Tag Archives: Community

Time to Elder


October 26, 2014

One does not have to be in the church, any Christian church, for long before hearing a low wailing bemoaning the loss of young folks. I do not know if the same holds true for folk in Judaism, Islam, or other religions, but the loss of young adults have freaked-out Christians for a number of decades. The freaked-out truth is seen in the countless books and blogs on strategies to bring youth and young adults back to church.

My ten cents worth (and ten cents ain’t worth much today) is we Christians don’t deserve to have young adults in our congregations. If that comment is raising a rash and face muscles are tensing up, let us talk for a moment or two, before the fits kick in.

Hiring a young pastor, a youth pastor, creating a youth group, supporting youth events, funding youth worktrips, and giving youth the fireside room are all actions congregations have taken to keep or attract youth to church. There is nothing wrong with implementing any of those. However, each can be problematic if folk believe those actions alone will lead to young adults returning to their congregation. After all, congregations have been implementing those ideas for decades and young adults still are not in their churches. Continue reading

Busting Reclamation Anvils


September 6, 2014

The Yakama Nation is in the process of reclaiming jurisdiction in five areas of civil and criminal justice. Since 1953 Washington State has held authority over school attendances, public assistance, domestic relations, juvenile delinquency, and motor vehicle operations by way of a federal law known as Public Law 280. In 2012 the Nation filed a petition with the State, which led to then-Governor Gregoire to sign a bill approving a procedure for the Nation to reclaim jurisdiction in those five areas. January of this year saw Governor Inslee issue a proclamation return jurisdiction to the Nation.

When Belinda and I first started looking for land to buy on the reservation in 1999, a number of folk questioned our sanity (That is, after we answered the slew of questions that came along wondering how we could buy land on the reservation in the first place.). They questioned our buying because one day the Yakama Nation might regain total jurisdiction and that might lower land prices. The background question seldom asked was, could you really trust the Tribe to support your best interest?. The second question is a hard one to answer and one to grabble another day. The first one though is much easier.

When Governor Inslee wrote his proclamation, he said jurisdiction could return to the Yakama except for when it involves non-Indians operating motor vehicles on the reservation. The State would retain jurisdiction in these civil cases and well as in criminal cases involving “non-Indian defendants, non-Indian plaintiffs, and non-Indian victims.”

What Inslee withholds in his proclamation is foundational to why non-Indians have little worry (if they are going to worry) about the Yakama regaining total jurisdiction of the land “within the exterior boundaries of the Yakama Reservation (See Proclamation).” Continue reading

Virtuous Redneck Liberal


September 1, 2014

Home was a small piece of sage canyon land butting against open land. As kids, my sister, brother and I and our friends never gave it much thought biking a mile or so to a friend’s house. On any Saturday we could spend a day riding canyon roads on banana seat bikes never intended for off road. Many of us boys learned to ride a horse but few were serious horsemen. Though we all rode a bit more during our teenage years when we grasped that most of the girls rode horses. We walked canyons and climbed Live Oaks to watch hawk and owl nestlings—we also learned to duck when mamma came at you talons first. We built box traps and trapped raccoons, possums, and an assortment of animals—we also learned the heartache of watching a wild animal die because it could not live in space other than the wide-open. As teenagers we arrived at school during hunting season with guns in the pickup and at last bell were walking steep canyon hillsides. In this landscape of canyons and open sky I became a young man and a redneck liberal

I have not thought about being a redneck for a while, but since I commented in AM Radio Justice about dumbass rednecks, I’ve given it some thought.

I was not saying rednecks are natural dumbasses. No one has a lock on that. From where I stand the are clearly as many dumbass liberals, conservatives, and moderates as there are dumbass rednecks. In other words, one is not a dumbass by virtue of being a redneck. Just the same, we all know many folk do not think very highly of rednecks.

Redneck notoriety begins outside. In the U.S., like many world societies, those people whose work life places them out of doors—normally doing physical labor (farmers, ranchers, construction workers, fishers)—and whose skin the sun has darken, are often understood as something less than. For white folk, the darkened skin is most notable on the neck, thus the redneck. Continue reading

What Is In A Name?


January 7, 2014

Blue Eagle asked me to consider “What’s in a Name.”  It wasn’t so much a specific invitation as it was a question to anyone following the Facebook page Landscape Mending: Restoring Harmony, Terminating the Doctrine of Discovery.  The crux of Blue Eagle’s question is, what language or terms do we or should we use when talking about folk whose ancient heritage is of the American landscape: Native American? American Indian? First People? Indigenous? NDN?  He jump starts the conversation by giving a link to Christina Berry’s article, What’s in a Name? Indians and Political Correctness.

