Are We Saved or Traumatized by American Christianity?

 

 

When I was seven years old, I prayed the “sinner’s prayer,” asking Jesus to “come into my heart” to save me from sin and death. If you grew up in a conservative Christian household, maybe you did the same. From that point on, my spiritual life was shaped by this duality: saved or not saved, bound for heaven or bound for hell.

It affected every relationship I had, because it affected me at the core of who I am.

In bible studies and at youth events, I grew up learning about how to best share our “personal testimony,” that story of how we came to be saved, how we were transformed from sinners to people who look more and more like Jesus every day.

The problem was that the Jesus we were being trained to look like doesn't look anything like the actual Jesus-- we were being trained as cogs in the machine of Christian empire.

Every time I was asked about my testimony, I would chase my memories back to my seven year old self, trying to find some fault in her. I wondered if, in that moment she prayed that prayer, she had some transformation, that a veil was lifted, that she saw everything around her more clearly. Surely, there were some awful underlying sins that she was hiding. Surely, she was a heathen before she prayed that prayer. Maybe she was extra selfish, and that was her downfall. Maybe she wasn’t grateful enough and needed the promise of heaven to fix it.

Maybe, though, she was just a kid, sacredly created and wholly loved by Mystery.

As an adult, thanks to therapy and other safe spaces created with friends and family, I can revisit myself as a child. I can ask her questions, scan the recesses of her mind and imagination and see where she saw beauty and where she felt pain. As an adult, I can ask myself what my own trauma and anxiety stems from so that I can walk, write, sing, cry, run, or sometimes crawl my way through healing.

It is enduringly hard work, but if we are to dismantle some of the dangers associated with the colonizing evangelical Christianity we’ve inherited, we’ve got to look our trauma in the eye and hold the institutions accountable that caused that trauma.

Am I saying that every church member, youth pastor, and evangelical is a monster?

No.

I am saying that collectively we’ve done monstrous things, and we need to pay attention to the damage done in spaces where we promised someone salvation from themselves based on a one-time prayer and snap of the fingers.

 

Maybe we need to go back and ask our child-selves some questions.

Maybe we need to give them some room to ask us questions.

 

Today, the stories of Jesus tell me of a man, a human, who used spit and dirt to heal. He escaped to countrysides and water to remember his connection to the land. He told empire to back the hell off, and he held the oppressed and the young close to his own heart without shaming them into submission.

I grew up hearing that we are to be in the world, but not of the world.

But today, all I want is to hold space in this world with my relatives, human and non-human alike.

As Robin Wall Kimmerer says in her book Braiding Sweetgrass, “We spill over into the world and the world spills over into us.” 

If anything, the church has lost its ability to find its place in the midst of sacred creation. The church has been power hungry for too long, and has forgotten its need to stay humble and gentle, to learn from the world and the creatures in it, and to learn from the least of these when it has lost its way. We lost our way when prayer became a weapon that we wielded toward others we thought needed saving.

Do we need to be saved from anything? Probably. We see the way that systems of hate and white supremacy have permeated the earth and destroyed people. We’ve seen how dangerous the ideas of in vs out, black vs white, us vs them can be. Maybe we need to save ourselves and each other from that wreckage. But we have to ask ourselves better questions and hold space for better answers.

Little Kaitlin? She saw something holy in the world around her, an awe and wonder that was slowly replaced with fear and shame.

We must do better by future generations inheriting a belovedly created and wholly loved world, and their wholly beautiful place in it.

We must be willing to lead them, and to stop and let them lead us. In order to be good ancestors, we begin with soft yet fierce love today.

We must do better by future generations inheriting a belovedly created and wholly loved world, and their wholly beautiful place in it.

 

When Doubting Hurts

 

lord

when you arrive

we will be light

bread and water

the table is set and the door opened

come and take your place among us

free me of the belief

that you are only faithful from a distance

and speak with me

in the unharried language of animals

who from far off lie in wait for us

with their unadulterated hunger

–Said

 

When I travel for speaking events, one of the first things I’m often asked is if I am an introvert or an extrovert. You’d think that’s a simple question, but for someone who grew up in the Southern Baptist evangelical church, it brings up a lot of difficult emotions.

 

The church spaces I grew up in rewarded people pleasing. They rewarded those who were willing to put on a happy face and go through the motions required of such a religion. We were faithful to prayer, to purity, to reading the bible, to saving souls, and to smiling while we do it.

 

I grew up in a church with beautiful, kind people, but no one taught me to ask questions. No one taught me that things might not be as they seem, that God might be someone who gives room to really difficult questions.

