Tag Archives: DOC

Why Anti in Anti-Racism and The All in #BlackLives Matter

Artist Renda Writer. Photo: Huffington Post

September 27, 2015

September and October are months of anti-racism workshops. That is not the case every year, but this year they have been months of engaging, wondering, and thoughtful conversation. I find facilitating these workshops has changed over the last fifteen years. Years ago, folk showed up to engage in this wok because this is something I am supposed to do (and in some cases, they were required to by their organization). Today more folks show up because this work really matters to me and the wellbeing of my neighbors of color and my children.

Some of that change is due to the visceral gut—somethings got to change—that has permeated much of US society since Ferguson and the shooting of Michael Brown. Events over the course of this last year have led many folks to conclude the civil rights movement simply ended in the late seventies with the work of racial justice far from completed. The rise of young people in groups like #BlackLivesMatter and Idle No More, are calling for US society to renew themselves to the work of racial justice, and son-of-a-gun, folk are noticing that People Of Color (POC) and American Indians continue to struggle and die because of unjust perceptions, laws, and regulations. More so, the reason this work really matters to folk seems to come from understanding the repeated injustices they have seen this year (from phone videos to police cameras) are modern equivalents of Selma hoses and dogs. (In other words, Michael Brown, Trayvon Martin, and Antonio Zambrano-Montes are our Emmett Till’s and the evil this generation has to own.) What is coming into focus in 2015 is our government, systems, and institutions continue to maintain rules and laws that promote a normalcy not only where POC and American Indians are treated differently than White people, but where that normalcy is right, correct, and moral.

All of which has me thinking of two questions, one old and one new, that come up in anti-racism workshops. Old one first.

“I wish we would come up with a more positive word than ‘Anti’ when talking about racism.” is a comment I have heard from White folk since I first began facilitating anti-racism workshops. One would think linking the word anti to racism would be thought of in the positive. That is not the case. I first experienced the perceived negativity of anti in the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ). When first renewing a commitment to anti-racism work in 1998, the Office of Reconciliation called this work Anti-Racism/Pro-Reconciliation. Continue reading

Justice Arrives Through the Voices of the Fearless


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

God is in the Flies


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

Forever Learning, Forever Teaching


June 21, 2015

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

There it sat, promising it could get me to where I needed to go if I only had the patience – a 1986 Nissan pickup truck.

The yellow paint was faded with age. The trunk suffered from something similar to tendinitis. The steering wheel sometimes took a bit of muscle, frustration, light perspiration, and mumbled swear words to turn. The driver’s side door was temperamental, refusing to lock from the inside and only locking from the outside when it felt like it. Despite all of this, though, the old King Cab had some fight left in it yet.

There was only one inconvenience keeping me from eagerly taking it for an exploratory ride around Yakima County. The little yellow intern truck David and Belinda Bell had lent me for the summer had a manual transmission. Since I only knew how to drive automatic, I knew I had some learning to do if I was going to be a productive intern for the Yakama Christian Mission.

I was suddenly sixteen again. Every driving skill I mastered in the last five years was set back to a beginner level. It was more than the difficult aspects too, such as driving in reverse or doing a three-point turn. I couldn’t even press the gas without making the truck jerk, sometimes stalling in traffic. My face would turn the same shade of red as whatever stop sign or light I had jerked to a standstill in front of that day. Each time, I felt like the truck was taking me by the shoulders and shaking me in frustration. My goodness! Get your act together. What an embarrassment.

The truck wasn’t the only one frustrated. I wanted to shake the truck back. “Don’t you think I’m trying?” I mentally retaliated. “Give me a break! This isn’t as easy as it looks.” Then my left foot would prematurely depart from the clutch and the truck would stall again. I smacked my forehead against the stubborn steering wheel several times. Continue reading

The Warming Fire


November 19, 2014 (Updated)

Each year American Indian Heritage Month arrives and each year I find the writing I make public, hard. When temperatures just outside the farmhouse window linger in the single digits, I prefer to write of warm ideas, considerations, actions, and seasons. I believe it is my good fortune is to live on the reservation. From land to people to wind, community stories give warmth in the days of cold.