Obviously, I enter the question as a non-American Indian white guy.  And doesn’t that sentence get at what Blue Eagle is questioning?  Is non-American Indian a term I should use?  Well, let me wonder with you about this for a bit.

I make mistakes.  My friends will be the first to tell you that!  One I made when I came to the Yakama reservation was to use the term Native American with a friend.  She quickly let me know, to my benefit, that she was not Native American but Indian.  Turned out many in my community are Indian.  Yet, I have found that not the case throughout the Americas.  Which leads me to understand the issue of naming is much more complicated than folk would like to think.

Dominate culture prefers simple language where it concerns American Indians.  Since, like it or not, most all of us are informed by dominate culture, we too have become comfortable with the simplification of language.  Simple means we don’t argue the edges, we don’t challenge the norm, and most of all, we don’t have to think.  Simple means we no longer converse with one another Continue reading

Summer Coffee


August 19, 2013

It is Monday and there are no folk at the Farm.  After a summer of Learning and Serving groups it seems a little lonely.  Well, being an introverted sort, maybe lonely isn’t the right word.  But there is something about walking out of your home each morning with a cup of coffee and having the opportunity to a conversation with someone(s) from a landscape other than your own.

One wonderful aspect of those morning conversations is the theological blend.  Conversations range from the morning sunrise (the theological tie is never a surprise), to fracking (well, a theological tie isn’t surprising here either), to family (okay, theology just arises in most every conversation!).  To start the day with another human being who I often hadn’t met until just a few days ago, with a cup of coffee, sitting on a wooden bench, watching the landscape wake up, and have the opportunity to talk about the life of our landscapes, our families, our friends, our churches, and our spiritual relationships is, well, just cool.

The summer is so different from those winter mornings when I sit with a cup of coffee and a book, inside the house, by myself, at hour when during the summer the land has been in light for hours, next to the woodstove.  Those mornings are wonderful and enlightening.  Yet they are often mornings that would not happen without these summer coffee cup mornings.  For these summer mornings often bestow my winter reading upon me.  One such reading that came up, last week, as we talked about subjects like the Christian Doctrine of Discovery and economic justice is the book The Wordy Shipmates by Sarah Vowel.  But it isn’t always just books.  There was a time when we were talking about economics and the perceived need to always have a growing economy, which leads to convincing people to believe a normal life is to constantly strive to move up into the next and bigger house, and, of course, to always buy something.  This conversation led to the suggestion of watching the short video called The Story of Stuff.

The summer isn’t over.  There are many barbeques ahead with neighbors and friends.  There are those folk who are traveling the country and who will drop-in because they have visited the Farm as a member of a workgroup years ago or who have been told by someone to just stop by, walk the farm and maybe have a conversation.  Good days to come, but those regular morning coffee talks with folk who bring varied experiences and insights to the Farm and our lives will be missed.

© David B. Bell 2013

Wombed Is To Life, As Life Is To ???


March 28, 2013

2013 Kids: Day 3
Part 3

The day began with an almost death and ended with the real thing.  Death is weird.  Can’t explain it, can’t explain it away.  And like birth, everyone does it sooner or later.

As I reread what I wrote yesterday, I noticed I said that when the first kid of the last doe of the day was born, it was birthed dead.  That got me to thinking, was it dead?  The kid never took a breath.  Can there be life without breath?  Can there be death without life?  The old storytellers of the Hebrew Testament tell the story of Creator gathering up ground, forming it, and then breathing the breath of life into the mud ball.  With breath, forth came human life.  For some of our ancient people life comes with breath.

I choose to think life comes with breath with birth.  Many folk don’t agree and say life comes before breath before birth.  However, defining existence prior to birth and prior to breath as life is accepting society’s norm of thinking in absolutes.  Absolutes like right or wrong, good or bad, moral or immoral, hot or cold, life or death.  Absolutes are problematic because this either-or way of thinking does not allow us to wonder in liminal space.  In other words, by defining everything we know as not death as life we confine the fullness of creation, but when we dull the edges of what we choose to call life and death we enhance the richness of life and death because we become comfortable with the ambiguousness of existence.

