Two weeks post election.

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I often times think on my two grandfathers, Jimmy and Red.

Jimmy was a WWII vet, a son of great privilege who went to war and came home a different man.  Instead of following his father into Detroit’s corridors of power he became a milkman.  He suffered greatly after the war and could never forgive FDR for sending him and combined with other reasons was a lifelong Republican.  He was not a religious man and hearing God-Damn Democrats, and God-Damn Fords, was normal.  I really did not know him that well.   He was not the best with kids and he died when i was 17.

Red, was a Kentucky Hillbilly.  He was a timber man, and occasionally a Coal Miner (always reluctantly).  He moved up to Detroit along the “Hillbilly Highway” with throngs of southerners, seeking a better life in the industrial Midwest.  His dad was a lay preacher in the Holy Roller movements that swept through the hollers and could be strict.  His boys, my grandfather included, were wild.  Red was a pool-hustler and a hard drinker.  The year before I was born, he sobered up when he found Jesus.  The man I knew was a gentle giant.  Growing up in Coal Country he was formed in the union environment forged by Mother Jones, and working the factories of Detroit solidified him as a life long union man and Democrat.  He died last year, and I miss him.

Red and Jimmy were friends.  They used to drink together at the Mel bar and as typical 1950’s dads it took them a while to figure out that their kids were even dating.  They disagreed on politics but maintained their friendships.

The world they created is the world I grew up in.  There was always a back and forth between the two parties, and one side was always on the side of less power, and holidays might have ribbing between folks concerning politics.  They were different wings of the same bird.  Neither of my grandfathers were blatant racist, white supremacists.  They were also not committed to the cause of racial justice either.  At times they could say rather embarrassing things and at times they surprised me with their grace.  When my then 87 year old Southern, Baptist Grandfather came out in favor of marriage equality my heart swelled with surprised joy.  When he commented on the “Craftiness” of a college football coach on account of him being Chinese I felt embarrassed.

If you are like me, perhaps you see your grandparents in a similar light.  Neither card carrying members of the KKK, nor champions of equality and justice.

How are my grandchildren going to see me?  I think about this as our nation enters again into the crucible.  This crucible may be shocking or alarming to you if you, like me are white and middle class.  I have learned these past two weeks of the “shockless-ness” of my friends of color, of my LGBTQ+ friends, of my Muslim friends.  Their life has been forged in a crucible, this is just another stage of it.

The election of Donald Trump to the presidency came as a surprise to me.  I thought I had watched him time and time again shoot himself in the foot only to see his recover.  I now realize I am part of one of the many silos we live in.

Today, I woke up, went to yoga, and came back to see that my attempt to clarify things on my facebook wall only had served to confuse people.  One person from my hometown was even calling for my to be defrocked (fancy way of saying that I am no longer fit to be a pastor).  I had posted this picture.15134714_1452540328108454_29825447102198759_n

It was my silly attempt to clarify what is worrying me so much.  It apparently was clear as mud.

I do not see conservatism as evil, or bad, or inherently racist.  I see it as a healthy counterbalance to liberalism.  But when I champion conservative thought, I think about my Granddads debating.  I love Eisenhower style conservatism.  The following view points, though I might not hold them personally, make total sense to me:

  • A smaller federal government which gives more power to the states.
  • More local control of educational systems.
  • A strong military to defend our nation against threats.
  • Lower taxes that give freedom to individuals to direct their incomes where they choose.
  • The right to bear arms, which is enshrined in our Bill of Rights.

Like I said, I may not agree with these points (and more) but I can see their intellectual validity, their merits, and why people hold on to these ideals.  I have many close friends, and relatives who are conservative, and I like debating them and I see them as wonderful people.

What I see on the ascendency in this country, today is quite different.  I am seeing very frightening things, and from a theological perspective very evil things unfolding.  At the same time I am hearing calls for unity and togetherness.

Insofar as you want to continue the old argument between the ideals of classic American Conservatism, I will join you in unity, often times from an opposing viewpoint, and often times not (I have some moderate and conservative positions that I hold)

I will resist all calls for unity that come at the expense of the most vulnerable in our society.

I will not be united with you if you tolerate what is being currently tolerated and promoted by the President Elect:

I will not be united with you if you seek to roll back the strides made for the dignity and equality of the LGBTQ+ community.  I will actively resist.

I will not be united with you if you seek register Muslims, and denigrate them in their constitutionally guaranteed right to the free practice of their faith.  I will actively resist, and I will register as a Muslim.

