SEVEN GRATITUDES: prayers in every language

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Migwetch Mamogosnan. Thank you, Creator.

This Potawatomi prayer has been on repeat in my head and heart for several months, ever since I began learning my native language. Basically, it’s a general prayer of thanks, because native people tend to be grateful people.

Thank you, Creator, for everything that you have done for me…

And it continues from there, relaying gratitude after gratitude, asking that God be present and known.

So in that vein, I pray today, in snippets. In bits and pieces. I lift up seven gratitudes with a few of my friends, and as we do, I pray that you lift up yours within yourself, that we learn to practice grateful prayer on a regular basis, in whatever language we use to connect to the sacred.

My eyes have been sore this week from too much time spent on the computer, too much time reading over book endorsements and waiting for emails to come in. So I go outside to remember. I go outside to the “tonic of wilderness,” as Thoreau called it, and nothing could be more true. It is medicine to close my eyes and listen to the world do whatever she needs to do in that moment, to speak whatever she needs to speak.

It is there that grateful prayers pour forth, that we remember our place here. So we pray.

Seven Gratitudes: a prayer

Migwetch Mamogosnan, for the Center for Action and Contemplation, for a class on the Franciscan Way that reminds me I am not alone.

Migwetch Mamogosnan, for the ways you resurrect us every day when we’ve forgotten that even the coldest places inside of us can be resurrected.

Migwetch Mamogosnan, for people who do not give up on each other, who do not give up on you. It is there that we are truly the church.

Migwetch Mamogosnan, for two rowdy, Lego-building boys who are so full of life their bodies can hardly contain it. Were we once so young and alive? Remind us.

Migwetch Mamogosnan, for seasons in which dreams are made reality, for seasons in which we grieve and repair what is broken. In all seasons, You are there. 

Migwetch Mamogosnan, for the hammock in my front yard, from where I can see the hawks fly overhead, from where I can hear the birds talk about the universe, their chittering a sure sign of spring.

Migwetch Mamogosnan, for the gifts of activism and voice and protest, by which we shift the world one nonviolent voice at a time. And surely, you were always with us, and surely, You will always be.  Migwetch, for knowing my name, my sister’s name, my brother’s name, the names of those we thought would never be remembered. You do not forget. 

Migwetch, Migwetch, Migwetch.

Amen. 

 

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Defining Myself Without Fear

Photo by Amy Paulson Photography

I’ve never been one for confrontation. My need for inner and communal harmony is pretty high, so you can imagine that with the current dividedness of our country, and the ongoing pain of learning about my native ancestors’ struggle over what we call Turtle Island, I am pretty emotionally exhausted.

Since the election, I’ve been wary of calling myself a liberal or a progressive out loud, because with every mention of a political or ideological title, things can get hateful pretty quickly. My own church is an umbrella church under which there is a mixture of people, a mixture of beliefs. I’m grateful for it, because when we are together we are forced to step outside of ourselves for a few hours and rest at the bottom-line of Jesus.

Still, as I continue to write and find my voice as a leader in the church and as a native woman in America today, I feel I need to make a decision.

Am I truly a progressive?

I checked to see.

Progressive: happening or developing gradually or in stages; proceeding step by step; a person advocating or implementing social reform or new, liberal ideas.

Then, I looked up liberal: open to new behavior or opinions and willing to discard traditional values.

But on our Facebook and Twitter walls, we attack each other for such titles, so I’ve had a hard time placing myself in a particular group. Is it possible that I am a female, Christian, Native American, Progressive, Liberal?

It seems that it is.

And while I claim the title, I am so many other things beyond it and within it. We have to remember that we are varied in every belief or stance, ranging from extreme to somewhere in the middle and back to the extreme side again.

So that’s what we need to see in each other: we exist beyond our labels, but our labels guide the spaces we inhabit and the arguments we make.

So I argue for change, as it happens step by step, as it moves with our lives, as it journeys within our journey. And in the midst of an ever-changing society, I wait and watch.

I wait and watch as the world asks what’s next.

I wait and watch what native peoples will fight for in the coming years, with a realization that those things are the same things we’ve fought for since the beginning.

I wait and watch as the world asks what it means to be a woman, and what it looks like for women to have the ability to choose what their lives are about.

I wait and watch as people learn to be human to each other, to step over dividing lines to remember that we belong to each other.

