An Open Letter To the Episcopal Diocese of Olympia: On Ethnic Ministries, Racism, and The Beloved Community

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Twenty years ago within the span of time from then until now, ethnic ministries in the Diocese of Olympia has experienced significant change from a highly energized set of communities of color connected through diocesan communication, full and part time staff responsible for the portfolio of  ethnic ministries work, several congregations/missions founded within minority communities, diocesan programs and committees that were moderately well funded and supplemented through organized fundraising events, and driven by a diocesan leadership proactively committed to supporting people of color in the diocese and forming them for leadership in the church.

In 2007, we elected a new bishop, who was tasked with (among other things) the need to address financial management needs including bringing burgeoning costs and parochial loans under control. In 2009, the suffragan bishop (responsible for the overall supervision of ethnic ministries and execution of its organizational goals) resigned. This was accompanied and followed by a reduction in the position of Canon for Ethnic Ministries from full time to quarter time. Certain ethnic missions were closed while others were significantly altered in leadership model and form, resulting in the loss of the historical cultural identities that shaped them. Over the course of a decade, our clergy of color have dwindled from more that twenty to less than ten. The diocesan staff and central communication that went with that position were subsumed within the diocesan staffing structure, the ethnic committees, the multicultural gathering, the networks of mutual support and connection evaporated within the machinations of financial and organizational restructure. Ethnic communities and clergy of color became isolated from diocesan leadership and from one another, islands toughing it out until – after ten years of disconnection and organizational neglect (with no vision or strategic plan that sought input from the people of color the bishop’s office professed to want to serve), some of us began to reach out to reconnect in the fall of 2019. We longed to rekindle the fire, the former passion for the mission of ethnic ministries, and to envision what it would be to regather the Beloved Community and re-forge partnerships.

Then George Floyd was murdered, and the movement within civil society that followed was like a burst of sudden flame as with a bomb, back lighting just how unprepared our diocese and leadership had become; how corporately disassociated we had all become due to lack of genuine relationships and connectivity; how understaffed and without any mechanism in place to find us, to assess our needs, and to comprehensively equip prospective allies among white clergy and members of our churches.

The bishop’s office will soon respond, and many are looking for that response – hungry to be partners, longing for support and encouragement, hoping for leadership to care in meaningful and empowering ways. And that’s the critical point of why I am writing, to speak to three pitfalls into which all well-intentioned efforts (in any organization) can become trapped.

Firstly, in addressing issues of systemic racism, consultation with the people of color in your diocese is foundational for successful empowerment of them – if leadership only consults within its own bubble or with outside consultants, your target group will be excluded within the creation of vision and strategic plan; in case you wondered, that’s bad. As one African American priest in our diocese expressed, “This is my church; please stop inviting me into it through language of inclusion. I’m already here. Talk to me.”

Secondly, forming successful collaborative partnerships requires an organizational leadership model that proactively invites that collaboration. People of color must not be paternalistically and colonially viewed as the “other” that the church or its leadership needs to serve (as though in some vision of reversed positions between the privileged and the poor, in which white people become penitent servants). Rather, genuine collaboration and partnership requires the abandonment of all such hegemony. Mutuality is predicated on letting go of paternalistic and authoritarian structures, which the church – by its hierarchical and dominant cultural nature – has difficulty managing.  The leader who claims to be in charge, needs to stop being in charge within strategies of mutual appreciation and organizational transformation.

Thirdly, while the spiritual work of anti-racism must by necessity include supporting and equipping white people with what they need emotionally and intellectually to do their inner work, the focus of anti-racism must be ever fixed on the experiences, perspectives, and realities of people of color. My dear white allies, anti-racism is not about saving people of color from the injustices of white society; it’s about empowering people of color to be and bring fully who they are into the shrines of American society – including government and the church – to burst the walls, change the space, make it colorful, fill it with diverse music and images of God, bless it with wild grace in the liberating tide of decolonialized forms of liturgy, worship, and leadership formation.

The development and full breadth of the work that was once ethnic ministries many years ago was driven by the vision and commitment of the diocesan bishop; the work was directed and supported by an assisting bishop or the suffragan bishop that followed; the people and congregations of color in the diocese were connected and gathered around a full time ethnic missioner who advocated for our funding in the diocesan budget as a given (not in competition through a grant process), supported our additional fundraising efforts, and was the rally point around which our committees and communities gathered regularly. There is no possible way that the burden and scope of all that previous work could be accomplished through what became a single one-quarter time FTE diocesan position. In the same way, with all ethnic ministry staffing eliminated, it is an unreasonable expectation that either the Canon to the Ordinary or the Diocesan Bishop carry the specialized and demanding work of ethnic ministries and anti-racism. The work of ethnic ministries cannot be accomplished by either wishful thinking or in isolation as a product of the bishop or his/her office. A true organizational commitment to the work of ethnic minisries and anti-racism requires a commitment of staffing and must have the infrastructural support of broad-based strategic planning and reflected as a moral priority in the diocesan budget.

If you are a person of color in the Diocese of Olympia and want to be part of creating a new vision and direction for the work of ethnic ministries (various ministries of support and empowerment of people and missions), I invite you to become a part of the visioning process and the journey towards what God is calling us to be for one another, for our diocese, and for our communities. In conversation with our diocesan leadership (and having the support of the bishop), the time is upon us all to contemplate this time of socio-cultural reckoning within our civil and ecclesiastical life.

