Old Habits Die Hard: Lent 2018

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I recently joined a group at my church called Be the Bridge, a gathering of people from various racial and ethnic backgrounds coming together simply to process race within the church. Started by Latasha Morrison, Be the Bridge works to create people who press on “towards fostering and developing vision, skills and heart for racial unity.”

The first week that we met, I cried while introducing my story as a Potawatomi Christian, because I don’t often have safe spaces in which to share my story. It’s one thing to write about it, but it’s another thing to talk openly about the struggle. It was like a group therapy session, people from different backgrounds sharing their racial experiences with one another.

In another small group setting, someone brought up Lent, asking what we’re prepared to give up (or pick up) this Lenten season. I hesitated.

Because so much of my journey as a Potawatomi woman and a Christian feels like a strange wilderness (you can read more about it here), Lent is just an extension of that. I could give up chocolate or sugar, but I feel like there’s something more here, something else that’s asking to be paid attention to.

So, I have a different idea for this Lent.

What if we decided to look our habits in the face this Lent? And I’m not talking about the way we eat or how often we watch television.

It’s more subtle than this.

I’m talking about our institutional habits that have been crafted over the years, systemic habits that have pitted humans against other humans, humans against the earth.

Habits such as racism, ableism, stereotyping, hatred, bigotry, misogyny, patriarchy, white supremacy, or damaging religious rhetoric are the things I’m talking about.

If you grew up in religious settings that told you what to believe and how, no questions asked, you know that day after day, those beliefs become habits, and after a while, it’s terribly difficult to break them.

As the old saying goes, old habits die hard.

And that’s what Lent is about, when we’re faced with a wilderness experience that asks us to look beyond our skin and bones and see what lies there, deep inside.

So this Lent, I’m asking us to look at what’s underneath. I’m asking us to check into the subtleties of damaging habits and mindsets, ones that have been brought to the surface of America’s landscape lately.

I’m asking us to sit in the wilderness with Jesus as we ask how we got here and where we are going.

I’m asking us to have really difficult conversations.

One of these subtleties happened for me recently when I was asked, not for the first time, “So how far back?” How far back does your Indian blood go?

As my husband lovingly and passionately pointed out later, I could have simply said, “Me. I am an enrolled member of my tribe, and so you don’t need to ask that question. It’s me.” But in the moment, I freeze over these kinds of questions. I explain who my ancestors were. I explain that I am on the tribal rolls of my tribe, that I can trace my people back to the Great Lakes Region of the United States before the Trail of Death.

But you see, that’s not the answer people are looking for. Because we are trained to ask for a blood quantum. We’re trained to say, “So, your native blood is running out, right? How native are you, really?”

It’s the subtle things, right?

This Lent, we’re not going to decolonize or deconstruct every part of ourselves for good.

But we can begin to break some of those habits and recognize that the things we’ve been institutionally taught have fostered attitudes of racism, hatred and misogyny in America, and in our schools and churches.

So this Lent, I intend to keep my mind alert.

I intend to face my own racism, whether it’s against my African American brother or the white woman who asks how Indian I am.

I intend to watch the women in the church around me, to speak words of empowerment over them in the face of constant misogyny and patriarchy. 

I intend to watch how I interact with my brothers and sisters with disabilities, how I pay attention to their needs and battle stereotypes that are set up against them.

I intend to have conversations with my Jewish and Muslim brothers and sisters, to learn from them, their histories and stories, their experiences in America.

I intend to pay attention to the mental paths my mind takes when I get defensive, to trace those paths back to institutional habits that have been set in place for years.

Then, I intend to pray into those spaces.

And know this, I am one of those people who believes that prayer is a constant position of the body, mind, spirit. That also means I’m pretty bad at sitting still with the silence.

So I want to sit and face my own habits. I want to face institutional racism, misogyny, hatred, religious bigotry, and I encourage you to do the same.

And as you explore these things too, share what you’ve found with us. Use #oldhabits on social media to begin conversations about where you’ve noticed your mental processes going and how you want to change them. Challenge the systems that put them there, and challenge yourself not only to create new mental and spiritual habits, but to challenge those institutions as well. Challenge them for your children. Challenge them for future generations.