I wait and watch as the church — my church included — decides what to do with the chaos in the world, decides who to stand up for and who to listen to when things get heated.

Mostly, I watch the trees outside my window and my two young boys play with Legos on the kitchen floor. I watch the everydayness of my life, and know that I am tethered to that shalom kind of sacredness in this country and in this world, even if that means constant change and a future that looks different than the past.

So if I am a progressive liberal, can I begin as one with a blank slate?

If I call my brother or sister a conservative, can I see their blank slate as well?

If we are afraid of the titles we hold over one another, then we must learn to give each other grace within those beliefs, and from there, to hold each other accountable on the basis of our humanity, our responsibility to care for one another and the world around us.

Dividing lines will always exist.

But they don’t have to define us.

— — — — -

Jesus,

You had a reputation, you know.

You stood with women that you shouldn’t have stood by.

You neglected the important aspects of worship.

You ate meals with dirty fishermen

and you gave the poor the rich man’s best food and clothes.

You were called every name, I’m sure.

I’m sure when you walked by groups of dissent,

whispers slithered back and forth like snakes,

and you were always the culprit,

always the man who should never have been

called Messiah.

And yet.

And yet, you stood by the wells

and ate meals with the dirty

and kissed lepers.

And yet, you called the children

close and told them the whole

world belonged to their dreams.

You, Jesus,

lived beyond every title,

lived only by the rules of the

shalom you created.

May we live that way.

May we live that way.

May we live that way.

Amen.

4 TOXINS OF THE SPIRIT: #2, neglect of soul care/creation connection

This is part two of my series, 4 TOXINS OF THE SPIRIT. If you’d like to read part one, it’s here for you. I’d love to know what you think.


If you’ve ever been in grad school or around someone who is enduring it, you know that it is a total stripping of the mind and soul from the moment classes begin. I’ve watched people I know re-arrange their brains to understand new ways of thinking, to take on new challenges and goals in their classes. And I’ve read articles that expound on the importance of soul care in “long night” seasons like these—it’s essential, or the toxin of exhaustion becomes degrading at the very core of a person.

But it’s not just in the dark nights that this happens. We see people who appear to be healthy and normal every day, falling apart because they are not connected to their inner purpose or listening to their inner voice. It may be that the din of society overshadows our own needs, and we lose who we are to work and social pressures.

Or is it that we are so clouded by the din of our religious rhetoric we forget what it means to care for the soul? I think Jesus had his moments of escape, when he ran to the hillside or the mountaintop and asked in the quiet what it was his soul needed most to get through the day. He built things with scraps of wood and cooked in the kitchen with his mom. He knew what it meant to connect back again, to engage and live and breathe with meaning and purpose.

We get that wrong when we fill up the spaces with more noise, because what is so particular about the outdoors and wide open spaces is that we find ourselves in the company of sacred, years-old created things. When we get it right, we realize that the grasshopper in the field can teach us something about God, just as the pine tree in the back yard does.

In Native American culture this is not animism, but a connection, through creation, with the Creator. So we fight the toxin of neglecting our souls when we re-connect with the pieces of this world that have carried people along from the beginning.

When we get it right, we realize that the grasshopper in the field can teach us something about God, just as the pine tree in the back yard does..png

There’s a small habitat in the middle of our city where I take our boys or visit alone in between meetings on my work day. It’s got Christmas ferns and those towering pines, a harbor of bird feeders and a stage so children can use their imaginations as they engage with creation. I lay on that stage and look up through the pine trees’ arms and know that whatever happened when things were first created, and whatever happens today or tomorrow, there’s something solid in the prospect of a Creator who knows and sees and cares. And that reality can do nothing but fill our souls back up again.

Even there, I have to admit that talking to another person isn’t what can give me peace, either. There is something sacred about listening to the foreign language of the wind in the leaves and the birds in their chanting. Even if I do not understand, God speaks, just as God spoke to Jesus on those mountaintops and in those forests.

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Personal soul care is more than engaging a new hobby or spending quiet time with Netflix. Personal soul care is finding a space in this created universe that reminds us we are not alone, that we are tethered even in our wandering. And the danger of letting the toxin of soul-neglect eat away at us is that we turn to the noise, to the isolating actions that strip us further of what we’re created for.

