A Review of
Living Resistance: An Indigenous Vision for Seeking Wholeness Everyday
Kaitlin B. Curtice
Reviewed by Justin Lonas
Most of us are probably familiar with the axiom, often wrongly attributed to Anglo-Irish political theorist and parliamentarian Edmund Burke, that “the only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.” As such the idea of “resistance” in the popular imagination absorbs a strong connotation of action.
For some it takes on martial tones—using violent means to secure freedom from or to overthrow an oppressor, like the clandestine bridge demolitions of the French underground, or of Dietrich Bonhoeffer and the plot against Hitler. For others, it calls up visions of nonviolent direct action like the long work of Ghandi, the activism of Fanny Lou Hamer, or a march of peaceful protest led by Dr. King or John Lewis.
Of course we resist the oppressions and deprivations of a fallen world through direct action, but there is another way, too: the resistance of standing, patient and firm, as waves of injustice and brokenness wash over. This is the resistance of living—of remaining, of choosing a life of rootedness, connection, and peace that both endures and indicts the prevailing systems of the world. This vision of resistance as a way of life that informs and shapes how we navigate our relationships and situations animates Kaitlin B. Curtice’s Living Resistance: An Indigenous Vision for Seeking Wholeness Everyday.
Curtice, an enrolled citizen of the Potawatomi Nation, looks at this vision of resistance through the lens of a spiritual understanding of reality shaped by indigenous ways of life—an “embod[ied] solidarity not just with one another, but with all the creatures of this earth, human and otherwise, and with Mother Earth herself.” She explores this through four realms, which she defines as spaces to practice this embodiment—the personal (inward awareness and care), the communal (connection to each other and to the earth), the ancestral (which dwells on the ongoing movement of resistance), and the integral (which synthesizes the other three into a sustainable and holistic identity). These realms guide the book through four parts, each with 5 brief chapters that tie together an aspect of resistance in that realm with personal or gathered stories.
The stories, Curtice explains, are the point. The whole concept of living resistance vs. “striving” or “fighting” or “revolutionary” resistance requires a way of teasing out its vision that is more patient than an argument or manifesto can convey. Throughout, she encourages readers to reflect on their own stories, even leaving spaces to record their thoughts in the pages of the book. Likewise, each chapter contains, instead of discussion questions, “resistance commitments” that guide readers to explore the chapters’ themes in their lives and incorporate practices that develop the “muscles” of resistance in these areas.
Though not a memoir, per se, Living Resistance is a story-driven spiritual journey that picks up in some sense where Curtice’s 2020 book, Native: Identity, Belonging, and Rediscovering God, leaves off. Curtice here walks further away from the white American evangelical expressions of Christianity she grew up in, and into a spiritual synthesis that draws on Jewish and Christian teachings, as well as other world religions and the Potawatomi “Grandfather teachings” of love, respect, bravery, honesty, truth, humility, and wisdom.
Even though Living Resistance hails from a Christian publishing house (Brazos Press, a division of Baker Books), this is not in any traditional sense a Christian book. Some may be tempted to bypass it on that basis, but Brazos deserves some credit for releasing a work that gives perspective on the world beyond the evangelical “bubble”. Readers who hold to historic Christian creeds and are members of theologically conservative churches (in the interests of full disclosure, readers like me), will find a lot of food for thought here.
In particular, I was challenged by Curtice’s call to expand the beloved community (a concept central to the vision of the American Civil Rights movement) to encompass the invisible, the forgotten, and the persecuted. If our need for spiritual community leads us to vacate the humanity (and ordinary human needs) of those who live outside of the teachings of Scripture in order to practice our faith, we should reconsider what it is that we are practicing. To put it another way, why is it that a woman with the background in Christianity that Curtice has would feel the need to stand fully outside the church in order to seek a healthy community that takes her humanity and the humanity of those she loves seriously? If we are not willing to receive that testimony and consider that question, that should raise some major flags for our faithfulness to the fullness of the way of Jesus.
Drawing on the work of another Potawotami woman, botanist Robin Wall Kimmerer (whose work Braiding Sweetgrass, I count as one of the best books of this century so far), Curtice connects preserving the beloved community to the work of ecological conservation. Communities, like ecosystems, are complex—any member, any organism, that is forced out or crushed will detrimentally affect the whole. Resisting the disintegration of communities, like resisting the destruction of ecosystems, often looks like rebuilding and protecting complexity, because extractive power dynamics thrive on oversimplification.
In this light—resistance as the cultivation of unity in complex diversity—Curtice’s chief contributions emerge. The indigenous beliefs and traditions she incorporates have the theme of reintegrating things that have been stripped apart. If evil is the shattering of the inherent order of creation, then resistance to evil is fundamentally a reconnection of its now-disparate parts. Such resistance is both deeply political (though not partisan) and deeper than politics. It is (to return to the thought I had at the beginning), somewhat Burkean: convinced that the transformation of a society, of a world, must come up from below, from a moral core that cannot be shaped by top-down enforcement of cultural values.
This is where I think Americans in general (and white American Christians in particular) most need to learn from Curtice. A “resistance” to perceived cultural pressures from a sense of entitlement—acting by any means necessary to preserve a position of relative power—is not in the same ballpark as the faithful bearing up under pressure to act from a sense of inherent dignity. There is a vast difference between demanding that the world conform to your particular vision of the good and the patience of simply showing up as everything you are in every place you go.
While Curtice’s work may not be a fully-orbed vision of “Christian” resistance to evil, her departure is instructive. When embedded in a culture where so much violence, greed, and lack of care for the vulnerable is intertwined with the language and symbolism of Christianity, a truly Christian resistance must begin by reintegrating—re-symbolizing—what we have, following our adversary, the diabolic one, torn apart. Then we may begin to understand the way of Jesus, in whom all things hold together.
Justin Lonas is a poet, writer, cook, hiker, and aspiring theologian (slowly chipping away at an MDiv). He and his wife Rachel live in Chattanooga, Tennessee with their four daughters. By day, he serves churches and ministry organizations around the world through the Chalmers Center at Covenant College. His writing often explores nature, literature, and the church's ongoing struggle to live out the way of Jesus. Justin's website is jryanlonas.com.
Reading for the Common Good
From ERB Editor Christopher Smith
"This book will inspire, motivate and challenge anyone who cares a whit about the written word, the world of ideas, the shape of our communities and the life of the church."
-Karen Swallow Prior
Enter your email below to sign up for our weekly newsletter & download your FREE copy of this ebook!