Thanksgiving and Native Americans

I live barely a block from Lake Michigan. I see it from my windows, and I can walk to its shore in minutes. When there, I sometimes join in spirit with the Potawatomi who must also have stood there, marveling at the pristine incoming waves. 

They did not know — as I do — that they evolved billions of years ago from creatures who originally lived in water, or that their bodies were over 70% water. But they had a very advanced reverence for, and unity with, water and all creation. How sad, how tragic, how foolish we were to reject their sense of the sacred and use Earth’s water and resources in ways that desecrate them, thus harming all lives, including our own! 

Every corner of this continent was originally Indian country. There are more than 565 federally-recognized tribes and hundreds of unrecognized tribes. Each tribe has its own culture, customs, traditional clothing, dwellings, and rituals. How would we feel if strangers forced us and our families to leave our homes so they could claim to have “found” this land — and too often spoil it? Why might Native Americans respond to Thanksgiving holidays with acts of rebellion and resistance?

As we give thanks for our abundant gifts this Thanksgiving, let us also remember and value the example our indigenous ancestors left us. Let us remember the injustices done to them both in past centuries and also today. Let us do what we can to protect their sacred burial grounds and their human rights, and let us strive to reduce the pollution and wasteful use of water caused by industries and by ourselves (e.g., if we use bottled water or plastic straws). 

In her gloriously inspiring book, Braiding Sweetgrass: Indigenous Wisdom, Scientific Knowledge, and the Teachings of Plants, Robin Wall Kimmerer tells us that Native peoples globally send greetings and thanks to all members of the natural world each day. Here is one excerpt taken from the Haudenosaunees’ all-encompassing Thanksgiving Address:

We now turn our thought to the Creator, or Great Spirit, and send greetings and thanks for all the gifts of Creation. Everything we need to live a good life is here on Mother Earth. For all the love that is still around us, we gather our minds together as one and send our choicest words of greeting and thanks to the Creator. Now our minds are one. (p. 115)

Robin ends that chapter with this sobering thought:

Every day, with these words, the people give thanks to the land. In the silence that falls at the end of those words I listen, longing for the day when we can hear the land give thanks for the people in return. (p. 117)

May we speed that day!

Season of Creation 2018

Signs of hope for creation can seem scarce, but think of this: From September 1st until the Feast of St. Francis, October 4th, church members — and the non-churched — throughout the entire world will join to celebrate and protect the gift of creation.

Watch for action organized by other groups that will take place during those dates, like the September 8th Rise for Climate rallies throughout the world and the September 10-16 Story of Stuff project, when volunteers around the world will be picking up plastic litter and tallying what brands and products show up most often. (This data will help the #breakfreefromplastic movement to get at the sources of plastic pollution.)

Think of the difference joining in prayer and action during this season could make for all of our planet!

Background: These dates were first chosen by the Patriarch of Constantinople in 1989. The World Council of Churches has promoted this season since 2008, and its popularity has spread throughout the entire Christian world. In 2015, Pope Francis named September 1st the World Day of Prayer for the Care of Creation and asked Catholics to participate in the entire season of celebration and care. 

Theme(s): I have read different information about the theme. One group lists it as “walking together.” Another lists the theme as “Your Father Feeds the Birds and Clothes the Flowers in Beauty.”

Christians will recognize “Your Father Feeds the Birds and Clothes the Flowers in Beauty” as taken from Matthew 6: 25-33. It invites our focus on what Matthew reports that Jesus said about the providential care of our Creator for the continued well being of Creation — which, of course, was not threatened in Jesus’ time. 

(Closer to October 4th I shall post information for celebrating the feast of St. Francis, which has its own theme: “Who is My Neighbor in a Climate – Threatened World?”)

The entire Season of Creation provides an excellent opportunity to reflect on whether our actions uphold or upset the well-being of creation. It’s very important to take the matter of care of creation out of the political arena and return it to the moral and religious one where it belongs. 

The recommended words from Matthew are challenging. To save you from researching them, I shall quote them using the translation from the Eugene H. Peterson’s translation (including his italics). This might help us look anew at Jesus’ message. As you contemplate these words, remember that they reflect the religious imagination of his time, which placed God in human form somewhere away from us. Today we strive to image the divine as living and acting in us and in our world, and we rejoice in the divine presence everywhere. 

Matthew 6: 26 – 33:

“You cannot worship two gods at once. Loving one god, you’ll end up hating the other. Adoration of one feeds contempt for the other. You cannot worship God and Money both. 