 

So, I brought myself up with extrovert-like actions, a social butterfly who could buzz around with small talk and laughter, but who earnestly longed for quiet conversations with big questions over hot cups of coffee.

 

As an adult, I’ve joined multitudes of others who are deconstructing their faith, and it’s difficult as hell.  The constant work of asking questions, of giving voice to doubts, seeing things that cannot be unseen– it is utterly exhausting, and positively necessary.

 

 

I'm not sure we spend enough time talking about how painful the process of deconstruction is.

 

 

The night before this last Easter Sunday, I watched old Easter videos online, triumphant productions with men’s quartets and choirs proclaiming that Christ is risen. I was laughing at the things I naively believed as a child, but I went to bed with a sense of mourning what was once such a simple faith that I no longer claim to have. I carried that grief into Easter morning, letting all my questions roll around inside me.

 

I didn’t wish people a Happy Easter. I thought about both what deconstruction has given to me and has taken from me. I thought about how my view of Jesus has changed so much throughout the years, and most of the time, I don’t know what to believe. 

 

Some weeks, we cry because things cannot be simple, the way they once were. Grief, doubt, and the realization that faith is complicated– it feels like it ruins everything, for all time, and we will never find peace in faith or religion ever again. It leaves us terrified of what the future terrain of faith looks like, an unknown land we do not understand and are not prepared for.

 

The days, months, years of deconstruction wane on and on, and most of the time, we are not content there. We are tired. We want something to reconstruct that will be better than what once was. 

 

Perhaps in these moments, we need to voice our questions to remember that we are not alone. This has held so much power in social media spaces, where we find friends outside our physical communities who are asking the same questions we are asking. When we say, “I have doubts, and they hurt, and I don’t know the way forward,” someone steps up beside us and says, “I had those questions too, and I’m still here.”

 

It doesn't mean healing is one straight path; on the contrary, we know that healing is a winding road that seems to have no destination. But it helps to know we aren't the only ones on the journey.

 

So my hope is that we talk about how hard deconstruction is, how difficult our questions are, that we can say out loud, “I miss the simplicity of a doubtless faith,” while listening to the poets and prophets of our time remind us that we cannot give up the work.

 

And just maybe what we realize along the way is that “the table is set and the door opened,” as Said says. We realize that both the doubtless, childlike faith and the wandering, weary, questioning faith lead us to a God who takes all of it and responds with fresh wind and rain, with sunsets and a few friends along the way.

And suddenly we realize, all these winding roads, all these roadmaps that seem to lead to nowhere, they actually lead us to the thing that has always been.

Love was always the destination. 

 

I am writing

because sometimes

we are closer to the truth

in our vulnerability

than in our safe certainties.

Rachel Held Evans

 

The Broken Duality of Easter (and every day after)

 

“Resurrection” by Father John Giuliani

 

On Easter Sunday, I struggled.

I struggled to know the power of communion as I watched the woman across the room wearing a shirt with dream catchers and feathers all over it. I struggled with the reality of erasure, of oppression.

I struggled to understand the joy of the Easter story when a dear friend is in the hospital fighting for her life. We sing out “He is risen,” and my blood boils with cries of let her rise, too.

I know I must not be the only one who struggled to say, “Happy Easter” with a smile and a nod. I know I’m not the only doubter, the only one who is angry and overwhelmed with the stories of Jesus that just haven’t added up throughout the centuries.

For many of us, church holidays including Easter are confusing days.

For those of us who attend church, we enter in with people proclaiming, “He is risen!”

It’s as if then and there, we are supposed to say that there will not be pain on the earth ever again, because He is risen.

 

And yet, we know this not to be true.

Pain, oppression and hate walk among us and live in us. Those of us who carry intergenerational trauma know this well.

Indigenous peoples whose ancestors have been abused by people using power and greed to play God know this too well.

 

What if Easter isn’t just a celebration of joy and deep peace, but a reminder once again that things are not as they should be?

 

I imagine hope to have two lenses:

The lens of the daily, the lens of right now,

and the long-lasting lens of hope that keeps us going.

 

It’s like we are stretching our arms out to hold a rope that pulls from both ends, stretching our arms out praying for miracles. We hold the tension that surely Jesus held every day of his life.

Can we say that hope is here but there is still more hope to come?

Can we say shalom is here but isn’t fully arrived yet?

Can doubters gather with those who are sure?

Can mourners gather with those who have joy?

It must be so, or we do not participate fully in our humanity.

As my dear friend Tuhina has reminded me, multiple truths exist at once, and in order to destroy toxic duality, we sit in the tension.

