There war for water is not on the way – it’s already here

I had the honor of participating (and repping Circle of Hope) at the Standing Rock March on Washington last Friday along with Kristen and Joby. The rally that ensued was the most inspired and well-led that I’ve ever attended. One of the main MC’s was 16yr old Xiuhtezcatl Martinez (pronounced Shoe-TEZ-Caht) who youth directs Earth Guardians and lives as a climate change activist and hip hop emcee. He has a TED talk. He typified the vibe of the speakers and musicians, who each shared briefly. Everyone began with gratitude. Most people thanked our Creator and the elders and ancestors who protected the waters for us, inspiring us to protect for those yet to come. 

Last week’s Delaware River Basin Commission’s business meeting was postponed due to inclement weather. I attended the open forum by a member of the commission last month where they heard public comment on new proposals – one a pipeline extension through our watershed and the other a new fracking site – that would bring an end to the hard-won moratorium on fracking. Since then, the commission has not undergone the research they said was needed to make a new decision, although the extraction industry has been hard at work in keeping things quiet and behind the scenes. Even the fracking-induced earthquakes in Pennsylvania haven’t gotten seriously on general consciousness beyond people active in the struggle. When the DRBC reschedules the business meeting, I wonder how many will turn up to keep this voracious practice out of our region?

Less people are in denial than before about a water war coming. Most people imagine this war being carried out by one government on another with the “legitimate” violence of militaries to better the self-interest of one of the nations. I think most people imagine it happening in the future. The war over water has already begun, being waged on us by transnational corporations. The extraction companies, banks and the politicians that they fund are making policies backed by militarized police, private armies, and federal soldiers that creates huge financial gain for a very small number of people while the rest of us pay. The rest of us suffer along with the Earth.

What’s happening at Standing Rock is another example of how settler colonialism continues to rare its ugly head. It’s an old story for Indigenous peoples, one of federal disregard for their lives or ways of life. It’s also new because while they are poisoning the water, they are doing it at our behest. It’s our appetites for cheap gas that keep pipelines expanding. It’s our appetites for thermal comfort, for unrestricted use of fossil fuels in our cars and our homes that make fracking tolerable. We cannot just blame corporations with their private security forces, militarized police, and lawmakers wanting to break treaties by building pipelines or make huge profits on defiling practices like fracking. A few million of us need to take responsibility for our consumption habits and change them.

How does a historic peace church behave during times of war? Some of our Anabaptist cousins lean towards non-involvement. They might pull out of the questionable industries at most levels like the Amish and some Mennonites. Others will only see the people caught up in carrying out the dirty work of the drilling companies because they don’t have other viable economic options, and feel protective of their jobs (thus indirectly protecting the Gas Man). Others, like us, seem to be activating to wage peace during unfriendly times. Waging peace requires personal and communal disciplines as well as contributing to larger strategic work. Jesus will provide for us no matter what we do. Christ’s redeeming work in us doesn’t just help lift burdens of shame and guilt, it empowers us to act in ways that show evidence that we are made fully alive. Let’s make it easier for Jesus and leave some clean water for our grandkids and great grandkids to be able to drink.

When the water protectors at Oceti Sakowin camp were surrounded by police and private military, they chose to burn down their camp and walk out. They weren’t retiring or surrendering, they were proactively changing the battleground. That’s the kind of creative thinking we need right now in our watershed, even as we do our part in the national struggle against the corporations making war on us.

I suggest we act according to our calling by creating more options. We’re in a liminal time, where we are tethered tightly to dirty energy and don’t want to be – yet we don’t know how it will turn out. The Holy Spirit gives us imagination and creativity – especially when we move and act as a body. To fight fracking in our watershed, we need to do more than make legislation that holds off the drillers. We need to explore alternative energy sources and invest as a group in them. We are a living demonstration project. We can dream about what holy limits we need to respect that don’t keep creating more demand for harmful extraction practices. We need to share life – living out God’s good ideas – together, both for accountability to our dreams as well as including more people in the alternative-generation.

