Life, Faith and Urban Farming

The life and happenings of an unconventional pastor and urban farmer living in the city with a family of five.

Saturday, December 31, 2016

Standing Rock, Post Gazette Article

The Pittsburgh Post-gazette  did a good article on some of the people from Pittsburgh who spent time at Standing Rock over the past few months, myself included. Check if out. 

Thursday, December 29, 2016

Going Off Grid: Part 1, Heating our City Home

some of yesterday's results
There is a serious cost to energy production, always a mix of environmental costs, financial costs and labor costs. I spent the day yesterday splitting wood with a rented log splitter in our alleyway. I guess I mixed all three of those costs because I didn't split by hand this time. I was joking with my friend Chris that "there's nothing like city living" as we loaded a few thousand pounds of firewood onto the pneumatic log splitter. It was 2009 when we decided to forgo having a furnace as a big first step in going off the fossil fuel grid. We moved into a house with electric baseboard heat, basically space heaters, in every room. They are inefficient, expensive to use, and dangerous. We've had several of the kids toys nearly burn or melt when someone accidentally turned on the heat in their rooms. And so, we don't use them. When we found this house, without a gas powered furnace, it seemed perfect for us to try heating with wood, something I was interested in. I can't imagine how much energy is used to heat the buildings and houses in the world, most of it is fossil fuel generated heat that was buried in the ground for the past 300 million years or so. The problem with fossil fuels? Buried carbon is released into an atmosphere it hasn't been in for millions of years.  Burning wood that is aged and dried in a high efficiency wood stove is a great way to get away from burning natural gas or fuel oil for your heat, and it's quite clean too. Both heating methods release carbon into the atmosphere, but burning firewood releases biogenic carbon that has been captured from the atmosphere for only the age of the tree. (Note: most of the wood we burn is either repurposed scraps from a lumber mill or invasive tree species that I replace with natives or fruit trees, these threes are only about 15 years old) Biogenic carbon is captured carbon from a biological system, a living system based on decades of carbon capture. Burning fossil fuels is based on geological time, not biological, making it disastrous for all biological systems on earth. Energy from biogenic systems is a sustainable source if we are planting new trees and harvesting from well managed sites.

Using a log splitter yesterday was a first. Usually I split by hand or I buy the scrap wood from a friend who runs a lumber mill an hour away. Over the past two years I had accumulated large rounds of oak, maple and the highly invasive Siberian Elm that were all knotted and mostly too hard to split by hand. Last spring I hurt my shoulder at the gym (i.e. backyard where I split the wood) and so learned that I shouldn't try it again this year. So... gas powered log splitter on a four hour rental sounded great.

Outside the Garfield Farm bioshelter at night
Wood heat is not the best way to heat a home but it's a step in the right direction. The best heat source is probably through passive solar design, once the design is implemented in the construction there's no cost or fuel besides the sun, not even solar panels are needed. At Garfield Community Farm we built a passive solar greenhouse that never goes below 32 degrees. Most greenhouses heat up quite efficiently when the sun is out, but quickly cool down at night. Our plastic tunnel greenhouse heats up nicely, but cools very quickly at night to nearly the same temperature as the outside air. Our bioshelter greenhouse captures that heat energy of the day and stores in a variety of ways that keep the building warm all night. The north side of the building is built into a hillside, where the ground insulates and transfer warmth from the outside soil. The north side is also not clear, it's insulated with spray foam insulation. The south side is double paned polycarbonate, a better insulator than single paned glass or plastic. Inside we have barrels of water, they warm up in the hot sun and then release the heat stored in the water as the temperature drops. Inside the building the thousands of pounds of raised bed soil also absorb heat from the sun and release it into the air of the building during the cold winter nights. Maybe my favorite aspect of the boishelter's heat system are the eleven chickens that, according to Bill Mollison, are each the equivalent of a ten watt space heater. By the way, the chickens in the bioshelter also release CO2 into the building through their breathing and help the plants grow, a common problem in winter greenhouses is actually a lack of CO2 as the plants absorb it all and release oxygen. Finally, to buffer the cold nights in cloudy old Pittsburgh, we installed a pellet stove to stabilize temperatures during the dead of winter when the sun rarey comes out. These pellets are compacted saw dust from the lumber industry, a waste material that when burned is a very clean biogenic form of energy. Pellet fuel costs more than free firewood, but burns more efficiently and is much less labor intensive.

