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

 

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.

 

OneWord 2018

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Every year, thanks to the brilliance of OneWord365, I choose a new word as a guide to lead me through the coming 365 days.

It usually comes to me in the most unexpected way, at the oddest times. This year, I was sitting at my kitchen table when I quickly wrote a few thoughts down in my journal. Self-discipline is hard for me sometimes, and I go back and forth with trying to find new rhythms. At the same time, I honor the fact that different life seasons call for different life rhythms anyway, and since we are a family who works from home and figures out how to homeschool our kids, every season is a little different, and we hold grace in that.

So my word for 2018 is instead.

In the practice of self-control, of self-discipline, of working toward new rhythms, I plan to practice the work of instead, without shame or fear.

Instead of my phone– a book.

Instead of anger– gratitude.

Instead of hate– love.

Instead of silence– resistance.

Instead of war– peaceful protest.

Instead of noise– silent listening.

Instead of manipulation– communication.

Instead of buildings– wilderness.

Instead of fear– dreams.

Instead of yelling– whispering.

Instead of greed– contentment.

Instead of inside– outside. 

Instead of reacting– watching.

Instead of convenience– the work of my hands.

Instead of self-deprecation– self-worth.

Instead of tweeting– playing.

Instead of resting– restoring.

Instead of hotels– tents.

Instead of holding it in– letting it go.

Instead of sameness– diversity.

Instead of a closed-off religion– an open one.

Instead of a faith of sureness– a faith of questions.

Instead of English– Potawatomi.

Instead of colonization– nativeness. 

 

I feel my shoulders relax already. When we look to the year ahead and ask honestly where we are and where we are going, we give grace to find the tiniest tools to help us along.

This year, for 2018, the word instead will guide me– into new adventures, into deeper presence with myself, others, this created world, and God.

In Potawatomi, the phrase for Happy New Year is mno web pongek, which means “it is good/happy/ to start something new/throw something out/ in the year” — isn’t this beautiful?

We get the chance to both pick new things up and throw out what we need to throw out without shame in 2018. We get to do that and acknowledge that it is good.

What word will guide you through 2018?

What will you start or throw out?

May we do it always in the knowledge that we are loved, and that we are covered in grace instead of anything less than that.

I leave you with this Tennyson poem to guide you with his words into 2018. Go in peace, friends.

 

Ring out the old, ring in the new,
Ring, happy bells, across the snow:
The year is going, let him go;
Ring out the false, ring in the true.
Ring out the grief that saps the mind,
For those that here we see no more,
Ring out the feud of rich and poor,
Ring in redress to all mankind.
Ring out a slowly dying cause,
And ancient forms of party strife;
Ring in the nobler modes of life,
With sweeter manners, purer laws.
Ring out the want, the care, the sin,
The faithless coldness of the times;
Ring out, ring out thy mournful rhymes,
But ring the fuller minstrel in.

 

 

 

Day 24: Native American Heritage Day

{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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HERITAGE: N. SOMETHING THAT IS HANDED DOWN FROM THE PAST, AS A TRADITION.

I’ve been thinking about what this word means today. In 2009, Obama created Native American Heritage Day, to be the day after Thanksgiving, also known to most as Black Friday. While we are celebrating who we are today, many are completely unaware that today stands for something, that today is a day to honor and celebrate indigenous peoples in the United States.

But that’s also what this whole month has been about. It’s odd, though, that we need to have a month as a nation to decide to pay attention to a group of people who are often ignored. It’s odd that when November is over, the world goes back to what it was, and Americans who may have put effort into learning something about indigenous peoples go back to a time before.

But for some who are paying attention, what is seen cannot be unseen. For some, everything changes.

That’s the thing about heritage. 

We hold what has been passed down to us–and that’s everyone, no matter what culture or people you’re from. You carry what your ancestors carried and pass down to you. And so today, I’m thinking about what it means to be Potawatomi.

And what I think is that my heritage is my own.

It does not belong to old western movies that portray us as savages.

It does not belong to new age culture that takes our sage and burns it or creates a hippy culture from our dreamcatchers.

It is not what it has been described as in history books and at the first Thanksgiving meal.

It does not belong to a culture that sees us as poor, abusive people who can’t get a grip.

And it does not belong to those who think we are the wise sages of our time.

Our heritage simply belongs to us.

