Old Habits Die Hard: Lent 2018

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I recently joined a group at my church called Be the Bridge, a gathering of people from various racial and ethnic backgrounds coming together simply to process race within the church. Started by Latasha Morrison, Be the Bridge works to create people who press on “towards fostering and developing vision, skills and heart for racial unity.”

The first week that we met, I cried while introducing my story as a Potawatomi Christian, because I don’t often have safe spaces in which to share my story. It’s one thing to write about it, but it’s another thing to talk openly about the struggle. It was like a group therapy session, people from different backgrounds sharing their racial experiences with one another.

In another small group setting, someone brought up Lent, asking what we’re prepared to give up (or pick up) this Lenten season. I hesitated.

Because so much of my journey as a Potawatomi woman and a Christian feels like a strange wilderness (you can read more about it here), Lent is just an extension of that. I could give up chocolate or sugar, but I feel like there’s something more here, something else that’s asking to be paid attention to.

So, I have a different idea for this Lent.

What if we decided to look our habits in the face this Lent? And I’m not talking about the way we eat or how often we watch television.

It’s more subtle than this.

I’m talking about our institutional habits that have been crafted over the years, systemic habits that have pitted humans against other humans, humans against the earth.

Habits such as racism, ableism, stereotyping, hatred, bigotry, misogyny, patriarchy, white supremacy, or damaging religious rhetoric are the things I’m talking about.

If you grew up in religious settings that told you what to believe and how, no questions asked, you know that day after day, those beliefs become habits, and after a while, it’s terribly difficult to break them.

As the old saying goes, old habits die hard.

And that’s what Lent is about, when we’re faced with a wilderness experience that asks us to look beyond our skin and bones and see what lies there, deep inside.

So this Lent, I’m asking us to look at what’s underneath. I’m asking us to check into the subtleties of damaging habits and mindsets, ones that have been brought to the surface of America’s landscape lately.

I’m asking us to sit in the wilderness with Jesus as we ask how we got here and where we are going.

I’m asking us to have really difficult conversations.

One of these subtleties happened for me recently when I was asked, not for the first time, “So how far back?” How far back does your Indian blood go?

As my husband lovingly and passionately pointed out later, I could have simply said, “Me. I am an enrolled member of my tribe, and so you don’t need to ask that question. It’s me.” But in the moment, I freeze over these kinds of questions. I explain who my ancestors were. I explain that I am on the tribal rolls of my tribe, that I can trace my people back to the Great Lakes Region of the United States before the Trail of Death.

But you see, that’s not the answer people are looking for. Because we are trained to ask for a blood quantum. We’re trained to say, “So, your native blood is running out, right? How native are you, really?”

It’s the subtle things, right?

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

But we can begin to break some of those habits and recognize that the things we’ve been institutionally taught have fostered attitudes of racism, hatred and misogyny in America, and in our schools and churches.

So this Lent, I intend to keep my mind alert.

I intend to face my own racism, whether it’s against my African American brother or the white woman who asks how Indian I am.

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

I intend to watch how I interact with my brothers and sisters with disabilities, how I pay attention to their needs and battle stereotypes that are set up against them.

I intend to have conversations with my Jewish and Muslim brothers and sisters, to learn from them, their histories and stories, their experiences in America.

I intend to pay attention to the mental paths my mind takes when I get defensive, to trace those paths back to institutional habits that have been set in place for years.

Then, I intend to pray into those spaces.

And know this, I am one of those people who believes that prayer is a constant position of the body, mind, spirit. That also means I’m pretty bad at sitting still with the silence.

So I want to sit and face my own habits. I want to face institutional racism, misogyny, hatred, religious bigotry, and I encourage you to do the same.

And as you explore these things too, share what you’ve found with us. Use #oldhabits on social media to begin conversations about where you’ve noticed your mental processes going and how you want to change them. Challenge the systems that put them there, and challenge yourself not only to create new mental and spiritual habits, but to challenge those institutions as well. Challenge them for your children. Challenge them for future generations.

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The only way we begin to kill old habits and pick up new, healthier ones is to do it in community, to do it with others in spaces like Be the Bridge groups, in conversations on Twitter or in private Facebook groups, with people we trust, over cups and cups of coffee where we understand that the conversation, as hard as it may be, is far from over.

