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A sermon preached at Niles Discovery Church, Fremont, California,
on Sunday, November 27, 2016, by the Rev. Jeffrey Spencer.
Scriptures: Isaiah 40:9-11 and Luke 1:67-79
Copyright © 2016 by Jeffrey S. Spencer
I wonder what it is like for Cubans today. With Fidel Castro’s death on Friday, I wonder what sort of dreams and hopes, what sort of griefs and fears average Cubans are feeling. Fidel Castro took power in 1959. That means that 75% of the Cuban population has only known the Castro form of Communism and a Castro at the helm. Are they feeling grief at Fidel’s death? Are they feeling like there is a power vacuum (even though Fidel handed power to his brother Raúl eight years ago)? Are they fearful that they may lose all they’ve known, or are they hopeful about changes that might be able to come? Or maybe they’re feeling a combination of these things.
I wonder what it is like for people in Syria and Iraq who live in the shadow of ISIS. Are their lives filled with fear or are they (at least some of them) somehow holding on to hopes and dreams?
And I wonder what it is like for the refugees – whose who fled Cuba generations ago and those who have fled ISIS in this generation. Is there hope in their fleeing or is it only desperation? Do they hope to return home or have they oriented their lives to the new land they how inhabit?
Brian McLaren points out, “Prophets in the Bible have a fascinating role as custodians of the best hopes, desires, and dreams of their society. They challenge people to act in ways consistent with those hopes, desires, and dreams. And when they see people behaving in harmful ways, they warn them by picturing the future to which that harmful behavior will lead.
“One of the most important prophetic compositions was the Book of Isaiah. Most scholars today agree that at least three people contributed to the book over a long period of time, but their combined work has traditionally be attributed to one author. The first thirty-nine chapters of Isaiah were situated in the southern Kingdom of Judah, just before the northern Kingdom of Israel was invaded and colonized by the Assyrians. The prophet saw deep spiritual corruption and complacency among his people and warned them that this kind of behavior would lead to decline and defeat.
“That defeat came in 587 BC at the hand of the Babylonians. After the invasion, many survivors were taken as exiles to Babylon. Chapters 40-55, often called Second Isaiah, addressed those Judean exiles, inspiring hope that they would someday return to their homeland and rebuild it. That soon happened, beginning in 538 BC under the leadership of Ezra and Nehemiah. That era of rebuilding was the setting for Third Isaiah, chapters 56-66.”
Imagine with me for a moment what it was like for the people of Second Isaiah. Imagine what it was like for those who had been forcibly removed from their homes and taken into exile by the Babylonians. Yahweh, they believed, had promised them this land, but a foreign army had conquered them, removed them from their homes, and sent them into exile. Yahweh’s home was in Jerusalem, but they were forced to live in Babylon. Yahweh’s house, the Temple, had been destroyed. Where and how could they find hope?
Not that I was trying to mimic Isaiah, but my sabbatical can be divided into three parts. The first part was a great road trip that took me up the coast, across to Glacier National Park, south to Yellowstone and the Grand Tetons, and back home. It included, almost by accident, a stop at the Minidoka Internment Camp outside Twin Falls, Idaho. There is very little at the National Historical Park now: mostly open fields and gravel paths; a few concrete pads that were the foundations of garages and warehouses; a collapsing root cellar. The sentry tower and barbed wire fence are reconstructions. Only one of the original tarpaper barracks remains; the others were demolished or sold to farmers in the area, but only to white farmers. None of the internees were allowed to purchase any of the buildings or equipment that was deemed surplus after the war.
At its height, there were over 9,000 Japanese immigrants and Japanese-American citizens incarcerated in the camp, making Minidoka something like the fourth largest community in Idaho at the time. These thousands upon thousands of people of Japanese heritage are America’s 20th century exiles. Like the Babylonian army, the U.S. Army forced these people out of their homes and businesses and placed them in concentration camps.
According to the stories I read and heard at Minidoka, it was only through community that they were able to find hope. And, while the United States built the barracks, it was the people concentrated in the camp that built the community.
