July 17, 2016
Lake Harriet Bandshell
Rev. Melanie Homan
This year is the 100th anniversary of the creation of national parks. And every summer, we load up our mini-van (I swore to myself that I would never own a mini-van, but here we are). We load up the mini-van and go on a road trip, in our effort to see as many national parks with our kids as we can.
We relied on audio books from the library and hours of playing the “license plate game” to get us through the long drives to Theodore Roosevelt, Yellowstone, and Grand Tetons National Park.
I know the idea of going days without a shower and sleeping in a tent are not everyone’s idea of fun, but for us, it’s perfect. I crave being in a place where my cell phone gets no service. Where there are no coffee shops and plastic playgrounds – if you want coffee you need to boil water over the campfire and where the kids can discover that boulders, logs, twigs, and dirt can make for a pretty great playground, too.
I’m always struck by the distinctly unique geographies of places that really aren’t that far away from us. The Badlands are drastically different than the lakes, trees, and prairies of Minnesota. Go a little further west and there is boiling hot steam pouring out from the earth in Yellowstone. The rotten egg smell of sulphur, geysers erupting at regular intervals – it’s breathtakingly beautiful. Head south and those plates of rock push up into snow covered mountain peaks in July.
The terrain, the weather patterns, the animals – completely unique to each place. Add to that, the most interesting creatures you find in national parks are all of the people who come to experience the parks. Our interactions with people were just as memorable as our interactions with the native wildlife! There were the fun experiences of trying to use our very sad forms of sign language and charades to answer the questions of the people camping on either side of us because we all spoke different languages. There were the “scratch your head and go WHAT?!?!?” experiences of watching people walk up to bison trying to get the perfect selfies. Or seeing people leave their food out instead of putting it in the bear proof containers right next to the picnic tables.
Each one of these instances gave us a chance to teach our kids some valuable lessons about how to be safe in the wilderness. Our kids participated in the Junior Ranger program at each park, where they filled out workbooks, went on hikes, and participated in Ranger programs. In the Grand Tetons, we brought them to a Ranger program on bear safety. The ranger taught the kids what to do to stay safe in bear country.
- Be alert and don’t leave out food. Leaving out food is like extending an formal invitation to a bear to join you for dinner.
- Make Noise.
- Hike in groups.
- Do not run.
- Carry bear spray.
The ranger told them that singing songs is a great way to let bears know you are in the area, so that you don’t surprise them. Don’t hike alone – always go with other people. And most importantly, he said, “DO. NOT. RUN.” Stand your ground, because a bears instinct is to chase after animals that run away. He had the kids practice making themselves look larger than they are. And then he taught the adults how to use bear spray. The bear spray is a last resort and something that is rarely needed, if you follow the first 4 rules. The bear spray is a deterrent that will keep both you and the bear safe without hurting anyone.
After all this bear safety education, the ranger signed the kids booklets and off we went on a hike, ready to follow all of the rules – except for carrying bear spray because we didn’t have any. I thought, “What are the chances?. We’ll never see a bear.” Our kids are too loud. Except they apparently aren’t loud enough. Hiking along, we came right up on a bear in the path. And the first word out of my husband’s mouth was, “RUN!!!!!!”
To which I responded. “Kids. Do NOT listen to your dad!!! Stay put.” Let the bear be. Then I pulled out my phone and started taking pictures and we waited for the bear to move on. Neither my husband nor I are very good role models.
After spending a week completely unplugged from the world, we came down from the mountain and were eating breakfast in a bar on our way home. And because it was a bar, there were tvs. And because there were tvs, our kids eyes were glued to them. I kept bugging them to stop with the tv and to focus on eating, until I realized that the images on CNN were from our own community. While we were figuring out how to live peaceably with wildlife, our city was imploding back home.
We live not far from where Philando Castile was killed. Both my husband and I have been pulled over in the same place. It’s a speed trap. But we left our encounters with warnings. Blacks disproportionately end those police interactions ticketed or arrested and Philando ended up dead.
As we made the long drive home, I couldn’t help but think, that we had the privilege of spending our vacation teaching our kids how to be safe in the wilderness. And I couldn’t help but think of all the parents in our communities who are forced to teach their kids how to be safe in their neighborhoods if they want them to survive. The lessons parents are having to teach their children in order to survive in our community makes me sick to my stomach. Swallow your pride, keep your hands where they can be seen, don’t go out with large groups of friends…those are lessons only some in our community have to teach their kids.
Lives cut short, whether they are young black men, 2 year old children, or police officers serving in the line of duty, cry out for justice. For action.
And yet, it’s hard for us to resist responding in fear. Our instinct, when faced with a bear in our path is “RUN!” even when running is the worst thing a person can do. Our instinct, when faced with the racial injustice in our community might be the same – “RUN!” Run towards judgment, run towards easy, simple answers, run towards angry rhetoric. Run away from people who don’t look or believe like we believe. Run away from hard truths. Run away from anyone who doesn’t agree with us.
There’s a lot of running happening right now. Running in all sorts of directions, which inevitably means a lot of crashing into one another and causing one another more harm.
The ranger said, no matter what, “DO. NOT. RUN. AWAY.” Even when it’s what every instinct in your body tells you to do. Stop. Place your holy feet on the ground and take in what’s going on around you. Resist the instinct to let fear guide your steps. When I first heard the news at that bar in Montana, my instinct was to hop back into the car and head back to the mountains. Bears are far less scary than the situation we have created for ourselves here at home. But we aren’t to run away in fear. Instead we listen and learn from the voices of those crying out – those voices that are crying out for justice. If we don’t listen to them, Jesus says the very rocks will cry out until they are heard.
In the Gospel of John, Jesus prepares his followers for his departure. He knows that he will not physically be with them forever, and like a good parent, like a good teacher, he wants those he loves to follow his teachings long after he is gone. So Jesus says to them, “If you love me, you will keep my commandments. God will give you ANOTHER Advocate, to be with you forever. This advocate is the Spirit of Truth, which will abide with you and be in you.”
Gail O’Day writes that “The disciples can still love Jesus, but neither by clinging to a cherished memory of him nor by retreating into their private experience of him. Rather, they can continue to love Jesus BY DOING HIS WORKS and BY KEEPING HIS COMMANDMENTS, when they live what Jesus taught them and demonstrated in his own life.”
This idea of the Spirit, the Advocate – can have several different meanings. “It can function in the legal sense, meaning literally one who advocates for you before a court of law. It can also function more relationally by designating one who brings help, consolation, comfort, and encouragement. But at its most basic meaning, the Greek word for advocate means to “come along side another.” Jesus was the first advocate. He says another advocate will come to be with you forever. Jesus came along side others. And he expects that Spirit of Truth will do the same. Come along side others. And this Spirit of Truth – it will not only be WITH us, it will be IN us. So WE get to come along side others.
We are invited by Jesus to come along side others, not only in times of celebration, but perhaps more importantly, to come along side those experiencing loss and injustice. Jesus says, “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Do not let your hearts be troubled, and do NOT let them be afraid. Do. Not. Run. Instead, let the Spirit work in you to come along side those clamoring for change.