Making Right What Never Changed for the Landscape and Her People

D10

August 13, 2015

I first met Denali when Belinda, Katherine, Rebecca, and I hiked her backcountry. The backcountry is a wide and open landscape without trails. Denali Park is similar with only one road in and the same road out. Buses provide all transportation within the park. Thus, day hikers, backpackers, and folk who want to see the park inside from the bus all ride together. When hikers reach a portion of the park they want to hike, they yell out, the driver stops, and they jump off and watch the bus head on down the gravel road. If they are not alongside the road when the last bus heads back out of the park, well, they get a free night out.

One rule of backpacking the park is to not camp within sight of the road. With that in mind we jumped off the last step of the bus our first of six mornings in Denali, crossed the road and dropped into a drainage. Giving the caribou wide berth we headed across the rising plain. After fourteen hours of hiking drainages, tundra (which is like hiking across a carpet with basketballs below), moving through heavy brush, crossing glacier water creeks that left your feet numb, we topped a slight rise bordering a wide brushed drainage to the east. We looked behind us. We could still see the road. Well, it is a wide and open country. We turned back to south and had little doubt we had another four or five hours of hiking before we reached topography hiding us from the road. We looked at each other and silently thought, “Can anyone see us from the road?” Enough was enough and we made camp.

That evening we cooked and ate supper. Afterwards we placed our food about a football field away from where we cooked. Then we set up the tents another stone’s throw from our cooking area and the food—in triangle fashion. A long day behind us, the road in sight some ten to twelve miles away, the sun still hours from setting, we bedded down.

A light mist gave the morning air a grayish tinge. Animals, mostly caribou, were on the plain grazing. It was quiet. After a while we gathered the food and cooking gear, made oatmeal and coffee, and watched caribou move toward the hollows. As backpacks settled on shoulders as sore that morning as they were the evening before, we headed off toward hills rising in the south. Maybe this evening we sleep out of sight of the road. Continue reading “Making Right What Never Changed for the Landscape and Her People”

Committing To End Racism and A Button Best Suited for the Back Drawer

15.09.06

August 06, 2015

A few days ago I mentioned today is dedicated as “Confession, Repentance, and Commitment to End Racism” by the African American Methodist (AME) community. I figure confession and repentance does not amount to a hill of beans if commitment does not equate to action.

To end racism folk must gather a diverse community together and think action through clearly. Done well, misses still occur. One reason is while the people who live and work within racist institutions (think all US institutions) may want to end racism, the institution does not. Instead, institutions prefer diversity work to anti-racism work. For no matter how diverse, an institution becomes, as long as the people hold the historical mindset of the institution, structural change does not occur and the institution remains as it is. Therefore, while many US institutions have become diverse their engagement in anti-racist work is at a minimum.

This is why “Confession, Repentance, and Commitment to End Racism” is too likely to be a moment in time, at worst, and a day of supporting diversity at best. A hard pill to swallow, but playing diversity off as anti-racism is what the institutional church does well. A “for instance” of how anti-racist work gets the institutional backseat might be helpful at this juncture.

My attention has been drawn to the “Ask Me Why You Matter to Me” campaign of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.). As I looked over their website I found aspects of this movement I believe helpful. What gets in the way of taking it seriously though is the slogan chosen for the campaign reeks of institutional diversity rather than anti-racism.

Ask Me Why You Matter to Me sounds like an institutional “All Lives Matter” response to “#BlackLivesMatter.” One problem is the slogan does not give due to the harshness of the lives lived in a systemically racist society—For the mass number of racialized incarcerated people, Why You Matter to Me does not mean freedom. Another is the work and action is not mine but yours. You, people of color, American Indians, and indigenous people are to ask me why you matter. In the meantime, I can join my people (who very well may be diverse) for a book study or to watch a film.

What I can’t get over with this slogan is the idea of me wearing a Ask Me Why You Matter to Me button. Imagine me, white, straight, and male walking up to most any non-white male person with this button on my lapel. And let’s make this easy. Continue reading “Committing To End Racism and A Button Best Suited for the Back Drawer”

Confession, Repentance, and Commitment to End Racism?

