Love Letter to the Lonely

We’ve created a world that says loneliness is our fault, mental illness is either a myth or a problem that we must suffer with or fix quietly, so we don’t disrupt the way of things.

But loneliness is not wrong.

Friend,

I’ve been thinking about you today. I’m thinking about all the ways we get things wrong on this earth, in this country.

I’m thinking about all the different forms oppression can take.

I’m thinking about the reality that we’ve created a social environment in the United States (and in other countries) that doesn’t lend grace and compassion well.

We criticize each other’s weakness. We berate one another’s stories and experiences.

I’m thinking about mental health and self-care. I’m thinking about the work of listening to the needs of the soul.


What does it mean to be lonely?

I’ve heard so many times the phrase “we are lonely, but not alone.”

But it’s okay to feel alone, right?

We’ve created a world that says loneliness is our fault, mental illness is either a myth or a problem that we must suffer with or fix quietly, so we don’t disrupt the way of things.

But loneliness is not wrong.

Depression, anxiety or any host of feelings are not sources of shame, though we shame one another for experiencing them.

We shame one another for going to therapy, for taking medications, for admitting that we are tired. We forget our humanity for a moment. We forget what it looks like to hold one another. We forget that self-care is not laziness.

And we forget that the voice of Love is everything.

And our work right now is to break the chains of shame for ourselves and for one another.


Friend, I want you to know that loneliness is not a sin or human flaw.

It also isn’t just a lie that we believe, because loneliness is real. We see it in ourselves and in others everyday, in every work environment, in every community, on every street corner.

So what if we thought of every space as an opportunity to commune?

What if our digital and physical spaces were considered sacred, just as everyone who inhabits them is sacred?

What if we live in such a way that even our online interactions create space without reducing one anther to labels of weakness or unworthiness?

What if we learn to tell ourselves that we are worthy of love?


Recently in a therapy session, I tried to explain the constant tension I walk as a woman who is Potawatomi and white, Christian but not colonized, American but also indigenous.

I feel like I am never fully one thing or another.

And while it’s lonely, the more I share my story, the more people I find who feel the same way, who are fractured, who are trying to find their footing in a world that doesn’t accept some part of who they are.

Then I remember something.

I remember the stories of Jesus, a man who seemed to be lonely a lot.

He went to quiet places. He had some close friends, but he still struggled.

“Will they ever understand?” he quietly prayed.

“Can this cup be taken away? I’m tired.”


Many of the world’s greatest leaders admit to loneliness. And in those spaces, a lot of soul care is required to remember what it means to be a leader, what it means to carry compassion and empathy as a model for others.

But what about us? What about our daily lives? What about those moments when we are too weary to do the work?

Friend, I want you to know that I’m not expecting anything from you, but to learn to love yourself and then work on the empathy and compassion that fuels you to love the world.

This is not strictly linear work, but cyclical, seasonal, an ebb and flow that doesn’t always make sense.


If you grew up in a religious or social environment that wanted rule following over love of self, you know that even as an adult it’s hard to unlearn those thought and heart patterns. I’m still working, and I bet you are, too.

But it’s possible. And it’s not selfish.

So we re-wire the way we think about ourselves. And over time, we re-wire the way we think of others.

But it doesn’t mean that loneliness isn’t a constant companion. It means that while loneliness is there with us, we are still called.

We still have important things to contribute to our communities, to our families, to the world. We still have good work to do, and that work is connected to resting in the faithfulness of this earth that we get to inhabit.

Maybe the trees can remind us that we are loved and valued.

Maybe the bird on the windowsill or the constant rising and falling tide can tell us that the world wants to continue her work because we are a part of it.

Maybe then, we’re not quite as lonely as we think.

Maybe creation meets us in our loneliness and whispers I'm still here, after all these years. And maybe the fact that we all feel loneliness in a spectrum of ways means that loneliness is universal.

Until then, I guess what I’m trying to say is, you’re not so alone, after all, and neither am I.

