Friday, March 17, 2017

Guardian Angel Goes to Standing Rock

By Pastor Alice Basset-Jellema, Church of the Guardian Angel

We went to Standing Rock. Yup. Five middle-aged white church ladies crammed ourselves and our gear into a Toyota Sienna van and left Remington at 9:22pm on Dec 1. We arrived on Dec. 3 at about 9am local time and left again on the 4th, just after the permit denial was announced. We got back to Remington on the 6th at about 10 am. It was an intense pilgrimage.

Standing Rock is 25 miles south of Bismark, North Dakota. There is a camp of Native Americans there protecting the water of the Missouri river, their own sense of sovereignty, and a major Lakota burial ground. They are protecting the water from the Dakota Access Pipeline (DAPL), which would bring “tar sands oil” from North Dakota to Illinois, where an existing pipeline would carry it to the Gulf of Mexico. A spill—more common than you’d like to think—would pollute the water for the entire region. The Trump administration is now moving ahead with the pipeline, but people remain there, maintaining their prayerful protection.

Our group had been studying “Stand Your Ground: Black Bodies and the Justice of God,” by Kelly Brown Douglas and discussing our denomination’s call to make reparation for the long enslavement of Americans of African descent. We wanted to learn more about how to be reparations—what Isaiah calls “repairers of the breach.” We also each felt a deep longing to stand with the people who asked for that support during their planned Dec. 4th day of prayer.

We were prepared for drama. We brought milk of magnesia to wash off tear gas. Some of us even went to be trained in the particular tactics used for confrontations with the DAPL security forces. But the overwhelming reality of the camp was the ongoing, lived spirit of prayer. More than 357 Native American groups were there, united by a shared set of values, which they enacted in rituals and realized throughout a camp of 3000 people. 

Alice inspects the group's tent.
We had hoped to be of some help in the work of the camp, but soon recalculated; “Please, God, help us not make extra work for others!” As we made our way through the day, we became a little more part of the camp; helpers on the slower scale of giving directions, carrying wood or supplies, sharing what we had brought, receiving help from others, and admiring the astounding, stunning, harsh, fierce, wild beauty of the Dakota sky and land. We tried to learn to live the prayer. It is harder than you think.

We left during a wild celebration of an admittedly fragile victory: The pipeline was stopped, for about a breath.

As we left, a traffic accident snarled the line of vehicles on the only route out. A person came past our van announcing, “Prayer circle up ahead in 5 min.” The circle defused the tension of the traffic jam and focused people’s minds on the needs of those in the accident. It was a meaningful ritual, learned in the camp, enacted without grandstanding. It was followed in our van with an energetic discussion of how to bring that lesson back with us.

As we practice this idea, already known but learned anew, we find that we can listen more openly, allow for more difference, return to prayer sooner, act more slowly, and laugh more.

Having burnt 175 gallons of gasoline to protest an oil pipeline, for our next pilgrimage we will be walking to DC for the People’s Climate Rally (April 29th). We will leave Remington—on foot—at 11am on Wednesday, April 26th. If you would like to come along for part or all of this pilgrimage, please start training your body now. Group walks with increasing mileage will be scheduled each week. Check Guardian Angel’s Facebook page for updates.