Saturday, October 29, 2016

Where Does It Come From?

It was a beautiful autumn in New York. We decided to take the youth from the church on a Saturday outing to a farm north of the city. One of the church members had this country home on several acres with trees and fields and a stream. It was great weather, a perfect time of year and a terrific location to be out of the noise and concrete of the city.

In my minds eye I see them now. Forty middle school students walking in a pack, close to the country home with a boom box in their midst, turned as loud as it would go. There was no movement into the fields and trees. There was no investigation of the stream. It  was as if this unfamiliar environment was not only foreign but frightening.

I'm certain if one were to ask these young people where their hamburger came from, they would say McDonalds or perhaps the Coop grocery store. They never had the experience of chopping off the head of a chicken on the farm or even watching a live pig turn into pork chops in the SDSU meat lab.

They didn't know the origin of their food, the process through which it arrived on their plate, the people who labored to put it there.

Those in rural areas can smile and even lament the food ignorance of city folk. But when you look more closely, the ignorance of where things come from is pervasive in the whole culture. Do we know where the aluminum in our car originates? There's not much bauxite in the U.S.! Do we realize the health and safety risks some take so there is copper for our wiring? Do we know the sacrifices whole communities make to supply our needs and wants?

A copper mine in Peru is reported back in business after it was halted for ten days by protesters.  They were objecting to the noise, dust and environmental destruction the Chinese owned mine was bringing to their homes and communities. The mine expects to deliver 400,000 tons of the metal a year, producing a fifth of the copper output of Peru. 

The protest ended after police shot and killed one of the protesters with a bullet in the head. Reports from the company say talks are now taking place to try and develop alternative transportation options as the government investigates the killing.

This is not an isolated incident. Oxfam International reports that 2015 was the deadliest year ever for those people struggling to protect their homes and environment from extractive industries. And of the 185 human rights defenders killed around the globe, 122 were killed in Latin America, places like Peru, where the Goldman prize winning environmental activist Mazima Acuna de Chaupe was recently attacked and hospitalized, allegedly by security guards for the gold mining company that wants her land.

And this trend continues. There have been 58 additional murders in the region between January and May of 2016. More recently, a Brazilian environmental official and two Honduran environmental leaders were assassinated.

Huge mining and energy projects, driven by financial speculators and international corporations, are trashing the Latin American landscape. They are forcing the displacement  and loss of land and livelihood for whole populations of rural and indigenous peoples.

In the meantime, governments stand on the sidelines or blatantly support the exploitation, economically dependent on resource extraction for their well being and political stability. Protocols and licenses for doing business are ignored or minimized to provide the companies with easy access and limited roadblocks.

The only roadblocks are established by the people on the land, like at the Peru mine, where the protester got a bullet to the head.

Meeting with people from all over Mexico this past June, from all walks of life, I realized that all of them were confronting mega resource projects in their own back yards. Mines, hydro electric projects, fracking; you name it, they were facing it. As we met over the course of several days, news came of the killing of teachers in Oaxaca, a related struggle. It became clearer and clearer that the common people are quickly becoming disposable. If you are a farmer, anyplace, and there are resources to be exploited where you live, you and your land are in danger. It is called "development." And enormous financial institutions, infrastructure corporations and extractive industries will convince political elites to sacrifice a few "radical environmentalists" or "Indians" for the sake of the many.

Pope Francis in his recent encyclical Laudato Si', On Care for Our Common Home, writes: "The natural environment is a collective good, the patrimony of all humanity and the responsibility of everyone." One assumes that includes clean, fresh water.

Was I talking about resource extraction and exploitation of the poor in Latin America? Or was it North Dakota? The situation playing out at Standing Rock is a historical and moral disgrace for the U.S. The political and financial enablers should be ashamed. There hasn't been a killing yet, but only through the grace of God, given the stakes. 

Do we know where our water comes from? Out of the faucet, right?