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The only way we begin to kill old habits and pick up new, healthier ones is to do it in community, to do it with others in spaces like Be the Bridge groups, in conversations on Twitter or in private Facebook groups, with people we trust, over cups and cups of coffee where we understand that the conversation, as hard as it may be, is far from over.

So here are a few ideas for this Lent, always, always with the work of shalom and grace in mind:

  1. Grab a cup of coffee or dinner with someone who is of a different race than you are, and take turns telling your story. Don’t interrupt one another, don’t get defensive if something difficult is said. Come to the table with the understanding that you want to pay attention to institutional racism.
  2. Listen to some women in your religious circles. Challenge misogyny. Get a group of men together and ask them to share stories about the women who have shaped their theologies. If you’re creative, make a video of those stories and share it with your church community.
  3. Read new books by people of color (here’s a perfect list to get you started!), and read new books that challenge what we’ve been taught about our history, like A People’s History of the United States by Howard Zinn. Honor #BlackHistoryMonth by listening to black voices around you.
  4. Read the Bible with eyes to see that Jesus was an activist, a rebel, and someone who constantly challenged institutions. Ask what that looks like for you in America in 2018.
  5. If you are part of a church, ask why it is or isn’t diverse or inclusive. Explore what it would mean to start a Be the Bridge group or to simply have new conversations, like how the church was complicit in the genocide/assimilation of indigenous peoples in America. Ask who the indigenous people were who once lived on the very land where your church is planted, and put a sign out front honoring them.
  6. Join this Facebook group, where we’ll have serious, respectful and safe discussions about these institutional habits and how they affect us. 
  7. Give yourself and others grace, because we cannot move forward if we are paralyzed by fear or by how hard this is. It is going to be hard, and it’s going to be terrifying at times. You are not alone.

May this Lenten wilderness call us out of ourselves and into the wholeness of a God who sees color and diversity and calls it good.

May this Lenten wilderness make us uncomfortable enough to ask difficult questions, and patient enough to listen for difficult answers.

May this Lenten wilderness bring more of the truth of gospel to our circles, the heart of justice and shalom always guiding us into a more inclusive faith.

May this Lenten wilderness lead us to deeper love for the created world we inhabit and for one another, precisely because of our differences. May we no longer feel the need to say “we are color blind” but that “we love others because we are not the same.”

May this Lenten wilderness remind us that wildernesses are meant to show us ourselves in the face of a world that reflects all the wild love of God. May we lean into that truth today.

Join me.

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“Thousands of tired, nerve-shaken, over-civilized people are beginning to find out that going to the mountains is going home; that wildness is a necessity.”
― John Muir

 

Remembering Our Single Parents This Christmas

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I’ve been doing what a lot of Americans do during the Christmas season: watching cheesy Christmas movies on Netflix. Recently I watched one called My Santa, a movie about a single mother who falls in love with Santa’s son. While I wouldn’t recommend you spend an hour and a half watching it like I did, it reminded me of the difficult time so many single parents have at this time of year.

I was a child of a single parent at one time, and right now I’m solo parenting for a few weeks. Every time my partner goes on a trip, I’m reminded of that time when my mother had to care for three kids and work full time. I remember that she was tired, and while the holidays are still really sweet memories, simple memories—I don’t think as a child I picked up on the stress that she carried constantly. What I remember is that we listened to Nat King Cole and Harry Connick, Jr. while we decorated the tree. What I remember is gratitude that I was loved.

After my partner had been away for a few days, I shared a thought on Twitter about how hard it is to be parent, and at the end I said, “Please tell me I’m not alone in this?”

A flood of responses came in, parents of all ages telling me that I am not alone, that parenthood is hard and beautiful, that our children are a handful and that’s absolutely okay.  I was given permission to breathe a little instead of telling myself over and over that everything was fine and I shouldn’t be stressed because I have a good life. I was forcing gratitude on myself so that I couldn’t admit that it’s just hard sometimes.

And because we don’t like to admit it when things are hard, we don’t let others admit it, either. We often make it more difficult for our single parents, especially in a society that prides itself on consumerism and the idea that kids can ask for whatever they want from Santa and will get it.

It puts single parents, who are often struggling to make ends meet, in a difficult, exhausted position, not to mention the fact that they are missing out on the partnership that gives them the opportunity to receive their own gifts on Christmas morning.