All my love,

Kait 


Remember, your pain isn’t wrong or a weakness. If you’re lonely and need to talk to someone, there are people available to you.
National Suicide Prevention Hotline:
Call 1-800-273-8255
For LGBTQ:
https://suicidepreventionlifeline.org/help-yourself/lgbtq/
For Youth:
https://suicidepreventionlifeline.org/help-yourself/youth/
For Loss Survivors:
https://suicidepreventionlifeline.org/help-yourself/loss-survivors/
For the Native American community:
https://suicidepreventionlifeline.org/help-yourself/native-americans/
For Veterans:
https://suicidepreventionlifeline.org/help-yourself/veterans/
For Deaf/Hard of Hearing:
https://suicidepreventionlifeline.org/help-yourself/for-deaf-hard-of-hearing/

 

When We Return to the Gift of the Earth

Photo by Amy Paulson

“But every once in a while, with a basket in hand, or a peach or a pencil, there is that moment when the mind and spirit open to all the connections, to all the lives and our responsibility to use them well.”  — Braiding Sweetgrass, Robin Wall Kimmerer

I’m sitting in our newly organized office, a room at the front of our house facing the yard. My husband has a desk, converted from an old oak table with our computer placed on top, and I sit at a tiny desk gifted to us by my sister-in-law Melissa right after we were married 10 years ago.

To be honest, for the past few weeks, the Earth has been closely haunting me with her songs, her stories, her wishes.

Maybe it’s just that I wasn’t listening before. Usually it’s the case that I just don’t know how to. There is too much noise. There is too much Netflix. There is too much I’m just too busy.

It’s the lie of the century, really, placing blame on things like busyness. We are called to be honest people, and so, in a time like ours when the Earth is continually stripped by human greed one tree, river, and piece of land at a time, we need to remember our place.

If you’ve not read Robin Wall Kimmerer’s book, Braiding Sweetgrass,I highly encourage you to. As a poet, a scientist, and an indigenous woman, she weaves together stories through her encounters with the world, a book written by a true mystic if ever there was one.

She describes, in the latest chapter I’ve devoured, the work of creating black ash baskets from the trees. It’s a process that requires the artist and creator to understand that the pieces used to make the basket are a gift, to honor the work and to carry that acknowledgement constantly with her.

We have always lived in a world that gives to us.

And if we’re Christians, our entire paradigm of religion or spiritual practice is based on the idea that grace is a true gift, passed to us in the most unexpected ways from God.

And so, we are constantly on the receiving end of goodness.

And so, we are constantly in need of becoming better givers.

I grew up reenacting the scene from Disney’s Beauty and the Beast,you know, this one:

I spent hours in my yard, wherever I could find little sprigs of weeds that I could watch blow into the wind. I wanted a magical life, where I could sing and dance and be free with the creatures around me who ask to be free.

But along the way, I found television shows and indoor games, and the call of the wilderness became a far off dream. I became further disconnected from my Potawatomi identity, and in losing that, I lost stories that could have reminded me of myself, of God.

I still spent time outside, but I didn’t listen the way I once did. I lost sight of the magicthat once called me, unable to find the wardrobe that led me to my Narnia where Aslan sang songs of creation and benevolent beings stretched out their arms to care for me.

As beautiful and good as this world was created to be, the older we get, we inherit the human trait of deeming it a wasteland, taking whatever we want at the risk of ruining what was once full of life.

We strip trees for paper products.

We build skyscrapers without asking what creatures we’re stealing from.

We desecrate sacred sites for the sake of oil sales.

But growing up in the church, I never heard a word from the pulpit about our responsibility to care.

Sure, we were called to save souls and do our daily quiet time, to love God with our hearts, souls, minds.

But not once did I hear the word, “…and treat this world the way you’d want to be treated. Treat this land as the sacred thing that it is. We are connected to all of it, and so if it perishes, so do we.”

And I certainly never learned the truth of our history as a nation, that we stole land from native peoples and called their ceremonies pagan, savage, vile. We instead decided that our own religion should lift up economy and profit for the sake of the Gospel.

