Because it feels like the ultimate betrayal
The pairing of your work with the Christi Belcourt image is just extraordinary
The Sojourners piece is an incredible essay. Well worth the relatively low fee to get over the paywall. I never want to dismiss the importance of people’s personal relationship with faith. But you’ve articulated something that’s been bothering me for years: no matter how individual or personal or harmless that relationship is, it often still supports or at least participates in institutions that have caused, and continue to cause, tremendous harm. (The Reveal/ICT two-part podcast about boarding schools highlighted the fact that the Catholic church was given tribal land *and* tribal funds to run those hellholes. And that it still owns about 10,000 acres of that land. I don’t think that reality can be divorced from one’s faith.)
About winter. I remember this from Where White Men Fear to Tread, by Russell Means; how alienated we are from the weather; we are warm in winter and cool in the summer, our windows are closed to the world. And we take that for granted, as normal. I like living in a place where the seasons are distinct. I like winter and snow, though a long winter can be grueling, like the spring may never return. A lot of people die in winter, and always have, but collectively we've survived it, and much colder ones.
I read Harjo's poem many times. I think you've shared it before, but I read it several times today, silently and aloud. She made magic.
“It’s kinda like how people used to say you shouldn’t talk about politics and religion in public and now that’s all we ever do and now this country is a stressed-out hellscape as a result.” My stomach clenched just reading the first half of that sentence, and then I belly laughed out it on the second half. Also I am so with you on running rules by ancient jargon. My brain just shuts off. Language needs body and soul. The motions and seconds and bla bla bla. WOOF. The metaphor escapes me but...that ain’t body and soul. (I guess the metaphor is that it stinks of death.)
That artwork and your essay are such a beautiful connection. I read recently a quote from Simone Weil (I think) that said "society is the cave. Solitude is the way out." And while I know we can't all function as hermits, nor should we, I'm beginning to believe that a spiritual life is one that requires solitude, a relationship with surroundings, a reverence for self and others--and can never happen coming down from an imposed institutional hierarchy. I love winter too and am always taken aback at people who talk of it as a kind of nothing, something to endure. Up here, and I'm sure in Montana, access is so much easier in the winter when the tundra is frozen. Food can be stored outside and refrigerators aren't even needed, really. Darkness brings people together and we are all more social in the winter. I love that certain stories can be told when other animals are hibernating--how beautiful. Thanks for sharing such powerful images and ideas to reflect on, as always.
Your essay and that painting are so beautiful together. Your writing of this conflict is powerful and helps me to think about my own conflict with the church in which I was raised. I shed Catholicism as much as one can shed a skin -- but I often think I should devise an eighth sacrament for myself -- The Sacrament of Leaving, so that the leaving can take form.
I feel like I just put 4 buck$ on the collection plate, but your essay was worth it.
"These seven teachings of the ancestral grandfathers — humility, bravery, honesty, wisdom, truth, respect, and love — provide all the guidance I need to live an Anishinaabe life. On my best days, I hope “every footstep becomes a prayer” as the life is described by the late Ojibwe elder Edward Benton-Banai. But like so many people who strive to live a spiritual life, I am not always living one of my “best” days. It is only recently that I have even dedicated myself fully to trying to live an Anishinaabe life. Along the way, my feet have grown dusty and dry in making footsteps to this spiritual place. They are ready to linger awhile."
Chris, a guy who can write that doesn't need a "religion".
Hey, since you're in a question answering mood, take a shot at this one.
I would like to know how you feel about the ejection of your now ex-legislator, Mr. Tschida?
I loved your Sojourners piece. My mom took me to church out of spite because my dad was a heathen. He was was way more connected to the earth than anyone ever knew and he taught me a lot about respecting the "place" where I live. I took a lot, like prayer and grace, with me when I was able to leave the church on my own and I was really happy to leave the rest. I've been saying for a while that the church is next in line to look in the mirror and deal with its past. Without getting political, there's a candidate that's already attempting to twist it all in his favor for this upcoming cycle. I was raised evangelical in the bible belt and I don't think people are ready to open Christianity's skeleton closet but here we are. Nothing sparks division like religion. I expect ugliness but always hope for grace.
