the women carry keeps the tribe, the language, and the spirit of the people alive. Much has changed over time, especially after the coming of colonialism, which forced a different view on the roles of women into native culture and identity. But it is clear that despite the brokenness that has come to native people throughout history, the women are still standing up to lead.

Standing Rock was led by women, the protectors of the water, and they opened the eyes of the world to issues of human rights and ecology. It was a movement that caused not only the world, but the church, to open its eyes.

If God is the “Father” of a matrilineal society in which women are valued and listened to, perhaps the church can learn something in the way it values women.

And if the church changes the way it values women, bringing us back out of the corners we’ve been sitting in for so long, the world will become a different place, indeed.

And maybe if the church breaks ties with some of the colonial views that brought much of our patriarchal ideas to America, we can see the way Jesus saw God the Father, the way Jesus knew that valuing and responding to the wisdom of women in society is a necessary good that is certainly upheld by the Father of the Trinity.

If Jesus teaches us to pray, “Our Father who art in Heaven,” and yet our society undervalues and distorts the roles of women in our churches, perhaps we’ve missed something huge in the heart of God. 

In the age of Wonder Woman, shouldn’t the church be the first place to say that maybe we’ve gotten something wrong when it comes to our women, and that that wrong should be set right?

And shouldn’t the church be willing to step back and re-orient itself to the ways of an egalitarian God?

Absolutely.

But it will take time.

While our hymnals can’t be re-written or our ideas of God re-wired inside the deepest parts of us overnight, there is a slow and steady and urgent work that needs to be done.

And the church can begin by honoring the cultures like those of native peoples, who have so much to teach about worship of Creator-Father-God and value for women.

Why do I still call God “Father?”

Because the Father that I need is the Father that was in the beginning, the one who so gently brought a benevolent world into being.

That Father is not the Father talked about in the American church today, but it’s the Father who calls me, in all that I am, into the full reality of my femaleness.

That is a Father I can call upon.

That is the Father of the Gospels.

That is the Father of my people.

That is the Father of a future church tethered once again to shalom.

Hallelujah and Amen.

CHRISTIANS, IT’S TIME TO APOLOGIZE TO CREATION

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And doing nothing is abuse.

Christians, this is your invitation.

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

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

The Gospel.

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

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

And so today, we repent.

And tomorrow, we repent and resist.

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

 

 

DEAR PRESIDENT TRUMP: be a minister

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Dear President Trump,

I’m writing to you today about your role as a minister.

Please hear me, I am not referring to a religious leader, and I’m not referring to a place in a government department. I’m talking about this definition:

minister: v. to attend to the needs of someone.

How are you ministering today?

What person in need is receiving your attention, and who do you call worthy of that attention?

So far, I’ve not seen you interact with our “least of these.”

I’ve seen you spend time with wealthy evangelicals and politicians, with the people who golf with you.

You’ve given speeches, but they are not to lift up and revive. They are full of gloating remarks or even discriminate remarks toward people like native americans, being called Pocahontas.

Mr. President,

The first steps to truly caring for people are 1. to look them in the eyes and 2. to practice empathy toward them.

Even the people who voted for you, poor workers who trusted you, they aren’t receiving your attention today.

We need you to be a present president, who encourages and ares for not only my generation, but everyone from the youngest to the oldest.

You’ve got quite a responsibility, you see. Do not take it lightly.

I did not vote for you, but I still support a president who cares for all people.

So I charge you with the task of ministry today.

Be better to and for the nation you first sought to serve.

With Watching Eyes & Steady Hand,

Kaitlin