Standing with Standing Rock Takes All of Us – Rev. Dr. Gordon Straw

ThomasLindaThe news of Rev. Gordon Straw’s illness and abrupt passing has utterly devastated not only my home institution, the Lutheran School of Theology at Chicago, but much of it’s parent denomination as well – The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America. A member of the Brothertown Indian Nation, Gordon had long been a leader and advocate for some of the most neglected yet vibrant voices in the church – those among the Native community and lay leaders. In honor of his passing, We Talk. We Listen. has reposted a reflection he wrote for our blog at the height of the conflict at Standing Rock. Centering around Dakota concept of metakuye oyasin, Straw speaks of how its insights go far beyond Standing Rock. These words are a classic expression of this wonderful man in all of his aspects – professor, husband and father, mentor, friend, and fellow worker in the vineyard – and we are proud to share them again in tribute.

You are missed, Gordon – and we’ll be keeping an eye on your loved ones.

Rev. Dr. Linda E. Thomas – Professor of Theology and Anthropology, Chair of LSTC’s Diversity Committee, Editor – We Talk. We Listen.”


Just say the name, “Standing Rock,” in a crowd and see what happens.

logo.png

There are not many people in this country, perhaps the world, who haven’t heard that name and has already painted a picture in their minds of what that name signifies. But, do we really know what “Standing Rock” is? My guess is that each person you ask will have a different answer to the question. The most obvious difference in answers are found in opposing parties: the water protectors, the oil protectors, the Standing Rock Nation, Energy Transfer Partners and all the financial investors in the project, etc. These differences seem insurmountable and most likely they are. These differences are buttressed by decades (even centuries) of distrust, anger, hatred, and completely disparate worldviews. But, if there is to be any hope for a nonviolent resolution that most people can accept, these differences can’t be insurmountable. These are not the only differences of opinion or strategy about this phenomenon called “Standing Rock.”

There are differences of vision within the larger, binary parties of “for” and “against” the Dakota Access Pipe Line (DAPL), too.

Within the “pro-DAPL” party, there are different views: those who are directly connected to the project and looking to profit from it; tribes who are “pro-oil”, but are appalled at the violent, disproportionate use of violent force against another sovereign native nation; much of the federal government who seem to be in favor of the pipeline, but want the route altered to honor the sovereignty of the Standing Rock Nation; law enforcement officers or entities who disagree over the use of force and what appears to be a “bending of the rules” regarding basic human and civil rights; church members who are divided over whether the biblical principles of justice and the preferential option for the poor and disadvantaged (not just Natives) take precedence over the economic context in western North Dakota, which is heavily dependent upon the oil industry.

Within the “anti-DAPL” party, there are different views: the Standing Rock Nation, whose lands and access to clean water are directly impacted by the pipe line; the environmental groups who want the whole project ended, at all costs; there are groups of activists who are focused more on the actual conflict and not on the issues of the conflict, and any number of “well-meaning” people who just want to help the Indians and don’t understand why Chairman David Archambault III is asking them to go home, not understanding the basic premises of tribal sovereignty. Now, I will admit immediately that listing out these differing positions is not comprehensive, are broad generalizations, and are probably not all that helpful at getting at the nuances of this phenomenon we call “Standing Rock.”

355c87f3-6e70-449e-938a-c8e2f1fca946.jpeg
Ditches dug for the pipeline.

But, here’s the thing: if we can’t ALL stand with the Standing Rock Nation in some way, this will not end well for most, perhaps all.

What “standing with Standing Rock” means specifically is that we stand in solidarity with the Standing Rock Nation by honoring their inherent right to govern themselves and to take hold of their own destiny. So, when Chairman Archambault asks people in the camps to go home for the winter, we stand with Standing Rock by going home without second guessing the wisdom of that decision. It is not ours to make. When the Standing Rock Nation insists that the federal government and corporate interests honor the boundaries of the 1868 Fort Laramie Treaty as sovereign territory of the Sioux Nation, we stand with them. It also means, specifically, that we stand with the Standing Rock Nation and all other nations in declaring that Water is Life. No amount of tainting the earth’s fresh water supply with oil or chemicals is acceptable. Our nation’s dependence upon fossil fuels (that’s each and every one of us, folks) is threatening our Mother, the Earth, especially the waterways which bring life.

