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.

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. 

Monday, November 28, 2016

Peace and Demonstration at Standing Rock

Our first few days at Oceti Sakowin at Standing Rock were really beautiful and peaceful. During our first evening in camp we learned that prayer would happen every morning at 6:30 am at the sacred fire near the entrance to camp. No only is there the perpetually burning sacred fire at this location, but also the perpetually full ten gallon water cooler, except it's full of coffee. So, we were there. There were probably 60 others ready for morning prayer that cold Wednesday morning too. We were led by a Dakota elder in a traditional peace pipe prayer ceremony. It was quite obvious that I was a newbie to Native American traditions.

At 9am on Wednesday, after a hearty breakfast, all the new comers to camp were encouraged to attend an two + hour orientation meeting in one of the larger meeting tents. At least 100 people were there. They hold this meeting every day for the hundreds of new people coming into camp every day. There we learned so much about everything from who gets to eat first at the mess halls to how we are all dealing with the reality of white supremacy. We heard about the history of the pipeline and the rich history of the seven council fires, Oceti Sakowin.

After the orientation anyone with the slightest sense of carpentry and building were swept to the construction staging area. Over the next four days we would participate in building composting toilets (to hopefully soon replace the conventional portable toilets), tarpies (teepee like structures designed specifically for Standing Rock for winter housing) and a most challenging geodesic dome. I think what impressed me most about the coordinated efforts to winterize the housing in the camp was the unified selfless effort. There were dozens of skilled workers working for free. There were dozens of contractors who had taken off work to work for free, and share the tools for the sake of the camp. And almost all of it was solar and wind powered.
The combination of working, eating and praying was almost a monastic rhythm.

It was either Friday or Saturday when a large portion of the camp participated in our first "direct action." Another class at camp is for anyone planning to participate in direct action, the class is on non-violent protest. Dr. King style. Everyone in camp knows that violence is absolutely not accepted in the camp and especially not in direct action. Everyone participating in any protest or action that could involve confrontation must attend at least one session on peaceful, nonviolence. Violent language is nearly as forbidden as violent acts, no swearing allowed!

First we were led by the Native American Youth Council to form gigantic words in a large food plain with our bodies. We wrote out the phrase "free Red Fawn." Red Fawn is considered by the Dakota and Lakota to be a political prisoner. She was arrested early in the fight against the Dakota Access Pipeline. Accused supposedly of shooting a gun at police. I wasn't there, but according to the people of Standing Rock she is being held as an example of what will happen to all protectors if they continue. Red Fawn faces twenty years in prison if convicted.

Following the areal photo shoot we were led onto the, now infamous, bridge on highway 1806. The women had informed the police and national guard of their plans to march a few hundred people onto the bridge, kneel and pray for twenty minutes. This prayer ceremony was completely peaceful. Near the end of the ceremony and time in meditative prayer a policeman came on a bullhorn and informed us that the 20 minutes of prayer were over and we must all leave the bridge. After a few minutes, we proceeded back to the camp, signs and banners flapping in the wind, proclaiming that Water is Life - Mni Wiconi.

This was the story of our first five days in camp. Sunday November 20th was different. The rhythm of prayer, work and eating together was broken by bitter violence on that same bridge.




Sunday, November 27, 2016

Prayer and Community At Standing Rock

Our Chevy Suburban turned left onto route 1806 inside the Dakota Sioux indian reservation. We were packed to the roof with supplies, and more supplies were on the roof. Our personal stuff only took up the space of a few backpacks, the rest of the vehicle contained food, blankets and tents for others living in the camps on the Cannonball River. Since last April water protectors from all over the country have been opposing the Dakota Access Pipeline. Native Americans from all over the country, and indigenous people from all over the world, began showing up to show their support for the Sioux indians. Soon white skinned people began coming out too. The realization became clear that the voices of the oppressed would once again be smothered by corporate greed. In our day that greed is centered around America's fossil fuel industry funded by the largest banks in the world. But here, in southern North Dakota, a few native Americans believe they can still stop a pipeline. In the face of impossible odds, the local and state law enforcement and a nearly silent federal government the people of Standing Rock, and the activists joining them from all over the world, are not losing hope.

My biggest question, after being at Standing Rock in the Oceti Sakowin camp for about one week in mid November is, will the rest of the world hold as firmly to what is right in the face of an oppressor?

Many of the leaders in the camps have been there since August. There are no showers, no real bathrooms, no housing or places to sleep apart from tents. These people have been protecting the water they believe is sacred for all these weeks and somehow have not grown weary. They have faced a militarized police force and national guard using non-lethal chemical weapons on them, firehoses in freezing temperatures, lack of any comfort in the camp, and a world reluctant to act on their behalf. They've faced local leaders who treat them like criminals and national leaders who have kept silent and broken their promises. The Native Americans of Standing Rock have faced so much, and yet today they keep moving forward. They will not give up. The only thing I can point toward to explain their undying spirit is their reliance on two things... prayer and community.