15.09.04

August 04, 2015

The folk of the African American Methodist (AME) community are dedicating this Sunday “Confession, Repentance, and Commitment to End Racism.” Others (congregations, pastors, and Sunday morning preachers/speakers), are being asked to speak up, write up, and liturgy up alongside.

If 1960’s civil rights and power movements prove anything it is a country cannot legislate racism away. While housing, schools, health, and jobs are better for some, much is not and for many there is little discernable change. Though legislation can put a dent in systemic racism, real change comes about by putting an end to traits racism has embedded in the way people think, live, and act. The end of racism comes with the embodying of anti-oppression values—values which are yet to become normal in US schools, churches, businesses, and politics. This systemic reality is what makes the AME call so hard. Being raised in the US means all US people embody the roots of racism: white, black, brown, young, middle-aged, old. Moving toward an identity of anti-oppression and working to end racism is to know I am the hurt, I am the problem, and I am the solution.

This Sunday’s call is Wisdom shouting at the gates of the city; it is a call to all people, regardless of race, ethnicity, heritage, or sexual orientation. It is a call to know I, you, we, the people, have one aspect or another of racism embedded in our being and it is tearing at our health, our wellbeing, and our relationship. For the hope of a day when our children’s children will know health, wellbeing, and good relationship we are called to confess racism.

There has been a fair amount of talking on the Doctrine of Discovery (DoD) in this space. If the DoD speaks anything, it speaks to the subjugation of landscapes. The base of this subjugation is the extraction of landscapes resources. These resources are the landscapes soul, water, minerals, timber, wind, soil, and people. US Chattel slavery of 1830, farmworker slavery of 2015, Oak Flat copper, Ferguson, Canadian Tar Sands, coal removal, and Surinam mining are historical and current instances of US people, all US people, benefiting from one aspect or another of racism. The people are called to know the benefits they accrue from racist copper, natural gas, coal, gold, and food, and to repent.

Sunday is more than a call to recognize the racist reality folk live and benefit from, it is more than a time of regret and sorrowfulness, it is a call to change. Moving beyond confession and repentance is about engaging, acting where we can, and supporting the actions of our neighbor. Continue reading “Confession, Repentance, and Commitment to End Racism?”

Pickup Beds, Old Dogs, Children and a Ride to the Creek

15.08.30

August 30, 2015

Riding in the back of the pickup was normal in the sage canyons east of Saugus. Though not common, the seat of a 1956 Ford pickup holds only so many people, so when the family went to town in the pickup you’d find my younger brother, sister, and I arguing, singing, or yelling those all-important conversations back in the pickup bed. During baseball season, daddy would have half a dozen boys in the back heading home after a ballgame. Town being thirty to forty minutes from the house, meant a fair number of memories were made in the back of that pickup.

Then daddy and mamma bought a 1969 Ford three-quarter ton Camper Special—with seatbelts. There began a change in the way mamma and daddy thought about pickup bed traveling and other than the local gravel road, a pasture, or the stockyard in town, the seat belted three-quarter ton ended back of the truck forty-five mile-per-hour conversations.

Thirty years later Belinda and I were driving down Fort Road on the reservation. We were following a pickup full of kids, doing forty-five maybe fifty miles-per-hour. By then we were fairly sure of our good opinion thinking something along the lines of, “What are they thinking?” Thirty years of seatbelts had something to do with our thoughts, but also being from California had something to do with it as well.

Years earlier Californians passed a law keeping dogs from riding in the pickup bed. After it passed, you could not have a morning coffee at the local café in rural California, where working dogs in the bed were common, and not have a conversation about the dog law. Statements were often rural verses urban, along the lines, “Yep, isn’t it just like those folk who don’t live where men, women, and dogs work together would pass a law against dogs in the back of the truck…and never give any thought to a law keeping children out of the back of pickups first.” Well, enough years of such conversations made us pretty sure those kids in the back of the pickup shouldn’t be, and dogs should be cut more slack.

