Heart-breaking racism

Two days after the horrific shootings in Atlanta, in which six of the eight people murdered were women of Asian descent, I came face to face with anti-Asian discrimination right here in South Dakota – and Nebraska.

Know this: *I* was not the victim of racial hatred. I am a white woman of French, Irish and Russian descent. I have never faced racial discrimination in this country.

But the man who came to me for help, who walked up to me at the gas station at the Rosebud Casino, clutching a broken 2-inch hose from his semi? He faces it all the time. ALL. THE. TIME.

Even with his mask on, I could tell he was Vietnamese. There was something about his posture, about his looks, about his name, that told me that. 

The hose had split. The semi wouldn’t run any more. He couldn’t make it to Valentine, Nebraska, 8 miles south of the casino.

Would I help him?

Of course, I said. I can take you down there.

He wanted to pay for my gas. I told him I would be reimbursed by the church. He wanted to give me money. I told him I didn’t need any money to help him. He kept insisting. I told him a cup of coffee would suffice.

Off we went to Valentine, chatting along the way. He was driving from North Dakota back home to Texas. He had been a long-haul driver for 20 years. I thanked him for his hard work, especially during the pandemic, when he and all the other drivers kept us going. He seemed shocked to be thanked for doing what he does.

He came to this country in 1982, after escaping Vietnam (he didn’t use that word), and having to stop in Thailand and Hong Kong, among other countries. A couple in Washington state sponsored him to come to this country.

America, he said, was the greatest country in the world. Here people can work hard and be paid a decent wage. In his country, Vietnam? Women work 8 or 10 hours per day, and are paid only $4 or $5 a day for their hard work.

Then he said it: “You have saved my life.”

No, I told him. I’m just helping you. I can’t have you stranded on the Rosebud. We don’t have semi repair places here.

No, he replied. “You have saved my life.”

He asked how I knew he was Vietnamese. I told him I had worked with many Vietnamese in the past. He told me that even at the company for which he works – for the last 20 years – they still think he is Chinese. They ask him daily if he has brought coronavirus with him. They always call him Chinese. It hurts. He’s Vietnamese. Why couldn’t Americans realize the difference?

I told him I was sorry. I apologized for the hatred he faces. I told him I knew it hurt, and that it was wrong. We sat in silence for a few miles while we both thought about what he goes through every single day.

In Valentine, we stopped at the first auto parts store. My new friend needed 10 gallons of anti-freeze as well. The salesman helping him assured him that the jugs with red caps had the red anti-freeze in them. In fact, he insisted that was true. My new friend popped one open and poured a tiny amount in the cap: It was green. The salesman didn’t blink an eye. He didn’t seem to be very interested in actually talking to my new friend, and acted as though he couldn’t even understand him.

Another salesman went looking for the hose. I stood talking to the first salesman, and noticed that the anti-freeze jugs had new labels on them: AMERICAN cars (with the auto company names in smaller type) and ASIAN cars (with the corresponding manufacturers’ names). I couldn’t believe what I was seeing, especially just two days after the shootings in Atlanta. Those jugs used to be labeled DOMESTIC and FOREIGN. Or DOMESTIC and IMPORTS. Now? AMERICAN and ASIAN. Even though the majority of the cars listed (including the one I drive) was made in America, they are labeled ASIAN.

Wow, I said. That’s pretty racist.

What, the salesman asked.

I pointed out the printing on the jugs.

They are Asian, he said.

They are made in America. With a lot of American parts. By American workers.

The so-called American cars, I pointed out, are made in great part in Mexico and Canada.

The salesman didn’t see it. They’re Asian cars, he said.

No, I said, they really aren’t.

Well, we pay Asians for them, he said.

I just shook my head. He just walked away. 

I decided right then and there: I am crossing that store off my list of places to shop, and that brand of anti-freeze off will never go in any vehicle I own.

That store didn’t have the hose we needed. But they did have some of the anti-freeze (the red kind, not the green kind). My new friend bought six gallons there. The second salesman told me where to find the next store.

There, the salesman know me. And I know for a fact that they were kind because they know ME, the white woman who is the Episcopal priest on the Rosebud.

They didn’t have a hose either. But they directed us to another place, where trucks are repaired. They didn’t have the hose in stock, but told us where we could go to buy a hose with the correct angle in it, which would be too big, but it could be cut down to size. 

We said thank you, and got back in the car. Then the mechanic who had looked for a new hose came out with a used one. He had taken it from a different make of semi, but thought it would work. He had saved it, just in case someone could use it. But it was expensive, he said. One hundred dollars. It was way too long, but could be cut down. It might work, he said. After a few more back-and-forths, I asked my new friend if that would work for him. He said it would. Finally, the mechanic offered to sell it for cash. The price seemed high, but my new friend was in a bind. So he paid for it, right there in the parking lot.

Then my new friend asked me if I could find an ATM machine. On the way to the bank, I remembered that we still needed four more gallons of anti-freeze. Back to the second store we went.

They had more of the anti-freeze. My new friend asked them if it was the red kind. One of the salesman assured him it was. I told the salesman what had happened at the last store. He just shook his head – and then he opened a jug to show my friend that indeed, it was the red kind. It was obvious that he didn’t think he should have to do that … but I reminded him what had happened at the first store. Both salesman at the second store, on our second trip in, gave my new friend a look that said they didn’t think he knew what he was talking about. My heart was aching for him – he’s the professional truck driver. He knows what he’s talking about. Just because he doesn’t look like them doesn’t mean he isn’t as smart, if not a whole lot smarter, than them. 

More racism – a micro-aggression – that my new friend encounters every single day.

Going to the bank, he said, again, “You saved my life. No one has ever helped me like this. You take me several places, you help me a lot … no one has ever done this for me.”

I kept insisting: I was only helping a person in need. 

We repeated this conversation three more times.

At the bank, I parked and sent him to the ATM, so he could have privacy.

He came back to the car, and handed me $100. 

“You saved my life today,” he said again.

