Dust and Ashes

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On this Ash Wednesday, I share with you an excerpt from my book, Shaking the Gates of Hell:

It’s this radical humility that is absolutely essential to our time.Brian Swimme

As we consider the destruction of the earth and the suffering of our fellow creatures, both human and nonhuman, two primary responses seem appropriate: repentance and humble acceptance of our own mortality. In Christianity ashes are used to symbolize these two themes on Ash Wednesday, the beginning of Lent. In Ash Wednesday services the imposition of ashes is a way of showing our repentance, our intention to turn away from harmful actions and to turn back toward God. As we consider the damage to the earth we are called to repent of our own violence, greed, and over-consumption, our participation in ecological destruction and human misery. We are called to repent of our complicity in the harm caused by the institutions and systems of which we are a part.

We are also called to a humble acceptance of our place in the universe: “Remember, O mortal, that you are dust, and to dust you will return.” Ashes symbolize our mortality, reminding us of who we are: human beings, made up of the dust of the earth. Humus, human, humility—these words all have the same root. Our bodies are made up of the same elements that make up the earth’s crust. For that matter, we are made up of the same elements that make up the stars. We are, quite literally, star dust (as Joni Mitchell wrote in her song “Woodstock”). We participate in the great unfolding journey of the universe, and our role is to celebrate in mystery and awe. And yet we are mortal. Ashes to ashes, dust to dust

T.S. Eliot’s poem “Ash Wednesday” brilliantly portrays the dual Lenten focus on repentance and acceptance of our mortality. It expresses a sense of dust and ashes, of hopelessness, of powerlessness to change. These feelings resonate with many people facing the pain and challenges of the world today. But then, in the poem, surprisingly:

The lost heart quickens and rejoices

for the lost lilac and the lost sea voices

and the weak spirit quickens to rebel

for the bent goldenrod and the lost sea smell

quickens to recover the cry of quail

and the whirling plover.

The earth has the power to call us back to life, through the divine Spirit that moves through creation. In some mysterious way, the earth can provide us with an antidote to despair and can renew our spiritual connection with what is deepest within our souls. It is our context, our “ground of being,” through which the Spirit touches us, reminding us of what is real and important, who we are, and with whom we are connected.

Teach us to sit still,

even among these rocks,

our peace in His will.

And even among these rocks,

Sister, Mother, and spirit of the river, spirit of the sea

Suffer me not to be separated,

And let my cry come unto Thee.

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Standing Rock: Together We Rise

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Today at 4 p.m. we’ll be out in the rain, standing on the Broad Street Bridge in Nevada City, holding signs that say “Support the Standing Rock Sioux,” “No DAPL,” and “Water is Life.”   We are joining today’s worldwide day of emergency actions called by the Indigenous Coalition at Standing Rock against the Dakota Access Pipeline (DAPL).   These actions are a response to yesterday’s announcement by the Army Corps of Engineers of their intention to grant the easement for the pipeline to be installed under the Missouri River near the Standing Rock reservation, endangering their water and the water of millions downstream.  This decision is an attempt to bypass the Environmental Impact Statement required by an earlier decision by the Army Corps under the Obama Administration.

People knew this could be coming.  Although Trump has now sold his investments in DAPL, the CEO of Energy Transfer Partners, Kelsey Warren, gave over $100,000 to his campaign.  One of Trump’s first actions as president was to sign executive orders attempting to streamline both the Dakota Access and Keystone XL pipelines.

This is just one of the shocks coming down from the Trump Administration in its first weeks, shocks that have thrown the country and world into dangerous chaos, but have also triggered massive resistance. May Boeve, Executive Director of 350.org said,

“Trump clearly doesn’t know what he’s doing. Indigenous peoples, landowners, and climate activists did everything in our power to stop Keystone XL and Dakota Access, and we’ll do it again. These orders will only reignite the widespread grassroots opposition to these pipelines and other dirty energy projects. Trump is about to meet the fossil fuel resistance head on.”

It is this resistance that gives me hope, even as we witness the spectacles of terror unfolding before us.  I address this in a section of Shaking the Gates of Hell called In Resistance is the Secret of Joy:

“In resistance to the institutions and systems that destroy the earth and crush the life out of people, hope comes alive. As we withdraw our consent to these Powers, practicing noncooperation, finding or creating life-supporting alternatives, what has seemed impossible becomes possible because we are willing to pay the price to make it so. It is like the difference between being a spectator in the stands and being a player on the field. As Dorothee Soelle says, `Only when we ourselves enter the game and bind our own life inextricably to the game’s outcome does hope arrive.’”

I am proud to stand with my Indigenous brothers and sisters and with people of all or no faith traditions in this struggle for water and life.  I myself seek to follow Jesus, who was tortured and killed by the ruling Power of his time.  But death does not have the last word.

Together we rise.

Follow Sharon’s blog by clicking the “Follow Sharon Delgado” button at the right or by “liking” the Shaking the Gates of Hell Facebook page.  

Find her previous blog postings about Standing Rock.  