Carl Kline

Sunday, October 23, 2016

Inside Conflicts of a College Student

Growing up you are always told to accept others for who they are, and to not judge them. But often what we are not taught is the inside struggles many go through. The constant questions of whether they are good enough, if what they are doing is right, if where they are is where they are supposed to be, and so many other vital life questions. Often what we do not see are some of the biggest conflicts in a person’s life and often times all these people need is a little bit of encouragement and support but what we give them is a sign of disappointment and disapproval. We as a society need to encourage students to seek help when they are struggling mentally and emotionally.
As a college student many thoughts go through your head. All of a sudden you are pushed out of the nest and no matter how prepared you think you are you can never be prepared enough. All the decisions you are suddenly forced to make: what do you want to do with your life, where are your going to live, and how are you going to afford all of this are just a few of the many life defining questions that are thrown at you. Internally you go through a whirlwind of emotions> You do not know if you are prepared for this. You are suddenly faced with the question, is all this worth what you want to do in your future? All of a sudden it feels as if you are taking on life all by yourself and no one is there to support you.
As a struggling college student all you want to balance out your life is to have a conversation with someone. You want to tell anyone and everyone that will listen about your current life struggles, but a lot of times everyone else is so engulfed in their own lives or studies to just lend an ear. All of a sudden you realize you truly are in this big world all alone, and reaching out is almost impossible. Not everyone is accepting and you do not want to be looked at differently. Almost everyone you encounter tells you to buck it up, you will be fine, and you are just in a slump. The world seems to get darker and darker, you are constantly inflicted with all these internal struggles and you do not know whether to keep trying to push them out and go about life normally or to succumb to the pressures of your mind, to shut everyone out and just pretend you never existed.
As someone who has been in the dark place of their own mind, a simple smile and telling someone you care can do wonders. We need to go away from the stigma that mental health is not something that can be harmful. These internal conflicts can lead to so much struggle within a person and so much damage within a community. Thousands die annually of suicide and this leaves an ever lasting impact on a community. Reach out and help someone, you never know how much that can mean. Just have a normal conversation, you never know what someone is going through and how much that conversation may help someone come out of that dark place even if just for a few minutes. We should all strive to talk to at least one person we do not know weekly, if not daily. Be the ray of sunshine in someone’s life just one day and you will leave a lasting impact for a lifetime.
By Rebecca Urban
Guest Blogger

Monday, October 17, 2016

Creating an Economy of Care

Editors Note: This is an edited sermon delivered by Rev. David Hansen August 28, 2016.

Luke 14:1-14

Creating an Economy of Care
It was a long reading today from the Gospel of Luke but I wanted to read the whole passage because what happens in the first part—healing the man with dropsy—holds the key to understanding the second part—and the question of seating at the banquet illustrates the first part. In order to get the full picture, we need the full story.
Dropsy is not a word we use anymore. Today we talk about edema, which is the medical term for what used to be called dropsy. Edema refers to retention of fluid in the body. It is a condition that might have any number of causes and the medical community has a specific name for each type of edema. It can be a very painful condition and may be even life threatening. It is a serious condition.
Tradition teaches us that Luke was a physician. And it may be that he is diagnosing and describing a physical condition that Jesus healed. It could also be that he is diagnosing a spiritual disease.
In ancient times dropsy was a metaphor for greed. Dropsy referred to this insatiable desire to own everything. Perhaps the man’s ailment was spiritual dropsy. The poet e. e. Cummings has a powerful little poem entitled “more,” which describes the condition of dropsy. He says in this poem, “nobody wants much, not to say most, all anybody ever wants is more, and more, and more. What are we all, morticians.” That’s a description of dropsy. It is a deadly disease.
St. Augustine said that God has created the world so that there is enough to satisfy everyone’s need, but not enough to satisfy one person’s greed.
I am suggesting that the man was consumed by an insatiable desire to own more, and more, and more. He was greedy. He had forgotten the 10th commandment, “Thou shalt not covet anything that belongs to thy neighbor.” The man in the gospel thought everybody was his neighbor, and he was entitled to everything they owned.
In a world that is increasingly divided between the have-gots and the have-nots, we are familiar with this condition. Two scholars, Jacob Hacker and Paul Pierson wrote a book a few years ago entitled Winner-Take-All Politics (Simon & Schuster, 2010) in which they document why there is this growing chasm between the one-percent and the ninety-nine percent. We are aware of the problem. It has real consequences. One in five children in Kansas, the breadbasket of the United States, the wealthiest country in the history of the world, one child in five, a total of 135,000 children in Kansas, live below the poverty line.
I know that poverty is a complex issue and there is no single answer or simple solution. If there were we would have eradicated poverty long ago. But I am thankful that the World Council of Churches has been wrestling in a very serious and intense way with the global economy and questions about poverty and wealth for the last 30 years. The Council has convened meetings with economists, church leaders, scholars, and people from all walks of life in conferences and study groups and they have released a number of studies. In the last few years one of these groups has published what they call “the greed line.” The authors say that if we are comfortable talking about the poverty line, we should also start talking about the greed line. If we are going to put the greed line study in the context of today’s gospel reading, we would talk about global dropsy. Those who have the most have an insatiable appetite to have more.
Like any disease, if you are going to cure it, you need to know how to identify it and diagnose it. The study group came up with four criteria to identify what Luke calls “dropsy:”
The first criteria is when the objective to maximize returns becomes an end in itself. The second is when the social and ecological consequences of maximizing returns are deliberately disregarded. The third criteria is when the pursuit of wealth results in withholding land, goods and capital from the community, and the fourth, when excessive inequality undermines social cohesion and respect for human dignity.
These criteria get played out at the banquet in the second half of the reading for today. The guest arrives with a sense of entitlement that disregards the intent of the host, undermines respect for others in attendance, and usurps the place of honor. The guest has an insatiable desire to be recognized, to the exclusion of everyone else.
Unstated, but I think implied in this parable, is the lesson of Jesus when he told the disciples, “I am sending you like sheep among the wolves. You must be wise as serpents, and as innocent as doves” (Mt.10: 16). Understand the ways of the world, but do not be seduced by the glitter and glamor of the world. Don’t sit at the head table. Don’t take the place of honor. Find another table and sit there.
We often hear this as a counsel to be humble. But humility does not have anything to do with thinking less of yourself. Humility is not about thinking less of yourself. To be humble means to not think less of others. Love one another as I have loved you. Do unto others as you would have them do unto you. That is what the Bible means by humility. Blessed are the meek—the people who respect others.

