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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The luxury of disturbance: meeting God in the liminality

Like many of you, I’m a rhythmic person. Actually, my flow probably feels more polyrhythmic. I live with certain cadences – whether it’s having breakfast with my children, using my own bathroom/sleeping in my own bed, meeting at Franny Lou’s Porch with my cell on Thursday mornings, getting to worship together on Sunday nights as a Circle of Hope, or being near internet/cellular service. I had the luxury of disturbance recently and God met me in some outside-my-usual spaces.

My seminary program, the Masters in Intercultural Studies through the North American Institute for Indigenous Theological Studies (NAIITS), has a flow. As a hybrid learning program, my cohort convenes online for discussions and then face-to-face for a week or two per year. This time Wheaton College hosted us in their kind of fancy facilities (very nice!). I took major components of two classes – Missional Leadership and Human Spirituality, taught by two brilliant Native women who held space for a co-learning environment with about eight of us.

I decided to drive to Wheaton so I could visit my good friends in Pittsburgh (BB, Andy, and the kids), one in Chicago (Colleen), and see Dustin and the gang’s permaculture design experiments on 30 acres of family land in Canton, OH. It wasn’t the fastest way to travel, but now the Graces are equipped with hybrid technology I spent about $100 on gas over the 1,700 mile trip. I got to listen to Dune on audiobook, some tunes, and lots of quiet. It didn’t seem convenient all the time, but I enjoy spending time on the road – even though about 1/3 of it was out of TMobile’s service area so I was in a sort of cocoon. I enjoyed driving through Midwest thunder showers, mountains of PA, and seeing the funny t-shirts for sale in Indiana such as “Hoosier Daddy.”

I had to leave right after the class so I could make it back in time to help out with my kids’ school in their production of Seussical, Jr – again feeling disrupted. Being back home after being gone requires a lot of catching up to communications and happenings in the community, and being less available than normal for a few days can throw me off.

I wish I could distill the whole trip into something readable, but I guess if you’re part of my faith community you’ll be feeling it through the next season. In Jackie Ottmann’s Leadership class, we discussed how leaders can make space so people can experience change – often helping to create ethical space where we usually taste liminality. I hope that’s not too expensive of an anthropological word – basically it’s a time/space where you don’t know what’s going to happen next. It can be that moment when the water is just about to/starts boiling…when it just became hot enough. Liminality is definitely disruptive to normal flow, but can be where the gritty grind of transformation happens.

This excursive week or so for me had it’s share of liminality and I’m glad that I was given the space to be able to get disrupted and be able to do something good with it. So often we as humans get stuck in patterns and pathologies that don’t experience disturbance outside of crisis. This break in my routine included enough time for reflection. I’m still digesting what God is saying – but I’ll say I’m grateful:

1.  to be part of a local expression of the Body of Christ – we can connect and work through stuff together and want to be directed by the Spirit. Lots of my friends don’t have it. So cool!

2. to have been raising my kids in a village of parents – whether or not one has biologically reproduced does not matter in village formation. As I see my creative middle schoolers rock their play, I can see the love and care poured into them by dozens of aunties and uncles in the church.

3. to have this luxury of disruption and the time to reflect about it – the flexibility in my schedule exists because of so many passionate and gifted leaders who also want me to grow and develop. Thanks for sending me to seminary and wanting to work out the disruptions I create because of it.

Feeling, healing, and embodying

Philadelphia has been in touch with suffering this week. The Phillies (for a day) had the worst record in baseball and Utley can’t get over .130. We marked the 30th anniversary of the state firebombing a whole block with impunity (until a civil suit in 1996, no criminal charges). Less than two miles up the road from me a train going 106 in a 50 went off the tracks, killing at least seven and injuring over 200.

I spent a few minutes near the scene yesterday morning, but couldn’t get close enough to see too much. I did see the looks on many faces of people who had been there for a while. Whatever prevented me from really feeling it before then was removed. Reading stories, seeing helicopters, and understanding numbers got me interested and sort of vaguely sad, but I drove away from the scene in tears.

When Scotty wrote We Are All Lepers Here he had been studying leprosy, a misunderstood disease. Rather than being a disease that makes limbs and whatnot look gross and fall off, it’s a neurological disorder caused by bacteria. The disease often makes one unable to feel – at least certain parts of the body, thus not pulling one’s hand away from a candle while sleeping or attending to early infections. As a metaphor for the Body of Christ, the song asserts that in order to feel the pain of the Body – we need Jesus to help us feel again rather than just “tending to our own.”

My brilliant friend Randy Woodley takes this body image a step further in his book Shalom & the Community of Creation that it’s not even just Jesus’ followers that He made us one with, through discipleship Christ restores us back into a natural harmonious rhythms as part of creation.

How I wish more of us in the US could feel the sting of Nepal’s earthquakes this month. Over 8,000 are dead from the quakes, aftershocks, and tremors. That number doesn’t register very easily with us but when experts say over $5 billion in damage (over 25% of their GDP) we sort of get a better sense. If we felt it – I’m not just talking about tears, now – couldn’t we shave a little off of the federal $600 billion “defense” spending to help out?

At my cell’s meeting this morning, we talked about how depressing it can be to learn or think about some of these situations and facts – feeling isn’t always our problem in the same way. Rather than feeling our limits as in a place to reach out for God we feel powerless and often ambivalent about faith. I know what that’s like, I’ve even described it as feeling too much.

If you have that kind of sensitivity today I hope you can allow that to be a space for you to acknowledge Jesus – the very sensitive person of God. Not only does Jesus come into the suffering of the world, He offers hope that our work is not in vain, that doing our small part is worth it, and that being faithful to the cause makes ripples throughout time that we can’t even fathom yet.

If you are not feeling very sensitive to some of these issues (or others), I hope that space can also be ripe for Jesus to bring some feeling back into your body. I hope that your emotional and spiritual scabs might fall off or that God will touch you and you’ll help pull the proverbial hand off of the hot stove before it gets too badly burned.

We are all connected in this great big Community of Creation, and those trying to walk with Jesus can have a richer sense of what it means to feel pain as well as heal and to shine hope in the face of despair. There are a lot of folks who want and need to be made alive again. Let’s embody what it looks like to be a people who bring hope to the challenges of our day.