So here are a few ideas for this Lent, always, always with the work of shalom and grace in mind:

  1. Grab a cup of coffee or dinner with someone who is of a different race than you are, and take turns telling your story. Don’t interrupt one another, don’t get defensive if something difficult is said. Come to the table with the understanding that you want to pay attention to institutional racism.
  2. Listen to some women in your religious circles. Challenge misogyny. Get a group of men together and ask them to share stories about the women who have shaped their theologies. If you’re creative, make a video of those stories and share it with your church community.
  3. Read new books by people of color (here’s a perfect list to get you started!), and read new books that challenge what we’ve been taught about our history, like A People’s History of the United States by Howard Zinn. Honor #BlackHistoryMonth by listening to black voices around you.
  4. Read the Bible with eyes to see that Jesus was an activist, a rebel, and someone who constantly challenged institutions. Ask what that looks like for you in America in 2018.
  5. If you are part of a church, ask why it is or isn’t diverse or inclusive. Explore what it would mean to start a Be the Bridge group or to simply have new conversations, like how the church was complicit in the genocide/assimilation of indigenous peoples in America. Ask who the indigenous people were who once lived on the very land where your church is planted, and put a sign out front honoring them.
  6. Join this Facebook group, where we’ll have serious, respectful and safe discussions about these institutional habits and how they affect us. 
  7. Give yourself and others grace, because we cannot move forward if we are paralyzed by fear or by how hard this is. It is going to be hard, and it’s going to be terrifying at times. You are not alone.

May this Lenten wilderness call us out of ourselves and into the wholeness of a God who sees color and diversity and calls it good.

May this Lenten wilderness make us uncomfortable enough to ask difficult questions, and patient enough to listen for difficult answers.

May this Lenten wilderness bring more of the truth of gospel to our circles, the heart of justice and shalom always guiding us into a more inclusive faith.

May this Lenten wilderness lead us to deeper love for the created world we inhabit and for one another, precisely because of our differences. May we no longer feel the need to say “we are color blind” but that “we love others because we are not the same.”

May this Lenten wilderness remind us that wildernesses are meant to show us ourselves in the face of a world that reflects all the wild love of God. May we lean into that truth today.

Join me.

#oldhabits

“Thousands of tired, nerve-shaken, over-civilized people are beginning to find out that going to the mountains is going home; that wildness is a necessity.”
― John Muir

 

Deconstructing American Christian Worship

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I’ve been tired during church lately.

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

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

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

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

And we end up leaving exhausted because we have to hold our own culture’s truths and tensions with the gospel, and also hold all these cultural, racial, belief-based tensions with one another.

As a worship leader, I pay attention to the room during worship.

I listen to the voices in unison.

I wonder where people are coming from when they sing words like, “The Lord is gracious and compassionate, slow to anger and rich in love.”

And as I am analyzing these things and trying to worship through my own experiences, I come back to this idea of nakedness.

Theresa ofAvila says it like this:

You find God in yourself and yourself in God.

 

To know the true mirror image of God is to know ourselves fully, as we are fully known.

And that means that while we stay tethered to and learn from and engage with our cultural lenses, we also zoom into our souls, into that naked place, to that deepest part of who we are to embrace Mystery, without analyzing any of it.

We embrace Mystery without analyzing any of it. 

This means that we even have to allow ourselves to step out of the mindset that worship should look, feel and seem a certain way.

To embrace Mystery is to recognize that worship is something fully beyond us that we step into and participate in, and not just in a church building full of people.

One of the most worshipful experiences I had recently was while I was staying at an AirBNB in the Blue Ridge mountains. I took an early evening walk, mittens on and a cup of coffee in my hand. As I turned the corner, I watched  a family of deer run across the street and up into the woods on the other side. Before they disappeared, one of them stopped, turned around, and stared at me for a few seconds.

Sometimes worship happens as a rootedness that we do not expect or even think we deserve.

The mirror image of myself in that deer was nothing but worship, a moment to recognize my own sense of belonging in this world. In the space, beyond my culture, beyond the fact that I am a Potawatomi woman, that I am a mother and wife and worship leader and writer and friend, I was simply one soul looking at the soul of another creature.

We were simply acknowledging one another, and in that, acknowledging Mystery, without analyzing any of it. 

So we erase the lines that make rules to tell us when and how to worship. We expand our thinking outside the walls of the church and realize that “occasionally it is not the open air or the church that we desire, but both” (John Philip Newell).

And this is difficult when you’re on church staff, when you’re trying to figure out how to run a church with various cultures, to honor diversity, to honor the life of Jesus. I get that. But leading others in worship means we lead them out of themselves, and we also lead them out of the mindset that worship must look the way the American church thinks it should look.

And soon we find that deconstructing our worship patterns is actually a return back to that nakedness, to that mirror image between us and God, between us and the world, between my own culture and yours.

And then we find that worship has done its work, because the glory of God happens when this created world is fully alive to beauty, to love, to all of those things that we have such a hard time finding because we are so constantly trying to analyze the questions and critiques as they come to us every week in church.

Because of and despite our questions and critiques, the Mystery is still there, still engaging, still asking us to look and respond, to be present with every aspect of ourselves, to the honor and glory of God.

Amen.

 

One Gray Hair: a lesson in aging with wisdom

 

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And yet, I have so much hope beyond that.

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

I look in the mirror, glad.

I hope that when my skin begins to wrinkle,

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

I hope that my ever-brittling bones tell me

that transformation is both painful and beautiful.

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

will never grow weary of looking another in their eyes.

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

I have something to give that is humble and gentle,

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

who knew my own ancestors then and knows me now,

who will know my grandchildren one day.