The tropics in 800 square feet in our bioshelter
If we had a newer home with good insulation and tight windows and doors our wood stove would probably heat the home with much less fuel. We use about four to six cords of wood every year to heat our 1600 square foot 90 year old city house. The best part of our house is that most of the windows face south and we have no neighbors on the south. We are flooded with sunlight on sunny days, helping warm the house with passive solar heat. New homes could be heated almost exclusively with passive solar heat if we designed them with zero fossil ethics in mind. The technology is simple, basic design for heating from the sun using clear south sides of buildings. All new construction should take passive solar heating into consideration, it could account for anything from a 10% reduction of heating to 100%.

I can't believe it's been eight years of living without electric or natural gas heating. It is definitely a way of life starting with firewood acquisition twelve months ahead of burning the wood. It's usually February that I start searching for firewood for the next year. It really makes you realize how much energy is used to heat a home when you have to carry a few hundred pounds into your house every day and control it's combustion. It's not for everyone. I'd be great if we had double the number of solar panels so we could use the electric heat in the house to stabilize and supplement the wood stove, but we don't, and so wood it is, a biogenic and sustainable source of cozy heat.

There are many other ways to heat buildings sustainably, but all of them require a redesign of our lifestyle and/or a redesigning of our buildings. That's what gets permaculturists excited. In order to transition to a carbon neutral society we have to redesign civilization, and permaculture has all the design principles needed to embark on this massive endeavor. The question is, does our society have the fortitude to embark on this journey of imaginative redesign? At this point the answer is in question here in the United States, and yet, world wide we are moving in the right direction.

And so, our family, hauls wood into the house multiple times a day reminding us that heating our homes comes at a great cost. It comes with a cost to the environment, a cost to our pocketbooks, and a cost in terms of time and work. We choose to put more on the time and work side believing that's the right thing to do. And, we get a really cozy living room that's almost always warm and beautiful.






Monday, December 19, 2016

Christmas Time is Here...

Alyssa and I recorded these songs a few years back. Still some of my favorite things we've ever recorded together are Emmanuel and Angels. Noise Trade will allow you to listen for free, download for free and give us a tip if you so desire.

Music and Art in Times of Struggle

Everybody knows the best music and art comes during cultural and personal struggle. We look to our artists, musicians, creative actors, playwrights and performers to interpret the trauma and pain we are all going through into art that speaks truth, art that helps us grieve and art that helps us heal. I'm hoping that at least one really good thing to come out of the next four years will be amazing music. Hopefully we will have music that drives people toward positive change, greater compassion, ideals that help us push forward when we feel like giving up, and greater love for our neighbors. Thinking about the mainstream and popular music of the past decade I don't have much good to say. I think the innocuous music we've heard no the radio is evidence of where we are as a culture. But, you don't have to dig too deep into the underground of just about any genre to find prophetic voices, creative new interpretations and music that deserves to be heard. If you're longing for something better than Facebook feeds and twitter wars one place to go is to the artists of our day. 

Our drummer Chris recording some new tracks
Even better for your soul than experiencing other people's art might be to go create yourself. Alyssa has been saying for at least a year that she wants to get back to our music. I had all but given up on trying to write and create original music. I'm not a great songwriter and definitely not prolific. I'm a halfway decent guitarist, but find the walls and roadblocks in by abilities very frustrating. I had all but walked away from trying to play music outside of The Open Door Church. But Alyssa and I had never not played music together since the time we met. In 1994 we met in highschool and within a month started playing in a band together and quickly were playing with my best friends in some Pittsburgh's top clubs. Quickly I realized she was the more talented one, she could sing, write and play classically and improvisational. In our 20s we recorded two full length albums with our band This Side of Eve. It was a passion to write, record and perform. It was also a lot of hard work. 
Lyle playing his violin for the first time! 
Two weeks ago, after renovating a room in our house for playing music, we began writing and recording new music again. While life has been really full for me over the past ten years (planting a church, starting a farm, and raising three kids) recently I thought it might be time that I support my wife in her desire to refocus on her passion for writing and performing together. We never quit playing music at The Open Door, but maybe now we'll try creating something that is not meant for corporate singing. Creating something beautiful, loud, technical, or whatever, is always a good thing, so here we go, come what may! We don't have any ideals that we'll start touring or anything crazy like that. We just want to create and share what we create with others. That's my encouragement to you, go do something creative, something that allows you to express yourself. Go buy some good colored pencils or paint, pull out your woodworking tools and make something for someone for Christmas. If you play an instrument, invite some friends over who do  the same play music together. 