If you would like to learn more about an upcoming visioning and planning retreat for people of color in the Diocese of Olympia, please contact me for information about “Regathering The Beloved Community.”

For now, I conclude with this Gathering Prayer from the Disciple’s Prayer Book of the Native Ministries of The Episcopal Church:

Creator, we give you thanks for all you are and all you bring to us for our visit within your creation. In Jesus, you place the Gospel in the center of this sacred circle through which all of creation is related. You show us the way to live a generous and compassionate life. Give us your strength to live together with respect and commitment as we grow in your spirit, for you are God, now and forever. Amen

We must leave both our perceived power and our perceived poverty outside of the circle in order to create a The Beloved Community of genuine mutuality, ministering side by side – in order to truly become the living Body of Christ, enrobed like Joseph in a coat of many colors.

Sanctuary Earth – A Creation in Peril

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Altar Stained Glass Trinity 2020

East Wall Stained Glass Over High Altar – Trinity Episcopal Church, Everett WA

Over a period of five months in the spring and summer of 1892 [April to August], Trinity Episcopal Church grew from an idea in the minds of a few business owners into an incorporated parish with its own lumber-built church on the corner of Wetmore and California Avenues in what is now downtown Everett.

In 1911, the Trinity Vestry called The Rev. Edgar M. Rogers, who lead the Vestry in purchasing the current property at 23rd and Hoyt, breaking ground on the (former) parish hall on March 25, 1912. However, the work on building the church itself was halted as the working men of Snohomish County and many of its clergy went off to join the armed forces in support of the Great War. After Armistice was declared on November 11, 1918, survivors returned home picking up the remnants of old lives and building new ones as best they could.

Work resumed on building the church sanctuary, and the first mass was held in it the Sunday after Easter of 1920 – 100 years ago today. The final dedication of the new building was held the following year, presided over by Bishop Keater on Trinity Sunday, May 22, 1921. On that occasion a plaque was placed in the original entry dedicating the sanctuary as a Victory Memorial to those who died in the Great War.

At the time when the old church property at Wetmore and California was sold, the funds helped to support the work of the architect of the new building, E. T. Osborne. Meanwhile, the stained glass windows were designed and executed by Charles J. Connock, who designed the stained glass windows overlooking our high altar. Connock designed the windows with the theme of Resurrection in mind.

The risen Christ is depicted on the center panel, with Mary his mother to the left and Mary Magdalene and Mary mother of James on the outside left panel. To the right of Christ is Peter and to the far right is Joseph.  The middle panel – depicting the resurrected Christ – was given by the children of the parish in honor of mothers. Surrounded by doves and angels, with Roman soldiers giving up arms at his feet, the resurrected Christ raises a hand in blessing – etched in glass, immortalized in color and light. This blessing reminds us every time we behold it that there is no challenge so great that together we cannot overcome it.

The ancestors of this place dedicated (and gave) their lives to challenging global injustice and to upholding values of international peace and unity. During the years of WWI, Trinity’s parish hall had served as an active hub for community organizing in response to the war efforts – hosting Red Cross meetings, adopting war orphans, selling Liberty Bonds, and hosting an array of guest war time speakers and faith leadership dignitaries from all over the world, including Belgium, France, Greece and Russia. We have multiple photos of rows of scowling clergy to prove it.

Over the years that followed Fr. Roger’s time, the pursuit of justice took different forms in each generation. In the 1960’s issues challenging The Episcopal Church reflected the changing times. The movement for women’s rights, social justice concerns related to in human sexuality, and women’s birth control were foremost issues in international and domestic church meetings.

Voices were also being raised in the streets and in the pews calling for the formulation of environmental laws and policies that would address the then unregulated pollution of the air and water ways – including  the use of chemicals developed during wars being  used commercially as insecticides and herbicides that were poisoning ecosystems and towns. The early environmental movement in The Episcopal Church was in part informed by the Scriptural tradition of the Genesis – a story we heard just last Saturday evening during the Easter Vigil service. In the Genesis story of Creation, God created the heavens and the earth, as well as everything in them, each bit of Creation concluding with the refrain, And God saw that it was good. When finally all things in the heavens and the earth and their multitudes were finished, we hear that, “God saw everything that he had made, and indeed, it was very good.”

From the perspective of many faiths, philosophies, and sciences, Earth Day was a unified response to an environment in crisis — oil spills, smog, rivers and lakes so polluted they literally caught fire.

On April 22, 1970, 20 million Americans — 10% of the U.S. population at the time — took to the streets, college campuses and hundreds of cities to protest environmental injustices and demand a collective new way forward. It is still recognized as the largest civic event on our planet.

This year, this Wednesday on April 22nd, marks the 50th anniversary of Earth Day. The theme for Earth Day 2020 is climate action. Every thinking person with feet firmly planted in scientific reality, comprehends that climate change represents the biggest challenge to the future of humanity and all life on Earth.

The Clean Air, Clean Water and Endangered Species Acts were created in response to the first Earth Day in 1970, as well as the creation of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). Many countries soon adopted similar laws. Earth Day continues to hold major international significance: In 2016, the United Nations chose Earth Day as the day when the historic Paris Agreement on climate change was signed into force. At the end of this year, nations will be expected to increase their national commitments to the 2015 Paris Agreement on climate change.