Years ago, Belinda and I had a baby after twenty-five weeks in the womb.  Breath was not breathed into and breath was not taken.  So, like the kid from the previous post, was she born dead?  Well, she did not have life as we know it.  She was not a walking, breathing being.  And yet, there was something prior to birth.  Something like life, something real, something extraordinary and unique existed, but that something did not fit the language box of life.  In our want for simpleness, we have not taken the initiative to find a word (or words) which best expresses the state of being lying somewhere between non-human and human existence.  Or have we?  Perhaps we do have a word to talk about unique existence prior to life, but in our sloppiness we have not allowed it to become all it might be.  After all, womb is a fairly decent word that expresses something more than an ammonic sack.  The womb, created at conception, is a unique landscape—at least as unique as the landscape we call earth.  The landscape of the womb is a place of extraordinary existence—every bit as unique as life is on earth.  Therefore, it seems a shame to use the word life to talk about an existence that is extraordinarily different from this breathing walking around life we know.  Instead of describing existence in the womb as life, wouldn’t be more appropriate to talk about being wombed or wombing or wombingful?  Would not such language speak to an extraordinary and creative existence that is equal to but not the same as life?  To value womb and life as different but equally unique existences is to appreciate the rich and imaginative nature of creation.  By letting go of either-or absolute thinking and allowing our language to become creative and imaginative, existence becomes fluid and rich.  Moreover, fluid existence means we can better cherish death.

Cherishing death though, is to find fertile language that honors post-life existence in the way womb honors pre-life existence.  As wombed existence becomes richer when we let go of phrases like life in the womb, post-life existence becomes richer when we let go of words like afterlife.  In doing so, after life or post-life would speak to that existence which comes into being when the breathing walking around life we know, ends.

It is within the human imagination find language that speaks to post-life existence as extraordinary, creative, and equal to life, but not the same as life.  The trick is to find a word(s) (Many that come to mind seem inadequate: Heaven, Hell, paradise, angel, eternity, afterlife, Hereafter, eternity.) that speak to post-life as wombed speaks to pre-life.  There is also the need to find new ways of thinking and descriptions of existence that allow us to imagine post-human as fetus speaks to pre-human.  In doing so, we move away from words and phrases like, life in the womb and afterlife toward constructs like, as the womb is to life, life is to ??? and as the fetus is to human, human is to ???.  With such words, we can better speak to and honor the fullness of our human and non-human existence.

Taking in the fullness of the creativity of our human and non-human existence allows humanity to grasp the richness of death.  The movement, if I might call it that, from wombed to living or fetus to human is that of birth.  Birth in its own right is a transitional moment from one existence to another.  There are times at the farm when we have watched a doe mother give birth to a kid, only to have the kid fully within the ammonic sack and fully outside of mom lying on straw.  This moment only lasts for an instant, but in that instant, one can watch the kid moving and having its existence in two realities at once.  The instant the sack breaks, one begins to understand that birth is a unique transitional moment.  Death is similar and transitional, but not the same as birth.  Unlike birth, where the fetus body becomes the human body, death is a transitional experience into a post-life existence that is bodiless.

The lack of body brings forth the realization that both the wombed-fetus and the living-human experience death.  This lack of body in post-life existence is why I commented that when the first kid of the last doe of the day was born, it was birthed dead.  However, there is one stark difference between the death of the wombed and death of the living.  Those which experience life have the opportunity to experience the movement of being from wombed to life to ???.  Whereas the fetus experiences the movement from wombed to ???, missing the experience of life.  Does missing the experience of life matter?  I don’t know.  But I do feel creation experiences deep loss when either a doe births a kid or a mother births a baby (and I choose to allow the mother to define that existence within her as baby) that is dead.

Death really is weird.  Can’t explain it, can’t explain it away—as might be noted in my reflection.  However, in this season of birth, of Holy Week and of Passover, which is a time of life and a time of death, nailing an explanation for death and life doesn’t seem as important and as taking a deep breath and wondering about the richness and fullness of our (goat and human) existence.

© David B. Bell 2013

Remember When?


Remember when?  This is one of the best phrases I know.  Remember when? speaks to relationship in a way nothing else does.  One cannot ask the question without relationship that has some time and heft to it.  For Remember when? means maybe you don’t, because it was a while ago.

Oscar, he will tell you who he is, writes today’s reflection.  He speaks about Remember when?

February 27, 2013

Hello my name is Oscar.  I am 13 years old.  I started going to the great Summer Fun Program when I was 3 years old.  My older brothers and sisters started going before I did.  The program helped me learn lots of things.

In the program, I was helped with reading.  I liked the library because the library felt as if it were a home.  I could just sit and learn how to read in a great environment.  If you read a book you would win ice cream.  Any toppings you wanted were there.  At the end of the program, you would get tested in reading.  This helped me become the reader I am today.