It snowed here in Georgia recently, and that morning, I noticed a lot of birds flocking to our empty bird feeders that hang from hooks out front. So I refilled all of our birdfeeders out in the yard, and watched as birds flocked to the newly filled feeders, stocking up on food before the snow began to fall and the temperatures dropped. I watched, with great honor, the creatures I had the chance to care for. I was in awe that I had the energy to care for creatures other than my two boys and our puppy, because while I’ve loved our time together, it’s been exhausting.

I remember single parents who do not always have the ability to step back and rest and care for others because they are exhausted and this season requires so much from them. I remembered that the years when I had a single mother, we struggled but found grace in the kindness of others who took the time to care for us, whether it was our  landlord or family friends.

So during this holiday season, let’s remember our single parents. Let’s remember that those of us who have partners shouldn’t take it for granted. Let’s practice sensitivity over judgment, and follow a few simple rules in honor of the single parents around us:

Don’t Assume.

This isn’t a time to wonder if a parent is single because they are divorced, or because they had a child out of wedlock, or because their partner died. It’s not a time to wonder how much they’re putting in the offering plate or why they seem so exhausted around their kids. This is a time to hold space and to give as much grace as possible. It’s a time to listen instead of talk. It’s a time to embrace the idea that our souls are connected to one another because of our humanity, and that is enough.

Let go of consumer culture.

One of the best things we can do for our children, for our culture and those who are less fortunate in it, is to pull ourselves away from the constant consumer culture that involves Black Friday sales and expensive shopping malls. For those of us who love gift-giving, consider shopping at antique malls or thrift stores, making homemade gifts or sharing an experience with a loved one. If we can change our culture, maybe we can make space for the single parents in our midst to do what they can for their own families with our full support.

Offer Holiday Help.

If you know people in your life who are single parents, reach out to them. Let them know that you see them, that you’re aware of the difficulties they face during this time. Offer your time so that they can wrap some presents or have an afternoon to themselves, or invite them over for a holiday meal. Drive around and look at Christmas lights together. Bring them into your spaces, put yourself in their spaces, and learn what it means to be community to one another.

 Be Kind to Strangers.

As a general rule, right now everyone needs to be kind to everyone else. This goes beyond social, political and religious circles. We cannot afford to continue living in such a toxic, dual mindset that seeks to divide anywhere we can divide. Actions and attitudes like this begin in the heart and trickle out to everyone around us, creating waves of chaos and hurt.

Often, our children get caught in our fights, and this holiday season, we need to make space for our children to simply be children, and for our single parents to have peace to care for them without worrying about being judged by their neighbors or a stranger on the internet. So we practice kindness in the grocery store, in the airport where a single parent is traveling with their children. We buy someone a cup of coffee. We practice it at the park, standing in line at the post office to mail packages.

Maybe if we put on Christ-likeness this Advent season, we’ll take on the work of being blessing to those who are tired and in need of that kindness, and we will remember that God chose one single woman to bring the Savior into the world in the most beautifully humble way.

May we remember that as we care for the single parents in our midst this holiday season, as we thank them for the hard and beautiful work they do every single day. 

7 GRATITUDES: deep gratefulness

{Every now and then I join with my friend Leanna to name 7 things I’m grateful for. Join us?}

It is difficult to be settled into everyday gratefulness when, out in the world, there are people dying from gunshot wounds, refugee children and families drowning in the ocean, villages in which there are not enough diapers for babies, and people fighting over who they think Jesus might be in today’s context.

While I am so thankful for my morning cup of coffee and my warm bed and my healthy children, I need my gratitude to be rooted in something deeper than that today.

I need gratitude that is tethered to the ever-close presence of Jesus in the worst of the world.

I need gratitude that is tethered to the Spirit of God, a Spirit that never abandons.

So in the spirit of our #sevengratitudes, I name these things that I am grateful for:

  1. A God who sees us beyond and despite our cultural boundaries;
  2. Jesus, who calls us friends, siblings, part of the family that he so graciously created for us to belong to;
  3. That this same family is inclusive and dynamic, that it’s diverse and progressive, always transforming into another piece of the Mystery of God;
  4. Creation teaches us lessons about God, and creation calls us into a deeper understanding of this world–from the birds to the dragonflies, from the rocks to the oceans, we have magnificence at our fingertips everyday;
  5. Art in every form that is beautiful and beneficial, that teaches us how to express our humanity;
  6. A world in which I can learn from my native and non-native friends, and a world in which I can learn from my Christian and non-Christian friends;
  7. This quote by Frederick Buechner, one of my all-time favorites, that sums up everything right now:

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

 

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What gratitudes are you counting today?