Every tribe, every culture, and every individual within those cultures. We each hold the things that are passed to us, the stories and the values, the truths, the language. And we take those things and let them become a part of us.

When I wake up in the mornings and say mno waben to my boys, it means something. It sinks into our bones and reminds us of who we are–our heritage.

When I burn sage in my dining room and remember what it means to be still, I’m letting my ancestors remind me of who I am, letting God remind me of the gifts I’ve been given.

And so, my heritage is mine alone, and though I publicly celebrate it today on social media, I celebrate it every day, and every day its significance in my life and in the lives of my children grows, so that when they are adults, they too will pass it down, and our heritage will never end.

It was assimilated and beaten out of us, but it returns with each new generation, and flows into the unique DNA of every person who belongs to a tribe of people who are indigenous to Turtle Island.

And so, even in our pain, even in the constant misconceptions, even amidst discrimination and appropriation, we are still here, and we continue to move forward in the beauty of who we are and who we are called to be.

 

 

Day 23: Our Ancestors See Us

{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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The other day at the international market in our city, we swerved in and out of people in crowded aisles to get groceries for the week.

I really love that most Americans are procrastinators, waiting until the last second to buy what we need for a large meal or holiday.

The market stocked extra batches of collards, because we live in the south. There was a heaping mountain of it, bags filling people’s carts.

We bought some, too, just because it seemed right.

After I got a bag of sugar snap peas, I headed to the next bin for snap beans. I stood next to two other women going through the little green poles, sifting the bad ones from the good ones.

Suddenly, memories came rushing back to me– snapping the ends off those beans with my grandmother; washing blackberries in my grandma’s sink, fresh from the bushes outside; collecting pecans from my grandmother’s back yard tree; smelling bacon and biscuits in my grandma’s house.

These matriarchs of both sides of my family were the sort of women who brought you into their everyday spaces, who taught you simply how to be.

I think there are more saints in the world that we give titles to, and so we honor them as our ancestors as well.

We saw Coco in the theatre yesterday, and it brought up those same emotions I’d experienced at the market. We act like there is no connection between the land of the living and the land of the dead–in fact, growing up in the Baptist church such thoughts would be considered demonic.

But the beauty of so many cultures in the world is that we remember who came before us, who carried our cultures on their backs and our languages on their lips. We remember that we belong to people who fought for our good, for our endurance.

And so today, I honor Grandma Downing and Grandmother Goldsmith-Gandy.

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I hold their stories in my own.

And on days like Thanksgiving, holidays that are difficult for indigenous people to wrap our hearts and minds around, we are able to rest in the reality that we are not the first ones to feel this tension. We are not the first ones to hold our tribes and our cultures up and remind the world that we are still here, that we still matter. 

So I honor the ancestors of this land that I live on, the Muskogee-Creek people that used to keep their presence here before they were forced out.

And I honor the women who came before me, my great-great-grandmothers who lived and worked and pursued their own well-being and the well-being of others.

They are the ones I look to today, the ones who teach me how to be Potawatomi.

 

 

 

Day 18: “You Don’t Look Indian”

{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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Two years ago when I began to learn more about the Potawatomi tribe, the tribe I’m an enrolled member of, I struggled.

I struggled with being an urban Indian–a Native American living in an urban area.

Mostly I struggled with how to be myself, in my body, with all the stereotypes of what an Indian should be roaming around America.

I felt like I needed to braid my hair every day. I wanted to wear clothing that reflected my culture.

I wanted to decolonize everything–something I’m still doing.

It took me a while to realize that all those years I had short hair and that odd clothing style when I was young, I was still native.  I was still Potawatomi, no matter how I looked.

And that’s part of our problem. Indigenous peoples are trapped in history books, so when you imagine us, we’re wearing buckskin and have long, jet black braids. We wear moccasins and only speak in wise idioms. We have high cheekbones and we wear turquoise jewelry.

In other words, our cultures have all been meshed together and assumed by dominant society as something that many of us aren’t.

I have light skin. And while you can look at my nose and know it’s an Anishinaabe nose, no one has walked up to me and asked what tribe I am from. But when I mention that I am native, I can watch people’s reactions and see what they think and how it changes their perception of me. Some people are curious, some are uncomfortable.