And so, as an adult, I’m returning. For 10 years I’ve watched my husband long to be outside, to find rest among rivers and rocks, to stretch the arms of his own heart out for the world to answer Welcome home, welcome home. 

I recently returned to a home that I had never been to, a home that has been calling me back–the Great Lakes region of the United States where my tribe, the Potawatomi people, once lived.

We lived as the Three Fires Anishinaabe alliance alongside the Ojibwe (Chippewa) and Ottawa (Odawa) people.

While there for a conference, I took a morning to tether myself to the land, to the water. I walked to the edge of Lake Michigan and watched the waves roll in, listening for a story, for a word.

I could hear laughter in her wake. I could hear the faint sounds of time, cries of lament, words of encouragement, of keep going echoing along the shoreline.

In essence, the water was telling me, again, the story of life, my own story, calling to memory the journey I’ve taken to get here today.

She was telling me of my own people being removed from the land, forced to walk the Trail of Death toward dusty Kansas and into Oklahoma. She was telling the story of a Creator who sees and bears the pain of it all, speckling grace over us the entire way.

She was telling me that I am not alone, that I never will be.

 

Photo by Amy Paulson

 

The world, she asks us to return. She asks us to look back, to laugh, to lament, to tell the whole storyand leave nothing out.

I’m returning to things that have been calling me for a long time.

I’m returning to the work of wonder.

I’m returning to the gifts given.

I’m returning to a time before the busyness to say that these things are worth the hard work of paying attention.

And so, it is truly not enough to put aside one day out of the year to call this Earth good.

It is not enough to blame others for not caring when we ourselves have not learned to care.

It is not enough that some of our institutions care for this world and most don't.

If we are alive today, it is because this world that we inhabit has sheltered us, has given to us, an extension of God’s own love.

 

May we return, in 2018, to the garden, to the greens, to the sights and sounds of peacemaking, because the Gospel, which has always been with the people, asks us to.

 

“We spill over into the world and the world spills over into us.” —Braiding Sweetgrass 

Let’s Talk About Healing

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Friends, I believe we are spiraling.

Despite our best efforts at becoming less individualistic in our society and in our churches, we still run in circles and cycles of loneliness and exhaustion. We still long for community and connection.

We are spiraling downward in cycles of religious bigotry, Christian empire, and toxic masculinity.

And when we want to heal, we think it must come quickly, from Point A to Point B. We don’t think of healing as a process of taking steps forward and steps backward, of having grace for the long haul.

And because of that individualism by which we operate, we are repeating those toxic cycles again and again, and they are leading us into toxic conversations in person and on social media.

So, friends, I’d like to talk about healing.

A few weeks ago I shared that for Lent I am giving up my ignorance of institutional sins like racism, sexism, ableism, religious bigotry, colonialism, and others. I decided that I have to look for those Old Habits that Die Hard. I have to be paying attention.

But you see, this requires some painful thought processes and conversations.

It requires us to dive headfirst into the pain of our own lives, into parts of ourselves that perhaps haven’t been healed yet.

And yet, the Spirit bids us come.

I attend a Be the Bridge group in Atlanta, and in our latest meeting we talked about the difficulty of holding truly healing conversations on race through social media. Often, it requires face to face conversations in which both parties are willing to say, “I’m listening,” for true healing to occur.

In my mind, there are three aspects to this that we need to truly heal, at least bit by bit:

 

First, we have to see God and Sacred Mystery in our midst. 

I like to call this tethering. To be stable in the work we do on a daily basis, in the conversations we have with others, we have to be willing to notice God in our everyday circumstances. That’s exactly why I wrote my first book, Glory Happening: Finding the Divine in Everyday Places.  I wanted to explore the idea that all of us are capable of being mystics, of living lives of contemplation, of seeing and experiencing holiness in our everyday messes and mishaps, in our joys and celebrations.

Recently I attended a women’s book club to talk about the process of writing Glory Happening. It was an honor to sit with a group of women who spend so much time together, to hear them admitting openly that they want to notice the presence of the Divine more, that they want to dig their hands into garden soil or go on longer walks, just to notice.