There is an important concept in the Dakota language and culture, metakuye oyasin (meh-TAH-kway oh-AH-see). The common English translation is “all my relatives” or “all my relations.” This phrase is used at the end of prayers, much like our use of the word, “amen.” The concept is a recognition that every aspect of existence is connected to every other aspect of existence, because all things have a single origin, the Creator. It’s not merely an acknowledgment that everything has an existence. It is a declaration that I am connected to everything that exists. I cannot do anything that does not affect ALL my relatives. I cannot pretend that I am not connected to the people, things or forces that I do not want to recognize or even that I hate. We are all related, period. Similar to Martin Luther’s notion of “neighbor,” this extends to all of Creation, not just those closest to us. For the Dakota, it doesn’t even end at the distinction between conscious/not conscious. I am related to all humans, all the members of: the winged nation, the plant nation, the buffalo nation, etc., etc. I am related to the wind and the rain, the sun and the moon, the seven sacred directions, and the forces that move the planets and stars.

All-Saints-I-1911-Oil-on-card.JPG
All Saints – Wassily Kandinsky (1911)

It literally takes ALL of us, creatures of the Great Mystery, to stand with the Standing Rock Nation, to stand with the people of Aleppo, with the unemployed and the uninsured, the disabled and the disaffected- with ALL my relatives. This is the intention of the Creator, that we stand with each other for the benefit of each other. There is no other reality, but this earthly reality. Even if you could build a spaceship, as some Westerners seem to think will make a difference, it would be the same reality. Metakuye oyasin is a recognition that I am one part of the great Web of life that rests in the Creator.

A while back, at a theological conference that brought Lutherans from the Western hemisphere together, I shared the podium with one of my relatives and mentor in things spiritual. Albert White Hat, Sr. was a greatly respected Lakota spiritual elder of the Lakota people on the Rosebud Indian Reservation in southwestern South Dakota. He was a professor of Lakota language at Sinte Gleska University on the Rosebud Reservation. He led a handful of Lakota elders who re-formed the Lakota language to restore much of the original meaning of the language, which had been lost through translation into English by the White missionaries. By chance (not really, in the native world, there is no such thing as a coincidence), I gave my presentation first. I spoke about the beauty of the concept of “metakuye oyasin.” How it binds all creatures together in a harmony of relationships. As a Christian theologian, I identified this as the work of the Holy Spirit. For 45 minutes I spoke on this theme. The group took a short break, then Albert got up. He thanked me profusely for my presentation, then said, “But, you’ve got “metakuye oyasin” all wrong.

Albert went on to explain what “metakuye oyasin” means to the people of the Great Sioux Nation, which include both the Rosebud and the Standing Rock Reservations. He explained that by virtue of our creation by the Great Mystery, the Creator of all things, each individual creature has the power to make one of two choices: to bring life or to bring destruction. “That is what binds all creatures,” he said. It isn’t a neat, abstract, “kumbaya” notion of “we all live in harmony and isn’t that great?” Metakuye oyasin is the understanding that each of us, at each point in our lives, has the power to choose to bring life to the world around us or to choose to bring destruction to the world around us.

“It is that simple,” he said.

Simple, yes; Simplistic, definitely, no.

url.png
Joya Martin

Applying “metakuye oyasin” to your life today is about understanding the power you have, not only for your life, but for the life of the whole world. You have the power to choose self-interest, greed, parochialism, xenophobia, hatred and distrust of others (including your enemies), and the attitude that none of the things that are happening in our communities, our nation, or in the world apply to you. In that case you have chosen to bring destruction: of the earth, of relationships, of community. You also have the power to choose the common good, generosity, respect for all others (including your enemies), tolerance, love, and the attitude that everything that happens in my community, my nation, or in the world is directly connected to me. In that case, you chose to bring life.

