Tag Archives: Standing Rock

A Cup of Water

Mark 9:38-41
A Cup of Water
30 September 2018
First Presbyterian Church of Whitestone
The Rev. W. Mark Koenig

On the night of December 13, 1862, the Confederate army held the high ground outside of Fredericksburg, Virginia. They had dug in behind a stone wall on Marye’s Heights that rose about 50 feet above an empty plain that stretched some 600 yards from the town itself.

That day, fifteen different Federal units had attacked the Heights – moving across the plain in futile rush after futile rush. The closest the Federal troops came to the wall was 25 yards in some locations, 40 yards in others.

In the darkness, ambulances removed the wounded soldiers. But they could not reach the men who had advanced the farthest against the storm of lead that poured upon them from behind the wall.

As the dawn broke on December 14, wounded, dying men still lay where they had fallen. They called for loved ones. They cried out for a merciful death to ease their pain. They begged for water.

After what must have seemed an eternity, an amazing thing happened. A Confederate soldier crossed the wall and went to the wounded, dying men to offer water from a canteen. When they realized what he was doing, the Federals held their fire. The man, probably Sergeant Richard Kirkland from South Carolina, is known as the “Angel of Marye’s Heights” because of his efforts to ease the suffering of those from the other side.[i] Sergeant Kirkland was killed in action before the war ended; that is one of the reasons the identity of the Angel is uncertain.

Jesus taught that in the least of the human family, in the most oppressed, the most vulnerable, we meet him.[ii] A soldier lying wounded under the guns of those who are called the enemy seems to be vulnerable, seems to be the least. What the “Angel of Marye’s Heights” did was certainly done to Jesus.

image_123923953“I tell you, whoever gives you a cup of water to drink because you bear the name of Christ will by no means lose the reward.”

I may never fully appreciate the power of Jesus’s words. I have been thirsty from time to time. There have been days when the water has been shut off for a few hours. I can remember once or twice when we had to boil water. But for 99% of my life, I have been able to turn on a spigot and receive safe, clean water.

People who live in Flint, Michigan. People who live on the Navajo Nation. People who live in other places in our country and around the world where there is no water, or the water is filled with lead or some mineral runoff or other poison know too well how important water is.

The people who heard Jesus understood. The land where Jesus lived is not a desert in the sense of miles and miles of sand dunes. But it is an arid land. It is a place where water is scarce and water is precious. The people who lived in Judea and Samaria almost 2,000 years ago knew well what the indigenous peoples who gathered at Standing Rock to protect the Missouri River remind the world: “Mni Wiconi – water is life.” Little reason that Jesus praised giving a cup of water to drink as a sacred act.

Our country passed through an emotional wringer this past week. The nomination of Judge Brett Kavanaugh to serve on the Supreme Court has been contentious and controversial from the moment it was made. The drama and the trauma exploded exponentially when women came forward with allegations of sexual assault by the nominee.

After much wrangling, the Senate Judiciary Committee agreed to hear one of those women, Dr. Christine Blasey Ford, testify. On Thursday, Dr. Blasey Ford told her story to the committee and responded to questions. The nominee did the same. It was a grueling day for those in Washington and for those across the country who relieved painful violations as the questioning proceeded and the news media dissected every statement.

The Committee reconvened on Friday to consider what to say to the full Senate. After several hours of statements and debate the Senators voted, along straight party lines, to send the nomination forward with a recommendation for approval. Although, one Senator voted yes only with the understanding that there be an FBI investigation, within a week, of Dr. Blasey Ford’s allegations. Such an investigation appears to be moving forward.

The process was emotional. Painful. Wrenching. Disconcerting. Anger, deep anger, bubbled near the surface and sometimes spewed forth like unrestrained lava bursting from a volcano. Two exceptions, two individuals who showed no little or anger, were Dr. Blasey Ford and attorney Rachel Mitchell who asked questions for the Republicans for a portion of the hearing. Both women.

Senators behaved badly. Barely restraining their words. Attacking each other. Raising their voices. Resorting to exaggeration and hyperbole. Demeaning each other. Attributing base motives to their colleagues with no evidence.

Twitter and social media exploded with fury at all the parties involved. In the days before the hearing, we learned that Dr. Blasey Ford had received death threats. During the hearing, we learned that Judge Kavanaugh had received death threats. After the hearing, we learned that Senator Flake who helped broker the compromise to have an FBI investigation, has received death threats.

This was far from the Senate’s finest moment. This was far from the finest moment for the United States.