We cook Easter meals and have Easter egg hunts and grieve that faith isn’t simple.

We see life and death intertwined and we cannot escape their realities.

Perhaps that’s as it should be.

Perhaps that’s the only way to practice our faith.

Perhaps honesty is the best, most painful journey.

 

Following Easter is Earth Day, a time to see and acknowledge, to remember that Segmekwe, Mother Earth, guides us, holds us, shows us the way to God.

We say Mno Waben, good morning. It is our promise that the sun will shine each day. It is a return to what we know, to sit with the earth, to listen.

Maybe the most simple thing is that seeds will become seedlings, and those seedlings will feed our souls and bellies.

Maybe the most simple thing is the actual gospel, and we are just longing for a Jesus that hasn’t been fed to us by empire, but the one who stood against it with his life, death, and resurrection.

Perhaps our always-longing and always-questioning will lead us to those seeds and that rest, and perhaps, today, that’s all we need.

 

 

“Here is the world. Beautiful and terrible things will happen. Don’t be afraid.”

 –Frederick Buechner  

 

 

Having Grace for the Person You Have Been

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Photo by rawpixel.com on Pexels.com

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

I know now.

And yet, I don’t know much.

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

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

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

Our dearest Mary Oliver said,

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

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

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

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

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

There will be plenty of unrelenting criticism.

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

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

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

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

 

I wouldn't dare call myself WOKE when there's still so much waking to do..png

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

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

What if we chose the way of grace?

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

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

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

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

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

Can you feel that?

Can you believe that?

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

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

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

With grace.

With grace.

With grace.

 

When We Take a Moment of Silence for Ourselves

 

I remember a few times throughout my life taking part in a moment of silence. It’s a tradition we’ve picked up in America, to stop and be still and quiet for a moment to honor the death of a friend or colleague, or to pray with others in a time of tragedy.

I remember when the Twin Towers fell, I was in middle school. That day, the air was heavy. It was thick, everyone was silent, teachers wondering how to explain what was happening, friends of mine worrying about their traveling parents. We were still, quiet, reflective, because we were looking horror in the eyes and wondering what could possibly come from it.

 


 

I’ve been working on my second book this week from the attic office of my home, and I notice when things are particularly quiet. I get a bit uncomfortable if it lasts too long.

I can handle moments of silence in honor of others, to hold space for their memories, to mourn or sit in the reality of great tragedies that happen in our country or in our neighborhoods and cities. But taking a moment of silence for myself? What does that even mean?

What would it mean for us to take a moment of silence so that we can take inventory, so that we can ground ourselves in the moment? What would it look like to remember yesterday, and to dream for tomorrow?

 


 

Many times when we talk about self-care, we quickly jump to conversations about shame, about selfishness, or about privilege.

The reality is, everyone, everyone needs to practice self-care in the best way they know how.

What if we imagined self-care to be the thing that gets us through the day, that actually leads us to each other? Stopping to take a breath, to remember who we are and where we are, isn’t a selfish endeavor.

When I began trauma therapy, I noticed how uncomfortable I am with the silence that falls sometimes between my therapist and me. Sitting in that room, sitting with the air, with our breathing, with our eye contact (or lack thereof) forces a reality that our souls are meant to be listened to, cared for.

Taking a moment of silence for ourselves produces space and room to be present with others, and that is one of the greatest gifts we can give someone else.

 


 

Maybe in that listening we recognize that indeed, we are mourning, we are looking deeply at our grief. Sometimes we need to stop and take a look at the parts of us that have died off; we need to remember and say goodbye.

We need a moment of silence to ask what's next, to believe that we walk a sacred path, ever unfolding.

We need a moment of silence to remember that we indeed are tethered to ourselves to one another.

The silence is a cocoon, and it leads us out, transformed.

The silence is an incubator, preparing us for growth.

To give the world the best of ourselves, we first have to listen to what our own inner voice is saying.

So let’s get silent, if only for a moment, to remember.

 


 

The greatest heroes of our day and the days that came before us are the ones who draw from a deep well. When we hear them speak, we are listening, because there’s something undeniable about the reality of their depth.

They have done the work of investing in moments of silence to listen to their own souls, and so they give us the gift of that outpouring.

It isn’t about being chosen to be great. It isn’t about being prepared, or suddenly called.

It’s about you and me, and it’s about us.

May our moments of silence lead us to ourselves, and may what we find there lead us to each other, a constant cycle never ending, a constant journey toward peace.

Iw, Amen.

 



 

 

25 Books by Indigenous Authors You Should Be Reading

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So here’s the thing.

