Earring Cattle: And the Sin of This Generation(s)?

15.11.15aa

November 15, 2015

The calves were weaned two three months ago. Standing on a fence rail, looking at calves, I know weaning is never an easy time—for anyone. The calf is on the teat and the next day not. That makes for an upset mama and calf, which can lead to steady bawling for a day or two. When you have fifty cows and fifty calves in the corrals and those corrals are located next to home, like our closest neighbor, no one sleeps well for those couple of days. No, weaning is not easy for anyone. Standing on the rail, I know another stressful event for these calves lies ahead.

Yellowing leaves of autumn trees is the signage of fall roundups and selling of spring calves. Leaves falling from trees mean it is time for me to buy spring calves. Calves will spend twelve to fourteen months on the farm, so I look for weaned calves weighing between 400 and 550 pounds. Weaned because calves gain little, maybe lose, weight during those first days after separation from mama. After weaning though, they come into their own teenage identity and become capable of dealing with the stress that comes with a change of place. (Isn’t moving hard on all of us? Little matter if it is for a great job or family, moving to a new place—even a few blocks away—always gives us apprehension and stress).

The perfect change of place for calves means I choose them from the rail, load them at the neighbor’s ranch, trailer them to JustLiving Farm, and unloading into the corral. Seldom is that the case. More often than not, the calves are trailered from the ranch to the auction barn where I bid and buy. They are then loaded and trailered to the farm. Because life is seldom perfect, we do what we can to minimize stress. Therefore, we make sure the feeder is full of hay and the trough full of water when they unload off the trailer. Once calves make their way around the corral once, and know where the food and water are, we walk away. Belinda and I figure, at that moment, they are not looking favorably upon the two-legged animals who have taken them away from the landscape of birth to who knows where—best to let them alone.

Over the next two weeks calves will eat, drink, chew cud, and sleep in the corral. I move in and out during that time filling the feeder with hay, filling the water trough, and having short conversations. My work during those weeks is to watch their movement, their noses and eyes, and anything else that might indicate a need for doctoring or special care. Mid-way during their corral stay, their right ear gets a numbered JLF ear tag—Some folk wonder about piercing the ear with a tag, but if ear piercings and earrings are good enough for all the women in my life and many of my male friends, they are good enough for cattle. Finally, after the stress of moving has resided and everyone is healthy, physically and emotionally, they are turned out with the other cattle wandering the farm.

****

I have morning coffee a day or two each week at the Cougar Den in White Swan. I arrive around 6am, settle into a corner booth to read and write. School begins at 8am, so about an hour later, students arrive, shoot the bull, and walk across the street around five till.

Not long after I sit, a young man often arrives. He takes the booth directly across from me, places his backpack against the wall, and goes to sleep until five till or a friend wakes him. Two and a half months have pass since school began and I have yet to know his story.

While there is a story to learn, the broad brushstroke is likely not unique. Like the ten year-old who sleeps with her head on table, and the twelve-year-old who mothers her three younger siblings waiting for the elementary school bus, he is one of many whose young life is unreasonably complicated and stressful. On any one morning, sitting comfortably in the corner booth of this rural town, it is clear too many have their head on a table, sleeping. Too many are hungry. Too many have a twelve-year-old sister as parent. I find many folk prefer to think this is simply rural reservation life. However, a friend who lives in Oakland, another in south-central Los Angeles, one in Louisville, and another still in Flint, Michigan, tell the same story.

15.11.15a

****

I am nearly upside down as the dental hygienist talks to me. Over the years we have mutually learned our two brands of Christianity are different, but she asks questions just the same. “My daughter (she is 30-years-old) is living with her boyfriend. My husband and I are upset because they are living in sin. What do you think?” She has packed a lot into that question, so I figured to take on the obvious when her hand gets out of my mouth. Once out, we had three or four minutes before she was back in there working with some utensil handed down from the Middle Ages. (Dental appointment conversations, a little weird, one-sided, disjointed, and often last for years.) “We use that word sin too freely.” I said. “Sin matters, but two adults living with one another without the benefit of marriage is not sin, for me. Rather, putting our energy into how our and our neighbor’s adult children—who are happy—live their lives takes our attention away from true sin. And maybe that is sin itself? For me, we can reserve that word, sin, for acts that matter, that hurt and damage creation.” No solutions that day, but maybe the hand in mouth conversation continue during the visit.