Of course, the internment of people of Japanese ancestry is not the only exile in United States history. The government’s treatment of the people who were here first, the Native Americans, was our original forced exile. I won’t rehearse the history; I can’t; I don’t know all of it. I know just enough of the Trail of Tears and the concentration on “Reservations” and the violations of treaties and the attempts to “kill the Indian” to save the child to know it was a story all too similar to that of the Judean exile in Babylon.
Aside from the elections, there was one news story that held my attention during my sabbatical: the story of the Standing Rock Sioux protesting the routing of the Dakota Access Pipeline through sacred lands and along and under important water sources for the Standing Rock and everyone downstream of them. Up until the past few weeks, the mainstream news media were pretty much ignoring the story. However, because the Dakota Access Pipeline is new fossil fuel infrastructure, organizations fighting climate change were paying attention, and that got my attention starting in August.
On one level, this story sounds like every other story of the Indian Exile: white people with their police and military and corporations and courts giving Indians the shaft. Again.
But something different is happening this time. The National Public Radio podcast, “Code Switch” notes that the history “of indigenous people fighting to protect not just their land, but the land, is centuries old.” But this time, “The scope of the resistance at Standing Rock exceeds just about every protest in Native American history.” The big thing that’s different is that Native tribes and nations from across North America, in both what is now the United States and what is now Canada, are showing up in support of the Standing Rock Sioux. Not only that, but indigenous groups from around the world are offering their support.
This gives me hope, this community and solidarity that is growing around the globe. And because of that solidary (at least in part), this is now about way more than a particular pipeline in a particular place. What’s happening along the Cannonball River is becoming a clash of ideas and systems that have been at odds on this continent for five centuries. The thing is, because the Standing Rock are grounding their movement in prayer, this clash has the real potential to work itself out in a way where we are all transformed and we are all winners. And that gives me hope.
“To be alive is to desire, to hope, and to dream,” Brian McLaren writes. Unfortunately, throughout human history, “some of us desire power and kill, enslave, and oppress others. Enslaved and oppressed people hope for liberation. Wilderness wanderers desire a promised land where they can settle. Settled people dream of a promised time when they won’t be torn apart by internal factions, ruled by corrupt elites, or dominated by stronger nations nearby.”
If we read the prophets and the gospels in the Bible, one thing will be clear: While God loves everyone, God takes the side of the enslaved and oppressed, the wilderness wanderers and exiles, the people yearning for justice and peace. We heard the words in today’s scripture lessons.
And you, child, will be called the prophet of the Most High;
for you will go before the Lord to prepare his ways,
to give knowledge of salvation to his people
by the forgiveness of their sins.
By the tender mercy of our God,
the dawn from on high will break upon us,
to give light to those who sit in darkness
and in the shadow of death,
to guide our feet into the way of peace.”
The Lord God … will feed his flock like a shepherd;
he will gather the lambs in his arms,
and carry them in his bosom,
and gently lead the mother sheep.
And there’s so much more in Isaiah.
They shall beat their swords into ploughshares,
and their spears into pruning-hooks;
nation shall not lift up sword against nation,
neither shall they learn war any more. (Isaiah 2:4)
The wolf shall live with the lamb,
the leopard shall lie down with the kid,
the calf and the lion and the fatling together,
and a little child shall lead them.
The cow and the bear shall graze,
their young shall lie down together;
and the lion shall eat straw like the ox. (Isaiah 11:6-7)
Here is my servant, whom I uphold,
my chosen, in whom my soul delights;
I have put my spirit upon him;
he will bring forth justice to the nations.
He will not cry or lift up his voice,
or make it heard in the street;
a bruised reed he will not break,
and a dimly burning wick he will not quench;
he will faithfully bring forth justice. (Isaiah 42:1-3)
Isaiah’s words and images inspire so much hope that Jesus and his followers quote this book more than any other writer.
“Many other prophets added their own colors to this beautiful vision of hope. In Ezekiel’s vision, people’s hearts of stone will be replaced with hearts of flesh. For Malachi, the hearts of parents would turn to their children, and children to their parents. Joel describes the Spirit of God being poured out on all humanity – young and old, men and women, Jew and Gentile. Amos paints the vivid scene of justice rolling down like a river, filling all the lowest places. And Daniel envisioned the world’s beastlike empires of violence being overcome by a simple unarmed human being, a new generation of humanity.
