Deconstructing American Christian Worship

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I’ve been tired during church lately.

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

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

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

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

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

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

I listen to the voices in unison.

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

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

Theresa ofAvila says it like this:

You find God in yourself and yourself in God.

 

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

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

We embrace Mystery without analyzing any of it. 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Amen.

 

Day 13: Colonizing Christianity

{DISCLAIMER: These reflections are solely my reflections from my journey as a Potawatomi woman. They do not reflect the journey or stories of every indigenous person, and it should not be assumed that every indigenous person has the same experiences. Thank you for joining me here. May we grow toward unity together.}

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People living under capitalism find it very hard to know their own center and to live from within it.

–Richard Rohr, Simplicity

If we could step out of modern day America, back to what once was, what would we find, feel, believe about ourselves, each other, this earth?

If we could think about getting the things we need not by buying them but trading, sharing, foraging, what would that feel like, look like?

Maybe we begin stepping closer back to the center of ourselves, like Richard writes.

If we imagine that the land can actually heal us, speak to us, remind us of who we are, what would we believe about our every action and their consequences?

The world of colonized Christianity has taken away that ability to imagine and then to recognize that another kind of living is also a true reality.

The world of colonized Christianity has created a bubble  in which things must be fought for, earned, bought at a high price. It has created a bubble in which those who are on the “inside” are against those on the “outside,” and the fight for our lives is the fight for who gets to go to Heaven, who goes to Hell, and how those souls can be won over while we’re here.

I spent so many hours of my childhood crying over the lost souls of my lost friends. Instead of seeing their humanity, I was taught to see the taint in their hearts, and somehow because of that was taught to believe that, though my soul was tainted too, it was at least saved. I was at least part of the in-group, and I had to reach out of that to help the out-group without becoming like them, without succumbing to their darkness.

Does this sound crazy to anyone else out there?

My friends, this is colonized Christianity. This is what happens inside of us after years of Sunday School lessons, after years of sermons in which God is described as a patriarchal God, a judge with a gavel– after all of that, we become people who see everything as us/them, and it’s based in fear.

So my work today is to decolonize my Christianity. And that is no small task.

I believe it will take the rest of my life, and many who have gone before me spent their entire lives doing it, too. I want to follow in their footsteps. I want to walk the way they walked. I want to break down the ideas of us/them, in/out. I want to see the world more wholly, and I want to walk my own journey outside the confines of colonization.

In America today, that’s difficult. Things are hostile, and walking into a church every Sunday is, honestly, very difficult. So I walk in the tension. We are constantly called to walk in the tension.

But as we walk, we have to realize that our equilibrium is off, and every day that I decolonize my faith, every day that I learn more about my Potawatomi culture and apply that lens to my Christianity, I am trying to recenter myself.

And that is difficult work, indeed.

May we do it together, friends, no matter what culture we’re from, for the sake of all of us.


 

My book, #gloryhappening, is out now!

Here’s what people are saying about it:

 

“Stop. Take a deep breath and pour a cup of coffee. This is the kind of book you will want to sit with for a while, the kind you will return to again and again. With the insights of a prophet and the attention of a poet, Kaitlin Curtice invites the reader to see the world fresh, in all its everyday glory. You will never look at a sink of dishes, a mound of dough, a game of Rummy, or the family dog the same way again. “Glory Happening” is a stunner of a debut, every sentence a feast for the senses. By the time you reach the last page, you will have kicked off your shoes, knowing you tread on holy ground.”
– Rachel Held Evans, author of SEARCHING FOR SUNDAY and A YEAR OF BIBLICAL WOMANHOOD
“Kaitlin B. Curtice is a young, Native American Christian mystic who portrays the sacredness of the human condition in everyday language through her writing. Her use of poetic prayers and stories in Glory Happening inspires us to find the divine in every aspect of life, and gifts us with the opportunity to embrace and mirror the gracious reality of God and glory in our midst.”
– Fr. Richard Rohr, Founder, Center for Action and Contemplation, Author, THE NAKED NOW and FALLING UPWARD

 

 

 

DAY 3: Indigenous Belief & the Gospel

{DISCLAIMER: These reflections are solely my reflections from my journey as a Potawatomi woman. They do not reflect the journey or stories of every indigenous person, and it should not be assumed that every indigenous person has the same experiences. Thank you for joining me here. May we grow toward unity together.}

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It’s Native American Heritage Month! If you’d like to read the last two reflections for this month, you can find them on my home page.

Someone asked me if I believe our Potawatomi teachings enhance the gospel.

The answer is yes.

And I’d go further to say that other cultures who have unique teachings also enhance the gospel of Christ because God is a universal God, and I believe Christ honors all cultures.

When I learn something new about my tribe’s ways, our stories, our understandings, it feeds the way I view Jesus’ teachings. We cannot read the Bible objectively.

We read it with subjective eyes, recognizing the people who wrote it and the time they lived in. Still, when I hear a parable of Jesus, I seem to lean in closer than I have in a long time. It’s like listening to an elder speak. It’s life-giving.

It teaches us something. It points us back towards those seven teachings I wrote about on the first day of this series.

Our world literatures are such a beautiful learning tool, and having them helps us understand ourselves and others—if only we pay attention to our humility along the way. I’m learning to respect the Jewish traditions that make up the Torah, a culture that is old and beautiful and has thrived through such oppression.

In America, the Bible has been used for a lot of things– to control and manipulate, for the sole purpose of evangelizing or “saving the lost,” or, in our ancestor’s case, “killing the Indian to save the man.”

So I as I am redeeming my own Potawatomi culture for myself and my family, I am also redeeming the stories of Jesus, who honored and cared for and listened to those who were often most silenced in community. That is where my indigenous beliefs and my beliefs in Christ come together and thrive beautifully. That is where I see the Kingdom of God lived in my own life, lived in the lives of others that I encounter.

May we journey toward Kingdom together--always together.