 

4 pro tips for enduring this Apocalypse

Some real UGLY has been revealed this week. This UGLY is around us, thrust upon us, inside of us, and in many cases coming out of us. I want to be brief and easy to read for different kinds of people so I’m making this list in the hope to help myself and others process some of our thinking and feeling so we can make more beauty in the midst of conflict. This apocalypse, an uncovering of a sorry state of the United States, has some new contours and threats. What’s also being revealed has been obvious to many people for a long time.

If you consider yourself woke or waking up, I hope this helps you. If you are frustrated and want other people to wake up from their Myth of Progress-induced slumber, I hope this equips you. If you’re skeptical about the future or even skeptical about faith I hope this post validates your feelings and makes for more options for you. I’m not trying to bring more condemnation upon us, I want to make possibilities for us to not get stuck. These “pro tips” are not meant to seem like I think I have all the answers or understand all the nuances of our problems. I hope they keep us moving in a healthy direction.

Pro tip: Feel your own feelings, think your own thoughts. Give your reactions, instincts, and emotions some names. Get to know them more. Like a song that gets stuck in your head, we are all susceptible to suggestion or picking up what’s in the air. I’m so symbiotic that I feel other people’s stress and need help differentiating it from my own. I spent at least an hour yesterday playing piano and singing. Music helps me to get in touch beyond my rational or cognitive processes. Some of my friends gathered last night to dance together. Get in touch with your own body, your own heart, your own mind – and see if that helps you likewise be able to get in touch with the heart of God.

Suggestions: Make a decision about what your deepest resonance will be today, or at least in this moment. Does confusion or frustration, shock or grief, anger or disgust need to be the primary lens you experience life? Do you want it to? I find Scripture, breath prayers, and songs very useful. We can choose what song will be stuck in our head. When you pray, you can ask Jesus to hold them with you. I find they become less overwhelming. [Psalm 139]

Pro tip: Confess how we/you have been complicit in systems that maintain white supremacy and related misogyny, phobias, etc. How has your attitude or behavior contributing to so many people not believing the stories of the oppressed? The president elect helped a lot of people see some deeply seeded issues the US generally does not want to deal with directly. Rather than pointing out how other people contribute all the time, start with confessing how you have internalized the dehumanizing messages, attitudes, or behaviors. It might be from a long time ago. It might be something you can see in your heart right now. The Western Church and recently those religious rule-makers (rather than spiritual practitioners) that we know as Evangelicals have helped settler colonialism flourish for generations. How have you intentionally or unintentionally helped the cause of the powerful?

Suggestions: Write some ideas in your journal. If you don’t have one, maybe now’s a good time to start a new reflective habit. Tell someone you trust, in person. These systems of injustice do not perpetuate themselves, they require active and complicit actors. Our limits and inability to have open hearted dialogue with relatives or other people that disagree with us become counter-productive to harmony and justice. [Psalm 32]

Pro tip: Consider the vitriol and material harm that has been unleashed this week. The maps show stark divisions in various ways, and we have no shortage of ways of thinking that categorize others and draw/see lines. For some of our US American relatives, an open season on minorities has begun. Racism that was underground has be legitimated enough by the recent political victories for it to be manifesting in frightening ways against the perceived “other.” Children in schools are getting told they will be deported, Nazi symbols painted in South Philly, and other likely worse things are on the horizon for people who are now even more vulnerable than they were. How has cruelty shaped us? What are your own instincts to dehumanize or make vulgar categorizations about others who don’t have your level of education or made a different choice at the polls?

