Wednesday, November 9, 2016

Standing with Standing Rock

 Standing with Standing Rock

A version of this blog post appeared in the Medford Transcript on 11/10/16

It was night, on November 2nd, when we first pulled over the hill and could see the Oceti Sakowin camp. The sky was black, filled with stars. The river flats below were dotted with campfires, and I could see the shadows of tents, trailers and tepees below. Smoke from the campfires filled the air, and I recognized the pungent smell of burning sage. I could hear the sound of Native American singing, and many different drum circles echoing in the cold North Dakota air. Over 2000 people were staying in the camp that night. The camp was established last spring as an act of opposition to the Dakota Access pipeline, bringing together dozens of Native American tribes and environmental activists from across the country. The residents refer to themselves as “Water Protectors,” guarding the water of the Missouri River, the lifeblood of the Standing Rock Lakota tribe. And then I looked up and saw it on the hill past the camp: the white stadium lights blaring down on the construction site. President Obama had asked that construction be voluntarily suspended, but the work continued as the pipeline inched towards the Missouri River.

Standing Rock is a place I feel deep connection to. I have been to there several times. A friend and mentor of mine served as the Episcopal priest on the South Dakota side of the reservation for a number of years. I had a classmate who was from Standing Rock. During seminary, he died suddenly, and dozens of people from the reservation traveled to New York for the funeral, and we hosted many, including the ceremonial drum in our one bedroom apartment for several days.

Last week, the Reverend John Floberg, the Episcopal priest serving on the North Dakota side of the Standing Rock reservation, issued a call to clergy across the country to join with him for an action against the proposed Dakota pipeline which crosses sacred Lakota lands, and threatens the water of the Standing Rock reservation. He had hoped for 100, and more than 500 came. I was joined by over 25 clergy from Massachusetts, with 15 from the Episcopal Diocese of Massachusetts. The action was prayerful, peaceful, nonviolent.

The Dakota Access pipeline is a 1,170 mile, $3.7 billion pipeline that is slated to cross 4 states to bring North Dakota oil into Illinois for distribution around the world. The pipeline is planned to go under the Missouri River, less than a mile a mile north of the current Standing Rock reservation land, crossing land that is said to be Lakota land by their 1851 treaty with the United States Government. The Standing Rock tribe fear that the pipeline will pollute their drinking water, and its route crosses land that is sacred to their tribe. Original plans showed the pipeline crossing the river north of Bismarck, but it was moved south when the people of the town feared it would pollute their water. The current route is a textbook example of environmental racism, moving environmental risk from whites to vulnerable minorities. This pipeline is just the newest expression of generations of violence against native people. Environmental groups have also joined this movement in order to prevent the pipeline to be built at all, to help keep carbon resources that contribute to climate change in the ground.

On the morning of the action, we gathered at Standing Rock and representatives from different Christian denominations read statements of repudiation of the “Doctrine of Discovery,” the church and legal doctrine that white Christian colonists used to usurp lands from indigenous peoples. From there we marched to the now-blockaded bridge over Cannon Ball River that separates the Oceti Sakowin camp from the pipeline site. This bridge also connects the Standing Rock reservation with hospitals and services in Bismarck, and its closure has led to a 40 mile detour for all emergency vehicles. On one side of the bridge we sang, prayed and offered testimonials. On the other side armored police vehicles, police with automatic weapons and more than 20 police vans kept watch. In recent days police response to protesters have been marked by violence and militarized police tactics, including use of tear gas and pepper spray and use of rubber bullets. The day after the clergy demonstration, two rows of razor wire and concrete barricades were added as well. The Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church, Michael Curry, had referred to Standing Rock as “our new Selma.” Standing on that bridge, I knew that to be true.

In contrast to the militarized bridge, Oceti Sakowin camp is a place of extraordinary hospitality, healing and peace. People at the camp refer to everyone as “relatives.” Everyone at the camp is fed and given shelter. Donations of food, clothing, tents and supplies are constantly being delivered from across the country. An elder over a loudspeaker calls out when someone needs a ride or other help, to connect them to those who can provide assistance. There are workshops for healing from trauma and addiction. People from different Native American tribes are finding connection, healing, purpose and cultural revival through the life of the camp. It is a stark contrast to the violence being done on the hill above, violence against the earth and against native peoples.

The Obama administration has said it will now look into rerouting the pipeline. There is some hope there for a positive outcome, but public pressure and support of the Water Protectors in the Oceti Sakowin camp must continue as well. And even if the pipeline is moved, native communities will still need our witness and solidarity in the future. I have found that there are moments in a life of faith, and life as a citizen, where we have to stand with a larger community in solidarity with people who are being marginalized, and this is one of those moments.