In our world climate, the best thing we can do for ourselves is acknowledge that true soul therapy doesn’t come from a quiet moment of Facebook feed scrolling, but looking out the window and remembering that the sky that hangs bright and mighty over us is the sky that says our souls have always been worth the steady and hard work of maintaining.

This is soul work with creation, an ancient and sacred work worth rejuvenating within ourselves today.


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Thanks for all your support, friends. It means the world to me.

7 GRATITUDES: always a sacred thread

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My upcoming book is about finding glory in every season of life. One of those seasons for me was a particularly difficult one, when I was abandoned by a family member. You can read about it when my book comes out this fall, and if you read that story you’ll hear that thin place, where I was lonely and afraid, but I was held by the grace of God and the people who loved me.

As we search for glory in our every day lives, we search for gratefulness, too. It is hidden sometimes, and we have to dig to get there. It is difficult to place it, to name it, and yet we try, because we need it to survive.

This week, I’m grateful for seven things, seven things that keep me tethered to the good, to the holy, to the sacred, even in the midst of a mad world.

But before we get to my gratefulness, watch this video of my favorite lullaby to help you get in the mood:

  1. I’m grateful to be indigenous. Today is the Natives March on Washington, and I am with my brothers and sisters in spirit. I pray that their peaceful voices rise, high across the tallest buildings of Washington. Peace cannot be ignored, and I’m so grateful for that.
  2. I’m grateful for the endorsements I’ve received for my book this week and a more official release date in October. Endorsements include this one from Brian McLaren:”Kaitlin writes with a gentle voice that leads us on a journey. In this book, she walks with us into the heart of glory, asking what it means to find sacred spaces in everything. Her young, indigenous voice brings a fresh perspective of lyrical prayer and storytelling to the world. If you love the wisdom and poetry of Kathleen Norris, Barbara Brown Taylor, Annie Dillard, Mary Oliver, and Richard Rohr, you’ll love Kaitlin Curtice.”
  3. I’m grateful for that moment, lying on the couch with my five year old, when I told him stories about my childhood, stories even I’d forgotten. Now I’m trying to trace my memories back, to recall more moments that I can relay to him about the beautiful childhood I had with my siblings, so we can laugh and remember together. Those moments are sacred, indeed.
  4. I’m grateful for a husband that gardens and knows his days are meant for holy things. He bought pansies for our yard and fashioned them in a pattern around our bird feeder because our five year old thinks in patterns. It is a difficult and hard-working season to pass through to get a PhD, but he persists. He works and he plays and he asks questions of himself along the way. He loves us and shows it and I’m grateful I get to be his partner, to watch him grow, even when it feels long and slow.
  5. I’m grateful for the whispered prayer of “Thy will be done.” It may be subconscious that I tilt my voice a little heavenward when I do something that I am unsure about, when I’m looking for an answer to a question or starting a new leg of the journey. Thy will be done invites me into adventure, but tethers me to the sacred love of God inside that journey, and I’m eternally grateful for it.
  6. I’m grateful to be a woman this week. As we celebrated International Women’s Day, I also celebrated my Grandmother’s birthday, a woman who doesn’t journey with her body on this earth anymore but speaks to me every day with her spirit. I carry her with me, as does my mother every day that she learns about her own roots. Women– we are never alone, and our bonds are not easily broken.
  7. I’m grateful for #letterstotrump Tuesday at a local coffee shop where I sit with my boys to write a weekly letter to President Trump, and I’m grateful that whether or not he ever answers or reads those letters, they work something out in me, a slow and steady crawl toward dealing graciously with someone I don’t agree with. I’m grateful that shalom covers us and restores what is broken, and that the work of our hands is sacred when we use it for good. You can read more about my letters and the work of my hands as resistance at Sojourners. Grateful they are willing to publish the things I write every now and then.

And of course, I’m grateful for the group of women who pour out their seven gratitudes weekly, including my dear friend Leanna, who began this link-up in the first place. If you haven’t checked out her blog yet, I encourage you to! 

If I love all the pieces of myself today, I can love all the pieces of you today, too..png

 

 

DEAR PRESIDENT TRUMP: The Reason I Write

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Dear President Trump,

Every Tuesday now, I gather with my boys (so far) at a local coffee shop to write you these letters. I write to you because I want you to know my story.

I write you these letters in hopes that one day my boys will feel empowered to write letters to whoever the president is when they are adults.