Really, I said, you don’t have to pay me. This is what I do – I help people. So keep your money and pay it forward. Help someone else on the road.

He insisted. I finally took the money, and told him I would help others with it.

We drove back to the casino. 

And repeated the conversation about life-saving a few more times.

I changed the subject, and asked about his family, about his wife and children, more about his life story. At the casino, we unloaded his anti-freeze and used hose.

Do you need help, I asked. I can hold the hose for you while you cut it.

No, he said, the knife is very sharp. I wouldn’t want you to be hurt.

If you need help, I can stay and help, I said.

No, I can do this, he replied. “You saved my life.”

My friend, I asked, can I say a prayer for you? 

Yes. He’s a Buddhist, so I said a prayer formed around his religion and mine. And gave him my phone number. And told him to call me if he needs more help.

As I drove off, listening to the news about a shooter in Atlanta who took eight lives and injured others, who says he has a sex addiction and was removing temptations, about whom a sheriff’s spokesman said had “had a bad day,” I mourned the fact that in this country, racism is alive and well, that Asian Americans are especially under attack, not just in the last year of coronavirus, but basically ever since the first Asian immigrants arrived, and that people of color everywhere in this country are hurt by it every single day.

My new friend is hurt by it … Every. Single. Day.

I don’t know why we divide people into skin color and nations of origin. It makes no sense to me. We are all beloved children of God. And God doesn’t care about skin color or nation of origin, or language. Because God, who created each of us, loves each of us.

This division, this bias, this hatred? It hurts.

Even me, a white woman, is hurt by it.

I said another prayer for my new friend, that he could get his semi fixed, and get home safely.

Then I took the money he gave me, and paid it forward for him, helping a man who needed food, and a mother who needed gas money to get her kids from a town an hour away. 

And I mourned again the fact that my new friend, on his long journey home, will face more discrimination and hatred along the way.

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COVID-19 and Following Jesus: Living sacred lives, not scared ones

Image from the Centers for Disease Control website.

I have spent almost all of Monday working on COVID-19 — preparing for its arrival in South Dakota (which I am, alas, sure will happen), working with church leaders to figure out what we will do in services, searching in vain for hand sanitizer or anti-microbial wipes, praying about how to preach this Sunday ..

It’s my day off, but this outbreak of a disease that threatens the most vulnerable among us takes precedence.

And here is what I have concluded:

COVID-19 is a serious disease. Why? Because we don’t know enough about it, and we don’t have a medicine that directly cures it. New diseases are like this — they baffle us, and because they are baffling, we become afraid.

Too many people are dismissive of this outbreak. “We survived bird flu, Ebola, H1N1, etc., we’ll survive this.” I literally had two medical personnel tell me this just the other day. I pointed out to them that bird flu was confined, pretty much to birds; that we didn’t have Ebola in the United States (except for those who were brought back from Africa with it for treatment); and that while H1N1 was widespread, its fatality rate was 0.001 percent to 0.007 percent. Thus far, COVID-19’s fatality rate is much, much higher: an average of 3 percent to 4 percent thus far. 

The greatest risk is to those who have compromised immune systems, are elders, or a combination of both. Far too many dismissive comments are being made about them, as well. As in, “well, it’s really only dangerous to the chronically ill and older folks.” What? They aren’t important to us?! As one friend points out, that attitude pretty much condemns the sick and elders to death. Trust me, that is not what God wants. (Want to read more about this from this friend, Charis Hill, who is far more eloquent than I on this topic? Look here. And listen. Please.) Here on the Rosebud Reservation, where we still have Influenza A and B, as well as Strep, running through our schools, that means that those children are taking home their illnesses, often to grandparents, who then get sick, which means they are more susceptible to COVID-19, if and when it arrives here. None of us should be willing to condemn our loved ones to a potentially fatal disease.

Those are just the medical conclusions that I’ve reached through a lot of research from reputable sources, including the CDC.

So what does this mean to us, those who proclaim that we follow Jesus?

First, it means we have responsibilities, duties, really, that come not from medical personnel but from God.

We who follow Jesus, who say that loving God with all our heart and mind and soul and strength and that loving our neighbors as ourselves are the two most important commandments, have a responsibility, a duty, to care for each other. We don’t get to take this swiftly spreading disease lightly. We don’t get to pooh-pooh taking practical precautions. We don’t get to tell people, “It’s not big deal.”

We who follow Jesus are called by Jesus to care for each other. To wash our hands. To limit our exposure to people with suppressed immune systems. To reach out to help those in need. To check on our relatives, our neighbors, and those most in need, to ensure they have what they need.

One more time, I want to emphasize this: We really need to wash our hands!

Good Lord, this is something we teach our children in preschool and kindergarten. Washing our hands is simply basic hygiene — only now, it has taken on even more importance. So, do it! Wash your hands thoroughly as often as you can. Sing a song whilst doing so – the Happy Birthday song, or the ABC song, twice through. Or, if you know it, sing the Doxology —in English, Lakota, or whatever language you want. (Check out these videos below.) Just don’t go too fast — that would defeat the whole purpose. If you can’t get to soap and water (a real concern in churches that don’t have running water), use some form of hand sanitizer.

The Doxology in English …
… and in Lakota.

When it comes to passing the Peace in church? No more hand-shaking. No matter how culturally important it is (meaning, this is incredibly important among the people I serve), please, just stop. In our churches, we’ve introduced the Elbow Bump — just make sure you don’t bump too hard — elbows can be sharp! We’ve also asked people to stop hugs and kisses … just to be safe. Why not?

We don’t have any confirmed cases of COVID-19 in South Dakota yet, but already, we have asked people to be very careful intincting (dipping the bread into the wine), or to simply take a sip from the chalice. If people don’t want to sip, it really is OK to not receive the wine along with the bread. (If COVID-19 arrives in the state, then we probably will stop sharing the cup in any form. We are waiting for more guidance on this.)

But what about when we are not in church? What about when we are going about our daily lives, with all the people with whom we are in contact on a day-to-day basis?

Well, that’s where Jesus’ call to us to care for others really comes to the fore.