 

WHEN ALL THAT IS LEFT IS JESUS

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Someone recently asked me, “Why on earth are you still going to church? You, of all people?”

They were referring to my indigenous ancestors, to things like colonialism, genocide, enslavement, and violent conversions that were all practiced toward native peoples throughout the history of many parts of the world.

They were referring to things like the Doctrine of Discovery, which gave Europeans, in the name of Jesus, the ability to take and claim whatever lands they “discovered” once they landed here, despite those who had already discovered and inhabited them.

So many horrible things done, all in the name of Jesus.

I think about that question often, especially when I’m sitting in my own home, studying from the encyclopedia of Native Americans that sits on the living room table.

There, when I’m hurting, when I recognize that whatever I think indigenous peoples have gone through, it’s much worse– when I’m staring THAT in the face, I ask why I’m still here, too.

And this is only my story and experience. I grew up in the church, and yet in my transformation, I remain “churched.”

But many with stories like and unlike mine, many for whom the church is the thing that caused so much pain, they leave and never return.

And for those of use who are still here, we’re asking what’s next, how the church should and is expected to love better in the future. We walk a thin line of seeing who the church was and is, while holding a dream of who she could be.

The ones who leave, often because of abuse caused by the church, seek God outside the institution, or maybe forsake the faith altogether.

But here’s the thing about humanity, God in our midst. The ones still within and the ones without, we have more in common than you might think.

We still have Jesus in common.

Sometimes when we talk about how difficult church life can be, we say, “It’s a good thing we all have Jesus in common, despite our differences.”

I’d argue that this isn’t true only in the church context, friends. I share my story with people who call themselves atheists, and sometimes they say, “Yes. I see that in humanity, too. I recognize your story and experience in my own.”

Is it that we are finding some sort of common grounded good among us? You could call it that.

I’d actually call it Jesus.

I’d call it the ground floor, the place we begin, the very beginning of Jesus laid out before us.

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I believe we need the church. We need the love of church and the dedication to it, and I believe that there are churches that exist today who live and breathe the love of Jesus. To those churches, I say, hold steady. 

But at the end of the day, if a world of people have had some sort of experience in which they felt abused by a godless church, there must be something else to care for them outside the church’s walls or safe bubble or small group.

And sometimes the church responds, “Well, we must take Jesus to them,” as if we are the ones who hold Jesus.

No, dear friends. Jesus is the one holding us, and his presence often chooses the most vulnerable among us. In the case of this world, this nation, this history– those people are often outside the church. So we simply live into a life that honors them, that rests with them, that values them. 

If the church does not accept those in their mental health struggles, skin color, sexuality, or cultural understandings that differ from the wider church institution, Jesus must be found in other ways.

So if we claim Jesus as our common ground inside our church walls, we claim Jesus as our common ground outside them, too.

Why haven’t I given up on the church yet?

Why am I still going?

Why am I leading worship every Sunday with people I both agree and don’t agree with, whose ancestors could very well have wanted the worst for my ancestors?

Because Jesus.

My reality is rooted not only in the church, but in Jesus, which means Jesus comes and speaks, teaches and thrives in my everyday living.

It means that I don’t have to hold my identity solely in an institution that seems to be shifting, breaking, fighting, transforming.

And in the painful breaking, I must be tethered to Jesus, who, in my case, did not condemn native peoples- my ancestors- to reservations based on their skin and ways of worship. Jesus was in our midst, moving among us before the missionaries arrived. Jesus, the spirit of God, the one who meets us in our flesh– was already meeting with us, already speaking to us through a created world.

So I am tethered to the Jesus who does all those things the church wants to do but often gets wrong.

I am tethered to the Jesus who turns societies upside down and teaches us new lessons, or old ones we’d forgotten. I’m tethered to the storytelling Jesus, the parable speaking Jesus, who uses metaphor to teach us how to live holy lives.

I am tethered to the Jesus of the other, the tired, the broken, those that are afraid.

