Image via RNS/Emily McFarlan Miller

It’s being called “the largest, most diverse tribal action in at least a century”: hundreds of Native American tribes camped among the hills along the Cannonball River.

They’ve gathered in tents and teepees, and in prayer and protest, to oppose the construction of an oil pipeline, engaged in what both activists and religious leaders are calling a spiritual battle.

And they won a partial victory on Sept. 9, when the federal government ordered a provisional halt on construction near the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation.

What’s behind the opposition to the pipeline, and what makes it spiritual? 

Mark Charles 01-08-2014
Giulio Napolitano/Shutterstock

Pope Francis Giulio Napolitano/Shutterstock

The other day I observed a Twitter exchange between Pope Francis and Miroslav Volf.

Pope Francis (‏@Pontifex) Tweeted:
“God does not reveal himself in strength or power, but in the weakness and fragility of a newborn babe.”

To which Miroslav Volf (‏@MiroslavVolf) replied:
“@Pontifex How true! And yet the babe grew and taught with power and authority, and the crucified one was raised from the dead in glory.”

Since moving to the Navajo reservation more than a decade ago, I have done much thinking, studying, praying, and reflecting on the dynamics between power and authority. And God has given me a few insights over the years. So when I read these tweets I had an instant desire to jump in and be a part of the discussion.