I will not be united with you if you seek to sweep the Alt-Right, the KKK and their ilk under the rug, fail to denounce their white supremacy, as your lack of action normalizes their presence in our Country.   I will actively resist

I will not be united as a man like Steve Bannon ascends higher into the corridors of power.  I will actively resist.

I will not be united with you as our planet’s future our children’s future is sold like lentil porridge swapping the birthright of this amazing earth for the short term profits of the few.  I will actively resist.

If you voted for Trump, I do not think you are a bad person, or stupid or any of the other things you might see liberals saying about you right now.  I will not join that chorus.  However it is incumbent upon you to de-legitimize the forces of evil, the white supremacists and the fascists who have been emboldened in the past 2 weeks.

I am a pastor and part of that role is prophetic.  If my calls concerning the Alt-Right, and their likes makes you uncomfortable, then I encourage you to recall the prophet Jeremiah, specifically chapter 6:

They have treated the wound of my people carelessly,
    saying, “Peace, peace,”
    when there is no peace.

 

I will not say unity as my fellow human is stripped of dignity.  I will not say peace when Native Americans continue to be abused at Standing Rock and through the general system of oppression they live under continues.  I will not join you in as my Muslim sister’s right to wear a headscarf in public gives way to threats.  I am not united with you until a black life matters as much to society as my white life does.

This is not about liberal vs conservative.  This is not the debate of my granddads.  This is not normal.  This is not right.  I call upon everyone to resist anything that gets in the way of neighbor love.

What will your grandkids have to say about you?

My Time In Standing Rock or When I learned how to pray for my enemy.

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On Thursday morning I returned from spending three days at the Oceti Sakowin camp which currently sits at the front line of the Standing Rock movement against the Dakota Access Pipeline, which goes by the acronym DAPL.  I have been struggling with how to communicate such an important time well.  So, here it is, my best attempt.  But before I go on, there is one very important thing that needs to be said:  This is a Native American Indigenous struggle against Colonialism past and present.  I am just adding a few very unimportant thoughts to the big picture in hopes that it can help people (specifically fellow white people) see what is happening.  You really need to be reading, and listening to Native Voices.  This is their movement, this is their vision, this is a time for listening and following.  Here are just a few links of some Native folks I know and what they are doing, saying, thinking.

My friend Sierra, Navajo from New Mexico

Bishop Guy Erwin, Osage, Bishop of the Southwest California Synod of the ELCA

Official Stand with Standing Rock Site

No – seriously go read indigenous voices before you read the rest of this.

At first I tried to write up a day by day, but then I would remember something else important, and it would get longer and longer.  I am still going to do that mostly for my own memory but I would like to share a few short things that happened/I learned while I was there.

It is beautiful:  The land surprised me with beauty.  The rolling hills, the rivers, the sparse trees.  When you come around the corner and see the camp, people setting up and living in their tribes style of home, Lakota tipis, Iroquois longhouses, Ojibwe wigwams.  The first day was a wind advisory, our western tents were straining against the prairie winds, the tipis, it barely looked like a breeze was going over them.

It is holy:  Forget our western split between sacred and secular times.  The entire movement, the entire camp is prayer.  The sacred fire burning in the middle of of the camp, always being attended by prayerful people.  The direct action training was prayerful.  The days began with ceremonies in the morning, they ended with ceremonies, there were thanksgiving for the water, the food, the air, the sky,  for everything.

It is welcoming:  Indigenous people have every reason to be wary and suspicious of a white person, especially a white person in a collar.  I was welcomed, embraced, fed, prayed for, smiled to.  There was a risk of people infiltrating camp (a real risk as I will say soon) and yet there was an openness to all who came in.

It being watched:  Helicopters, and planes were always, always overhead.  The surrounding hills were covered in police, security, federal agents and soldiers.  At night DAPL had huge, stadium lights set up.  Not to help them continue work, but to bath the camp in a reminder of their presence.

It is peaceful:  We were reminded by elders, chiefs, security, and everyday people all the time, that we are here to pray, and to be peaceful.

I have a few stories I want to share.  They are things that I personally witnessed and think are worthwhile to show the kind of leadership that is happening at the camp.

