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.

 

 

 

 

GOD NEVER STOPS CALLING YOU

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Do you remember what it was like inside the womb?

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

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

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

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

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

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

We all are.

So what now?

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

Dear friend, we’re still being called.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sometimes we’re called to be quiet.

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

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

Whatever it is—God never stops calling.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Growing up is hard. Leaving the womb is hard.

Identifying the call is hard.

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

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

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

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

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

With every call comes a response.

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

This is the beckoning of shalom.

Hallelujah and Amen.

 

IT’S OKAY TO DECONSTRUCT YOUR AMERICAN FAITH

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

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

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

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

But this is not the way of Christ.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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War is a complicated thing.

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

War tears families and friends apart.

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

War is difficult to deconstruct.

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

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

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

But institutional church is a complicated thing.

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

Church tears families and friends apart.

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

Church is difficult to deconstruct.

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

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

And so, we continue to deconstruct.

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

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

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

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

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

So it should be our work, too.

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

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

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

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

Hallelujah and Amen for the Work of Deconstruction.

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THE ORDINARY TIME OF GOD: a native perspective

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“I want a rocking-chair faith,” my friend Ashley preached from her Anglican church pulpit.

I’ve heard her say things like this in the short time that I’ve known her, and every time I’m aware that where I sit today with God is exactly where I want to be, and at the same time, I want to journey further in. I want to end up in that rocking chair next to my Creator having a conversation about how we got here today and where we think we’re going. I want to laugh and cry and be silent and watch the sunset, drink hot tea and reminisce about where we came from.

There is something in the church tradition called “ordinary time,” and it’s that space in between the great church holidays in which things are pretty quiet. Life is still and, well, ordinary.

It’s those times when we find ourselves having lots of space to be and become. It’s a time to celebrate our humanity and our sacred identity with God in the everydayness of our living.

That’s where we find ourselves today.

The more I learn about my own Potawatomi culture, the more I see connections between church tradition and native tradition unfold. There are ceremonies and celebrations and “holidays” that are meant to be planned and worked out and executed. But then there are the daily rituals, the quiet moments, the hard work, the conversations, the living.

The thing about native culture is that we believe everything is infused with spirit, and so when we’re doing the dishes or taking a walk with our children, laying in the hammock or working to make ends meet, it is necessary that those things make an impact on our spirits as well as our minds and bodies and bank accounts.

You could think of it as similar to the mystic tradition of Christianity, to the work the desert fathers and the desert mothers lived in.

Today I live in the prayer that I prayed this morning as I burned sage and asked if who I am is really who I am supposed to be in the light of the gospel of Jesus. It is a heavy world, a heavy time. Maybe not heavier than other times before us, but when we live in ordinary spaces, when we engage in everyday acts of prayer, we sense it–our need to be a part of the work of shalom.

I found myself praying, “O God, I want to be wide open.”

Because ordinary time is this space in which we open our clenched fists when everyone else is gone, when we are alone and naked before the God who knows us most, who created us and knows our beginning, and who sustains us every day.

In those moments, those rocking chair moments, faith is a conversation. It is a listening and a paying attention.

And out of that comes the things of this life, like a day at the pool with our kids or a morning of hard work or a difficult conversation with a friend.

Out of our naked moments before God come the life we are to live, and that life is a living and breathing image of who God is. 

If our ordinary days matter as much as our celebrations or holidays, our life will be lived in constant connection to the gospel of Jesus.

And in my Potawatomi skin and in my white skin, I can know that Jesus holds me steady in the in-between. In ordinary time.

The gospel is not just for Christmas and Lent, for Easter and Epiphany.

It is not just for the Green Corn Ceremony or the Powwow ceremony. It’s here and now and tomorrow and the day after that. It was yesterday and the year before.

It was before anything we know existed, and it will be after everything is gone.

Somehow, that comforts me.

Somehow, that makes me want for those quiet moments with God.

It makes me want for truth and love and grace and peace, for harmony and a prayer with burning sage to cleanse me of what ails me, for the life of Jesus to call me further into who I am meant to be.

Perhaps ordinary time is not so ordinary after all, if it leads into fuller living.

Perhaps we’ve forgotten what it means to be fully alive.

Perhaps we long for it again.

Surely, surely, we will find it when the time comes, when ordinary time calls us out of our shadowed selves and into fresh living that goes against the grain of injustice and indifference.

But first, we have to know that it’s okay to be ordinary. 

“I pray to the God within me that He will give me the strength to ask Him the right questions.”
― Elie Wiesel

 

 

 

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.

 

 

God For Those Still Holding On 


Taste and see that the Lord is good.

This word is not for the faint of heart.

It is for the ones who have been through something.

It is for those who have had reasons to think that life is not good,

Those whose senses are blurred, who cannot see or hear or taste,

who are broken and afraid, those who are struggling but know–

at the end of the day, there is always a sunset.

And when the morning comes, the sun will always rise to bring light upon us.

So the people we consider weakest in our society are actually the ones who carry this with them the most. They are the ones who know that tasting of God is all the goodness that is needed for this life.

When we are stripped down to the most essential parts of ourselves, we know there that we can taste and know God.

In the book Christianity Rediscovered, we read about a place called Bagamoyo, based off the Swahili words bwaga meaning to lay down and moyo meaning heart. The book says:

Bagamoyo was the place where the captured slave, after his long trip from the interior, would put down his heart, put down the burden of his heart, give up hope–because it was his last contact with his own country before the trip to Zanzibar and a life of misery.

Taste and see that the Lord is good.