I write to you as an indigenous woman because my people’s voices matter.

I write to you as a Christian because I believe God cares for the immigrant, the native, the muslim, the homeless teenager, the LGBT person, the African American spending years in a for-profit prison.

I write to you every week to remind you of your humanity, to remind you that every voice matters, not just yours or the others like it.

I write because I care for this country.

So do not forget that we are here.

Do not forget our voices, even if they differ from yours.

That difference is what makes America Great.

 

With Watching Eyes & Steady Hand,

Kaitlin Curtice 

ONLY LOVE (every part of yourself) TODAY

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In a small group exercise recently, all participants were asked to rank our life identities or roles from 1-4, most to least important. Twenty-something of us sat with our papers folded into four spaces, our pens and markers unsteady for the task. We sat around the quiet room for a few moments and thought about what we call ourselves, what we do, who we care about, and what we dream to one day be.

Immediately I felt uncomfortable and conflicted with the assignment, but chose to go along with it. Some of us were moms, some dads, friends, brothers and sisters, lawyers and educators and students and nurses. Parents and grandparents. We were many things, but being asked to rank those things by their importance was a very difficult task for me.

Am I a Native American woman more than a mother, wife, or worship leader? Do my roles bump up against and fight with one another or do they feed into one another? What do they teach me about who I am and what I do, about how to be better in loving myself and others?

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For weeks after that exercise, I felt guilty that I’d put my identity as a native woman before my motherhood.

Until I went to a conference in Nashville. There, I’d decided to put pieces of my identity behind other pieces. I’d decided that in that space I’d be worship leader Kaitlin and not Native American Kaitlin. By the end of the conference, the fact that I’m Potawatomi became who I was in that space to all the people around me. I needed that part of myself in that setting, and by trying to stifle it, I’d denied myself my own voice.

Driving four hours home, I realized that every piece of who I am is connected.

My dear friend Rachel of Hands Free Mama has a new book coming out on March 7th, and her words speak to what I’ve walked through:

“…life– despite its challenges and daily disappointments– holds moments of joy, hope, comfort, and peace when we choose to start over and offer a second chance to others and ourselves…”

When Rachel writes about slowing down and stopping, about listening and curating moments for the sake of spending time with the people who matter most to us, she’s writing about you and me. She’s writing about our relationships, about our humanity.

But she’s also writing about the things going on inside our own skin, our own tendencies to not listen to ourselves, to neglect the parts of us that may be asking to be heard.

“I just want to celebrate you as you are instead of waiting for you to become what the world expects you to be.”

So if I don’t have to rank my identity and split who I am into pieces, can I love all of who I am called to be?

Can I Only Love Today, my Potawatomi self, my wife self, my worship leading self?

Can I love that all that I am bleeds into everything else that I am or ever hope to be?

There, I find both grace and responsibility.

There, I find grace for other’s stories too, an understanding that every part of our stories matters and makes us who we are today.

If I love all the pieces of myself today, I can love all the pieces of you today, too.

“I hope you feel brave enough to bare the colors of your soul.” 

Only Love Today.

Only Love [ your child-self ] Today.

Only Love [ your adult-self ] Today.

Only Love [ your broken-self ] Today.

Only Love [ your black, white, muslim, jewish, atheist, foreign, native-self ] Today.

Only Love [ your brothers and sisters ] Today.

Only Love [ your enemies ] Today.

Only Love [ the story of your neighbor ] Today.

Only Love [ all those people who are outcasts ] Today.

Only Love [ the outcast parts of your own soul ] Today.

Only Love [ when you have no idea how to love ] Today.

Only. Love. Today.

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Pre-order your copy of Rachel’s book today, and find daily reminders that all of who you are deserves love, and all of the love that you give deserves to be given.

Together, may we Only Love [ every part of ourselves ] Today. 

7 Gratitudes: pray & be grateful (when words are few)

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” Awakened by surprise, we can recognize that what we call a ‘given’ world is truly given. For we have not made it, earned it, or deserved it; chances are that we have not even fully approved of it. What confronts us is a given reality, and we recognize it as given. But only if we acknowledge this gift will our recognition lead to gratefulness. And acknowledging a gift may be far more difficult than recognizing it.” –Brother David Steindl-Rast, Gratefulness, the Heart of Prayer

Last night I found unexpected solace in saying a bedtime prayer. My husband is out of town for a few days, and in that nearly quiet, I spoke to the air knowing that there is a force of great love in the reality of Jesus around me.