On another note, I'm so looking forward to the Freeflow Stuff! I hope I can be in attendance.
I feel a little guilty about my early-days-of-COVID-nostaligia, but seriously, weren't they the best? One of my favorite parts was when there started to be all these articles, published around September/October 2020, on the concept of hygge/15 ways to drink hot chocolate/let's-all-dress-in-ragged-sweaters-like-that-one-on-Knives-Out. Of the 7,037 lessons that I wish we had taken from that time (but that we did not), one of them would have been how to collectively embrace and enjoy winter as a special, cozy, isolating-but-also-community-making, deeply spiritual time.
All of this is to say, thanks so much for answering that question about storytelling during winter. I love the idea that some stories, you only want to tell while certain spirits sleep.
I like winter too.
Poetry Forge is once again so happy to welcome Chris back for a special four-week workshop intensive, taught via Live Zoom during the month of January. Poetry as Spiritual Practice is currently 2/3 full. All the details: https://poetryforge.mykajabi.com/offers/LF72XdXc
How do you feel about the stars and stripes? That's something I struggle with. I'm always surprised at how prominently the flag is displayed at the indigenous events I've attended. I'm not saying it shouldn't be, it's not my place to do that. But it puzzles me. As a relatively recent Welsh emigrant I'm surprised it's displayed at all if I'm being honest. In the Eisteddfodau (celebrations of Welsh language and culture) you won't don't see the Union Jack. There'll be the Welsh dragon, the St. David's Cross, Glyndŵr's Banner. But the "Union" flag will be nowhere to be seen; to the Welsh it symbolizes 1,000 years of Anglo-Saxon efforts to crush the very language and culture being celebrated. (See also: Scotland, Ireland.) To me the parallels seem glaringly obvious.
Some of the research I've done explains the conspicuous abundance of US flags at pow-wows, at least initially, as a way around the 1883 Code of Indian Offenses, dressing the outlawed ceremonies in patriotic garb. Other sources suggest that flying the flag was essentially a way of appeasing the military. Both explanations make sense, but I can't believe that's the case today. The pride with which the flag is flown appears genuine. And I find that very hard to understand.
Oh so excited for the Freeflow course!!!
Winter is hard, but it has its beauties, and it’s a necessary part of life here. It’s the best time to enjoy a fireplace, and lends itself to indoor pursuits. I hope we all make the best of it.
Thank you for answering so many questions. Congratulations on your article! And thank you for sharing that gorgeous poem.
I am always writing, but my writing triples in winter because it is cozy by the fire and there aren't accessible outdoor sun puddles to distract me from it.
A note on the garden of 10,000 Buddhas, which I'd never heard of before this post. Reading about it, and visiting the page to learn it was set up by Buddhists in the Nyingma lineage, (one of two schools if Buddhism I've practiced with) gives me a LOT of feelings. I'm well aware of how many Tibetan refugees ended up, unsurprisingly, in the mountainous parts of much of Turtle Island, particularly the Colorado area. I have a LOT of feelings about the white dominated nature of many of these communities, the ways in with Orientalism is baked into them, and my own position as a white practitioner in a religion that originated in what we currently know as India, and flourished across Eastern Asia. Oh yeah, and that Buddhism is an Earth Based religion and here I am, an assimilated Métis person reckoning with both whiteness and colonialism, and wondering all the time about the practices of my ancestors. Talk about cultural appropriation and complexity: white dominated Buddhist organizations with a Tibetan Tulku at the head, using the displacement of the Tibetan people to justify land ownership.
The question I always have for white Buddhists is, given the stories of the Buddha challenging the Indian caste system, what are we doing to challenge caste here in so called North America?
So many feelings. So much complexity.