No matter where you stand on any particular issue in your world today, including the issue of protecting the water and sacred lands of the Standing Rock people, you must take a stand.

You have no option.

No option other than to choose either life or destruction of life. Standing with Standing Rock, indeed, takes all of us. Metakuye oyasin.

Resources

“Standing Rock may be the new Selma.” –  Presiding Bishop of the Michael Curry Episcopal Church 


Gordon-Straw-150x150.jpgThe Rev. Gordon Straw brought years of experience in organizational development, development of lay ministry leaders, and experience and commitment to intercultural competency to his work for the church – culminating is his appointment to the Cornelsen Chair for Spiritual Formation at the Lutheran School of Theology (LSTC) in the Spring of 2017. Gordon is an enrolled member of the Brothertown Indian Nation. Prior to his work at LSTC he was in charge of Lay Schools for Ministry in the ELCA as well as functioned as their Director for American Indian/Alaska Native ministries . Gordon is survived by his wife Evelyn Soto and their daughter Amanda, a recent graduate of DePauw University.

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Standing With Standing Rock Takes All Of Us – Rev. Gordon Straw, Enrolled Member of the Brothertown Indian Nation

ThomasLindaThe Rev. Gordon Straw is an ordained pastor, a member of the Brothertown Indian Nation, and has been long a leader among the Native community in the ELCA. In a follow-up to Bishop Erwin’s post from last week, Pastor Straw fills us in on another important perspective to understand the situation at Standing Rock – the Dakota concept of metakuye oyasin, a word that in the Dakota language group means  These insights go far beyond Standing Rock, however, and it is into this larger, cosmic understanding of connected-ness that Straw invites us. Read, comment, and share!

Rev. Dr. Linda E. Thomas – Professor of Theology and Anthropology, Chair of LSTC’s Diversity Committee, Editor – “We Talk. We Listen.”


Just say the name, “Standing Rock,” in a crowd and see what happens.

logo.png

There are not many people in this country, perhaps the world, who haven’t heard that name and has already painted a picture in their minds of what that name signifies. But, do we really know what “Standing Rock” is? My guess is that each person you ask will have a different answer to the question. The most obvious difference in answers are found in opposing parties: the water protectors, the oil protectors, the Standing Rock Nation, Energy Transfer Partners and all the financial investors in the project, etc. These differences seem insurmountable and most likely they are. These differences are buttressed by decades (even centuries) of distrust, anger, hatred, and completely disparate worldviews. But, if there is to be any hope for a nonviolent resolution that most people can accept, these differences can’t be insurmountable. These are not the only differences of opinion or strategy about this phenomenon called “Standing Rock.”

There are differences of vision within the larger, binary parties of “for” and “against” the Dakota Access Pipe Line (DAPL), too.

Within the “pro-DAPL” party, there are different views: those who are directly connected to the project and looking to profit from it; tribes who are “pro-oil”, but are appalled at the violent, disproportionate use of violent force against another sovereign native nation; much of the federal government who seem to be in favor of the pipeline, but want the route altered to honor the sovereignty of the Standing Rock Nation; law enforcement officers or entities who disagree over the use of force and what appears to be a “bending of the rules” regarding basic human and civil rights; church members who are divided over whether the biblical principles of justice and the preferential option for the poor and disadvantaged (not just Natives) take precedence over the economic context in western North Dakota, which is heavily dependent upon the oil industry.

Within the “anti-DAPL” party, there are different views: the Standing Rock Nation, whose lands and access to clean water are directly impacted by the pipe line; the environmental groups who want the whole project ended, at all costs; there are groups of activists who are focused more on the actual conflict and not on the issues of the conflict, and any number of “well-meaning” people who just want to help the Indians and don’t understand why Chairman David Archambault III is asking them to go home, not understanding the basic premises of tribal sovereignty. Now, I will admit immediately that listing out these differing positions is not comprehensive, are broad generalizations, and are probably not all that helpful at getting at the nuances of this phenomenon we call “Standing Rock.”