I mourned yesterday, again, in my soul and in my mind. Police raided what was left of Standing Rock camp, arresting a number of people. I pulled away long enough to dig in my garden and play baseball with my five year old, but my heart is so heavy with a years-and-years long reality that my native brothers and sisters are recognized as less than worth the energy and effort to be cared for.

Still, it isn’t over. Something has begun, so in my weariness I hold onto that reality. I pray and I rest and I remember and I educate myself and my boys.

But this morning, I need gratefulness. I need to recognize this life as a gift, and my response must be a response of gratitude for all I’ve been given.

Are you with me?

So, along with my dear friend Leanna and a few others, I  count what I can be grateful for. These are simple and my words are few, because some days, gratefulness comes quietly.

  1. Smudging.  Every afternoon I light sage, pray, and breathe. I began doing this a few months ago, and to my surprise, it became something I looked forward to every day. It calms me and cleanses me, reminds me to stop and to breathe— something we could certainly use a little more of these days. pray-breathe
  2. An afternoon at the river with our dog. FullSizeRender 9.jpg
  3. A date night at an Irish pub. statues
  4. Progress on my book, with a fancy new hashtag: #gloryhappening! Join me in recognizing the glory of our everyday spaces, and share on social media where you find scared spaces, not unlike where we find spaces fit for gratefulness. I’ve got a national book signing date in October and a speaking slot at the Wild Goose Festival this July. I couldn’t be more grateful for the gift of writing. never fade.png
  5. This guy and his heart for our family, his work, and the world. img_6714
  6. Flower Power, seriously. We live in a house that we’re told was once inhabited by a WWII widow, and her passion was plants. As spring approaches, we are greeted by southern blooms that I had no idea existed, and as we grow our own garden, her spirit rests with us in this place, especially in the heart of this five year old boy who loves nature to the very core of his being.img_6691
  7. And then, there’s this guy.You don’t know love for Legos until you meet him, because he spends his whole day in a LegoLand, fighting the bad guys and making the world right again. img_6727

“A lot of us religious types go around saying thank you to God when we find a good parking space, or locate the house keys or the wandering phone, or finally get a good night’s sleep. And while that may be annoying to the people around us, it’s important because if we are lucky, gratitude becomes a habit.” –Anne Lamott, Help Thanks Wow

 

BEFORE: a poem

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Last week I spent a few days in Nashville at the Convergence Music Project conference– a group of church leaders coming together to figure out how to lead in a different way that reflects inclusive grace in our worship spaces.

I expected to go to this conference and sit and listen. I expected to meet one or two people, to keep my head down, to take notes and be still. I expected to keep my Native American self a little behind my worship leading self, to learn things that I could take home and apply in my own life and in the life of my church.

But what I expected, of course, was different than my graciously given reality.

There were only a few people of color at this conference, and it was pointed out in numerous ways, at numerous times. We all lamented that our group was not more diverse, and posed questions throughout the conference asking how this can change in the future. Convergence honors the voice of people of color, and I’m so grateful for that.

Still, I kept my head down and my voice hushed. I listened. But then, I was asked to speak. Then who I am– as a whole– came to the surface of my speaking and my listening and my interactions, and I realized again that I cannot separate who I am, not even for a minute. I cannot say that in this space I’ll be worship leader and in that space I’ll be native and in another space I’ll be mom and wife and friend. I am all of these things in all of these spaces, and they make me whole.

So, by the third day of the conference, I’d understood. The day before, Brian McLaren had taken us in an unexpected direction in a conversation about the Doctrine of Discovery.

The conference had taken a turn toward acknowledging the church’s complicity in the abuse of native peoples and African peoples, and throughout our time there the theme kept coming back up, kept making its way to the forefront– if we are to worship in our churches, something must change, be acknowledged, be reckoned with. 

It is a subject we can no longer ignore.

On Friday morning, we gathered for our own church service, our minds and hearts reeling and ready and engaged from three days of sharing and brainstorming a few new ways forward.

And when my friend Brian Sirchio stood at the front of the room and once more acknowledged what happened to my ancestors, and acknowledged why it is wrong that in my native skin I don’t know how to fit into the white church, I fell apart (again).