And as a public announcement, let me recommend that non-natives stop asking indigenous people how much native blood we have. I can pull out the card that proves I’m an enrolled member of the Potawatomi tribe, but I shouldn’t have to. That shouldn’t be the thing that shows someone else what kind of blood runs in my veins or how indigenous I am.

And because I live in the middle of Atlanta, far from my own tribe, my native body doesn’t fit the stereotypes, nor do many other indigenous peoples’ bodies. Because the stereotypes about us are stuck in history books, in pictures, and we aren’t allowed to evolve from that.

In cities all across America there are natives, and we do not all look the same. We don’t all speak the same or act the same. Our personalities, our styles, our gifts are unique to our individual tribes and to our individual souls.

No one should ever have to say, “You don’t look Indian,” and no one should ever have to hear it said to them.

I’d like to share one of my favorite music videos with you by one of my favorite groups, A Tribe Called Red. It’s the story of an indigenous person who works in the city and then heads out to the powwow to dance in full regalia.

It is the divide that we have to walk, the divide that has been created over time, that has been forced on us by assimilation. Still, we are here. We are working and creating, we are living and raising families and getting degrees. We make up so much of America, and yet our bodies belong to stereotypes that do not fit who we truly are.

And it needs to change.

May we all be the ones to change it.

 

Day 7: Individual & Communal Belief

{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 is very difficult to separate culture from our internal faith in God.

Our theology, while individual, is also built around the communities we grow up with, the ways we’re taught to view God. I’ve noticed a huge difference between native communities and other American communities with the way life is viewed as individualistic versus communal.

In our Christian faith, we’re called to be communal, aren’t we? We’re called to the table, to share meals together. The Bible itself lives a communal culture of people historically, and it’s something that I think the American church can learn from today.

So where did things go wrong from that time to what we see today? Somehow, American culture was mixed with faith, and we ended up with institutionalized church gatherings, buildings, services that, though they try to reach communal living, are still often full of people living individually because our culture naturally leaves us separated and compartmentalized.

But then I remember that indigenous culture is built around community. It is built around families, clans, people groups, homes, community centers.

Because I don’t live where my tribe is in Oklahoma, I feel the tension of that. As I learn more about my tribe and other tribes’ ways of life historically, it draws me more toward communal living, which, in many ways, runs opposite the way many Americans live. We are a tired, busy, often impatient people who do not always stop to see.

I’ve been changing that slowly in my life over the past few years, and it’s hard. But I know it’s right because my ancestors did it. They lived for and with one another. They belonged to their clans, to their families, and they made a point of living communally.

So how do we do that today? How do we run against so much of American culture? 

I’ve found that when I live communally, inviting others into my home, making space for conversations, we become addicted to it. We realize our need to be with others, to clean our house for that meal so that others can be comfortable with us. And hopefully it encourages others to do the same.

Then we can think of the possibility of really going to the neighbor’s house to borrow a cup of sugar. Then maybe it’s possible to rake someone’s yard or take them flowers or ask how their father’s cancer treatments are going.

Somehow, when we begin to live communally, we begin to look more like people who love. And when we look like people who love, we become people who love. Then the world starts to change. Then America starts to change.

Indigenous cultures have a lot to teach about this. And instead of believing that it’s silly or impossible, we believe that it’s possible and necessary.

Today, my book, Glory Happening: Finding the Divine in Everyday Places comes out! I’m so excited to tell you that you can buy it online, but it’s ALSO going to be in Barnes & Noble, so if you’re like me and you enjoy walking through a bookstore with real-life books lining shelves in front of you, my book will be on those shelves with a host of my heroes next to me.

I’m sharing a snippet of the book with you today, because there’s an entire chapter of the book dedicated to community, to what it means to live a life connected to others. I hope you enjoy this story from my life, and as you read it, challenge yourself to consider the ways in which you can begin to break down the habits of individualistic living to pick up the habits of communal living.


 

The Early Church

You think because you understand one you must understand two, because one and one make two. But you must also understand and. —Sufi saying

In our early married church-going days, we attended a little nondenominational congregation, grace-based in belief and charismatic in worship. For community group, we spent the evenings in Justin and Kari’s home with their four kids.

I’d sit in the kitchen and watch Kari do what she does—scrub the sink clean, speak to me about what it means to walk in the Spirit while making dinner for all of us and cleaning out the coffee grinder. She taught me how to eat dark chocolate and sprout raw almonds, how to drink wine and laugh.