I am tethered to the Jesus who meets us at the table of communion and really means it when he says, “Come, drink and eat. All are welcome here.”

I am tethered to the Jesus of the world, the Jesus who inhabited and still inhabits creation, the Jesus who walks the wilderness with me and calls me, not just in a church context, but outside of it, too.

Jesus just may be the only thing we’ve got left.

And I’d say that’s absolutely enough of a foundation to build on.

 

 

The City Siren Song & Journeying Back to the Land

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I need her– the land– though for a long time I’d forgotten why.

It seems the city lights and sounds, a siren song, called me into an alternate reality.

I stayed there for years, because I didn’t know better, and then she called to me again– the land.

I took my boys to the Indian mounds here in Georgia, where we climbed stairs up to a plateau of grass overlooking the landscape.

We could see factory smoke in the distance, but we could feel the pulse of an old earth beneath us– she remembers.

We sprinkled tobacco over a mound that was used as a gravesite, a place to bury all the people who died of European disease– nearly 90% of the tribe.

We sprinkled tobacco and we prayed, thinking of our own ancestors from a different tribe and a different place. Still, their stories come together and remind us that we belong to this history.

My boys watched as gravity took the thin brown strands from their palms, as the wilderness around them accepted their child-prayers.

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I grew up with New Mexico dirt, in poor neighborhoods where we didn’t really realize we were poor– we knew we were children with friends and roofs over our heads, and that’s all we needed to know.

As a preteen living in Missouri, my step-dad took me to American Eagle Outfitters for the first time, and I left with a brand new outfit, never before worn by someone else. I became someone different that day, someone who could see my own reflection in the storefront windows, among the racks of bulk-manufactured items.

 

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It was beautiful while it lasted.

But in living a loud life, I’d forgotten what it means to learn from the quiet, small voice of the land.

So as I get older, I long for the “tonic of wilderness,” as Thoreau called it.

I need the wind to remind me that the world is made up of rustling leaves and carried-away seeds.

I need the open fields to tell the story of the people who lived on the land long before I came here.

If we are to listen to the Creator, do we not also listen to the beauty that is created?

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And if we do not journey out of our cities, out past the boundaries, out into the unknown, we will not learn to truly embrace the long-standing Mystery that is gifted to us in creation.

We climbed the stairs of those mounds, we looked across the land, and we asked, for ourselves, what it means to belong.

We have friends who have a farm in Arkansas, and the moment I step across the threshold and into their house, I know it to be a place of peace.

We can see the horizon through the dining room widows, out past the back porch. We watch the horses run through their little field while lambs play across the fence.

They live in the land, and they practice listening.

As with many things, stepping away from the city life we know and into what we don’t gives us a chance to re-evaluate, to re-define, to re-examine. Shopping malls and chain restaurants can’t do that. They don’t understand or heal our ache. 

Remember those times Jesus stepped away from his city, from his friends, to meet God in the hillside or the wilderness? Even Jesus learned something in that quiet, learned from the breath of the earth and voice of the wind as it rushed by.

And so we are to learn something in these hillsides that surround us.

The stories are old, and the storytellers are wise, and if we humbly listen to them, we’ll learn our way, past the siren songs of our youth and into an understanding of the sacred-kept truth waiting for us in the wilderness.

Amen.

 

EASTER & BEYOND: the cross as crossing over

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cross: to start one place and get to the other side

When I was young, I saw time and again a drawing of the cross used as a bridge.

We are on one side, completely disconnected from God, while holiness is across the large abyss that is life and sin.

Then, Jesus comes along, and suddenly we know God. He comes along and bridges the gap with the power of the cross.

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Every time I saw that diagram I felt a need to be saved again, to re-commit, to gather up all my ugliness and lay it at the foot of the cross, where Jesus would throw it as far as the east is from the west.

But here’s the problem: I wasn’t all ugliness.

I was already loved by God.

The miracle that happened on the cross and later at the tomb already held me steady.

I heard recently that “Jesus was never Plan B.”

Jesus was never the lightbulb that went off above God’s head, a sudden realization that maybe this wretched universe could be saved, after all.

Maybe Jesus was just the face- the body, the sweat, the blood- of God.

