Are We Saved or Traumatized by American Christianity?

 

 

When I was seven years old, I prayed the “sinner’s prayer,” asking Jesus to “come into my heart” to save me from sin and death. If you grew up in a conservative Christian household, maybe you did the same. From that point on, my spiritual life was shaped by this duality: saved or not saved, bound for heaven or bound for hell.

It affected every relationship I had, because it affected me at the core of who I am.

In bible studies and at youth events, I grew up learning about how to best share our “personal testimony,” that story of how we came to be saved, how we were transformed from sinners to people who look more and more like Jesus every day.

The problem was that the Jesus we were being trained to look like doesn't look anything like the actual Jesus-- we were being trained as cogs in the machine of Christian empire.

Every time I was asked about my testimony, I would chase my memories back to my seven year old self, trying to find some fault in her. I wondered if, in that moment she prayed that prayer, she had some transformation, that a veil was lifted, that she saw everything around her more clearly. Surely, there were some awful underlying sins that she was hiding. Surely, she was a heathen before she prayed that prayer. Maybe she was extra selfish, and that was her downfall. Maybe she wasn’t grateful enough and needed the promise of heaven to fix it.

Maybe, though, she was just a kid, sacredly created and wholly loved by Mystery.

As an adult, thanks to therapy and other safe spaces created with friends and family, I can revisit myself as a child. I can ask her questions, scan the recesses of her mind and imagination and see where she saw beauty and where she felt pain. As an adult, I can ask myself what my own trauma and anxiety stems from so that I can walk, write, sing, cry, run, or sometimes crawl my way through healing.

It is enduringly hard work, but if we are to dismantle some of the dangers associated with the colonizing evangelical Christianity we’ve inherited, we’ve got to look our trauma in the eye and hold the institutions accountable that caused that trauma.

Am I saying that every church member, youth pastor, and evangelical is a monster?

No.

I am saying that collectively we’ve done monstrous things, and we need to pay attention to the damage done in spaces where we promised someone salvation from themselves based on a one-time prayer and snap of the fingers.

 

Maybe we need to go back and ask our child-selves some questions.

Maybe we need to give them some room to ask us questions.

 

Today, the stories of Jesus tell me of a man, a human, who used spit and dirt to heal. He escaped to countrysides and water to remember his connection to the land. He told empire to back the hell off, and he held the oppressed and the young close to his own heart without shaming them into submission.

I grew up hearing that we are to be in the world, but not of the world.

But today, all I want is to hold space in this world with my relatives, human and non-human alike.

As Robin Wall Kimmerer says in her book Braiding Sweetgrass, “We spill over into the world and the world spills over into us.” 

If anything, the church has lost its ability to find its place in the midst of sacred creation. The church has been power hungry for too long, and has forgotten its need to stay humble and gentle, to learn from the world and the creatures in it, and to learn from the least of these when it has lost its way. We lost our way when prayer became a weapon that we wielded toward others we thought needed saving.

Do we need to be saved from anything? Probably. We see the way that systems of hate and white supremacy have permeated the earth and destroyed people. We’ve seen how dangerous the ideas of in vs out, black vs white, us vs them can be. Maybe we need to save ourselves and each other from that wreckage. But we have to ask ourselves better questions and hold space for better answers.

Little Kaitlin? She saw something holy in the world around her, an awe and wonder that was slowly replaced with fear and shame.

We must do better by future generations inheriting a belovedly created and wholly loved world, and their wholly beautiful place in it.

We must be willing to lead them, and to stop and let them lead us. In order to be good ancestors, we begin with soft yet fierce love today.

We must do better by future generations inheriting a belovedly created and wholly loved world, and their wholly beautiful place in it.

 

Weeping and Wailing: a lament litany

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Maybe the stars went black that day because there was nothing else to get their attention, the people gathered around the crosses with dice in their hands and grins on their mouths, a few others hiding, stopping to stifle their quiet sobs.

After all, thieves hung on crosses every day, proclamations of miracles and resurrection on their lips now and again.

Maybe the stars went black because the sound of the nail through skin made them, finally, too tired to shine.