The Senate Judiciary Committee hearing takes place at a time when we have heard a great deal about sexual assault, sexual violence, and sexual abuse. Bill Cosby was recently sentenced to prison following his conviction on charges of drugging and sexually assaulting Andrea Constand at his home 14 years ago. As many as 60 other women have made similar charges.[iii]

Women, and men, have charged other individuals with inappropriate sexual contact of various sorts. Some have lost jobs. Some appear to go on with life as though nothing had happened. A few, a very few, have admitted their actions and resigned from their jobs or stepped out of the limelight.

Sexual assault is primarily directed against women and girls, but it happens to men and boys as well. Most perpetrators of sexual assault are men, but there are a few instances of women perpetrating such assaults against men or other women.

The church is not immune. Recent reports from Germany and Pennsylvania indicate widespread abuse of children by a number of Roman Catholic clergy over extended periods of time.[iv][v]

But abuse is not limited to the Roman Catholic Church. It has happened in our own Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.). Children have been abused on the mission field where Presbyterians served.[vi] Abuse has also occurred by Presbyterian youth leaders and pastors in this country.[vii]

A 2016 study revealed that 84 percent of Presbyterian female clergy have experienced discrimination, prejudice or harassment based upon their gender.[viii] While discrimination, prejudice, and harassment do not necessarily rise to the level of assault, they may. And they create an atmosphere in which assault may occur. Former Co-Moderator, the Rev. Denise Anderson writes, “most heinous behaviors have their beginnings elsewhere. They are undergirded by our commonly accepted practices and the things we never interrogate. When we don’t take care to pay women with equity, it doesn’t happen. When we aren’t intentional about examining our biases and respecting women’s leadership, it doesn’t happen. And if we can’t even trust women to make decisions about something as simple as their hair, how will we ever believe them when they come forward with their stories of abuse?”[ix]

The multiple allegations spurred the #MeToo movement in which women, transgender people, and men, told their stories and added the hashtag #MeToo. For people unwilling to share their story, who found it too painful to tell their story, who felt unsafe if they were to tell their story, who could not bring themselves to tell one more time a story that had been consistently disbelieved, denied and dismissed, the simple use of the #metoo hashtag served to affirm their experience.

#ChurchToo became used to refer to assault or abuse in the church. One of my seminary professors writes “I can’t even remember the names of all the men on my #ChurchToo list.”[x]What she remembers is the power and the privilege they held. In the end, sexual assault is not about sex. It is about power and control; privilege and violence.

No matter the gender or age of the person who commits the assault; no matter the gender or age of the person who is assaulted; all such actions are sin. The state defines different actions as different types of crime. To those who follow Jesus, all such actions violate the image of God in which each person is made and so are sin.

There’s a lot to process in what I have already said. I have identified some important dynamics and pointed in some necessary directions. I am happy to have further conversations with folks about the issues and concerns I have raised.

This morning, I want to say two more things.

First, we have witnessed amazing courage this week. Bruce Springsteen sings about “courage you can understand.”[xi] As I watched Dr. Blasey Ford testify, I saw courage I cannot understand. I stood in awe of her grace and strength as she presented her story and responded to questions in a hostile setting under enormous pressure and the glare of the world media. Her courage proved contagious and people found their voices and told their stories because of her.

But know this. If someone has sexually abused or sexually assaulted you and you are a human being, you are courageous. You are courageous for working through and living with that trauma every single day. You are courageous if you find your voice and lift it protest and a call for justice. And you are courageous even if you never speak a word aloud. You are courageous. You are not alone. You are stronger than you imagine. And you are beloved by God. Do not ever forget that.[xii]

Second, I believe that amid the stress and trauma of the days before the hearing and the stress and the trauma of the hearing and the vote and the stress and trauma of waiting for what comes next, I believe there were moments of kindness, glimpses of grace, tender mercies, acts of love. To use the image of Jesus in our gospel lesson, cups of water were shared.

We learned that 10-year-old Liza Kavanagh prayed for Dr. Blasey Ford. A cup of water.

Maria Gallagher from Westchester and Ana Maria Archila, who is a native of Queens confronted Arizona Senator Jeff Flake at an elevator inside the U.S. Capitol.[xiii] As they spoke, Mr. Flake nodded and looked down, his eyes darting between the women, the floor, and the elevator walls. “I was sexually assaulted and nobody believed me,” Ms. Gallagher said. “I didn’t tell anyone, and you’re telling all women that they don’t matter.” Fighting back tears, she demanded the senator’s attention. “Don’t look away from me,” she said. “Look at me and tell me that it doesn’t matter what happened to me.” This marked one of the first times either woman had publicly shared their accounts of sexual assault. Ms. Archila said she was moved to tell her story after seeing Dr. Blasey’s testimony.[xiv] Sometimes cups of water are delivered with tough love.