Rise to the Level of Love

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Martin Luther King, Jr. with Gandhi photo, by my friend Bob Fitch

When you rise to the level of love, of its great beauty and power, you seek only to defeat evil systems. Individuals who happen to be caught up in that system, you love, but you seek to defeat the system.”                                        Martin Luther King, Jr.

As Inauguration Day approaches, I will be joining people in taking to the streets.  We need to resist and delegitimize the dangerous and hateful policies of Donald Trump in every (nonviolent) way we can, on every front.

But we must also keep in mind that there is much more at stake than Trump’s presidency.  The United States is deeply divided at a time when we need unified action to deal with the many national and global threats on the horizon, including climate change.  At the same time, the country is on the verge of fascism.  Spirited, creative, nonviolent resistance is our only hope to prevent the worst forms of abuse.

Trump’s election surprised many people, but it was not a fluke.  It was the result of corruption at the highest levels of both the Republican and Democratic parties, the highjacking of the electoral process as a whole, and a system of governance that is dominated by money.  The hate speech that Trump and his followers express so opening has been expressed by conservative Republicans in veiled words and discriminatory policies for thirty years, with Democrats “providing a weak and tepid alternative” to the “lunacy” that has taken over the Republican party (Mike Lofren in The Party’s Over).  As Trump’s supporters say, “At least he says what he means.”  During the primary election, the Democratic Party manipulated the process to favor the establishment candidate, Hillary Clinton.  Meanwhile, transnational corporations and wealthy donors pooled their dark money in Super PACS, seeking to buy the election with money that counts as free speech.  What could possibly go wrong?

Now Donald Trump has been elected president.  This is not because Trump spent the most money or because the majority of people favored him, but because the destruction of democracy has unleashed forces that not even Exxon Mobil or the Koch Brothers can control.  Nevertheless, powerful interests are getting on board, planning to make the most of the wealth-producing policies promised by Trump.  For instance, Energy Transfer Partners plans to go forward with the Dakota Access Pipeline, in spite of the resistance of the Standing Rock Sioux and their allies.  We shall see.

I made the case in Shaking the Gates of Hell that “the system is designed for the results it is getting.” Those people who serve the system at its highest levels are shaped by its imperatives.  They perpetuate the system’s dysfunction while benefiting from the wealth and power it offers.

It is essential that those of us who yearn for justice not fall into hate speech when expressing our justified contempt for unjust policies and systems.  Martin Luther King, Jr. is right when he calls us to seek to defeat the system, not the individuals who are caught up in the system.  As he said, “Darkness cannot drive out darkness: only light can do that.  Hate cannot drive out hate: only love can do that.”

To see more of Bob Fitch’s historic photos, scroll down the main page of http://www.bobfitchphoto.com/.  Bob, who died last year, was my friend and colleague at the Resource Center for Nonviolence in Santa Cruz.  I miss him.

Follow Sharon’s blog by clicking the “Follow Sharon Delgado” button at the right or by “liking” the Shaking the Gates of Hell Facebook page.  

Postcard from Burleigh County Jail

Sharon being released from Burleigh County Jail in Bismarck, North Dakota.

Sharon being released from Burleigh County Jail in Bismarck, North Dakota.

This postcard arrived for my family a few days ago, now that I’m home from North Dakota.  It was written so lightly that it was barely legible, but this is what it said:

Dear Ones,

Here I am on my third day in Burleigh County Jail, happy to have a postcard and a rubber pencil so I can write to you.  I am doing just fine, in good spirits and being treated with kindness.  Right now I’m sitting in the dorm on my bunk, watching the movie “Desperado” with my five roommates, each one a beloved child of God.  I’ve been reading, writing, working a jigsaw puzzle, going to the gym, talking, eating (we have lots of cake, but no fruit or vegetables), and catching up on my sleep.  I may get out tomorrow (Monday) or at least get a phone card so I can call you.  I miss you and can hardly wait to see you, my beautiful family.  I feel privileged to stand with the water protectors here at Standing Rock, and will be so glad to be home with you.

Love,

Mom, Grandma, Sharon

I haven’t written about my time in jail, like I promised to do in my last post.  I was planning to post more about my experiences at Standing Rock, the direct action I participated in, and jail, but I was speechless when news came of the extreme violence being perpetrated against the water protectors.  Now there are threats of eviction or roadblocks to prevent supplies from being delivered to the camp.  There is snow on the ground.  Meanwhile, over 2,000 veterans are planning to go to Standing Rock on December 4 to provide nonviolent support to the water protectors.  Things are moving very fast.

Still, I have decided to share a bit about my experiences in jail there.  Why?  Because it really was a great privilege for me to be able to take an action of solidarity with others who are assuming risk for the sake of us all, in a way that was tangible.  Many people are risking far more than I did when I was arrested for holding up a banner in the middle of a road with thirty other people.  I am a privileged white woman, with friends, family, and colleagues who support me.  There is even a fundraising site now to help pay the legal fees for myself and three affinity group members with whom I was arrested.  But so many of the people in jail in North Dakota, including those whom I spent time with, and in our country overall, do not have that kind of support, and Indigenous people are disproportionately incarcerated.

