Consider The Puppies

For the past few weeks, my apartment has been under attack by an intruder.

While I usually experience the intruder’s attacks head on, I sometimes don’t discover her dastardly deeds until days later. I’ve suffered injuries and had valuable possessions destroyed. I’ve been woken up in the middle of the night by yelling, and have forgotten what it’s like to sleep past 5:30am. The most amazing thing? This intruder is three months old, weighs six pounds, and is unbelievably cute.

You see, just over a month ago, my girlfriend and I went to a local animal shelter to pick up the cutest Dachshund puppy we had ever seen. We had no idea that Shiloh Becker-Noble would eventually become what I call the “tiny canine terrorist who lives in our home.”

Now don’t get me wrong: I love this dog. She’s mostly well-behaved and friendly, and I don’t know what I did with all of my daily stress before puppy snuggles. But it certainly hasn’t been all sunshine and rainbows. She chews our carpet and pees anywhere she sees fit. In the past month alone, we’ve lost a lamp cord and a computer charger when she ripped them to shreds, and my laptop when she decided to take a potty break on the keyboard. Our baseboards, hands, and toes are marred with teeth marks, there’s a new hole in our bedsheets, and one corner of our carpet has been sufficiently shredded. She barks at planes flying overhead, and attempts to eat every piece of plastic she finds outside.

Although the damage, destruction, and noise haven’t been my favorite thing, the time commitments of a puppy have been far worse. Work and social commitments are constantly interrupted by the need to go home and take Shiloh out to do her puppy business. Without long walks, she sprints around our apartment, howling and whining until we take her down three flights of stairs to the small patch of grass outside. A timer is constantly running in the back of my mind: how long has Shiloh been home by herself? When should I head back to let her out again? When’s her next vet visit?

These commitments have been most challenging when they conflict with my schoolwork. As a divinity school student, most of my time is spent writing papers, reading long books, and frantically reviewing Hebrew flashcards. However, it seems like Shiloh has a built-in hyperactivity timer that consistently coincides with the time I’ve reserved for studying. Sitting down with a book or flashcards almost guarantees that Shiloh will instantly be biting at my ankles, peeing on the carpet, or climbing something she’s not supposed to.

Shiloh’s constant activity can feel like a burden on my daily schedule. While I tend to get excessively frustrated with Shiloh and her need for attention and stimulation, my girlfriend offers much more grace to our canine companion. “Remember,” she’ll often tell me, “She’s just a puppy. She doesn’t know any better.”

And it gets me thinking: what does Shiloh know? Mostly, she knows about the daily functions of her body: when she hurts, when she’s tired, when she’s curious. She does her best to communicate those knowings to us by barking, running, and playing. Since she’s teething, she knows that her gums hurt and she needs to chew on something. She knows when nature calls: when she needs to do her business and sometimes even throw up.

What Shiloh doesn’t know about are the systems that she and her owners live in. She doesn’t know that peeing on a laptop or ripping up the carpet means that her owners have to pay their landlord or a computer company extra money. She doesn’t know that we leave during the day because our economic system makes us choose between quality time with our loved ones and labor. She doesn’t know that wanting to play all the time can’t happen because her owners have to put in long hours at work and school to work for the possibility of a secure future.

Shiloh doesn’t know that the scary noises that wake her up are military planes that wreak death and destruction flying overhead, paid for by her owners’ tax dollars. She doesn’t know that the plastic packaging she tries to eat outside is the result of a wasteful consumer culture and corporate agriculture that threatens her health and the planet’s. She doesn’t know that it’s hard to find expanses of grass because of gentrifying urban sprawl that decimates poor communities and communities of color.