As we continue to struggle through these times, take in some really good art, but don't be afraid to express yourself through your own art, it doesn't have to be perfect or even close. Many of us are struggling to find peace as we continue to allow the reality of a Trump presidency to sink in. Creative outlets are essential, so go for it and see what happens! And our kids, I think the most important thing they can be learning and exploring right now is art and music. I'm so thankful that we homeschool, stressful as it may be, because we can put as much focus on creative expression as we do reading and math. 

Saturday, December 10, 2016

The Company I Keep

I’ve always been a bit of an idealistic person. And I've also always been quite impatient with problem solving in regards to implementing ideals that I think matter. When I was a freshman in college I learned about factory farming of animals, I became a vegetarian and stuck to it for 10 years, at which point I learned about grass-based farming systems where animals live healthy happy lives producing highly nutritious meat, I became a locavore, only eating grass-fed beef, pastured poultry, etc. When I realized I could put solar panels on my house last year, I did it, because I think it’ll make a tiny difference in fighting climate change. At Garfield Farm we plant flowers all over the place with the hopes that we might help native bees survive, that we'll attract hummingbirds and beneficial insects that will help with our pest management. When I hear about the massive problem of climate change, the Pacific Gyre of trash, declining biodiversity all over the planet, I'm attracted to the solutions that can fix all these problems, and I believe we can solve these problems. I am an idealist and I’ve been criticized plenty for that. Last month the week I spent working and praying at Oceti Sakowin Camp outside of the Standing Rock Indian reservation heightened my hope for real solutions in the face of massive social and environmental problems. In blogging about my experience and reflecting on what’s happening there I received a lot of support, and some critique for my idealistic hope that things can change. Here’s a response I got from one gentleman not sympathetic with my hopefulness. He wrote,  “Oh, John. This advice is so far from where we are now economically, practically, etc., that I think you are being badly affected by the company you're keeping.” The advice that I had given was that we, as a culture, follow the lead of Native Americans who are calling for environmental stewardship and an end of fossil fuel extraction and combustion as soon as possible. 

This Sunday I'll be reflecting on hope as a biblical mandate. If you are person of faith, especially if you're of the Christian persuasion, you can't live faithfully without having hope. Sometimes we all find ourselves in a seemingly hopeless situation in life. We all will find ourselves completely without help at some point. According to what I read in the scriptures it is these times when the hope of the saints lift us up, when our community of faith lifts us up, when others in similar situations come together and show that hope is never lost when there is faith in a loving Creator. Even in the face of massive global problems of injustice, oppression and environmental tipping points we must push forward with bold action because we have hope that our actions will be magnified by the actions of a loving God who cares for all of creation. 

There are many small signs that I find hopeful. The fact that the sunset was a beautiful last night as it was at any other time. I find hope in the community of faith that we call the Open Door. I find hope in the restoration we see in our backyard when monarchs and swallowtails find the wildflowers we planted last year. I found hope a couple months ago when we found a five lined skink at Garfield Community Farm, a lizard that scientists haven't seen in Allegheny County in over 100 years. We found one, photographed it and recorded it as no longer extinct in south west Pennsylvania. Let these little victories lead us all toward hope this Advent, hope that will propel us toward greater and greater action for the sake of this beautiful earth and for the sake of the oppressed all over this world.


Tuesday, December 06, 2016

Blessed are the Poor (sermon from October 2016)


Luke 6:20-31New Revised Standard Version (NRSV)
Blessings and Woes

20 Then he looked up at his disciples and said:
“Blessed are you who are poor,
for yours is the kingdom of God.
21 “Blessed are you who are hungry now, for you will be filled.“Blessed are you who weep now, for you will laugh.
for you have received your consolation.
25 “Woe to you who are full now,
for you will be hungry.
“Woe to you who are laughing now,
for you will mourn and weep.
Love for Enemies
for yours is the kingdom of God.
21 “Blessed are you who are hungry now,
for you will be filled.
“Blessed are you who weep now,
for you will laugh.
for you have received your consolation.
25 “Woe to you who are full now,
for you will be hungry.
“Woe to you who are laughing now,
for you will mourn and weep.

