Monthly Archives: November 2016

Good reasons to come to Standing Rock – to do needed physical labor

On November 15, 2016, I had the privilege to go with Native American Presbyterian leaders to the Water Protector camps at Standing Rock in North Dakota. Among the reasons for people to come to Standing Rock is to do needed physical labor.

Darkness descended on the camp as we arrived.
We stood, watching the flames of the fire dance.
woodA man fed more wood, the smoke tickling our noses. 
“We need help in the kitchen.”
The voice came from behind.
I turned and walked across the compound. ”
What can I do?”
“Here’s a knife. Get some gloves in the back.
Help debone this suckling pig.”
That had never appeared on my resume.
But it was the work needed at the moment.
For the next thirty minutes, with Estrella and Quay,
I cut and tore meat from bone.
Meat from bone.
Meat from bone as a dog stared hungrily at my work.
“Healthy food,” Quay cheerfully told all who came and asked what was for supper.
“Ready in 45 minutes,” Brandon told everyone. No matter when they asked.
From around the fire came the sound of drums and song as we cut meat from bone.
Meat from bone.
Meat from bone. Until it was done.
I left the kitchen.
The dog stared.
The drums played.
The fire danced.
The people continued.

15 November 2016
Ft. Yates, North Dakota

Note – the photo, by my friend Buddy Monahan, shows me helping move firewood, another task I did for a time, a task that did not inspire bad poetry in the same way deboning did. 

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A smile

They came in and sat at the table beside me in the restaurant. A big man, bigger than me and a child, probably 6 or 8 years old, his grandson. I had never seen them before. I doubt I will see them again.

spritzTheir conversation turned to cookies and specifically to cookies made during the holiday season.

The man explained how the child’s grandmother made cookies for Christmas using a cookie press. He described the process of creating the dough, adding food color, putting dough in the press, and squeezing it.

As I listened, the years fell away and the miles disappeared, and I stood once more in the kitchen of a house where I was raised. I could feel the warmth of the oven and smell the sugar and butter in the air.

I watched as my mother carefully pressed out cookie after cookie, changing the dough and changing the tip. The trays went into the oven. And the cookies came out and were placed on towels where some were decorated with sugar or rainbow sprinkles. The taste played anew on my tongue.

When I headed into the night, I said to the man, “My mother made those too. Thank you for the memory.”

And I smiled.

See you along the Trail.

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Don’t display your solidarity, express it!

This reflection by Sung Yeon Choi-Morrow originally appeared as a guest commentary in the Presbyterian Outlook.

This is not a piece about Standing Rock and the water protectors. This is a reflection to expand the narrative of what happened during the clergy action visit to Standing Rock on November 3, 2016.

For information about Standing Rock and their struggle to protect water, please check Native news sources such as IndianCountryNews.com. I also encourage everyone to read the Standing Rock Allies Resource Packet.

A call to action
Last month, I joined with over 400 other clergy members and responded to a call for clergy to join in a solidarity action with the Oceti Sakowin and their struggle to protect water.

Central to the efforts of the Oceti Sakowin people is a ritual of sacred fire. When I arrived at the camp, Adrianne, the sacred fire keeper, greeted my friends and me and thanked us for being there. He then explained the significance of the sacred fire, that it had been going since April and how we need to understand it.

Adrianne emphasized that it was an important element of ritual to keep the fire pure. This meant that only Fire Keepers (those designated by elders) are permitted to tend the fire. To respect the sacred fire, it was explained to everyone who entered the camp that they should not take photos of the fire or throw anything into the fire (aside from sage and tobacco while offering prayer).

By the end, it was clear to me that the Fire Keeper informed everyone who entered the camp about the power and importance of the sacred fire and honor its role. I was deeply discouraged by how some members of our clergy group were ignorant of these guidelines.

A lesson in solidarity tourism
When we gathered for the clergy action orientation, the coordinator for the event, Father Floberg, told us that the next day would start with a ceremony at the sacred fire. We were informed that white Christians will repudiate the Doctrine of Discovery to native elders. In addition, the organizers of the ceremony got special permission for us to take pictures near the sacred fire for this event because it would be so historic.

With the knowledge that sacred fire was not to be photographed, why was permission requested? Why did this group of clergy feel so entitled as to think their needs to document this event were more important than honoring the intentions of the native people not to photograph near the sacred fire? The fact that this request was offered and accepted is reminder of the colonial mentality of exceptionalism and justification. It was not a request that honored the camp that hosted us.

At the ceremony, all I could see were cameras and people swarming around the sacred fire.  What was supposed to be a sacred event to show our repudiation of a doctrine that oppressed and displaced so many natives turned into what felt like a celebrity staging.

A self-serving narrative
Whose needs were being served through this event of repudiation of the Doctrine of Discovery? If it was really for the native people, if we came to honor their tradition, we would not have taken pictures. It was the needs of highlighting the clergy, not the community, and what the clergy were doing for the community that was prioritized.

After the ceremony, the clergy group walked towards the bridge where our prayer vigil was to take place. But we walked alone; not many people from the camp were with us. The giant cross at the front of our procession felt more like a crusade than a solitary action.

I left early to go to the camp. It was clear that majority of the clergy did not connect with those at the camp. Many of the folks back at camp didn’t even know what was going on with this large group of clergy who showed up. Then I heard announced across camp that the clergy were heading to Bismarck to the State Capitol.

At Bismarck, 14 clergy members were arrested, which became the dominant narrative that emerged from the whole action. The story was no longer about the Oceti Sakowin people or the Water Protectors.