Yet, as a white guy on the reservation, I also find I have a responsibility to speak to the injustices non-white skin folk experience in my adopted landscape. Thus, when American Indian Heritage comes along and many of my American Indian sisters and brothers are paying attention to and writing about American Indian accomplishments, I question the white structure whose very makeup requires society to create American Indian Heritage in the first place. In questioning that structure, I step on toes, mostly white toes, but some toes of color and Indian toes too. Little question stepped on toes hurt and being one whose theology is a call for hurt to end, makes writing this time of year hard. Realistically there are only a handful of folk who read what I say and I know I could let the writing go and few would know the difference. However, I believe it irresponsible and disrespectful to live in my landscape, enjoy its created gifts and not question or comment about the denigration American Indians experience from non-Indians, past and current—that it seems is more hurtful than stepped on toes. Continue reading

Considering Weakness and Apathy


November 9, 2014

I found Bill Running Wolf Davis’ essay Disciples Missional Tokenism to American Indians: Legacy of the Doctrine of Christian Discovery posted on the Facebook Page Disciples Exchange last October 9. During the essay Running Wolf raises a number of questions and makes a few comments about the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) (Disciple(s)) historical and ongoing commitment to American Indian justice. Running Wolf (RW) doesn’t cut Disciples much slack in his essay; so, Facebook being the nonconfrontive space it is, few non-Indians risked commenting on RW’s thoughts. Being fair though, it takes more than a few sentences to ponder the many issues RW raises.

RW centers his thoughts on the Disciple denomination. However, I find many of his comments apply to every American Christian church: Catholic, Methodist, Mormon, Episcopal, Mennonite, et cetera. Additionally, I agree with a number of his observations and question a few. Seems like perfect stuff for conversation, and since this is Native American Heritage Month, I thought I would use RW’s essay to spur a few thoughts of my own over the course of the month.

Running Wolf’s essay opens with a quote from D. Duane Cummins 2009 book Disciples: A Struggle for Reformation. The quote is the concluding paragraph of Cummins’ Native American section. Continue reading

As Clouds Diminish


April 15, 2014

When the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) began construction on the American Tepee Christian Mission in 1920 there is little chance they had a clue what they were getting themselves into. They had no idea of their Christian Doctrine of Discovery roots, but claimed the rightness of their manifest mindset. So with a theological sureness and social certainty that hindered the asking of generational questions that might have helped them to grasp the consequences of their actions, Disciples embarked on a journey of cultural and social change.

Having become the fastest growing American Christian denomination at the turn of the century instilled a confidence that led Disciples to empower W.F. Turner and the American Christian Missionary Society with the task of civilizing and Christianizing Yakama people. Opening the ATCM Christian Home doors in 1921 began a Yakama-Disciple relationship, that for better or worse, would help lay a community-social-religious framework that remains to this day.

I think of those early days as I enter this sixteenth summer as Director of the Yakama Christian Mission (YCM) and watch as the last remnant of Turner’s and turn-of-the-century Disciples venture into cultural and societal change is boarded up and sold. A lot has changed in these ninety-three years. Disciples have lost the surety that comes with being an upstart growing movement. Internal theological and social differences led to times of little compromise and splintering. Loss of folk created a financial anxiety that led a forgetfulness of the dreams and wishes and commitments of their cloud of witnesses. Those who lose their memory don’t always notice such forgetfulness, but for those who live on the fringes, they notice.

Forgetting the cloud of witnesses led Disciples to drop mission funding to their historical mission centers serving communities of color and of poverty in 2007: ATCM (now called Yakama Christian Mission), All Peoples in Los Angeles, Inman Center in San Antonio, and Kentucky Appalachian Ministries. The impact on each was both financial and spiritual. Continue reading

Three Events Five Days

February 3, 2014

I’m on to my second of three gatherings in five days.  One is grounded in the wellbeing of the landscape.  Another is engaged in mending creation.  And the last one seeks to understand hurting creation.

Yesterday I enter the space of Sacred Hoop, a congregational ministry, as folk blessed their place of meeting.  This is a blessing of great significance.  For the undertaking of Sacred Hoop is not easy.  Sacred Hoop arises from the Native voice of the local landscape and brings with it a landscape theology rooted in an equitable relationship of reciprocity with Creation.  In other words, that which makes up Sacred Hoop (the congregation you might say) encompasses the whole of Creation.  Not an easy place to exist when your structural roots lie in the soil of an anthropocentric denomination, Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), who struggles with biocentric theologies of harmony.  Yet, if these roots of familial creation become the first to survive then the soil will begin to mend.  That is worth a blessing!