22 “Blessed are you when people hate you, and when they exclude you, revile you, and defame you[a] on account of the Son of Man. 23 Rejoice in that day and leap for joy, for surely your reward is great in heaven; for that is what their ancestors did to the prophets.

24 “But woe to you who are rich,

26 “Woe to you when all speak well of you, for that is what their ancestors did to the false prophets.

27 “But I say to you that listen, Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, 28 bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you. 29 If anyone strikes you on the cheek, offer the other also; and from anyone who takes away your coat do not withhold even your shirt. 30 Give to everyone who begs from you; and if anyone takes away your goods, do not ask for them again. 31 Do to others as you would have them do to you.

So, I’ve started, kind of a rough draft of a book and this book starts with a ten year old version of me setting out to save a small forest and in particular one large oak tree at the center of that forest. That said, trees have always held a mysterious grip on my imagination.

Last week as I read todays lectionary scripture passage I also began reading a book called The Hidden Life of Trees. Recent science is blowing to pieces almost everything we thought we knew about trees and forests and it’s led me to consider what the life of trees can teach us about our relationships and communities.

In the book Peter Wohlleben describes his work as a forester in Germany. He began his work as a fairly conventional forester, planting trees on 15 or 20 foot centers so they would grow tall and fast and harvesting them at the youngest age possible. He managed a monoculture forest. But, as Wohlleben continued to spend free time in natural forests as well, he also continued learning how forests seems to thrive on diversity.

One day in a deep dark German forest Wohlleben stumbled upon a strange sight. He found an organization of round stones that he thought must have been placed in a large circle. Who put them there? When? Why? Each stone was covered with thick green moss, upon removing a section of the moss Peter found that they weren't stones at all, they were living wood. Peter goes on to surmise that this circular pattern of living wood was an ancient stump, still alive. It must have been that the surrounding forest was in fact feeding life giving nutrients into this great-grandfather of a tree. What Wohlleben then goes on to describe is the new science developing around how trees care for the young, sick and elderly of the forest. Trees actually communicate in complex ways that science is yet to completely understand. Healthy trees, reaching tall into the atmosphere, absorbing sunlight day in and day out, were also feeding the remnants of this giant and ancient stump.

It seems God created ecosystems, solar systems, family systems, human communities to be in a balanced right relationship where all are supported and cared for, where those with extra recourses share them.

Human beings aren’t always good at living into the purposes God has created for us. Instead, since the beginning, we have been tempted to look out for our own selfish gain and not for the betterment of the people around us. Sin is the chaotic imbalance of justice. Sin is what happens when human beings do not lift one another up and hold each other as precious image bearers of God, but instead as competitors. Sin is the oppression of some people for the gain of others. And this is the story of humanity. This is the story Jesus is telling. A story of competition, oppression and separation. Our passage is about the poor, sick, meek, oppressed people of the world finding justice through the kingdom of God. Likewise Jesus says that the selfish, powerful, and those in control in our world will lose what they now abuse.

It seems trees and forests may do a better job of caring for those in need than human beings often do. Today's scripture is Jesus’ most straight forward teaching on the place of the oppressed in the Kingdom of God and what our response should be in the here and now. This scripture can be broken down into three sections. 1. Jesus describing who will be blessed in the kingdom of God 2. Jesus describing who has already received their blessing 3. Jesus describing how we are to live our lives as a foreshadowing of God’s Kingdom.

If we read just prior to this week’s passage we’d see that Jesus is preaching to a very large crowd. In Luke’s gospel Jesus is standing on a large plain, a flat area where many could gather and hear him. In Matthew’s gospel where Jesus says nearly the same words, Jesus was said to be preaching on a mountain or hillside. In both stories Jesus lifts up these words to a huge crowd. In Luke’s version, prior to this teaching, the disciples are joined by many people who are sick and in need of healing.

We’ve already talked a lot over the past few weeks about how Jesus lifts up the poor and honors those who have received dishonor from society. We’ve seen Jesus demonstrate that all people have inherent value, even repentant tax collectors. We’ve talked about the proud Pharisee, those in the world who have reason to think much of themselves, and how in God’s economy those who think themselves better than others will be brought low. Today what I’m really interested in thinking about is the third stanza of this passage. In this third section Jesus shares some radical ideas of what it looks like to live into the Kingdom of God’s economy in the here and now.