“If you decide for God, living a life of God-worship, it follows that you don’t make a fuss about what’s on the table at mealtimes or whether the clothes in your closet are in fashion. There is far more to your life than the food you put in your stomach, more to your outer appearance than the clothes you hang on your body. Look at the birds, free and unfettered, not tied down to a job description, careless in the care of God. And you count far more to him than birds.

“Has anyone by fussing in front of the mirror ever gotten taller by so much as an inch? All this time and money wasted on fashion — do you think it makes that much difference? Instead of looking at the fashions, walk out into the fields and look at the  wildflowers. They never primp or shop, but have you ever seen color and design quite like it? The ten best-dressed men and women in the country look shabby alongside them.

“If God gives such attention to the appearance of wildflowers — most of which are never even seen — don’t you think he’ll attend to you, take pride in you, do his best for you? What I’m trying to do here is get you to relax, to not be so preoccupied with getting, so you can respond to God’s giving. People who don’t know God and the way he works fuss over these things, but you know both God and the way he works. Steep your life in God-reality, God-initiative, God-provisions. Don’t worry about missing out. You’ll find all your everyday human concerns will be met.”

Pause to reflect.

My challenge (and hope): Write one paragraph stating the essentials of this ever-relevant message — perhaps incorporating thoughts from “walking together” — with contemporary understanding of creation and the threats to its well-being. OK to include quotes from Laudato Si’. End with a short prayer. Post in Comments so we can all be enriched by each other’s wisdom and compassion. If writing doesn’t “grab” you, at least try it in your head.

Farewell to Plastic Straws

Are you one of those who loves clean sand and ocean waters; who loves and cares about fish, birds, and the interconnected web of life (of which we are an integral part); and who appreciates the centuries required to create healthy ecosystems — not to mention the billions of years of preparation? If so, you must be deeply concerned about the harm plastic and plastic straws cause our precious Earth. 

You probably took special action on Earth Day to care for our common home. Whether or not your action concerned plastic straws, I hope that what follows will be enlightening and motivating.

The theme of the 2018 Earth Day was to focus on ending plastic pollution by 2020. Researchers estimate that 90 percent of seabirds and many whales, dolphins, and other fish have ingested plastics, including straws. According to the World Economic Forum, without action the amount of plastics in oceans will exceed the amount of fish, pound for pound, by 2050. Many forms of plastic pollution need attention, but ending the use of plastic straws is both easy and important.

Every day in the U.S. alone about 500,000,000 plastic straws are used once and thrown “away” — but there is no “away”! Where do they go? They wind up in landfills where the toxins can seep into water supplies; they add to the estimated annual 8.5 million metric tons of plastic debris in oceans; they are on beaches and in the ocean, causing serious harm to fish and birds and ecosystems and spoiling recreation time for sun- and water-lovers. They also expose us to unhealthy toxic chemicals.

Educated by films, news reports and movements, more and more individuals, businesses and even countries have pledged to stop using plastic straws. Efforts to curb plastic use increased after British naturalist Sir David Attenborough presented his 2017 BBC series Blue Planet II. The series, which called particular attention to the issue of ocean plastics, even prompted Queen Elizabeth II to ban plastic straws and bottles on all royal properties, including public cafes.

The UK government’s Environment Secretary Michael Gove explains why his government will end the sale of plastic straws, drink stirrers and plastic-stemmed cotton swabs in England: “Single-use plastics are a scourge on our seas and lethal to our precious environment and wildlife so it is vital we act now.” 

McDonald’s in the UK will start a trial in May to use paper straws instead of the normal plastic ones. It will also try out a scheme where straws are kept behind the counter, and only given out to customers on request. McDonald’s chief executive Paul Pomroy said: “Customers have told us that they don’t want to be given a straw and that they want to have to ask for one, so we’re acting on that.

This proves that contacting restaurants can be effective. Restaurants in Edgewater, Chicago, have pledged not to use plastic straws. You might know of other places that have taken action. The movement grows as people learn about it and take action!

In February 2018, Scotland announced intentions to ban plastic straws by the end of 2019. Toronto and other cities have also taken action. As part of an initiative of the Shedd Aquarium, Chicago, to eliminate plastic straws from stadiums, Chicago’s White Sox baseball team will no longer serve plastic straws with drinks. Fans can request a biodegradable straw instead.

I encourage readers to learn all they can about plastic straw pollution (see sites below) so that they will be ready to educate others and to encourage businesses — in person or by mail — not to offer them. Those who need straws can ask for biodegradable ones. It’s easy to say “No plastic straw, please” when ordering drinks. 

Some sites with information about plastic straws: 

2.37 min. trailer for

‘A Scourge on Our Seas’: UK Government Takes Aim at Single-Use Plastics

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Last Straw crusade gets Toronto bars, restaurants to ditch plastic straws for …

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