Maybe they just closed their eyes for a minute to weep, while the thunderclouds wailed around them.

Maybe then it only lasted a few moments, but maybe every night while we sleep, the stars go black for a second, and the thunderclouds rumble a low lament– a weep and a wail lasting centuries in this world.


 

Weeping and Wailing.

For every innocent body executed by the state—

Weeping and Wailing.

For every murdered indigenous person whose killer goes free–

Weeping and Wailing.

For every abused child–

Weeping and Wailing.

For the poor, who are told to pull themselves up or else–

Weeping and Wailing.

For young women, who believe their voices don’t matter in the church–

Weeping and Wailing.

For the tired widows–

Weeping and Wailing.

For young men incarcerated and abused by the system–

Weeping and Wailing. 

For the descendants of the oppressed, who live generational trauma in their bones–

Weeping and Wailing.

For the Empires, who for centuries have oppressed in God’s name–

Weeping and Wailing.

For too many tombs filled with those killed by police brutality–

Weeping and Wailing.

For institutional sins of ableism, sexism, religious bigotry, toxic masculinity, white supremacy and racism–

Weeping and Wailing. 

For a world that has been abused herself, beaten year after year because we say that we are called to “subdue” her–

Weeping and Wailing. 


 

The stars went black because they had no other choice.

Because if the world went black for a moment or two, maybe the people would gather to one another and make peace.

Maybe they would remember that they belong to each other and the world they inhabit, there in the darkness, there with the thunder calling their names.

Maybe the darkness puts us in the tomb, too.

Maybe we go there to weep and wail ourselves, for injustice, a longing to be whole again.

Weeping and Wailing.

Weeping and Wailing.

Weeping and Wailing.

Until the stars shine on us again.


A Chemical Reaction of the Soul

chemical reaction: n. a chemical change that occurs when two or more substances combine to form a new substance.

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I’ll be the first to admit that I know little about chemistry.

But recently I had a conversation with my son about chemical reactions, how something as simple as baking a cake becomes a chemical reaction–because the cake can never go back to being flour, salt, sugar, or eggs. It has transformed.

Neither can my coffee, that is ground and immersed in water inside the coffee maker, go back to being the original bean again.

I’ve been thinking a lot about the process of deconstructing or decolonizing my faith.

I’ve written about it here, and if I stop with one piece, I’ve obviously missed the point.

About two years ago I had a conversation with a friend that ended in the realization that I am no longer the person I was in high school and college.

My perspectives on faith and the church have shifted, along with who I believe should be included and excluded in such matters.

It seems I’ve become someone else, but still hold in tact the original essence of who I’ve always been.

Is it possible to have a sort of chemical reaction of the soul? Is it possible that we transform so that we cannot be what we once were?

I believe that’s a healthier version of ourselves, and if we’re really honest, fighting transformation will leave us unhappy, missing out on new aspects of ourselves that are waiting to be discovered.

When we refuse to change, to evolve, to transform, we become stuck in only what we’ve known, because we’re scared to ask questions. But the question-asking, the wondering and wandering– it’s what helps those chemical reactions of the soul take place. All of those substances combine in us to bring transformation.

My coffee, steaming in my cup with cream and sugar, will never be a coffee bean again.

It has some sort of new purpose.

Just the same, my life journey today, seeking my Potawatomi identity and asking the American church how it can be better, is a version of myself that cannot forget what it has seen or go back to what it once was.

But the question-asking, the wondering and wandering-- it's what helps those chemical reactions of the soul take place. All of those substances combine in us to bring transformation.-2.png

If coffee transforms, so can we.

And each fall leaf,

every flower,

every bird’s egg that hatches,

each child that grows and matures,

a caterpillar that will become a butterfly,

every pumpkin pie or fortune cookie or veggie omelet–

a chemical reaction in the world, a transformation.

So if we aren’t who we were yesterday, and we’re not yet transformed into who we’ll be tomorrow, who are we today?

Maybe we simply ARE,

this transforming thing,

the cake that’s still in the oven,

the coffee that’s being ground.

