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

 

The Last of Lent: for my 20-Year Anniversary

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This morning, way before the sun was up, the birds were conversing.

It was a heavy conversation, this back and forth chirp and song, like they were trying to wake up the world from sleep with their news.

I don’t know what day Easter really happened on, but I can feel its pulse inside of us today.

The pews of the church are a little fuller on this day, because we are looking for hope, we can feel the world shift a little when we see that we are loved by a powerful, compassionate Mystery of a God.

I was baptized on Easter 20 years ago, when I was seven.

I still remember it, the flush of intimacy that came over me when I rose out of the lukewarm water, something about that moment that pulled me a little closer in to the Mystery of Jesus.

The reality that we walk in today is that resurrection happens in constant rhythm with our lives.

Everyday we go down beneath the waterline and come back up again, renewed.

But today I remember that moment a little better, and I look at my boys and wonder what exactly they think of Easter, what they think of Lent and of these seasons we celebrate and remember.

I hope that they find resurrection alive in us, the pulse of God moving through our lives into ourselves and each other.

I hope they find that the cross means something today, just as it did yesterday, just as it did twenty years ago, as it will mean something twenty years from now.

May today be both the beginning of something and the continuation of something.

And in all things, may we seek resurrection.

Amen.

 

 

Day 36: Lent for my Mourning Song

Psalm 23
The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want.
He maketh me to lie down in green pastures; He leadeth me beside the still waters.
He restoreth my soul; He guideth me in straight paths for His name’s sake.
Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for Thou art with me; Thy rod and Thy staff, they comfort me.
Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of mine enemies; Thou hast anointed my head with oil; my cup runneth over.
Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life; And I shall dwell in the house of the Lord forever.

Yesterday, my dear friend Erika asked me what my spirit animal is.

And since I am Native American, I figured I should try to find out.

The only animal I’ve ever really been called is songbird, so I googled “bird spirit animals” and came upon a whole world I’ve never delved into until now.

I read the description of the canary and realized that it fits exactly who I’ve always been, someone who cannot live without the healing power of song.

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It is good Friday, and Lent is coming to an end to make way for Easter, to make way for fifty (and more) days of celebration and newness of life.

Tonight many of us will gather in sanctuaries and homes and basements and remember what it means, remember why the body and the blood is so important, even today.

We mourn.

We sing a mourning song.

We weep.

We sit in ashes.

We remember that we are flesh as well as spirit,

that we are bound to brokenness a little while longer before the dawn breaks.

When my Grandmother died, I sang at her funeral.

And it was an odd space to inhabit, because I was so sad, so mournful, so sure that the world would miss her presence.

But I looked out at my family, all of us back together for a reunion to celebrate Pauline’s life, and I was so thankful to be there,

to sing for her, to my family, to remember and celebrate a legacy.

I don’t know who sang over the tomb where they laid Jesus.

I don’t know who prayed over those oils and herbs, who placed hands on the cloth covering his wounds to say a prayer as he continued to pass deeper into death.

But I’m sure there was mourning.

I’m sure there were eulogies being written and stories being told and tears, tears, tears being shed.

But today, we know more of the story.

So we can close our eyes and picture that tomb in the dark.

But let’s also hear the voices.

While we are here, let’s remember those songs.

We read them out loud, we sing them with our own melody, in case we don’t know the original one.

We gather with people we love and remember that death came so that life could.

Psalm 77

I cry aloud to God, aloud to God, that he may hear me.
In the day of my trouble I seek the Lord; my hand is stretched out in the night, and does not rest; my soul refuses to be comforted.
I remember God, and I moan; I meditate and my spirit faints. Selah.
You hold my eyelids from closing; I am so troubled that I cannot speak.
I consider the days of old, the years of ancient times.
I remember my melody in the night; I talk with my heart; and my spirit searches.
Will the Lord cast off for ever? And will he be favorable no more?
Has his loving kindness ceased for ever? Does his promise fail for evermore?
Has God forgotten to be gracious? Has he in anger shut up his tender mercies? Selah.
And I said, It is my sickness that the right hand of the Most High has changed.
I will remember the works of the Lord; surely I will remember Your wonders of old.
And I will meditate on all Your work, and muse on Your deeds.
Your way, O God, is holy. Who is so great a God as our God?
You are the God that does wonders; You have declared Your strength among the people.
With Your arm You have redeemed Your people, the sons of Jacob and Joseph. Selah.
The waters saw You, O God, the waters saw You; they were afraid; the depths also trembled.
The clouds poured out water; the skies sent out a sound; Your arrows flashed on every side.
The voice of Your thunder was in the whirlwind; the lightnings lightened the world; the earth trembled and shook.
Your way was through the sea, and Your path through the great waters; and Your footsteps were not known.
You led Your people like a flock by the hand of Moses and Aaron.