It so happens that while California has its who-cannot-ride-in-the-back-of-pickup law, Washington State code sees it a little different,

This section only applies to motor vehicles that meet the manual seat belt safety standards as set forth in federal motor vehicle safety standard 208 and to neighborhood electric vehicles and medium-speed electric vehicles. This section does not apply to a vehicle occupant for whom no safety belt is available when all designated seating positions as required by federal motor vehicle safety standard 208 are occupied. (RCW 46.61.688, Sec.2—as of 2008)

Continue reading “Pickup Beds, Old Dogs, Children and a Ride to the Creek”

Removing Upton Sinclair’s Gag and Re-Learning Good Food Treatment

15.08.23

August 23, 2015

Last week federal Judge Lynn Winmill ruled the Idaho Ag Security Act law unconstitutional. The “ag gag” law made it a crime to make undercover recordings or gain employment at a farm under false pretenses. Idaho legislators developed the law after an activist filmed and posted a video online showing cow mistreatment at an Idaho dairy, which led to death threats toward the farmer.

In his ruling, Winmill considered Upton Sinclair’s novel, The Jungle. Winmill noted, “Sinclair, in order to gather material for his novel, ‘The Jungle,’ misrepresented his identity so he could get a job at a meat-packing plant in Chicago.” While focusing on immigrant exploitation, the novel heavily dealt with the treatment and conditions of livestock found in early 20th century packinghouses. The Jungle so impacted American society it lead to the passage of the Federal Meat Inspection Act and the Pure Food and Drug Act. The kicker for Winmill is, “Today, however, Upton Sinclair’s conduct would expose him to criminal prosecution under” the Idaho law.

The Winmill decision does not enhance the existing lives of animals, humans, or plants within today’s agricultural industry as much as it maintains a modicum of animal wellbeing. Enhanced wellbeing may come, but not before people begin to learn their own wellbeing is tied to that of animals, plants, soil, and water. For that to occur, grandparents, parents, and children must begin to understand where their food comes from and how it gets to their table.

The public’s engagement in understanding food is critical because the Winmill decision can also have a down side. Today, the disengagement of people from their food is so great they cannot distinguish between good animal treatment and bad. Awful or horrendous is easy enough to differentiate, but because of the gulf between people and their food, too many folk experience good animal treatment as bad. Lack of knowledge on the public’s part can only lead to mistreatment of farmers and ranchers who are treating their animals well.

Thirty some years ago we had the county veterinarian come by our place. Someone had driven by and reported one of our horses as mistreated. We took the vet out to the horses and introduced him to Barney, a 27 year-old quarter horse. Barney was as skinny as an old horse gets, ribby and hippy. After a bit we all headed up to the house, sat down, and had a cup of coffee. The Vet observed horses are no longer a part of peoples live. Continue reading “Removing Upton Sinclair’s Gag and Re-Learning Good Food Treatment”

Ending Racial Disparity Calls for Non-Traditional Congregations

15.08.16

August 12, 2015

This last week Sojourners magazine gave us Jenna Barnett’s interview—A Behind-the-Scenes Look at Faith in Ferguson—with Leah Gunning Francis, a professor at Eden Theological Seminary professor. The article centered on professor Francis’ thoughts on racial disparities and the real “Ferguson Effect.”

When asked, What role should the church play in current racial justice movements?, Professor Francis said,

In my observation there are congregations that are taking seriously their roles in seeking to be agents of change in the movements for racial justice, but the church writ-large, is not. At some point we need to move beyond statements and posture to actually engaging in these matters in life-transforming ways. One good first step toward this is to open the constructive conversation about race in congregations.

Important in this statement is recognizing some congregations are serious about systemic change in favor of racial justice. However, this desire to engage and to act for racial justice is absent for most Christian congregations (“church writ-large”).

Barnett goes on to ask, What church did racial justice well this year? Professor Frances responded saying,

Compton Heights Christian Church is a modest size Disciples of Christ church in St. Louis. Maybe 25 percent of the church are people of color… They reimagined what it means to be a safe sanctuary…[by opening] their sanctuary doors as places of training, gathering, cooking—and equally important—as places of prayer.