****

Christianity gets played out in a number of ways and we all need to find a little more slack for those who do it different than ourselves. Yet, I tire of preachers who promote theology that has made little sense for a number of generations and strives to damage the lives of healthy consenting adults. Such sin theology, which is more about them than I, is easy on the congregants and safe for the preacher. Good sin theology is not easy and calls everyone to know, own, and act against the hurt and damage inflected in our generation(s), and learn sin is not theirs but mine.

Sin, for me, is when cattle on the Farm have better housing, food, water, and rest than reservation and inner-city children and youth. Sin is when I worry more about middle-class adults living together outside of marriage, who folk have sex with, and if someone fits the legal framework of US residency, than I do about the anxiety that is the norm for poor and abused children. Sin is when I do not provide all of the resources needed for better parenting, better housing, and better health. Sin is when my neighbor’s child goes to sleep without a kiss and a full belly. Sin is when I, personally, do not know one child who lives a worrisome life and have made their life my own.

End Government Days of False Honor and Reclaim Soil’s Family

15.10.11

October 11, 2015

Funny (in a non-funny way) how many people and State governments have learned a flag (Confederate) has the ability to destroy justice and people and that there is integrity of removing it from the public life, but continue to hold on to and honor a day ruin—Columbus Day. Some are going to talk about this day of history that honors humanities quest of exploration and adventure. I would not be surprised to see the Niña, the Pinta, and the Santa Maria compared to Friendship 11, Apollo 11, and Space Shuttle Columbia. Others will speak of the day as a day of conquest, subjugation, and genocide. While others will move for a governmental name switch to Indigenous Peoples’ Day, like the City of Seattle did in 2014.

Columbus Day, Indigenous People’s Day, I am not a fan of either. I find governmental days of recognition little more than fluff when it comes to justice. Few folk give them serious thought. After all, there is already Native American Day—just a few weeks ago (September 25). What special events or education opportunities were in your community on that day? What did you attend? (Really, feel free to post!) Alongside, Native American Heritage Month is all next month! What might your congregation, non-profit, or business have planned? What event do you plan to attend? (I’ll give two suggestions found in the Northwest: JustLiving Farm is screening of who are my people a film Emmy Award winning filmmaker Robert Lundahl on November 05. And Ecumenical Ministries of Oregon is offering the Collins Lecture in Portland on the Doctrine of Discovery with Robert J. Miller, George “Tink” Tinker and Kim Recalma-Clutesi on November 19.)

Changing Columbus Day to Indigenous Day is but a symbolic move. Does it matter? Well of course it does, but it benefits the government much more than people. Does anyone believe the City of Seattle is going to make substantial change that would have governance structure become accountable to American Indians? Or fund better education for American Indian children? Or fund better American Indian health, mental care, spiritual care, or care for family structure? What I am getting at is while Indigenous People’s Day sounds good, it is a day of governmental structure, which allows governments like Seattle sound and look good while maintaining oppressive policies against American Indians. Meaningful insight is not going to come from the government, but from the people. I’ll take Idle No More or #BlackLivesMatter any day over one more government holiday (that does not honor a person of resistance). Continue reading “End Government Days of False Honor and Reclaim Soil’s Family”

Elk Parts

15.10.04

October 4, 2015

Elk parts. They come once a year. Archery season opened a few weeks ago and rifle season follows it up. My bow hunting friends are saying this is a season unlike any other. The elk are not traveling normal trails or hanging in their normal high country valleys. Maybe there will be few elk parts this year.