It’s time.

I’m constantly asked for resources on how people can move forward learning about Indigenous culture, and I’m often repeating the same thing: read books.

Read books.

First and foremost, this supports Indigenous peoples who are writers and creators. It directly gives back to Indigenous communities and reminds the reader that Indigenous peoples are still here, creating new content for the world.

It’s also important to have this conversation for well-meaning allies. Indigenous peoples cannot do the work for you. You must dig in and learn yourself, and the best way to do that is lean into our cultures. Learn about us. Do your research, and then we can have a conversation that isn’t a one-sided history or cultural lesson.

So I’ve compiled a list of 25 books, some that I’m reading now, some that I’ve already read, some that I can’t wait to get my hands on.

These are books by people of many different tribes. When asked by Christians who they should read by Indigenous theologians, this is my answer: read everything. Read books by people who are and aren’t Christians, because if you really want to know about and engage Indigenous cultures, you have to read from a variety of voices.

If you want to break cycles of colonization and assimilation, you must take the time to learn from Indigenous experiences, through our own words.
To truly learn who we are means you engage with us on our terms.

Some of these books are fiction, some are non-fiction. A few are children’s books, and I encourage you to buy them whether you have children or not.

Spirituality is a thread throughout many of them, because Indigenous culture is felt through our spirits, our ancestors, and the land. Some are books of poetry and prayers, some are strictly unpacking history.

I hope you find exactly what you need here, and please know that this is only a few of the many amazing books out in the world written by Indigenous peoples.

More lists to come!

Some of these books will take you directly to Amazon, but many of them can be bought through independent bookstores or university publishers, so I encourage you to put money into these spaces to support booksellers and authors outside the huge retail giant that is Amazon.

 

Braiding Sweetgrass: Indigenous Wisdom, Scientific Knowledge and the Teachings of Plants by Robin Wall Kimmerer (Potawatomi Citizen Band)

Drawing on her life as an indigenous scientist, and as a woman, Kimmerer shows how other living beings―asters and goldenrod, strawberries and squash, salamanders, algae, and sweetgrass―offer us gifts and lessons, even if we’ve forgotten how to hear their voices. In reflections that range from the creation of Turtle Island to the forces that threaten its flourishing today, she circles toward a central argument: that the awakening of ecological consciousness requires the acknowledgment and celebration of our reciprocal relationship with the rest of the living world. For only when we can hear the languages of other beings will we be capable of understanding the generosity of the earth, and learn to give our own gifts in return.

 

God is Red: A Native View of Religion by Vine Deloria, Jr. (Standing Rock Sioux)

God Is Red remains the seminal work on Native religious views, asking new questions about our species and our ultimate fate. Celebrating three decades in publication with a special 30th-anniversary edition.

 

Why Indigenous Literatures Matter by Daniel Heath Justice (Cherokee Nation)

Part survey of the field of Indigenous literary studies, part cultural history, and part literary polemic, WhyIndigenous Literatures Matter asserts the vital significance of literary expression to the political, creative, and intellectual efforts of Indigenous peoples today. In considering the connections between literature and lived experience, this book contemplates four key questions at the heart of Indigenous kinship traditions: How do we learn to be human? How do we become good relatives? How do we become good ancestors? How do we learn to live together?

 

Why Storms are Named After People and Bullets Remain Nameless by Tanaya Winder (Duckwater Shoshone, Pyramid Lake Paiute & So)

In “Why Storms are named after People but Bullets remain nameless,” we find Tanaya Winder in the thick of a beautiful burn, where “pain demands to be felt,” where joy or maybe something more decolonial than it bubbles up from the black hole of the past.

 

Shalom and the Community of Creation by Randy Woodley (Keetoowah)

In Shalom and the Community of Creation Randy Woodley offers an answer: learn more about the Native American ‘Harmony Way,’ a concept that closely parallels biblical shalom. Doing so can bring reconciliation between Euro-Westerners and indigenous peoples, a new connectedness with the Creator and creation, an end to imperial warfare, the ability to live in the moment, justice, restoration — and a more biblically authentic spirituality. Rooted in redemptive correction, this book calls for true partnership through the co-creation of new theological systems that foster wholeness and peace.

 

Whereas by Layli Long Soldier (Oglala Lakota)

WHEREAS confronts the coercive language of the United States government in its responses, treaties, and apologies to Native American peoples and tribes, and reflects that language in its officiousness and duplicity back on its perpetrators. Through a virtuosic array of short lyrics, prose poems, longer narrative sequences, resolutions, and disclaimers, Layli Long Soldier has created a brilliantly innovative text to examine histories, landscapes, her own writing, and her predicament inside national affiliations.