355c87f3-6e70-449e-938a-c8e2f1fca946.jpeg
Ditches dug for the pipeline.

But, here’s the thing: if we can’t ALL stand with the Standing Rock Nation in some way, this will not end well for most, perhaps all.

What “standing with Standing Rock” means specifically is that we stand in solidarity with the Standing Rock Nation by honoring their inherent right to govern themselves and to take hold of their own destiny. So, when Chairman Archambault asks people in the camps to go home for the winter, we stand with Standing Rock by going home without second guessing the wisdom of that decision. It is not ours to make. When the Standing Rock Nation insists that the federal government and corporate interests honor the boundaries of the 1868 Fort Laramie Treaty as sovereign territory of the Sioux Nation, we stand with them. It also means, specifically, that we stand with the Standing Rock Nation and all other nations in declaring that Water is Life. No amount of tainting the earth’s fresh water supply with oil or chemicals is acceptable. Our nation’s dependence upon fossil fuels (that’s each and every one of us, folks) is threatening our Mother, the Earth, especially the waterways which bring life.

There is an important concept in the Dakota language and culture, metakuye oyasin (meh-TAH-kway oh-AH-see). The common English translation is “all my relatives” or “all my relations.” This phrase is used at the end of prayers, much like our use of the word, “amen.” The concept is a recognition that every aspect of existence is connected to every other aspect of existence, because all things have a single origin, the Creator. It’s not merely an acknowledgment that everything has an existence. It is a declaration that I am connected to everything that exists. I cannot do anything that does not affect ALL my relatives. I cannot pretend that I am not connected to the people, things or forces that I do not want to recognize or even that I hate. We are all related, period. Similar to Martin Luther’s notion of “neighbor,” this extends to all of Creation, not just those closest to us. For the Dakota, it doesn’t even end at the distinction between conscious/not conscious. I am related to all humans, all the members of: the winged nation, the plant nation, the buffalo nation, etc., etc. I am related to the wind and the rain, the sun and the moon, the seven sacred directions, and the forces that move the planets and stars.

All-Saints-I-1911-Oil-on-card.JPG
All Saints – Wassily Kandinsky (1911)

It literally takes ALL of us, creatures of the Great Mystery, to stand with the Standing Rock Nation, to stand with the people of Aleppo, with the unemployed and the uninsured, the disabled and the disaffected- with ALL my relatives. This is the intention of the Creator, that we stand with each other for the benefit of each other. There is no other reality, but this earthly reality. Even if you could build a spaceship, as some Westerners seem to think will make a difference, it would be the same reality. Metakuye oyasin is a recognition that I am one part of the great Web of life that rests in the Creator.

A while back, at a theological conference that brought Lutherans from the Western hemisphere together, I shared the podium with one of my relatives and mentor in things spiritual. Albert White Hat, Sr. was a greatly respected Lakota spiritual elder of the Lakota people on the Rosebud Indian Reservation in southwestern South Dakota. He was a professor of Lakota language at Sinte Gleska University on the Rosebud Reservation. He led a handful of Lakota elders who re-formed the Lakota language to restore much of the original meaning of the language, which had been lost through translation into English by the White missionaries. By chance (not really, in the native world, there is no such thing as a coincidence), I gave my presentation first. I spoke about the beauty of the concept of “metakuye oyasin.” How it binds all creatures together in a harmony of relationships. As a Christian theologian, I identified this as the work of the Holy Spirit. For 45 minutes I spoke on this theme. The group took a short break, then Albert got up. He thanked me profusely for my presentation, then said, “But, you’ve got “metakuye oyasin” all wrong.

Albert went on to explain what “metakuye oyasin” means to the people of the Great Sioux Nation, which include both the Rosebud and the Standing Rock Reservations. He explained that by virtue of our creation by the Great Mystery, the Creator of all things, each individual creature has the power to make one of two choices: to bring life or to bring destruction. “That is what binds all creatures,” he said. It isn’t a neat, abstract, “kumbaya” notion of “we all live in harmony and isn’t that great?” Metakuye oyasin is the understanding that each of us, at each point in our lives, has the power to choose to bring life to the world around us or to choose to bring destruction to the world around us.

