Healing America’s Wounds: The Only Way Is Through

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Design by Chief Lady Bird

 

Recently I celebrated my 10 year wedding anniversary with my husband. We decided to get tattoos that day, his fifth and my first. My design was by Chippewa/Potawatomi artist from Canada, Chief Lady Bird, and it’s a symbol of the seven fires of the Potawatomi tribe. As Kasey, our tattoo artist, began the work on my left arm, I felt my body go back to the same space I inhabited when I gave birth to my two sons without pain medication. I would take slow, steady breaths during those contractions, leaning into the pain as I went, and I took slow, steady breaths every time Kasey put the needles to my skin.

 

Pain is a thing we can’t go around.

 

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I started therapy last month with a trauma counselor in my city, and I’m learning that when we begin the process of opening wounds to take a look inside, it hurts. It hurts for a long time, because at some point we begin to realize that putting bandages on those wounds doesn’t always do the healing.

 

We’ve got to ask how our wounds got there in the first place and what pain can teach us as a partner in the process.

 

In America in 2018, we’re all walking around, wounded. And as we begin to have conversations about how those wounds got there, engaging in collective dialogue about justice, reconciliation and reparations, people either lean into those conversations, or they run.

 

And on social media, those conversations can be entered into and left with the tap of a button. We are reactionary instead of compassionate.

We choose to harm each other instead of healing most of the time.

 

But if we truly listen, we’ll see that the only way is through.

 

This phrase, or a version of it, has been echoed by writers throughout time like Robert Frost, who said it in his poem, A Servant to Servants:

 

He says the best way out is always through.

And I agree to that, or in so far

As that I can see no way out but through—

 

It’s becoming more clear as we look at the collective work of healing, that it’s going to take time, that it’s going to be painful, and that the only way out of it is through it.

 

But we have to first convince ourselves that our own healing is necessary.

 

First, we have to choose to love our own story enough to want healing within it. Are we willing?

 

I had to decide that the things I’ve experienced, the trauma that is a part of me every day, is worth recognizing, worth processing. And because I’ve seen my own life’s story through this lens, I’m more aware of the life stories of others who are working through their own trauma.

 

Are we willing to do the digging necessary to find ourselves here, in 2018, more loved and willing to love?

 

The tattoo on my left arm is a symbol of my own healing. It’s a symbol of the healing of a people. It carries a dream for all of us as indigenous people, but the only way to get there is through. So I light my tobacco, my sage and sweetgrass, and pray. I pray, Migwetch, Mamogosnan, thank you, Great Father, Great Spirit. And slowly but surely, I find my way back. Slowly but surely, I find a way to love.

 

We’ve got to walk through our healing as a people, and as a nation, we’ve got to talk about the wounds that we’ve carried from the beginning, wounds that stem from white supremacy and racism, hatred and misogyny. And we’ve got to recognize that healing must happen from every side, from every perspective, because we belong to each other.

 

America’s history told from the oppressed side is very different than the side of history we’ve actually been fed. Indigenous people and people of color have lived a history here that is covered up and ignored, a giant bandage with the words get over it scrawled across the top.

 

But to be people who create wholeness for ourselves and for others, we’ve got to open ourselves up and keep opening, removing those bandages to reveal the wounds we’ve carried for generations. We’ve got to choose to ask how our wounds got here in the first place, and then we’ve got to do the hard, uncomfortable, painful work of healing together.

 

For me, getting a tattoo was a choice. It was a choice to endure the pain, to mark my body with something significant that will be there for the rest of my life.

 

So it is with our communal pain. We must choose together to lean into it, and to stick with it, so that we can see what becomes of us on the other side.

 

Because, dear friends, the only way is through.

 

 

 

 

Grief Has a Voice (Are You Listening?)

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At the worst of times, in the worst of places, we hear the whisper.

“There’s something more to this,” it says.

“Lean in,” it implores.

We aren’t often told that the Holy Spirit and Grief are partners.

Mostly, we’re taught a narrative that they oppose one another, that we should trust the Spirit but keep the words of Grief far, far from our hearts, because she will surely tell us something we don’t want to hear. She will surely break us and we won’t know how to put it back together again.

But if we imagine Grief and the Spirit as partners, the voice of God takes on human flesh all over again, for Jesus’s life was full of grieving. 

He grieved as he left home, when his days of carpentry were over.