The Paris Agreement entered into force on 4 November 2016.

However, the Creation that God judges as good, very good, has throughout the course of human history been subjected to much human action that is bad –  very, very bad.

On November 8, 2016, four days after the Paris Agreement entered into force in the United States, a new President was elected President of the United States. Only seven months later, on June 1, 2017, the new President announced that the U.S. would cease all participation in the 2015 Paris Agreement on climate change mitigation.

In accordance with Article 28 of the Paris Agreement, a country cannot give notice of withdrawal from the agreement before three years of its start date. So, on November 4, 2019, the new administration gave formal notification of intention to withdraw, which takes 12 months to take effect. So, the earliest possible effective withdrawal date by the United States cannot be before November 4, 2020. [The election for the next president of the United States is to be held the day before, on November 3rd. ]

When the President made his preliminary announcement on June 1, 2017, that afternoon the governors of several U.S. states formed the United States Climate Alliance to continue to advance the objectives of the Paris Agreement at the state level despite the federal withdrawal. The formation of the Alliance was announced by three state governors: Jay Inslee of Washington, Andrew Cuomo of New York, and Jerry Brown of California. The founding statement noted that: “New York, California and Washington, representing over one-fifth of U.S. Gross Domestic Product, are committed to achieving the U.S. goal of reducing emissions 26–28 percent from 2005 levels and meeting or exceeding the targets of the federal Clean Power Plan.”

To date 24 governors both democrat and republican have signed onto the statement, including Michigan, Wisconsin, Puerto Rico, Minnesota, Maryland, and Massachusetts among others. Several mayors and businesses have also signed onto the agreement.

Beginning with federal withdrawal from the Paris Agreement, the current administration has since rolled back 95 environmental regulations that effectively remove oversight of oil, natural gas, and methane and power production. All previous targets for standards set to reduce greenhouse gas emissions have been abandoned by the administration in its gutting of the environmental policies and the Environmental Protection Agency itself.

On January 9th of this year, the administration announced its proposal to obliterate the National Environmental Policy Act, or NEPA. NEPA is the nation’s first major environmental law, signed by President Richard Nixon in 1970. That law requires that our government consider the environmental consequences of its major actions, including those that impact our climate.

The current administration wants to ease up on fuel efficiency regulations and has subsequently increased the amount of permitted poisonous nitrogen oxides in the air. As air quality is goes down, respiratory illnesses go up. If the Earth is not healthy, life upon it doesn’t have a chance.

With regard to protected public lands, the current administration is responsible for the largest reduction in the boundaries of protected land in US history, including shrinking protected land at the Grand-Staircase Escalante National Monument and Bears Ears National Monument, both significant sites in Utah. The changes open up both areas to mining and oil and gas development. Additionally, the administration is expanding more than 180,000 acres of the Tongess National Forest in Alaska, the country’s largest national forest, known as America’s Amazon, for logging and fossil fuel exploration and mineral extraction. The administration is actively seeking to open oil and gas lease sales in the environmentally sensitive Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. The administration seeks to change the Forest Service’s Roadless Area Conservation Act to allow logging in our country’s largest and most pristine old growth forest and to allow the massive proposed Pebble Mine to move forward with catastrophic effects on the world’s largest fishery of wild sockeye salmon.

The federal administration currently managing the EPA announced that it will additionally rescind Clean Water Act protections from critical streams and wetlands. This follows on last year’s announcement by the Interior Department that significant changes are being made to the Endangered Species Act to allow for more oil and gas drilling, placing a cap on how much regulators consider the impacts of the climate crisis.

The administration has made changes to the Migratory Bird Treaty Act, which has severely limited any penalties for bird deaths across the United States, allowing the destruction of millions of birds and marking a radical departure from decades of federal policy that protected more than 1,000 migratory species.

The administration has increased the allowable levels of the herbicide Atrazine, which is used commercially to kill weeds on crops and lawns and which has the proven added effect of contributing to the loss of pollinators, bird populations, and contaminating water supplies and that has been linked to reproductive abnormalities including premature birth.

While our nation reels from the coronavirus pandemic, the current administration is accelerating an agenda that is extraordinarily harmful to all life on the planet — rollbacks that dismantle critical health and environmental protections, and that will inevitably deepen the climate crisis. The lives of American citizens are being impacted right now by a vindictive leadership that seems intent on taking vengeance on the governors and citizens of the states that dared to contradict the President on June 1, 2017 by supporting the Paris Agreement in the face of federal withdrawal. I believe the administration’s actions have been and are now intentional and malicious, constituting not only crimes against humanity but crimes against all life on Earth now and for generations to come.

The sanctuary of our church is 100 years old on its anniversary today. The stained glass windows of Christ’s resurrection are also 100 years old but carry the same message for our community today as they did for those who lived through the Great War and built a new world afterwards – there is no challenge so great that together we cannot overcome it.

Though we are not able to gather to celebrate in our church sanctuary today, we yet share the greater sanctuary of God’s Creation that shelters us all. Just as we few are tasked with caring for the heritage of our church building in memory of the sacrifices of those who have gone before for principles of liberty, fellowship, and peace, so we are bound as God’s stewards to protect the sanctuary of Creation on behalf of the liberty, fellowship, and peace of all the Earth. The national struggle in which we find ourselves today is not a matter of party affiliation or religious affiliation, it is not confined to our national boarders or even to our species – what we are called to confront in this present moment is a matter of life and death – whether the Earth as we know it can survive the impact of humankind or not.