“It is that simple,” he said.

Simple, yes; Simplistic, definitely, no.

url.png
Joya Martin

Applying “metakuye oyasin” to your life today is about understanding the power you have, not only for your life, but for the life of the whole world. You have the power to choose self-interest, greed, parochialism, xenophobia, hatred and distrust of others (including your enemies), and the attitude that none of the things that are happening in our communities, our nation, or in the world apply to you. In that case you have chosen to bring destruction: of the earth, of relationships, of community. You also have the power to choose the common good, generosity, respect for all others (including your enemies), tolerance, love, and the attitude that everything that happens in my community, my nation, or in the world is directly connected to me. In that case, you chose to bring life.

No matter where you stand on any particular issue in your world today, including the issue of protecting the water and sacred lands of the Standing Rock people, you must take a stand.

You have no option.

No option other than to choose either life or destruction of life. Standing with Standing Rock, indeed, takes all of us. Metakuye oyasin.

Resources

“Standing Rock may be the new Selma.” –  Presiding Bishop of the Michael Curry Episcopal Church 


Gordon-Straw-150x150.jpgThe Rev. Gordon Straw brings years of experience in organizational development, development of lay ministry leaders, and experience and commitment to intercultural competency. Gordon is an enrolled member of the Brothertown Indian Nation. He currently serves as the program director for Lay Schools for Ministry in the ELCA and is a former director for American Indian/Alaska Native ministries in the ELCA. Gordon is married to Evelyn Soto and they have a daughter, Amanda, who will begin her second year at DePauw University, Greencastle, IN in the fall.

Why Do I Go to Standing Rock? – the Rev. Dr. R. Guy Erwin, Bishop of the Southwest California Synod (ELCA)

ThomasLindaWe have a special guest today on the campus of LSTC. Today – Monday, December 12 –  the Rev. Dr. R. Guy Erwin, will be giving a lecture from  2:30-3:30 in our seminary’s Common Room. The lecture, “Honoring the Land, Serving the Neighbor: Reformation Perspectives on Standing Rock” is something of a follow-up to today’s post. As a “mixed-race member of the Osage Nation of Oklahoma,” as Erwin explains,  when the Water Protectors at the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation began occupying the land to protest it’s despoiling for the sake of the Dakota Access Pipeline, he was one of the first voices in his church to vehemently raise the issue. The following post is the pastoral epistle he wrote on the eve of his departure for Standing Rock (dated October 24, 2016), an honest compilation of his thoughts, historical observations, and hopes. But though the construction on the pipeline has been indefinitely halted as of two weeks ago,there is still much to be done, making this reflection just as vital and urgent now as it was two months ago. So read, comment, and share – and never forget,mni wiconi, WATER IS LIFE!

Rev. Dr. Linda E. Thomas – Professor of Theology and Anthropology, Chair of LSTC’s Diversity Committee, Editor – “We Talk. We Listen.”


14721646_563072787225221_5781452695550730293_n.jpg
ELCA delegation to Standing Rock – (left to right) Presiding Bishop Elizabeth Eaton; Bishop of the Montana Synod, Jessica Crist; the author.

Why do I go to Standing Rock?

I go to Standing Rock because I am a Christian, living out my baptismal vocation in service to Christ’s church as a bishop in the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America. I am also a mixed-race member of the Osage Nation of Oklahoma, born on land inhabited by my Osage ancestors for a thousand years. 

I go to Standing Rock as a pilgrimage to the Native encampments that have been built to help the Standing Rock Sioux Nation stop construction of the Dakota Access Pipeline. I go because I want to show my support for their efforts, to add my prayers to theirs as they call to God for justice, to add my voice to the protest against the indifference to Native rights, violation of sacred land, and endangerment of the natural environment I believe this pipeline represents.