When you are literally staring at your home for the last time, your land for the last time, or know full well that you are one of the last people to carry on the language of your tribe or culture, all that is left in that moment is to know that despite everything broken in this world, the Lord is good.

During the era of Native American boarding schools, the common phrase was “kill the Indian, save the man,” which meant that these Catholic or Christian run schools would do everything in their power to break the children of their culture.

They would burn their ceremonial clothing, their dolls, their feathers; they would throw away any artifacts deemed evil, and they would beat the tribal languages out of the children.

Taste and see that the Lord is good.

People are living in invisible prisons today, friends.

Despite our intimate conversations in our homes, our moments comparing hardships with one another, there are people all over the world who, in their most raw moments, care only to sit in the presence of a God who calls them good and sits with them in an abundant goodness.

Perhaps we lack the ability because we are spiraling in a reality that is not grounded in an original reality of God.

But those who have lost hope in human love, those who have been broken and abused–they see God in the step by step, in the simple, in the essential.

When I cling to the rocks as I climb outside, or grab the holds on the climbing gym wall, I am telling myself that in that second, God is good and I am alive.

I don’t need to know what came before or what will come next.

All I know is that I can taste and see.

And it is indeed good. 


 

IDENTITY CRISIS: on faith, color & call

FAITH.

Last week when my husband and I took a trip to a small lake to rock climb, I found a walking stick. I’d been looking for one for over a year–a tall, slender, sleek stick that I could hold in my hand as we hike.

It was laying there in the woods, right off the path. I saw the smooth skin beneath the brown bark and I grabbed it right away. It was the perfect height, the perfect thickness, the perfect color. I knew it was for me.

I sincerely believe in ebenezers–signs that I have seen and known God. In fact, they are strewn throughout my upcoming book, moments in my life in which God has spoken something over me and given me some sort of momento from which to remember that glimpse of Kingdom.

That day at the cliff, I carried this walking stick around with me. I found a rock shaped perfectly for peeling the bark off, so after we climbed I sat down and began breaking off the bark bit by bit. I felt like I was living into this small bit of my indigenous identity–using a rock instead of a knife or sandpaper to get the bark off of this stick. It was therapeutic to find and use the tools nature had gifted me with.

As I broke off more and more of the bark there, and more and more of it when we got home, I felt like I was breaking pieces of old life off of myself. I was becoming something new, something smoother, something of a slightly different color, created for a different use.

Faith is breaking without knowing what comes next. Faith is trusting that what’s beneath everything is worth finding.

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COLOR.

I was born on Indian Territory in Oklahoma, and grew up living there and on reservations in New Mexico throughout my childhood. And when I was nine, my family was living in Missouri when my parents divorced and very quickly most experiences connected to my Potawatomi identity were shadowed.

When I was maybe 11 years old, my father took me to the Potawatomi Citizen Band tribal headquarters, where they took my picture and gave me an identification card, officially registering me on the tribal rolls of the Citizen Potawatomi Nation.

I didn’t understand as a child what was happening. I knew I was Native American, but I didn’t know, really, that it was something that was meant to mark my life, to guide my identity, to speak into my being, even into my faith. I was just a little girl with a name card.

I read an article on NPR recently that described a few of the many, many unique stories of people who are racially mixed in today’s America. I resonated with this in-between, a really difficult way of living into two realities but never feeling like I am fully either one. And speaking and writing into those spaces feels odd, too, and I tread lightly, constantly checking myself inside the journey I am called to, constantly checking myself in humility.

I’ve written about it before here, about how my identity is shifting, how I’m seeing things like the church in a new light and with a new tension.  

When I shared the difficult split between my native and white identity, a friend on Twitter shared this with me:

“Native identity is not defined by color. We don’t have to fit into someone’s idea of what a Native should ‘look’ like.”

There are many layers to the “identity crisis” that biracial people face, and because my journey in embracing and delving into my own native identity is still pretty fresh, I’m feeling the tension of a white life and a native life clashing inside of me every single day.

But now when I look at that identity card, I carry all of my memories with me in it, good and bad, those that have stayed shadowed and those that have come back into the light. And so I walk in how I am colored today, in an identity that relates both to native people and to white people, to who I was and who I am becoming.

As I transform, as I see things the way I’m meant to see them within a native cultural lens, I am pulled further and further from an everyday American experience, and with that, of course, comes a lot of tension as well.

But because the culture of God knows no color, I am at home in God.

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CALL.

I first encountered the call into my native identity while we were hiking in Georgia. God spoke to me as we hiked, as I held and nursed my 1 year old baby. I was reminded of the women who walked the Trail of Tears and the Trail of Death, their memories somehow entering into mine, our lives becoming one. I left with them, and I’ve continued with them.

Since then, God has spoken to me in dreams, in the wind, in experiences that I didn’t think possible. So my view of God is stretched as I realize that God is capable of calling us into a journey we didn’t know we could be called into.

But with that comes a tension between who I am becoming and who the church has always been to me. Is it possible for a person to transform and the church to transform with it? Only time will tell, but I know that the people who are church to me during this season of my life are upholding me and walking with me in this, so I am never alone.

So while I may feel native and be native but look white, I remember that who I am called to be, who I was called to be that day at Sweetwater Creek, is beyond color, beyond hairstyle or clothing options. It is a lived reality in which I choose everyday to walk the path that God has set before me, and that means living as an indigenous Christian in an attitude of constant learning, constant journeying, identity transformation included.

Because we know that the call of God is sufficient and whole. The call of God is for us and never against us. The call is for us. Now.