Having Grace for the Person You Have Been

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Photo by rawpixel.com on Pexels.com

 

I am in the middle of writing my second book. Anyone who has written a book, or even an article that is published, knows the embarrassment that comes with looking back on something you’ve written and wondering, How on earth did I think that? 

Our cheeks flush red and we hope that our current Twitter followers don’t judge us by our ignorance. We hope that they will understand how much we’ve grown, how much work we’re doing to be better than we once were.

I wrote a piece a few months ago on the death of John Allen Chau, missionary to the Sentinelese Islands who endangered an Indigenous people, and they acted to protect themselves. As I read the story, I thought back to the young woman I once was, the young woman in the baptist church who was so sure that she would save the world and bring the people around her to Jesus. Love was mixed with colonization, and I had no idea that I was playing a part in one of the greatest tragedies to happen upon mankind: destroying one another in the name of Jesus.

And so, as I write my second book, I fear for the woman I will become and the one I am now. I feel like I’m learning a thousand lessons a day from Twitter and parenting alone, so what if I read my own words two years from now and I’m disgusted with what I see?

There, it seems, I must find grace for who I once was. I must find grace for the woman I have been.

It took some time for me, in therapy over the last year, to learn that I need to look back with a constant love note to the girl I was, the girl who didn’t understand fully the systems that shaped her. She was full of love, but sometimes had trouble finding the right outlet for it. She was fueled by community and connection, yet she didn’t have words for it.

I know now.

And yet, I don’t know much.

And when I’m older, I will say the same things.

I meet people all the time who, when I tell them something about the struggle of being Indigenous or a part of our history that is often covered up, they say, “I just didn’t know, I’m so sorry.” In that moment, I’m not looking for an apology; I’m pointing to our education and church systems that have so badly prepared us for conversations like this, systems that erase the stories of Indigenous peoples and people of color.

I’m looking to say, “You didn’t know, but now you do. What happens next? What you will do for the next generation?

Our dearest Mary Oliver said,

“Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?”

Well, perhaps one thing we should plan to do is know RIGHT NOW that we will be disappointed in a few things about who we are.

Perhaps if we know RIGHT NOW that we will be ever growing, ever changing, ever evolving, we will have more grace even for future us.

I live in a spotlight on social media, as do many. Educators, activists, commentary writers, journalists, religious leaders, politicians– we are put under a scrutiny that is well-deserved, because we are speaking on behalf of not only ourselves but those we wish so much to better care for.

I speak on behalf of my own story as a mixed woman who is Indigenous and white, and yet, when others see me, I represent so much of the Indigenous story. It’s not right, of course; we are not a monolith, and we have individual experiences, layered with privilege or lack of it. We’ve got to be honest about that, too.

There will be plenty of unrelenting criticism.

There will be plenty of rage over things we’ve said and done, over things we’ve left unsaid and undone.

And there should be, because we are looking in a mirror. We are asking to see who we really are as America, and we are asking for our systems of oppression to be taken down. That should happen, and the way of grace says that it should happen with holy fire.

Perhaps, in this space, if we begin with grace for ourselves, we will learn to follow with grace for one another.

We live in an era in which people like to out-woke one another, all in vain. But I wouldn’t dare call myself woke when there’s still so much waking to do.

 

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This statement allows me to recognize that I haven’t arrived, and if I haven’t arrived, neither did the nine year old me whose father had just left, and neither will the 80 year old me who is struggling with what it means to age with kindness and sometimes feel alone.

This statement allows me to apologize when I get it wrong and work to make it right, like I’ve seen others do.

What if we chose the way of grace?

What if, when we know our own faults, we also know our own strengths?

And if we know our own faults and our own strengths, can we call those out of each other when the time is right?

Our systems of oppression must be toppled. That will never change.

The question is, what kind of people will we be in the midst of it?

We can be people full of grace and full of anger, make no mistake about that. Our anger leads us to ask questions, and grace is the partner that holds our hand along the way.

Can you feel that?

Can you believe that?

Perhaps the child that still sits in a chair in the corner of your soul is asking you to tell them something.

Perhaps the young adult that still rests at the pit of your stomach wants you to say, “It’s okay. I get it,” and mean it.

Perhaps the person that you’ve sought to understand but can’t needs you to step into the fray and speak, “I want to know your story and understand.”

With grace.

With grace.

With grace.

 

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.

 

Our History is The Future: Standing Rock Versus the Dakota Access Pipeline and the Long Tradition of Indigenous Resistance by Nick Estes ( Kul Wicasa and citizen of the Lower Brule Sioux Tribe)

In 2016, a small protest encampment at the Standing Rock Reservation in North Dakota, initially established to block construction of the Dakota Access oil pipeline, grew to be the largest Indigenous protest movement in the twenty-first century. Water Protectors knew this battle for native sovereignty had already been fought many times before, and that, even after the encampment was gone, their anticolonial struggle would continue. In Our History Is the Future, Nick Estes traces traditions of Indigenous resistance that led to the #NoDAPL movement. Our History Is the Future is at once a work of history, a manifesto, and an intergenerational story of resistance.