Suggestions: Listen to those who have been living under chaotic threat, even as that group just multiplied. My brilliant Lakota friend Lenore told our cohort last night that “we are going to do what we always do. Natives endure. We will live through even this.” How can cruel attitudes and behaviors threaten your effort to make sanctuary, refuge, and safe spaces for yourself and others? [Luke 10]

Pro tip: What kind of alternatives do we need to embody? At the heart of protest are the seeds of possibility for the world that doesn’t exist quite yet. For Christians, we consider that the Movement of God is forming pockets of peace, resistance, and restoration all the time. It’s alraeady and not yet. We get to be part of it in a way that works for the flourishing of those not working directly with us. You don’t have to go at it alone. What kind of spaces do people need and what do you have to offer? Who are you going to work this out with?

Suggestions: Which of your feelings can be turned into action? The Movement of the Spirit has been in juxtaposition to what is unsettling us and will continue to. Last night people were protesting the next president. Black Lives Matter and water protectors at Standing Rock have been very active at making opportunities to demonstrate together. At my cell meeting this morning nine adults and two children did some good processing while making space for two people to join us that haven’t been with us before. What does that kind of inclusivity unlock? How could the Sunday meeting this week become a space of flexing our muscles of alternativity? [1 John 4]

From Befuddlement to Mystery during the Carnival de Resistance

I had two spiritually profound experiences two weeks ago that I don’t think I’ll ever forget. This is about one of them. I was part of the Carnival de Resistance residency in Minneapolis (many fond memories!), beginning a new seminary class and feeling lots of feelings. I was there for 10 days of a 30 person, 30 day eco village experiment and arts carnival – easily find pics on the Facebook page. I had been sitting for a few days with some difficult questions that had arisen during my seminary work. During one of our performances my befuddlement had moved into embracing mystery in a way where felt connected, and embraced back by God. I felt the Holy Spirit in my body as I drummed and choked through the lyrics to the anthem’s line “I’m gonna stay on the battlefield till I die…” You may want to listen to Sweet Honey in the Rock’s version while you read.

The Mexican muralistas walked behind our dancers (Jenna, Helen, Belle, and Tevyn – inspiring Circle of Hope partners!) with this banner (above) and raised their fists – both in defiance of tyranny and together with those defending water against the extraction industry with their private military. Everyone under the big top (besides people playing drums with both hands, I guess) raised a fist. It was the climactic moment of the show, the second time we performed it. It was more than an exhilaration from performance. It was more than just having strong and complicated emotions. I know what the presence of God feels like. God is there when I feel most alive, when I’m distressed – and still surprises me sometimes.

Experiences or activities that help us connect with God

I’m glad that I learned how to worship God at a young age – especially in the context of when the church gathers. Worshipping together has been a central discipline to my whole adult life. I use it as a time to be formed by bringing our hopes, worries, and everything else to God through mutual expression, often through art and music – while including others. Each of our meetings on Sunday night feel like an inclusive family dinner to me.

I’ve love how this meme can help us think about spaces of personal God time. They bring up a common problem – so many people unsuccessfully try to cram that experience into a church building and don’t acknowledge that a close encounter with God’s Spirit often happens when we’re doing what we love. I’ve heard people this year talk about developing intimacy with God when they run 5 miles, work on their garden, write a song, go hiking, sit in the woods and listen to birds, read and ponder the words of mystics, march against injustice, practice photography, consider the wonders of the universe, meditate on Scripture, dance, making a friend on purpose, paint, clean the house…I could go on.

These encounters don’t need a priestly figure performing the ceremonial rites ahead of time. Jesus made all times sacred, we just need to enter in. Everyone participating might not have the same intention and interpretation of the event. We do have unity of purpose at our Sunday meetings and cell meetings – we call it “setting the sacred space.” What practices or habits help you experience God’s presence? The two meetings of the church each week probably aren’t enough to sustain you longterm – part of following Jesus is growing your capacity to experience the Holy Spirit all the time.

