Have you ever noticed how sometimes a topic or issue comes up in your life and all of a sudden that’s all you hear about? With a new school year upon us, I have moved back into the dorm to welcome my 49 young ladies back to campus. Leaving my little house on the lake and the days of creating my own schedule in the summer is always bittersweet but I love my job as a residence director because I can develop relationships with some very special young women as we share a home together. As I drove away from the house, I pondered the “cost – benefit analysis” for the work (truly a ministry) that I have chosen.
Yesterday (Tuesday) I sat down to prepare the lessons for the Wednesday morning Bible study I lead with a friend using the “Living the Good News” curriculum. Each week we explore the lectionary readings for the coming Sunday so I was pleased, and a little surprised, to see that we’ll be reading Jesus’ teaching about “counting the cost” in our Gospel this Sunday. Then, on the way home from the study today, I was listening to “Fresh Air” on NPR and heard Terry Gross’ interview with Larry Wilmore, comic writer and former host of “The Nightly Show.” When asked about his advocacy for current issues of feminism, anti-racism and LGBT rights he responded (as though speaking to himself):
What are you going to do? Where are you going to stand on this? You know, Larry, you’re in front of people, where are you standing? You can’t be in the middle. You cannot afford to be without an opinion on this. You have to take a stand, so where are you going to stand? And once you declare where you’re going to stand, you’re owning that.
Taking a stand and owning your position are all part of counting the cost. And sometimes that’s hard because it pushes us beyond our comfort zones. (You can find the whole interview here if you’re interested – http://www.npr.org/2016/08/31/492000096/larry-wilmore-on-being-nerdy-breaking-taboos-and-the-nightly-show )
I’ve been watching social media and reading the news of the Native American tribes who are protesting the construction of a pipeline across the Missouri River in North Dakota. According to The Episcopal News Service (ENS), the opponents say that the pipeline poses too great a threat both to the environment and to the quality of life for the people living nearby who get their drinking water from the Missouri River. The people of the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation would be especially hard hit if this goes through. Energy Pipeline Partners, the company planning to build the pipeline, believes that the pipeline will be safe and economical for transporting oil from North Dakota oil field to the refineries and markets.
If you haven’t been following this story, by now you might be wondering about the connection to the issue of that of “counting the cost.” Members of the Episcopal Church have been standing in solidarity with tribal members in opposition to the pipeline. ENS reported:
“We see our obligation through the lens of our baptismal covenant, respecting the dignity of every human being,” the Rev. John Floberg said. Floberg, canon missioner for the Episcopal Church community on the Standing Rock reservation, serves three congregations in the North Dakota part of the reservation: St. Luke’s in Fort Yates, St. James’ in Cannon Ball and Church of the Cross in Selfridge. And although he is white and not a member of the tribe, he has spent 25 years ministering here and is well aware of the historical context being applied to both the recent protests and the Episcopal involvement.
Resisting large corporate movements and the Army Corps of engineers is an expensive and exhausting challenge. The cost in time and resources is enormous. Many supporters have come out to be physically present blocking the construction and the numbers have grown. Standing with representative of more than 80 Native tribes have been many from the local churches. David Paulsen (ENS) affirms: “Local Episcopal congregations aren’t just passive observers. Some church members are on the front lines, joining in the protests or supporting the hundreds – and at times thousands – of people camped there, and the issue has influenced Sunday sermons, prayers and even the choice of liturgy.”
Our Presiding Bishop Michael Curry also issued a statement on August 25 in support of the opposition:
“Water is a gift from the creator, respect it, and protect it.” I was deeply moved by these words printed on the sign of a person standing with hundreds of others to protect the Missouri River. In the Episcopal Church, when we baptize a new follower of Jesus Christ, we pray these words over the water of baptism. “We thank you, Almighty God, for the gift of water.” We then recall how God used water to bless his people in the Bible, from the story of creation in Genesis, the emancipation of Hebrew slaves in Exodus, to the baptism of the Lord Jesus in the River Jordan. Indeed, “Water is a gift from the creator.” To sustain it and to protect it is to “safeguard the integrity of God’s creation,” and therefore to protect human and others forms of life created by Almighty God. That work warrants our full and prayerful support.