 

Heart Berries by Terese Mailhot (Seabird Island Band)

Heart Berries is a powerful, poetic memoir of a woman’s coming of age on the Seabird Island Band in the Pacific Northwest. Having survived a profoundly dysfunctional upbringing only to find herself hospitalized and facing a dual diagnosis of post traumatic stress disorder and bipolar II disorder; Terese Marie Mailhot is given a notebook and begins to write her way out of trauma.

 

One Church, Many Tribes by Richard Twiss (Sicangu Lakota Oyate)

In this captivating chronicle of the Native American story, Richard Twiss of the Rosebud Lakota/Sioux sifts through myth and legend to reveal God’s strategy for the nation’s host people.

 

The Round House: A Novel by Louise Erdrich (Turtle Mountain Band Chippewa)

The Round House is a page-turning masterpiece of literary fiction—at once a powerful coming-of-age story, a mystery, and a tender, moving novel of family, history, and culture.

 

Onigamiising: Seasons of an Ojibwe Year by Linda LeGarde Grover (Bois Forte Band of Ojibwe)

In fifty short essays, Grover reflects on the spiritual beliefs and everyday practices that carry the Ojibwe through the year and connect them to this northern land of rugged splendor. As the four seasons unfold—from Ziigwan (Spring) through Niibin and Dagwaagin to the silent, snowy promise of Biboon—the award-winning author writes eloquently of the landscape and the weather, work and play, ceremony and tradition and family ways, from the homey moments shared over meals to the celebrations that mark life’s great events.

 

The Manitous: The Spiritual World of the Ojibway by Basil Johnston (Ojibway)

Manitous lived in human form among the Ojibway in the early days, after Kitchi-Manitou (the Great Mystery) created all things and Muzzu-Kummik-Quae (Mother Earth) revealed the natural order of the world. With depth and humor, Johnston tells how lasting tradition was brought to the Ojibway by four half-human brothers, including Nana’b’oozoo, the beloved archetypal being who means well but often blunders. He also relates how people are helped and hindered by other entities, such as the manitous of the forests and meadows, personal manitous and totems, mermen and merwomen, Pauguk (the cursed Flying Skeleton), and the Weendigoes, famed and terrifying giant cannibals.

 

There, There: A Novel by Tommy Orange (Cheyenne, Arapaho)

Here is a voice we have never heard—a voice full of poetry and rage, exploding onto the page with urgency and force. Tommy Orange has written a stunning novel that grapples with a complex and painful history, with an inheritance of beauty and profound spirituality, and with a plague of addiction, abuse, and suicide. This is the book that everyone is talking about right now, and it’s destined to be a classic.

 

Glory Happening: Finding the Divine in Everyday Places by Kaitlin Curtice (Potawatomi Citizen Band)

Glory Happening is a book of stories and prayers that remind you to take a closer look at your everyday circumstances, to find the magical beauty in everyday experiences. It is an invitation to live deeply into every moment with the expectation that something good will find you at the end of the day. And once you experience glory, you have words to speak, a prayer to pray, and a story to tell. And so glory grows from person to person, and community is created around the reality that God is truly in our midst.

 

Native American DNA: Tribal Belonging and the False Promise of Genetic Science by Kim Tallbear (Sisseton Wahpeton Oyate)

In Native American DNA, Kim TallBear shows how DNA testing is a powerful—and problematic—scientific process that is useful in determining close biological relatives. But tribal membership is a legal category that has developed in dependence on certain social understandings and historical contexts, a set of concepts that entangles genetic information in a web of family relations, reservation histories, tribal rules, and government regulations. At a larger level, TallBear asserts, the “markers” that are identified and applied to specific groups such as Native American tribes bear the imprints of the cultural, racial, ethnic, national, and even tribal misinterpretations of the humans who study them.

 

American Indian Liberation: A Theology of Sovereignty by George Tinker (Osage)

Why Christian understandings of Jesus and God clash with American Indian worldviews. “Tink” Tinker of the Osage Nation describes the oppression suffered by American Indians since the arrival of European colonists, who brought a different worldview across the ocean and attempted to convert the native population to the religion they also imported.

 

Colonial Entanglement: Constituting a Twenty-First-Century Osage Nation by Jean Dennison (Osage)

By situating the 2004-6 Osage Nation reform process within its historical and current contexts, Dennison illustrates how the Osage have creatively responded to continuing assaults on their nationhood. A fascinating account of a nation in the midst of its own remaking, Colonial Entanglement presents a sharp analysis of how legacies of European invasion and settlement in North America continue to affect indigenous people’s views of selfhood and nationhood.