You see, Shiloh doesn’t actually impose on my way of life. The way I act, the way humanity acts, imposes on her way of life. Our systems of domination, oppression, and exploitation are grounded in what Rosemary Ruether calls a “patriarchal anthropology.” In this view of the cosmos, humans are destined to a life of “ruling over others, superior to them, and escaping our common mortality.” Our priorities and desires come first, and we subjugate the needs of the Shilohs of the world to uphold our middle-class comforts. We replace biological harmony with technological colonization of the natural world and our fellow living beings. We replace social harmony with social sin.

During Lent, we are called to repentance, to “turn away from sin and be faithful to the Good News.” In the Hebrew Bible, repentance is described as teshuva, from the root word shuv, which means “to turn.” So how can we turn from structures of domination and towards a life-giving model of collaboration and symbiosis?

In the Gospel of Matthew , Jesus instructs his followers to cast off the worries of human life. He calls them to “consider the birds of the air” and “consider the lilies of the field,” since they aren’t bound to the sowing, reaping, toiling, and spinning of human existence. Perhaps in our 21st-century context, we should “consider the puppies,” and the world of right relationship and mutual respect they call us into.

Still not thrilled about that laptop, though.


Rebuilding the People’s Church


(Image via Christians for Socialism)

I recently completed a research project on the ecumenical dialogue between the Roman Catholic Church and the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ). As a Roman Catholic student at a Disciples of Christ seminary, I am interested in the historical relationship between these two communions and the broader complexities of ecumenism and dialogue across lines of difference. This research interest led me to remarks by World Council of Churches ecumenist Aram I, who serves as the Catholicos of Cicilia and head of the Armenian Apostolic Church.

Aram spoke in 2005 to representatives of the Joint Working Group (JWG) dialogue between the Roman Catholic Church and the World Council of Churches. In this dialogue, he offered a challenge to ecumenical workers, urging them to make their work relevant to the Church universal:

“How many churches, clergy or theologians are aware of the work of the JWG? Its work is confined to a limited circle of ecumenists. To address this situation, the work of the JWG must be related to the life of the church on the local level, and must be appropriated by the churches through a process of ecumenical education. Reaching the local churches: I consider this a major task before the ecumenical movement for the years to come.”

 Aram’s call for a relevant ecumenism that speaks to the needs of the local church reminded me of another challenging call to the Church by Sheila Briggs. At the 2000 gathering of the Women’s Ordination Conference, Briggs challenged dominant views of ordination:

“Sheila Briggs, an African American Catholic religious studies scholar, stated that ordination is by its very nature an elitist practice, one that by definition excludes women (and men) who are not highly educated. She asked, ‘when will the poor begin to celebrate the Eucharist?’

Like Sheila Briggs, Roman Catholic labor leader Dolores Huerta challenged the elitism of Roman Catholic power structures in negotiations with the Catholic Conference of California. When César Chavez asked for a priest to support striking farmworkers, corporate interests convinced bishops to take the priest away.

“Dolores Huerta lead a group of farm worker women into Bishop Manning’s office in Fresno and asked, ‘Why did you take our priest away from the farm workers? We’re not going to leave until we get an answer.’ Bishop Manning said ‘I’m going to go now and pray.’ Two hours later, he came back and said ‘I’ve been praying to the Holy Spirit.’ Dolores and the women said ‘We are the Holy Spirit incarnate. We are the poor!’ He thought about it and agreed.”

The words of Huerta, Briggs, and Aram challenge people like myself who are invested in the world of academic theology. They shake our ivory towers, reminding us that God’s transformative reign of global flourishing, peace, and justice will not be brought about by academic elites. The good news cannot be proclaimed on high from comfortable seats of abstract theological discourse. Our theological debates are meaningless if they have nothing to say to the poor and exploited, to lay members of the local church, and to those whose voices and priestly callings are repressed by the Church because of their gender identity or sexual orientation.