I believe this Earth is the only one we have, I do not believe in the myth of a new Earth or new Creation that is anything other than made manifest in how we live together on this one. This. Is. It. And in the one mortal life we have upon the Earth, we must chose every day whether we stand with her or against her, whether we work with God as stewards of all that God has made or whether we turn our backs on God and let the sacred earth burn with human greed, with corruption, with the unrelieved fever of human illness in so many forms that must be challenged by every generation.

This church sanctuary is very beautiful, and we care for it as those entrusted with its care. How much more should we then care for the greater sanctuary of Creation where the God that unites us by the Spirit that rejoices in all that God has made, this sacred and glorious Creation where the Spirit of God entrusted to us truly lives  –  still.

The Measure of a Priest: Racial Bias and White Privilege in The Episcopal Church

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Church Mould

The yard was the original standard adopted by the early English sovereigns as a basis of calculation. Under the historical influence of the British Empire, the term “yardstick” became associated as the ideal standard for making critical judgments about a person. Consequently, “taking the measure of a man” gained more meaning than simply assessing the amount of cloth required for making him a suit.

In many ways, the yardstick by which The Episcopal Church evaluates the suitability of would-be clergy is inextricably linked to the ideology of British colonialism. The standard for measuring candidates for ordination is subsequently biased towards Euro-centric models of education, formation, and proficiency/fluency in navigating dominant culture. As a product of colonialism and dominant culture, The Episcopal Church in the United States evaluates for whiteness in its people of color.

Several years ago, when I took the General Ordination Exams, the test writers included a question that asked for candidates to reflect on how The Episcopal Church was doing with regard to racism within the Church. I heard later from a member of the examining board how surprised they were by the scathing critiques that answered that question. Nothing has changed since then, because the way the Church prepares and evaluates for pastoral competencies is gravely culturally biased. It has been my personal experience that every single person of color and white ally intending to work in ministry with communities of color is at some point asked by evaluators if they believe they are “sufficiently Anglican.”

For example, anything other than a prayer life centralizing the Book of Common Prayer is suspect.  In my case, all it took for a Commission on Ministry to be concerned was when I shared that I incorporate my indigenous practices of burning sacred herbs and indigenous traditions of interacting with nature as important aspects of my spiritual practice and formation.  Within a diocese with a history of Native missions, this may not have been such a concern since such a context is generally more cross cultural, with education and information flowing in both directions. However, I am an “urban Native,” and my Commission on Ministry was primarily driven by white liberalism rather than by any real knowledge of or interest in my Native culture.  I was well aware that it was my burden to measure up and not their burden to alter their standard of measure.

Most recently, there has been a growing trend in The Episcopal Church in the United States to use the curriculum of the Iona Center as a standard of education as an option for local training for postulants seeking ordination. The local adaptation of the Iona material used in the Diocese of Olympia has taken the form of  “The Iona Olympia School” which is self-described as “a three-year program with a rigorous, curriculum (comprised of textbooks, videos, discussion and activities, and field study) provided by the Iona Institute of the Seminary of the Southwest.” It follows “a traditional school calendar year, beginning in September” and expects paid tuition as well as participation in large blocks of time away from home, work, and family.

None of these expectations is realistic for the majority of people of color, particularly Native people. Course content is not adapted for the indigenous context or context of the communities of color with regard to types of learning and the application of experience. Ultimately, those who undertake local option training are not expected to be paid much if at all once they are ordained – being mostly either deacons or people of color who may become priests.

The argument may be that (by setting “rigorous curriculum” that includes the Euro-centric history of the Church and its subsequent traditions of worship and governance) those who graduate from local training will not be considered second-class clergy. What standard has established that concern in the first place and who yet holds that standard of expectation? White people? Western academics? Bishops? General Convention? People in the pews? All of the above?

The General Board of Examining Chaplains in The Episcopal Church is charged with creating ordination exams that test for the seven canonical areas of study as ascribed by Canons of the Church. These areas of desired proficiency include: 1) The Holy Scriptures, 2) Church History, 3) Christian Theology, 4) Christian Ethics and Moral Theology, 5) Studies in contemporary society (i.e. familiarity with minority groups), 6) Liturgics and Church Music, and 7) the Theory and Practice of Ministry.

Informing each of these canonical areas of study is a massive amount of dominant culture history, perspective, and assumption that yardstick people into seemingly “standard” units of measure. The current ordination process is not benign, and its colonial nature is nowhere more apparent than in how it forms its people of color as leaders for the church. Any training program that does not address the academic areas from a dominant culture perspective towards overlaying a dominant culture identity is deemed little more than finger painting. The “Anglican” in Anglican identity is at its core white history and white identity.

The pedagogy of the dominant culture Church seems to need to shape the foreign into the friendly and familiar, rather than taking the risk of losing a Euro-centric identity. A genuine adult learner approach to leadership formation assumes diversity in experience, perspective, and practice. Therefore, evaluators must be tasked with their own formation before becoming evaluators – they must care about postulants and candidates as people and not as potential interchangeable widgets within the machinations of the institution. Candidates should not be in the position of trying to fulfill the evaluator’s own unexamined cultural biases and assumptions.

