From Befuddlement to Mystery during the Carnival de Resistance

I had two spiritually profound experiences two weeks ago that I don’t think I’ll ever forget. This is about one of them. I was part of the Carnival de Resistance residency in Minneapolis (many fond memories!), beginning a new seminary class and feeling lots of feelings. I was there for 10 days of a 30 person, 30 day eco village experiment and arts carnival – easily find pics on the Facebook page. I had been sitting for a few days with some difficult questions that had arisen during my seminary work. During one of our performances my befuddlement had moved into embracing mystery in a way where felt connected, and embraced back by God. I felt the Holy Spirit in my body as I drummed and choked through the lyrics to the anthem’s line “I’m gonna stay on the battlefield till I die…” You may want to listen to Sweet Honey in the Rock’s version while you read.

The Mexican muralistas walked behind our dancers (Jenna, Helen, Belle, and Tevyn – inspiring Circle of Hope partners!) with this banner (above) and raised their fists – both in defiance of tyranny and together with those defending water against the extraction industry with their private military. Everyone under the big top (besides people playing drums with both hands, I guess) raised a fist. It was the climactic moment of the show, the second time we performed it. It was more than an exhilaration from performance. It was more than just having strong and complicated emotions. I know what the presence of God feels like. God is there when I feel most alive, when I’m distressed – and still surprises me sometimes.

Experiences or activities that help us connect with God

I’m glad that I learned how to worship God at a young age – especially in the context of when the church gathers. Worshipping together has been a central discipline to my whole adult life. I use it as a time to be formed by bringing our hopes, worries, and everything else to God through mutual expression, often through art and music – while including others. Each of our meetings on Sunday night feel like an inclusive family dinner to me.

I’ve love how this meme can help us think about spaces of personal God time. They bring up a common problem – so many people unsuccessfully try to cram that experience into a church building and don’t acknowledge that a close encounter with God’s Spirit often happens when we’re doing what we love. I’ve heard people this year talk about developing intimacy with God when they run 5 miles, work on their garden, write a song, go hiking, sit in the woods and listen to birds, read and ponder the words of mystics, march against injustice, practice photography, consider the wonders of the universe, meditate on Scripture, dance, making a friend on purpose, paint, clean the house…I could go on.

These encounters don’t need a priestly figure performing the ceremonial rites ahead of time. Jesus made all times sacred, we just need to enter in. Everyone participating might not have the same intention and interpretation of the event. We do have unity of purpose at our Sunday meetings and cell meetings – we call it “setting the sacred space.” What practices or habits help you experience God’s presence? The two meetings of the church each week probably aren’t enough to sustain you longterm – part of following Jesus is growing your capacity to experience the Holy Spirit all the time.

We resist what we don’t already understand

Susan Boyle illustrated the classic aphorism

Susan Boyle illustrated the classic aphorism “don’t judge a book by its cover” on Britain’s got talent. *swoon

I heard one of our pastors, Gwen, say at Doing Theology last week that we are naturally suspicious of things we think are different than what we already know. I know I can be like that. When I don’t understand something or when an idea doesn’t reinforce something I already think/believe/feel – it takes some intentional work to not go with my instinct to close off, resist, or withdraw. It’s a risk because sometimes it’s healthy and others we miss something that the Spirit might be bubbling up.

If you’re still reading and ready for another relevant song, the First Nations DJ trio A Tribe Called Red dropped a new album recently that’s been on repeat for me. Here’s the first single featuring Yasiin Bey (Mos Def), “R.E.D.” 

I only have two classes left to complete for my Masters in Intercultural Studies degree through my seminary, NAIITS. My current class of ten people is Ethics in an Intercultural Context. Since it’s the North American Institute for Indigenous Theological Studies, we often consider implications of mission in Native contexts (historically, currently, and the future) and give special attention to Native experiences. My professor was not afraid to start our class off with some rather antagonistic writings by Vine Deloria – a hugely important Native scholar.

The assigned article and excerpts were hard for me to get through. I was taking a break from Carnival community life, trying to study before sending in my reflections for our weekly class Google hangout. I felt a little mentally blown out to sea. I was struggling to know what I felt or thought about questions raised in my readings, like:  Do Liberation Theologies really just reinforce white supremacy, perpetuating the same myths & systems that keep us from creating new ways of thinking and relating? Can Christians become spatial (connected to place) as well as temporal (going along time) in order to become more than colonizing to her non-members? I wanted to understand other perspectives and only had a few hours of dialogue. I was in that headspace for a few days, feeling befuddled while trying not to resist, withdraw, or close myself off to the new ideas.

As a group we, local pastor Jim Bear Jacobs (Mohican) showed us the documentary Dakota 38 and led a talking circle. The US had forced Dakota elders (mostly women) into a deadly internment camp, a final straw for the nation. They fought back. The day after the Emancipation Proclamation, President Lincoln ordered the largest mass execution in US history – to hang 38 of the leaders of the uprising. I highly recommend the documentary Dakota 38.