I go to Standing Rock aware that there are many dimensions to the construction of this pipeline, and that there are some who will be hurt regardless of what happens. The pipeline has economic implications for the residents of North Dakota, and it is part of a vast business strategy of corporations that profit from the extraction, transport and sale of fossil fuels to an energy-hungry consumer society. These are painful realities.

I go to Standing Rock in the belief that this pipeline represents for the Native community yet another example of disregard for their concern for the sacredness of the land to which they belong. I believe it also shows disregard for the sovereignty Native nations possess by the gift of God, and which the government of the United States recognizes as being as valid as its own. And I go hoping that this time, the outcome will be different, and that Native voices will be heard.

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Water protesters being sprayed with teargas by police.
 Time and again, Native interests and rights have been subordinated to the desire of the majority of the population for growth, development, and exploitation of the land. Time and again, the support of the Federal government—uneven and unreliable though that has been—has been Native peoples’ only recourse against state and local government and business interests, which almost always find Native rights inconvenient and an obstacle to what they believe to be progress. Time and again, Native inhabitants of North America have been shown that their lives and rights matter less than those of the non-Native population which now makes up the great majority of the land’s inhabitants.

The pipeline has the potential to bring great wealth to some and increased prosperity perhaps to many. But it also carries with it the potential for great destruction. Though pipelines might be a safer method of transporting oil than trucks or trains, they are still far from safe for the environment, as recent spills across the country continue to show us. It is not so much a question of whether a pipeline will break, as when and where it will, and who will suffer from the damage that ensues.

If a pipeline is safe enough to be built on Native land, or where Native people stand to suffer most from its failure, it ought to be safe enough to be built where the majority population lives. This is not a numbers game: for the larger settler population systemically to discourage the flourishing of Native communities, and then to act against their interests on the ground that they are numerically few, is to add modern insult to historic injury.

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I go to Standing Rock because I find in our Lutheran understanding of the Ten Commandments, as articulated in Luther’s Small Catechism, ample reason to see in the threatened Native communities throughout our country precisely those neighbors to whose care we have been called by God. In the spirit of Luther’s teaching, I call Lutheran Christians in the United States to self-examination and repentance wherever they have taken part in the use of power, for self-interest, against the rights and lives of others.

 

As a nation—to use Luther’s language—we have tricked our Native neighbors out of their inheritance, and we have falsely claimed legal rights to that which was not our own. We have deprived them of their property by crooked deals, and with promises not kept. These are violations of the Seventh and Ninth Commandments, which call on us neither to steal nor to covet, but instead call us to protect others’ property and to be of help and service to our neighbors in maintaining what is theirs.

Then, having subordinated Native peoples, confining them to reservations and curtailing their rights, we have continued to betray and slander them through racial prejudice. Even now, we diminish them through stereotypes and caricatures and mock their attempts to assert their dignity and their rights.

This is a violation of the Eighth Commandment, which instead calls us to the defense of our neighbors’ reputations.

daplc.jpg

I go to Standing Rock because this year, at its Churchwide Assembly, our church took public action to repudiate these injustices of the past, to seek pardon and reconciliation, and to work in support of Native peoples’ legitimate claims for justice and redress. In its repudiation of the Doctrine of Discovery, the ELCA put itself on the side of Native people.

I go to Standing Rock to live into the promises our church has made.

Tomorrow, on October 25, our Presiding Bishop, accompanied by me and four other bishops, will go to Standing Rock. We go to listen, to learn, and to pray. We go to stand with our feet on the prairie—on the earth our God has made, the land our Native siblings revere, and we go to show reverence and respect for Creation and our fellow human beings. We go to hear the songs and laments of those whose ancestors were on this continent for untold ages before Europeans arrived, and to salute their descendants’ courage. We go, simply to be there.

We go to Standing Rock.

(October 24, 2016)


ErwinBishop Erwin received his B.A.degree from Harvard College in 1980. He holds the M.A., M.Phil. and Ph.D. degrees from Yale University, and has taught both at Yale and California Lutheran University along with having served as pastor on both the east and west coasts. He became bishop of the Southwest California Synod of the ELCA in 2013 and lives in Los Angeles and is married to Rob Flynn, a member of the ELCA.

