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.

 

 

 

What does partnership really look like?

I am sad to say that my partner in ministry for the last nine years, Pastor Tom, is retiring at the end of June.  We have been a great team: yin and yang, extravert and introvert, female and male. To say “it has been a great ride” is an understatement. At times, he has been my calm in the storm. At times, I have been the match that lit his feet on fire.  Tom has been my colleague, my pastor and he will forever be my friend.

A few weeks ago, Tom sent a letter to the congregation announcing his retirement.  It was well received. We are now busy trying to create a celebration worthy of his impact, yet subtle enough for his approval.

Shortly after his letter went out, I got an email from a church member.  He was sad to receive the news of Tom’s retirement, but ready to join the celebration for his ministry.  It was a supportive email and I appreciated receiving it.  It was the P.S. that made me chuckle.

He wrote, “P.S. after Tom retires, maybe you’ll get to be the Big Cheese”.

On paper, I am the Lead Pastor.  At first, I wanted to chalk up the confusion to sexism or age-ism.  Tom is older than I and has accumulated more years of service.  Still, I wanted to huff and puff, then burn my bra!  I immediately heard Helen Reddy’s song in my head, “I am woman, hear me roar”. It was followed by the chorus of “We shall overcome”.

Then I took a deep breath and decided to look at the comment from a different perspective.  Once I did that, all I could do was be grateful.  The truth is, I aspire to be a team player, NOT the Big Cheese. Let me explain.

I am an identical twin.  We are hilariously competitive and the very best of friends.  Growing up, she was the short stop when I played second base.  There was nothing sweeter than making a double play.  It was about knowing each other so intuitively that we had a rhythm that was successful most of the time.  Of course, there was the occasional over-throw and the dropped ball.  Let’s tell the truth. No partnership is perfect. Yet, isn’t that the kind of relationship for which we’re all striving?

Years ago, I was on Match.com.  Yes, I admit it.  I wouldn’t say that from the pulpit, but this blog is different. I intend to get real.

On my profile, I wrote, “I am looking for a short stop to my second base and a lifetime of double plays”.  It was pretty descriptive. Don’t you think?

You see, from the very beginning, I was created as a partner.

All of this is to say, I am sad to see my colleague retire from our partnership though I promise to love him forward.  It is also to say that I am proud that the lines of our titles were blurred.  It doesn’t matter who did what.  It doesn’t matter who got credit, or who specifically got the rare blame.  What matters is the partnership of symbiosis.  What matters is the mutual respect and the appreciation of each other’s unique strengths. What matters is nine years of double plays.

Do me a favor.  Look at the partnerships in which you are involved.  Do you have symbiosis?  Are the lines of leadership sometimes blurred?  Are you equally satisfied to lead and to follow?  Do you have mutual respect and the ability to forgive the occasional over-throw or dropped ball?

It’s time to look at partnership in a new way.