Training:  

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All people who come to the camp are required to get an orientation.  At the orientation, people from the Indigenous Peoples Power Project (click here) guide us through the values of the camp and the values of how we act while on the front line.  Every direct action is about praying.  Each time people have moved to the front line, it is done so that elders and others can pray for the water, for the people, for the land, for the police and for the pipeline workers.  Yes the direct actions do involve confrontation, but no, I never experienced a call to violence…well I did once…at the second day of training.  We were in a large tent and a man in the back was quite agitated.  He kept interrupting the training, and asking when we were going to the front, and when we were going to go the pipeline itself and stop it.  He also spoke in the most fake rezzy accent I have ever heard (many Native American people speak with a certain cadence, just like any group bringing hints of their home language to a new language).  After many rounds of interruptions one of the trainers asked “Brother, what tribe are you from?”  The man froze…hesitated and said “Uh Northern Minnesota”  Now I spent a year on the Leech Lake Rez in Northern Minnesota, Ojibwe folks, like all other folks know damn well which tribe they are from and don’t hesitate when asked.  He eventually left the tent and as he left he called on all of us to go join him and stop the police and the pipeline before it was too late that we did not need non-violent training, we needed to do whatever it takes.  After he left he apparently left camp and no one saw him again.  My guess, he was from DAPL or somewhere else.  We went outside and worked through using non-violent resistance to hold space.  To my surprise, one of the leaders asked me to pray for the group that just went through training.  I did then he asked me to come talk to Jonny the head of the camp.  The large group of clergy had not arrived yet and Jonny wanted to know details about the pastors…since I only found out about the clergy event on my way to North Dakota, I had very little knowledge to pass on.

Direct Action

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(bridge where our action took place – photo not from the day of our action)

Wednesday morning began with prayer, again to my surprise, an elder asked me to go to the mic and offer up a prayer, all prayer is welcome and honored at the camp.  I thanked the Elders and the Standing Rock tribe for all they are doing and for inviting us to camp.  I said the church has been on the wrong side for over 500 years and it is my hope that healing can continue.  Then we were all invited to partake in a water ceremony.  It was beautiful, we gathered in a circle where women thanked the Creator for water and then gave some for each person to drink and wash with.  We then processed to the Cannon Ball River where we offered prayers, tobacco and water to the river as a sign of gratitude for the gift of water.  The ceremony took as much time as it needed to take – oh that the Lutheran Church could learn from this – you cannot rush the holy.  On the way back a van drove by and stopped, one of the direct action organizers, the one that had me pray the day before leaned out and told everyone that there was an action about to start, he then looked at me and said,  “Hey pastor, get ready, we got a job for you!” then they drove off.

Upon return from the water ceremony one of the direct action leaders called us to gather with him and the noDAPL Mni Wiconi flags.  He instructed that we were being asked to head up the 1881 road towards the bridge.  That we were to pray and observe another direct action that was to take place later down at the water.  We gathered together.  We were reminded again that we were to be prayerful, that we were non-violent, that we are here to protect water and never to harm anyone.  We were told to walk slow so elders and those with mobility issues were not left behind.  So we walked, we prayed, we sang.  We approached the two burned out trucks from the events the previous Thursday.  There we sang, and we prayed for about an 3/4 of an hour.  As we were clapping with a drum beat the direct action guy started walking through the crowd saying “Where’s my pastor, where is my priest?”  He looked at me and said, “You ready?  Come with me!”  That is the moment when all of the courage I thought I brought to Standing Rock flew away.  I walked with him to the front of the crowd, in front of the trucks.  He told everyone, “All prayer is good, and this Christian is going to pray for us all in his way.  So everyone bow your heads”  I had no idea what to do, so to begin by having everyone repeat the words to Desmond Tutu’s song,

Goodness is stronger than evil;
love is stronger than hate;
light is stronger than darkness;
life is stronger than death.

When all else fails, always punt to Desmond Tutu.  Then we prayed, for creation, for Water Protectors, for Native People, for Police, for Oil workers.  Then I said Amen and walked back into the crowd.  I felt a hand on my shoulder, the leader said with a huge smile, “Oh no priest we’re not done, we need to go get you arrested!”  Not knowing what to say, I said, “ok”.  He took me around the trucks and about 25 yards ahead, were all of the police, fully militarized, fully armed, ranks of them and two maybe three big armored vehicles, police in the top hatches, fully armed.  The leader smiled at me and said “Go pray for them, pray for their safety, pray for their loved ones, bless them.”  I took a breath and started walking.