Amen. 

 

Day 35: Lent for my Oath-Keeping

“Do we wish to bring forth a world of scarcity, fear, competition, war, or will we choose to vivify the seeds of abundance, confidence, generosity, and peace in our hearts and in our communities? It is our choice.”

“The Peacekeeper sees all in good relationship, perceiving the underlying unity of all creation.”

–Dhyani Ywahoo

Yesterday Eliot and I went on a date.

I took him to Dr. Bombay’s Underwater Tea Party- and yes, it’s just as fabulous as it sounds.

We drank vanilla almond tea from a glass teapot and ate chocolate chip scones with clotted cream and strawberry jam.

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And even there I thought about the last supper, the meal around the table where Jesus asked his close friends to choose a better way, a way of compassion and generosity and peace.

And Eli and I were trying to give ourselves that sort of holy space at the table too– as a mother and son, adult and toddler — inside ourselves we were making an oath to live a better way together.

So those people in that room made their pledge that night over bread and wine and I’m sure an olive or two.

But what happened the next morning, when the dailyness of their lives came back again and they walked back into a culture of competition and war? Did they forget those words shared around the table, the sacredness of saying yes to a man who told them he was going to die and come back again?

I shared that sacred space with my oldest son, pledging to become something better for him and for myself.

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But this morning I have already banged my head on the refrigerator door and stubbed my toe and told my boys, “Just give me a second,” a few times too many.

I’m already tired and I’m already forgetting that yesterday I made a choice to lean toward peace and compassion, and today, if I’m not careful, I’ll lean the other direction.

We know that those men in that room didn’t all keep their oaths, didn’t choose the way of peace, didn’t follow Jesus to the cross and wait by his side.

And today, when we forget what we’ve promised and neglect the way of peace, Lent steps in, right before Easter comes, to remind us.

We are tethered to peace, tethered to compassion, tethered to the great mystery of God that holds all things to all other things in balance.

So we choose to spend these next few days of Lenten reflection asking how we can possibly keep this oath, how we can start again when the morning has overwhelmed us or the work day is dragging on our we are bored with ourselves or too afraid to be more than we think we’re worthy of.

We choose the way of peace for the next few days, the way of mourning death and of hoping for the Kingdom of all compassion and all generosity to overtake our hearts again and remind us who we are and what we are capable of.

We remind ourselves that this is an oath worth keeping.

Amen.

 

Day 34: Lent for my Five Senses

“God’s inexhaustible poetry comes to me in five languages: sight, sound, smell, touch and taste.” –David Steindl-Rast

Jesus,

We forget that at one time You ate bread and tasted olives,

that You saw dirt roads and tired faces,

that You smelled oil and sweat,

that You touched blind eyes with mud and spit,

that you heard the cry of newborns and the last breath of the aged.

We forget that Your humanity makes us like You,

that there is a string of hope

keeping us forever tethered to the

Good News that runs through your veins

even today.

We forget.

But our senses always remind us, too,

because we hear and smell and see and touch and taste,

and we remember who we are:

a complex entity that holds depth and height,

fear and courage,

death and life.

We hold Mystery.

We hold Salvation.

We hold God.

And if Lent gives us any news this holy week,

it is that.

So we will sip our coffee and eat our cheese and bread and tacos,

we will hear our children play and our co-workers gossip,

we will see political ads and pedestrians crossing the street,

we will smell the candles burning down in our houses and the flowers blooming in the spring air outside, 

and we will touch each other’s hands at meal time, rub each other’s backs when things are stressful,

just to remember that we are alive, just as You were and are.

Amen. 

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Lent, Day 33: for my Yes

FullSizeRender“When I speak of God, I mean this kind of love, this great yes to belonging. I experience this love at one and the same time as God’s Yes to all that exists. In saying yes, I realize God’s very life and love within me.” –David Steindl-Rast

I had a little break between guitar and voice lessons, so I parked in a tiny parking lot and went straight to the swing next to the outdoor fireplace.