Chaos and Living Waters – Liz Christensen Kocher; Candidate for Ordination, ELCA

Picture 002The Holy Spirit is moving mightily among us these days – not-so-subtly exposing the systemic evil that plagues this country in everything from our criminal justice system to our electoral politics. It is no wonder than, the dignity of our nations indigenous people’s would eventually come to the fore as well.  In response, M.Div. senior Liz Christensen Kocher has written a brief reflection on her time visiting the Standing Rock Sioux last week, effectively modeling the passionate, compassionate, and fearless leadership which church-leaders must provide in times such as these. Read, comment, and share, friends!

Rev. Dr. Linda E. Thomas – Professor of Theology and Anthropology, Chair of LSTC’s Diversity Committee, Editor – “We Talk. We Listen.”


In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth, the earth was a formless chaos, and darkness covered the face of the deep. A wind from God swept over the face of the waters. (Genesis 1.1-2)

Then the Spirit showed me the river of the water of life, bright as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb through the middle of the city. On either side of the river is the tree of life with its twelve kinds of fruit, producing its fruit each month; and the leaves of the tree are for the healing of the nations. (Revelation 22. 1-2)

___________

elca-seminaria-nodapl-banner-outside-of-gathering
The banner of the delegation of ELCA seminarians.

In his essay, “Out of Chaos,” Native theologian Vine Deloria Jr. narrates the ways that indigenous peoples have been living in exile since their first contact with colonialism. This exile exists when peoples with intimate, divine ties to land and place are systematically removed from those lands and stripped of that spiritual identity. What we are witnessing at Standing Rock is a return from exile, the beginnings of the realization of Deloria’s hope that…

“out of the chaos of their shattered lives…Indians would begin to probe deeper into their own past and view their remembered history as a primordial covenant.”[1]

Out of chaos comes this kairos moment at Standing Rock: this season of time when God’s liberating actions are breaking through the injustices of the world and breathing life and hope into God’s people in this time and space.

So when Episcopal priest and long-time advocate for the Standing Rock Sioux Nation, Father John Floberg, relayed a call from Standing Rock Sioux elders to summon clergy of all denominations and faiths to join together for a public witness, myself and 10 other members of LSTC followed. And during this kairos moment we engaged in peaceful, prayerful, non-violent, and lawful witness to the compassion that the water protectors and Standing Rock Sioux were actively demonstrating in protesting the Dakota Access Pipeline.

Huddled together on bleachers in a community gym in the town of Cannon Ball, ND, our journey in this witness together began. We clarified that our purpose there was not to ‘save’ the people at Standing Rock or to fight their battles, but to be advocates and allies, to be a voice affirming the protests and the actions. We dwelt in the chaos, complication, and uncertainty of the situation. We lamented the places where brokenness was still deep, places as yet unhealed. We embraced anger. We prayed for the law enforcement, knowing that the Creator binds us all together as one body.

sunrise-over-sacred-stone-camp-as-protesters-gather
Gathering during the morning of Thursday, November 3, 2016.

And then on the chilly morning of Thursday, November 2, 2016, 524 clergy – representing more than 24 faith traditions – stood in front of the Standing Rock Sioux elders, while hundreds from the camp looked on.

We began by publically repudiating the Doctrine of Discovery, a church-created document that negated the humanity of indigenous peoples and allowed for colonial expansion on this very land. Fr. Floberg proclaimed that we could not authentically advocate for the Standing Rock Sioux and all native peoples without first repenting the evil of the doctrine. “They are protecting a pipeline that was put in place because of a church doctrine. And we are here to say that we were wrong.”