The people of Standing Rock Sioux Reservation, standing in solidarity with hundreds of other indigenous nations and allies, are calling us anew to respect and protect this sacred gift of God, and in so doing to respect and protect God’s gift of human life. In protesting the construction of the Dakota Access Pipeline, they recognize the gift of water to all of us, a gift given to us by our Creator. The Sioux remind us “mni wiconi” or “water is life.” This God-given resource courses through our mighty rivers and our human veins, working to renew and reinvigorate all of creation.
We are called to do our part to urge decision makers to recognize and honor the efforts to protect the sacred water and burial grounds threatened by the Dakota Access Pipeline. The Pipeline, if completed, would stretch over one thousand miles and transport 540,000 barrels of crude oil through hallowed North Dakota burial grounds every day. A rupture in its infrastructure could wreak untold havoc on the Sioux and catastrophically pollute the Missouri River, a sacred tributary that the Sioux people depend upon for their daily water.
I stand with the people of Standing Rock in their efforts to respect and protect the Missouri River. We know that the right to clean water is an internationally recognized human right and that all too often indigenous communities, other people of color, and our most vulnerable communities throughout the world are the ones most at risk of losing access to clean water. As we join the people of Standing Rock, we also recognize that their stand is one that joins the fight for racial justice and reconciliation with climate justice and caring for God’s creation as a matter of stewardship.
This stand of men, women and children is also an important moment in the life of indigenous people. The Sioux people’s advocacy efforts to protect the Missouri River and the sacred burial grounds threatened by the oil pipeline is truly historic. Leaders of Standing Rock observe that it’s been over 140 years since such a unified call for respect and justice has been made. The Episcopal Church has a long record of advocating that government, corporations and other societal players respect the treaty rights of Native peoples. Standing alongside our Sioux brothers and sisters, we continue this legacy today.
The people of Standing Rock Sioux Reservation are calling us now to stand with Native peoples, not only for their sakes, but for the sake of God’s creation, for the sake of the entire human family, and for the children and generations of children yet unborn. The legendary Sioux Chief Sitting Bull reminds us: “Let us put our minds together and see what life we can make for our children.” There is the urgent need of this calling.
So, while we cannot all physically stand in the Camp of Sacred Stones today, let us hold, both in spoken word and silent prayer, the aspirations of the Sioux people and urge our policymakers to protect and responsibly steward our water, the sacred gift from God that sustains us all. (http://episcopaldigitalnetwork.com/ens/2016/08/25/presiding-bishop-statement-in-support-of-the-advocacy-of-the-people-of-standing-rock-sioux-reservation/)
A statement issued by North Dakota Council of Indian Ministries of the Episcopal Diocese of North Dakota Aug. 19 makes reference to resolutions passed at previous General Conventions:
- The North Dakota Council of Indian Ministries (NDCIM) of the Episcopal Diocese of North Dakota stands in solidarity with the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe in their peaceful and prayerful efforts to halt the construction of the Dakota Access Pipe Line (DAPL) because of its degradation of sacred sites and possible catastrophic contamination of their drinking water and irrigation projects.
- The NDCIM calls upon the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to reverse its decision for construction of the DAPL, especially in light of the disregarded recommendations of three federal agencies (the Department of the Interior, the Environmental Protection Agency, and the Advisory Council on Historic Preservation) for further study and investigation of environmental impact. Furthermore, the rejection of the original plans for construction north of Bismarck due to potential dangers to their drinking water is an obvious example of environmental racism.
- The NDCIM calls upon the appropriate governmental authorities to re-open State Highway 1806. Not only is this closure an unnecessary inconvenience to Standing Rock residents, but it has effectively resulted in an economic sanction against the Standing Rock Nation.
- There are Native American veterans and non-Native veterans alike that served in the Armed Forces historically and to the present day to protect the US and all citizens. Their valiant efforts should never be forgotten and based on that we support the efforts of government to government (sovereign tribal nations, states, and federal government) relations to resolve the DAPL crisis in a peaceful, expedient manner that is beneficial to all.