I think this is one of those passages that, when we don’t just skim over it, when we take it seriously, we realize it is a hard passage. After we have come to grips with just how difficult this passage is, we can move forward in applying it to the here and now of our lives, our church and our culture.

Context – Lets imagine ourselves with Jesus, preaching on a big pasture or meadow near the Sea of Galilee. The people gathering are not those in power, it’s not the religious leaders who are coming to learn from Jesus, it’s the outcast from society. And they keep on coming, single women with children, the sick who have no one to care for them, the poor who have lost their jobs or had more than their share of Caesar’s taxes stolen from them. I believe Jesus is gathering these people and he’s angry, he sees that the Jewish culture is oppressive and those who are most vulnerable are not being cared for.

Jesus then says: Blessed are you who are poor, But woe to you who are rich,

Today the state of our world, of our country's politics, and even our country’s religion, makes us all angry. But anger and frustration, two things that I believe Jesus felt, are not where we end. Jesus pushes us toward action. Jesus calls his church toward a radical countercultural way of living that effects all of life.

Love for Enemies

27 “But I say to you that listen, Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, 28 bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you. 29 If anyone strikes you on the cheek, offer the other also; and from anyone who takes away your coat do not withhold even your shirt. 30 Give to everyone who begs from you; and if anyone takes away your goods, do not ask for them again. 31 Do to others as you would have them do to you.

What I believe this third stanza is about is giving up what we can rightfully claim as ours for the sake of others. This is what happens when we truly open up our communities to the other, to those in need, and to those who suffer. When you welcome in a stranger and find that that person is in need, you are willing to give the coat on your back and even your shirt to keep them warm. When we as a church truly welcome in the stranger and find that there is need, we have no option but to respond. When one of us suffers we know that the community will lift us up in prayer, with meals, and with whatever support is needed. That’s what we do. We give of ourselves and the things that we have a right to for the sake of others.

We also give of ourselves outside of this community. We live into this poetic and radical way of life that Jesus calls us toward we will live into a life with open hands willing to humbly give of that which we have earned and that which this world says is ours by right. As a community we will learn to discern ways to communally give up what we have for the sake of others around the world and right here in our neighborhoods.

There are serious and overwhelming issues in our world today that Christians must respond to. Following in the way of Jesus involves collective action for the sake of those suffering in our world.

Issues of Oppression and injustice

1. One issue of injustice and racism that currently weighs very heavy on me are the issues of indigenous peoples in our country and the rights they have to protect their land, water and ancestral sacred sites. The Dakota Access Pipeline is an ongoing injustice against those who have suffered from the original sin of genocide in the United States of American. We must respond with restorative justice.

2. Clean Water – nearly a billion people in our world live without access to clean water. Now, what does that mean? I’m not talking about villages, such as El Huizechal Mexico where one well exists for hundreds of people. That is clean water and people only have to walk a half mile or so every day with that water. While that is extrememly difficult work, I’m talking about nearly a billion people who get their water from ponds, puddles and poluted streams. I’m talking about people who walk miles every day with dirty water. I’m talking about people who are exposed to hundreds of parasite, bacterial and viral diseases because all they have to drink is stagnant water, often infected by human and life stock waste. While the United states spends billions of dollars on military expenditures and on sending people into outerspace, we have neglected the most basic needs of a billion people. The church has the money to solve the problem of clean water in this world.

3. Refugees seeking asylum is another example where the policies of the majority are failing and where followers of Jesus must stand up with solutions. While our national politics may continue to close it's doors on those in need, the church can act locally and become a voice for compassionate care for refugees.

Jesus’ words need to lead us toward a way of life that puts justice, compassion and support of those who are struggling in this world and in our community as primary concerns. I began this sermon thinking about the forest. Scientists once thought the forest was just a mix of trees competing with one another for sunlight and soil nutrients. The reality is that the forest would fail, it would die, if that were the case. Today we’re learning that God’s design for the forest is a design of mutual support. Healthy trees quite literally give of themselves to heal the sick and to support weak. Healthy trees give of themselves to support the young and the next generation, feeding them for decades while they live in shade of the canopy. What I’ve learned about God’s design in nature is that it reflects God’s design for humanity. Just like the forest, we will self destruct if we live our lives focused on economic gains for the wealthy, economics that further oppress the poor of the world and further destroy the environment. We are called out people and we must live against the American culture of greed, putting money and economic growth above the needs of the poor, suffering and oppressed of our world.