We listened to a man play two native flutes and we processed together. My shoulders heaved with both the pain of our history and with a great swell of hope– if the people in this room can see me, can see my African American brothers and sisters, we can see that a new way forward is at least possible– we can see that the world is literally shifting all around us, and we must be ready to hold onto each other in all of our cultural and skin colored differences.

That morning as the flutes played, I wrote. A poem poured out of me and my hand could hardly keep up with my heart. I stopped every few seconds to wipe tears, and I thought in that moment this is it. A piece of Kingdom.

I stood after the music was over and read the poem, and I felt a release. I felt a release inside of my own chest to find a way to be who I am, without the need to  compartmentalize. I felt a release to be who I am without dualistic ties, without categorizing my identity into neat boxes.

In these words, I released into all of us the permission to say that who we are today is a chance to move forward to who we want to be tomorrow, as individuals and as the church.

That is the greatest release I can imagine.

Before you knew me, you knew my story–

the story of humanity,

the story of breath in lungs,

eyes and hearts,

longing and desire,

the known and unknown parts.

Before I knew you, I knew your story–

the labor to grow,

the roots of your love,

the culturedness that

brings your being to life.

Before we knew God,

we were held in something,

a sacred womb

that does not let us go,

still,

a table that continues 

to get bigger,

more and more chairs

for a larger and larger feast.

This means that we were never alone,

you and me.

We were never broken before,

never 

stolen or battered,

maimed or abused.

In the Before, we were

held in eternal

Shalom.

In the After,

today,

you, me, 

our stories,

our table–

it grows bigger, still.

 

Amen.

 

7 GRATITUDES: a bullet poem

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For a little while now, I’m joining some friends to celebrate gratitude every Friday.

Today, a bullet poem:

 


At the end of this string of weekdays, I breathe hello to Friday and remember gratefulness.

Some say that it’s the thing that holds us together, this practice of looking at the world and saying we’re glad to be a part of it.

So I gather my seven gratitudes, seven expressions of hope.

  • I count two little heads that sleep beneath covers at night, the two boys that I get to spend my days learning beside. They illuminate every darkness.
  • The redwing blackbirds visit, daily placing their silhouettes against our bright blue skies, surprising us with their always-togetherness. Family.
  • Dreams, the kind that entertain- Obama singing along with Mumford at an awards show- Dreams, the kind that prophesy and teach, remind and restore.
  • Worship, the breathing room kind that meets outside religion’s walls, that calls me back to God in the middle of everything that is life. Worship is a beckoning, and we would be wise to let her otherness bring us together, especially in these weary days.
  • In that moment just last week, I said to a friend that I don’t read the Bible much– spoken word– a prayer issued to God, a bible brought to my mailbox yesterday from a far-off friend, accompanied by a bar of dark chocolate. This far-off friend, who once kissed me on the forehead and called me loved. A Bible and a bar of dark chocolate commissioned with the words, “We long for your company with the love of God.”
  • In process of good work, we as what good work means. Does it mean to breathe without worry, to look in another’s eyes without conflict, to practice empathy in every way? Progress in book writing and song writing, worship leading and teaching, learning and re-learning; a real-life book in the works with a real-life deadline and a real-life release date, and I think that this good work is what I’m made of for now.
  • Grateful that the future belongs to the enduring space of shalom? Absolutely.

 

Absolutely grateful.

 

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4 TOXINS OF THE SPIRIT: # 1, racism & othering

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Hemlock and aconite, also known by many as Wolfs bane, are just two of multiple poisons that have been known to exist in the natural world. These two toxins, among others, are unique in that they work slowly in the body, causing slow paralysis and shut down of the systems before death occurs.

Just as it is with the body, there are toxins of the spirit that we injest every day without recognizing them. They are the slow and steady poisons that work their way through us, eventually causing harm. When I was young, I sat in a pew every Sunday morning and evening and heard stories about the dreadful things that would become of someone who drank or smoked or had sex too young and out of wedlock. Mixed in were the warnings of flirting or spending time with the unchurched, fears of being lost to a dark and sinful world.

But now I believe, along with people like Richard Rohr and Barbara Brown Taylor, that this place we inhabit is a benevolently beautiful one, in which creation began not as a horrible mistake but a chance for something cosmically good to take place.