Displayed vs. expressed solidarity
My main discomfort with the way the clergy group behaved was that it seemed more important to display their solidarity rather than express solidarity. When someone is concerned about displaying solidarity, they make the effort about themselves. They control the narrative and to ensure their experience is validated. They make the story about themselves and not about the people they are in solidarity with.

Expressing solidarity is to be present in the ways the people you’re standing in solidarity with want you to be present. It requires more listening than talking. It requires getting to know the stories of those who are oppressed. It requires one to not have preconceived notions of what is helpful or effective. It requires one to not have a pre-set agenda of what one wants to get out of the trip for his or her own agenda. Expressing solidarity means letting the needs of the community outweigh the needs of those providing support.

What I observed was solidarity tourism. What I witnessed was exploitive colonialism. From documenting the ceremony at the sacred fire to the clergy rally to getting arrested in Bismarck, the narrative became more about the clergy than those who were protecting water.

Words for future solidarity action
The camp is set up to receive large groups of people (with orientation every day). If you go, go straight to the camp and connect with the Native leaders directly. Go with the mentality of being useful and not with a preconceived notion of what you believe will be a significant contribution. Go with an open heart to express your solidarity rather than to display your solidarity. That may mean you spend four days chopping onion and garlic and not getting arrested. It may mean helping clean up around the camp instead of taking photos. These are expressions of solidarity.

Sung Yeon ChoimorrowSUNG YEON CHOI-MORROW serves in specialized ministry as the deputy director of programs and policy at the National Asian Pacific American Women’s Forum, an organization building a movement through organizing and advocating on issues that impact the lives of Asian American Pacific Islander women and girls in the United States. She is a member of the Chicago Presbytery, worships at Edgewater Presbyterian Church, and lives on the north side of Chicago with her spouse (Joseph Morrow) and their 2-year-old daughter Ella.

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When incivility becomes the norm

by J. Herbert Nelson, II | Stated Clerk of the PC(USA) General Assembly

This statement is a response to the violence on America’s streets after the election of Mr. Donald Trump as President–Elect of the United States of America. It was originally posted by the Presbyterian News Service

Stated Clerk of the General Assembly, Reverend Dr. J. Herbert Nelson

LOUISVILLE – I read several post-election statements and heard news accounts of violence, riots, and protests while in Central America visiting Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) mission partners. The news images were shocking to both our partners and me. We struggled to understand the results of the election, particularly given Mr. Trump’s stance on immigration, which was the theme of my visit. However, I was not as startled as my Central American friends. Serving as director of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A) Office of Public Witness in Washington, D.C., for six years prior to becoming Stated Clerk prepared me to understand the outcomes we face in electoral politics. Although I have shared parts of this writing before with congregations and audiences, there seemed to always be a sense of skepticism among the hearers. I proclaim the message once again, because the apparent shock for many has left people raising the question, “What happened?”

I wish to affirm in this moment that many in our congregations and communities hold legitimate fear about their safety and the protection of their human rights. We hold close our Muslim, Hispanic, African American, immigrant, and LGBTQ neighbors, and those from other marginalized groups. We hold close the women who give us life and the poor for whom daily bread is not promised. The rash of hateful harassment [1] reported in the wake of the election insists upon the urgency of the call to be one who “… executes justice for the orphan and the widow, and who loves the strangers, providing them food and clothing. You shall also love the stranger, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt” (Deut. 10:18–20, NRSV).

This writing is not a denial of the results of the election. President-Elect Trump is our newly elected leader. However, it is my hope that the post-election anger, pain, and frustration demonstrated on the streets will lay the foundation for a transformed political system in the years to come. Through coalition building and community organizing, we have an opportunity to create a vision of shared prosperity, safety, dignity, and justice that is truly inclusive and compelling to a broad base.

I insist, though, that no matter how robust the infusion of energy into the struggle for justice, it will never be worth the pain, suffering, and yes, death, which will be wrought by the promised policies of the incoming administration. My integrity as a spiritual leader commands me to face the reality that some of our communities are under grave threat. In my recent travels to El Salvador, I spoke with many who expressed fear for their family members’ safety in the U.S.; that the violence they fled El Salvador to escape would be brought upon them tenfold if they were deported back to their country of origin. People with preexisting conditions are troubled over what a sudden loss of healthcare would do to their wellbeing. Same-gender parents are rushing to finish their adoptions and secure their rights as a family. Survivors of sexual assault are contending with a culture that would elect to our highest office a known abuser. In this dark night, the doors of the Church are open as refuge, resource, and organizing home.

As Christians, we cannot accept a nation that normalizes violence, exclusion, and racism in our political rhetoric and public policy. We know God has called us to co-create a world where a dignified life is available to all, and anything less offers no suitable worship. In the coming months and years, “… From everyone to whom much has been given, much will be required; and from the one to whom much has been entrusted, even more will be demanded” (Lk. 12:48 NRSV). We will be asked to open our church basements to late-night meetings, our sanctuaries to provide Sanctuary to those facing deportation, and to intervene in public harassment.

Just as the doors of the Church are open, so too are the doors to the movement for justice. We invite you to join us in our steadfast commitment to stand with the marginalized and our humble desire to contribute to strategy and vision that will help create the kingdom of God.

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Tomorrow

And tomorrow,
when we rise,
we will have work to do.

Today,
we pray.
We work.
We vote.

This day,
will bring what it may.

And tomorrow,
when we rise,
we have work to do.

8 November 2016
Louisville, Kentucky

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