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

 

Staying Rooted in an Uprooted World

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Have you ever noticed that the tops of the trees sway wildly when it’s windy?

I took the boys to one of our new favorite spots in Atlanta, a walking trail with a lake and two picnic tables where we sit and read, where we thread fallen leaves onto pine needles  and make habitats with sticks and dirt.

Last week, my oldest found an arrowhead there, and so it is, in many ways, sacred space to us. It is our getaway right outside the city.

We’ve been watching the new Magic Schoolbus series, and there is an episode about architecture and the Big Bad Wolf–they are trying to design the perfect house for the Three Little Pigs that won’t get blown down. When the kids and their teacher realize that the trees are the answer to their problems–that their rooted trunks do not easily break in the wind–they apply the circular tree design to their house for the Three Little Pigs play and it is a success.

You see, they discovered that the way the trees were grounded during the storm was the answer. Most of the trees were steady and safe, despite harsh winds.

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These days are full of acute, concentrated heaviness. We mourn and long, we hope and despair, constantly and all at once. That is, of course, the human condition, but it is exhausting, and it often leaves us feeling listless and unsettled.

And so, we have to find rootedness. We have to be grounded in something.

And if you’re a Christian like I am, the American church doesn’t feel like the safest place right now.

As a Native American woman, the church isn’t always the best place for me to find God. Because I’ve realized that the church is also out there. It is in the wilderness where I am grounded. 

A few days ago when I took my boys back to our favorite spot and watched the trees quietly sway, I listened. I listened as acorns fell from the heights above us. I lay on the bench of the picnic table, once again in awe of a created world that I get to belong to, tend to, learn from. I felt rooted again.

It was in a similar place that I was brought back to my identity as a Potawatomi woman a few years ago, on a walking trail. In that moment, when God reminded me of who I am, opened up my world, and lifted a veil that had been covering my eyes, I saw everything clearly, and I found that even though my journey is difficult, its beauty outweighs its heaviness, and it brings me to a rootedness that I’ve never had before in my life.

The answers have always been outside, whether we notice or not. They are in the trees and the dirt beneath my feet. Somehow, the wilderness allows us to ask questions of life, of God, of ourselves, of each other, and whether we find the answers we’re looking for, what grounds us to this earth and to this journey is that we belong. We are held steady in the chaos, rooted even though things are broken.

And the wilderness does not discriminate. The trees do not look at me differently than they look at you. The lake lets you see your reflection on her face, and the ducks still float by gracefully. The acorns still fall from the trees, the squirrels still bury their winter food in the dirt, and the bees still search for honey and sting anyone who gets in their way.

But when we become a part of that, when we get to sit in the company of a created world, we see ourselves.

We remember that we are small, created things, made to belong, to be interconnected, and that is the grandest mystery, isn’t it?

That in itself is all I need, and it’s all you need, if only for a moment of re-charging and remembering.

So when the brokenness of the world makes you tired, run to the forest.
Remember how small you are.
Watch the leaves change.
Listen to acorns fall from the heights.
Let the wind and the water talk to you about what it means to heal.
Let The Creator show you the benevolent, secret places.

And root yourselves again. Dig your heels into the dirt and remember that it is okay to long for wholeness, and it is better to seek it out where it can be found.

It is better to seek and find that we are, indeed, grounded, than to never look or ask and feel like we’ve wandered our whole lives and never landed.

So let the wildernesses– the rolling hills, the forests and the lakes, the rivers and the rocks, be your guide. Let them bring you back to yourself, to that still, small voice that has always called us rooted in an often uprooted world.


 

 

My book, Glory Happening: Finding the Divine in Everyday Places is out for PRE-ORDER! You can order your copy here.

Can’t wait for you to read it and find your own stories in mine.

 

The City Siren Song & Journeying Back to the Land

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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It was beautiful while it lasted.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

They live in the land, and they practice listening.

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

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

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

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

Amen.

 

IN THE GARDEN, AT SUNSET: a lesson in listening

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I came outside to listen, but all could I hear was noise– the hum of the car next door, an audiotape blaring through closed windows.

I thought I might hear from the seeds in my garden bed, but they were quiet.

Instead, my dog whines at dogs passing by. The crickets begin to sing, telling me an age-old story, I’m sure.

The birds are quieter tonight than they were this morning, and I understand that I am still practicing how to notice–

how to be aware;

how to hear the

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when the rest of the world is speaking.

But it would seem that the trees speak, too, even in the stillness, and I see up toward the sky a baby bird bobbing left to right in a nest, waiting for its parents to bring home dinner. I’d never noticed before.

Mosquitos are flocking to my skin– early in march, early because heat finds us in winter nowadays and makes the earth hotter than it should be.

I look up again and I can’t find the baby bird, because maybe it was only meant to be found in that one, sacred moment.

I wonder, often lately, what the birds think of us– what the hawks soaring overhead wonder about the gossiping, grouchy, sometimes gracious people below.

I never noticed before that the large pine tree to my right curves a little the higher up her trunk you look. She knows she’s beautiful, I think. She knows she’s wise.

A cardinal enjoys an evening meal at the bird feeder, and I’m close enough that I can hear the seeds crack in his tiny orange beak– it is a gift to notice.

And it is there that I realize, maybe the seeds did bring me here, after all.

Maybe the best place to view the world in this very moment is from the ground, at the edge of the garden, at sunset.

I go inside and the husky asks with his eyes what I’ve seen.

I silently say as I scratch his head, anything and everything, Pup.

Anything and everything.