‘Resistance’ is not just a buzzword in Kaitlin Curtice’s new book

In ‘Living Resistance,’ Curtice shares essays about what resistance can look like, touching on topics such as prayer and protecting the land and even child care.

(RNS) — If her first book, “Glory Happening,” documented the beginning of Kaitlin Curtice’s “deconstruction” of the Christian faith in which she was raised — her gentle prodding for better answers, especially about her identity as both a Christian and a Potawatomi woman — her next book, “Native,” chronicled her decolonization.

Curtice’s third book, she said, describes what comes next.

“If that was my journey,” she asked, “how am I connected to the rest of the world?”

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The essays in “Living Resistance: An Indigenous Vision for Seeking Wholeness Every Day” consider topics such as prayer, protecting the land and even child care and how each can be a form of resistance. Each chapter ends with a “resistance commitment” — an action that puts ideas into practice.

She spoke to Religion News Service about how resistance is part of connecting, her vision of the four “realms” of resistance and why resistance is for everyone.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

What does resistance mean in an era when, as you write, words like “resistance” and “activism” have become “tokenized hot topics”?

When you’re resisting, you’re pushing against something, (but) we’re also choosing something on the other side. You’re not just resisting into a void. You’re grabbing for something — some dream of a better world or some vision. And so the book is really about how are we leaning into care? Care for ourselves is resistance. It’s resisting a culture that doesn’t want us to connect back to our bodies, that doesn’t want us to love ourselves well. It wants to keep us separated and thinking of the land as something we can dominate instead of having a relationship with. So how are we resisting those things by practicing care?

I wanted it to be a book that felt kind of gentle in that way. The raised fist of resistance is very powerful, and I want it to be that, but I also want it to be some sort of slow and steady and sustainable and quiet form of resistance, too.

You write that resistance is a “basic human calling” and part of the way humans are wired. Can you explain?

I think for a lot of people, it’s like, “That person’s an activist,” or “That person is good at this work, but I am not.” And that’s not to say we all get to become grassroots organizers, but can we stake a claim, at least for ourselves, to say, “I do have a role in my own life to change things”? Even if it’s just the way we think. As an Indigenous person, I’ve seen people shift the way they were taught. They unlearn something that they learned about Indigenous people in history, and it usually begins a long thread that they start pulling. I think that’s a good thing. I think that’s beautiful work.

How are resistance and spirituality related?

I wanted (this book) to feel really interfaith or interspiritual. I wanted anyone from any spiritual background to be able to read it and feel comfortable reading it. I hope that that is true.

I read from many different spiritual backgrounds, many different authors that I really respect, to try to understand how they resist in the world — how are they choosing care and belonging and kinship? — and it was just really beautiful to feel that interconnectedness of all human beings, no matter what we believe. There is a spiritual call in us to make things better in the world.

For those of us who are deeply connected to some spiritual foundation, part of our belonging in the world is to ask those questions. It doesn’t mean we have to have an answer. But I think that what’s beautiful is that we’re asking them together. 

You write, “When we draw from the richness of others’ practices, we learn more fully what it means to be human.” How can people do this without appropriating others’ cultures and spiritualities?

As soon as I wrote that sentence, I was like, “This is gonna be one of those sentences that’s gonna catch me later.” But I don’t know how we can be on this earth and completely avoid each other’s — we have to overlap with one another to learn how to be better humans.

I want to share Indigenous wisdom with other people, and I want them to hold on to things like our teachings and our stories, not to steal them or re-create them into something else, but to acknowledge and honor them in the world. I think that there is a way to do that without making it a commodity, without taking it and forming it into something else, without making it Western. 

There has to be a way that we share our sacred wisdom with each other and lean into how we practice it without silencing those wise voices that gifted it to us. Like, I want everyone in the world to honor the relationship to the earth, and if Indigenous wisdom from around the world can help someone do that, I’m grateful. Do I want them to appropriate it? No. That tenderness of gratitude for the teacher that taught them — that’s a different thing than appropriating it.

How can prayer be resistance?

I grew up Southern Baptist, and I write in the book about how prayer was these very specific things. Prayer was, you know, saying hello to God and then naming all your sins, asking for forgiveness, praying for other people. It’s this whole process, and it was hard for me because, growing up, I wanted prayer to be much more of a relationship. And so I just wanted to spend some time with the idea of prayer. 

I write about how, when I was young and even into adulthood, I sometimes asked God how God was doing. When I was young, I would worry about how God was doing because there’s a lot to handle. Can prayer be some sort of careful, reciprocal relationship with some divine being? I don’t know. I think it can. And can we get away from that feeling that we’re always failing at it? 

So prayer is part of our resistance in understanding God maybe not in a new way, but a more fluid way — expressed in a kinder way and in ways that we don’t always imagine.

Where did the vision for the four realms of resistance come from?

We have something in our (Potawatomi) culture called the medicine wheel. We think of things in circles. We have the seasons. We have the four directions. We have these different seasons in life that we live. There are cycles all around us, and I have always been someone who lives with the seasons. I love the changing of the seasons. And so I was really trying to create some sort of cyclical framework that could sort of hold space for all of that.

I came up with these realms, and it’s not meant to be linear. It’s to help us process differently. I’m trying to help us think differently and live differently. So the realms follow the seasons.

You start with this first realm, which is, how do we practice embodiment? How are we loving ourselves? Those kinds of questions are about ourselves, our souls, connecting to our child selves. I call that the personal realm, and it’s the season of winter. It’s that going inward time.

The next realm is the communal realm, and it represents spring, which is that time when we plant seeds. And so it’s about how we’re practicing kinship and community. That means we’re kind of planting those seeds in the ground to grow later.

The third realm is the ancestral realm. I wanted us to imagine and understand our life as this liminal space between those who came before us and those who come after us. We have ancestors who did amazing things, did horrible things. How do we understand history? And one day, we are going to be ancestors, so can we take seriously the life we’re living and ask what we’re gonna pass on to future generations? It’s that very fluid space and represents summer.

And then the center part I call the integral realm, and that simply is the integration of it. It’s like our soul center. I call it our shkode, which is our fire, and it’s the season of autumn, which is my favorite season. It’s our harvest time, like, how do we look at our whole life and look at the seasons we live in, and how do we pull them into ourselves?

That’s where I talk about prayer and dreaming, and especially lifelong resistance. I think that we don’t know how to sustain this work very well in the time we live in, and we burn out easily. I wanted to kind of frame resistance as this lifelong journey that we’re on. How can we kind of remain calm and continue the work in a sustainable way so that we don’t just burn out and give up too easily, and how can we do that together?

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