Of monuments and unmarked graves: Is it right to commemorate those responsible for the residential school system while ignoring its victims?

There have been many calls over the past years to either remove statues/honours or preserve them. Most recently in Canada these include people connected to the Indian Residential School System, including statues of Sir John A. MacDonald, the university named after Egerton Ryerson, and the honorary degree given to Bishop John O’Grady by the University of British Columbia. Those on social media who oppose removing memorials see them as a part of history that shouldn’t be changed.

How can we navigate issues like this? One good place to start is by understanding the difference between the Past and History — and no, they aren’t the same thing.

The events of the Past are unchangeable. The past rolls on continuously and inexorably. But there is no DVR or VHS for the past. The only thing that can be changed is the future. As Jose Rizal said, “Ang hindi marunong lumingon sa pinangalingan ay hindi makakarating sa paroroonan.” [“Whoever doesn’t know how to look to where they came from will not arrive where they are going.”]

History, on the other hand, is different from the Past. History is the interpretation of the events of the past. Because it is interpretation it is subject to change and reassessment.

Now let’s apply these ideas to statues. Is a statue the past or is it history? It’s history because it is the commemoration of a person deemed significant in the past. As Charlottetown, PEI, Coun. Greg Rivard says, “I don’t think removing a statue erases any history. A statue is symbolic of something, and I don’t think right now that the statue is symbolic of the right things.”

What about a grave? Is a grave the past or is it history? Graves are the past. This is because in most cases, actual people are buried in a grave. There are of course many types of grave. There are marked graves, complete with gravestone and epitaph. There are commemorative graves — for example the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier — where the person buried within is unknown but is representative all those who died for their countries but remain unidentified. Then there are mass graves or unmarked graves. Mass graves generally hold the bodies of those who have died in a tragedy.

Now what about when the victims of those memorialised and commemorated with statues are buried in unmarked graves? In May 2021, the unmarked graves of 215 First Nations children, whose deaths were undocumented, were discovered on the grounds of a former Residential School in Kamloops, BC. It doesn’t seem right to continue to commemorate or memorialise those responsible for the residential school system when these children have been abandoned and forgotten does it?

But it is one thing for this to be socially reprehensible. We also need to ask what the Bible says about stuff like this. I can think of two ideas in the Bible that apply here.

The Bible has a high regard for children:

Psalm 127:3 says, “Children are an inheritance from the Lord. They are a reward from him.”

Jesus had a high regard for children, even when society seemingly didn’t. We see this a couple of times, including Mark 10:13-16 that says, “Some people brought little children to Jesus to have him hold them. But the disciples told the people not to do that. When Jesus saw this, he became irritated. He told them, “Don’t stop the children from coming to me. Children like these are part of God’s kingdom. I can guarantee this truth: Whoever doesn’t receive God’s kingdom as a little child receives it will never enter it.” Jesus put his arms around the children and blessed them by placing his hands on them.”

Matthew 18:2-5 says, “I can guarantee this truth: Unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Whoever becomes like this little child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. And whoever welcomes a child like this in my name welcomes me.”

Caring for widows, orphans, and foreigners is important to God:

James 1:27 says, “Pure, unstained religion, according to God our Father, is to take care of orphans and widows when they suffer and to remain uncorrupted by this world.”

The Bible even has harsh words for those who don’t treat children appropriately:

“These little ones believe in me. It would be best for the person who causes one of them to lose faith to be drowned in the sea with a large stone hung around his neck” (Matthew 18:6).

A millstone around the neck certainly isn’t commemoration is it?

Feedback is always welcome!

Image by NeONBRAND on Unsplash.

Nightmares vs Daydreams: Which do you think are more dangerous?

People often said when I was younger that I lived in a dream world — and that was true. I did spend a lot of time dreaming of an imaginary world. It is strange, however, that daydreams are often thought of as being a trivial waste of time. “It’s better,” they say, “to live in the real world.” What is also interesting is that we often think of nightmares as dangerous We worry about nightmares. We try to stop nightmares. We even make movies about them that frighten us into even more nightmares!

In reality, we should really spend more time concentrating on daydreams. Nightmares, after all, only last for a few brief moments. It’s the dreams that we have while awake that are truly dangerous because we can dream them for a lifetime, and in the end make them come true. 

As TE Lawrence says, 

“All men dream, but not equally. Those who dream by night in the dusty recesses of their minds, wake in the day to find that it was vanity: but the dreamers of the day are dangerous men, for they may act on their dreams with open eyes, to make them possible.”