How can we debate the two natures of Christ without resisting the exploitation of nature itself? How can we examine the intricacies of the Eucharistic meal without working with those who have no food to eat? How can we wonder about the details of God’s embodiment in the Incarnation without demolishing the material oppressions that the United States’ racist warmongering, policing, and deportations inflict on the bodies of people of color at home and around the world? How can we inquire about the metaphysics of Jesus’ healing while our neighbors die because they cannot afford healthcare? In the words of St. John Chrysostom, how can we see Christ in the chalice, but not in the beggar at the church door?

If we believe Dolores Huerta’s words, that the Holy Spirit is incarnate in the lives of the poor, oppressed, and exploited, then we must change the voices we value:

  • Instead of uncritically praising Pope Francis, we must turn to the survivors of clergy sex abuse he has harmed, the women whose priestly calls he has denied, and queer and trans people who have suffered under the church’s oppression.
  • Instead of centering popular Catholic voices who have the backing of hierarchs and celebrities, we must turn to academic thinkers, church workers, and revolutionaries who have faced excommunication and marginalization for questioning the racialized, gendered, and economic power imbalances of our Church.
  • Instead of believing that the Good News can only flow from respectable institutions of Catholic higher education, we must turn to those workers whose union rights have been denied by Catholic colleges and universities. We must turn to those whose neighborhoods have been gentrified by Catholic schools, and to those who suffer under the boot of US imperialism while Catholic colleges allow military training on their campuses.
  • Instead of presidential candidates, priests, and popes, we must turn to the witness of workers and the laity, knowing that “faith without works is dead.” (James 2:17)

We must revive the call of liberation theologians, re-building a “theology from below” that forms the foundations of a “People’s Church.” When it comes to war and the environment, we must stop thinking like Catholic hierarchs and start thinking like Catholic Workers.

When we dare to dream of a liberating future for all of humanity, we must turn to the witness of the People of God enacted through groups like Christians for Socialism, the Movement for Black Lives, the Catholic Committee of Appalachia, and the Poor People’s Campaign. Instead of dancing around controversial issues in the Church, we must fully affirm the lives, loves, reproductive freedom, and priestly callings of women and LGBTQIA+ people.

It is time to break free of institutions that stifle, and to enact God’s live-giving presence against oppression and exploitation in our local and global communities.

Risking Resurrection: Cultivating Eucharistic Vision

This is a post by Jacob Taylor and was originally posted on the EcoFaith Recovery blog. Jacob’s work is primarily concerned with the intersection between watershed literacy/eco-spirituality and Christian discipleship. All photographs in the post are his.


“Christian hope begins where every other hope stands stiff before the face of the Unspeakable.” Thomas Merton, Raids on the Unspeakable

A few months ago I began hosting weekly “Eucharistic contemplation” hours at my house. It initially began as an excuse to invite friends over to participate in two symbols/rituals that are really important to me, and through which I make sense of my life – silence and Eucharist – and to cultivate some spiritual community in a home that can otherwise get a bit lonely. Over the past couple of months it’s become an anchoring point in my week and a brilliant means of connecting with others in my community who are also, for whatever reason, drawn to these mysteries. Every week it’s a profound joy to set the Table, stoke the wood fire stove in the living room and lay out candles, icons, and burning myrrh or palo santo wood in preparation for everyone to arrive. We’ll read a section of the Bible from the lectionary or a salient excerpt from a saint (the likes of Berrigan, St. Teresa, Merton) and sit in silence for 30 minutes of centering prayer and meditation, then close out the gathering with a poem or Taize tune. It’s a simple, stripped-down gathering that continues to be a well of refreshment and grounding.

As we’ve been gathering, and as I’ve continued my monthly EcoFaith meeting at my church, the question that continues to linger in my mind in our meditation and all our conversations around sacrament, ecotheology, justice, and discipleship is, “what does it mean to live Eucharistically in this moment?” Given the circumstances, socially, ecologically, personally, whatever, what is the Eucharist inviting us into in this moment, right now?