Maybe we’re inside the middle of transformation, where it hurts a little, the caterpillar making its way toward the butterfly.

While we are in this cocoon, dreaming of who we’ll be, working toward it, we acknowledge that this space, right now, is necessary and good in the process, and we cannot skip it.

You and I are in the midst of our chemical reaction of the soul, and we cannot go back now.

The only way is forward,

and into glorious, unknown light.

Amen. 

 

PEOPLE WHO HOLD SPACE WILL HEAL THE CHURCH

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When I married my husband, he’d just cut off his dreads and was an avid rock climber. He married me– a girl from a small town, comfortable in everything that I knew, in everything that I’d been and was going to be.

As Johnny Cash says, we got married in a fever, and before we knew exactly what we’d done, we were home from our honeymoon, beginning the long journey toward figuring out who we were–together.

When he married me, he loved who I was, but also saw who I could one day become, and he held that vision steady. And it wasn’t a vision for what he thought I was supposed to be, but a vision still unknown to him, held by the mystery of God.

He took me climbing in one of his favorite spots not long after we married. I had a dislike of nature, but was idealistic about it, and there was abounding irony in the fact that I’d married someone like him.

He took me to a place called Lincoln Lake, a climbing spot in Arkansas that had been home to him for a long time.

All that I remember thinking is that the lake water was really brown and there were a lot of bugs. I couldn’t see then the way I see now.

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Nine years later, close to our anniversary, we went back there. He took me to the top of the rocks to set up the climbing rope, and I sat and drank my coffee. There were large black ants crawling across my feet and the humidity in the air was rising little by little.

“It’s beautiful here,” I said.

“I didn’t appreciate it before.” I looked back with tears in my eyes.

“I know,” he said.

There seems to be a difference between being with someone to change them and being with someone as you hold space for them to change.

My husband has always held space for me.

He’s held space for me to grow up from the 19 year old who married him.

He’s held space for me to learn motherhood.

He’s held space for me to ask questions in my faith.

He’s held space for me to walk into my Native American culture without fear.

In holding space, he has loved me.

And he continues to hold space for who I’ll become tomorrow.

I’m convinced that space holding people are the ones who will heal the church.

They are the ones who bring justice and shalom, because they are patient people who hold onto a long-off vision. We need them in our churches, because they will not force change. They will not sit in pews and bear judgment over the people around them, but they will sit with those people and wait for God to show them the way.

The church has very publicly become a place that tries to manage others, and it often leaves people wounded. It wounds the church by distorting who the church should really be, and it wounds individuals in the church by making them feel like they aren’t good enough for Jesus.

So we need to learn to hold space.

Like my husband saw in me, we need to see what is good in each other, to hold onto the longer vision that God holds for each of us, and we need to wait.

I did not understand as a 19 year old who I was marrying or who I was. And in the process of learning, I needed someone who could be gentle yet steady with me, just as God is gentle and steady.

People like my husband, who hold space, show the unique character of God in a way that we are all hungry for.

So let’s practice holding space instead of holding one another hostage to our own ideals.

Let’s remember that God has an individual vision for each of us, and it’s worth waiting for.

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As I climbed up the rocks that morning, I felt like I was communing with a space of the world that I’d never known existed before. I felt drawn in by my inability to know exactly where to put my foot or my hands, but that unknowing gave me energy to try anyway, like I was trusting this thing that was calling me back to God.

And on the one climb when I reached the top, I turned around and scanned the treetops with my eyes. I looked down at the brown water and across the horizon of that Arkansas day and thought, “I am so glad I am alive.”

If we hold space for each other, we learn how to truly be alive with one another, as we cast off judgment and wait for the grace of God to journey with us into unknown and sacred places.

And my friends, it’s absolutely worth the wait.

 

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

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

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

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

No room, no room.

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

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

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

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

No room for the women to lead;

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

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

No room. 

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

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

But still, no room.

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

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

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

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

No room for xenophobic social circles and secret gossip clubs.

There is no room for the one-person agenda,

No room for the top-down scheme.”

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

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

And there, the new church is born.

 

Hallelujah and Amen.