The article gives gristle for a number of conversations. Two come to mind. First is the consideration of how inadequate the church is in conversing the issue of racial justice. One example of this struggle is the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) who in 1998 approved an Anti-Racism/Pro-Reconciliation initiative. This initiative called the church to practice faithfulness with regard to the elimination of racism, which exists in all manifestations of the church, to discern the presence and nature of racism as sin, to develop strategies to eradicate it, and to work toward racial reconciliation. Good stuff, but as a whole not the stuff Disciple congregations want to jump in the middle of. As a result, the office of Reconciliation Ministry (whose ministry is to implement a conversation on racial justice) has struggled since it conception due to a lack of financial resources. Continue reading “Ending Racial Disparity Calls for Non-Traditional Congregations”

Considering the Purple Cow Pill

15.08.09b

August 09, 2015

Soon there may be a new solution for problematic burping. A Purple Pill, of sorts, except for cows rather than humans. Folk might have heard it said that cow farting contributes to high methane levels, which depletes ozone. However, the cow methane problem comes from cow belching rather than their farting.

Being a ruminate, cows have a four stomach digestive system (actually a four compartment stomach). Ideally suited to grazers (cows) and browsers (goats), the rumen (the first stomach) allows cows to eat a lot of grass at once, not chew it, and store it. Later, when they are relaxing, they cough/burp up a cud (a mouthful of that non-chewed stomach stuff) and properly chew it. Thus, a cow does a lot of cud chewing and burping.

Figuring the United States alone has roughly 40 million cows, about 30 million beef cattle and 10 million dairy cows; there is a whole lot of burping going on. Like humans, cows digestive system have a complex community of microbes in their stomach helping break down food. One of those beneficial microbes creates methane in the process. To counter this methane development, some folk are proposing an additive to cattle feed to reduce the microbe’s ability to produce methane.

Hmm, it isn’t enough that pharmaceutical companies have convinced us humans to take a pill so we can ignore our bodies normal warning sign of when to lay off some foods. Now we are going to give cattle a little purple pill as well.

Contrary the popular stance, the methane burping problem is not a cattle digestive problem, but a human digestive problem. Consider the 30 million beef cattle. The 30 MILLION CATTLE who exist on American soil exist because the U.S. population is having a problem eating meat sensibly. All it takes to eliminate the methane problem is for U.S. folk to eat less beef. An easy solution if it were not centered on changing people’s gastronomic normal.

Life is much easier for humans if they place blame on creation other than themselves. Cattle, after all, are doing no more than being cattle. Humans, though, have to go a long way to justify eating double and triple decker hamburgers rather than single patty burgers or eating16-ounce steaks rather than 4-ounce steaks. The production of 30 million cattle is not a cattle problem, but one of human over consumption. Continue reading “Considering the Purple Cow Pill”

Generational Food Justice

15.08.02

 August 02, 2015
[Post By Selys Rivera: Yakama Christian Mission Intern 2015]

This is supposed to be humane? I thought to myself when David Bell took me to the cattle auction for the first time. He wanted to take me the first week I arrived so I could handle it better once we brought workgroups. I’m glad he did so too because I was on the point of tears.

Cows, bulls, steers, heifers, all corralled into small spaces, running into each other, stumbling over one another. The cowboys and girls on their horses chased after them with paddles, flags, and whips to move the animals along. One cowboy even yelled, “Hey! You son of a bitch. Hey!” over the desperate mooing as he tried to force an extremely frightened steer into a corral.

One beautiful, brown steer with a white face met my gaze with tired eyes as he struggled to maintain his footing against the many other, larger cattle around him. He didn’t fight back or try to escape. He had clearly been there all day and gotten used to the circumstances. Perhaps he had even been there before. His calmness told me it was indeed humane.