I was led into the kitchen by the young daughter of the family hosting the book club, and she pointed me in the direction of a chalkboard hanging on the wall. A prayer from my book was written in little-girl-handwriting, and it took my breath away.

 

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This family is choosing, together, to find God in the unexpected places of everyday living, and like I pointed out to them that day, while we were gathering in a circle drinking coffee and talking about seeing God in our midst, it is work.

It is work to make ourselves stop long enough in a crazy society of distractions and illusions and addictions to notice what is sacred and waiting for us.

But it is worth the work.

 

Second, we have to see God and Sacred Mystery in ourselves.

In Potawatomi culture, we ask, “How is your fire burning?” As the People of the Place of Fire, we were literally the people who tended to the fires traditionally, but still, we have an awareness that there is a sacred fire in all of us, and we are called to tend to it, to notice it, to respond to it when it is beginning to go out. It requires self care and self examination. But it also requires us to look without shame and judgment, something I only learned a few years ago.

Growing  up in the Southern Baptist Church, legalism mixed with my own ability to self-judge meant that I had journal pages full of confessions and hopes that I wouldn’t be abandoned by a God with a gavel and Naughty-or-Nice list. Self-examination along with self-love were difficult to come by, and it’s taken years of unlearning to get to a point (sort of, almost) where I can at least attempt to see myself the way God sees me.

Can we all work toward that?

Can we admit that to heal means we have to see our own stories and our own pains alongside God’s love for us and not separate from it? Can we acknowledge that God sees us as divine and good, even when we are tired?

I spent a few days at an airBNB in the mountains of North Carolina recently, and found that it’s extremely difficult to sit with long bouts of silence. We can do a few minutes, we can meditate and hold our prayer beads, but when it comes to hours and days of silence, of the raw reality that it’s us and the Divine Mystery, it is intimidating at first. It’s terrifying to be naked like that.

But then, if we dare to go, we find that we are really just there to heal from something, from all of the things that hold us bound to our own cycles of self-destruction.

If we dare to go, we can look at our lives with God, and find that healing is not only possible, but a beautifully close reality that we are invited into if we are only willing to say this is the hard stuff, and I’m going to go there and then find a way out. 

 

Third, we have to see God and Sacred Mystery in one another. 

It seems, if we follow the call to love our neighbors as ourselves, that we’ve got these last two steps backward, but I believe that many of us struggle just as much (if not more) to actually love ourselves, and then it damages our ability to love one another.

This is where storytelling comes in. This is where community comes in. This is where truly breaking away from an individualist life comes in.

When we learn to see ourselves and our stories with clearer eyes, we take them to our community, to others who are struggling to learn their own stories, to fight against their own fears, to pick up their own hopes. We do this together, and we have our moments of “Me, too” or “I am listening” or “I had no idea it was like this for you.”

Compassion building and community building go hand in hand, and when we cut ourselves off from communion with others, we lose aspects of ourselves, aspects of Divine Mystery.

 

So, let’s keep talking about healing.

Let’s keep acknowledging that what is hard about life doesn’t have to be a lonely struggle, but a journey we walk together, hand in hand, arm in arm, steady, slow gait to steady, slow gait.

Let’s remember that we cannot heal the institutional brokenness of the world unless we learn to see that the world is sacred, that we are sacred, and that our call to love one another is a sacred call.

Maybe then, healing will come.

Maybe then, we can answer the question and say, “Yes, yes, our fire is burning and it will not go out.”

 

We hold hope and despair, one in each arm, and we cradle them close to our chest, because they both have something important to say at every moment.

Glory Happening

 

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.

#oldhabits

“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.

 

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 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 teachings. They support each other. They strengthen my faith.

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, should we not also be 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?

Understanding that Indigenous culture revolves around traits and beliefs that are honorable and good should be known in the white American church.

If we were to go back and re-wire our brains to understand that Indigenous culture practices ideas like honesty, humility and love, 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 it 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