And maybe there is no large abyss between us and God, or maybe the abyss isn’t as large as we draw it out to be. Maybe we can still see God in our everyday experiences.

Maybe our life is holy just because it is. 

What if God is over there, we are here, and Jesus is everywhere in between?

Or what if God is everywhere in between, we are over here, and Jesus is everywhere, too, always with us?

Jesus is like us, but he is like God.

With us, but with God.

With us.

To cross something is to journey.

They crossed the Jordan.

They crossed the bridge at Selma.

They crossed the Trail of Tears.

They crossed the immigrant-bearing ocean.

What if the cross is the journey, after all?

And what if we are crossing from Jesus to Jesus, from God to Jesus, from God to God,

from here to there,

from person to person?

What if the cross of Jesus’ death is a forever symbol, and indeed, we are forgiven?

There could very well be an abyss. The stains of sin could very well still stain us.

But I’m more concerned with the act of crossing right now—

the way I cross over from here to there,

from me to you,

from the way I say that I love to the people I actually show my love to.

I believe Jesus was and is a journeyer, and so he is concerned with the crossing, too.

He’s concerned with what I see when I look from where I stand over to where you stand, and how you look at me from your life angle.

He’s concerned with the way I see God, not as a far off judge, but as a close listener, an active force that steadies us and teaches us, always, that there is a better and kinder way.

So Easter? Lent? The season of the Messiah who died and rose again?

Maybe it’s teaching us in this political, social, economic, religious, and racial climate to be people who are not afraid to cross over, who are not afraid to see Jesus in the journey, who are not afraid to stand up when too many people care too much about that abyss that threatens below.

Love can overcome that.

Crossing can overcome that.

Jesus overcame that.

Hallelujah, for the gift to cross. 

 

 

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.

Advent 2016: hope, grief, and Jesus unimagined

Years and years ago, advent came as a long season, generations of waiting and hoping for someone to rescue and repair brokenness.

But in those long and hard years, I imagine there was some anger and some grief, a little hope lost along the way but still held onto in the end.

This Advent feels different for me, as I watch the world, even the world of the church I’ve always known, show itself through different hues. I take the stories I’ve learned as a child mixed with the beautiful stories of my ancestors and other indigenous, stories of who Jesus has always been.

So I see the trajectory of the Christ-child, but the one who is for all people in all places, and not just the one we’ve revered in the white western church.

And I feel the dissonance of our political climate, something I know is foreign to the hope I hold.

So this Advent, I need Jesus to be everything that he is and nothing that I’ve always imagined him to be.

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The miracle of Christ is that he was born once and died once only to live again, and in his living there is always new grace, fresh shalom, a constant journeying into the spirit and heart of God and of God-Made-Flesh-and-Bone.

All those years of waiting had to be painful, but they were needed.

And today, we wait again, and it’s painful, and it’s needed. Our reality must be met with hope, met with peace and love and joy and grace, or the journey becomes blurred or forsaken altogether.

Our world hurts, from the dug up rivers and their protectors to the children of Syria to the oppressed in every corner, even those in our backyard. So Advent becomes an aching and painful grasp onto the chance at things being made new.

If Jesus has the capacity to create renewals of everything in our reality, isn’t it fitting for us to find renewal in our daily journeys?

Let this Advent season mean something different for your journey, and if that means finding the Christ child through your own child eyes, by all means do so.

No journey is wasted, and Advent is all about the long journey to the Christ child and all the journeying after.

But in the meantime, we can’t let our anger or grief dissipate into nothingness, nor do we bury it so deep that it eats away or seeds itself in us as revenge or bitterness.

No.

We take those human feelings and we let them work their way out of us in shalom-ways, in the way of hope, in the way of every good work. That is the way of the peaceful protestor, the way of the rock that stands still and stoic after years and years of rubble around him.

This is the way of Jesus, if the stories ring true, if shalom really is what he intended for it to be.

That is what we hold onto, what Advent gives us as we re-see the Savior child and re-imagine our own journeys of beginning and waiting again.

The Everyday Body Language of Prayer

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When I was young, I felt guilty about how little I prayed.

And my baptist childhood friends and elders would gently remind me during sunday school, would you ignore your best friend everyday? or communication is what keeps relationships alive, and it must be two-way.