It wasn’t what I expected to do that afternoon, but I was thankful for it.

The yes of God is a mysterious and odd thing, and we can hardly attempt to take hold of it when we find it.

Often we feel we’re undeserving of that love, or we think we’re better off without it.

Sometimes we are angry because we think we’ve earned it and it’s not coming fast enough, or we are actually afraid to find it, afraid that it will change everything.

The thing is, God’s love is far beyond a yes or no from our lips.

The mystery of Yes is that God is our constant who holds all things constantly together.

The great web of the world is taken care of, and we are simply asked to trust and believe.

And so we come closer and closer to Easter, shifting from this particular space in the journey to another one.

But just as the Mystery of Jesus was alive from the beginning until resurrection and still today, so is the constant and unending yes of God.

I sat on that little swing and felt the fullness of God around me, a Georgia afternoon welcoming in the newness of spring, and I said yes, please, make Your space here.

Lent is the recognition that Jesus said yes to the Mystery inside of him, the Mystery he was born of.

He was saying yes to us,  yes to pain, yes to despair, yes to insult and mockery and beating.

He was saying yes to a resurrection, yes to a Kingdom come and coming, yes to an eternal relationship with every piece of creation belonging to him.

And that’s who we belong to.

Yes.

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Day 31: Lent for my Gift-Work

” True work is about enchantments.” –Eckhart

“All work is meant to be heart work: it comes out of our heart and goes to the heart. All authentic work is an effort to move other people’s hearts.” –Matthew Fox

Sometimes we ask Eliot what God is speaking to him, and he will stop a second and look at us and say, “He tells me to make people pictures when they are sick or sad.”

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Now, a toddler may or may not be hearing the voice of God, but my boy knows what it means to love someone, and he knows that God has a kind heart.

So as humans, we can usually connect the dots.

And if we are aware of our gifting, of our work, of those deeds that bring life to us and help us serve others,

then that’s the voice and direction of God, the Spirit making us fruitful and also happy.

So, how do we hear the voice of God, and what is our work?

How do we perceive that Spirit, know that truth, allow it to transform us?

We see who we are.

We take our passions, the things we are wired for, and we let those things show us the holy essence of our souls.

Our gifts are how God moves.

Our gifts are the manifestation of Spirit.

Our gifts bring God back to our humanity, give God to each other, make the world one of peace again.

Our gifts and work give us a glimpse of Heaven, of Kingdom, whatever that looks like.

And what does Kingdom look like?

It’s faces.

It’s hands and feet, fingertips and toenails.

It’s skin to skin and spirit to spirit.

It’s buildings and not buildings,

body and soul.

Amen.

Lent, Day 30: for my Release-from-Domination

“When the dominator model no longer obstructs our search, we can begin the real spiritual journey.” –Riane Eisler

domination: to have control or power over

Perhaps without even meaning to, we have listened to generations of a dominating spirit and voice tell us what it means to be spiritual, to be the church.

And if we don’t want to give in to that dominating voice, we are called sinful, idolatrous, lost, weak.

But the truth is, that voice is afraid.

The dominating voices around us tell us to buck up and make something of ourselves; make our churches large and in charge so that we can be successful “for the sake of the gospel.”

But maybe in the quiet of Lent, in the shadow of what is to come, we can be more honest with ourselves.

I can’t tell you here why people are leaving the church, why they are done with what they’ve been a part of for so many years.

But I can tell you that people are done be spoken down to, trying to be controlled, told to follow the right rules and say the right things and smile the biggest smile to climb the Jesus ladder.

The truth is, we all have this capacity for a deep rootedness to ourselves, to each other, to our world and the things in it.

And calling out our fears, taking on our pain and weariness with honesty, just might get us somewhere.

Telling our story and walking in it might just break us free from those dominating voices.

In learning more about my Native American heritage, in exploring the way my ancestors sought God and experienced Jesus, I am more aware of colonialism and domination than I have ever been before.

And because of it, I am convinced that to know God is to know something kinder than that, to know something better than humanity has been, to have a chance to know my own spirit deeper than I thought possible.

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We took a walk at our favorite park the other night, and we passed by some brambles and I saw that many pinecones were still attached at their root to the branches.

All winter, through all those winds and rains, they stayed tethered, never swayed from where they belong.

What does it mean to be tethered, and who are we tethered to?