We all have neighbors who need help. 

Help them.

Ask them if they need you to go shopping for them. Whether they need anything brought to them. Do they need some cooking done for them? Cook!

Whatever they need, we who follow Jesus are called to care for them.

This isn’t an option, by the way. Jesus never told us to help when we feel like it, or when it’s convenient. He said that loving our neighbor was one of the two most important commandments. 

So we obey it.

There are other things we can do as well:

Share our cookies. (OK, this is based not only on Jesus, but also on All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten, by Robert Fulghum.) If you have something that another person needs, share it: Food, water, clothing, rides to the store, firewood, you name it, share it.

Do not be afraid. That’s one of the most common things God says, usually via angels, to God’s people: Fear not! Not because God will protect us from this illness, but because we know that this life is transitory, that we have the promise that we get to spend the rest of our lives with Jesus, that there is more to life than this life. Don’t let fear paralyze us. Be brave. Go into the world and do the things that Jesus told us to do. 

Do not hoard. For some reason, not only is there a shortage of hand sanitizer (which kind of makes sense), but there is a shortage of toilet paper! People! How much toilet paper do any of us need?! Get what we need, and leave the rest for others in need. And please, we can all leave on the shelves the things that medical personnel and people with suppressed immune systems need, especially N95 face masks. Most of us will not need them; let’s make sure those who do can get them.

Love. Need I say more?

• If you have been exposed, or think you may have been exposed, stay home. I know this is not possible for everyone – less than 50 percent of employees in the United States has paid sick leave. I’m praying that our government will do something about that. But if you can stay home, please do so. Not just for yourself, but for everybody.

We live in what are shaping up to be very scary times. 

But we are not called to live scared.

Instead, we who follow Jesus are called to live sacred lives, holy lives.

And sacred, holy lives are not lived in fear, are not dominated by la-di-dah attitudes, and do not include hoarding, or “me-first” attitudes.

We follow Jesus.

Now is the time for us to step up and act like it.

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Proper 24B: Be careful what you ask for …

Be-Careful-What-You-Ask-ForThe sermon I preached on Sunday, 21 October 2018, on the Rosebud Episcopal Mission (West) on the reading from the Gospel of Mark, 10:35-45.

(Please forgive the mistake I made in identifying this as a reading from the Gospel of Matthew. It’s from Mark. I knew that, and I know that.)

 

 

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Call me crazy …

This past weekend, President Trump said that “anyone that votes for a Democrat now is crazy, when you look at what’s coming up, crazy.”

82387343-A828-4B13-83B2-2DC2C68FF5A8He also said, “Let’s get these people out of there, there’s something wrong, they’re cuckoo.”

And he also said, “Democrats produce mobs. Republicans produce jobs.”

Now I know there are a lot of people who believe that the Christian Church of every ilk should stay out of politics. “Stop politicizing church,” these folks cry. “We come to church to escape politics.”

But there’s a problem with trying to separate politics from the Gospel, because the Gospel is, in and of itself, a political document.

When Jesus continuously shows preference for the poor, the excluded, the immigrants, the refugees, the unloved, the unclean and the oppressed, when he continuously calls out the government – whether it was the Jewish leadership or the Roman Empire – as oppressive, unfair, unloving, unkind, you know Jesus is intimately concerned about politics.

I am not talking about partisan politics of the kind we have here in this country and around the world. That kind of politics has no place in the Gospel.

I am talking about the politics that center on the people – and taking care of the people.

Because that is what God commands us to do. There is nothing suggestive in Jesus’ command to love our neighbors. There is nothing suggestive in Jesus’ command to “feed my sheep.” There is nothing suggestive in Jesus’ last command, to love one another as Jesus loved us.

These – along with everything else Jesus taught us – are commands.

And every single command centers on caring for people, for the least among us, for including the excluded, touching the untouchable, loving the unloved.

All of which means that the Gospel is political. And political comes from the Greek word polis, which means city, and from polites, which means citizen.

So, you see, there is no way to separate the Gospel from politics.

So, yes, I talk about politics all the time: The politics of the Gospel. The Gospel that tells me that I have to live a life of love as best I can.123B4AEC-D3CB-4BF8-8C7F-6F1C06CDB812

So when the president of the United States says that to vote for someone whom I believe will take care of the citizens of this country and this world is “crazy,” I have to respond.

Which I did. On that great social medium, Facebook. This morning I wrote:

“Dear Mr. President: You should get to know me. Because I’m “crazy.” I am crazy in love with God. I am crazy in love with God’s beloved children. I am crazy in love in God’s peace, God’s mercy, God’s justice, God’s acceptance, God’s desire for goodness in the world. I am crazy in love with caring for people, with treating all of God’s people with dignity and respect – even the ones I don’t like. I am crazy in love with living the Gospel to the best of my ability every single day. Fear me, because I am indeed crazy.”

 

So, please: Call me crazy.

Call me a member of the mob.

Just remember:

I am crazy for Jesus – and everything Jesus commanded me to do.

I am a member of the mob: The Jesus Mob, which our Presiding Bishop, the Most Rev. Michael B. Curry, calls the Jesus Movement.

I am proud to be crazy for Jesus.

I am proud to a member of the Jesus Mob.

And I will fight to make those politics come true.

I will fight like crazy for people of color.

I will fight like crazy for #NativeLivesMatter, #BlackLivesMatter, #HispanicLivesMatter, #AsianLivesMatter, #LBGTQILivesMatter.

I will fight like crazy for immigrants and refugees.

I will fight like crazy for all those who have been told their lives don’t matter, their rights don’t matter.

I will fight like crazy to spread God’s message of love and acceptance.

I know this: If we don’t stand up for all of God’s people, then we aren’t following the Gospel.

If we stay silent in the face of fear-mongering and hate-spewing, if we say, “Don’t give them the attention,” if we say, “This isn’t my fight,” then we are ignoring everything Jesus told us – no, commanded us – to do.

And since I am crazy for Jesus, I Just. Can’t. Do. That.

So go ahead: Call me crazy.