How the Church delivers spiritual care and organizational development will depend on genuinely collaborative efforts, not just patronizing gestures of tolerance. Barriers between levels of the diocesan structure need to be replaced with semi-permeable organizational membranes through which education, formation, and cultural influence can flow in both directions. Our candidates for ordination are not empty vessels to be filled with colonized history and identity; they are unique peers, partners, colleagues, and friends who should be joining a community already committed to learning new perspectives and willing to adapt structures and expectations to reflect new and emerging truths. Traditions are not immutable and timeless or universal things – rather, tradition is best understood as the adaptive mechanism within culture that provides the basis for creative change.

There is more than one way to form a leader, just as there is more than one way to be a church within the Church. Our Church faces many challenges, and I believe that our people of color hold adaptive strategies worthy of our collective attention – they are, after all, experts in having to adapt to ways and methods not their own. It is beyond time for the dominant culture Church to learn to do the same.

Life On Earth vs. Death by Patriarchy

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Singing Bird

Top Song Birds in America – Song Sparrow photographed by Bill Leman

In the mid-1940s, environmentalist Rachel Carson became concerned about the broad use of synthetic pesticides in the United States. Many synthetic pesticides had been developed through the military funding of science following World War II, and Carson’s friends living on Long Island noticed that while the local application of DDT was killing insects, it was also killing birds.

Because of the impact on bird populations, the Audubon Naturalist Society actively opposed chemical spraying programs and recruited Carson to help publicize the U.S. government’s spraying practices and related research. Carson then began a four-year project gathering examples of environmental damage attributed to DDT. By the end of her research, she had investigated hundreds of individual incidents of pesticide exposure and the resulting human sickness and ecological damage. Her conclusions were published in 1962 as the book entitled “Silent Spring,” a metaphorical title suggesting a bleak future for the entirety of the natural world, not only the literal predicted absence of birdsong.

The development of chemical and herbicidal warfare gave rise to the domestic application of the same chemicals by the corporations that developed them. On September 20, 2016, top executives from Bayer, Monsanto, DuPont, Dow Chemical, and Syngenta testified before the US Senate Judiciary Committee in Washington D.C. asking federal regulators to approve mega-mergers between the corporations, which have today fundamentally reorganized global agriculture. (Executives from the sixth company involved in the consolidation, China National Chemical Corp., declined an invitation to appear at the hearing.)

The worldview that allows for and supports the exploitation of natural resources is linked with patriarchal socio-cultural systems that are characterized by competition for land, the control of women and children, and subjugating peoples of other cultures considered to be threatening to nationalistic concepts of racial and biological purity. Social power within patriarchal systems is all about control – of men and women, of resources, of economies, of leaderships, and of nature itself. The patriarchal system is preoccupied with structures of dominance and submission, a dynamic that has put both human societies and Earth’s ecosystems in peril.

Carolyn Merchant is an American ecofeminist philosopher and historian of science. She is most famous for her theory presented in her book, “The Death of Nature: Women, Ecology, and the Scientific Revolution” (1980), in which she identifies the Enlightenment as the period when science began to objectify nature as an inert resource for exploitation that needed to be forcibly dissected in order to be made to give up its riches and power. Her book and theory continue to be relevant in today’s Anthropocene era of globalization and global climate change. I highly recommend Merchant’s book, and she is currently Professor of Environmental History, Philosophy, and Ethics at UC Berkeley.

Just a few days ago, I read an article by Catwhipple in “The Circle” (an online magazine for Native American news and arts).  The article, Sex, Fossil Fuels, and Matriarchal Economics, connects the dots between exploitation of the environment by the oil industry with the phenomenon of missing and murdered indigenous women plaguing the United States and Canada.

Catwhipple writes:

The man camps and the consistent violence against Native women which occurs at the hands of the fossil fuels industry is a huge issue, and it’s also the metaphor. “Let me shove this pipeline down your throat”. That’s basically what the MN PUC [Minnesota Public Utilities Commission] just said to Native people, with the approval of the permits for Enbridge’s Line 3. That’s what $11 million worth of lobbying will buy you in Minnesota. The rape of the north and the rape of Native women. How much more graphic than “let me shove this down your throat…” do I have to be?  Consent is consent. Consent is about sex and consent is about pipelines and megaprojects. In the old days, the company men and their governments used to just rape and pillage. That was how it went. It’s not supposed to be those days now.

Sadly, most people realize that the days of colonialism, racism, and patriarchy remain a powerful influence. However, the current national and global struggles may indicate the last stand of a system that perceives its immanent demise.  The truth behind climate change is that either our current socio-cultural system is radically transformed or this planet will die by our collective hand.

Affecting many nations, men and women who identify with the toxic system of patriarchal authority and privilege have girded their collective loins today for what seems to be a 12th hour stand against those who don’t see nature or women as ultimately expendable.  Women and nature are inextricably linked within the patriarchal worldview, which long has been the dominant system informing resource exploitation and the oppression of peoples. What once may have contributed to the aggressive survival of our species is now condemning all other species to death, along with our own.

The origin of the term ecofeminism is attributed the French writer Françoise d’Eaubonne in her book “Le Féminisme ou la Mort” (1974). Ecofeminist theory posits that a feminist perspective of ecology does not place women in the dominant position of power, but rather calls for an egalitarian society in which there is no one dominant group.