 

Two Old Women by Velma Wallis (Gwich’in Athabaskan)

Based on an Athabascan Indian legend passed along for many generations from mothers to daughters of the upper Yukon River Valley in Alaska, this is the suspenseful, shocking, ultimately inspirational tale of two old women abandoned by their tribe during a brutal winter famine.

Though these women have been known to complain more than contribute, they now must either survive on their own or die trying. In simple but vivid detail, Velma Wallis depicts a landscape and way of life that are at once merciless and starkly beautiful. In her old women, she has created two heroines of steely determination whose story of betrayal, friendship, community, and forgiveness “speaks straight to the heart with clarity, sweetness, and wisdom” (Ursula K. Le Guin).

 

Drowning in Fire (Sun Tracks) by Craig Womack (Muscogee Creek-Cherokee)

Interweaving past and present, history and story, explicit realism and dreamlike visions, Craig Womack’s Drowning in Fire explores a young man’s journey to understand his cultural and sexual identity within a framework drawn from the community of his origins. A groundbreaking and provocative coming-of-age story, Drowning in Fire is a vividly realized novel by an impressive literary talent.

 

I Am Woman: A Native Perspective on Sociology and Feminism by Lee Maracle (Stó:lo Nation of British Columbia)

I Am Woman represents my personal struggle with womanhood, culture, traditional spiritual beliefs and political sovereignty, written during a time when that struggle was not over. My original intention was to empower Native women to take to heart their own personal struggle for Native feminist being. The changes made in this second edition of the text do not alter my original intention. It remains my attempt to present a Native woman’s sociological perspective on the impacts of colonialism on us, as women, and on my self personally.

 

Power: A Novel by Linda Hogan (Chickasaw)

When sixteen-year-old Omishto, a member of the Taiga Tribe, witnesses her Aunt Ama kill a panther-an animal considered to be a sacred ancestor of the Taiga people-she is suddenly torn between her loyalties to her Westernized mother, who wants her to reject the ways of the tribe, and to Ama and her traditional people, for whom the killing of the panther takes on grave importance.

 

Trail of Lightning (The Sixth World) by Rebecca Roanhorse (Ohkay Owingeh)

Maggie Hoskie is a Dinétah monster hunter, a supernaturally gifted killer. When a small town needs help finding a missing girl, Maggie is their last best hope. But what Maggie uncovers about the monster is much more terrifying than anything she could imagine.

 

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

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

 

Embers: One Ojibway’s Meditations by Richard Wagamese (Ojibwe) 

In this carefully curated selection of everyday reflections, Richard Wagamese finds lessons in both the mundane and sublime as he muses on the universe, drawing inspiration from working in the bush—sawing and cutting and stacking wood for winter as well as the smudge ceremony to bring him closer to the Creator. Embers is perhaps Richard Wagamese’s most personal volume to date. Honest, evocative and articulate, he explores the various manifestations of grief, joy, recovery, beauty, gratitude, physicality and spirituality—concepts many find hard to express.

 

Bowwow Powwow by Brenda J Child (Red Lake Ojibwe)

When Uncle and Windy Girl and Itchy Boy attend a powwow, Windy watches the dancers and listens to the singers. She eats tasty food and joins family and friends around the campfire. Later, Windy falls asleep under the stars. Now Uncle’s stories inspire other visions in her head: a bowwow powwow, where all the dancers are dogs. In these magical scenes, Windy sees veterans in a Grand Entry, and a visiting drum group, and traditional dancers, grass dancers, and jingle-dress dancers–all with telltale ears and paws and tails. All celebrating in song and dance. All attesting to the wonder of the powwow.

 

The Mishomis Book: The Voice of the Ojibway by Edward Benton-Banai (Wisconsin Ojibway)

Written for readers from all cultures-but especially for Ojibway and Native youth-The Mishomis Bookprovides an introduction to Ojibway culture and an understanding of the sacred Midewiwin teachings, aiming to protect this knowledge by instilling its importance in a new generation. Encouraging the preservation of a way of life that is centered on respect for all living things, these vibrant stories about life, self, community, and relationship to nature are just as relevant to the modern reader as they were hundreds of years ago.

 

 

“If we are serious about establishing better relations than those we’ve had in the past– and if we’re serious as a country and as a broader, multination, multicultural, and multivocal community– then we must return our attention to Indigenous voices, perspectives, and experiences. There’s simply no other way of moving forward. To do otherwise is to replicate the injustices and exclusions of the past, and that hasn’t ever served any of us very well.”