He grieved when he moved through the wilderness and into his calling.

He grieved from Gethsemane.

It taught him who he was.

And every season of shedding a piece of his identity only to take on a purer one required the work of Grief– holy work, indeed.

We are people who numb, fix, and manipulate pain.

But Grief has something important to say, whether we want to hear it or not.

I suggest we try.

Because when we realize that we are not the only ones who are grieving– that all of humanity grieves, individually and collectively– we understand how the Spirit works.

The Spirit, birthed from Jesus himself as a gift to us, leads us out of isolation and toward one another.

And when we get there, it doesn’t mean that Grief’s work is done, that we’ve arrived at a place of joy, with no more sadness or sorrow.

It means that we continue listening to what Grief has to say, and we do it together.

She teaches us to care for our enemies.

She teaches us to forgive.

She teaches us to let God mend our hearts.

She leads us out of racism, sexism, greed, bigotry, and idolatry.

She calls us toward wholeness, if we only let her do the work.

And the Spirit holds her hand along the way.

So my friend, next time you hear Grief whispering for you, pay attention.

She is a gift in a form we don’t always understand.

But her voice is universal.

We are a nation grieving.

We live on an earth that grieves.

We go to church and synagogue and temple with grieving people.

We share sidewalks and cubicles and turning lanes with others who grieve.

That’s why Shalom’s work is not yet done.

And for all the distortions of peace that come with our bodies and souls, Grief and Shalom are partners, too, teaching us that community always works alongside the moving parts of everyone.

And we’ve got to work through the pain to get to the other side.

“First the pain, then the rising.”

–Glennon Doyle Melton

So may we lean in.

May we listen.

May we grieve.

And may we journey toward Shalom together.

 

Amen.

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

 

 

 

 

Let’s Talk About Healing

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Friends, I believe we are spiraling.

Despite our best efforts at becoming less individualistic in our society and in our churches, we still run in circles and cycles of loneliness and exhaustion. We still long for community and connection.

We are spiraling downward in cycles of religious bigotry, Christian empire, and toxic masculinity.

And when we want to heal, we think it must come quickly, from Point A to Point B. We don’t think of healing as a process of taking steps forward and steps backward, of having grace for the long haul.

And because of that individualism by which we operate, we are repeating those toxic cycles again and again, and they are leading us into toxic conversations in person and on social media.

So, friends, I’d like to talk about healing.

A few weeks ago I shared that for Lent I am giving up my ignorance of institutional sins like racism, sexism, ableism, religious bigotry, colonialism, and others. I decided that I have to look for those Old Habits that Die Hard. I have to be paying attention.

But you see, this requires some painful thought processes and conversations.

It requires us to dive headfirst into the pain of our own lives, into parts of ourselves that perhaps haven’t been healed yet.

And yet, the Spirit bids us come.

I attend a Be the Bridge group in Atlanta, and in our latest meeting we talked about the difficulty of holding truly healing conversations on race through social media. Often, it requires face to face conversations in which both parties are willing to say, “I’m listening,” for true healing to occur.

In my mind, there are three aspects to this that we need to truly heal, at least bit by bit:

 

First, we have to see God and Sacred Mystery in our midst. 

I like to call this tethering. To be stable in the work we do on a daily basis, in the conversations we have with others, we have to be willing to notice God in our everyday circumstances. That’s exactly why I wrote my first book, Glory Happening: Finding the Divine in Everyday Places.  I wanted to explore the idea that all of us are capable of being mystics, of living lives of contemplation, of seeing and experiencing holiness in our everyday messes and mishaps, in our joys and celebrations.

Recently I attended a women’s book club to talk about the process of writing Glory Happening. It was an honor to sit with a group of women who spend so much time together, to hear them admitting openly that they want to notice the presence of the Divine more, that they want to dig their hands into garden soil or go on longer walks, just to notice.

I was led into the kitchen by the young daughter of the family hosting the book club, and she pointed me in the direction of a chalkboard hanging on the wall. A prayer from my book was written in little-girl-handwriting, and it took my breath away.

 

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This family is choosing, together, to find God in the unexpected places of everyday living, and like I pointed out to them that day, while we were gathering in a circle drinking coffee and talking about seeing God in our midst, it is work.

It is work to make ourselves stop long enough in a crazy society of distractions and illusions and addictions to notice what is sacred and waiting for us.

But it is worth the work.