Thursday, November 3, 2016

Gathering of Friends: first day at Standing Rock

Last night we gathered in the gym in Canon Ball, North Dakota with almost 500 religious leaders from many denominations and faiths, to eat and learn a little more about the events we are to participate in over the next days.

The Rev. John Floberg, Episcopal Priest on Standing Rock, told us how he had prayed for 100 people to come and is overwhelmed by the outpouring of support.  A local historian told us the history of the sacred lands the proposed Dakota pipeline is to cross, including centuries of the life of villages and life on the land.

We also heard about how today we would first join in a witness to our denouncing of the Doctrine of Discovery, which is the 16th century church doctrine which has been used to colonize the Americas, marginalize native peoples, and has been golden into American cultural perspectives, which has led to this pipeline to being built here.

We will then gather in a sacred circle of prayer on the site of the camp that was violently cleared last week, in an expression of solidarity for the native people of the region, and standing against the pipeline's construction.

Many familiar faces from across the church were there, and many new friends and relationships being born.  It is good for us to be here.

Tuesday, November 1, 2016

Traveling to Stand in Solidarity with Standing Rock

Memorial to Chief Gall who invited
the Episcopal Church onto
Standing Rock
Last week, the Reverend John Floberg, the Episcopal priest serving on the North Dakota side of the Standing Rock reservation, issued a call to clergy across the country to join with him for an action against the proposed Dakota pipeline which crosses sacred Lakota lands, and threatens the water of the Standing Rock reservation.  This week, I will be traveling with over a dozen individuals, both lay and ordained, from the Episcopal Diocese of Massachusetts to join in this action.

St. Elizabeth's, Wakpala, SD
on Standing Rock
Standing Rock is a place I feel deep connection to.  I have been to the Standing Rock reservation several times.  My friend and mentor, the Rev. Robert Schwarz, served as the Episcopal priest on the South Dakota side of the reservation for a number of years.  Sara and my kids visited him and his wife Jean there, we had a chance to meet the people who lived there, and visited their churches.  Also, in seminary Sara and I had a classmate, Hal Clark, who was from Standing Rock. During our first year, he died suddenly, and dozens of people from the reservation traveled to New York for the funeral, and we hosted many, including the ceremonial drum in our one bedroom apartment for several days.

After the news last week of the escalating actions by officials against the Standing Rock Water Protectors, I was kept awake at night about how to respond from so far away. Hearing of peaceful protesters teargassed, shot with rubber bullets and violently arrested was deeply disturbing. I am aware of both of the environmental and human rights issues at play here - and also feel that this happening to people and a place I feel so connected to there must be a way to participate in taking action.  A colleague reached out to me and said she was interested in going, and Sara and I offered to fund her trip.  I asked my Bishop, Alan Gates, if he would also pay for someone to go if I could recruit them.  He said he would send two people.  It snowballed from there, and my Vestry said they would pay for me to go - so now a large delegation will be traveling from Boston to meet up with almost 400 others in Standing Rock.

Please keep us in prayer this week, and I will update this blog as the journey unfolds. Here is the sermon I preached on Sunday about deciding to go on this trip:

Monday, September 26, 2016

A Celebration of Rainbows, Medford’s Diversity, and the Perfection of God’s Creation

A Celebration of Rainbows, Medford’s Diversity, and the Perfection of God’s Creation
The following is an open letter from members of the Medford Interfaith Clergy Association in response to a Letter to the Editor from Pastor Thomas Michael, printed in the Transcript, Thursday, September 15, 2016.  This letter appeared in the September 22 Medford Transcript. 

Dear Mayor Burke and Medford Friends,

We are grateful for the affirmation of Medford’s LGBTQIA citizens represented by the rainbow banner hanging at City Hall. That positive act of support and pride was celebrated by all of us and many members of our congregations. In fact, we hope there will be an even larger rainbow banner next year! Thank you for this witness to our city’s commitment to justice and equality for all.

As seminary trained and denominationally ordained leaders of both Christian and Jewish faith communities in Medford we are compelled to offer an alternative perspective to that represented by Pastor Thomas Michael in his September 15 Letter to the Editor. While his letter presumes to speak for all “all sincere Bible believing Christians” and all “God-fearing taxpayers in Medford” we can assure you that it does not.

We are faith leaders who believe that all of God’s creation is made in God’s image. We affirm the wholeness of LBGTQIA persons and support the caring and loving relationships in which they may be engaged.

We are religious practitioners who are guided by scripture. We each do this in different ways through our varied traditions.  We each, though, have come to a similar conclusion of our support of the full inclusion of LBGTQIA persons in our faith communities and civic life.