Call me a member of the mob.

I admit – proudly and lovingly – to both.

 

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“In fourteen hundred ninety two, Christopher Columbus sailed the ocean blue …”

I learned that little ditty when I was 4 years old, and for many more years, I believed it. I believed that Columbus “discovered” America.

It wasn’t until I was in my teens that I learned that story was a lie.

I know: “Lie” is a strong word.

But the whole concept of Columbus “discovering” America? Trust me: It is a lie.

Statue of Christopher Columbus.

Statue of Christopher Columbus.

Columbus was looking for a shorter route to India. But he never got there. He landed first in what is now the Bahamas, and then went on to what is now Hispaniola, the island of the nations of the Dominican Republic and Haiti. Which is how I know he didn’t “discover” America.

A meme that circulates on Facebook every year at this time corrects that little ditty so many of us memorized:

“In 1492, Natives discovered … a lost Columbus.”

It wasn’t until I was an adult that I learned the real truth about Columbus: That his so-called discovery led to the Doctrine of Discovery, issued by Pope Alexander VI in 1493, which stated that any land not inhabited by Christians was available to be “discovered,” claimed and exploited by Christian rulers …” (Source: The Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History).

I learned about how, even before that horrible edict was issued, Columbus and most of the explorers who followed him across the ocean began massacring the natives they “discovered” — all in the search for riches.

And when I moved to Haiti as a missionary, I learned even more of the truth that is not told in our history books: Columbus was so intent on finding gold that when the original inhabitants — the indigenous Taino, an Arawak-speaking people who began arriving from the Yucatan peninsula as early as 4000 BCE — couldn’t produce any because the island didn’t have gold, he began enslaving and executing them.

What Columbus and his men and those who followed him did in Haiti, they did everywhere: Give us gold and riches or die.

When I moved to the Rosebud Reservation in South Dakota, the home of the Sicangu Lakota Oyate, the Burnt Thigh Lakota Peoples, I learned even more about the history of Europeans and what they did — and continue to do — to Natives.

How the people who have been here for thousands of years were attacked, wiped out, rounded up, put on reservations as their land was stolen over and over and over again.

How their children were kidnapped and sent to boarding schools in order to “assimilate” to the white man’s ways (even though it is immigrants who are called to assimilate to the native culture).

How many of those children never returned, how they died, and how their remains are still missing, or have been buried far away from their homelands.

How Natives, the original inhabitants of this land, were not allowed to vote in this country until 1924.

How in a country founded in part on religious freedom, Natives did not have the right to celebrate their own traditional religion until the passage of the American Indian Religious Freedom Act of 1978.

So, no, I don’t celebrate “Columbus Day.”

How could I? How could I continue to participate in the domination and denigration of the peoples who were here thousands of years before my own people came to this land?

How could I continue to participate in a lie?

I am not saying the Columbus was not a brave man for sailing across the ocean blue. I am saying that I refuse to celebrate the lies about him, that I refuse to ignore the truth about him.

Instead, on the second Monday of October each year, I celebrate Native American Day, as we call it in South Dakota. I celebrate Indigenous People’s Day, as it is called in more and more places in the United States.

Statue entitled "Dignity," Chamberlain, S.D.

Statue entitled “Dignity,” Chamberlain, S.D.

I celebrate the people who were here in the Americas for thousands of years before any European showed up, the ones who have taught me so much truth, who have helped me to understand on a much deeper level my place in God’s sacred creation, and who have assured me, in every way possible, that you can’t “discover” a land that already is inhabited by millions of people.

Christopher Columbus did not “discover” America. He got lost, and landed in the Caribbean islands.

And we need to stop celebrating that.

 

 

 

 

(This column appeared in the Herald and News of Klamath Falls, Ore., on 7 October 2018. https://www.heraldandnews.com/members/forum/wire_commentary/columbus-day-why-i-m-not-celebrating-a-lie/article_c1939abe-2a7e-5a3f-b436-508cf7528e71.html)

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Right now, I very much fear for our country.F8C5BB25-ABCA-4459-ABDD-2C1F4F46BDEC

I fear that we are losing our soul.

That we are losing our humanity.

That we are losing any sense of community, of commonality, of the ability to even think about working together.

I am not talking about the current leadership of this country, which lies and denies and denigrates, which seems so focused on partisanship that even the hint of cooperation is dismissed as cowardly.

I am talking about the regular folks like you and me, people who get up in the morning and care for their families and go to work or school, who run errands and generally focus on simply getting through whatever the day throws at them.

I see regular folks like you and me who are federal agents working for ICE and Border Patrol and HHS no longer acting with humanity, and wonder: What did it take to make you act this way? What did it take to turn you into the kind of person who separates families and celebrates doing so?

I see regular folks like you and me who work at the detention centers for immigrants, adult and child alike, who ignore and mistreat and abuse people desperately seeking a better life, and wonder: When did you lose your compassion?

I see videos of seemingly normal people attacking complete strangers for having the audacity to speak a language other than English in this country, and wonder: When your ancestors came here – and unless you are Native, trust me, your ancestors were strangers in a strange land once – do you think they should have been attacked because they didn’t know the right language?

I see videos of white people abusing people of color simply because of their color, and wonder: Have you always been a racist?

Where, I wonder, every single day, has our humanity gone? 

Where, I wonder, every single day, are our souls?

I know we have always had among us those who harbor hate, those who despise others simply for being different, those who think they are superior for (insert any reason you want). 

And I know that those people have always acted out, that they are capable of incredibly vicious acts, including killing those who are different.

And I am aware that in this time of instant communication, of course we hear about this hatred and these vicious acts much more frequently.

But I cannot lay the blame on the Internet.

I lay the blame squarely on us.

Because we are losing our souls.

We are losing our humanity.

Not our leaders.

Us.

We are the ones who are terribly divided. Who judge instantly and nastily. Who name call. Who denigrate. Who lie. Who attack. 

We are the ones who tell women, people of color, people with disabilities, people from other countries, people who have not, that they don’t matter. That we can treat them any way we want, that we can say anything we want, that we Do. Not. Care. One. Whit. About. Them.