Here is the good news, Jesus hasn’t left us alone with only his 2000 year old words to guide us, to scold us or even to haunt us because we know we will fail. That is the truth, we will fail. The good news is that Jesus is alive and active in the world today through those of us willing to take this extrodinary, risky, and nonsensical leap and follow him. Jesus is the actor, the leader, the one who we follow. Jesus is not calling us to go out alone and try to save the world against impossible odds. Jesus is calling us to proclaim the good news that there is love in the universe, that love is holding together this universe, unquenchable love, and we are called to live by that love. Nothing else matters. In this world of suffering, oppression, injustice, rich and poor, Jesus calls us to an unwaivering way of love. And in return we are given full inclusion into God’s communal love.

Do to others as you would have them do to you.

Wednesday, November 30, 2016

The Risk of Direct Action in the Face of Empire


Forces of oppression and injustice exist in our world, in our country, in North Dakota. These are the forces of empire, the forces that drag our world away from the Creator's intent and toward human greed and power. This post is my recollection of what happened on Sunday, November 20th.

According to the Treaty of Fort Laramie from 1851, as you can see in the map, the Sioux Nation has rights to the land between the Cannonball River and the Heart River. Energy Transfer Partners, the company building the Dakota Access Pipeline has already built the pipeline, against federal laws, orders from President Obama and against orders from the Army Corp of Engineers, through the disputed Sioux land and is now illegally digging under the Missouri River. They have ripped a huge swath of destruction through ancient Indian burial grounds, dug under the beautiful Heart River, and now have begun digging under the Missouri River. Their belief is, it seems, if they can finish the pipeline, no one will ever be able to stop oil from flowing in it. They've almost accomplished that task.



Highway 1806 runs north from both Sacred Stone Camp and Oceti Sakowin Camp (where I stayed) and across the Cannonball River where the pipeline is actively, and as stated earlier, illegally being built. The bridge crossing the river is now the front line of protest, prayer and conflict. As of about October 24th the Morton County Police have blocked passageway north using two burnt out dump trucks, razor wire, and Jersey barriers. They've also staged military vehicles at the north side of the bridge. It's here, at the north side of the bridge where water protectors gather regularly to pray and protest the pipeline. It is their (our) belief that the Morton County Sherif's Department is illegally and unjustly protecting Energy Transfer Parters as they complete the Dakota Access Pipeline. It is our belief that the only way to stop the pipeline is to bring awareness to what is happening and continue to push for legal and political action. That is the fight that all people, all over the world, this Advent season can participate in. But the fight on the front lines is not only political, not only phone calls and emails to politicians. The fight on the front line is a real, physical battle against a the completion of the pipeline. Protectors are using their bodies, sacrificially, to bring awareness that the forces of empire will stop on nothing to finish the pipeline as quickly as possible. 

On Sunday, November 20th, a group of indigenous young adults from Oceti Sakowin took action to remove one of the burned out dump trucks. Cornelius and I were sitting around the Sacred Fire some time in the early evening when we heard a woman near us nearly sobbing, exclaiming that "they weren't supposed to do this, they weren't supposed to take direct action against the pipeline for 30 days." What we heard from her was that the elders had asked the young indigenous leaders not take direct action on the bridge while they continued the legal fight. I don't know what was said in those meetings, who decided what, but action was taken against the will of many of the elders, to remove the blockade protecting the Dakota Access Pipeline and it's completion.

A native man came running into camp, out of breath and wet, as we sat there hearing the woman's story. "We need bolt cutters!" he exclaimed. They were attempting to open up the highway and needed to free the second dumptruck! They believed the highway was on Sioux land and it was their right to have free access to the illegal operations of DAPL. I don't think anyone expected the response that was coming from the Morton County Police and their hired mercenaries. 

Cornelius jumped up into action first. I think he grabbed a container of bottled water needed at the front line to wash the eyes of the growing mass of demonstrators now being attacked with tear gas. It as about 27 degrees outside, tear gas and pepper spray were not the dangerous weapons, the National Guard's water cannons brought the threat of extreme hypothermia. Soon, the attempts to move the second truck ended but hundreds of protectors gathered at the front lines to show they would not be moved either. The water canons soaked the crowd. Ice began to form on the razor wire forming icicles that glittered in the bright lights of the National Guard. An ice skating rink formed on the roadway making movement difficult for anyone trying to get out of the way of the onslaught from the police. Soaked protectors were not dissuaded, that evening became the night when the world paid attention, even if just for one night, to the abuses and injustice at Standing Rock. Whether you think the police force was justified or not, the abusiveness of those giving the orders to protect DAPL as they illegally continue their work cannot be questioned. 

