Thursday, March 26, 2020

"Native" - Kaitlin B. Curtice

We're only two months into the year 2020, but I'm ready to proclaim Kaitlin Curtice's "Native: Identity, Belonging, and Rediscovering God" to be one of the best books of the year. 

Having had the opportunity to check out an advanced review copy of "Native" during the exact same week that Curtice found herself on the receiving end of negative feedback from a group of conservative students at Baylor University where she'd been a guest speaker, I worried less about being offended by the material and far more about being overly challenged by it.

I found "Native" to be one of the most satisfying, emotionally resonant, and intellectually stimulating books I've read in quite some time. It convicted me, certainly not in all good ways, and it made me reflect upon my own experiences as a lifelong person with a disability and how that's impacted my life, my faith, my relationships, and the overall culture with which I identify. 

Curtice is an enrolled citizen of the Potawatomi Nation and someone who grew up within a conservative Christian household. Throughout "Native," Curtice explores the tension of these two and the growing tension within her Christian faith as she more fully embraces her Native American culture. "Native" explores the intersection of indigenous spirituality, her Christian faith, and church/organized religion. In her first book, "Glory Happening: Finding the Divine in Everyday Places," Curtice wrote 50 essays exploring the sacredness of everyday life. 

With this collection, Curtice explores issues of identity, belonging, and the never-ending, constantly changing journey of finding oneself and finding God. Have you ever had one of those friends who loved you dearly but you also knew would never hesitate to call you on your stuff? While I've never met Curtice, that's how she comes off in "Native." She strikes me as a more blunt Rachel Held Evans, a dear friend of Curtice's whom she writes about in one chapter with a tone that could easily be described as that of immense grief. While Held Evans kind of always came off as the mom/big sister we'd all want to have in life, Curtice comes off as the kind of friend we all need to have in life because they keep us honest and accountable. Plus, it should be mentioned that amidst all her insight and passion that Curtice's writing is just plain freaking brilliant. 

I first became familiar with Curtice's work through her involvement with Sojourner's, whose leadership summit I had the opportunity to attend. The brilliance of Curtice's writing, at least for me, is that she makes the knowledge accessible and is fantastic at communicating it in a way that's understandable and applicable. I found myself frequently in tears throughout "Native," deeply moved by her stories yet also deeply moved by the ways in which her writing caused me to reflect upon my own life experiences. I began exploring the ways in which I've compromised my disability - a particularly applicable point considering I've been sitting in my home for the past couple of months recovering from a significant hospitalization and limb loss because I simply tried too hard to work around my disability rather than embracing myself as a disabled person. Ouch. 

Curtice's writing helped me identify in my own life that while society stresses ability, the act of living as a disabled person is an act of love to oneself and a rebellion against the norms of a society that refuses to value disability. I'm still in deep reflection on these issues even as I write this review. Yet, Curtice's writing also challenged me to explore the ways in which I've contributed to white supremacy and to acts that harm indigenous peoples. She uses a term, micro-aggressions, that I'd never have thought applied to me until I read her words, explored her meaning, and realized that I am, indeed, guilty as a person who has long claimed connection to my family's Choctaw roots yet I've never lived within the culture and I've never truly lived as an indigenous person. 

Curtice communicates these things bluntly yet I sense no aggression in her writing - I sort of imagine she burst a few bubbles at Baylor University, but my guess is they were bubbles that needed it. I know mine did. As someone who was raised Jehovah's Witness and who has been kicked out of two churches (Jehovah's Witnesses and Vineyard), I found a myriad of ways that I connected to Curtice's writing. Curtice's voice is absolutely vital and, yes, it's also a voice of challenge and accountability and truth-telling. It's a voice that convicts and it's a voice that preaches from the soul of Christianity and that's frightening for a lot of people. 

Personally? I find it refreshingly authentic and exciting. "Native: Identity, Belonging, and Rediscovering God" is an immersive, engaging book that breezes by rather quickly yet will have you reflecting upon its words and stories and even poetry for quite some time after you've finished. 

If you are uncomfortable having your faith challenged and you believe the church can do no wrong, then "Native" will either knock you out of that ivory tower (and it's definitely ivory) or it's perhaps not the book for you. For me? "Native: Identity, Belonging, and Rediscovering God" is unquestionably one of the best books of 2020 and a book I have no doubt I'll revisit again and again.

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