 

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

 

 

 

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.


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.

 

 

CHRISTIANS, IT’S TIME TO APOLOGIZE TO CREATION

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

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 SYRIA: the worst apology

 

Dear Syria,

I admit that growing up as an everyday American, I did not learn your history. I have to look online to educate myself, to learn the things I need to know to remember that you’re there and I am here.

But there’s another reality to all of this. Something I don’t need to search in google to understand.

You are a country made up of humans. Of mothers and daughters, of fathers and cousins and grandfathers and aunts.

You are a people full of life — joy and sorrow, human beings that experience sacredness in everyday moments. You are also a people who have had those moments ripped away from you.

I do not undersatnd the politics of any of this, of you and of us, of all the countries involved.

But what I do understand is that whatever we claim we are doing, it’s not enough.

I am paralyzed when I see your faces on my laptop screen.

I am disgusted with myself that all I know to do is give money to an organization that might have a few arms there by your side.

This. is. not. enough.

Where I might have some sort of apology, there is only lament.

Like the stories of my own indigenous ancestors, your stories are being swept under the giant rug of authoritarian politics and blame games, and it is everything but humane.

I could try to apologize, but these are the moments in which I claw at my own heart, scratching past the surfaces to try to summon up any sort of prayer to any sort of God who sees this as the tragedy that it is.

Because you are more than a news story, and therefore, our apologies are more than not enough.

I tend to light candles when there is tragedy or death.

I light a candle and I say a prayer. I burn sage and I remember.

But what do I do for all of your lives?

What do I do for all of the babies that could have been my own, had I been born on your shores?

My dear, dear Syria, we say that we have not forgotten, but sometimes we have.

We say that we are with you, but we aren’t.

We say that we will make amends, but we can’t.

We are simply here.

You are simply there.

So, what is left for me is the act of lament. Remembering that I began in ashes and to ashes I will return.

What is left is to seek a deep forgiveness from you and the God who sees you, a deep forgivenss from the very core of my being.

I have no loved you as I should love you, and I do not know how.

So I will attempt to lean into your pain in the knowledge that I cannot understand it, and I will lean into my own selfishness with the knowledge of its devastating reality.

I will practice empathy.

I will stop my day to remember you.

I will store up your stories in my memories so that I cannot say I didn’t know.

It will hurt.

As it should.

If only I begin the process of almost, maybe one day, coming closer to the apology that you deserve.

Today, though, that is simply not enough.

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.

DEAR PRESIDENT TRUMP: a promise for your coming inauguration & presidency

 

Dear President Trump,

As a new era begins in your life, so it begins in mine. About a year and a half ago, I began culturally engaging my Potawatomi Citizen Band/Chickasaw/Cherokee heritage along with my husband and two sons.

It has transformed my life in every way, coming back to something inside of me that has asked to be paid attention to. In a way, I’ve promised myself that I’ll never be the same again, never go back to “before.”

And so it is with you. Today you begin a new life as our president, and you cannot go back even one day. You take the past that has made you and move forward with it, with a steady promise to our nation and world that you’ll justly care for it.

But I’ve got another promise to make to you.

As a child, I wrote President Clinton a letter. I’ve written to President Obama numerous times as an adult, and my five-year-old son has written to him as well. We’re told to write to our leaders, to let them know that we see them, hear them, hold them up to the light.

So I’ll be writing to you, President Trump.

Weekly, you’ll receive a letter from me.

I’ll update you on the education of my two boys; I’ll describe our life to you so you can understand what it’s like to live in our space.

I’ll tell you that I pray for you, and I’ll ask you to make better decisions if I see something wrong.

Justice is a beautiful thing, because it holds us– not the other way around. So I’ll write to you my own thoughts on justice, this nation, my perspective as a lower-class native american work-from-home mother and writer.

I promise to write to you as a Christ-follower, to check my own heart against political views, and I promise to write to you on the premise of grace.

As our President, you’ll know me. You’ll know my handwriting and my voice, my distant presence at your office door every week when the time comes.

If you’d like to think of it this way, I will haunt you, a less-knowing reminder than the good spirits who visited Ebenezer Scrooge throughout the night to remind him of who he was meant to be.

I promise to be your reminder, President Trump, to send my voice to your door, to show you our world so that every day of your presidency you cannot truthfully say that you didn’t know.

This is my promise to you.

Welcome to the Presidency.

With watching eyes & steady hand,

 

Kaitlin Curtice