Most important, the Standing Rock Sioux have put out a call for support from people who are willing to stand with them to protect the waters in that place, and who are challenging us to honor the earth for the sake of future generations.  I encourage others to respond to this call in whatever ways they can.  You can begin by calling these numbers listed here to call for a halt to the eviction.  You can also donate to the main camp at Standing Rock, the Oceti Sakowin Camp.  Most important, pray.  On December 4th, you can join a unified time of prayer with Standing Rock.   This is a movement that is bathed in prayer.

Follow Sharon’s blog by clicking the “Follow Sharon Delgado” button at the right or by “liking” the Shaking the Gates of Hell Facebook page.  

Find her previous blog postings about Standing Rock

Official website and place to donate to the Oceti Sakowin Camp at Standing Rock.    

 

Peaceful and Prayerful Resistance

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Nonviolence Guidelines at Standing Rock.

In my last post, I wrote about how my friends and I were arrested at a peaceful and prayerful action, separated, and taken to different jails.  My next post will be about my experiences in jail, as people have requested.  Today, though, I’m writing about the importance of the struggle for justice and healing that is taking place there.

The courage of the water protectors in the face of historic and current oppression is inspiring people around the world, and people are joining in to support their struggle in many ways.  The struggle continues to intensify as the water protectors refuse to back down, even as they prepare for snow and frigid temperatures.  Day by day, more allies are coming to join in the work.

Last Monday, the Army Corps of Engineers clearly stated that the Dakota Access Pipeline (DAPL) cannot legally proceed without further study and consultation with the tribe and with government agencies.  This is an apparent victory.  But Energy Transfer Partners continues to work night and day.  As of last Tuesday, the company had moved horizontal drilling equipment on to their fenced off drilling pad near Lake Oahu.  Law enforcement continues to harass water protectors and protect DAPL work.  Meanwhile, the pipeline project is in financial jeopardy, with contracts for oil delivery set to expire in January if the pipeline doesn’t go through.

Will Energy Transfer Partners stop construction or will they go forward illegally, hoping to simply be fined?  Will the Obama administration step in and enforce its temporary prohibition on routing the pipeline under the Missouri River?  That would be unusual, since the federal government has not historically protected Indigenous rights.

What about a Trump Administration?  Trump is invested in DAPL.  The CEO of Energy Partner Transfers, Kelcy Warren, contributed to Trump’s presidential campaign, and claims that once Trump is in office, the pipeline will be a sure thing.

The only hope I see in in the “power of the people” standing together in resistance to the institutional Powers that seek to ignore the sacred value of the water, air, land, and life itself, all for the sake of profit.  The institutions and systems based on the primacy of the market (that is, money), have left the waters, land, and atmosphere polluted, and have left people unable to sustain themselves and without hope.

Many people have been seeing this and have been working hard, trying to turn it around.  With climate change alone, we are reaching the end of the road.  With the election of Trump, many more people are recognizing the bankruptcy of the current system, which only exists by the consent of the people.  When we go along and enjoy the benefits of the current system, consider it normal, and close our eyes to historical and current injustices, we contribute to the problem.  When enough of us withdraw our consent, the system cannot stand.

Not all of us can go to Standing Rock, nor do we need to.  But each of us can do something.  Those of us who are committed to justice already know that we need to stand in solidarity with the many groups of people who are being targeted by hate groups emboldened by Trump’s election.   Indigenous people may help to lead us out of the present darkness, and to discover what it means to live in peaceful and prayerful resistance to oppressive Powers.  After all, they have been resisting for over five hundred years.

By joining as allies with our Indigenous brothers and sisters, not only at Standing Rock but also in our own regions, we can gain insight into who we are and what changes we need to make.  By listening and learning we can begin to understand how “settler-colonial” attitudes and behaviors have shaped us and what we can do to turn that around.  By taking a stand as allies in Indigenous struggles to protect the air, land, and water, we may learn what it means to live as human beings in harmony with the earth, from people who did so for millennia on this continent.

Follow Sharon’s blog by clicking the “Follow Sharon Delgado” button at the right or by “liking” the Shaking the Gates of Hell Facebook page.   Find previous blog postings about Standing Rock here.  

 Official website and place to donate to the Oceti Sakowin Camp at Standing Rock.    

 Articles:

Suddenly Time—and the Oil Market—are on the Side of the Standing Rock Sioux:  http://www.yesmagazine.org/people-power/suddenly-time-is-on-the-side-of-the-standing-rock-sioux-20161117

Obama Administration Halts Work on Dakota Access Pipeline: http://247wallst.com/energy-business/2016/09/10/obama-administration-halts-work-on-dakota-access-pipeline/

Dakota Access is in Financial Jeopardy: https://www.facebook.com/groups/1595421937418090/1623319824628301/?notif_t=group_activity&notif_id=1479573200580003

CEO confident Dakota Access Pipeline will be completed under Trump presidency: http://www.cbsnews.com/news/dakota-access-pipeline-energy-transfer-partners-ceo-kelcy-warren-breaks-silence/