The activities were great.  I liked the arts and crafts.  My favorite craft was making boxes out of sticks.  I was very good at that.  My other favorite was making and painting gack.  I liked it because it was like playdoe but felt more loose.

Going to the summer Fun Program, helped me make friends.  Most of the friends I made over there are still my friends today.  My friends and I would read together, make gack together and play together.  We still sit around and think of the great times we had.

Almost every year we would make murals.  My favorite one was the one my brother and I painted together, we painted the sand box.  I still remembered that day.  We both had lots of fun working together.

One thing that everybody loved was going outside.  The day I got there I fell in love with the slide.  The thing that made it better was making a water slide.  Another thing I still like today was 4 square.  Today I consider myself a pro.

The saddest but best part of the day was lunch.  It would be a great way to finish a tired kid.  It gives us more energy to burn.  I loved the lunch.  It was so great tasting.  Burritos, carrots, peaches nachos, bananas, apples, pizza, green bean and hot dogs etc., that was also one of the worst parts of the day.  I didn’t want to go home.  It’s not that I hated home, but I loved the program so much that I didn’t want to leave.

If you live by this program and have kids…  Send them, we will learn a lot together!!!

© David B. Bell 2013

The Failure of American Exceptionalism


December 28, 2012

Before the election, I received an email from Daniel, a dear person who served as an intern.  He wondered if “Romney’s statement about the 47%, and the subsequent statements both He and Paul Ryan have made about the ‘American Dream’ and people pulling themselves up out of despair,” is endorsing a sense of superiority based from the Christian Doctrine of Discovery (Doctrine).  I didn’t respond at the time because the best I could do was grumble like many others about how out of touch this wealthy white guy was, and yet I figured the answer must go below the surface of race, culture, and economic injustice.  So, I allowed the question to linger.  Well, lingering got me as far as the “fiscal cliff” debacle.

The fiasco of the “fiscal cliff” has made great fodder for the media and their pundits since the election.  So, to add my two cents worth, it may well be that the lack of Congresses getting along, finding places of commonality, and compromise is an indicator that Romney’s arrogant 47% statement could have been said by most any of the folk hanging out in Congress.  As the fiscal cliff talks unfolded, it became somewhat evident that the people whose work is to find commonality are instead living as if they know their way of thinking and acting are the only right ways of being.  This approach of living absolutes, based on knowing I and my community of like thinkers are correct and those other folk are missing the mark may very well be an aspect of the Doctrine of Discovery rising to the surface.

In an era of European Christendom, the Doctrine fashioned theological arguments holding Christian people and governments as the only people and governments endorsed by God.  Such thinking created a theological and political European worldview sanctioning Christianized European people as better than all others.  This thinking not only allowed European empires to develop a worldwide discovery movement that endorsed the subjugation of land and peoples who looked, talked, dressed, ate, and prayed different from themselves, but also embedded such thinking in many of the landscapes they conquered.  The North American landscape of which the United States claims is one of them.

As U.S. government and business developed and began looking different from their European homeland, so also changed the personality of the Doctrine.  The Christian theological argument of God sanctioning U.S. people and their government as better than all others slowly slipped below the surface (ready to re-emerge when necessary), and more secular jargon took its place.  This transition of Doctrine language is noticeable in three eras of U.S. development: In 1630 John Winthrop uses Mathew 5:14 (Jesus’ sermon on the Mount) to distinguish the future Massachusetts Bay community as the city upon a hill; In 1850, secular U.S. jargon begins to move to the forefront when John L. O’Sullivan claims it is the United States manifest destiny to “overspread and to possess the whole of the continent;” and by 2012 one must have the ear to hear the Christian influence in the popular terminology of American exceptionalism.  This reality means, from the moment of European arrival to the North American landscape, it has been difficult to raise a child in the U.S. and not have them believe themselves better than all others.

Recognizing U.S. citizens are raised from birth to believe they are exceptional to others, there little surprise Romney might believe his “job is not to worry about those [47% of the] people” who cannot be convinced “that they should take personal responsibility and care for their lives.”  Nor should it be surprising a Congress, on both sides of the aisle, cannot find common ground, for they were raised to believe they are better than their neighbor.

I think Daniel is on to something.  And I think it is sad.  For even if Congress has come together on the fiscal cliff by the time of this writing (hopefully so…), they were unable to honor one another, unable to honor the people, and unable to honor the landscape of their birth.  Sadly, they have adopted a belief that they (and like thinkers) are exceptional and not prone to mistake, and therefore not called to find middle ground unless forced.