 

Second, we have to see God and Sacred Mystery in ourselves.

In Potawatomi culture, we ask, “How is your fire burning?” As the People of the Place of Fire, we were literally the people who tended to the fires traditionally, but still, we have an awareness that there is a sacred fire in all of us, and we are called to tend to it, to notice it, to respond to it when it is beginning to go out. It requires self care and self examination. But it also requires us to look without shame and judgment, something I only learned a few years ago.

Growing  up in the Southern Baptist Church, legalism mixed with my own ability to self-judge meant that I had journal pages full of confessions and hopes that I wouldn’t be abandoned by a God with a gavel and Naughty-or-Nice list. Self-examination along with self-love were difficult to come by, and it’s taken years of unlearning to get to a point (sort of, almost) where I can at least attempt to see myself the way God sees me.

Can we all work toward that?

Can we admit that to heal means we have to see our own stories and our own pains alongside God’s love for us and not separate from it? Can we acknowledge that God sees us as divine and good, even when we are tired?

I spent a few days at an airBNB in the mountains of North Carolina recently, and found that it’s extremely difficult to sit with long bouts of silence. We can do a few minutes, we can meditate and hold our prayer beads, but when it comes to hours and days of silence, of the raw reality that it’s us and the Divine Mystery, it is intimidating at first. It’s terrifying to be naked like that.

But then, if we dare to go, we find that we are really just there to heal from something, from all of the things that hold us bound to our own cycles of self-destruction.

If we dare to go, we can look at our lives with God, and find that healing is not only possible, but a beautifully close reality that we are invited into if we are only willing to say this is the hard stuff, and I’m going to go there and then find a way out. 

 

Third, we have to see God and Sacred Mystery in one another. 

It seems, if we follow the call to love our neighbors as ourselves, that we’ve got these last two steps backward, but I believe that many of us struggle just as much (if not more) to actually love ourselves, and then it damages our ability to love one another.

This is where storytelling comes in. This is where community comes in. This is where truly breaking away from an individualist life comes in.

When we learn to see ourselves and our stories with clearer eyes, we take them to our community, to others who are struggling to learn their own stories, to fight against their own fears, to pick up their own hopes. We do this together, and we have our moments of “Me, too” or “I am listening” or “I had no idea it was like this for you.”

Compassion building and community building go hand in hand, and when we cut ourselves off from communion with others, we lose aspects of ourselves, aspects of Divine Mystery.

 

So, let’s keep talking about healing.

Let’s keep acknowledging that what is hard about life doesn’t have to be a lonely struggle, but a journey we walk together, hand in hand, arm in arm, steady, slow gait to steady, slow gait.

Let’s remember that we cannot heal the institutional brokenness of the world unless we learn to see that the world is sacred, that we are sacred, and that our call to love one another is a sacred call.

Maybe then, healing will come.

Maybe then, we can answer the question and say, “Yes, yes, our fire is burning and it will not go out.”

 

We hold hope and despair, one in each arm, and we cradle them close to our chest, because they both have something important to say at every moment.

Glory Happening

 

Decolonizing America: An Indigenous Dream of Wakanda

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When my partner and I traveled to Uganda in 2009 for a research trip, I remember the moment at tea time when I finally realized what colonization looked like. Uganda, a country colonized by the British, still bore the familiar scars of that control in something as simple as a cup of tea in the afternoon, even though it gained independence in 1962.

Still, back then at the age of 20, I would never have applied the idea of colonization or assimilation to myself or my own country—no, America would never admit that we are a colonized nation, but it’s the truth. We are taught instead that this land was gloriously discovered by Columbus, and that later it was simply a liberating land from the tyranny of the church of England.

But the terror of what happened on these shores once Europeans arrived is mostly unspoken of. The genocide and assimilation are stories told amongst the indigenous peoples of this land but not often by the outside culture.

A lot of people ask me why I consistently use the term “decolonize,” and part of the reason is to make the point that we are colonized in the first place.

My partner and I attended a showing of Black Panther recently. I waited with anticipation to see a film that celebrates the African culture of so many people I admire and denounces the work and aftermath of slavery.

I realized that I was holding my breath as Wakanda came into view a few minutes into the film.

I was holding everything inside myself still because suddenly, for a moment, a world that had never been colonized appeared before my eyes, a tribal people, rich in culture, indigenous to their land.