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

that stretches and molds and transforms over time,

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

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

that was always there and will always be here,

teaching us as we age that our stories matter,

and that they are never wasted or forgotten.

 

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

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

 

One Gray Hair: a lesson in aging with wisdom

 

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

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

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

 

IMG_0771.jpg

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And yet, I have so much hope beyond that.

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

I look in the mirror, glad.

I hope that when my skin begins to wrinkle,

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

I hope that my ever-brittling bones tell me

that transformation is both painful and beautiful.

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

will never grow weary of looking another in their eyes.

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

I have something to give that is humble and gentle,

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

who knew my own ancestors then and knows me now,

who will know my grandchildren one day.

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

that stretches and molds and transforms over time,

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

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

that was always there and will always be here,

teaching us as we age that our stories matter,

and that they are never wasted or forgotten.

 

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

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

 

Answers in a World of Opposites

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Some of the most frustrated people I know want to make sense of the world’s mysteries so that their lives fall into place in a way that makes sense.

It’s understandable. After all, the age old question is why do bad things happen to good people? isn’t it?

The most beautiful and most frustrating thing about mystery is that it doesn’t make sense. It simply IS.

But how do we find what we’re looking for in mystery if we cannot make sense of its ways?

Perhaps we look to what opposites can teach us.

Maybe we go outside of ourselves to figure out what’s happening inside.

Maybe we make our own voices quiet so our soul’s voice can be louder.

Maybe we kneel so that we are lifted up.

Maybe we become like children to really mature.

Maybe we love when we should hate.

Maybe what is small opens up the whole world to us.

Maybe we trust when all we want to do is worry.

I asked my husband recently if I should continue writing weekly letters to the president, something I’ve been doing since inauguration day. I told him that I’m tired, and that I don’t really know what to say anymore. I told him that I don’t know if it’s helping.

He told me that people often give up when they don’t see results. He reminded me that many movements fail because the people leading them decide that the efforts aren’t worth it anymore.

I sat quiet for a few seconds and said, “Well, then. I won’t stop writing.”

I choose the opposite. I choose to do what shouldn’t be done. I choose what doesn’t make sense because I know it produces some sort of fruit in me.

When we are so tired, maybe instead of working harder like the world tells us to do, we actually stop and rest.

Maybe instead of telling ourselves we can’t do it, we say that we know it’s possible.

Maybe I learn to listen to my ancestors, to be grateful when things are anything but great.

Maybe, like Jesus, we flip tables over when we’re not supposed to and we make messes when the church asks us to keep it neat.

Friends, there is a whole world of opposites, and if we live in fear, we miss them.

And if we live in fear, we might miss the irony that is the mystery of God, this strange thing called Spirit that we get to encounter.

I go outside and see a hawk in the sky, and I am grounded.

I shut up for a minute and my two young sons end up teaching me a lesson.

I pray for leaders I don’t agree with and God floods me with compassion and courage to do the right thing in the face of all that is wrong.

The Mystery simply is.

But always, there is an invitation. Always, there is a world waiting for us.

It’s just often not what we think.

It’s just often the irony that gets us going in the right direction.

Because somehow, the rain falls on the just and the unjust, doesn’t it?

Somehow, the wind blows around all of us and we are just here to do the work, the good work, called to make peace where there is war and beat weapons into tools of harvest.

That is the work of Mystery. The work of Spirit.

 

Staying Rooted in an Uprooted World

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


 

 

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

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

 

GOD NEVER STOPS CALLING YOU

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Do you remember what it was like inside the womb?

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

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

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

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

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

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

We all are.

So what now?

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

Dear friend, we’re still being called.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sometimes we’re called to be quiet.

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

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

Whatever it is—God never stops calling.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Growing up is hard. Leaving the womb is hard.

Identifying the call is hard.

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

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

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

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

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

With every call comes a response.

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

This is the beckoning of shalom.

Hallelujah and Amen.

 

THE GRAVITY OF GOD: a prayer

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O Jesus,

Pull us into your gravity.

It is something that we cannot understand,

something we long to know

and experience,

to embrace with our senses.

Still, we see yet a glimpse of you,

a sliver of embrace that pulls us

constantly,

constantly,

closer

to you.

Your gravity is like that opening

at the top of the tipi,

that glimpse into a sky-bound reality

that we simply reach for,

yearn for,

tell stories of.

We long to see the stars

and know that you

always find us.

And when we are found,

as we always are,

your gravity

does not cause us to forget the world,

but it causes us

to sit still

in the busyness the world

and to love

in the hatred of the world.

Your gravity calls us both to ourselves

and to each other.

Your gravity calls us to you

and to every created thing,

a lament of what should be–

a celebration of what can be.

Your gravity is called Spirit

or Being

or Quiet

or Pause.

Your gravity

is Beauty embodied

and Shalom

in constant motion.

So pull us.

Usher us into a cosmic reality

that calls us good

and wishes better–

a better and better world.

O Gravity,

we long for you.

Beckon us, we pray.

Amen.

 

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.