This Land is Your Land?

  Last week, I joined 17 others from my church on a trip to the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota. Home to the Oglala Lakota people,  it is the poorest county in the United States.  Covering almost 3,500 sq. miles of windswept land and dusty plateaus, the landscape is breathtaking. Yet, it is hard to believe that “this land is our land”, as Woody Guthrie wrote and Pete Seeger sang.

You see, as settlers moved west during the 1800’s, the U.S. government negotiated a variety of treaties.  The Lakota people agreed to confine themselves to Pine Ridge (a reservation larger than Delaware and Rhode Island combined), in exchange for rationed goods and services.  Among other things they were promised health care, law enforcement and shelter.  Yet, take a look at some of these statistics gathered in the last few years.

  • 80-90% of residents are unemployed.
  • 30% of residents are homeless.
  • As many as 80% of residents struggle with alcoholism.
  • More than half of all adults suffer from diabetes and related illness.
  • Life expectancy is the 2nd lowest in the Western hemisphere;                          (only Haiti has a lower rate)
  • The teen suicide rate is 4 times the national average.
  • There are only 9 police officers for the reservation.

Friends, right here in the United States of America, we have a third world country. Some editorial writers call it a “fourth world” country because these natives are not getting any global economic support.  No foreign government is generating development.  Sure, there is a casino on the reservation.  As you can imagine, many people lose more money than they win.

Would you believe that there is only one grocery store on the reservation? It charges higher prices than Safeway in neighboring Rapid City.  So, many people find shopping at convenient stores a viable option.  After all, the lack of transportation on the “rez” complicates bargain hunting.

Shame on us! As much as I enjoyed this trip, I continue to spit and swear about the current reality in Pine Ridge.  Don’t get me wrong. There were some signs of hope.  I will share them in future blogs.  But, for now, I’m just heartsick.

Interestingly, on our team, we had a few teenage girls who loved to sing.  To pass the time away, driving to places of interest (Wounded Knee, White Clay Nebraska, Red Cloud Indian School etc.),  they sang whatever they could remember.

One afternoon they announced that they had sung, “This Land is Your Land”.  They were as unnerved by the experience as I. Yet, I don’t think they knew that the Woody Guthrie song was a protest song.  I bet they didn’t know that the original manuscript was a call to social justice and action.

Have you ever heard the verse that goes like this?

One bright Sunny morning in the shadow of the steeple,                          by the relief office, I saw my people.                                                                     As they stood hungry, I stood there wondering                                                if God blessed America for me.

For some reason, I can’t get that verse out of my head. If you’d like more perspective, please watch the movie, “Bury My Heart on Wounded Knee”. I found it on Amazon Prime.




A Different Educational Path

I was a traditional student.  Except for 2 years in private education, I attended the neighborhood public school. I walked to school, up hill both ways, in the snow. Like others, that’s the story I’m telling.

My parents expected me to succeed academically and stay on course. They encouraged my participation in extra-curricular activities  Still, I followed a well-worn path.

After high school, I went directly to college.  I wanted to go to a smaller school. My father insisted that I start at UNC.  Each kind of college experience had its particular advantages.  For the first two years, my parents paid my tuition and board in full. So, I yielded to their preference.

Of course, that was a long time ago when a college education was affordable.  That’s not true for a lot of people these days.  I’ll step down from my soap box and spare you my speech.  I graduated in four years contributing to my expenses with summer jobs.

That was back in the day before the internet, google, hotwire and cell phones.  I even remember writing letters to family and friends in cursive, on paper, putting them in envelopes with postage stamps.  Do you remember those days? Things have changed.

None of the four children I raised are traditional students.  There were gap years, military service, unpaid internships, online classes, global travel.  I can’t complain. Getting an education is much more complicated these days.  At the same time, their upbringing was more dramatic. Two of the four now have college degrees. Two are still plowing forward.

Thank goodness they have found a number of resources for financial assistance. First of all, they have tended to work year round, taking vacations when a break was needed.  When I was their age, I took fewer trips, but only worked in the summers.  Their exorbitant college expenses have been financed through parents, grandparents, scholarships, the GI bill,  grants, loans and a number of part-time jobs.  Like everything else, it has taken a village.

One day this past week, I got a call from my youngest son. He was walking on the beach in Phuket, Thailand.  Yes!  A month ago he was in Barcelona, Spain and Paris, France. As soon as his second semester ended at Ohio State, he started traveling before jumping  back  into summer school. He had worked many extra hours during the school year to afford it. It is his own version of “studying abroad”.

He didn’t book with some tour group.  He didn’t sign up for classes.  He just went without much of an agenda.  He planned to let his learning unfold organically.  Needless to say, our phone conversation was hysterical.  I heard about

  • language barriers,
  • over-crowded boats and taxis,
  • snorkeling with massive jelly fish,
  • ornate Buddhist Temples
  • playing soccer with school-aged children
  • a 4 ft. grouper
  • James Bond Island
  • tuk tuks
  • elephant sanctuaries
  • travel scams etc.