Winter Talk begins today.  The next three days is a birthing as well.  For the first time, folk in the denomination of Sacred Hoops origin will come together to begin a conversation of what it might mean to become accountable to the land and the people of the Americas.  With indigenous voices at the forefront Winter Talk folk will explore how accountability to Creation might lead to a mending of the American landscape.

The last gathering is on Thursday as the anthropocentric soil of Sacred Hoops origin has a conversation at to why American indigenous people have been held at the margins since conception.  Not an easy conversation when marginalization has been normalized for generations.  Yet, the richness is in the conversation.  And conversation has the ability to lead to landscape mending and an end of Creational suffering.

It should be a number of days of incredible conversation.  I look forward to talking about it in the near future!

Steady Snow, Steady Homes


September 29, 2013

Last Tuesday was known for an open blue sky, warm low-50’s, and visibility way down river.  It’s been snowing ever since.  At first snow was heavy and wet.  Then with a temperature drop the snow turned light, steady, and on/off.  This has resulted in a white-green landscape with bare gravel roads throughout the village.

Good weather last Tuesday also allowed our second team to arrive.  With eleven folk on the ground, home repair has been as steady as snow.  This has resulted in the team, the first and second now is acting and working as one, finishing four of five homes.  The fifth, with a Sunday half-day of work, is now roughly half finished.

Not bad considering the weather has not allowed a flight since Tuesday to bring materials for the homes or food for the team.  It has only taken a bit of scrounging for materials and a bit of bartering for food to repair buildings and feed folk—it ain’t as bad as it sounds.

Tomorrow is a day of funeral.  One homeowner passed since we arrived and finished home repairs.  What that calls for, from us, I am not sure.  A few of us sat in the community hall last night, eating moose soup, and trying to learn a regional card game.  What I found, again (this seems to be the norm of my life), is three weeks in any community isn’t enough time to learn how to flip a card, say “hi,” or have a clue as to what to expect in a Athabaskin-Koyukon, village of Hughes,  funeral service.  But ya gotta make a guess to figure out some type of timeline to complete work before it is time to leave, right?  So, figuring on tomorrow being somewhat like a funeral day back home, I’m figuring an all-day affair.  Therefore, it is good to have gotten in a half-day of work so there is time to be present tomorrow.

© David B. Bell 2013

Autumn on the Koyukuk


September 14, 2013

Late fall.  Not often does mid-September come along—the autumnal equinox still a good week away, and the trees and shrubs are fully expressing their gold’s and red’s and giving some serious thought to dropping their leaves altogether, and I get to watch.  Really, it has only happened once before.

Four years ago the spring breakup sent ice chunks, the size of houses down the Yukon River.  Nothing new, the ice breaks up every spring on Alaskan rivers.  That year though, ice got wedged downriver from Eagle, Alaska.  The wedging caused a dam.  The dam backed up the Yukon raising it well over thirty feet, which in turn flooded the community of Eagle.  That year, Katherine and I joined other folk from the lower 48 rebuilding and repairing homes in Eagle and other similarly flooded communities along the Yukon.  When we arrived, a tree here and there sported a few leaves of color.  Three weeks later, days had lost an hour and three quarter of day light, every deciduous tree had moved from green to yellow, orange, gold, and red, and those trees who sported the leaves of color weeks before were now bare.  For Katherine and I, that was a first.  Now we are about to watch it again.

Disciples Volunteering is one many Faith-based groups asked to return to the Alaskan Yukon.  Like before, last May’s ice didn’t flow well, bunched up, and flooded a number of communities.  A message came a month ago that Galena needed a crew to help repair community buildings and homes.  I had haying to get done and Katherine had a dissertation to complete, so when folk left on Labor Day we were sitting on a tractor and in front of a computer.

Then a call came saying a remote Alaskan native village on the Koyukuk River had been damaged as well, no repair work had been done and there were no available volunteers.  FEMA asked Josh Baird of Disciples Volunteering if he might pull together one more crew who might be able to handle the stress of flying into community—that makes Eagle look like a city, and complete repairs.  A few days later, sitting in the back seat of a three seat Cessna, I watched the landscape change from green to bright colors as a FEMA housing representative, the pilot, and I flew from Fairbanks to Hughes.

Bounded by the Koyukuk River to the north and a ridge to the south, I walked through Hughes a few hours later.  There isn’t a whole lot of folk in Hughes to begin with and there were a lot fewer that day, after all, moose hunting season had just opened.  Continue reading