Where is the grace? 

Where is the understanding?

Where is the compassion?

Think about it: 

Perfectly normal people doing perfectly normal jobs suddenly have become, or at least seem to be on their way to becoming, some kind of monster doing their perfectly normal jobs. 

Separating children from parents – and gloating about it. 

Denying benefits to people – and boasting about it. 

Declaring that sexual abuse victims’ stories don’t matter – and bragging about it.

Denying food to the hungry by cutting back on food stamps, and limiting what foods poor people can buy – No steaks for you!– and ignoring cries of hunger.

Denying clean water to the thirsty (how long has Flint, Michigan, been without clean water?), and shrugging it off. 

Haughtily telling people who are poor to pull themselves up by their own bootstraps, even though they don’t own boots. 

Lying about who receives federal assistance and claiming, I did it all by myself.

Changing the name of earned benefits to “entitlements,” as though we who work don’t pay into our own Social Security every single paycheck. 

Who are these people who act like this? Where did they come from? 

You know who they are?

They are us.

Walt Kelly was right: “We have met the enemy and he is us.”

We have become enemies to each other.

We have lost our ability to be empathetic. 

We would rather shout than listen, attack than understand, denigrate than lift up. 

We don’t agree with someone on something? Sneer at that person. Call that person a nasty name. Insult her intelligence. Denigrate his manhood. Claim to be superior

All of this is why, at this time, I very much fear for our country.

It doesn’t have to be this way.

We could be better

We could show grace and mercy to each other.

We could listen.

We could try to understand.

We could help.

We could remember that we could all be wrong.

We could remember that we are all on the same planet, and that none of us – not one of us – is getting out alive.

I don’t want to fear for our country.3D42A1A0-4AC1-45DE-BAB5-A8D745455559

I want to be the person … one of many and many m
ore … who can change the direction in which we are heading.

Who will join me?

 

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Dear Mr. President:

Grace and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord Jesus Christ.

I am writing today to tell you that less than a week into your presidency, I am confused.

I have been hoping that you would indeed find success as president of  this country, but the more actions you take, the more confused I get.

You have said, repeatedly, that you want government regulations greatly reduced, because they get in the way of business. Yet you, through your continuous Tweets, keep directly interfering in businesses, making off-hand comments that have incredible effects on the stock values of the companies you have selected to (usually) excoriate. Is this not government interference? Is this not what you have said, repeatedly, you don’t want happening? If any other president had dared to interfere with your businesses, you would have howled with indignation. How does this get government off the backs of business people, and return the government to the people?

You have said that you respect women – indeed, that no one respects women more than you do. And yet one of your very first actions this week was to re-instate the Mexico City gag rule, thus endangering the lives of women around the world. I thought, from your campaign statements, that you wanted to help women. This rule, and what you included in that order you signed, make it clear that there will be no help for women around the world, and that indeed, you are endangering women’s lives. Is this what you meant when you said you respect women?

You promised, countless times, that Mexico would pay for the border wall. Yet now you want to use my tax money to accomplish this goal without once asking me if I want my tax money to go there. You told us you were returning the government to the people, but this is not the case, at least when it comes to the border wall (which I know you know is worthless, because it won’t stop the falling number of immigrants trying to cross the Southern border). And I’m confident you understand that the wall you envision won’t help much; after all, we’ve tried other walls and border fences, and they haven’t worked. So why spend – why waste – taxpayers’ money on this? And how does this fit in with returning government to the people?

On the issue of immigration, this week you have called for tremendously increasing the number of ICE agents and offices. This, along with the wall, will explode the both the deficit and
the national debt, both of which you railed against during your campaign. How am I supposed to believe that you will balance the budget and get rid of the national debt if you keep proposing programs that do the exact opposite?

You keep saying “America First,” and that we need to use American-made products. You cited this in your executive memorandum about pipelines in this country, demanding that if we are going to lay more pipelines in this country, we need to use American-made steel. Yet here’s the thing: In your own construction of your own buildings, you have used Chinese-made steel. Not American-made steel, but Chinese-made steel. The same is true for most of the products that are sold under your name, most of which are produced overseas. During the campaign, you claimed this made you a smart businessman, because you were getting the lowest price possible for the labor and costs. How, Sir, does this fit in with “America First”?

And how does signing that memorandum on both the Dakota Access Pipeline and the Keystone XL pipeline respect the wishes of the people, to whom you said you are returning the government? I know you know that vast majorities of Natives do not want these pipelines, because of both the threat to the water when the pipelines leak, and the devastation to sacred burials grounds. Sir, Natives are Americans. They are the people. Yet, confusingly, you are not listening to them. How does this return the government to the people?

Along these same lines, I am also confused about “America First” and your claims about strengthening the military. Sir, if we are not going to focus on anything overseas, if we are going to back out of NATO and other treaty obligations, and let Europe and basically the rest of the world fend for itself, why do we need to strengthen the military? Is Canada planning on invading us? Or Mexico? Who else could possible invade us? So why do we need to break the bank on the military if we are not going to be using them, because, you know, “America First”?

The other reason I am confused, Sir, is because you keep tweeting and saying things that make no sense. I know you know that there is no way possible for 3 million to 5 million undocumented immigrants to vote. I know you know that by making this claim, you are holding yourself up to ridicule, as well as making mincemeat out of our election process. Surely you don’t mean to say that your election was illegitimate? I’m confident you don’t mean this, but it’s hard to maintain this confidence when you keep talking and tweeting about it. Especially when you cite stories that make absolutely no sense, such as the one about Bernhard Langer standing in a line to vote in November. You do know that this famous golfer is not an American citizen, and thus would not have been voting, right? So why use this example to illustrate what is clearly a false claim?