Whatever else it is, I understand this symbol to mean that Christ is unrelenting in his solidarity with the pain of Creation, and that he embraces our (and all the earth’s) collective groan for healing all the way to death and back. And as we make that reciprocal embrace of Christ’s suffering in ingesting the Elements, we conscript ourselves into the same to-the-death solidarity, and retell the story of redemption in our bodies. We eat and drink God’s given-ness, and in turn give ourselves back; in mystery, we participate in the very life of Christ by pouring ourselves out for the world.

Of course this sounds nice, but the question that won’t leave my mind concerns what we do with this story, practically, in this historic moment. Certainly I don’t need to ramble off statistics here about how terrible things look for the climate or belabor the prospects of continual war, political balkanization, and extractive economic practices. We are by no means in a crisis of access to this critical information. Instead, we find ourselves continually confronted with the choice (as my mentor Ched Myers puts it brilliantly in his book Who Will Roll Away the Stone, Orbis 1994) of discipleship or denial, given that all of this is happening. Will we continue to warm our hands with Peter in the courtyard at the imperial fires of privilege and first world comfort and entitlement, or will we run, finally, to the cries of the scourged One inside? 

The earth and its inhabitants continue to groan under the heavy foot of human violence and domination. The invitation I see in the Eucharist is to imbibe and emobody the counter-narrative of shalom/reconciliation and claim our bodies and lives as this-much of the world, this (personally speaking, of course) 5”11 150 lbs of humus already in alignment with the reign of God. This much made new and participating in the making-new of all things. We are invited to not only believe in the resurrection, but to risk it, and this affirmative choice empowers us to put our lives in the way of the death-dealing forces of the world (read: the System) without fear of being overcome. Christ has conquered death by death, and whether we live or die, we exist in his Life, liberated from the tyranny of death’s intimidation. The Eucharist stands in history as an interrogation of both the politics of domination and the self-congratulating spirituality (Christian, post-Christian, new age, “non-religious,” whatever) of cheap grace. Indeed, Father Berrigan said a person should first consider “what they look like on wood” before they get serious about following Christ. Each generation, and each would-be disciple, must make the connections between this commitment and their lived experiences, personally, socially, and historically. It is always as particular and specific as this moment.

We are the representatives of and, in mystery, the very living presence of Christ in the world. To live eucharistically is to participate experientially in both the enormous love and grief of Christ, and reciprocally, to receive his word of solidarity with and love and grief of Creation. Prayer (mental prayer or just listening in silence) is the process of widening the aperture of our spirits to a more expansive experience of both the profound compassion and the pain of God. It is a deepening of the human spirit, and a coming home to the truth of our very being, which is hidden in the presence of God — whose heart has been called “the open wound of Love.” In the Eucharist and in prayer, we come home to wholeness. We re-member what has been disjointed, cut off, exiled, and forgotten. In silence, we model Mary in consenting to the active word of God already at work in us, and we surrender to the mystery and beauty embodied in the Elements. 

This things are too precious to be left in the hands of those who would relegate their significance exclusively to detached, otherworldly concerns. The kingdom of God is among us now, here, and is beckoning us to join the work of reconciliation, to risk resurrection and meet Christ along the way. In every situation, “though the earth gives way, and the mountains fall into the heart of the sea” (Psalm 46) may we have the vision and the courage to live these questions with integrity, curiosity, and the very given-ness of our God. Maranatha!

embracing guadalupen theology

I wrote this a few years ago and wanted to repost in honor of today’s feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe.   My reflection looks at the image of Our Lady of Guadalupe as a “still speaking” text of liberation and wholeness.   ¡Que viva la Guadalupana!

Some music in honor of today:  La Guadalupana sung by Miriam Solis; a variation of the same song by Emmanuel and Alexander Hacha. 