Here are my daydreams:

  • I dream of a world where the rule and leadership of Jesus makes the world a better place. A place where the poor hear good news, where prisoners are made free, where the blind can see, where the oppressed are set free, and where the Lord looks with favour on all people. 
  • I dream of a world where the values of the world are the values of God’s kingdom. 
  • I dream of a world where we love each other like we love ourselves. This is best expressed by the Tagalog word kapwa, or “shared being.” 
  • I dream of a world where the truths we shape is the Truth that is revealed to everyone by God, applied to our own cultural and local contexts. 

It is easy to dream such dreams. It is harder to make these dreams come true. But as the old saying goes, “Begin with the end is sight.” 

Keep on daydreaming!

Photo by Jonathan Mabey on Unsplash.

How can we move our way towards a lamb-like government rather than a wild-animal one?

“In my visions at night I, Daniel, saw the four winds of heaven stirring up the Mediterranean Sea. Four large animals, each one different from the others, came out of the sea.”

Daniel‬ ‭7:2-3‬ ‭God’s Word‬‬

Sometimes we are disappointed with the political leaders we have trusted. We suddenly discover that they don’t entirely embody the values we thought they did. People lauded Justin Trudeau when he first got elected Prime Minister of Canada but then the SNC-Lavalin affair, Aga Khan, and WE charity scandals came out and we realised that he was not all that different from other politicians. Or take the the whole Democrat-Republican divide in the USA. Regardless of where a party is on the political spectrum there are still a variety of issues that face leaders of all stripes that are more nationalistic rather than political, ala this tweet by Mark Charles:

I have been reflecting on a video I saw a few weeks ago from the Bible Project on Daniel. We just finished a study in Daniel where there is a series of visions that feature animals. Some animals have small horns and others large horns, representing presumably their varying levels of animal nature. These themes continue on in Revelation as well. One idea they had that has stuck with me until today is that governments tend to be animals and the only way that these beastly governments are defeated is by the “lamb who was slain.” Note that the difference between “wild animal” and “lamb” is significant.

It got me thinking about the “mark of the animal” and I wondered if having the mark on your forehead and right hand is in essence having faith in government as gospel rather than Jesus as gospel? The gospel genre in the Bible is, after all, a political genre developed by the Roman Emperors to show how great they were. Ratzinger, in his Jesus of Nazareth, pgs. 46-47, has this to say about “gospel:”

“This term figures in the vocabulary of the Roman emperors, who understood themselves as lords, saviors, & redeemers of the world…. The idea was that what comes from the emperor is a saving message … a changing of the world for the better.

“When the Evangelists adopt this word … what they mean to tell us is this: What the emperors, who pretend to be gods, illegitimately claim, really occurs here – a message endowed with plenary authority, a message that is not just talk but reality…. the Gospel is not just informative speech, but performative speech – not just the imparting of information, but action, efficacious power that enters into the world to save & transform.

“Mark speaks of the ‘Gospel of God,’ the point being that it is not the emperors who can save the world, but God. And it is here that God’s word, which is at once word & deed, appears; it is here that what the emperors merely assert, but cannot actually perform, truly takes place. For here it is the real Lord of the world – the Living God – who goes into action.

“The core of the Gospel is this: The Kingdom of God is at hand.”

This is why Mark begins his account of Jesus’ life with “the gospel of Jesus Christ, the son of God.” Another place we see this is in Mark’s account of Jesus temptation in the wilderness:

“At once the Spirit brought him into the desert, where he was tempted by Satan for 40 days. He was there with the wild animals, and the angels took care of him.”

Mark 1:12-13 God’s Word

If Pope Benedict is right and Mark chose to call his account a “gospel” based upon the political meaning of the word, then it is not unreasonable for him to use the terms “animals” in the context of Jesus’ temptation.

If the gospel is performative and not just informative, how can I daily perform Jesus as gospel in a world where most place their trust in wild animals?

If the gospel is performative and not just informative, how can I daily perform Jesus as gospel in a world where most place their trust in wild animals?

A good start in performing the gospel is to focus on four areas: Kerygma, Koinonia, Diakonia, and Marturia. In other words, we should focus on proclaiming Jesus as Lord of the Universe, on developing the values of Jesus’ Kingdom, on serving God & serving others, and on bearing witness to the Truth.

A good start in performing the gospel is to focus on on proclaiming Jesus as Lord of the Universe, on developing the values of Jesus’ Kingdom, on serving God & serving others, and on bearing witness to the Truth.

Only then will our desire for the wild become a love for the Lamb.

Image from https://unsplash.com/@quinten149

I Claim this place in the name of …

New Chinese passport map of disputed area.

New Chinese passport. The dotted line in the lower right corner shows the disputed area that China is claiming.