Your actions this week on immigration are also confusing to me. I know you know that we have the tightest security structures in place for most immigrants coming in from countries that you believe are incredibly dangerous. And I know that you know that the vast majority of attacks in this country have come from people who are not immigrants. Instead of focusing on better restrictions on guns in this country, which would greatly reduce deaths in this country, you want to target perfectly innocent people. I do not understand how this will protect this country. I can assure you, Sir, having lived in Muslim-dominated countries, that Muslims are not, per se, dangerous. Why, then, are you targeting them? How does this help the security of this nation? (As an aside, I am certain you know that if you set up a “registry” for Muslims in this country, you will be overwhelmed with people who are not Muslim but who are willing to stand with them, and that many of us will be registering as an act of support.)

You also have said, countless times, that you want to “drain the swamp” of Washington, D.C., claiming that the people who work for the government have cheated the American people, and indeed have gotten rich off of their work. You even said a version of this in your inaugural address, attacking the people who were sitting right behind you. And yet … you have nominated numerous people for Cabinet positions who are beyond the definition of rich and who have made their riches off the backs of the common person. How does this drain the swamp? And how does this return the government to the people?

Included in this particular confusion is the one about the qualifications of some of the people you have nominated. I know you know that Ms. Betsy DeVos has absolutely no experience with public education. She has never attended a public school, and has a tremendous conflict of interest vis-a-vis public schools vs. for-profit charter schools. I know you know that she is not qualified for this position, and wonder if she was nominated because she is rich. Her nomination is but one of many that I find confusing, based on your campaign promises.

Yet another Cabinet nominee is Dr. Ben Carson. I am tremendously confused by this nomination, because during the campaign, you had nothing – absolutely nothing – good to say about him. You labeled him low-energy and in-experienced, claimed he had a ‘pathological temper,” and called him a liar, among other things. You promised to nominate only the very best people to lead this nation’s government. Did something happen to Dr. Carson between the campaign and now? If so, could you enlighten us?

I am especially confused by the fact that you slammed your opponent repeatedly during the campaign for having given speeches to Goldman Sachs. Yet you have hired the very people who paid your opponent for those same speeches. I know you know that this is, at the very least, hypocritical, right? They are the ones who brought in your opponent. Does this show good judgment on their part?

Do you see why I am confused?

You made promises, Sir. You made a lot of promises. And now you are either breaking them, or you are pursuing them without any strategy for making them happen. This includes the wall, for which you maintain Mexico will pay, despite the fact that Mexico repeatedly has said it will not; draining the swamp, while empowering the same people who created the swamp; respecting women, while at the same time denigrating those who marched the day after your inauguration, and ensuring the millions will go without proper medical care around the world; making the national debt disappear while proposing to add to it tenfold; and many other examples.

Sir, I need you to know that I love the United States. I have served my country as a Peace Corps volunteer, for which I had to raise my right hand and swear to defend this country against all enemies, foreign and domestic. I am a patriot and come from a very patriotic family. Numerous members of my family have served in the military, and I have a nephew who currently serves in the Air Force Reserve. Let me reiterate: I am a patriot.

I want you to succeed as President because if you don’t, the whole country will suffer.

Which is why I am confused.

Please, Sir, could you enlighten me, and the rest of the country, on these questions? Could you help us understand what is going on, because we can’t figure it out.

With all of my prayers, I remain

Your servant in Christ,
The Rev. Dr. Lauren R. Stanley
Rosebud Indian Reservation
South Dakota

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The Honorable Barack Obama, President of the United States

Dear Mr. President:

Grace and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord Jesus Christ.

Sir, I regret to say that this morning, I am furious with you.

Why?

Because of your inaction on the Standing Rock situation.

I know you know what is happening in Cannon Ball, North Dakota, where thousands of peaceful water protectors are being attacked and abused by law enforcement personnel who apparently think they are at war. There is no way that you can not be aware of what is happening there. Anyone who watches any news knows what is happening there.

The Standing Rock Sioux Tribe, along with more than 300 other indigenous nations around the world, has taken a courageous stand against the Dakota Access Pipeline, which threatens the water of 17 million people in this country, and which is completely unnecessary, given that oil companies are declaring bankruptcies in the North Dakota Bakken oil fields.

img_1983          The Standing Rock Sioux Tribe, along with more than 300 other indigenous nations around the world, are desperately trying to protect sacred land where their ancestors lived, died and were buried, land that is being trampled on, dug up and desecrated by Energy Transfer Partners and law enforcement.

The Standing Rock Sioux Tribe, along with more than 300 other indigenous nations around the world, are standing up to say, “Enough is enough. Five centuries of genocide comes to an end, now.”
What is most infuriating is that you doing nothing while innocent people are being beaten, tear gassed, shot with rubber bullets, beanbags, and concussion grenades, and soaked with water cannons in freezing weather.

These water protectors, who are standing up for their constitutional and treaty rights, are being treated like criminals.

They are being treated like African Americans in Alabama in the early 1960s.

And yet you do nothing.

You make no statements, other than announcing your intention to “letting things play out” for a few more weeks.

And while you wait, hundreds are being harmed.

To add insult to injury, on the very day you declare Native American Heritage Day, on the very day you recognize the importance of Native Americans to the very essence of the nation, on the very day you claim that your “Administration remains dedicated to the strengthening (of) our government-to-government relationships with tribal nations,” your own Army Corps of Engineers announces that it will be shutting down the Oceti Sakowin camp on federal property next to the Missouri River on 11 days’ notice.

You declare that we should take time in November to “celebrate the traditions, languages, and stories of Native Americans and ensure their rich histories and contributions can thrive with each passing generation,” and yet turn a blind eye to the atrocities – and yes, they are atrocities – taking place in North Dakota.

Sir, do you see why I am furious with you?

How can you sit idly by while people are being attacked, while their constitutional rights to free speech and free assembly are being violently suppressed?img_2150

Have you seen the tactics of the Morton County Sheriff’s Department and all of the assembled supporting law enforcement agencies, including the National Guard?

Have you seen the law enforcement personnel’s riot gear and military equipment, worn to “protect” them from peaceful, prayerful water protectors?

Have you heard the Long Range Acoustical Devices being deployed against people who are praying?

