Author: Kaitlin B. Curtice
Publisher: Brazos Press
Publishing Date: May 5, 2020
Pages: 208 (Paperback)
Those who are rigidly orthodox and steeped in certain evangelical language may find Native pushing the boundaries of what’s acceptable and what veers into the realm of syncretism. Even I found myself uncomfortable in places, seeing where my theology seems to diverge from Curtice’s worldview. But if the last ten years of being in the white, male, evangelical spaces of seminary have taught me anything, it’s that we fear what we don’t know. And if we can interact charitably with those fellow believers whose views differ from our own regarding actual sacraments (namely, baptism and communion), can’t we also read and wrestle with books which present different theologies of creation, the land, our bodies, and interaction with God?
Surely, we can discern which parts of something written by a human being will shape our growth in Christ. As we learn more about how our orthodox faith has always been more about the infinite mystery of Christ than about our human finitude, we find that phrases such as “I began the journey backward, which, for me, was the miraculous journey forward”1 are more restful than alarming, more refreshing than limiting. The strength of Native is in Curtice’s ability to embrace the fluidity of life and to reject false binaries, which is something the Church is learning more and more to embrace.
I believe this stems from her story as a Native woman, but also from her journey as a person of multiethnicity.2 She sums up the stereotype-defying nature of the mixed journey when she says, “I will share with you what it means to be a woman who is a citizen of the Potawatomi Nation and is descended from European people, a woman who is a Christian and yet who fights against systems of Christian colonization that do not reflect the Christ who lives in beloved unity with everyone and everything.”3
Curtice does articulate what appears to be a Universalist belief—that she finds hope in “not a Christianity bound by a sinner’s prayer…but a story of faith that’s always bigger, always more inclusive, always making room at a bigger and better table full of lavish food that has already been prepared for everyone and for every created thing.”4 Even as I disagreed with her theology in that instance, I found myself marveling at her lack of fear. If we really believe that true love casts out fear5, is it not essential that we learn how to hold our more traditional Christian faith not with clutched, grasping claws, but with open hands, receiving a gift? If we hold to Reformed beliefs that nothing can snatch us from the love of God, then a careful reading of books like Native should affirm that we can interact with a variety of beliefs and know God better on the other side.
Perhaps that is the biggest gift that this book offers to those of us who are not Native, to those of us who would still fall under the evangelical banner (if not in name, then in belief)6. We are more than capable—by the grace of the Holy Spirit—in pursuing truth without falling into fear when discussions are out of our comfort zone. When we are focused not on avoiding the desolation of Hell, but on resting in the consolation of Christ, can we do anything other than hold fast to the hem of Jesus’ robe and trust that he will keep us? When we seek out Jesus, and let our theology flow from who he truly is, are we not coming to him without artifice or judgment like the children did?
I believe that Curtice says yes, that “when I don’t really know what I believe about the world, about God, about who Jesus really is in the mess we’ve made of history, I look at the kids.”7 When we have faith like a child, we can rest in Christ, the one that the First Nations Version8 calls “Creator Sets Free.” May we learn from the Native believers among us to be set free into the great love of Christ.
xii, emphasis/italics hers ↩
The chapter where she specifically addresses her mixed ethnic identity (“Fighting Invisibility”) was such a gift to me, and I highly recommend it to other multiethnic folks. ↩
1 John 4:18 ↩
Please note that I am not propping up an unhealthy dichotomy here; I soundly reject the idea that someone must choose between being Native and being an evangelical. Writers such as Richard Twiss, Randy Woodley, and Mark Charles are all quite orthodox in their Christian faith while still leaning fully into their Native ethnic heritage. ↩
Originally published by Great Thunder Publishing, now entering a reprint with InterVarsity Press. ↩