Monday, August 29, 2016

Standing with American Indians to protect our world from destruction

Today's column in the Grand Haven Tribune, reprinted below. 

When I was a child, like many of my generation, I loved playing “Cowboys and Indians.” I grew up watching old John Wayne movies with my grandfather and reading western novels he passed on to me.

As I grew older, however, I learned that on my father’s side of the family, a love of American Indian culture had a deeper meaning. My grandmother’s grandmother was full-blooded Chippewa. She died long before I was born, but my father met her when he was about 5. At my generation, that means I am only 1/16th Chippewa, but it is the strongest single ethnicity present in my genealogy.

As I continued to mature in my appreciation for the small amount of American Indian in my heritage, I became more aware of the sad history of oppression and violence against the first people to live here in the Americas. Games like “Cowboys and Indians” lost their appeal, and I began to read western novels through a different lens. I developed a love for bow-hunting as a way of connecting with my ancestors and getting closer to my own food sources.

My great-great-grandmother lived on the Indian reservation in Mount Pleasant as a part of the Saginaw Chippewa Indian Tribe of Michigan. Though the initial reservation for this tribe (the Isabella Indian Reservation) had 130,000 acres of land, this land was slowly swindled away as eager lumber merchants bought land at a fraction of the actual value. This was the only way those living in the reservation could feed their families and, after only 70 years, only a handful of the original tribal member allotments remained.

The reservation my great-great-grandmother lived on was a mere 500 acres. This was all that remained.

I would imagine you share my sadness at this story, knowing it is only a fraction of the great injustices done to American Indians over the nearly 400 years since Europeans first made contact with the first people living here. However, we would all be mistaken if we thought this was the end and injustice and oppression of American Indians is now only a tragic footnote in American history.

In North Dakota, more than a thousand American Indian activists have halted the construction of the Dakota Access Pipe Line (DAPL). The activists are protesting this pipeline because not only is it a clear example of environmental racism, it also would result in the degradation of sacred sites and burial grounds. The original construction plans ran north of Bismarck but were moved because of potential dangers to the drinking water there — no similar consideration was given to the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe. This is clear environmental racism.

The government has closed the main highway used by the Standing Rock nation, as well, creating a further economic sanction.

I am proud that my church is standing side-by-side with the protestors. The bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of North Dakota joined a statement of protest on Aug. 19 from the North Dakota Council of Indian Ministries of the diocese. The presiding bishop of the Episcopal Church, Michael Curry, has joined his own voice supporting the protest, saying in an Aug. 25 statement, “The people of Standing Rock Sioux Reservation are calling us now to stand with Native peoples, not only for their sakes, but for the sake of God’s creation, for the sake of the entire human family, and for the children and generations of children yet unborn.”

An Episcopal Church deacon on the Standing Rock reservation said, “It’s not just a native thing. It’s not just an Indian issue. It’s a human issue.”

In our own State of Michigan, on Aug. 21, a group of American Indians in Marquette offered their own protest in solidarity with the North Dakota protestors. That group shares deep concern for danger to water in North Dakota. A saying in Sioux calls all of us to the truth that “mni wiconi,” or “water is life.” Those of us in Michigan, particularly in the Tri-Cities, blessed with an abundance of water, know this truth.

A similar environmental danger lurks close to home in the Enbridge Line 5 oil pipeline under the Mackinac Bridge. This 50-year old pipeline continues to pose a great risk to the Straits of Mackinac. Eight Michigan counties or municipalities have called for the retirement of this line. Though Enbridge claims it is safe, the company has had numerous other spills in Michigan, the latest in 2010 spilled more than 1 million gallons into Talmadge Creek, going from there into the Kalamazoo River.

The American Indian activists in Marquette will be protesting the continued use of the Line 5 pipeline in Mackinaw later in September.

It is not enough for us to regret the history of European immigrants hundreds of years ago. It is not enough to regret the history of oppression from the United States government or the economic and environmental racism and injustices in the generations since we first signed treaties with American Indian tribes. These tribes call us back to the importance of earth as a sacred creation. They call us back to our duty to care for it wisely.

We must stand with the American Indian activists in North Dakota, seeking to protect their water with the same care that those in authority are apparently happy to provide for the capital of North Dakota. We must stand with them as their sacred sites come under threat of destruction, despite treaties that date from the 19th century. And we must be inspired the activists in North Dakota and be vigilant to protect our own waters close to home.

The Very Rev. Jared C. Cramer, Tribune community columnist, serves as rector of St. John’s Episcopal Church in Grand Haven and as dean of the Lakeshore Deanery of the Diocese of Western Michigan.