We could hear Justin playing guitar in the living room, and worship permeated our air, blending with the smell of that ground coffee.

I learned a new language of community with these people. I learned family and meal-sharing—how to speak about being a parent without actually being one.

I just watched them most of the time, and it was a blessing to be brought into their kind reality. I didn’t take it lightly. Kari showed me what the all-encompassing role of mother and wife and church leader and friend and psychologist and rock climber looks like.

It’s been years since we’ve been with that community, in that particular home, but I can picture it still. I can see the blue and gray hues in the front room and see Uriah and Avery playing chess with Travis at the kitchen table. I can smell the brewed cup of coffee that Justin just poured and hear Rhoen screaming as he runs through the house, laughing. Cana is hanging off her dad’s arms, gymnast that she’s always been.

And I see our little church, hands lifted in worship, bodies swaying to the rhythm of music and Spirit.

I remember the way we prayed together, the way we sought God together, the way we screwed up together and tried our best to take grace anyway.

On Sunday mornings long before church started, I worked in the kitchen with and Bailey, the breakfast crew that would bake cinnamon rolls and rearrange messy drawers and brew the coffee for everyone to drink throughout the service.

That community was where Travis and I learned to lead small groups, with our whole selves thrown in, just like our friends Justin and Kari before us. They live in a new place now, and I try to picture their family space, the adventures they go on every day, the way they face life and work and worship as a family.

And when I scrub my kitchen sink, every single time, I think of Kari and that church, that community that birthed us into our marriage and carried us for a few short years before we moved on to a new season in a new town.

That early church and those early people poured life into us, helped us shape the soil we would let ourselves grow out of, letting our roots reach down past the mud to get to the water-source.

One season, years and years ago, long before us, the earliest church shaped another group of people, people who learned to care for each other and share their possessions and speak of soul-things. Maybe they ate almonds and dark chocolate and drank coffee, too.

Maybe they cultivated their soil the same way we did, tending to the roots that would one day be fruitful and grow a world that longs to know and belong to God.

Hallelujah for that early church and the many generations of community that have come after her.

 

Holy Spirit,

I wonder how it felt for you to blow through

that place all those years ago,

like a caged bird suddenly sweeping its wings

freely across the world outside.

You were already around,

already present,

but something new happened there

and something steady and good

took place from that day on.

You became a kind of tangible thing

that they’d always longed for

and were probably afraid to know.

But there you were,

and today you’re still sweeping by,

still invading and speaking

and bringing so much

good that we could

never understand it all

with our human hearts.

Still, sweep by us

and into us

and make us

wholly yours.

Amen.


 

DAY 1: 7 Grandfather Teachings

{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!

Join me for daily reflections throughout this month. Today, I’m sharing about the 7 Grandfather Teachings.

In the Potawatomi/Anishinaabe tribe, we’re taught of the 7 Grandfather Teachings. When I first learned about the 7 teachings, I was mostly terribly disappointed that such a beautiful aspect of my culture is not taught, spoken of, or compared, especially, to the teachings of Jesus and other historic peacemakers.

I was disappointed because I can clearly see how they partner with each other, how the gospel that I know and other religious teachings I’ve encountered beautifully pair with my own tribe’s (and many other tribe’s) teachings. They support each other. They strengthen my faith.

And they strengthen my hope in my people.

It is told that the people were in need of new teachings, so a young boy went on a journey to meet 7 Grandfather spirits, or ancestors. They taught him the 7 ways and sent him out.

He returned, years later, to his people, who were hungry for a new way. He gave them the 7 gifts that were given to him:

Honesty.

Truth.

Humility. 

Love. 

Wisdom.

Courage.

Respect.

If we are held to these standards in our indigenous communities, are we not also held to these standards in the church, in our many different faiths? Shouldn’t we be held to these standards in our everyday lives with the people we encounter, with the cultures we interact with, in our politics and policies?

These ideas, understanding that indigenous culture revolves around traits and beliefs that are honorable and good, the same beliefs white people in America and Christians so proudly profess– if we were to go back and re-wire our brains to understand that indigenous culture also practices these ideas, it would change the way history is taught, the way children are taught. It would erase savage from our vocabulary. 