The good news is that Jesus healed the man with dropsy in an instant, and the guest who came to the banquet found another table. It’s going to take us a little longer. We cannot disengage from the world so quickly or easily. It is hard work and it takes time and dedication and commitment. But the love of God is here, and so are the opportunities for us to explore how we can create and expand what I called this morning “an economy of care,” a growing community that values the well-being of everyone who is created in the image of God. The table is set. The invitation has been made. Come, and eat this bread and drink this cup and give thanks to God.

Friday, October 7, 2016

David & Goliath

A rather astonishing and frightening event continues to play out in North Dakota. As Energy Transfer Partners continues to lay pipe for the Dakota Access Pipeline, against the order of a federal judge, those gathered to protect the water and sacred lands are summarily arrested. As the state escalates their response to native peoples with more militarized police, the national guard and trumped up felony arrest charges, the likelihood of a spark to light a conflagration increases. 

Each day of the stand off it grows more and more similar to an older struggle in our country. The comparable events in our history are the struggle against slavery and for civil rights. There are three reasons why this relationship becomes more and more evident to me with each passing day. The reasons are based in economics, the law and race.

Economics! In the days of slavery, especially and most importantly in the south, slavery was an economic engine. The economy of the whole region depended on it. The wealthy were deeply invested in owning other human beings and they were the ones who told the politicians what laws to pass to keep the slaves in their place.

The state of North Dakota made a choice to develop the Bakken oil fields. The state has made an enormous investment. Whole N.D. communities have been transformed by this boom or bust economic engine. Today, with low gas prices, they are looking busted.

But it's not only the economy of the state of North Dakota. There's an enormous economic engine involved in this struggle. Energy Transfer Partners includes some of the largest fossil fuel interests on the planet. They have the support of most of the major banks. Seventeen financial institutions have loaned Dakota Access $2.5 billion. They have also committed huge sums for more infrastructure projects. There's more than $10 billion in loans and credits from 38 banks supporting groups building the Dakota Access Pipeline. These banks will want those loans repaid, with interest!

The law! In the south during slavery the law followed the money. So it was lawful to beat your property, your slave. The law often looked the other way when the plantation owner raped a piece of his property. 

In North Dakota, people can be bitten by attack dogs, children and elders can be pepper sprayed and all manner of young and old can be arrested by standing in the wrong place at the wrong time or not moving fast enough. But Energy Transfer Partners can bulldoze sacred sites, ignore a federal judge and buy the Cannonball Ranch (against  N.D. corporate farming law) and nothing happens.

Then there's the matter of race. In the south during the days of slavery and segregation, the law said some people had to drink at certain water fountains. In North Dakota, the original proposed site of the pipeline was too close to Bismarck. Some worried it might impact their water supply. So the site closer to Standing Rock tribal water was chosen. Let the Indians drink oil.

I met Chas Jewett for the first time last month in the Black Hills. She spoke about her work with Community Conversations in Rapid City. This is an effort for Indians and whites to learn from and listen to each other. From all reports it has been a productive and promising experience for those involved and the larger community. 

Chas has been at the Standing Rock camp and has shared some videos. One was startling in its simplicity and beauty. She was with a group from the camp who went to the state capital in Bismarck to have a prayer service. As they are arriving, a long line of state police appears and forms a barrier in front of them. Chas is astonished! She can't believe this show of force. People have come to offer prayers. Nevertheless, a sage ceremony to purify the thoughts and behavior of the participants proceeds. Then one individual walks over to the first state trooper and shakes his hand. He moves on shaking the hands of all those in the line. He is soon followed by all those gathered for the prayer service. It's the most exceptional scene of de-escalating potential conflict I have ever seen.

There was a second similar incident just the other day. It was a stand off at a rural road intersection. The same thing happened. Native people offered the hand of relationship.

The image I keep seeing in my mind's eye is that small black girl on her way to an integrated school for the first time.  I saw her again in a video from up north yesterday. She was a different race this time. She was facing militarized police arresting people around her. She slowly moved off to the side out of the picture. I wanted a nonviolent army there to surround her, to protect her, to help move her and all of us into a more just, more human and livable future. 

This is a global struggle. First Nations people were at the N.D. camp recently from Ecuador, where they were left with Chevrons toxic mess. All over the planet indigenous people are struggling to protect their water, their land, their cultures from extractive industries. And they are prayerfully struggling against some of the the most powerful forces on the planet.

Like with slavery and segregation, there are economic, legal and racial challenges implicit in this struggle. It's a David and Goliath situation. I'm praying for a similar ending.

Carl Kline