Obviously, I’m not African. But I am indigenous to a land that has been pillaged for profit, and I belong to a people who were marched on foot away from the Great Lakes into foreign, barren territory in other parts of North America.

My partner sometimes describes the United States like this: imagine a colonized country in which the colonizers never leave.

 That’s America.

America is the place that brought 12.5 million African slaves on ships from their homes across the ocean.

America is the land that saw its indigenous population shrink 90% from the millions that lived here before smallpox blankets were distributed. By 1900, only 237,000 indigenous peoples were in the United States, compared to the 10 to 12 million that once lived here.

In contrast to these colonial atrocities in America, Wakanda is a land free of its abusers, a land rich in resource.  And as I watched it, I imagined my tribe, the Potawatomi people, the Anishinaabe, long before colonizers arrived on our shores.

I imagined the way we grew wild rice on the water and harvested the trees for syrup. I imagined the way women were honored and respected, the way they prayed over the water, their strength publicly valued for all to see. I imagined us, the people of the place of fire, doing the sacred and beautiful work bestowed upon us by the Creator.

Colonization took what was and said, “You must look, sound and think like us, and to do that, we’ve got to do what we’ve got to do.” Thus generations of “kill the Indian, save the man” have attempted to turn people of rich tribal histories and cultures into cookie cutter white, American Christians who have lost ties to their own cultural ways.

And following that, slaves stolen through the transatlantic slave trade were brought for the sole profit of a colonized America in which bodies of color were considered less than human, like those of First Nations people. And so, we are bound up with one another’s suffering, even today.

Erik Killmonger, the Wakandan villain and victim of a colonized, racist America says in Black Panther, “Bury me in the ocean with my ancestors who jumped from the ships, because they knew death was better than bondage.”

In the past year and a half of learning about my own ancestors and my own story, I have walked closer to the stories of my African American brothers and sisters, whose ancestors were forced onto a land that they did not know. I grieve that I have not known more of their stories and struggles. I grieve the systems in which I’ve lived that benefit from their suffering.

Somehow, in a way that I do not fully understand, colonization brought us together, and when I see Wakanda, I can believe that we are not just colonized people.

For First Nations people in the United States, the goal of the American system all along has been to assimilate us so much into white culture that we disappear, that we forget our own cultures, languages and ways. But Wakanda will always be this picture of celebrated African culture, and by extension, a celebration of all decolonized cultures as well.

Even if we are doing this on an individual level, fighting colonial systems of oppression, we are working toward a common goal, and the church has a huge part to play in this conversation. If we are to be people who follow Jesus, who was literally crucified for defying the culture of the powerful, we need to be having conversations today about breaking down systems of colonial oppression in the American church.

And in 2018, movies like Black Panther are helping lead us there. So, with our fists raised high, as women warriors who are not afraid, but sacredly bold and beautiful, we proclaim, “Wakanda Forever!”

 

…a new day is upon us, as indigenous people of this land are revitalizing their languages, restoring familial kinship systems and rediscovering their music, dances and art forms in Jesus Christ—all for the glory of God!

–Richard Twiss, One Church, Many Tribes

 

 

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

 

OneWord 2018

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Every year, thanks to the brilliance of OneWord365, I choose a new word as a guide to lead me through the coming 365 days.

It usually comes to me in the most unexpected way, at the oddest times. This year, I was sitting at my kitchen table when I quickly wrote a few thoughts down in my journal. Self-discipline is hard for me sometimes, and I go back and forth with trying to find new rhythms. At the same time, I honor the fact that different life seasons call for different life rhythms anyway, and since we are a family who works from home and figures out how to homeschool our kids, every season is a little different, and we hold grace in that.

So my word for 2018 is instead.

In the practice of self-control, of self-discipline, of working toward new rhythms, I plan to practice the work of instead, without shame or fear.

Instead of my phone– a book.

Instead of anger– gratitude.

Instead of hate– love.

Instead of silence– resistance.

Instead of war– peaceful protest.

Instead of noise– silent listening.

Instead of manipulation– communication.

Instead of buildings– wilderness.

Instead of fear– dreams.

Instead of yelling– whispering.

Instead of greed– contentment.

Instead of inside– outside. 

Instead of reacting– watching.

Instead of convenience– the work of my hands.

Instead of self-deprecation– self-worth.

Instead of tweeting– playing.

Instead of resting– restoring.