I never imagined elk parts growing up in the rural canyons of southern California. Our deer are small in stature and when it comes to meat, they are little more than a big rabbit compared to an elk. Though small is size, being of a landscape of canyon sage, the flavor of their meat rivaled any Cascade elk. The black-tailed deer of sage country may not be the biggest of deer, but they are right up there with the smartest of deer—and a hair coat the blends beautifully with the sage landscape. The cageyness of these deer meant many hunters spent their time enjoying the landscape and returning home to eat beef. That might be why I never saw another hunter in the ridges and canyons around home, and why “I’m going up north to hunt, these deer are to small and not worth the time,” was often heard leading up to hunting season.

I knew I was not in the landscape of my youth when hunting season rolled around my first fall in White Swan. Growing up rural, forty minutes from town is one thing, living in a rural town is something different. The proximity of folk to one another in town (even a town of 500) leads to a different way of thinking than the open country. The old adage that everyone knows everyone in a small town carries a bit of truth. One of those truths is folk have a very good idea of which neighbor struggles economically and who does not—including their dogs.

When the first elk came out of the hills, that first fall, and after they were quartered and cut into steaks, roasts, and jerky, many hunters went about town giving their meat to the elderly and families who struggled. The knowledge being, the hunter is capable of hunting again and many others are not.

Two events made me notice how this new place was different from back home. One, two hunters showed up at the parsonage and offered us meat for no other reason than placing value on the community’s spiritual leaders. Place matters. When two elk roasts were lifted out of the back of the pickup, there was more meat than any one deer I hunted as a youth. My place was no longer the landscape of canyons and sage. Continue reading “Elk Parts”

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”

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”

GMO And Cardboard Food

15.05.24

May 24, 2015

Folks in Jackson County, Oregon are having a fit. The people of Jackson County voted last fall to ban GMO (genetically modified organism) crops. Alfalfa growers are ticked off. Lawsuits are filed. Having planted “Roundup Ready” alfalfa, a perennial plant that is productive for years, GMO farmers claim a potential devastating income loss.

Roundup Ready crops like alfalfa allow farmers to spray their entire field with Roundup (imagine a crop-duster plane), killing the weeds while leaving the resistant crop alone. Some folk argue there are problems with the GMO plant itself and they don’t want it fed to the livestock of they eat or provide their milk. Others question what widespread, non-specific spraying (of any type really) is doing to the soil, water, and air. Interesting enough though, is in time the arguments may mean little because weeds are developing an immunity to Roundup. Which might mean that about the time GMO alfalfa is normalized, Roundup will not be effective, and chemical companies will have developed a new herbicide.

There are alternatives though and I hope folk begin to recognize them. I’m not wholly against herbicides, however I am against wholesale use with little regard for tomorrows folk who must use this same land. Farmers could decide to quit large-scale herbicide use and accept a few more weeds and a little more work, and the consumer could pay a little more for their food. However, this would call farmers and consumers alike to change their practices. Alfalfa wise, farmers would have to learn old practices of allowing weeds to go as far as developing a seed head and then cutting their crop before the seed ripens. Done well, the plant (often) thinks it has reproduced and does not therefore put another seed head on. Continue reading “GMO And Cardboard Food”

From Brando to Arquette: There Is More To Justice Than a Oscar Speech

15.03.01a

March 01, 2015

Okay, truth be told, I don’t watch the Oscars. For the most part, I find the Oscars wanting. They do little more than lift up rich folk and make them a little richer, for which I feel there is little need. However, one may not watch the Oscars, but if you read a paper or watch any television, you’re going to hear plenty about them leading up to and after the event.

When it comes to the Oscars I am the product of Marlon Brando’s 1973 refusal to accept the Best Actor award for The Godfather (and yes the streak of the 1974 Oscars probably influenced me as well, but that’s for another day…). Sending Sacheen Littlefeather in his place, Littlefeather told folks Brando regretfully would not accept the award as a way to protest Hollywood’s portrayal of Native Americans in film. I, like others, didn’t give the speech as much thought at the time as I have in the following years. What I’ve learned over time, is actors can act in a social justice film, but not have a social justice bone in their body. Therefore, and actor risking their words off-screen (or lend power so one who is voiceless has voice) matters. Only then does an actor build a reputation that matters, for their livelihood on the line.