Have you ever thought about the idea of laying claim. I remember as a child looking at pictures of early European explorers visiting “new” lands and, after planting a cross or a flag, claiming that place in the name of the king (or queen or whoever). Now before you get offended remember that I share both European and First Nations blood 🙂

Recently you may have read one of the following articles regarding China’s new passports. Apparently the show a map that includes disputed portions of the “South China Sea” as being a part of China. As you can guess, various countries, including Vietnam, the Philippines, Indonesia, and the USA have made their opinions known. That’s because they also have claims in the area. It is a problem that has been brewing over many years but has recently come to a head. Time will tell how this will be resolved.

I began to think about the church and about missions. Do we lay claim to things that don’t belong to us? I wonder what people in the 10/40 Window think about all the maps of their countries that have been distributed over the years? I wonder what “Manila Ben” or whoever Saddleback named their target audience thinks when s/he sees the various effigies of who they are and how to “reach” them?

The concept of “claiming” implies concepts like good and bad, right and wrong, good and evil. Those doing the claiming always come out on the good side, while those who are claimed are always on the wrong side. But is this really the way missions works? Can any of us claim to be perfectly and totally connected to God? Aren’t we all on a journey?

Are we making unfair claims upon the people of the world? Do we have any other choice? Do those people then have the right to make a similar claim upon us?

What do you think?

Anthony Bradley’s Functional church made practical –> On “loving the city” long-term

Functional church anyone? This guy (Anthony Bradley) has got the idea right. But not just the idea, the practice that goes with it! He doesn’t care about forms and appearances but is solely concerned with church engaging society. I like it a lot (even if it is scary).

A functional church really has to get down to this level — the behind-the-scenes-not-pretty-but-really-where-the-problem-is kind of stuff.

It’s one thing to set up a place to get together and talk but it is quite another to take a stand and try to root out some really issues.

Here is the link to the article:

On “loving the city” long-term (in contrast to well-intentioned hipster, neo-paternalistic versions) – The Institute.

What things would you add to the list?

Here’s How 1 Church Defines Functionality

Of course in a blog entitled “The Functional Church Blog” it might be a good idea to add real-life examples of churches that are acting in functional ways. One of those churches is locally known as Hope Christian Fellowship Transformational Ministries (HCFTM). Here’s how this church defines functionality. They think that it is so important that they decided to add these four points to their statement of faith.

1. Proclamation is HCFTM’s way of declaring the Good News of Jesus Christ to all people. We declare Jesus as Lord and Saviour of our community and we recognise His central role in transforming the world through intentional evangelism, communicated effectively in a culturally-relevant way by people who have themselves experienced the transforming power of God.

2. Service is HCFTM’s way of showing the love of God to people both inside and outside of our faith community though acts of mercy, relief rehab and development. We will be engaging in educational ministry services such as establishing schools of all levels. We will be delivering free medical-dental clinics. We will be conducting livelihood programs for the poor of our communities.

3. Truth-telling is HCFTM’s way of being God’s prophetic voice by engaging society with biblical truth through participation in public advocacy, social justice, value transformation, promotion of freedom, engagement in the public square, involvement in market places, and the transformation of public perception through education, evangelism, church planting, intercessory prayer, and discipleship.

4. Community-building is HCFTM’s way of revealing the joys of the kingdom of God to people outside of our faith community through active participation with like-minded faith communities, active cooperation with like-minded groups, and active accountability in both the religious and secular world. All this is typified with the Christian attitude of unity in matters essential, liberty in matters non-essential, and charity in all other matters.

Basically HCF is saying that without these 4 functions, a church is not doing what it is supposed to do. Do you agree? What would you add? What would you subtract?

 

The Church, the World, and the Kingdom of God

My favourite theological motif is derived from the story of the Loving Father (also known as the Parable of the Prodigal Son). It is in fact a story about the world, which is synonymous with the family of God. The story is about a Father with two sons. One son wanders off in search of his own joy in life (but ends up realizing that true joy only lies in his father’s household). The other stays at home and faithfully works for his father (but ends up developing a non-loving attitude toward his sibling). The father is very interested in both the return of his “lost” son, as well as the proper attitude of this other son.

This is a picture of God and his relationship with the world. Some people of the world have wandered off in search for joy. Many return to God. Others are safe in the church but sometimes end up having a dim view of those who are not yet there.

It reminds me of something I read from David Fitch over at Reclaiming the Mission. He made a statement about in March 2010 that has stuck in my head. Here it is:

“There is no dividing line between the church & the world. The church may precede the world today, yet it is only living today what the world itself is ultimately called to in the future. The church in essence bleeds into the world ever calling it to its true destiny. As a foretaste of the renewal of all creation, the church cannot be discontinuous with creation. It cannot be discontinuous with the world because the church is in the process of becoming that very world renewed in Christ. Neither can it merely blend into the world for then all Mission & renewal is lost. Its presence will be in, among & for the world even as it will be distinct from the world. This is what it means to take on the incarnational nature of Christ. It is this very incarnational nature that requires the church to be a discerning community which at times both refuses conformity with the world while at other times joining in (with what God is already at work doing).”