As d’Eaubonne defines the approach, ecofeminism relates to the oppression and domination of all marginalized groups (women, people of color, children, the poor) to the oppression and domination of nature (animals, land, water, air, etc.). The author argues that oppression, domination, exploitation, and colonization from the Western patriarchal society has directly caused irreversible environmental damage.  With the rate of species extinction growing exponentially with each successive generation of humans, the impact of human habitation has had a catastrophic impact on every habitat. As ecofeminism makes clear, any positive change of course requires an accompanying change of the basic socio-cultural structures and economic practices informed by the patriarchal influences in many developed nations.

Socially conservative and militant expressions of the Abrahamic faiths in particular need to be challenged. The development of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam each substantively arose within patriarchal societies as ideologies under-girding and legitimating the subjugation of women that accompanied the conquering of lands, including the habitats with all the species and resources therein.

Progressive Christian theologians and writers have long championed a rediscovery or socio-cultural archaeology of early Christian belief and context. We frame an understanding of the ministry and teaching of Jesus that emphasizes the transformational nature of love for one’s neighbor, care of community, and liberation from systems of oppression. The resistance to forces of empire calls for the social movement away from patriarchal structures and norms to those that emphasizes human equality, care of creation as a vital imperative, equitable economy, and governing principles that assure the same.

Recently, the current United States administration’s opposition to abortion has led to the watering-down of a United Nations Security Council resolution condemning rape as a weapon of war and reaffirming the UN’s opposition to sexual violence. However, the US – along with China and Russia – insisted on removing all references to women’s sexual and reproductive health or else the three countries would veto the resolution.

The US administration opposed all mentions of reproductive health on the grounds that health services for women victimized by rape during times of war implied support for abortion. The administration has taken measures to avoid supporting efforts and organizations that provide abortion services to women, including victims of rape.

CNN reported that the US move against the UN resolution is “just another expression of the contempt that this administration has for women’s rights and reproductive health and rights,” said Stacie Murphy, Director of Congressional Relations at Population Connection Action Fund. “It’s certainly typical of this administration when it comes to anything having to do with reproductive rights, sexual assault,” Murphy said.

The current administration of the United States is a casebook example of how the patriarchal worldview – supported in this instance by a conservative Christian belief system – is operating at this moment and in our generation to obliterate those voices, lives, and landscapes most affected by its consequences. Violence against women is not only aided and abetted, it is sanctioned and frequently legislated.

Women are not the only one’s negatively impacted and subjugated within patriarchal systems. Patriarchal norms place men at risk in terms of their physical, mental, and spiritual health. Emerging literature on toxic masculinity illuminates our country’s current struggles with gun violence, the prison industry, violence towards women, and racism – just to name a few examples.

A recent article in the New York Times by Wil S. Hylton describes how as a young man he was influenced by the behavioral modelling of a male cousin. The author was drawn to cousin’s strength, his bravado, his violence until his cousin physically assaulted him, placing his life in jeopardy. As Hylton shares his story, we learn how the episode forced him to come to terms with how that idea of masculinity poisoned his cousin’s life and his own. Reading Hylton’s story is like watching someone, with their last breath after a harrowing climb, plant a flag in the top of an unfathomable cultural iceberg. It’s chilling, and no man should have to endure it, but Hylton makes us have to look.

Jared Yates Sexton has written about the challenges that men have to “detoxify their masculinity” in his newly released book, “The Man They Wanted Me to Be: Toxic Masculinity and the Crisis of Our Own Making.” Sexton addresses toxic masculinity as, “An especially potent and toxic system of power and control that has subjugated women and minorities for generations via methodical and organized actions powered by misogyny and racism, a unique brand of maleness that has held sway over the United States of America since before its founding.”

Perhaps, the results of our 2016 national election and the resulting societal destruction over the subsequent years have helped to illuminate the psychology behind patriarchy. Additional social factors such as the unrelenting phenomenon of mass shootings in schools and in places of worship are social symptoms of a common cause affecting our entire national life and role on the world stage.

Our current administration has made legislative incursion into our national parks, lands previously set aside as wilderness areas, and treaty lands held by Native American communities.  The language of climate change has been deleted from government websites and reports, while traditional energy corporations continue dangerous resource extraction methods and alternative energy resources are resisted.  Incursions have been made into legislating control over women’s bodies, depriving LGBTQ persons of basic benefits and employment, consolidating control over natural resources, jeopardizing long-standing peace negotiations and historical alliances, criminalizing refugees, and protecting gun rights ownership over the rights of children.

The voices of scientists, physicians, ecologists, progressive theologians, journalists, park rangers, Native leaders, human rights advocates, international representatives working for peace and social justice – all of these voices are being vilified by those invested in preserving the worldview that is now killing all of us and all of life on earth. We must keep speaking, writing, resisting, and insisting on justice and equity for all and for Nature herself.

The hateful movement of conquer and divide must be replaced with the loving movement of resist and unite. We are in the midst of a critical historical moment of social transformation, and we must be willing to take the reins of our social direction and not accept the bit being forced upon us by those who claim that life is sacred when all their actions speak otherwise. We must strive beside one another for the change that brings greater justice to all people as well as to our waterways, lands, and air.