Senator Flake took his stand for an FBI investigation after conversation with colleagues, Republican and Democrat alike. While reports indicate he talked to several Senators, it seems likely that his conversation with Senator Chris Coons proved pivotal. Senators Flake and Coons rarely vote together but they have become friends. For a moment that friendship became a cup of water as friendships often do.

Women and men, who had profoundly painful memories rekindled, and grievous wounds reopened, found comfort in Facebook posts by strangers and in the presence of friends. Cups of water.

Friends I have known for years thanked me for my simple words of kindness and support posted on Facebook. They shared parts of their story with me that I did not know and for which I weep. They reminded me that courage is contagious. And sometimes we do not know when we pass along a cup of water.

18836062_10155210720946063_1533898934229885746_n“I tell you, whoever gives you a cup of water to drink because you bear the name of Christ will by no means lose the reward.”

In the week ahead, I give you two homework assignments.

Look around you for people who are sharing cups of water.

Look around you for ways you can share cups of water in the name of Christ.

Presbyterian minister, the Rev. Fred Rogers, or Mister Rogers as he is better known, said that “When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, ‘Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.’”[xv]

I believe that in our passage for today, Jesus says something similar with the image of sharing a cup of water.

When scary things happen, when life become unsettling and threatening, look for the people who are acting with kindness, who are showing love, who are sharing cups of water.

When scary things happen, when life become unsettling and threatening, be the people who act with kindness, who love, who share cups of water in the name of Jesus.

May it be so. Amen.

 

[i] https://opinionator.blogs.nytimes.com/2012/12/14/the-angel-of-maryes-heights/

[ii] Matthew 25:31-46

[iii] https://www.thewrap.com/60-bill-cosby-accusers-complete-list-breakdown-guilty/

[iv] https://www.nytimes.com/2018/09/12/world/europe/german-church-sex-abuse-children.html. A study in Germany reports that more than 3,600 children, most age 13 or younger, were sexually abused by Catholic clergy members over the past seven decades by at least 1,670 church workers.

[v] https://www.cnn.com/2018/08/19/us/catholics-react-pennsylania-sex-abuse/index.html. In August, a study notes that over the past 70 years in six Pennsylvania dioceses, 300 Catholic priests abused more than 1,000 children.

[vi] https://www.presbyterianmission.org/wp-content/uploads/iarp_final_report.pdf

[vii] https://pres-outlook.org/2018/09/a-letter-to-church-that-i-love/

[viii] https://www.presbyterianmission.org/story/1217-convo/

[ix] http://www.ecclesio.com/2018/02/never-starts-assault-overlooked-ways-church-enables-abuse-denise-anderson/

[x] https://www.christiancentury.org/blog-post/guest-post/i-cant-even-remember-names-all-men-my-churchtoo-list

[xi] “Nothing Man,” https://songmeanings.com/songs/view/3458764513820554674/.

[xii] This paragraph grew out of a Facebook exchange with Hannah Truxell.

[xiii] http://gothamist.com/2018/09/28/jeff_flake_elevator_protest.php

[xiv] https://www.nytimes.com/2018/09/28/us/politics/jeff-flake-protesters-kavanaugh.html

[xv] https://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/12/17/mister-rogers-helpers-quote_n_2318793.html

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We will remember you

The Rev. Buddy Monahan, my friend and colleague and leader in the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), advocate for Native American peoples in and out of the church, seeker of justice, lover of life and the human family, was killed in a car accident on Tuesday, March 27, 2018. I wrote this and posted it on Facebook. As I watched the  live stream of his memorial service today, I realized that I wanted to post this here as well – to make it easier for me to find. The photo was taken at Standing Rock where Buddy, the Rev. Irvin Porter, and Synod Executive Elona-Street Stewart and I visited on behalf of the church. Our colleague Rick Jones took the photo. 

We will remember you, Buddy,
we will remember you:
follower of Jesus
StandingRockseeker of justice
pursuer of peace
breaker of chains
builder of community
child, spouse, father
chaplain, pastor
coach, teacher
youth worker
colleague, mentor, friend
person of faith
beloved child of God.

You loved your family,
cherished your friends,
affirmed Native peoples,
called the Church to repent,
invited Eric Law to Menaul,
traveled to Standing Rock,
challenged power and privilege,
analyzed the Doctrine of Discovery,
disrupted racism, patriarchy, and more.

And suddenly, unexpectedly, tragically,
you are gone. Too young gone. Too soon gone.
Understanding falters.

We grieve.
But above our grief
through our grief
within our grief
we hear faintly,
ever so faintly,
your song now perfectly joined with the Song.