Have you seen the brutal attacks on innocent people?

Have you heard the cries of pain as these water protectors are being shot? Being beaten? Being tear gassed? Being pepper sprayed from less than 5 feet?

Mr. President, where are you?!?!

In March 2015, in what was your finest speech delivered as President, a speech that moved so many of us to tears, you stood on the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, Alabama, and declared of that day 50 years prior:

        It was not a clash of armies, but a clash of wills; a contest to determine the meaning of America. And because of men and women like John Lewis, Joseph Lowery, Hosea Williams, Amelia Boynton, Diane Nash, Ralph Abernathy, C.T. Vivian, Andrew Young, Fred Shuttlesworth, Dr. King, and so many more, the idea of a just America, a fair America, an inclusive America, a generous America – that idea ultimately triumphed.

How, Sir, can you remain silent when that same clash of wills, that same contest to determine the meaning of America, is taking place in Cannon Ball, North Dakota?

img_2151            How, Sir, can you do nothing when the exact same brutal acts that took place 50 years ago in Alabama are happening now in North Dakota?

This is why I am furious, Mr. President.

The Army Corps of Engineers has announced that it is closing the peaceful camp where thousands of people have assembled to take a courageous stand against the blasphemous, filthy, unnecessary Dakota Access Pipeline.

It claims to be doing so for the “safety” of the people.

You, Sir, need to act.

You, Sir, need to overturn the Corps’ decision.

You, Sir, need to protect the people of this nation, the First Nations people who are trying to protect the water and the sacred land.

You, Sir, can no longer be silent.

img_1959          We who support the Standing Rock Sioux Nation and all of the other indigenous nations demand that you intervene, that you act, that you protect the very people you claim to admire.

You made promises, Sir. You came to the Standing Rock Reservation in 2014 and promised to help. You gave your word, Sir.

Now we are holding you accountable.

Stand up for Standing Rock, Sir.

Stop the atrocities.

Stop the brutality.

Stop the camp shutdown.

Stop ignoring the people.

Act now, Sir.

We are begging, we are demanding, that you act now.

Until you do, I fear I shall remain furious with you.

With respect,

The Rev. Dr. Lauren R. Stanley

Supervising Presbyter

Rosebud Episcopal Mission (West)

Rosebud Indian Reservation, South Dakota

 

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It is a cold Sunday morning here on the Rosebud, this Second Sunday after the Epiphany. At 6 a.m., the temperature with the wind chill – and we know wind chill here on the Great Plains – was nearly 30 below zero.

It is so cold that we canceled most of our church services on the Western side of the Rosebud Episcopal Mission. I don’t want our people out in weather that literally can kill you in less than 30 minutes.

But even when we don’t have church services, God is still at work in our lives. shutterstock_96334607

A few minutes ago, a car pulled into my driveway. If we had had church, I wouldn’t be here at this time, and most of the people know that. But since my car was still parked, still covered in a light dusting of snow, whoever was in that visiting vehicle knew that I most likely was home.

After a few moments of hesitation, the driver got out. She didn’t have a hat. Or gloves. She was holding her way-too-light winter jacket closed with one hand. “You need to zip that up,” I said. “Oh, it doesn’t zip,” she said. “It’s broken.”

I know this woman. She is one of our parishioners here on the Rosebud, a woman who has struggled to hold things together, a woman with children and grandchildren, one of whom has a several physical handicap. This woman needs help, but she hesitates to ask. She doesn’t want to be a burden. Whenever I am with her, I always let her take the lead, because I know how hard it is for her to ask for anything.

“Didn’t we have church this morning?” she asked. “No,” I told her. “We canceled church because of the cold.”

“Um … does the church have any help?” she asked, hesitating every other word.

It turns out they have no food to eat in the house. I’m not surprised. It is mid-month, and it is very cold, and many people do not have enough money for both heat and food.

So I take her into my kitchen, which she does not want to enter because she might track snow onto my linoleum floor. “I don’t care about the floor,” I told her. “It can be washed. Come inside. It’s too cold to stand out there.”

Finally, she enters. I have to encourage her to take more than one step into the kitchen.

“Do you have any food, like bread?” she asks, her head down. I know that she doesn’t want to do this, but she has children. They must eat.

“I don’t have any bread,” I tell her, “because I generally don’t eat bread. But here … I have other food for you.”

I take out four cans of soup, 10 cans of tuna, pasta, couscous, cans of pears and apricots. I give her half of my grapes, most of my bananas, most of my oranges. “Here,” I say, “these have to be eaten. Help me with this.” I see two bags of popcorn someone had given me, as well as some crackers. (“Oh,” she says, “we have crackers.” “Take them,” I say. “You might as well have some more.”) The food_cans.jpg.662x0_q70_crop-scalelarge canister of oatmeal has been opened, but I give it to her anyway. It’s mostly full, and the kids will like it. I scour the cabinets for more food her family will eat. “Have you tried quinoa?” I ask. “No. What is it?” she replies. “It’s one of those healthy grains. Easy to make. Just follow the instructions. I like it,” I tell her. In the bags it goes.

Much of the food I give is food I have purchased for just this occasion. People come to my door, sometimes one or two a day, looking for help. I try to keep food on hand that I know they will eat. Cans of fruit, vegetables, soups. Bags of pasta. Boxes of couscous and quinoa. When I have fruit on hand, I always share it with them. I ask them to help me eat it before it goes bad. Our people don’t get enough fruit; it’s frequently too expensive. I try to make sure I always have some on hand for my visitors.

But I have to be careful not to give too much, not to give all that I have. This is a shared meal, as it were, which means that I have to have some food left for myself. The goal is to make sure that everyone has enough. Just that: Enough.