We resist what we don’t already understand

Susan Boyle illustrated the classic aphorism

Susan Boyle illustrated the classic aphorism “don’t judge a book by its cover” on Britain’s got talent. *swoon

I heard one of our pastors, Gwen, say at Doing Theology last week that we are naturally suspicious of things we think are different than what we already know. I know I can be like that. When I don’t understand something or when an idea doesn’t reinforce something I already think/believe/feel – it takes some intentional work to not go with my instinct to close off, resist, or withdraw. It’s a risk because sometimes it’s healthy and others we miss something that the Spirit might be bubbling up.

If you’re still reading and ready for another relevant song, the First Nations DJ trio A Tribe Called Red dropped a new album recently that’s been on repeat for me. Here’s the first single featuring Yasiin Bey (Mos Def), “R.E.D.” 

I only have two classes left to complete for my Masters in Intercultural Studies degree through my seminary, NAIITS. My current class of ten people is Ethics in an Intercultural Context. Since it’s the North American Institute for Indigenous Theological Studies, we often consider implications of mission in Native contexts (historically, currently, and the future) and give special attention to Native experiences. My professor was not afraid to start our class off with some rather antagonistic writings by Vine Deloria – a hugely important Native scholar.

The assigned article and excerpts were hard for me to get through. I was taking a break from Carnival community life, trying to study before sending in my reflections for our weekly class Google hangout. I felt a little mentally blown out to sea. I was struggling to know what I felt or thought about questions raised in my readings, like:  Do Liberation Theologies really just reinforce white supremacy, perpetuating the same myths & systems that keep us from creating new ways of thinking and relating? Can Christians become spatial (connected to place) as well as temporal (going along time) in order to become more than colonizing to her non-members? I wanted to understand other perspectives and only had a few hours of dialogue. I was in that headspace for a few days, feeling befuddled while trying not to resist, withdraw, or close myself off to the new ideas.

As a group we, local pastor Jim Bear Jacobs (Mohican) showed us the documentary Dakota 38 and led a talking circle. The US had forced Dakota elders (mostly women) into a deadly internment camp, a final straw for the nation. They fought back. The day after the Emancipation Proclamation, President Lincoln ordered the largest mass execution in US history – to hang 38 of the leaders of the uprising. I highly recommend the documentary Dakota 38.

The Reality that doesn’t quite exist yet

As we work to realize together what “Your Kingdom come, Your will be done on earth as in heaven” means, we are not just biding our time. Don’t we actually experience pockets and moments of Christ’s Reality. Thinks click. They make sense in our heads, our hearts, together, and give us courage to live a demonstration of it. A little taste of heaven! Rather than thinking heaven only exists in some other strange planet or dimension, why not live into the new reality Jesus initiated and invites us into right here in our own planet, time, community, geography, and body? We can live into it together and make more pockets and moments where Jesus is the foundation of all – and harmony returns to earth.

Back to the climax of the CDR’s water show “Burning River” : Tevyn just gave a moving closing monologue that tied together elements of the show. Water is a gift from God and is necessary for life, health, and healing – in both the figurative (living water) and literal (rivers, etc) sense. Working for the health of the water is deeply connected to how we view creation – as a commodity or a gift from our Creator and we’re invited to baptism even in the polluted water. We’re singing, dancing, raising fists (see first paragraph). It all connected for me. We were in one of those sweet spots. Our discourse and ideas merged with saying yes and being part of the Spirit’s movement. It connected us to the struggle against evil and greed, and with those forming an alternative that was ready to act.

Don’t let your befuddlement keep you from engaging with God and the befuddled others (aka the church). We may feel how it’s working before we understand it completely. That’s the kind of life I get to be part of every day as part of Circle of Hope. We’re embodying an alternative to what people generally think is reality. Generating justice and hope and our neighborhood (not just someone else’s neighborhood) is at the heart of us. I’m pretty excited for what we’re going to do this week about it.  

 

 

 

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Christians Should Definitely Submit…but when and to whom?