— Daniel Heath Justice

 

 

 

What Does it Mean to Become an Adult?

 

I’ve been thinking for the past six months or so about the process of becoming an adult. This idea was brought on by a few things in my life, one of them being the fact that after ten years of marriage, we are in desperate need of a new couch. I walk across my house, eyeing the black piece of furniture that has been so kind to us over the years, over four moves into different living spaces in different states and seasons of life. I look at her, despondent as she is, and say to myself, I’m ready for something new.

 

I’m ready to be an adult.

 

I will be thirty this year, and it seems that after publishing a book last year and beginning therapy this summer, I’m coming into my own way, at least for the next season, at least for the next month. And while I’m so grateful to be where I am, there is always this nagging voice, much like the one that comes right before New Year’s Eve, right before resolutions are pinned to the wall and written in our planners: get your act together, that’s what adults do.

 

Make more money.

Clean up your house.

Figure out parenthood.

Get your exercise schedule together.

You need to work harder.

You’re lazy.

Adults know what boundaries are.

You should know more by now.

No adult actually watches Netflix this much.

 

 

If ever imposter syndrome abounds, it’s in these kinds of thoughts and feelings, telling me I’m not enough.

 

I’ve seen people my age and into their early thirties who have nicely dressed kids and the perfect patch of yard outside their dream home. They get up and go to work every day, they make wholesome meals and attend church regularly.

 

They are doing adulthood right.

 

…right?

 

Then I think about a lot of other adults I know. People with scars and stories, people who are still trying to get it together in their forties, fifties, sixties. In other words, they’re human.

 

And what I realize is, that’s what we all are, and the dream of being “an adult” isn’t as cookie-cutter as we say it is.

Adulthood, instead of a series of steps, is an ever-forming cycle of being human on this earth.

 

Adulthood isn’t that you’ll have kids and a spouse with a perfect A-frame house. That idea carries with it the American dream, an ideal held by the wealthy but unavailable to the poor, an idea that says things need to look and be a certain way to be successful.

It leaves out a lot of us.

 

And the ones with the perfect yards and the pristine children are also struggling with something, trying to learn what it means to love and live a better life, trying to learn what their journey looks like in that cycle of things.

 

So that’s what it must mean to be an adult: an awareness of our ever-evolving stories, an awareness of our scars and what they teach us to be in the world.

 

I’ve just started reading Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone with my sons, and at the beginning of the book, not long after Harry received his infamous lightning bolt scar, Hagrid asks Albus Dumbledore if he should remove the scar so that Harry can live without it.

 

Dumbledore responds with this:

 

 Scars can come in handy.

 

What if adulthood means we find ways for our scars to come in handy, for our mistakes and our successes to integrate themselves into our story?

 

 

What if we hit adulthood for a few years only to realize we need to turn back to our childlikeness?

 

There is this idea that if we get ourselves together, if we fix what is broken and clean up what is messy, that means we are healed forever, we are ready to be healthy in every way and will never make the same mistakes again.

 

But, dear friends, that is not humanity.

 

Maybe being an adult means realizing there is true, sacred beauty in childlikeness.

Maybe being an adult means we are called to remember our smallness in a huge world.

Maybe being an adult means we become a lore more like Fred Rogers and a lot less like Donald Trump.

Maybe being an adult isn’t just about independence but about recognizing our interdependence on a world that needs us—our gifts, our wholeness, our love.

 

What if our old, beat up couches and our ungroomed yards are just as much a part of our journey to adulthood as the pristine yards and the brand new pieces of furniture?

“Our work, then, is to become the healthiest possible version of who we uniquely are,” writes David Richo, author of How to be an Adult in Relationships. Maybe being an adult is endlessly asking what can bring us true joy and call us to life.

 

Maybe being an adult is realizing that working through healing is a necessary part of our wholeness.

 

In that case, the house isn’t the most important thing.

In that case, our children will be loved as we learn to love ourselves alongside them.

In that case, we learn to do this work in community, and we become stronger together.

In that case, the comparison game can’t get to us anymore.

In that case, as we dream about the kind of person we want to be tomorrow, we know that who we are today can count our successes, too.

 

In that case, adult on, friends. I’m right there with you. 

 

 

 

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. 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.

 

 

 

 

Love Letter to the Lonely

We’ve created a world that says loneliness is our fault, mental illness is either a myth or a problem that we must suffer with or fix quietly, so we don’t disrupt the way of things.