- Given resolutions of recent General Conventions of The Episcopal Church (TEC), including but not limited to the Repudiation of the Doctrine of Discovery (2009-DO35), the expression of Solidaritywith Indigenous People (2012-A131), the call to protect IndigenousPeoples’ Sacred Sites (2012-A132), and opposition to EnvironmentalRacism (2000-D005), the NDCIM calls upon the Presiding Bishop and the Office of Government Relations of TEC to advocate for us.
- The NDCIM requests the Diocesan Council to allocate 10% of the value of our Bakken royalties for 2016 for outreach efforts to the NO DAPL and Sacred Stone camps.
- The NDCIM invites other Episcopalians and people of good will to join us in these efforts.
The Rt. Rev. Michael G. Smith, Bishop (Potawatomi)
Robert F. Fox, NDCIM Chair (Sahnish)
We can take a stand with our brothers and sisters in North Dakota. ENS shared some ideas in their article that came out as a result of Bishop Curry’s statement: “Organizers have indicated that they are in urgent need of portable toilets and roll-off trash containers. Their expenses include food that is prepared on site, health care and gasoline to reach the remote site, which has been made harder to reach by a law-enforcement roadblock set up on the main highway. Local parishes and congregations are providing material and spiritual resources to support to the protesters, and are in turn supported by the diocese.” Financial donations can be made to the diocese by clicking on the “donate” button on their webpage (http://www.ndepiscopal.org/) and reference your donation as “Standing Rock” or “NODAPL.” You can also mail a donation to The Episcopal Diocese of North Dakota, 3600 25th St. South, Fargo, ND 58104 and use the same reference notation in the memo line.
You can also offer your support by speaking out:
- Contact your Congressional representatives and senators to ask them to request the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers do a complete environmental assessment that looks at the full implications of the pipeline that includes impact to the reservation and honors the treaty obligations (the people of Standing Rock are challenging the adequacy of process and content of the Corps’ environmental assessment issued in July.
- Ask the Army Corps of Engineers directly to do a complete environmental assessment that looks at the full implications of the pipeline that includes impact to the reservation and honors the treaty obligations; and
- Contact the U.S. Department of Justice and ask officials to monitor the nature and use of police and possible military equipment during the standoff.
And share the story on social media. The protests have been peaceful yet the media has not always given that impression (read the “real story” in the ENS article here – http://episcopaldigitalnetwork.com/ens/2016/08/26/episcopalians-invited-to-support-anti-pipeline-protesters-join-advocacy/)
When we live out the promises we made in our Baptism we are “counting the cost” of what it means to be a disciple of Jesus. Let’s join our brothers and sisters to protect our planet and respect the dignity of every human being while we work for justice for all.
Let us pray –
Give us hearts to understand;
Never to take from creation’s beauty more than we give;
never to destroy wantonly for the furtherance of greed;
Never to deny to give our hands for the building of earth’s beauty;
never to take from her what we cannot use.
Give us hearts to understand
That to destroy earth’s music is to create confusion;
that to wreck her appearance is to blind us to beauty;
That to callously pollute her fragrance is to make a house of stench;
that as we care for her she will care for us.
We have forgotten who we are.
We have sought only our own security.
We have exploited simply for our own ends.
We have distorted our knowledge.
We have abused our power.
Great Spirit, whose dry lands thirst,
Help us to find the way to refresh your lands.
Great Spirit, whose waters are choked with debris and pollution,
help us to find the way to cleanse your waters.
Great Spirit, whose beautiful earth grows ugly with misuse,
help us to find the way to restore beauty to your handiwork.
Great Spirit, whose creatures are being destroyed,
help us to find a way to replenish them.
Great Spirit, whose gifts to us are being lost in selfishness and corruption,
help us to find the way to restore our humanity.
Oh, Great Spirit, whose voice I hear in the wind,
whose breath gives life to the world, hear me;
I need your strength and wisdom.
May I walk in Beauty.
~ The Rev. Judith Schellhammer, chair Resolution Review Committee