“In the centuries between the time of the prophets and the birth of Jesus, these prophetic dreams never completely died. But they were never completely fulfilled, either.… [So] their dream lived on. It remained alive in people like Elizabeth and Zechariah, Mary and Joseph, and Anna and Simeon, and even among humble shepherds who lived at the margins of society.
“To be alive in the adventure of Jesus is to have a desire, a dream, a hope for the future.” To be alive in the adventure of Jesus is to believe that the promised time is coming and that the promised land will be received. It is what we pray for every time we say, “Thy kin-dom come on earth.” But that is only a wish and not true hope if it does not spur us to action. To be alive in the adventure of Jesus is to translate hope for the future into action in the present and to keep acting in light of it, no matter the disappointments, no matter the setbacks and delays.
Now, as we enter a time of quiet, I invite you to reflect on …
… anything for the sermon or scripture readings that caught you attention; or
… recall a time when you kept hope or lost hope; or
… the imagery from Isaiah (“He shall feed his flock …”), and how you would translate that imagery from the ancient Middle East into imagery from today’s world; or
… an image from today’s scripture readings – hold it in your heart, in God’s presence and let it inspire a simple prayer.
 Leah Donnella, “The Standing Rock Resistance Is Unprecedented (It’s also Centuries Old),” Code Switch, http://www.npr.org/sections/codeswitch/2016/11/22/502068751/the-standing-rock-resistance-is-unprecedented-it-s-also-centuries-old (posted 22 November 2016; accessed 26 November 2016).
 McLaren, page 63.
 Ibid, 65-66.
While I will not be at this Clergy Day of Action, my prayers will be … and I hope to find a way to be physically present with those who are protecting our mother earth some time in the new year.
Put on the whole blanket of God, to keep you warm in the Great Plains November. Our struggle is not only against corporations and against the authorities that line up with them, but mostly against the almost cosmic powers of racism, against the spiritual evil with so much terrible history, so much powerful media, and so many insidious whispers – this is not my battle.
Therefore take up the whole blanket of God, so that you may be united on November 3, having come from the love in your heart to stand firm in justice. Therefore fasten the belt of listening to those whose land this is and who have been here since April, and put on the sweater or jacket or poncho of community. As shoes for your feet put on whatever will make you ready to dance, walk or be jailed for the water of life…
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Today, I am feeling angry, a righteous anger about how racism is continuing to play itself out in government policy and action. And I am wanting to “do something.” So I started by researching what I could do and now I share this incomplete list of things you and I can do, even though most of us are far away from the front lines.
The Seattle Times published a pretty good (though overly simple) summary about the Dakota Access Pipeline (DAPL) and the water protectors (led by the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe) who are protesting the DAPL. You can read it here.
The summary fails to note some important things:
- While the pipeline is probably safer than transporting the oil by rail (Bakkan oil is extremely volatile, making train transport very risky), that does not mean that the pipeline is safe. Spills (and explosions) are still probable at some point along the almost 1200-miles of the DAPL route. (Bullet point updated 11/29/16.)
- For the Native Americans on the front lines, this is an act of prayer, a spiritual practice.
- There is insufficient explanation why they call themselves “Protectors,” not “protesters.” See video below. #WaterIsLife
- The article fails to speak about the dangers of extracting any (Bakkan or otherwise) carbon (in the form of fossil fuels) from the ground and putting it in the atmosphere. While the Standing Rock Tribe’s objections are about the dangers to the waters and the lands, the dangers of climate change are an important reason to oppose all fossil fuel infrastructure construction. As the hashtag says, when it comes to fossil fuels, we need to #KeepItInTheGround.
- The conduct of police agencies has been questionable throughout this protest, including shooting at media and protester drones, strip searching people arrested for misdemeanors, and jamming cell phone service during mass arrests.
- Gathering a full background picture would be incomplete without reading the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe’s two-page background paper. You can read it here.
- The specifics of the Standing Rock Tribe’s legal claims can be found in this court filing.
Things You Can Do
- Some news sources are covering the issue better than others. I’ve appreciated NPR’s coverage.
- Bill McKibben wrote a great piece on the pipeline in the New York Times on 10/28/16. Read it here. (This link added 10/29/16.)