Yassa

Yassa

Through it all, my two dogs, Yassa and Bella, are standing there to greet her. She hesitatingly reaches out for them. My dogs are trained to be church dogs, meaning that they are polite and don’t jump, that they greet each person with love. “They’re so soft,” she says, over and over again. “I can’t believe how soft their fur is.” I tell her it is the dog food, keeps them healthy, the same dog food the vet uses. She marvels again at their softness, and their gentleness. “They’re so nice,” she says, stroking Yassa’s fur. (Meanwhile, Bella, who emerged from her blankets, stands shivering. My visitor is concerned: “She’s cold!” I tell her than Bella lives under her blankets in the winter, and that she always shivers when around guests. Bella is a little … well, manipulative that way. She wants every visitor to pick her up and cuddle her. In return, she loves to give kisses. It’s just Bella’s way …) I do not tell my visitor how much the dog food costs; I am too embarrassed to admit I have that kind of money to feed dogs …

Bella

Bella

As she turns to take the food out to the waiting car, where her daughter and granddaughter are waiting, I ask if they can use some coats.  My family and I picked up a lot of them for a giveaway that I am having problems getting organized (it’s complicated, but it will happen).

We go to the front porch and find a new jacket for the woman, one that is warm and will zip up. Then we find one for her smallest child. Then we dig through and get hats and scarves and gloves. “Take what you need,” I say. “It’s for you.” She is hesitant, again. She does not want to take too much, but I know there is a need. “Really,” I say, encouraging her. “Don’t  you want some of these scarves? They are hand-made.”

Finally, my visitor takes some of the softest scarves she can find. “If it’s all right …” “Take as many as you need,” I say. “Wouldn’t you like another one? They’re handmade for the oyate (the Lakota people).” “Just one more,” she says. “They’re so soft …”

I peek out the window and see the children in the car already consuming the fruit, smiling as they eat it. Already, this has been a good visit.

Again, we go to the door. I know that she feels she has taken too much.

“Do you have a wood stove?” I ask. “I have wood if you need it.”

Once more, hesitation.

IMG_8121

Some of the wood for the Firewood for the Elders program.

Finally, I get her to agree to take what I have stored in my “secret stash.” (We cut wood for the people here on the Rosebud in our Firewood for the Elders program. While I was away after Christmas, nearly all of it was taken by a few folks who have lost their way when it comes to taking care of all the oyate. But we are cutting more wood, with the help of the community. To learn more about that, see our new website, rosebudepiscopalmission.org, and look under “Our Blog.”)

She and her daughter take the wood that is left, enough to keep them warm at least for another day.

Joyful Curry

Presiding Bishop Michael Curry

Our new Presiding Bishop, The Most Rev. Michael Curry, has proclaimed that we are part of the Jesus Movement. That we are the ones who are called to live out the Gospel of love and inclusion every single day of our lives. That we are the ones who can change the world by our words and deeds.

No, we didn’t have church this morning on the Rosebud West. It was too cold.

Instead, we – a visitor and myself, as well as my two dogs – had church in my kitchen. Where we broke bread together by sharing our food. And on my front porch. Where we shared from the abundance of cold-weather gear.

This is the Jesus Movement. This is God in action.

Our collect for today, the Second Sunday after the Epiphany:

Almighty God, whose Son our Savior Jesus Christ is the light of the world: Grant that your people, illumined by your Word and Sacraments, may shine with the radiance of Christ’s glory, that he may be known, worshiped, and obeyed to the ends of the earth; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who with you and the Holy Spirit lives and reigns, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

 

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Christmas-wish-listIf you could have anything you wanted for Christmas, I’m often asked, what would it be?

OK, if I could have anything, of course I would ask for world peace. I’m a priest – what else would I ask for?

But I don’t get to have just anything, any more than anyone else does.

So I’m going to make a realistic list of things that are entirely within the realm of human gift giving.

What do I want?

I want a restoration of civility in the world.

I want us to be nicer to each other.

I want the excruciating rudeness and nastiness and boorishness to Just. Stop. Now.

I want us to remember that we all come from ancient space dust, that we were all created in God’s image from that dust, and that we are all related. Whether we like it or not, we are all related. And that in the end, we shall return to that dust. Whether we like it or not.

I want the name-calling and the insults and the sneers and the snark to stop. Right. Now. Just. Stop.

I want people to stop separating the world into “us’s” and “thems.” There are no “thems” in God’s very good creation. We all belong to God, and there’s not a damned thing we can do about it.

I want all of us to remember that we could all be wrong. As in, what I believe about God and what you believe about God not only could be different, but we both could be wrong. And we will not know the answer until we meet God face to face. So stop with this nonsense about my religion being better than your religion.

In the same vein, kindly remember that because one of us says “God” and another says “Allah” and another says “Jehovah” and another says “Dios” and another says “Bwana Mungu” and another says “Wakantanka” doesn’t mean that we worship separate gods. It merely means we speak different languages. There is only one God. Deal with it.

I want there to be fewer weapons in the world, and no more of this so-called “I can carry a gun wherever I want so I can scare the bejesus out of you because it’s my right.” You have the right to carry the gun. I have the right not to be intimidated.

I want our so-called leaders and candidates to stop talking about carpet-bombing people. And no more of this “let’s kill all their family members just because we can.” No one can be a leader whose solution is simply to murder, in cold blood, anyone on earth.

I want people to stop drawing lines in the sand and to start walking together to make the world a better place. United we truly will stand together. Divided? We shall fall. Every. Single. Time.

I want Black Lives to Matter. And Native Lives. And Hispanic Lives. And All Lives. Because all of us are created in God’s image, and all of us deserve to be treated well. All of us.

I want less complaining and more complimenting. Stop bitching about how others have more, or have what you want. Start building up those same people, because they have succeeded.

I want more helping and less demanding help. Really, it’s not that hard. As Robert Fulgham said in his book All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten, “Share everything.” How hard can that possibly be? Remember, you can’t take your toys with you when die.

I know … I want a whole lot of things, most of which I will not be given as a gift.

But I can give these same things as gifts.

I can be more polite and more affirming.

I can give more, and demand less.

I can work harder to get more people across the finish line.

It is all up to me, and I know that.

Oh, and a few more kettlebells would be nice.

So would some silver earrings.

Those would go so well with my ever-whiter hair.

• • •

I wrote this column for InsideSources.com.

 

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