I am proud of his risk-taking initiative.  Don’t worry.  I limited my questions to stay within his “question quota”. Forever, I will be practicing to say, “tell me more”.

Here’s what I’m learning.  There are many different educational paths.  These days, students want more experiential classrooms.  Hopefully, my children will always find their joie de vivre as they gorge on wide-eyed, open hearted,  lifelong learning adventures.

Because of the internet, google, hotwire and cell phones, students have more access to opportunities and relationships.  For some of us, that seems like too much distraction. For others with decent boundaries and self-imposed limits, this technology opens a whole new world.

Again, things have changed. So must my imposition onto them of a more traditional way. I too am still learning.






How do you see yourself?

My next door neighbor is an ornithologist.  Do you know what that is?  He’s a bird man.

He and his wife are excellent neighbors.  We chatted about 10 days ago after their early evening stroll.  Dr. J had noticed my robin’s nest over my front door a few weeks ago.  I told him that the babies had already flown away.  “Now, I have a duck nest”, I bragged.  So they came over to see for themselves.

Almost immediately, Dr. J. rationalized that the birds were attracted to my condo because of the architecture.  Unlike theirs, my front stoop seemed less open. It seemed more protective. I guess one could look at that way. (Between us, I think he was jealous).

I, however, challenged him.  He is a bird expert, but I am a field agent of a different sort.  “I guess you can see it that way”, I offered.  “I see it differently.  As a pastor, I consider myself a midwife of new birth.  It’s a matter of perspective”. Dr. J. didn’t know what to say.

How do you see yourself?  It really makes a difference.

  • Beyond the classroom, are you a teacher? Then, you will attract opportunities to teach.
  • Beyond the hospital, are you a doctor or nurse?  Then, you will attract opportunities to heal.
  • Beyond the desk, or the sales floor, are you a sales person?  Then, you will attract opportunities to pitch big ideas.
  • Beyond the university, are you a student?  Then, you will attract opportunities to learn important things
  • Beyond the home, are you a mother or father?, then you will attract opportunities to nurture others.
  • Beyond the church or temple, you are a child of God; you will attract opportunities to act out your belovedness.

I have been out of town for the last 6 days.  I got home last night and when I arrived, I checked on Ethel, my duck.  Unfortunately, two eggs had been rolled away from the nest.  I assume they were attacked by a predator of some sort.

I told Ethel how sad that made me, but reminded her that she was still a good mother. This morning when I checked on her, she shifted long enough for me to see that six ducklings had hatched.

I’m thankful I got home in time. I texted with a friend this morning sharing the good news of birth.  He reminded me that Ethel had done all the hard work, not me.  In my profession, the same is true.  It’s not my job or my ability to take over the labor of new birth.  At best, I am a midwife, an encourager, a coach.

Again,  identity is a matter of perspective.  I claim that among other things, I am a midwife. I will continue to attract opportunities to encourage and coach. How do you see yourself?

All around us, we observe a pregnant creation. The difficult times of pain throughout the world are simply birth pangs.  But, it’s not only around us; it’s within us.  The Spirit of God is arousing us within. We’re also feeling the birth pangs.  These sterile and barren bodies of ours are yearning for full deliverance.  That is why waiting does not diminish us, any more than waiting diminishes a pregnant mother.  We are enlarged in the waiting. We, of course, don’t see what is enlarging us.  But the longer we wait, the larger we become and the more joyful our expectancy.     Romans 8:22-25  The Message.


The Best Excuse to Blow-off a Work-out

In the last month or so, I went back to the gym on a fairly regular basis.  I got a medical diagnosis that motivated me to get more serious about my well-being.  Let’s be clear.  I’m no gym rat.  Thankfully, the diagnosis felt like court-appointed A.A. meetings. I had to get with the program, or else. Maybe that’s just what I needed because I lack the self-discipline to stay on track.

Basically, I’m extremely healthy.  Yet, I needed a wake-up call, as others of us do in helping professions.  It’s easier to focus on someone else.

Whether it is obesity, cancer, heart disease, depression or some auto-immune nightmare, many of us experience the consequences of not putting on our oxygen masks first, before  we help others with theirs.

Now I know that some people get high on endorphins.  I also know people who like to sweat.  Actually, I have one friend who calls sweat, “liquid awesome”. Give me a break.

I’m not one of those people.  Still, I found a trainer who is a former college athlete.  Her services were affordable- free! So, I couldn’t use the cost as an excuse.  Believe me, I have many excuses.

  • no time
  • pastoral crisis
  • a sermon to write
  • too busy
  • my gym clothes are dirty
  • I’ll eat less today
  • blisters
  • walking away from donuts should count for something
  •  I’ll work twice as hard tomorrow

Do any of these sound familiar?  The other day, however, I saw a post on facebook.  Unfortunately I didn’t save it.  Perhaps you saw it and can correct me.  It said something like this.

If I could change the nickname of the toilet from John to Jim, then when someone asked me if I was going to the gym that day, I could say, “I’ve already gone”.

All of this is to say, “I’m upping my commitment to exercise.  Up yours”.