And so, our belonging as Potawatomi people has always been embedded in us, whether governments or systems appreciate them or not.

And as people in today’s world, it would do us so much good to recognize these teachings in one another, to find what it means to live in a “good way,” that honors creation and one another’s humanity.

“We are all poor because we are all honest.” –Red Dog, Oglala Sioux

 

One Gray Hair: a lesson in aging with wisdom

 

I found a gray hair on my head one morning recently.

I smiled at myself in the mirror and nearly ran into the other room to show my husband.

It’s not that I’m longing to get older quicker; but I am longing for more wisdom, for more journey.

 

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That morning I attended a day-long speaking event by Barbara Brown Taylor in my city, and was sure that I’d be stepping into sacred space as I drove my tiny white Kia across Atlanta, listening to a Powwow Song Pandora station along the way.

I was a bit surprised that I was one of the youngest people attending the conference. I found a table and sat down with a group of strangers, women older than I, kind and willing to listen.

I was unaware that they’d be speaking over me, calling me into my own gifts, my own way, leading me the way an ancestor does, the way an elder should.

We’re to listen to our elders, we’re taught in indigenous culture.

We’re to take their stories and wisdom and let them lead us in life. But so much of modern American culture fights against that, says that the older you get the less difference you can make in the world. But I sat in that room, at that table, with those women, and they simply held space for me. It was like I was watching their legacies trailing behind them, a beautiful train attached to their bodies that told their stories as they journey from one day to the next, that keeps record of the ways in which they have learned and re-learned what it means to be human.

I told them I had a book coming out soon and that I’d brought a copy to give to Barbara. They passed it around the table, writing down my name so they could buy it when it comes out. One woman looked through some of the pages, back up at me, right in my eyes, and said, “I think this is going to be more popular than you think it is. Do you feel that?”

I can’t explain to you what happens inside of me in those moments. It’s cocoon-like, a sense that I need to listen and perceive and remember those instances clearly for what they are. And in that moment, I was sitting beside my elder and she was reminding me of who I was, ushering me deeper into my own calling as she told me about her years as a converted Jew and her personal spiritual journeys.

There are a lot of divides that come with generations, but our underlying humanity–our joys and laughters, our gifts and callings, our need for community–they hold the whole world together, no matter what separates.

I left that day-long conference grateful for the spaces in which I was asked to share my story, to speak about how my indigenous identity and my Christian identity are one in the same, and that I’m trying to reconcile the rest of the church to that reality. I tried to sit still and listen for their stories and experiences, and while I received, they were few and far between. It seems this particular experience was to remind me that my ancestors, and the elders I surround myself with, are my leaders today and tomorrow. They walk with me on this path, even if it’s for one afternoon in an episcopal church.

And when I see gray hair, I think of my grandma, who had silver hair that she kept pulled up in a tight bun. Every now and then you could catch it down, trailing her shoulders, her back, long strands of what I imagined years of wisdom that made her the woman she was to me and my family. In our human experience, even in its pain, even in its misery, even in its divine transformation, we find hope along the way, as we age, as we grow, as we choose whether or not we want humility and grace to guide us.

I have hopes for my book, Glory Happening: Finding the Divine in Everyday Places, that comes out on November 7th, this book that I’m literally birthing into the world, pieces of me sent to other peoples’ living rooms, my words on their bookshelves and my heart reaching out from the ink and page to ask another heart to respond. It is a rush of so many feelings, and I am simply overcome with gratitude.

And yet, I have so much hope beyond that.

I hope, too, that when my one gray hair turns to one hundred on my head,

I look in the mirror, glad.

I hope that when my skin begins to wrinkle,

I see memory after memory make themselves known on my hands, my face.

I hope that my ever-brittling bones tell me

that transformation is both painful and beautiful.

I hope that my eyes, what they have seen and known,

will never grow weary of looking another in their eyes.

And I hope that one day, when I am the elder in the room,

I have something to give that is humble and gentle,

full of the glory of a God that stretches across generations and millennia,

who knew my own ancestors then and knows me now,

who will know my grandchildren one day.

I hope that all my hoping is bound up in this one voice

that stretches and molds and transforms over time,

a voice that began in creation, in mystery, a voice

that calls out to the deep for more of that benevolent love

that was always there and will always be here,

teaching us as we age that our stories matter,

and that they are never wasted or forgotten.