*An aside:  I am a good Lutheran, I believe that as a society we need police.  We need those who answer the call to defend us from harm and evil.  I affirm the vocation of Police Officer.  I also believe deeply in Native Rights and sovereignty, and in God’s call for justice. Our society, and its long standing policies of white supremacy have often time pitted our police against the very people they are called to serve.  This was the first time I have found myself, as a white man, looking in at ranks of police officers, standing against me.  Without its association with hate, the police now were my enemies, and I was being asked by Native Leadership to pray for them.  The Native Leadership was calling me to fulfill the command of Jesus, they were calling me to fulfill my ordination vows.  The Standing Rock movement was calling me to be a Christian.*

  So I, with a type of fear I have never known, walked towards the barricade.  At the barricade were two police officers, in vests but not combat gear, very stern looking, and two elders.  The elders embraced me, and said thank you for coming to pray, prayer is why we are here.  I told the two officers, “My name is Benjamin Morris, and I am a Lutheran Pastor, I am here to pray for you, and your safety, and your families, may I shake your hands?”  They looked at each other and nodded yes, I asked them their names, which they told me, and which I immediately forgot – way too much adrenaline.  I yelled back to the ranks of officers “I am here to pray for you all.”   Using my best Lutheran hand gestures I called them into prayer. My prayer went something like this:  I prayed for their vocation, I prayed for their safety, I prayed for their families, I prayed for oil workers.  I prayed that each side not see each other as enemies and that we see each other as humans made in God’s image.  Feeling I needed to call for God’s justice, my mind struggled to find words to describe why the stand the Water Protectors are making is justified.  Not knowing where to go, I again leaned on the Lutheran depth of song and liturgy, to the baptismal liturgy to be specific:

We give you thanks, O God, for in the beginning your Spirit moved over the waters and by your Word you created the world, calling forth life in which you took delight. Through the waters of the flood you delivered Noah and his family. Through the sea you led your people Israel from slavery into freedom. At the river your Son was baptized by John and anointed with the Holy Spirit. By water and your Word you claim us as daughters and sons, making us heirs of your promise and servants of all

I have no idea if I said it that perfectly, but I followed it with the fact that water runs as deeply in our sacred stories as it does the sacred stories of the Lakota and that Water Protectors are protecting everyone’s water, water that was given as a gift.  I prayed we would all reach a better understanding of each other.  Then I said Amen and walked back, surprised that I had not wet my pants.

We stayed on the bridge and prayed another hour before heading back to join with the Direct Action on the water, and in the Camp, but that is truly another story.  I was not down at the water but two people were shot with rubber bullets, and multiple people with pepper spray and tear gas.  They had built a bridge so elders could pray at desecrated graves.  Things went more chaotic and we were asked to protect the entrance of the camp as there was fear it would be overrun.  Women, Children and Elders were evacuated.  That is when the LSTC group rolled in, amazing timing on their part as they were able to witness the camp in the midst of action, protection, and a sense of urgency.  They have stories along with the 500 more clergy who began arriving, including my internship mentors, Rev. Harold Eagle-Bull and Rev. Mark Olson  And that is when my group took our leave, knowing more people will be showing up to witness, listen and learn, and that many Native people will remain, staking their lives in the movement, preparing to spend the long North Dakota winter in their traditional structures and tents, protecting water, and continuing their 500 year struggle against colonialism, genocide and oppression.

These are the things I have experienced. There were 10 others in my group who have stories to share, and thousands who have taken part in some way.  Please, please take time to learn more.

Mni Wiconi – Water is Life #noDAPL

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Internship Reunion

it all began with some crumbs

 

Last week I got into a facebook argument with some friends and colleagues.

The argument was about communion and crumbs.

This week I read one of the same friend’s newsletters.  *sidenote, on this new blog attempt I will shirk my midwest roots and be open and honest*  It was from Matthew Voyer, a seminary friend who often times finds himself on the other side of just about every issue from me.  In his newsletter he says, “Congregations that turn sanctuaries to entertainment halls will not look different from the world.”  Now this, piggybacked with the discussion on his facebook wall have left me doing a lot of thinking this past week.  Here is my conclusion – well right now at least.

In 2016, all worship is entertainment, all worship is made up of many small consumerist choices.

I just do not think we can get away from that fact.  I am about to make my argument and before I do so I want to make a few things known before I get attacked by more traditional folk who seem to be irked by my existence in the church.  One, I have a BS in History, and I minored in Art History and English.  I have an Md.Div from Wartburg Seminary where I was blessed to spend a year in Germany at the Augustana Hochschule where I took classes in German, and my internship was with the Episcopal Church on the Leech Lake Reservation.  I spent my second call working with Dr. Michael Burkhardt, one of the world’s best organists, whose patience and spirit made me fall in love with the instrument.  I say all of this because I think people assume that either I dislike “traditional/orthadox/whateveryouwanttocallit worship” or they think I am an unthinking idiot (they are only partially right, I am a thinking idiot).

On to my thoughts then.  All worship is entertainment and all worship is made of many small (or big) consumerist choices.

Much of what makes up what people would call traditional worship today has less to do with theology, historically speaking, and much more to do with historical cultural norms.

In 2016, candles are an outdated technology.  We no longer need candles to illuminate space.  For over 100 years, lightbulbs have done s spectacular job of doing this.