Of course, the Congress arises from the people and as such, their problems are our problems.  At some level, we who are U.S. citizens must admit we believe ourselves exceptional and that we are wrong.  We must let go of Doctrine of Discovery values, and, from the grassroots up, rethink that which we have traditionally accepted as normal and just.  In rethinking, we surely will not get it right or be just every time, but we can create an atmosphere where rethinking is normal and where being wrong is okay.  Should we do so, we just might create a landscape where the voice of all is valued and the need of a scapegoat is something of generations past.

© David B. Bell 2012

Need and Help Isn’t Seasonal


The following reflection is by Juana Lechuga.  Juana joined My Future last September.  With care, Juana has mentored youth throughout the fall.

December 27, 2012

I enjoy helping students with their homework because I want to help students where they have need.  I tell them if they need help or someone to talk too I am here for them.  For example, I always make sure the students show me their grades so I know where to help them; which, recently allowed me to help a senior high school student sign up for the ACT’s and SAT’s.

Walking With Dead In A Landscape Of Art

November 23, 2012

This month began with a Field Trip for a few of the My Future students.  Many of their artwork made up a Dia de los Muertos alter presented in downtown Yakima.  Like with other artful students, My Future youth helped create an alter asking and answering questions of life and death.

Being present and intentional with Day of the Dead (Dia de los Muertos) calls an artist to consider the rightness or wrongness of their art.  For one whose ancestral culture is that of Dia de los Muertos there is a normalcy to participating in a long tradition of art that plays at that edge of death and life.  But for those of us whose culture is of landscapes other than that which birthed Dia de los Muertos the question must be asked, can we be artful and not disrespectful?

Many American Indians remind non-Indians their participation of Indian practices is a fragile one.  From sweats to sage smoke, flutes to the four winds, American Indians recognize many non-Indians appropriate their practices—Such appropriation not always for financial or social gain, rather, acts, such as the use of cleansing sage smoke, are done without embodying the fullness of the sage’s landscape.  Due to centuries of appropriating bodies from sacred burial sites for scientific study to decades of claiming religious and social practices for non-Indian events and ceremonies, American Indians rightfully question when non-Indians produce Indian-like art.  Such history calls the artist to carefully question their participation in cultural art that is not their own.

So it is fair to ask why does Dia de los Muertos have such a large presence in the art of My Future?  Fair and important, because the directors of My Future, Belinda and myself, are white, non-Indian, non-Latino/a, and Dia de los Muertos is nothing if not indigenous and Latino/a.

Not appropriating culture art is tricky for artists, because an artist’s being is wrapped around the constant wonderment of landscape.  Wonderment often leads to eternal questions of life and death, hurt and joy, love and rejection.  One instance of art where an artist found life and wonder outside his culture of birth is Starry Night.  In painting Starry Night the Dutch artist Van Gough beckons the observer into an intimate relationship with the French landscape.  Van Gough presents a landscape of swirling cypress, mountains, and sky, which calls the observer to open the door of finitude, walk out the angular home, church and steeple in favor of entering the cosmos of mystery and wonderment.

Another instance is Woody Guthrie’s song This Land Is Your Land.  Guthrie moves beyond the landscape of birth and asks the listener to consider the landscape of a continent.  Similar to Van Gough, Guthrie calls the listener to an experience of wonderment so large the listener must become fluid where tactile and emotion become one.  In this context of grandeur sky and land, plants and clouds, and water and voice, Guthrie destroys concepts of ownership and No Trespassing signs.  Artists, by nature, reach into the landscape in which they find themselves to mold and breathe life as to beckon us into creations texture.  Such reaching in, though,matters because embedded in the landscape is culture, and it is this life of the ancients which calls the artist to enter into a landscape conversation which strives for art to jump the chasm of appropriation and become an appropriate reflection of culture.

The landscape of My Future is one of America.  Not the nationalistic U.S. america, but peoples America of North, Central, and South America.  This is landscape of an imagined borderless continent where youthful artists walk freely because walls fade and land speaks freely.  Such a landscape does not assume, but speaks the voice of teacher.  This relationship, when done well, allows the student artist to awaken to their place in the culture of landscape.  This place of learning helps the student become a non-assuming artist who embodies the landscape’s voice.

Doing our best to listen to landscape does not mean culture is never appropriated, but rather, My Future staff and students hope their Dia de los Muertos art grasps to reflect their conversation with the landscape, presenting art that is reverent.