I prayed at the Sacred Fire, "Lord, Jesus Christ, have mercy on us," with tears in my eyes, feeling like something bad was about to happen. I stayed until a call for blankets came. Several of us carried boxes of blankets down the highway to the front lines where protectors were being carried out of the crowd on stretchers, freezing and often incapacitated. They were wrapped in blankets laid in the middle of the highway. No longer were we being attacked with water canons and tear gas, but rocket propelled concussion grenades were being shot into the crowd and police were taking aim at civilians with guns loaded with rubber bullets. From the police we saw dozens of fiery canisters soar through the air and release blinding gas and pepper spray. People were hit in the face and abdomen with rubber bullets, breaking through clothing and skin. One woman I saw was hit in the eye, breaking her glasses. Cars, trucks and vans pulled onto the bridge to carry the injured and hypothermic water protectors back to camp, but the medical tents could not house all of the hurt. 

That night 300 people were injured and 23 were taken to area hospitals, many with hypothermia. A young caucasian woman from New York City, Sophia Wilansky, suffered the worst injury. The New York Times wrote: "'From an inch below the elbow, to an inch above her wrist, the muscle is blown off,' her father, Wayne Wilansky, said from the hospital, Hennepin County Medical Center. 'The radius bone, a significant amount of it, is blown away. The arteries inside her arm are blown away. The median nerve is mostly blown away.'" According to the Protectors a concussion grenade, designed to explode and throw less-lethal rubber shrapnel, exploded as it hit Sophia. According to her, it happened very early on Monday morning around 4am, as most protectors had moved back away from the front lines. An officer threw the device directly at her and it exploded. Of course the police and law enforcement deny this. 

I'm not sure that night should have happened, but it did. The elders asked for no direct action for a 30 day period, but it did. That action and the brutal police response brought more awareness around the world that law enforcement will not stop at putting up barriers, but will take any action necessary to protect the pipeline. There has also been negative response since then, the Army Corp of Engineers have issued an eviction notice for Oceti Sakowin, and the governor followed with his own. This probably wouldn't have happened if that night didn't happen. Either way, we know that  the water protectors will not be moved, people are not leaving. They continue to win the legal battle as the DAPL workers continue to win the physical battle to illegally build the pipeline. 

For Native Americans the United States Government is an empire of oppression. They simply believe that their only source of drinking water will be threatened by a pipeline running under it and have therefor asked it not be built on their land or anywhere north of their reservation. The empire built upon the extractive economics of the fossil fuel industry does not stop in the face of people who oppose them. For centuries Native Americans have not been listened to, they have been displaced, lied to, and marginalized in society. Now is our opportunity to extend restorative justice toward those who have been oppressed and are now asking that we honor their decision to reject this pipeline. 

Jesus was a man falsely convicted of a crime and murdered by the Roman Empire. To me, "empire" exists anywhere one people group takes advantage of another or wherever a systemic injustice is justified by the majority at the expense of the minority. The American empire that we live in is the empire of hyper-consumerism, where economic growth matters more than anything else. An economy based on a theory that economic growth is the only way to measure economic health is doomed to become unjust and unsustainable. Today the oil and gas industry is being expanded and continually built on a premise that it cannot fail, if it does the economy will fail. This is the lie of the Empire, the lie that we cannot transition our economic system to a just and low-carbon future. We are living a lie that we cannot transition quickly from an economy built by industries that extract from the earth and from human beings. What if economics existed to benefit the earth, human society, all life on planet earth - even beyond the seventh generation. 

Native Americans at Oceti Sakowin Camp and Sacred Stone Camp are not only fighting for clean water in the Missouri River, they are righting for you, for your children, for the generations to come who will inherit the earth that we leave for them. The Dakota, Lakota, Nakota and over 300 other Native nations are fighting to push our world toward a future where all human life is honored and where every inch of Grandmother Earth is treated as sacred space. They are taking every risk they can, putting their health and lives on the line, for their people and for all people. Direct action is risky, it's not always pretty, it's not always done at the right time or place. But in the face of empire we all need to take direct, peaceful, nonviolent, action to push back the veil of injustice.