This resonates a lot with me because it is where I see the church’s role in the world right now. We can’t transform something if we are not involved in it. Note that the very concept of transformation implies that there is not a wholesale accommodation to the world, just a participation in what God is doing to enact that transformation.

I just have a nagging question: What is the relationship between the church and the Kingdom of God? David points out that the church is a “foretaste of the renewal of all creation.” But if it is a “foretaste,” it can’t be the final product. In the following sentence we read, “the church is in the process of becoming that very world renewed in Christ.” Is it the church that is becoming the world renewed in Christ or is the renewed world the kingdom spoken of in Revelation 11:15 – “The kingdom of the world has become the Kingdom of our Lord and of his Messiah, and he will rule as king forever and ever.”

I guess what it comes down to is this: Is it ok for me to work at building the church or should I instead work at building the kingdom? Or is to do one to do the other as well?

Building the Kingdom: Essentials vs Non-Essentials

Had an interesting discussion in our School of Ministry yesterday. We were talking about how the church is to be an example of the Kingdom of God on earth by exhibiting its values and by being a true community.

Of course, our discussion eventually ended up at the old axiom: “in essential matters, unity; in non-essential matters, liberty; in all other matters, charity.” My colleague, William Camba, pointed out that we don’t really seem to have trouble over the essential matters – we aren’t always discussing within our churches whether there really is a trinity or if Jesus is God or not. We do, however, seem to get caught up on the non-essentials – what colour to paint the walls, what kind of music to play, or what clothes we should wear during worship. The thing is there is also a distinct lack of liberty and love expressed during these times. William illustrated his point with a personal story about how he was recently distracted while attending a conference because the speaker was wearing flip-flops. “Why isn’t he wearing shoes?” was the question going through his mind. Upon his observation of the reactions of others to the slippers (ie no one else seemed to be offended), he eventually began to ask himself whether the problem was really his own and perhaps he was making something an essential that really isn’t essential.

The class then went on to discuss that most contentious of church issues, namely music. To be honest I wasn’t really happy with where the rest of the discussion and feel that I wasn’t able to wrap up the day on a positive note. After, however, a lot of thought, I realise we really need to have a way of determining what is essential and what is not so that we can avoid conflict in these areas in the future and so that we can practice the liberty and charity that we want to.

So what makes some things essential and other things non-essential?

Other than certain foundational theological truths that we can’t mess with, we are surrounded by a vast amount of stuff that can be classified as personal preferences – the songs we sing, the words we use, the Bible version we prefer, the clothes we wear, etc. How can we navigate this quagmire?

The key is that we need to return to the essentials of the church. For example, the Bible describes a church that is not merely to exist but to function properly. Some call this being missional but for the past few years we at SEATS have been talking about the Functional Church. Our churches are to proclaim the Good News of Jesus Christ (kerygma). They are also to exhibit the values of the Kingdom of God (koinonia). They are to be centers of service to both God and Humans (diakonia), and they are to bear the truth, even to the point of death (marturia).

In determining if something is essential, we need to return to these basic functions. Take the earlier example of music in the church. When we think about being functional in proclaiming the Good News we need to see what is essential. It is essential that the Good News be proclaimed in our public singing but the form that public singing takes is not essential. As long as it gets the job done in the best way possible.

We also need to declare the truth through our music. The form, however, is non-essential. As long as it is effective in declaring the truth then we should do it. If it is not, then we need to modify or change it.

Is it possible to serve through music? As long as the music is functional then its form is secondary. The same goes for proclaiming the values of the kingdom.

You may have noticed that forms are very much based upon societal norms. Keeping music as the example, if we want to reach fans of emo, then we can use emo. If we want to reach fans of country music then use country. If rockers, then rock. And on and on it goes. What is clear is that there is no longer only one societal norm.

So how does the church deal with these issues? One way is by having some kind of multiple services, each one targeted for a different society. (Of course, if you want to check out a different society’s service, prepare to misunderstand it ☺).
Another option for churches is to use the following statement: “We are not doing this particular thing for you – it is for (name of target).” This must be combined with a follow-up: “This is what we are doing for you.”

Paul saw his acting like a Jew or acting like a Greek as nonessentials. He didn’t force people to conform to his preferences but rather conformed to theirs. In light of Paul’s attitude, we need to have the following conversation in our churches:

What is our goal at our church? To have newcomers conform to our list of preferences or to conform to their preferences so they might more easily learn the essentials/become disciples? How can our _______ best fulfill this function? What forms need to be modified? What forms need to be changed? What forms need to be redeemed?

What are your essentials? I encourage the members of SEATS Schools of Ministry to give their opinions on the discussion board on the SEATS Facebook Page.

But just remember: liberty and charity.