The paddles, whips, or flags weren’t hitting them; instead, they were only surprised by the sound made by the instruments. They had some space to move. They were fed and kept healthy until they were sold. The animals freaking out the most were the ones who probably hadn’t had a day of stress in their lives, who were raised on pastures with their families. Plus, it’s understandable for the cowboys and girls to get frustrated every once in a while, but most of them were patient with the animals. The place really could have been a lot worse. In fact, many of cattle would later go to worse places, to factory farms or concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFOs) where they would spend the rest of their lives standing in a pile of their own shit. They would get even less exercise, they would get fatter, and they would sell for more.

Suddenly, I cried the tears I had been fighting, feeling helpless. As a vegetarian, I know I don’t support the CAFOs or factory farms, but people who do surround me. Plus it’s more than just cows, or even pigs and chickens. It’s all food. Continue reading “Generational Food Justice”

Justice Arrives Through the Voices of the Fearless

15.07.26

July 26, 2015

I watched as folk went to the microphones and spoke. Over a few days, they spoke on a number of issues and resolutions at the assembly of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ).

Many who spoke were pastors or folk who held some role of publicly speaking in the Church. Many were eloquent. Many others like myself were passable in getting across their thoughts. There were others though, who were fearless.

The fearless were the folk who are not pastors, who are not professionals, but rather folk who stand at the edge and outside the rooms and places of Church power. To hear another pastor or church leader is to listen to so many passionate, God called, Pharisees and Sadducees (don’t hear this as a bad thing, but rather folk whose life is fully embedded in the church). The others though, the folk who listen to those folk, who hold great opinions, but seldom publicly speak, well they are the fearless, the heroes.

The voice of the non-pastor matters because too many who find themselves in the places of church power (those Pharisees and Sadducees), who first came to their work because of their prophetic voice, now find themselves navigating the space between the prophetic and the “how to keep the greatest number of people united and conversing with one another,” or “how to keep my job—or how to keep doing the work I believe I am called to.” These are folk who can use a bit of extra care and one more prayer.

It matters greatly there are the folk who stand at the edge and in places outside of power, who fearlessly raise their voice. When these folk arrive at such assemblies, with a sense of wonder and hope, a want to listen others, who have no intent to raise their voice, but who do when a matter of justice or injustice twists a gut, the assembled people experience a moment of fearlessness. (Fearless does not mean the speaker is not terrified or on the edge of panic, but rather they speak their truth while remaining in that space of horror.) Continue reading “Justice Arrives Through the Voices of the Fearless”

God is in the Flies

15.07.19

July 19, 2015
[Post By Selys Rivera: Yakama Christian Mission Intern 2015]

When I first arrived at JustLiving Farm/Yakama Christian Mission this summer, I was determined to prove I was more than just a city girl. So to detox from city life, I sat down on a bench and willed myself to connect with nature.

There were stunning mountain ridges that sat patiently for my acknowledgement. The wind danced with the grass, the tree branches, and the flowers, expecting a high score from me for the performance. The crickets chirped, the sprinklers sang, and the cows mooed in a well-rehearsed musical composition. Together, shades of blue met green, spurts of red, and pink, creating a canvas unlike any I had ever seen. As I watched, the fresh scent of grass kissing flowers introduced itself to my nose. The wind danced with my hair then and I suddenly realized that everything I experienced expected me to sigh one word: “breathtaking.”

But I couldn’t and here’s why.

Butterflies waved as they passed by, merely implying their greeting, but not the flies. The ants continued their workday below me, too busy to chat, but not the flies. Unlike the butterflies, simply gliding to their destination didn’t satisfy the flies. Instead, they anxiously zipped here and there, unaware of how to fill the extra time. They weren’t as busy as the ants either, so they constantly buzzed their anxiety to each other, their choices in conversation local always near my ears.

As a result, the more I tried to enjoy time away from my iPhone, laptop, Netflix, and kindle, the more I struggled against one fly in particular. It must have realized what I was trying to do and found it hilarious. It didn’t think I could truly unplug from my gadgets and connect to nature. It laughed at even the thought of it – buzz, ha, buzz, ha! Continue reading “God is in the Flies”