Instead of hotels– tents.

Instead of holding it in– letting it go.

Instead of sameness– diversity.

Instead of a closed-off religion– an open one.

Instead of a faith of sureness– a faith of questions.

Instead of English– Potawatomi.

Instead of colonization– nativeness. 

 

I feel my shoulders relax already. When we look to the year ahead and ask honestly where we are and where we are going, we give grace to find the tiniest tools to help us along.

This year, for 2018, the word instead will guide me– into new adventures, into deeper presence with myself, others, this created world, and God.

In Potawatomi, the phrase for Happy New Year is mno web pongek, which means “it is good/happy/ to start something new/throw something out/ in the year” — isn’t this beautiful?

We get the chance to both pick new things up and throw out what we need to throw out without shame in 2018. We get to do that and acknowledge that it is good.

What word will guide you through 2018?

What will you start or throw out?

May we do it always in the knowledge that we are loved, and that we are covered in grace instead of anything less than that.

I leave you with this Tennyson poem to guide you with his words into 2018. Go in peace, friends.

 

Ring out the old, ring in the new,
Ring, happy bells, across the snow:
The year is going, let him go;
Ring out the false, ring in the true.
Ring out the grief that saps the mind,
For those that here we see no more,
Ring out the feud of rich and poor,
Ring in redress to all mankind.
Ring out a slowly dying cause,
And ancient forms of party strife;
Ring in the nobler modes of life,
With sweeter manners, purer laws.
Ring out the want, the care, the sin,
The faithless coldness of the times;
Ring out, ring out thy mournful rhymes,
But ring the fuller minstrel in.

 

 

 

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 heels 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.

 

A Chemical Reaction of the Soul

chemical reaction: n. a chemical change that occurs when two or more substances combine to form a new substance.

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I’ll be the first to admit that I know little about chemistry.

But recently I had a conversation with my son about chemical reactions, how something as simple as baking a cake becomes a chemical reaction–because the cake can never go back to being flour, salt, sugar, or eggs. It has transformed.

Neither can my coffee, that is ground and immersed in water inside the coffee maker, go back to being the original bean again.

I’ve been thinking a lot about the process of deconstructing or decolonizing my faith.

I’ve written about it here, and if I stop with one piece, I’ve obviously missed the point.

About two years ago I had a conversation with a friend that ended in the realization that I am no longer the person I was in high school and college.

My perspectives on faith and the church have shifted, along with who I believe should be included and excluded in such matters.

It seems I’ve become someone else, but still hold in tact the original essence of who I’ve always been.

Is it possible to have a sort of chemical reaction of the soul? Is it possible that we transform so that we cannot be what we once were?

I believe that’s a healthier version of ourselves, and if we’re really honest, fighting transformation will leave us unhappy, missing out on new aspects of ourselves that are waiting to be discovered.

When we refuse to change, to evolve, to transform, we become stuck in only what we’ve known, because we’re scared to ask questions. But the question-asking, the wondering and wandering– it’s what helps those chemical reactions of the soul take place. All of those substances combine in us to bring transformation.

My coffee, steaming in my cup with cream and sugar, will never be a coffee bean again.

It has some sort of new purpose.

Just the same, my life journey today, seeking my Potawatomi identity and asking the American church how it can be better, is a version of myself that cannot forget what it has seen or go back to what it once was.

But the question-asking, the wondering and wandering-- it's what helps those chemical reactions of the soul take place. All of those substances combine in us to bring transformation.-2.png

If coffee transforms, so can we.

And each fall leaf,

every flower,

every bird’s egg that hatches,

each child that grows and matures,

a caterpillar that will become a butterfly,

every pumpkin pie or fortune cookie or veggie omelet–

a chemical reaction in the world, a transformation.

So if we aren’t who we were yesterday, and we’re not yet transformed into who we’ll be tomorrow, who are we today?

Maybe we simply ARE,

this transforming thing,

the cake that’s still in the oven,

the coffee that’s being ground.

Maybe we’re inside the middle of transformation, where it hurts a little, the caterpillar making its way toward the butterfly.

While we are in this cocoon, dreaming of who we’ll be, working toward it, we acknowledge that this space, right now, is necessary and good in the process, and we cannot skip it.

You and I are in the midst of our chemical reaction of the soul, and we cannot go back now.

The only way is forward,

and into glorious, unknown light.

Amen.