As we entered the camp Cory dropped us off at the Sacred Fire where a man stood with a microphone making random announcements and sharing tidbits about life in the camp. The fire near the front entrance of the camp remains burning 24/7 with a fire tender always there. People gather around the fire to keep warm, but more often to pray. I'd never seen native American prayer ritual before. Cornelius and I sat on the bench near the fire when a tough and very serious native-looking man came up to the front of the fire where the herbs, feathers and buffalo skulls laid. The camp fire, as I had seen it, was not a camp fire at all, but a sacred fire, where prayer is lifted up day in and day out asking the Creator to act on the behalf of those opposing the pipeline and working to restore Grandmother earth.

Over the six days that we spent at the Oceti Sakowin I was engulfed in prayer. People from all over the world were being led by native Americans in prayer. Some of the prayer is ancient indigenous prayer focusing the spirits found in nature. Other prayer is overtly Christian, asking for Jesus' salvific work to once again be made known. All of the prayer is fervent and focused toward a Creator God who acts on behalf of the people he loves. I learned much about prayer during my week at the camp. Prayer is central to all they do, prayer at the camp never ceases, prayer is what keeps them going.

Within the main camps on the edge of the Standing Rock Reservation and on the disputed Army Corp of Engineer land are many other small camps. In looking back I think Cornelius and I made a bit of a mistake by choosing to set up our summer backpacking tents on the outer fringes of the Oceti Sakowin camp. Within the larger camp where two smaller camps called the "Red Warrior" camp and the Satellite camp. There were others too. Each one represents a community of people doing life together; eating together, building temporary homes together, raising money together and sometimes planning direct action against DAPL together. We set up our tents outside of the any previously created camp community. As our week went on we realized just how important the camps are and sometimes wished we were living more intentionally within the bounds of a long term community. These camps are truly beautiful things, especially the kitchens! I can say that the Red Warrior have an amazingly good chef! They are a small camp, closed to short term new comers, and so the cooks can focus on feeding these front-line protectors with some good food. We were lucky enough to be invited into the Red Warrior camp, secretive as it is, to have a few meals. Everyone in the camp knew each other, they were living life together and helping each other build a thriving community with a singular focus - stopping the Dakota Access Pipeline with non-violent direct action.

This is true for every small camp within the larger encampments. People are living together, praying together, eating together, building community that we pray will last far beyond a resolution on this pipeline. The actions of prayer and community-building are what will lead the world away from racism, bigotry and injustice and toward a future where the oppressed are lifted up and given the prominent voice. Prayer and community will lead us toward a future where multibillion dollar fossil fuel companies no longer exist but we all have a future on a planet that is cared for and adored by it's people. We must allow the indigenous people, especially those gathering at Standing Rock, to lead us into the future. 

Friday, August 31, 2012

Half Marathon


It's been a lot of fun and a great challenge to begin running. Last April I went out for a 2 mile slow jog with walking mixed in. It was the first time I'd run in a very long time, and I've never stuck with it before. This time I did. It's August 30th and I'm still running. I went out today in the city run with my dog, Emma, again for a six miler. So far seven is my longest run. I'm still pretty slow, usually averaging between 9 and 10 minutes per mile, or slower. I'm trying not to let that bother me. I love the people who run and have no idea how fast or slow they run, they really don't care, all they care about is enjoying the run. I'm competitive, usually with myself, so I'm always wondering if I'm getting any better. A couple weeks ago I decided to do my first race, a half marathon in the middle of nowhere. I have about six weeks to work up to a 13.1 mile run. My main concern is that I not hurt my feet or achilles tendons trying to up my miles. If I do, no big deal, I'll wait until the spring to do a race. Running has been a beautiful thing for me. It's connected me with an old friend, I've run the trails I loved as a child in North Park, I've gotten in much better shape, and I'm just happy when I'm out running.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Camping and Running


Once upon a time I did a lot of backpacking and camping. It was my escape to nature and from the busy world. Over the past seven years I've had little time to be in the woods. For a while I blamed being a dad. That ended when I took Teah on her first backpacking trip and she loved it. She's begged me to go again for months - I haven't made the time. I plan to change that. Last week, thanks to my friend Cornelius, we got a free 6 person tent, ready for the whole family! He found it in a dumpster outside REI! This past weekend was my 35th birthday. I was home alone. The family took a 4 day vacation. Another sign that I let my work and in ability to manage my work get the better of me and my family, but that's for another post. I couldn't be away for four or five days at this point in the summer, but I could get away for one night. Being home alone let me try something I've been wanting to try for months. Emma (German Shepherd) and I packed up and walking into the woods on Sunday night. We had driven out to the Laurel Highlands to Bear Run Nature Reserve. One of my favorite places. The next morning my friend Rob met us on the trail and we trail ran/fast hiked about seven miles. It was a great experience. I've been running a lot in the city, but trail running is what I love. Emma did great, she's a much better runner when she's off leash! I'm hoping to take the whole family camping in the same area very soon. We'll set up a base camp after hiking in a couple miles. I could go for trail runs, the kids could play in the streams near our site, should be a good time.

Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Monsanto's Bt GMO corn to be sold at Wal-Mart with no indication it is genetically modified

GMO corn has been grown and fed to livestock for years now. But now we'll be eating it directly ourselves. Walmart would probably cave if there was enough public outcry against Monsanto. Monsanto's Bt GMO corn to be sold at Wal-Mart with no indication it is genetically modified

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

A Letter from Alyssa on Food

Below is a letter that my wife Alyssa wrote to a close friend wanting to know how she feeds our family on our tight budget. These are great tips on eating better!

1. Eat local as often as possible. Anything grown close to you will usually cost less. I say usually because farmer's markets, etc. are oftenmuch cheaper when things are in season and bought close to the source. You're not paying for the transportation. However, if you buy something not technically in season locally you're no going to save much. Because of the work involved to grow it or produce it. Leads to the second point....

2. Eat in season. This is hard for me. I WANT strawberries in February, darn it! But realistically? it's not great! They don't have flavor because they've been shipped so far and picked before they are ripe in order to ship. It's cyclical and leads back to eating locally. I really believe that is key - eating locally and in season. The combo is what makes things doable.

3. Plan for the future. (all year!) You know this from your brother - and they know more than I do! can, freeze, do anything you can to put away that local and in-season stuff. Then you can have it all year! Make jam, can applesauce (easy, easy to do with NO sweetener and my kids love it all winter long), can apple butter, tomatoes, sauce, salsa. Don't take on too much your first year or so because it's easy to get overhwhelmed. I'm not a huge fan of pickled stuff, but John loves it. He and his mom pickle beets, cauliflower, cucumbers, etc. and can those too. Buy good root vegetables in the fall and store them in your basement. You'll be surprised how long they last!!

4. Invest in a chest freezer. You're thinking - how does this save money? it doesn't initially. But it does in the long run. When you're sick of canning or just don't have time you freeze. We go berry picking every year, get a TON of berries (all types... starts with strawberries in May/June!) and freeze them. I can give you tips of easy ways to freeze them so you don't just have lump of strawberries in a bag too. I use them all year in healthy smoothies, baking, etc. I love to freeze broccoli, spinach and green beans (all blanched first then shocked in ice water). I use those all winter too. You can get all these things to freeze and can from your own backyard and from farmer's around you. Sometimes you can get tomatoes for sauce and just canning plain tomatoes SUPER cheap if you're willing to deal with bruises and bad spots. And really, who cares about that? you're going to can it!

5. Going off of the chest freezer - buy your meat by the animal. I'm serious. It will cost a bit up front and you may have to pick what meat you're willing to eat. For example, a whole chicken? totally affordable. Even organic/free-range. A whole pig? expensive! We just got ours this weekend - for $300. Initially it stinks (money-wise) But my freezer is now full of different cuts of meat, bacon, sausage, loins, ribs. I have a whole fridge full of lard! (for soap making and cooking with). I probably won't buy anymore meat until next year. I may get some cuts of beef, but only for special treats. You save so much over the long haul doing this. And you get the benefit of the whole animal (chicken stock!). You're also, again, supporting your local farmers. You can usually get a 1/2 pig, 1/4 cow, etc. too. Just look into what's around you.

6. Buy in bulk. Find stores that will sell things in bulk. Or have a bulk foods section. I buy dry beans in bulk, cook them up in large batches (with chicken stock from our chickens!) and freeze them. Then I pull them out a few days ahead for meals. Oatmeal, flour, beans, coffee, tea, grains, quinoa, lentils... they are all great for you and totally affordable in bulk. By the package? they add up quickly!

7. Do the work! I'm reading a book called Radical Homemakers. It's not a Christian book - but it really speaks to the our need for "quick" meals and always rushing around and how it has taken so much away from the family and our health and our food. If you're willing to cook your beans from dry opposed to buying cans of beans you're going to save money in the long run. If you're willing to cook down your chicken carcass - you're going to save money instead of buying chicken stock from the store. Canning your own sauce in the summer saves tons of money over buying jarred sauce at the store. (Boy it tastes better too!) Make a couple loaves of bread at the beginning of the week - stick one in the freezer for later that week or next week and use one immediately. You know every ingredient in your bread then and it is so much more affordable.


There's my spiel! I hope it helps some. I love talking about this stuff - feel free to ask more or question some things too!