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.

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“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 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.

 

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.

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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.