In 2016 we have pasteurization, we have preservatives, we have sanitation we have screens and we have hvac systems.  The world (which we inhabit) no longer has so many curious odors lurking about.  We no longer need antiquated ways of preserving things or attempting to make life more pleasant.  Thus we no longer light incense to make the smell of a space bearable, and we no longer cover our glasses with cloth or ham to keep bugs out of our wine.

In 2016 we have steel beams and fascinating new construction methods.  Stone arches are no longer necessary to  create large open spaces.

In 2016 we have amplification systems based on speakers and microphones and wireless networks.  We no longer have to physically elevate a human above a crowd of people for said humans voice to be heard.

In 2016 the same old arguments are hauled out on what right/proper/orthodox etc. worship is or is not.  Many on the side that describe themselves as orthodox are quick to judge choices deviant to their choices, as based on entertainment.

Historically speaking, many, not all, of the choices the church has made in regards to worship over the centuries were based on practicality, the needs of the time.  Over time, layers of theology and liturgy were overlaid upon these choices.  I do not believe that this was done nefariously or flippantly, but I do believe that often times they were done, post decision (if there even was a decision).  At Wartburg we learned the Alb was the sleeved tunic of the Empire.  Later on it became a symbol of Baptism.  The chasuble was a travelers cloak, later on it became a vestment of the eucharist.

So then, in 2016, what is entertainment and what is not?  What is a consumer choice and what is not?

If technology has rendered the use of incense superfluous then how does it differ from a fog machine?  They are both used to create and aesthetic  experience.  Doubtless you will quote some Psalms to me about incense rising up, but how does that actually differ from fog in a machine?  If candles were used to illuminate a space, and we have lightbulbs, why do we actually need candles?  Is their use not actually a consumer choice?  If the pulpit was created to allow a human voice to carry, but we live in a world of microphones, why is wandering from the pulpit criticized as caving to talk show culture (which it was at Wartburg) but standing in a pulpit seen as the proper way?  If the alb was an everyday garment, why is its use seen as the standard, but my wearing of a flannel shirt (my literally every day garment) seen as the consumer choice?

Entertainment is wrapped up in all we do.  Consumerism is wrapped up in all we do.  If you build a new space for your church, and you spend lot’s of money replicating the architectural necessities of Gothic architecture, you are making the more consumerist choice.  You are spending a lot of money to replicate that which is no longer necessary.  Sure its awesome, and cool, but you are doing to create a “feel” for people who walk in to your space.  When you break out the candles, you are helping create a “feel” for your space.  When you put on an alb, you are helping to create a “feel” for your space.

I am not saying any of the above choices are wrong, I am saying they are choices.  They might be the default choices for liturgically bent churches, but they are choices.

I love candles, I love the organ, I do not love the alb, I do not love fog machines, incense makes me sick.

At Common Ground, like the church in ages past, our reality dictates many of the choices me make.  We use candles and turn the lights off because we think it helps create an intimate space where people can encounter God and each other.  We use acoustic instruments so the human voice is allowed to be the primary instrument.  We commune at many tables because we cannot move everyone through our space well, it’s a little coffee shop.  It’s a coffee shop not because that is trendy, but because that gives us an opening to the campus community, and it allows us to be good stewards of our finances .  We have a coffee shop so we can use the space the other 82 hours of the week that students are awake, and for the sake of the population we have been called to serve.  We make an awful lot of crumbs because we use real bread, and our community is packed like sardines and we believe that people should commune each other so the words “the body of Christ given for you and the blood of Christ shed for you” are on their lips, in their ears, in their fingers and on their palms.  We use a screen because it saves us a lot of money and allows us to react fast to a swiftly changing world.  A worship printed on Tuesday in a bulletin can’t react to the campus suicide on Friday, for Sunday’s worship.  We make many, many consumer choices in how we approach worship.  We make choices in the hopes to engage people, many of these choices are based on entertainment.  We sing songs with garbage theology on occasion knowing that songs students know help them feel welcome in our space and that one song with garbage theology but a damn good melody won’t derail everything else we do in that hour on Sunday, in our small groups throughout the week and on our life changing service, mission, adventure opportunities.  We hope our consumer and entertainment choices lead us to understand the Gospel deeper.  He hope that people are drawn into a deeper relationship with God and each other.

In 2016, all worship is entertainment, all worship is made up of many small consumerist choices.

We try to be honest about making our choices, and we make ours for the sake of those who do not know the love of God through Jesus Christ.  We think that by looking like the world, we can subvert the world.   My question for you then is, “For whom do you make your consumer choices?”