As I reflect over one of my favorite images of Mary, Our Lady of Guadalupe, I realize the rich complexity and beauty within the apparition of la Morenita del Tepayac.  Just as in Galilee Mary’s yes and life pointed to God; so too in Mexico on a sacred mount Mary again points towards the path to God.   It is an apparition that does not have one meaning but speaks to us today on several levels.   The apparition has social, historic, and theological implications with new discoveries and meanings to consider with each look at the story.  Theologically, Guadalupe demonstrates God’s revelation through the unlikely hero, the need for safe space for divine encounter, and of the “un-boxing” of God’s revelation.

Throughout Biblical and Christian history, there are many examples of the underdog that saves the day.  In Guadalupe we come to see what God can do through the “nobody”, the outcast, and the rejected.  Just as God chose a poor Galilean Jewish girl to come into the world, God chose a poor indigenous man to reveal God’s plan for a new creation.  It is through the marginalized community that God planted seeds to fix the mess created by misguided, well-intentioned European colonizers—a revolu that is still being dealt with today.  Similar to stories in the Hebrew Bible, God demonstrates that God does not abandon God’s people but walks with the people and will provide a messiah. Mary, Joseph, Hagar, David, and Rahab are examples of people who were not hero material on the outside because of their gender, size, class, or fulfillment of cultural expectations but whose lives revolutionized their communities and history; Juan Diego is in this same line of known and unknown individuals that God uses to reveal truth, bring about change, and reflect divine love.  Though indigenous people were looked down upon and their culture seen as threat by Europeans, God sees potential and uses Juan to evangelize the Europeans and ultimately the world.   God holds up the rejected by calling an indigenous farmer to be a prophet, using the language and symbolism of the “conquered” to deconstruct harmful rhetoric, and comes to the people through Mary’s apparition as one of them through one of them to bring wholeness and liberation.

The story of Guadalupe reflects the need for safer spaces to connect with God.  Europeans came and destroyed the lives (on every level) of the Indigenous people of the Americas.  Native communities were flattened through a “salvation” of coercion and  humiliation—all in the name of God and in the name of progress, globalization, and evangelization.  People along with their traditions, beliefs, and way of life were completely eradicated because they were perceived to be less human (difference, like today, was seen as a threat to be silenced and conquered).  European notions of God, customs, dress, and education were forced upon tribes.  The conquest and colonization did not give people the space to desahogarse of their traumatic experience or grieve the loss of their livelihood as a community who became strangers in their own land—land that they had worked, bought with their sweat and blood, built homes on, and was a source of connection to the divine.  They were violated, blamed for being violated, and had no outlet to express these feelings. A dynamic that sadly continues today with other marginalized groups who are re-victimized by being blamed for the dominant group’s harsh treatment of them.

The missionaries’ church was not a place of encounter with God but a place of fear, pain, and terror.  Why would the indigenous people who were being evangelized and forced to convert want to come close to a god or deity who obliterated their sense of self, their land, their families, and their way of life?  Before any relationship with God could be created and fostered, it was necessary to establish spaces where people could heal and find God in travesty and tribulation.  God was not freely found but imposed—that is not healing, forgiving, liberating, or “whole-making” but just deepens the wounds.  As with other forms of violence, people than and now begin to believe the lies told to them by their oppressors.  It is beautiful and amazing how Mary greets Juan Diego; her greeting in his mother tongue begins to restore dignity that was taken from his people. Guadalupe provided a safe space by reclaiming a sacred site as a place of divine encounter, demonstrating that indigenous practices were not evil but good, and planted the seeds for a new beginning for both natives and foreigners.  Though the story of Guadalupe has brought healing and created a safer space, I believe that the Church needs to take a step further to apologize for its actions in the 1500s and not hide behind the image of Our Lady.  The story of Guadalupe shows how God reached out to create a sanctuary where people could encounter the divine on their own terms and through their own unique self and to begin a new creation from the pain of chaos and confusion (a message that has many implications for pastoral work today).