I read this was a year of speeches on social issues. Fine and well. However, I along with others have a more critical ear today than when Littlefeather gave her ’73 speech. Today there is the “so what” factor, which says, “so what are you going to do now and in the years to come?” After all, what Native American organization do we attribute to Brando’s support today? Any longer, you cannot give a speech and not immerse yourself into the issue of justice. Any less is a self-marketing stunt. Continue reading “From Brando to Arquette: There Is More To Justice Than a Oscar Speech”

How The Young Are Taught The True Celebratory Holiday

15.01.25

January 25, 2015

Sunday January 18: Seahawks vs. Green Bay
Morning, eleven thirty, driving through town.
Oddly few cars on the road.
Everyone must be with family and friends.
Waiting for the game to begin.

Businesses are closed.
Except for the grocery store, the new Buffalo Wings,
the new Dave’s BBQ,
and McDonalds

Monday January 19: Martin Luther King Jr. Holiday
Morning, eleven thirty, marching through town.
Lanes filled with cars.
Folk are walking, eating, working, most everywhere
But in the march.

Businesses are open.
Employees work, many at minimum wage.
Little profit in celebrating voting, housing, civil rights.
My mocking subconscious—white owned.

[Watercolor: Tobacco Barn Workers by Jack Lewis]

A Dung Theology

14.12.07a

December 7, 2014

I nudged the cow manure with my boot toe. A worship service was going on but others were speaking and doing a fine job. So my mind wandered to wonder about the cow pie at my feet and the bug population it might be supporting.

The fall afternoon was cool, the sun bright, and the blue sky cloudless. Students from two universities: Lewis and Clark, and Heritage, were visiting the farm. They had collaborated on their fall break and had chosen to spend their fall break on the reservation at the JustLiving Farm. Together we would have an afternoon conversation on American Indian autonomy and Farmworker rights, and then spend another afternoon working on farm projects. To get to those issues of human justice we were first working our way through the broad the broad-brush stroke of landscape justice; thus, there we were in the pasture.

No movement, so I kicked a little harder. My boot broke through the crusty surface and slid through its gooey innards. Dung kicking is an art and I found my artfulness left wanting. A misjudgment of consistency left me with cow shit stuck to my boot like gum to a sidewalk.

I think of worship service in simple terms. Worship, a reverence for the mystery of creation. Reverence a willingness to question, admire, and be astonished by that which cannot be (or, at the least, hard to) explain. Service a gathering of folk revering that which is natural and normal. Continue reading “A Dung Theology”

Landscape Americans

14.11.30

November 30, 2014

Driving down the Columbia Gorge, Belinda and I searched for a radio to pass time. We came upon an interview with an American Indian woman. She was in the middle of making a point that Native Americans know their heritage better than non-Indians, and this has a lot to do with traditional story telling practices. In making her point, she said that while Native Americans could go back generations, Americans can seldom tell a story beyond that of their grandparents.

I turned to Belinda and commented she had missed on this one. Not on the idea that many Americans can no longer tell a story beyond their grandparents—I think that is true enough, but in saying “Americans,” she included folk she did not intend. As she went on, it was clear her comment was focused on white folk of European heritage. However, in saying “Americans” she includes all folk of the America’s: American Indians, First Nation peoples of Canada, Indigenous of Mexico and Central America and South America, Greenlandic Inuit, and Alaska Natives. Belinda pushed back saying well you know what she meant. Yes, true enough, however, we need to claim inclusive language that honors both heritage and the reality of the landscape. With neither of us backing down, we had just enough to drive a conversation for the rest of the journey.

This last Sunday of Native American Heritage month I am thinking to honor heritage, place of birth and/or place of adoption must be distinguish and honored as well. Continue reading “Landscape Americans”