And above our grief
through our grief
within our grief
we give thanks to God
for sharing you for a season
with Dyanna
with Jordyn, Ashdyn, Brandyn
with Menaul School
with Westminster Presbyterian Church
with the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.)
with so many, with us.

And above our grief
through our grief
within our grief
we give thanks that God who made you,
and who journeyed with you
and who loved you
loves you still;
loves us still.

We will remember you, Buddy,
we will remember you.

Written 27 March 2018
Posted 4 April 2018
See you along the Trail.

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#Awaken #AdventWord

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The Advent devotional project, #AdventWord  is offered by the Society of St John the Evangelist. Each day a word is provided and participants are invited to share images and/or reflections and to use hashtags so our reflections may be included in an Advent Calendar with others from around the world.

 

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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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Presbyterian advocacy group issues challenge to ‘raise our collective voice’

From the Advocacy Committee on Racial Ethnic Concerns of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.)

Advocacy Committee for Racial Ethnic Concerns calls church to action

Press Release | ACREC

The Advocacy Committee for Racial Ethnic Concerns (ACREC) calls the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) to embody what it has confessed, “that the church as the possession of God must stand where the Lord stands, namely against injustice and with the wronged; that in following Christ the church must witness against all the powerful and privileged who selfishly seek their own interests and thus control and harm others. Therefore, we reject any ideology which would legitimate forms of injustice and any doctrine which is unwilling to resist such an ideology in the name of the gospel.”
– Belhar Confession

People of color in the U.S. are being killed by police in disproportionate numbers because of the color of their skin, their race, and ethnicity. We condemn and lament the continued and routine killing of unarmed people of color particularly African American men and call for full investigations in the police killings of Keith Lamont Scott in Charlotte, North Carolina, Terence Crutcher in Tulsa, Oklahoma, and Tyre King in Columbus, Ohio.

People of color in the U.S. live under surveillance, the threat of deportation, and constant systemic violence. We are alarmed by the Obama administration’s continuing pattern of deportation and family separation. We are alarmed by the ways in which police and ordinary citizens are deputized, formally and informally, to perpetuate this culture of surveillance and violence. We are alarmed by the persistence of anti-Muslim and Islamophobic rhetoric and policy proposals abounding in the current presidential campaign.

People of color in the U.S. are being attacked and criminalized for their courageous stands against police violence, greed, environmental injustice, and treaty violations. We condemn the use of militarized private contractors to remove the Native Americans encamped at the confluence of the Missouri and Cannonball rivers seeking to stop the development of the Dakota Access Pipeline that threatens water, earth, and indigenous sacred spaces.

People of color in the U.S. are reminded daily in explicit and implicit ways of the hold white supremacy has over the soul of this nation. White supremacy; as a church we must say it. It is white supremacy that lies at the root of the systemic violence that kills, suffocates the life, limits the mobility, and creates the logic for the policing and detention of people of color in the United States.

Given this reality, ACREC calls the members of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) to leave the comfort of their buildings to put their bodies on the line as co-conspirators in a movement for transformation, to stand for reparative justice instead of cheap reconciliation, to join communities of resistance, declaring that all people are created by God which means uttering without equivocation that Black Lives Matter!

We call the members of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) to support the efforts of those gathered at Standing Rock to protect the water, the land, and the generations of people whose lives are threatened by the Dakota Access Pipeline expansion.

We call the teaching elders of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) to not just lament and pray for change but to challenge the members of their congregation to acknowledge and confess our participation in systems of oppression and to lead them to work for justice in and outside of the church.

We call the ruling elders of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) to exercise their spiritual and ecclesiastical leadership by creating and formulating ways for their congregation to engage in actions – economic and programmatic – that interrupt white supremacy.

ACREC strongly encourages the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) and all of its members to join the mobilization of 5,000 prayers and/or actions around the world calling for water rights, clean air, and the restoration of the earth and its peoples by participating in the International Days of Prayer and Action with Standing Rock (October 8-11, 2016).

ACREC also strongly encourages the congregations and mid-councils of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) to support the newly established Freedom Rising Fund created as a result of an action taken by the 222nd General Assembly (2016). This fund will support specific actions, “not just in word, but also in deed, to address and improve the worsening plight of the African American male.” Congregations and mid-councils are asked to direct a portion of the Peace and Global Witness Offering to this fund.

Finally, we urge our church and all of its members, especially those who are white, to join us in breaking silence. Commit with us to raise our collective voice not just to proclaim the good news of God’s grace but to call out injustice, to call out the forces that threaten to tear us apart with xenophobic, racist, and Islamophobic rhetoric. May we have the courage.

Buddy Monahan (Chair, ACREC)
Thomas Priest Jr.(Vice Chair, ACREC)

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