- Social media are proving to be helpful, often providing more accurate and more up-to-the-minute coverage than classic news media. I’m following #NoDAPL (No Dakota Access Pipeline) and #IStandWithStandingRock on Twitter; they probably work on other social media, too.
- Youth from the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe have a petition you’re invited to sign.
- There is a petition on the White House website calling for the cessation of construction of the DAPL.
- There is a similar petition on the Care2 website.
- The ACLU has a petition calling for a demilitarization of the police response.
- CREDO action has a petition calling for North Dakota and the Department of Justice to respect journalists’ freedoms and a petition calling on the President to stope the DAPL.
- Moveon.org has a petition, too. (This link added 10/29/16)
Contact Politicians directly
When leaving a message stating your thoughts about this subject please be professional.
- Call North Dakota Governor Jack Dalrymple at 701-328-2200.
- Call the White House at (202) 456-1111 or (202) 456-1414
- Call the Department of Justice, Civil Rights Division, (202) 514-4609, asking them to send observers to make sure the Protectors civil rights are not violated.
- Tweet to these officials on a daily basis (or as close to that as you can manage): @NDGovDalrymple, @POTUS, @BarackObama, @DOJ, Attorney General @LorettaLynch
- Call the Army Corps of Engineers and demand that they reverse the permit: (202) 761-5903
Call the Companies
Call, email, and/or write the executives of the companies that are building the pipeline:
- Lee Hanse Executive Vice President Energy Transfer Partners, L.P. 800 E Sonterra Blvd #400 San Antonio, Texas 78258 Telephone: (210) 403-6455 Lee.Hanse@energytransfer.com
- Glenn Emery Vice President Energy Transfer Partners, L.P. 800 E Sonterra Blvd #400 San Antonio, Texas 78258 Telephone: (210) 403-6762 Glenn.Emery@energytransfer.com
- Michael (Cliff) Waters Lead Analyst Energy Transfer Partners, L.P. 1300 Main St. Houston, Texas 77002 Telephone: (713) 989-2404 Michael.Waters@energytransfer.com
Make a donation
- Donate to the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe
- Purchase and ship a specific item from the Sacred Stone Camp Supply List
- Contribute to the Sacred Stone Camp Legal Defense Fund
- Contribute to the Sacred Stone Camp gofundme account
- Contribute to the Red Warrior Camp gofundme account
- Go to the Sacred Stone Camp Amazon Wishlist and send them some stuff
Join an action
This is gleaned from https://nodaplsolidarity.org. Go there for more ideas and details.
- Take action in your own community. Target the Army Corp of Engineers, banks, pipeline companies, corporations and elected officials behind the pipeline. Taking action includes lock-downs at offices, sit-ins, taking up space, rallies, call-in days, divesting from banks, mass mailings, and interruptions. Register at NoDAPLSolidarity.org to join the network of Global Solidarity.
- Organize yourself and/or large groups of people from your community to come to Standing Rock. Contact them at Organizing@NoDAPLSolidarity.org to discuss details and schedule a time frame.
“Agnotology is the word Stanford University science historian Robert Proctor coined to describe the deliberate dissemination and misinformation, often to try to sell a product. The tobacco industry developed a strategy to cast doubt on scientific studies showing that smoking causes cancer. In politics, the campaign to cast doubts on President Obama’s national origins was an example of agnotology. Climate deniers use a similar strategy. The news media often perpetuate agnotology in the interest of offering a balanced perspective, and the Internet provides a platform for people to pose as experts while engaging in agnotology. ‘We live in a world of radical ignorance, and the marvel is that any kind of truth cuts through the noise,’ says Proctor.”
Quoted from the 16 March 2016 edition of Christian Century, page 9. The cite the BBC, January 6, as their source.
If you haven’t seen the documentary (or read the book) Merchants of Doubt, I highly recommend it. It’s all about how agnotology is used by corporations to increase profits. Right now, Standing Rock Sioux are protesting the building of an oil pipeline, the Dakota Access Pipeline. To counter this protest, it appears that pro-pipeline organization (read: Big Oil) has directly or indirectly created fake Twitter accounts to make it look like there is public support for the pipeline.
Read more about the Standing Rock protests at http://www.democracynow.org/topics/dakota_access (where there are old stories and up-to-date stories listed.