For many years, many of us have been tethered to an institution, to the western church, to a Christianity that has never been questioned or explored.

Maybe this Lent, we need to become tethered to ourselves, to who Jesus is as a Savior for the whole world and not just our corner of it.

Maybe this Lent, we turn domination upside-down and loosen its grip so that the Kingdom of God, the great Mystery, becomes the only real good that we know to claim for ourselves.

Then and there we can say “Kingdom come!” and know that it means something far better and far more just than we can imagine.

Lent, Day 28: for my Grace & Peace

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On my refrigerator there is a dry erase board where I write down the things I shouldn’t forget.

Yesterday the thoughts came from Rob Bell’s podcast, episode 79.

In college I watched his NOOMA videos and they were life-changing, and after a few years I’ve discovered him again in a different season of my life. His podcasts are incredibly real and the content is beautiful– I’d encourage you to listen.

Yesterday I heard him say, “Sometimes we need a word about grace, and sometimes we need a word about peace.” He connected them like a full rainbow, pointed out that one comes from the other.

I think we need an extra amount of both right now, and what better way to dig into that than by remembering St. Patrick and the constant leaning into grace and peace that guided his life.

Grace and peace are not just granted when we are comfortable, when we are with people exactly like us.

I believe grace and peace manifest in a much deeper way when we are uncomfortable, when we are faced with conflict, when we are asked to make a difficult decision.

Today wherever you are found, let yourself rest there in the power of shalom.

And ask yourself today if you need more grace or more peace, or the distinct combination of both.

Lent guides us on to the cross of Easter, but while we are here, we ask what we are to do in the in-between.

And if it can be as real as this, to repeat a mantra over and over inside ourselves, grace to you, peace to you, grace in me, peace in me, the world might come to know a kinder version of humanity after all.

And so today we pray the old Irish words:

May love and laughter light your days,
and warm your heart and home.
May good and faithful friends be yours,
wherever you may roam.
May peace and plenty bless your world
with joy that long endures.
May all life’s passing seasons
bring the best to you and yours!

(and wear green so you don’t get pinched.)

Day 27: Lent for my Human Affection

“Deep down we must have real affection for each other, a clear realization or recognition of our shared human status. At the same time, we must openly accept all ideologies and systems as a means of solving humanity’s problems. One country, one nation, one ideology, one system is not sufficient. It is helpful to have a variety of different approaches on the basis of a deep feeling of the basic sameness of humanity. We can then make a joint effort to solve the problems of the whole of humankind.”

–The Dalai Lama

Can you feel in his voice the exhaustion of centuries and centuries of humanity beating itself up?

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I feel like there’s not much space for me to see the rest of the world, not in our news outlets, anyway. Because it’s election season, it’s competition season, it’s pool-your-money-together-to-win season, and the media outlets have all the power in their hands.

So I stay further away from Facebook because my heart really can’t stand it.

I’m not going to rant here about who I think should win and why.

I’m just going to point back to this man who speaks with a profound degree of humility, because it takes so much more to say that we are in this together.

I go to a big church, and we are trying to repair ourselves, trying to heal some relationships, trying to foster new ones, trying to figure out again and again and again what it means to be the church in this town in this age.

And I believe one of the ways we fail in giving community is letting people think they are alone, secluded, isolated, on their own to figure out their humanity.

It takes courage to walk out of comfort and speak to someone else, especially someone other, to say, “I see all that you have, and I see God in it. Let’s work together.”

But that’s just it. Look deep enough, really, really deep enough into someone’s eyes, and you cannot deny the imprint of God, that snowflake-like uniqueness that is rooted in a holy presence.

You cannot reject their humanity or conclude that they are any less deserving of love, of compassion, of grace.

Deep down we must have real affection for each other, he says.

I’m a part of one nation, but I’m afraid I’ve got to have more than that.

I’ve got to have a deeper connectedness to the people around me and the ones on the other side of the world I’ll never meet, to the rivers that run by my big city and the trees who have told stories year after year after year.

I must remember that I belong to so much more than this, what I see and experience and think I know.

And maybe if I remind myself of that, remind myself of the Dalai Lama’s words today, I might, within myself, inch closer to helping humanity heal at the core of who we are.

Lent is about journey, healing, unexpected life in unexpected places.

May we journey there with the knowledge of humanity’s God-essence leading us.

Amen.