The desperate ultimate landscape presented in Rachel Carson’s “Silent Spring” has haunted my fears since I was a child and first encountered her prophetic work. I need the birds to sing, which is why I pledge to them every morning – as they greet the rising sun –  that I will do all that I can so that their song will not be lost, that every spring will hold their voices of hope, endurance, and perseverance. If they can speak with such resolve, so must I –  and so must we all.

Following the Indigenous Jesus

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Author’s Note: I wrote this reflection for my parish’s newsletter after returning from the interfaith clergy gathering at the Oceti Sakowin Camp that took place on
November 3, 2016
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For while we are still in this tent, we groan under our burden,
because we wish not to be unclothed but to be further clothed,
so that what is mortal may be swallowed up by life.  2 Cor 5:4

The last week of October was very difficult for me.

I have been close to Native ministries in The Episcopal Church for almost sixteen years now. I have experienced many joys and developed friendships that sustain me in crucial ways in the many ministries into which I am called in the church. I have remained present and supportive over the years within many of the difficult but important relationships which characterize The Episcopal Church’s organizational relationship with indigenous communities throughout the Provinces of the church, as well as within many nations that are a part of the Anglican Communion.

I have served as a member of two indigenous delegations sent by The Episcopal Church to participate in international meetings of indigenous peoples within the Anglican Communion – at a meeting in Australia and another in New Zealand. I served for five years on The Episcopal Church’s Executive Council Committee on Indigenous Ministries, before it was disbanded due to budget cuts by General Convention 2015 along with a majority of other committees, councils and advisory boards. I currently serve on the Presiding Bishop’s Indigenous Missioner Search Committee, even now engaged in the search for The Episcopal Church’s next Indigenous Missioner.

I have served in indigenous ministries within the Diocese of Olympia, since I arrived here in 2000. My tribal affiliation is the Shackan Band of the Nicola Tribal Association in British Columbia, and I remain the first and only (known) indigenous person ordained by our diocese. At this time, I am proud to be part of the supportive community of two indigenous men who are currently in the ordination process, each of whom I have known for several years. Many of you know Allen Hicks (Citizen Potawatomi Nation), and some may know Daren Chidester (Aleut/Athabaskan).

The Episcopal Indigenous Network in the Diocese of Olympia is a small but dedicated group of indigenous Episcopalians. We were glad to recently sponsor The Rev. Branden Mauai – an Episcopal Deacon from the Standing Rock Sioux reservation – to be a guest of our diocesan convention in October, when he presented two workshops about what is happening in the conflict between the Standing Rock Sioux and Energy Transfer Partners – the organization building the Dakota Access Pipeline through the historic treaty lands (and sacred burial areas) of the Standing Rock Sioux.

Our Indigenous Network also sponsored two letters and a petition calling for the cessation of building the Dakota Access Pipeline as part of creating greater opportunities for cross-cultural dialogue that respects the dignity of the Standing Rock Sioux and the historical trauma of indigenous peoples in our country (which greatly informs the current moment). The letters and petition were signed by members of Diocesan Convention and are being sent to the U.S Army Corps of Engineers, the Governor’s Office in North Dakota and the White House.

On the same weekend of our Diocesan Convention (October 21 and 22), The Executive Council of The Episcopal Church met. As part of their business meeting, they passed a resolution, formally requesting that law-enforcement officials, “De-escalate military and police provocation in and near the campsites of peaceful protest and witness of the Dakota Access Pipeline project.”

Five days later, police and security forces from six states joined various police agencies in North Dakota in a heavily militarized operation to remove indigenous peoples and other Water Protectors from a camp located on historic treaty lands that blocked the “progress” of the pipeline constructions.

On October 27, I watched the coordinated, militarized assault take place over live streaming video from indigenous friends and contacts at Standing Rock, and I was horrified. I saw a whole new generation of indigenous youth being traumatized by an all too familiar pattern of systemic aggression and racism. When our Presiding Bishop, The Most Reverend Michael Curry, visited Standing Rock in September, he shared that in his opinion, Standing Rock could be the Native peoples’ “Selma,’ in terms of civil rights justice. I think that the Presiding Bishop is correct in his assessment.

Immediately following the Executive Council meeting, The Rev. John Floberg (a member of Executive Council and rector of St. James in Cannon Ball, ND) issued a call to Episcopal Clergy in particular but to religious leaders and laity of all traditions, to come together for prayer on November 3, in a peaceful demonstration of solidarity with the Standing Rock Sioux and Water Protectors. Our bishop, The Rt. Rev. Greg Rickel, is supportive of my participation in the event, and I will be at Standing Rock for the first week of November. Barring any travel delays, I will be presiding at our Sunday services celebrating All Saints on November 6th.

Later in the month, beginning November 15th, I will be travelling to Nepal to participate in a long-planned service trip to bring medical and educational supplies to villages still engaged in the process of recovery from the earthquake that took place in April of last year. The trip to Nepal is my continuing education project for 2016. I have a professional ministerial interest in studying how unique faith traditions (such as Buddhism) provide psychological and spiritual support during times of community disaster. This work is related to my ongoing role as board-certified professional chaplain, who can be deployed to provide support to first responders and victims during times of national and community crisis.

I feel that I will be responding to two very different but equally real national disasters this month – one still actively emerging in our country and one still in recovery in Nepal.

As many challenges as there are in our nation and in our world, the sincere practice of our faith – whatever that faith may be – is crucial to our personal ability and collective responsibility to be centered in peace and committed to love.