The Reality that doesn’t quite exist yet

As we work to realize together what “Your Kingdom come, Your will be done on earth as in heaven” means, we are not just biding our time. Don’t we actually experience pockets and moments of Christ’s Reality. Thinks click. They make sense in our heads, our hearts, together, and give us courage to live a demonstration of it. A little taste of heaven! Rather than thinking heaven only exists in some other strange planet or dimension, why not live into the new reality Jesus initiated and invites us into right here in our own planet, time, community, geography, and body? We can live into it together and make more pockets and moments where Jesus is the foundation of all – and harmony returns to earth.

Back to the climax of the CDR’s water show “Burning River” : Tevyn just gave a moving closing monologue that tied together elements of the show. Water is a gift from God and is necessary for life, health, and healing – in both the figurative (living water) and literal (rivers, etc) sense. Working for the health of the water is deeply connected to how we view creation – as a commodity or a gift from our Creator and we’re invited to baptism even in the polluted water. We’re singing, dancing, raising fists (see first paragraph). It all connected for me. We were in one of those sweet spots. Our discourse and ideas merged with saying yes and being part of the Spirit’s movement. It connected us to the struggle against evil and greed, and with those forming an alternative that was ready to act.

Don’t let your befuddlement keep you from engaging with God and the befuddled others (aka the church). We may feel how it’s working before we understand it completely. That’s the kind of life I get to be part of every day as part of Circle of Hope. We’re embodying an alternative to what people generally think is reality. Generating justice and hope and our neighborhood (not just someone else’s neighborhood) is at the heart of us. I’m pretty excited for what we’re going to do this week about it.  

 

 

 

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Three signs of soft solidarity at the dawn of the last Columbus Day

Just in time for Monday’s federal holiday, Seattle decided to celebrate something else, joining Minneapolis at big US cities to get this right by re-naming the holiday “Coast Salish Day” and Indigenous People’s Day, respectively. Are we more surprised by cities making this move or that more haven’t yet? How is this still a thing?

After all, aside from the catastrophic results of contact for 10’s of millions of natives, didn’t Colon basically start a trend of “discovering” things for white people? If you need another funny video to keep you engaged – check out College Humor’s take on “Columbusing.”

If you are moved to make steps towards healing our land and people, you might be moving toward solidarity. Particularly for white liberals – especially Evangelical Christians – solidarity is becoming more normative, at least in theory. It takes a lot of work to move solidarity from your heart or head and allow God to use it for transformation. It’s cheaper and easier to have a “soft solidarity,” one that makes you feel good/aware/informed but doesn’t transform yet. I offer three warning signs of soft solidarity, and some suggestions for how to allow the Spirit to beef it up to a solidarity that both parties experience.

When solidarity doesn’t lead to connection, it’s probably soft. When we pray at the Circle of Hope sunday Meetings, we are trying to help people make connections and follow up. Prayer is a powerful tool to connect with God, one another, and people far away as well as change hearts. Praying for Pakistani victims of drone warfare is good. Telling the story about the prayer, learning, and even trying to find Pakistani people in your neighborhood or online to make a relationship with is even better.

When solidarity doesn’t lead you to uncomfortable situations among people who don’t get it yet, it’s probably too soft. As a non-native of this land as well as not having African ancestors within the past few 1,000 years, learning from my native and black friends, teachers, musicians, and authors has been healing for me. It’s a privilege for me to be able to talk about race, land rights, colonialism, or restitution with my friends of color. It’s a responsibility to continue these conversations with white people who haven’t listened to non-white voices yet. For those of us who “cross over,” we have to do more than represent the exotic or be a proxy for oppressed voices. We don’t need to build bridges, we need to help put people in direct contact and show them how the bridge doesn’t even exist – we are way closer to a connection than they might think.

When solidarity is an accessory to your narcissism, it’s definitely too soft. For progressives, particularly millennials, you have been conditioned to do this already, so un-learning is going to take some work. Buying a keffiyeh doesn’t make you down with the Palestinian cause. Waxing intellectual, playing authentic delta blues on guitar, blasting Immortal Technique, or borrowing cultural elements from other peoples does not do anything for anyone else – unless it’s part of something bigger.

If you are still wondering about whether changing the name makes a difference – of the holiday or the football team, consider these thoughtful anecdotes from native activists. You may feel more sympathy for the Italian Americans who may feel slighted that Columbus is getting bumped, for Columbus himself as a hero and great Christian, or for the system itself for not being able to be just or accommodating to everyone.

In the video you see Migizi Pensoneau of The 1491s wearing the infamous Caucasians t-shirt, mocking the Cleveland Indians logo -designed by Brian Kirby but made famous by DJ NDN of A Tribe Called Red. Migizi wrote a heartfelt piece going behind the scenes of the Daily Show shoot for the Missoula Independent here. I think this should be the last Columbus Day anyone celebrates because the holiday reinforces & celebrates lies and myths that support a system of genocidal thievery against my friends & relatives. Changing the name is a step towards making connections that need to be made. I sense Jesus moving us into SOLIDarity, where mutual connection, care, and support transforms everyone involved and faces off with the Powers That Be. The more connections you make, the more sense it will make that your friends & relatives rub off some cultural elements/values/hopes on you.