Wednesday, August 3, 2016

The Peace of Islam

Today's column in the Grand Haven Tribune, reprinted below. 
As we now enter the height of summer in the Tri-Cities, with guests descending upon the city to celebrate the U.S. Coast Guard, I’m having trouble focusing on the celebration at hand.

I’ve been shocked by the debate of the past several days. At the Democratic National Convention, Khizr Khan spoke powerfully of the great heritage of those who have served this country in the armed forces. Khan’s son, US Army Captain Humayun Khan, was killed while serving in Iraq, protecting his own unit through his brave and solitary confrontation of a suspicious vehicle. Khizr Khan criticized Republican nominee Donald Trump’s proposals for a ban of all Muslim immigrants, asking, “Have you ever been to Arlington cemetery? Go look at the graves of brave patriots who died defending the United States of America. You will see all faiths, genders and ethnicities.”

Trump responded by attacking Khan, suggesting that his wife, Ghazala, who stood bravely at her husband’s side, was kept silent by her faith. Ghazala repudiated that suggestion, saying she can barely speak about her deceased son without breaking down. Many Republican leaders, including Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and Senator John McCain, have distanced themselves from Trump, even rebuking the nominee for his attacks on Khan and his family. Several of those leaders have made clear that they do not share Trump’s views on Islam, the military, or Muslim immigrants.

While the presidential candidate of a major political party maligns the second-largest religion in the world, one that has 3,500 member serving faithfully in our armed forces (including, one would expect, the United States Coast Guard), a different story has been playing out on the other side of the Atlantic.

On July 26, two men who pledged allegiance to the Islamic State slit the throat of Father Jacques Hamel while he celebrated mass at his parish in Saint-Étienne-du-Rouvray, France. Father Hamel was active in interfaith relations, serving on an interfaith committee with local imam Mohammed Karabila for the past year or so. His death was an act of hatred and violence made the more heartbreaking by its setting in a religious worship service.

Yet, one must be clear, the two men who murdered Father Hamel do not represent Islam. The supposed state they claim to support is not an Islamic state, no matter its name. Late last year almost 70,000 Muslim clerics came together to issue a fatwa against global terrorist organizations, including a particular denunciation of the so-called Islamic State. The clerics made it clear that these terror groups are not Islamic organizations.

And as the Republican nominee for president refuses to back down from his attacks on the Khan family or from his radical (and unconstitutional) views on Islam, there is a different response to the martyrdom of Father Hamel. All over France and in many parts of Europe this past weekend, Muslims chose to attend mass as a statement of solidarity. Outside of one church, a group of Muslims unfurled a banner, “Love for all. Hate for none.”

The root of the word “Islam” is the triconsonantal root “shin lamedh mem,” a root used not just in Arabic but in Hebrew as well. In Hebrew we are most familiar with this root’s use in the word shalom. This is a word that is generally translated as peace but means, more accurately, wholeness. In Arabic, that word is salaam, also translated often as “peace.” Islam is usually translated as submission, but it also means much more than that when you consider the triconsonantal root of the word. Islam is about seeing Allah as the source of all wholeness and peace (remembering that Allah is just the Arabic word for God and is, thus, the word Arabic speaking Christians also use.). Islam is about entrusting your peace and wholeness entirely to God.

Now, I naturally do not agree with the tenets of Islam. I am a devoted Christian, under sacred vows as a priest in Christ’s church. Believing that Jesus Christ was more than a prophet, that he was fully God, I seek to live my life as a daily sacrament of Christ’s love for this world. I do this imperfectly, grateful for God’s mercy and the mercy of those who walk this path with me.

But I can be a devoted Christian, being clear about where I disagree with Islam, and still affirm the points of wisdom I see in Islamic teaching. Indeed, I can be inspired by the Islamic understanding of submission to God and seek to submit more fully to Christ in my own life. Most importantly, as a Christian, I can affirm that Islam is not what Donald Trump makes it out to be any more than Islam is what ISIS makes it out to be. Neither of them have it right.

Peace is found in submission to God. Wholeness is achieved when all those who worship God seek the peace and wholeness of their neighbors. True Islam was on full display in the brave actions of Captain Khan when he laid his life on the line for peace. True Islam was on full display in the front pew of those churches across France this past week. Those of us who claim to follow the teachings of Christ should repudiate attacks on Islam. We should be inspired by Islam to submit ourselves further to God’s love as revealed in Christ and to seek the wholeness and peace of all people—regardless of their religion.

— By The Very Rev. Jared C. Cramer, Tribune community columnist who serves as rector of St. John’s Episcopal Church in Grand Haven and dean of the Lakeshore Deanery of the Diocese of Western Michigan.