Scripture tells us to “love kindness, seek justice and walk humbly with God.” (Micah 6:8). As such, we have learned not to attempt to speak for other representatives of our faith traditions. Together, we reject hate, work for justice and do our best to lead with love.

We pray, during this time of political division and tension in our community over difference and change, that our Medford neighbors know that we are here amongst you, praying and working unceasingly for the welfare of our city and the well-being of all of her people. We are here, loving God and loving you, our neighbors, all of our neighbors. May it be so for all and with all. May God bless you and keep you.

Rev. Dr. Maggie Arnold, Assistant Rector, Grace Episcopal Church
Rev. Gerald Bell, Pastor, Shiloh Baptist Church
Rev. Brenda Bennett, Pastor, Community Baptist Church
Rabbi Braham David, Rabbi, Temple Shalom
Rev. Dr. Dorothy Emerson, Unitarian Universalist
Rev. Noah Evans, Rector, Grace Episcopal Church
Rev. Tony-Jarek Glidden, Pastor, Community Methodist Church
Rev. Thomas Hathaway, Pastor, North Prospect Union Ujnited Church of Christ
Rev. David Kilpatrick, Pastor, West Medford Baptist Church
Rev. Wendy Miller Olapade, Lead Pastor, Sanctuary United Church of Christ
Rev. Lambert Rahming, Community Minister, Sanctuary United Church of Christ
Rev. Matthew Rasure, Pastor, First Baptist Church
Rabbi Talya Weisbard Shalem, Medford Resident and Rabbi

Thursday, March 3, 2016

Green Burial in Medford

The movement to allow "Green Burials" at Oak Grove Cemetery is moving forward.  This is an important effort to provide this option in our city for both cultural and environmental reason.  Read more about this movement here!

Local Press on Green Burials:
Medford City Council, local clergy want plan for green burials
Medford resident requests space for natural burial at Oak Grove
GREEN BURIALS: Movement for natural burial gathers steam across U.S., Massachusetts
Members of the Medford Interfaith Clergy sent the following letter to the Trustees of Oak Grove Cemetery:

Medford Interfaith Clergy
c/o the Reverend Noah H. Evans
Grace Episcopal Church
160 High Street Medford, MA 02155

February 15, 2016

James McDevitt, Chair, Oak Grove Cemetery Board of Trustees
Stacie Clayton, Vice Chair, Oak Grove Cemetery Board of Trustees
Susan Dee, Oak Grove Cemetery Board of Trustees

Dear Members of Oak Grove Cemetery Board of Trustees:

We write to you today as the faith leaders of the City of Medford, the people who are often given the privilege and responsibility at presiding at the funeral and burials of many people in Oak Grove cemetery. Oak Grove is a beautiful cemetery and truly an important part of the spiritual and religious fabric of our City. We are aware that for a number of reason the practice of “green burial” has been brought to your attention. We are writing you today in encouragement and support of the Board of Trustees of Oak Grove Cemetery developing practices and policies which will allow this to happen at Oak Grove.

Though we understand that green burial is not the right choice for all people, we believe that the practice of green burial values the importance of care for the earth that is present in many of our individual religious traditions and would be a faithful choice for members of our community. As you know, green burial does not put toxins into the earth as embalming does; nor release toxins into the atmosphere as cremation does, rather, green burial allows for the body to decompose naturally, unlike the embalmed body placed inside a vault or liner. Therefore, green burial promotes the preservation of unpolluted land and conservation land as well. Green burial allows for the person's last wish to be a gift to the earth, because it does not pollute the land or atmosphere. We believe that green burial is a respectful way to handle the dead.

We understand that this is a traditional practice for burial, though it is only recently being reclaimed in the United States. We hope that your deliberations about the best ways to accommodate green burial at Oak Grove can move forward swiftly and in a timely fashion.

Please know that we are all available to continue to support your efforts.

Thank you.

Rev. Tess Baumberger, Unitarian Universalist Church of Medford
Rev. Brenda Bennett, Community Baptist Church, Medford
Rev. Wendy Miller Olapade, Sanctuary UCC, Medford
Rev. Tony Jarek-Glidden, Community Methodist Church, Medford
Rev. Gerald Bell, Shiloh Baptist Church, Medford
Rev. Matthew Rasure, Frist Baptist Church, Medford
Rev. Noah H. Evans, Grace Episcopal Church, Medford

Cc: Stephen Brogan, Superintendent, Oak Grove Cemetery
Stephanie M. Burke, Mayor of Medford
Mark Rumley, Medford City Solicitor
Medford City Council

Friday, January 29, 2016