God’s work through the unlikely hero and the creation of safer spaces demonstrates that God’s complex and liberating revelation can be revealed to us through simple means that truly pack a punch.  Through Juan Diego’s testimony, the tilma with Our Lady’s image, and guadalupen roses God continues to speak to us today in a truly remarkable way.  We sometimes get caught up in the grandiose and in the bells-and-whistles; we often forget that God speaks in the “still small voice”.   Guadalupe was a reminder than and now that God can use anything as a microphone to speak God’s message of love and justice for all.  Guadalupe shows how God spoke and continues to speak through the rejected and marginalized to the Church and to society.  God’s message can come through the institution and hierarchy of the Church but it is not confined to it.  God speaks through the whole church choosing prophets from every level of church from bishops to forgotten campesinos.  The message of Guadalupe did not come from a learned philosopher but from a simple man eager to please his dulce Señora­—the message that was given was directed from the pueblo to the higher-ups (not vice versa as is often the case). God used Juan Diego and La Morenita to remind us that God’s revelation is bigger than the neat little box we try to put it in and is not limited to one person or a select few.

The story of Guadalupe has multiple meanings and was an event in history that continues to speak to us today. It’s messages take on new significance with each reading of the events that took place.  Hopefully we continue to learn, listen, and live what Guadalupe said and continues to say to us today as individuals, community, and church.   ¡Que viva la Guadalupana!


delfin bautista is a native of Miami, FL, delfin is of both Cuban and Salvadoran heritage.   delfin is a social worker and activist theologian who is passionate about engaging the intersections of religion, gender, sexuality, race, and justice.   delfin is a former member of CTA’s Vision Council, Board of Directors, Anti-Racism Team, and 20/30 Leadership Team.  delfin is coauthor of religion and spirituality in Trans Bodies, Trans Selves and also serves on their Board of Directors.  delfin currently serves as the Director of the LGBT Center at Ohio University as well as serving as adjunct faculty in Women’s, Gender, and Sexuality Studies.  delfin is also a contributor to Believe Out Loud’s blog and “preaches” on their blog “La Lucha, Mi Pulpito.”

Thesis writing as Activism


For now, writing my thesis is my activism.

These words slipped out of my fingers as I was replying to what I had thought was a simple-enough Facebook post turned comment war, and I don’t know that I really believed them at first. Writing for a blog for Call to Action, and being the post following one on Standing Rock, I suppose I don’t really need to explain why I’m talking about activism on a Catholic blog. But let me just say that it’s in my DNA. I grew up with parents who write letters to political leaders and take part in protests out of a sincere desire to live out the social justice teachings of the Catholic Church. Much has been made of the debate between Catholics and Lutherans over whether one is saved by works or by faith alone, but whatever the answer, the good side of it is the motivation to get out and do something.

But what if you find yourself so busy that you really can’t fathom doing another thing? Certainly sometimes this is a sure sign that you’ve over-extended yourself in unimportant areas and need to refocus on what is important. For me right now, however, I have all I can do to focus on work, thesis writing, and being a good boyfriend. In that case, it helps to turn to these words attributed to Oscar Romero:

We cannot do everything, and there is a sense of liberation in realizing this.

This enables us to do something, and to do it very well.

If I can’t add to my plate right now, perhaps I can see this plate in a new light – as doing something. I remind myself that I chose to work at the library because I was genuinely excited about being able to serve everyone. I know that my interactions with my boyfriend, on their best days, bring Christ into the world both for him and for others who see us.

And I warm up to the idea that perhaps writing my thesis is activism. I’m writing about different Catholic responses to the transgender community, and I hope to spur some healthy dialogue. If just one person reads my thesis and starts on the path of being a voice for transgender people, I will have at least done something. And yet, even without this outcome, my research is changing me. While I consider myself an imperfect but decent trans ally, I’ve realized that I had never taken the time to really look at the Church’s thoughts on being trans and pull them apart. If we agree that the Church needs a radical transformation on its stance, knowing that stance precisely is the first step toward an effective counterargument. At the same time, my understanding of the liberal Catholic response has evolved from “they think the official teaching is wrong” to an appreciation of the beautiful, creative theology being written by these groups to carve out a well-deserved place in the Church for trans people. When my thesis is finally signed off on, hopefully I’ll go back to the traditional forms of activism, but for now – and I now say this with conviction – my thesis is my activism!