With songs of “Amen,” with blessings of a sage smudging, and with the testimonies of Elders and protectors, we began. And when it was our turn to move forward in the march, we heard others saying to us, “I love you. We love you.” Through tears, an indigenous woman at the camp proclaimed these words to both the clergy gathered and the water protectors, elders, and campers at Sacred Stone camp, alike. We gathered at the borderland bridge with clergy from indigenous nations in the Pacific Islands, Central America, and North America; Muslim, Jewish, Buddist, Universalist testimony to the holiness of creation; Native peoples sharing their lands’ religious and spiritual history. The thread that drew us together was the sacredness of the water. Mni Wiconi. Water is life.

during-time-of-testimony-at-the-borderland-bridge
Giving testimony at the borderland bridge.

Throughout the time of testimony we clergy were invited, a few at a time, to approach the border of the bridge and pray. With helicopters above my head, militarized police in front of me, surveillance and sniper vehicles ever-present in the distance, we emerged from the crowd of protectors and silently approached that border. I offered words of gratitude to the water protectors, shook their hands, and then lifted my own hand in blessing to the border, and the law enforcement beyond the border. My silent prayer was one of reconciliation, hope, and safety, that the fullness of God’s creation might be restored.

When I returned to our clergy witness, we were gathering, single-file, clergy and non-clergy alike, into an enormous circle. We prayed, and then offered a sign of peace to one another. Every one of us, to every other one of us. And just like that, our time together was over, and after sharing a sack lunch near the bridge, watching the flow of our own little river of life, we explored a bit more of the camp, then embarked on the long journey home.

This kairos moment is about the Dakota Access pipeline, and it’s also about more than the pipeline. It’s about how God created the waters of our land to be the veins of the body of creation, a life force that none can live without. It’s about water protectors coming together to protect that life force, protectors representing over 200 tribal nations, coming together for the first time in at least a century. It’s about standing up to a system that allows desecration of indigenous peoples and lands for the benefit of those in power. It’s about naming the wrongs of 524 years of broken land treaties, abuse, cultural and physical genocide, exiling of a people, and actively righting those wrongs. It’s about breaking free from the reservation system, named by some protectors as “POW camps,” which keeps indigenous peoples in a cycle of staggering unemployment, poverty, and suicide. It’s about the full humanity of every indigenous person in all creation. It’s chaos. It’s amazing. My voice and presence is simply one of thousands that can witness to the creative force that, like Revelation’s tree of life, is for the healing of the nations.

As public leaders, we are called to show up in those places of chaos and uncertainty, beauty and hope. Places like Standing Rock, Ferguson, Baltimore, Michigan Avenue and the street of South Side Chicago, ICE detention centers, advocacy centers and shelters in our small, rural towns. It doesn’t take a far look to see where people are hurting.

all-lstc-community-members-at-st-lukes-episcopal-church-in-fort-yates-nd-on-the-site-of-the-sr-reservation
LSTC’s delegation to Standing Rock.

Not everyone can make the trip to North Dakota. Not everyone feels called to make the trip to North Dakota. The size and shape of advocacy is a diverse and varied as the make-up of the human family. And yet it is precisely with that beautiful chaos that God uses us to bring about God’s kin-dom.

[1] Deloria Jr., Vine, “Out of Chaos,” in For This Land: Writings on Religions in America. New York: Routledge Publishing, 1999. 248.

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For ways to support the Sacred Stone camp and Standing Rock Sioux Tribe:

http://standwithstandingrock.net/

http://standingrock.org/

More information on our clergy gathering:

http://episcopaldigitalnetwork.com/ens/2016/11/04/peaceful-prayerful-nonviolent-stand-of-solidarity-with-the-standing-rock-sioux/

hTtp://indiancountrytodaymedianetwork.com/2016/11/04/image-gallery-500-interfaith-clergy-and-laity-answered-call-stand-standing-rock-166361


14996419_1438045336207378_1682265140_nLiz Christensen Kocher is a candidate for ordained ministry in the ELCA and in her final year at the Lutheran School of Theology at Chicago. She is from Omaha, Nebraska, and sees her call to ministry as one that builds bridges, embraces the beautiful diversity of all God’s creation, and has a hope and faith in the future of our church. Liz finds life and energy in making music and hiking with her husband, Phil.