 

May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace… Romans 15:13

Indeed, the very hairs on your head are numbered. Luke 12:7

 

One Gray Hair: a lesson in aging with wisdom

 

I found a gray hair on my head one morning recently.

I smiled at myself in the mirror and nearly ran into the other room to show my husband.

It’s not that I’m longing to get older quicker; but I am longing for more wisdom, for more journey.

 

IMG_0771.jpg

 

That morning I attended a day-long speaking event by Barbara Brown Taylor in my city, and was sure that I’d be stepping into sacred space as I drove my tiny white Kia across Atlanta, listening to a Powwow Song Pandora station along the way.

I was a bit surprised that I was one of the youngest people attending the conference. I found a table and sat down with a group of strangers, women older than I, kind and willing to listen.

I was unaware that they’d be speaking over me, calling me into my own gifts, my own way, leading me the way an ancestor does, the way an elder should.

We’re to listen to our elders, we’re taught in indigenous culture.

We’re to take their stories and wisdom and let them lead us in life. But so much of modern American culture fights against that, says that the older you get the less difference you can make in the world. But I sat in that room, at that table, with those women, and they simply held space for me. It was like I was watching their legacies trailing behind them, a beautiful train attached to their bodies that told their stories as they journey from one day to the next, that keeps record of the ways in which they have learned and re-learned what it means to be human.

I told them I had a book coming out soon and that I’d brought a copy to give to Barbara. They passed it around the table, writing down my name so they could buy it when it comes out. One woman looked through some of the pages, back up at me, right in my eyes, and said, “I think this is going to be more popular than you think it is. Do you feel that?”

I can’t explain to you what happens inside of me in those moments. It’s cocoon-like, a sense that I need to listen and perceive and remember those instances clearly for what they are. And in that moment, I was sitting beside my elder and she was reminding me of who I was, ushering me deeper into my own calling as she told me about her years as a converted Jew and her personal spiritual journeys.

There are a lot of divides that come with generations, but our underlying humanity–our joys and laughters, our gifts and callings, our need for community–they hold the whole world together, no matter what separates.

I left that day-long conference grateful for the spaces in which I was asked to share my story, to speak about how my indigenous identity and my Christian identity are one in the same, and that I’m trying to reconcile the rest of the church to that reality. I tried to sit still and listen for their stories and experiences, and while I received, they were few and far between. It seems this particular experience was to remind me that my ancestors, and the elders I surround myself with, are my leaders today and tomorrow. They walk with me on this path, even if it’s for one afternoon in an episcopal church.

And when I see gray hair, I think of my grandma, who had silver hair that she kept pulled up in a tight bun. Every now and then you could catch it down, trailing her shoulders, her back, long strands of what I imagined years of wisdom that made her the woman she was to me and my family. In our human experience, even in its pain, even in its misery, even in its divine transformation, we find hope along the way, as we age, as we grow, as we choose whether or not we want humility and grace to guide us.

I have hopes for my book, Glory Happening: Finding the Divine in Everyday Places, that comes out on November 7th, this book that I’m literally birthing into the world, pieces of me sent to other peoples’ living rooms, my words on their bookshelves and my heart reaching out from the ink and page to ask another heart to respond. It is a rush of so many feelings, and I am simply overcome with gratitude.

And yet, I have so much hope beyond that.

I hope, too, that when my one gray hair turns to one hundred on my head,

I look in the mirror, glad.

I hope that when my skin begins to wrinkle,

I see memory after memory make themselves known on my hands, my face.

I hope that my ever-brittling bones tell me

that transformation is both painful and beautiful.

I hope that my eyes, what they have seen and known,

will never grow weary of looking another in their eyes.

And I hope that one day, when I am the elder in the room,

I have something to give that is humble and gentle,

full of the glory of a God that stretches across generations and millennia,

who knew my own ancestors then and knows me now,

who will know my grandchildren one day.

I hope that all my hoping is bound up in this one voice

that stretches and molds and transforms over time,

a voice that began in creation, in mystery, a voice

that calls out to the deep for more of that benevolent love

that was always there and will always be here,

teaching us as we age that our stories matter,

and that they are never wasted or forgotten.

 

May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace… Romans 15:13

Indeed, the very hairs on your head are numbered. Luke 12:7