But loneliness is not wrong.

Friend,

I’ve been thinking about you today. I’m thinking about all the ways we get things wrong on this earth, in this country.

I’m thinking about all the different forms oppression can take.

I’m thinking about the reality that we’ve created a social environment in the United States (and in other countries) that doesn’t lend grace and compassion well.

We criticize each other’s weakness. We berate one another’s stories and experiences.

I’m thinking about mental health and self-care. I’m thinking about the work of listening to the needs of the soul.


What does it mean to be lonely?

I’ve heard so many times the phrase “we are lonely, but not alone.”

But it’s okay to feel alone, right?

We’ve created a world that says loneliness is our fault, mental illness is either a myth or a problem that we must suffer with or fix quietly, so we don’t disrupt the way of things.

But loneliness is not wrong.

Depression, anxiety or any host of feelings are not sources of shame, though we shame one another for experiencing them.

We shame one another for going to therapy, for taking medications, for admitting that we are tired. We forget our humanity for a moment. We forget what it looks like to hold one another. We forget that self-care is not laziness.

And we forget that the voice of Love is everything.

And our work right now is to break the chains of shame for ourselves and for one another.


Friend, I want you to know that loneliness is not a sin or human flaw.

It also isn’t just a lie that we believe, because loneliness is real. We see it in ourselves and in others everyday, in every work environment, in every community, on every street corner.

So what if we thought of every space as an opportunity to commune?

What if our digital and physical spaces were considered sacred, just as everyone who inhabits them is sacred?

What if we live in such a way that even our online interactions create space without reducing one anther to labels of weakness or unworthiness?

What if we learn to tell ourselves that we are worthy of love?


Recently in a therapy session, I tried to explain the constant tension I walk as a woman who is Potawatomi and white, Christian but not colonized, American but also indigenous.

I feel like I am never fully one thing or another.

And while it’s lonely, the more I share my story, the more people I find who feel the same way, who are fractured, who are trying to find their footing in a world that doesn’t accept some part of who they are.

Then I remember something.

I remember the stories of Jesus, a man who seemed to be lonely a lot.

He went to quiet places. He had some close friends, but he still struggled.

“Will they ever understand?” he quietly prayed.

“Can this cup be taken away? I’m tired.”


Many of the world’s greatest leaders admit to loneliness. And in those spaces, a lot of soul care is required to remember what it means to be a leader, what it means to carry compassion and empathy as a model for others.

But what about us? What about our daily lives? What about those moments when we are too weary to do the work?

Friend, I want you to know that I’m not expecting anything from you, but to learn to love yourself and then work on the empathy and compassion that fuels you to love the world.

This is not strictly linear work, but cyclical, seasonal, an ebb and flow that doesn’t always make sense.


If you grew up in a religious or social environment that wanted rule following over love of self, you know that even as an adult it’s hard to unlearn those thought and heart patterns. I’m still working, and I bet you are, too.

But it’s possible. And it’s not selfish.

So we re-wire the way we think about ourselves. And over time, we re-wire the way we think of others.

But it doesn’t mean that loneliness isn’t a constant companion. It means that while loneliness is there with us, we are still called.

We still have important things to contribute to our communities, to our families, to the world. We still have good work to do, and that work is connected to resting in the faithfulness of this earth that we get to inhabit.

Maybe the trees can remind us that we are loved and valued.

Maybe the bird on the windowsill or the constant rising and falling tide can tell us that the world wants to continue her work because we are a part of it.

Maybe then, we’re not quite as lonely as we think.

Maybe creation meets us in our loneliness and whispers I'm still here, after all these years. And maybe the fact that we all feel loneliness in a spectrum of ways means that loneliness is universal.

Until then, I guess what I’m trying to say is, you’re not so alone, after all, and neither am I.

All my love,

Kait 


Remember, your pain isn’t wrong or a weakness. If you’re lonely and need to talk to someone, there are people available to you.
National Suicide Prevention Hotline:
Call 1-800-273-8255
For LGBTQ:
https://suicidepreventionlifeline.org/help-yourself/lgbtq/
For Youth:
https://suicidepreventionlifeline.org/help-yourself/youth/
For Loss Survivors:
https://suicidepreventionlifeline.org/help-yourself/loss-survivors/
For the Native American community:
https://suicidepreventionlifeline.org/help-yourself/native-americans/
For Veterans:
https://suicidepreventionlifeline.org/help-yourself/veterans/
For Deaf/Hard of Hearing:
https://suicidepreventionlifeline.org/help-yourself/for-deaf-hard-of-hearing/

 

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.