In the Prayers of the People of our Book of Common Prayer, our collective prayers are always to include prayers for: 1) the members and mission of the Church, 2) our nation and those who hold authority, 3) the welfare of the world, 4) the concerns of the local community, 5) those who suffer and those in trouble, and 6) the saints and those who have died.

I know that for me, both personally and professionally, I will be engaged in prayer for all of the above and more on a daily basis. As with the network of indigenous peoples within our diocese, I cannot do all that God calls me to do, without you. Whether I am serving you, or indigenous peoples in our diocese, or people in other countries, Trinity is my home. Let us pray for one another, and let us give thanks together for the eternal promise of freedom and peace that God gave to the world through the Nativity of his son, Jesus Christ – our Savior and our Lord.

The Episcopal Spiritual Warrior

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Author’s Note: I originally wrote this reflection after the results of the presidential election in November 2016.  I have meant to post it here for some time, but the last quarter of the year was intensely busy, and I will be playing catch up in my writing for a while. Thank you for your patience, Dear Readers. One of my personal resolutions for 2017 is to return to a more regular discipline as a writer as an important aspect of my own self care, since writing is a source of great joy for me as is like oxygen to the lungs of my soul.

oceti-sakowin-camp-clergy-gathering

As many of you may be aware, I have recently returned from participating in an interfaith gathering at the Oceti Sakowin Camp of the Standing Rock Sioux Nation in North Dakota. The faith leadership that that came together was very diverse. Between us, we represented 22 different faith traditions – both lay and ordained. One leader noted with some irony that though many of our traditions are struggling with internal unity within our respective faith communities, we had been drawn together in a common purpose upon which we could all agree – “Mni Wiconi,” Water Is Sacred.

At the camp, I witnessed that though burdened by centuries of injustice, Lakota youth, young adults and elders alike are responding with tremendous dignity, strength and courage to the current situation in which they are being physically brutalized and their concerns ignored. They have not accepted the role of victim that would have their spirit ground into the earth beneath them. Rather, they seem to have taken strength from the earth for which they fight; they have roots in their faith and identity that are far deeper than prejudice and hatred can rip from them. Their tribal governance calls them to non-violent action, and their traditional faith calls them to live from an understanding of their deep interconnection with all things. They are genuinely Spiritual Warriors, grounded in their cultural values of prayer, respect, compassion, honesty, generosity, humility and wisdom.

Against the backdrop of the faith leadership gathering at Standing Rock and the examples of spiritual courage that I repeatedly witnessed among the Lakota people there, I could not help but reflect on the ways my faith tradition of the Episcopal Church and my identity as an Episcopalian equip me for times of challenge and conflict. For, indeed, our faith tradition was born from a time of conflict, having emerged at the end of the American Revolution when our fledgling nation gained it’s independence from England. The historical journey of our faith tradition has not been an easy one, with internal conflicts arising over every possible concern – from what liturgical garments to wear (if any) to the role of women in church governance and holy orders; from the language of our prayer books to the services we use in worship; and from the segregation of black worshipers to the assimilation of indigenous peoples. There are certainly many more historical tensions that could be listed.

Out of our history of institutional and social conflict and rebellion, it seems to me that something tremendously life giving has arisen. Through the course of time, The Episcopal Church has grown into its spiritual values and identity in ways that comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable. Today, through our Canons and Resolves, we are committed to inclusion of all persons – of all gender identities, orientations of love, and ethnicities- in all levels of our governance and in all ecclesiastical orders of the church. We recognize the sanctity of the Earth and are dedicated to Environmental Justice; we strive to safeguard the integrity of creation and sustain and renew the life of the earth. We provide relief to human need by providing loving service throughout the world – regardless of faith, creed or nationality. We seek to transform unjust structures of society, to challenge violence of every kind and to pursue peace and reconciliation. We proclaim and teach the Good News of the Kingdom – not as a cudgel by which to beat others into submission, but as an empowering source of liberation for all of life in the precious diversity that God has made and blessed by calling The Diversity, “Good.”

No matter what the polity of our nation or those who hold authority, as Episcopalians, we have vowed through the promises of our Baptismal Covenant to seek and serve Christ in all persons, loving your neighbor as ourselves and – with the help of God – to strive for justice and peace among all people, and respect the dignity of every human being. Our church will not alter this commitment, regardless of who is president or what party is in power. In the separation of church and state within this nation, the relevance of the values of our faith tradition is clear. The Episcopal Church will continue to stand with the poor and the marginalized, to challenge injustice, to strive for greater justice and equality among all peoples, and to advocate for those who have come to this country seeking a life free from fear and in the fullness of the liberty from which our Church itself arose.

Through the lens of my experiences at the Oceti Sakowin camp, I have come to understand that Episcopalians are Spiritual Warriors. We strive to be co-creators in achieving the liberating reality of justice in this world that is the Kingdom of God. We are grounded in values of inclusivity, love, peace, stewardship and prayer. We seek authenticity in our language and actions. We are committed to life-long education and honoring the diverse worldviews, cultures and peoples of God’s Creation. We encourage the growth of the whole person in body, mind and spirit – so that all who enter through our red doors will feel able to bring their whole self into the Sanctuary of our Church.

At Trinity Episcopal Church in Everett – as with many congregations – we have a very big tent. All Are Welcome in this place. This promise will not change.