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When Small is Way Better than Big

I am thinking about a relatively small but possibly significant gathering in the coming days. Over 2000 veterans are making their way to the Water Protector Camp on the Standing Rock Reservation in Cannon Ball, ND. I too was a part of a smaller gathering the beginning of November in the same place as 525 clergy from across the country demonstrated against the Dakota Access Pipeline. Personally I am opposed in part because the Canadian XL pipeline that was installed about 7 years ago, that passes under land my older brother owns and land my other brother rented, broke and caused a huge mess. It happened about a mile from my brothers? land. It involved months of digging out contaminated soil and hauling, fixing and refilling with clean soil. (you can read it on Wikipedia under Pipeline Spills and April 2, 2016). What if it breaks again under the rivers it crosses?


My experience, though with those many clergy was a very private experience that opened me up to a new way of seeing Luke 17:5-?‐6: The apostles said to the Lord, ?Increase our faith!? The Lord replied, ?If you had faith the size of a mustard seed, you could say to this mulberry tree, ?Be uprooted and planted in the sea,? and it would obey you.?

My ?mustard seed faith? was simply physically being there, standing in friendship and support of my fellow Lakota Christians and clergy. It wasn?t a heavy burden or risk to me. (my guess everyone was watching closely that no clumsy clergy person would trip and skin a knee!).


But the 3,000 or so who have been camping and the 2,100 or so veterans who are gathering in a few days are not anything like a bunch of clergy. Veterans lose at least 20 of their comrades per day to suicide resulting from PTSD and the inability to reenter civilian life following deployment. Everyone is or knows friends who continue to fight the battles on the inside. Their ?mustard seed faith? in standing in line for the cause of clean water and the protection of sacred lands of the Lakota make a whole other statement I know nothing about.


And strangely enough the local Lakota in the camps, who also include many Veterans come from communities like my clergy friend Byron Buffalo who serves Bridger United Church of Christ. Byron?s

experience as a pastor on the reservation is again nothing like mine. I

might have around 8 or 9 funerals a year, mostly older and ill. Byron has 30 or more, many who are young teenagers to mid twenties persons. Herein lies the similarly to the Veterans. These people on the reservations live with the effects of generations who have   experienced cultural genocide. 

Water is sacred in Lakota spirituality and should be to ours. But consider the Lakota woman on whose land the smallest and first camp was started called ?Stone Spirit Camp?. She was doing an interview beside a wood fire that hasn?t been extinguished since April 2, 2016.

She pointed to the Northeast and said: ?On that hill my ancestors are buried?. Then she pointed South and said: ?That is where my son is buried, who was killed by a drunk driver. Would you want an oil pipeline to run right alongside of the graves of your loved ones??


Those are words from a people whose history and culture seems to mean so little to big business and oil interests. Few of us can enter into the mindset of people whose land and way of life was taken from them. We all know of personal loss and the pain it causes, but our communities surround us and are strong and supportive and can help us through. What if that strong supportive community is wiped away and the personal losses just remain and fester. The crumbled social structures, resulting in high unemployment, alcohol, drug addiction and continuous loss of the young to suicide are like year after year when the sun refuses to shine. 

I return to the mustard seed analogy and remind that a single, little, human body was born and came, sent by God to a world in despair-?‐-?‐ much as one sees in Reservation communities right next door to us. Jesus came and who even noticed-?‐-?‐-?‐ who invited him? Had Rome known as Matthew?s version of the story goes, they would kill him. 

Veterans fight the same despair, but in joining the Water Protectors, they offer their bodies, and add their mustard seed faith in order to offer hope amid the darkness.

Jesus told his disciples, all we need, though only mustard seed big is enough. It is big as any one of us facing a huge, well financed power.

Yet Jesus says, it can uproot the very BIG.. 

So, as I see it this Holy Season, the smallest baby in a manger is the best news for those in despair. It is a story of resistance against the powers that would take without asking, trample over holy places and put the damage they do into the budget.

It takes some imagination for those of us who can?t see where hope is so dim and if we do see it, we lay blame. If we really were so able to fix our own problems like we think others should why do we need Christmas?

We have the best News to share in the Advent and arrival of the Christ Child. It gives us courage to offer our own Mustard Seed selves who will weep with those who weep and even silently if need be, just stand.

Our South Park family this past year has been with us, being that supporting community through the changes of our children and their families lives. It just seems to fit who you are to be made practically witnesses to our newest grand child Franka?s birth as worship commenced on August 7th. We just so appreciate the ways you provide and are the Beloved Community. And LaVon and I with our family scattered do so pray for a safe and joyful Christmas and New Year.

Rev. Bruce Herrboldt