When my brothers and I used to wrestle with various characters and backstories, my favorite was to not only be a heel but a submission specialist. Getting one of the little dudes to give up was rewarding and often hysterical. Before your mind goes to armbars or chokeouts, I’m talking more like using The Claw.

Last month Billy Graham’s son Franklin dropped a “listen up” on Facebook that motivated some of my friends to write an open letter asking Graham to smell the systemic racism coffee that is now burning. The gist of his message wasn’t new stuff. Obey cops. God put leaders above you so you need to…wait. He was quoting Hebrews 13:17 in which the writer refers to discipleship in the church not to Roman soldiers. Uh oh.

He might have better used Romans 13 or 1 Peter 2 that actually reference submission to the state. Unfortunately for many Bible quoters, these passages most often get used to increase state sympathy and engender trust for a system that happens benefits the person doing the quoting. In the past nearly 20 years as a radicalized follower of Jesus, I have never had one of these passages thrown in my face by a person of color. When I spent a month in Iraq, none of the Iraqi Christians (there were a million at the time) brought it up to me. For Paul and Peter, who were on their trajectory [in and out of jail] on the way to martyrdom clearly had a sense that Rome was not Christ’s Shalom or the Kingdom of Heaven.

For those interested in the Bibletalk, you can’t really get Romans 13 apart from 12 and 14 (why do we make chapters of a letter seem separate anyway?) and get what Paul is driving at – transformed people with a radical sense of Jesus as the one we are actually bowing to. Peter, speaking to living in a pagan society in Asia Minor, brings home the point that Jesus will shepherd us through suffering – increasing social status and political freedom is not big enough. The state, including the one that is persecuting the people to whom he writes is not so good and is not our mission to simply fix. Peter perhaps even wrote under either the rule of Domitian or Pliny the Younger who either claimed divinity or made being a Christian punishable. Peter hardly expected them to follow all the laws or obey these masters like they demanded – having a presence of The Way meant playing a different game. The caesars were also called the Son of God and Savior of the World. Peter & Paul, along with their friends regularly made the seditiously political act of appropriately appropriating terms like these to describe Jesus Christ and the entirety of His Kingdom. This is not exactly submission, obedience, or honor of the emperor in the way that Franklin Graham’s ilk of police state collaborators would seem to mean.

As angry and discouraged as I was to hear about Officer Slager killing Walter Scott this week, I received a sense of hope because the Feidin Santana‘s video surfaced. I was even more hopeful when I read that the cops had a different story cooking before they knew about the video as it sheds light on dark places. Maybe there is a similar reason why police won’t release surveillance footage of Brandon Tate Brown’s killing (or say who killed him), even though the police already found themselves to have acted appropriately. The Lawncrest neighbors just up the road disagreed. As we marched last Saturday to mark the martyrdom of MLK, we still insist that BLACK LIVES MATTER to God and to us but historically and currently not to this state. We want justice for the family of Brandon. We want a $15 minimum wage.

Submitting to police when you are unlikely to get shot for less than a good reason might seem normal. Let me reframe in another time and place. You probably wouldn’t tell Christian Iraqis to submit to the Saddam Hussein era which could mean carrying out inhuman orders or allowing family members to randomly be disappeared, abused, or killed – right? That era is usually on the “bad guys” list for Christians – and basically Christians understand that you shouldn’t listen to bad guy states like Nazi Germany, Khmer Rouge, etc – only good guy states like the US. I’m calling into question the goodness of the US – illustrated by just this moment of state violence against our Black brothers and sisters.

I’m also trying to swim into the deep end of what submission means. First Christ’s followers submit to God and one another, and then figure out what it means to submit to the state. I think we should show respect and care for those caught up in the system and stand up against the injustice it perpetrates. Submitting isn’t just giving up like in WWF wrestling. The New Testament is littered with disciples submitting all over the place and somehow changing the world.

Ethnicity/Immigrant Experience class blog #2

Native Americans Used to Call it “white people.”