And while some of this is true, of course, we forget an important space in relationships— we forget the nonverbal, the body language, the work of being in the presence of another, sharing space without the pressure to speak anything at all.

I think about that late night at the dinner table, Jesus and his friends sitting together, sipping and eating before everything became quiet.

“That’s my blood, and that’s my flesh,” he said.

And they looked at each other. They uncrossed their legs and sat up from reclining and put their elbows on the table and stared deeply into the faces around them and their language became quiet, consumed by deep truth and unanswered questions.

And in our churches and homes we take that communion bread and wine again in the quiet, and we remember what it means to breathe prayer, to move and let God hear us in our motion.

So that’s where I am these days, postured toward God with the movement of my being, with the work I do and the rest I partake in.

Words now mean something different than they did back then, and so the Mystery of God finds me in experience, in communion, often in the wordless, often in the quiet action.

And when words do come, they are soft and sweet and heard in pure light.

 

I taught VBS last week, singing and dancing with kindergarteners through fifth graders throughout the morning as they learned about five different ways God cares for them.

And in between sessions I was wondering what they were retaining from it, what they were carrying back home in their hearts.

I was wondering if they were ready to take on the world outside that demolishes its own and terrorizes anyone who is other. 

But at the the end of the week, I was trying to see into their eyes, trying to read their faces to understand if they really understand.

And so, on the fifth day, I sent them home with a sticker on the palm of their hand, and told them to take it as an ebenezer, to find something, big or small, to hold onto.

The ebenezer is the silent prayer, it is the memory and the hope and the body language of knowing God is here with us.

And so they took with them the memory, the sticker, the sight of God however they found it.

I remembered for myself, remembered that I know God right now in packing boxes so that we can move, in trying to love my toddler boys through their tantrums and learning, in stepping into new seasons and new jobs and new adventures in rock climbing and gardening.

And in all of it I can be quiet and move and be, wipe the sweat from my brow after a good day’s work, hug my boys after a fight, tell jokes at the dinner table and sweep the balcony floor clean again.

There was no need for a thorough conversation to take place as the woman wiped her tears and oil from Jesus’ feet with her locks of hair.

And so, there is no need for me to fill the air when I can be still and know, when I can move to the rhythms God gives me, when I can rest in the presence God grants me.

We move and breathe and having our being, don’t we?

And so we move and breathe and live as sure as God lives, as sure as God breathes within us.

So when we pray, we practice the body language given to us at birth, and we speak without speaking, Come, Kingdom, Come. 

 

One of The Church’s Greatest Mistakes: to those for whom there is no room

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There’s a story about a laboring woman and the baby inside of her, a story about how far they journeyed together to find a safe place to rest, a suitable place for a birth.

They travelled and travelled and finally the innkeeper said to them, “Sorry, no room,” and they found their way alone.

And today, a lot of people– a lot of churches, a lot of Christians– have taken up the mantle of telling the “other” the same thing.

No room, no room.

No room for the woman who seems impoverished, waiting for her daughter in the church building;

No room for the socially awkward or outcast to find community;

No room for those who have made mistakes and wish to be redeemed;

No room for the Native Americans to keep their own land and find God in it;

No room for the women to lead;

No room for the curious, for the people who ask questions and admit that they seek God outside the church walls;

No room for the children to be children, their little voices heard and considered.

No room. 

And as the privileged voices become louder and the marginalized become quieter, they say, “Speak up, we can’t hear you….No room, no room inside of me for you.”

Maybe those marginalized voices have been speaking, reaching, trying to break glass ceilings and enter the in-crowd for decades.

But still, no room.

And Jesus said, “Those who have hears, let them hear…”

But maybe today He says,”Those who have always had ears and means but haven’t really been listening to anyone but their own…close your mouths for a second.”

And then He looks us in the eyes and says, “Because someone told my mama once, ‘no room, ma’am,’ and she birthed me in a cave.”

And so today, new voices shout from the street corners and church parking lots, “No room! No room for displacement, prejudice, hatred.

No room for xenophobic social circles and secret gossip clubs.

There is no room for the one-person agenda,

No room for the top-down scheme.”

And with every breath of Kingdom, that man who was born in a cave says, “Room…there is room at this table and plenty to eat…

…Come with your questions and let us journey together. Let us make room.

And there, the new church is born.

 

Hallelujah and Amen.