About the author: Francis Beaumier is on the leadership team for the Dignity Young Adult Caucus and an active member of the Our Lady of Lourdes Parish Family as well as Angels of Hope Metropolitan Community Church. He currently works for Brown County Library as an IT Specialist and is pursuing a Master’s in Liberal Studies at St. Norbert College.

Bridge-Building and Radical Forgiveness: Standing Rock and Beyond

This is a post by Jacob Taylor who is a native to the Maketewah watershed in southwestern Ohio. His work is primarily concerned with the intersection between watershed literacy/eco-spirituality and Christian discipleship. All photographs in this post are his.


I decided to take a break from a few years of relative FB silence to voice support for anyone considering making the jaunt to Standing Rock. I’m really happy to share information from my (limited) experience there.  If it’s been on your radar, I think it’s a really good time to start making plans. If it’s not, there are a lot of avenues for you to extend support to that struggle from home, for real.

On another note, amidst a lot of heaviness, I feel an immense gratitude for all of the demonstrations of courage, solidarity, and bridge-building I’ve witnessed in the past two days. I sat in a mosque basement last night (I would’ve maybe never found myself there were it not for the election results) with a group of Muslim sisters and brothers to talk about how we can support each other in the coming days, and for every tearful voice that said, “I’ve never felt more vulnerable in my life” there was another that said “today I feel strong. Today I feel love towards those who would demonize me. I choose to extend compassion and listen to the pains and concerns of those who would cast a vote against my life.” We wept and laughed and ate pizza and it felt like holy sacrament.

Last week I stood on broken glass with 500+ Christian clergy members against a giant police and National Guard barricade to renounce our complicity and silence in the midst of so much earth-pillaging in ND. I heard a Lakota elder, pointing up over the hill towards the construction workers currently ripping up native sacred sites and in the process effectively endangering the water supply of 18 million people, and towards the militarized police defending them, say “we must pray for them, for their well-being and and for the well-being of their families. We must forgive them because they don’t know what they’re doing.” As a group, in ceremony, we acknowledged and mourned five centuries of profound violence, and pledged solidarity with the indigenous represented and renewed covenant with earth. We found out that the number of clergy enrolled in the Standing Rock delegation was 544, exactly the number of years since the Doctrine of Discovery.

There is reason for real concern. Anguish, even. But for despair, never. We’re about to dive head-first into some deeep and old historical traumas and wounds, and we’re going to bleed in the process. But we’re going to start the long work of healing. We’re going to bind up each others’ wounds and keep struggling towards Shalom. We’re going to build stronger bridges and alliances, more sustained resistance movements, give longer hugs, plant bigger gardens, and we’re going to call each other to unprecedented gestures of courage and solidarity. Our work has never been more cut out for us. This struggle is old as time, and as Canadian patron St. of heartbreak L. Cohen (rip) said damn, we have the music. And damn if I can’t see a couple stars out tonight. If even just a couple. You are loved. You are strong. Together we are stronger. Kyrie Eleison, now and tomorrow, come what may. God of Life, give us vision and courage.

Spirit Alive at Standing Rock: Nathan Holst’s Experience

This is a post by Nathan Holst.  Nathan works in faith formation and does racial justice work in Duluth, MN.  Nathan an his partner Sarah have led presentations at Call to Action events.


photo credit: Matika Wilbur

Spirit come alive

Let us follow the current

Trace the sacred sighs

In the call of the earth

With seven generations

Standing before us now

May the Spirit come alive


These words from a song I wrote years ago were ringing in my ears this last weekend as I came with folks from the All Nations Indigenous Center in Duluth to join thousands of indigenous people at the incredible gathering at the Standing Rock Reservation to protect the water (and burial sites) from the Dakota Access Pipeline, slated to run just North of the reservation.   There truly was an incredible Spirit coming alive in that space where elders, children, families were all tracing the call of the earth to protect the water for future generations.