Facebook is a funny way to make huge statements.  When my friends join groups like “I bet I can get 1,000,000 to ______” I almost always wince.  A real life friend got me thinking about how these sorts of things are really effective for advertisers to mine huge groups of people, which is kind of creepy.

However, sometimes my friends “like” a statement that tickles me.  One interesting statement lately is “Illegal immigration is not a new problem, Native Americans used to call it ‘White People’.”  This is kind of clever.  I love the kind of thinking that this idea can get us doing and maybe even good discussion.  It immediately reminded me of the t-shirts worn of the Gary Ballard design featuring a picture of great Chiricahua Apache leader Geronimo and company in 1886 with the caption “Homeland Security-Fighting Terrorism Since 1492.”

Geronimo!

I have a problem with the statement about so-called white people causing an immigration problem with the Natives.  I think the Europeans indeed caused problems, but they were not immigrants for a long time.  Groundwork was laid to come and to dominate, not to integrate, with a few notable exceptions such as the Roanoke Colony in Virginia (now North Carolina).  Immigration started when Europeans had effectively controlled enough natural resources and developed a common identity away from their countries of origin.  By that point in time, most Native Americans didn’t have a ton of input into the process.

It is wise for us when thinking about immigration in the United States to keep in our frontal lobes some people movements in the past 500 years rather than the past few decades.

sitting next to strangers

I love how funny people are.  Most Americans from the US have this thing about sitting next to strangers, especially when eating.  It’s not cool.  Sometimes I’ll go to a restaraunt in Center City with Martha and we’ll sit 6″ away from strangers, and it’s kind of weird for a minute.  You see what they are eating, you hear part of their conversation.  You don’t talk to them, though (although I usually will ask them for sugar or something just to break the taboo).

Temple’s campus is the same way.  Generally, even at the picnic tables, if someone is sitting there alone they have the whole thing claimed.  Unless there are Eastern Europeans involved.

One day I was sitting there jammin to tunes and checking my email on the laptop and 6 Polish people practically surrounded me slowly, one every 3 minutes or so.  I was at their table now, but I was still wearing headphones and not paying attention (besides I only understand like 10 words in Polish, sorry Nani!).

Table For One photo by Baerbel Kavanaugh

"Table For One" photo by Baerbel Kavanaugh

Today a guy sat next to me at this table and kept looking over semi-discretely to watch 2 piece rock vidoes that I was checking out while I finished my lunch.  I almost wanted to give him a headphone so he could get a taste, but I didn’t.

We can live in such proximity with others and kind of pretend that they don’t exist.  Other places in the world that I have been to aren’t so much like that.  Why do we have this idea to “respect each other by leaving one another alone”?   I don’t really want to live like that.

Have you forgotten?

Have you forgotten? by Darryl Worley.  I was singing this to some friends the other day and they didn’t believe me that it was a real song, or that it was a #1 hit in 2003.

official video here.

It feels almost indulgent to listen to it.  So rich with the ideology that we are so surrounded by that even people in the resistance don’t often know how to respond.  Here’s the first verse and chorus…

I hear people sayin’. We Don’t need this war.
I say there’s some things worth fightin’ for.
What about our freedom, and this piece of ground?
We didn’t get to keep ’em by backin’ down.
They say we don’t realize the mess we’re gettin’ in
Before you start preachin’ let me ask you this my friend.

if I were reading this for the first time I would have naturally assumed that it was written by Zulu in South Africa or Lakotah in the North American midwest.  So fighting in Afghanistan is actually about fighting for Tennessee?  If anyone questions us about the long-term ramifications about the proposed perpetual pre-emptive war in response to 911 we should then reply with the following?

Chorus
Have you forgotten, how it felt that day?
To see your homeland under fire
And her people blown away
Have you forgotten, when those towers fell
We had neighbors still inside goin through a livin hell
And you say we shouldn’t worry bout Bin Laden
Have you forgotten?

Wow.  Rest of lyrics here.  Wow.