Some of the things I was warned of as a child have the ability destroy the body, but this series is about four things that I’ve found destroy the soul when they slowly work their way into our lives, things we may not even be aware of— things we may be blatantly ignoring as they grow inside of us. These are things I see every day, especially if I scan my Facebook feeds for long enough.

The first toxin is that of racism and othering, which have come to the surface in social media, but have always been a constant trouble to the soul. We see story after story– an unarmed black man shot by a white police officer; a Muslim woman harassed in the street; three young black men torturing a white man with disabilities; a woman threatening a Latina worker in a grocery store, all flashing across our Facebook and Twitter feeds in the course of a week. This is without mentioning atrocities that happen all over the world, like the killing of civilians in Aleppo.

If we are to admit it, these are not just products of a society or a system, but go straight to the heart of who we are, killing us slowly every day that they work their way through us.

Brian McLaren says in his new book, The Great Spiritual Migration, that “the word ‘we,’ as it turns out, can be pretty dangerous, because it can otherize and dehumanize those who aren’t like us.”

If we are honest about our own history’s past, about humanity’s past, we must be honest about the long-standing legacy of racism and prejudice that have maimed and broken so many throughout the centuries.

So what are we to do about it? And who do we answer to when we find these toxins inside of ourselves?

Is fasting from Facebook feeds and untruthful news enough to root out these toxins?

Why are these questions coming up again, and what is the church (and every other religious or spiritual community) to do about it?

After a series of shootings of African American men in the United States, a group of people met at a picnic table under the tall oak trees in my church’s front yard—all of us from different backgrounds, of differing races and beliefs, gathered for an awkward, terrifying, and necessary meeting to seek peace.

The white people under that tree admitted that they didn’t know what to do, apologized for what had been done, apologized for the fact that they could never understand.

But the most powerful statement was the one that said, “I have this racism. I feel afraid, and I know it’s been inside of me for a long time, and I don’t even understand it.” Reaching out with this realization was the first step taken towards true healing, towards a relationship of soul-to-soul responsibility and honesty about what’s been done and left undone. This must be the first step toward rooting out the toxins of racism and othering– a terrifying and humbling acknowledgement that it exists, and we must follow that with a long and steady lament.

Mark Charles speaks on this lament, especially within the walls of the church. If we have played a part in the rise of racism in this world, it is necessary we lament and begin again, because this is where the power of these toxins take root and grow, as they often have  in the United States and across the world.

Perhaps having faith in something helps protect us from racist othering. Perhaps having faith in Jesus, who sought out those that were othered, will actually create in us the opposite effect of what we’ve been giving ourselves over to — an effect in which we stop the poisons of racism, prejudice, and othering from rooting themselves in us, and we actually begin to find a voice to fight them openly, with persistent compassion and an undying, protestful spirit.

We look to the healers of our time and the times before us. We look to the voices and the spirits that give fresh life to others through their kind and steadfast compassion.

The way of a healer is not just to root out the toxin, but to tell us how to avoid being poisoned again- and so, as our leader-healer, Jesus tells us stories. He relates to our bodies in his own body, our souls in his own soul. He draws us close to the earth and tells us to care for it, to care for each other. He tells us to take logs out of our eyes and to shake hands instead of slapping faces.

So we voice our concerns, not just for the people of our own race or kind, but for all humanity. We voice our concerns in protest for those that are othered today, and you do not have to look far to find them. We face quite a challenge, not only in our world, but right here with the neighbor next door, with the other political party or the lower class or the other ethnic mix, with the religious belief that differs drastically from our own.

Jesus knew that rooting toxins like prejudice out of ourselves does not mean that we lose ourselves, but it means that we gain the ability to be empathetic again, to honor the fact that our journey is not the only one in the world, and true justice is setting right every wrong on the terms of grace and reconciliation. And we meet at the table, under the oak tree, in the church yard, in our own living rooms. We meet wherever we can and we tell the really, really difficult truth.

If we are to root out these toxins, we take the charge seriously, and then we pass on those same stories and hopes to the generations after us, to the world outside of us. We too, can be healthy and whole toward our brothers and sisters, toward creation, toward God, toward ourselves. We can learn daily what it means to stop racism and othering, and replace them with care and compassion for all others.

But before we begin, we must admit that they’re there in the first place, which may be the most difficult part of all– but most necessary.