Here is a picture of what it’s like there: the front line camp is right off the main highway, situated right next to a river. When you first enter, you see signs that clearly mark “No drugs, no alcohol, no weapons”. It is a space for families (of which there were countless) and a space of nonviolence (which was made clear to us again and again in our time there). As you continue on, there are flags from every nation represented flying high, which was reported to me to be between 90 and 150. Then there is the check in tent, a tent for donations, a tent for media, and the main circle gathering space where there are constantly speakers sharing their story with anyone gathered to hear. At night, this space is filled with musicians and spoken word artists, ready to lift each other up with their songs and words. Drum ceremonies and sweat lodges run constantly. Both by day and night you can find people gathered in their small, spread out camps based on tribal affiliation, but porous as family, always intermingling with each other. There are elders telling stories and making jokes, people sharing meals together, and building family as well as a movement.

As reported (best, in my estimation, by Democracy Now), on Saturday afternoon, shortly before we arrived there was a group of peaceful protectors who stood in front of bull dozers to stop them from destroying burial sites where the people managing the Dakota Access Pipeline knew there were burial grounds and still chose to dig. In some news outlets, this has been reported as protestors attacking security guards, when the story from Indigenous folks is that they were peacefully trying to stop them from destroying their graves, only to have dogs unleashed on them, as well as pepper spray. And as the Huffington Post asked, “How would you feel if a construction company bulldozed a family plot in a local cemetery that contained the remains of your family?” These are courageous men, women, and children that know what they are willing to fight for and stand in the way of the violence being done to their ancestors, being done to our water.


Folks from Duluth’s All Nations Indigenous Center at Standing Rock.

On Sunday, we marched with 500 people on the highway to the edge of where the graves had been unearthed. We gathered in a huge circle for a ceremony for the ancestors who had been disturbed, where all the spiritual men and women leaders were called to the center. Singers began, followed by medicine men praying to the four directions, as well as dancers joining in this incredible prayer for the ancestors. It was like nothing I’d ever experienced, and as I was filled with awe and wonder at what was happening, I tried to imagine if I felt this way as a white person, what might all the indigenous folks who are there feel? So many of those who came with us from Duluth said at the end of the trip, speaking through their tears, “I feel home”.

So after leaving what then felt like family and returning to Duluth, I am back here wrestling with fire in my belly, which I see as the longing for justice for my relatives, and showing up in the best way I know how, trying to share what I experienced with my community. I am trying to get the word out to everyone I know, especially since many newspapers are either not picking up this incredible story or distorting the perspectives of those at the camp.

But I am also caught with a vision. I have seen, tasted the incredible culture of elders, spiritual leaders, nonviolent warriors, and families and I can’t help but wonder: where are my people? Where are my elders? What would it look like for my white community to have this kind of powerful gathering to protect our water? I heard African Americans speaking to their history, acknowledging the help they received from Indigenous people to escape slavery. Now they’re showing up to support them in this movement and putting their lives on the line in gratitude. Is there someone in my white community that can speak in this way, to share gratitude for when indigenous people welcomed them to this land, even when we repaid hospitality with brutality? Is there a path for us to regain our humanity and to have this same kind of historical clarity, to recognize our place in this great story?

I believe we have an invitation in front of us. There is an incredible gathering of tribes from across this land (and the world) standing up and protecting our water that gives us life. What is the legacy that we want to leave? What story do we want to give those who come seven generations after us? Though life can often be complex and simple answers sometimes elude us, the choice is still right in front of us, and those who come after us are waiting to see what we will do.