Speaking into truth & reconciliation, how would you apply Jesus’ words, “If your hand causes you to sin, cut it off”??

Last week I posted some thoughts on truth and reconciliation on Canada’s National Day for Truth and Reconciliation. My thoughts centered around Mark‬ ‭9:42-50‬ ‭GW‬‬, and how these verses about protecting children’s faith is in the context of the verses that talk about dealing with sin our lives. If your hand cause you to sin cut it off. If your foot causes you to sin cut it off. If your eye causes you to sin pluck it out. I realize that the sins of the hand, the foot, and the eye are central to the legacy of the abuse suffered through Indian Residential Schools.

Krystal Wawrzyniak, one of my colleagues at BGC Canada and currently seconded to Indian Life Ministries, asked, “I’m curious about your thoughts surrounding the application of ‘if your hand causes you to sin, cut it off,’ or the foot or eye. Speaking into truth and reconciliation, how would you apply this??” I did respond to Krystal on Facebook but thought it might be a good idea to flesh out some of my ideas in another blog post.

First off I need to say that the best approach is to listen because it’s only through listening to Others’ stories that we can both understand them and see the things that need to be changed in ourselves.

It’s also important to examine ourselves to see if we can find areas that need change. This happens through reflection and through listening. I think that because few of us were directly involved in the Indian Residential School system (the last school closed in 1996) we can’t simply call for repentance on a personal level. The areas where change needs to happen (ie. the parts that need to get cut off) are the systems and structures that still exist in our society — including our churches and theology — that are a part of the framework that led to Indian Residential Schools. These need to be excised from our identity as both Christians and Canadians.

On the national level this might include how the doctrine of discovery and the Treaty of Tordesillas — which blended religious and commercial interests — continues to impact Canadian institutions such as the Indian act, unclean water on First Nations, and unequal access to health care. Other issues include how the Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls and the Overrepresentation of Indigenous People in the Canadian Criminal Justice System reveal problems with the justice system.

On the theological level we need to revisit our understanding of God’s prevenient grace, get rid of our theological superiority that prioritises theologies from the Global North over and above those of the Global South, and read the Bible through the eyes of the Other. Jose de Mesa’s hermeneutics of appreciation is a good starting point for this and will teach us how to listen.

Ka Jose de Mesa (1946-2021) was a Filipino lay theologian who worked for many years on issues surrounding contextualisation and theology. In his Mga aral sa daan: Dulog at paraang kultural sa Kristolohiya he develops a hermeneutics of appreciation as a way to correct errors he saw in how the church crossed cultures.

The “Hermeneutics of appreciation” is presented as a series of attitudes that serve as guides for those engaging in cross-cultural interactions. How can we apply them to the Indian Residential School issue?

Attitude #1: Presume the cultural element or aspect under consideration to be positive (at least in intent) until proven otherwise. Indian Residential Schools were designed to do the exact opposite of this — to remove all traces of “Indian” from the children who were forced to attend. There is certainly nothing positive about this. A better approach would be to recognise that the Kingdom of God consists of people from “every nation, tribe, people, and language” and that includes First Nations and Metis peoples.

Attitude #2: Be aware of your own cultural presuppositions and adopt the insider’s point of view. When we look back at some of the statements made by the proponents of the Indian Residential School system we can’t help but wonder what they were thinking? To people living and thriving in the postmodern world of 2021’s Canada, the ideas of our forefathers are more than odd — they are offensive. But did they know that? Did they realise the meaning of statements like “Kill the Indian, save the man” and that ideas of assimilation were actually cultural genocide? It’s hard to believe that they didn’t realise these things. Knowledge of de Mesa’s Attitude #2 would have gone a long ways towards developing a true understanding between the various cultures.

Attitude #3: Go beyond the cultural stereotypes. It is obvious that the use of terms such as “Indian problem” and “dirty Indian” that stereotypes were the only standard of practice in these schools. As Duncan Campbell Scott said when developing his policies, “I want to get rid of the Indian problem. I do not think as a matter of fact, that the country ought to continuously protect a class of people who are able to stand alone. . . . Our objective is to continue until there is not a single Indian in Canada that has not been absorbed into the body politic and there is no Indian question, and no Indian Department, that is the whole object of this Bill.”

Attitude #4: Use the vernacular as a key to understanding the culture in its own terms. Indian Residential Schools made a concerted effort to eliminate the various languages of the First Nations. A deeper understanding of language always leads to a deeper understanding of culture.

Unfortunately, nothing about the experience that First Nations and Metis peoples have had with either the government or the church in Canada seems to reflect these attitudes. Let’s hope that we can work towards changing some of these attitudes as we work towards truth, healing, and reconciliation.

Help is available. Call the 24-hour national Indian Residential Schools Crisis Line: 1-866-925-4419. 

Feedback is always welcome. 

Sharing is what friends do.

Image by Liviu Florescu on Unsplash.

Scripture is taken from GOD’S WORD®.
© 1995, 2003, 2013, 2014, 2019, 2020 by God’s Word to the Nations Mission Society. 
Used by permission.

Learning Jesus’ thoughts about Little children on Canada’s National Day for Truth and Reconciliation

This is my second post on connected to the National Day for Truth and Reconciliation this week. You can read the first one here. It comes from my reflections on Mark 9 where Jesus is talking about the importance of children in his Kingdom. He says,

“These little ones believe in me. It would be best for the person who causes one of them to lose faith to be thrown into the sea with a large stone hung around his neck. So if your hand causes you to lose your faith, cut it off! It is better for you to enter life disabled than to have two hands and go to hell, to the fire that cannot be put out. If your foot causes you to lose your faith, cut it off! It is better for you to enter life lame than to have two feet and be thrown into hell. If your eye causes you to lose your faith, tear it out! It is better for you to enter God’s kingdom with one eye than to have two eyes and be thrown into hell. In hell worms that eat the body never die, and the fire is never put out. Everyone will be salted with fire. Salt is good. But if salt loses its taste, how will you restore its flavor? Have salt within you, and live in peace with one another.” ‭‭Mark‬ ‭9:42-50‬ ‭GW‬‬

This verse has a new significance seeing as I’m reading it on the National Day for Truth and Reconciliation, formerly known as Orange Shirt Day. Orange Shirt Day was designed as a memorial for children with the slogan “Every Child Matters” and it relates to the terrible conditions of the Canadian Indian Residential School System that affected 150,000 First Nations and Metis people across the country up until as recently as 1996. Of course, even though the last residential school closed in 1996, the legacy of these residential schools lives on today.

I didn’t notice, until I read it this morning, the context of this verse and how this verse about protecting children’s faith is in the context of the verses that talk about dealing with sin our lives. If your hand cause you to sin cut it off. If your foot causes you to sin cut it off. If your eye causes you to sin pluck it out. I realize that the sins of the hand, the foot, and the eye are central to the legacy of the abuse suffered through Indian Residential Schools.

Could we interpret it this way? If our hand causes us to sin by removing children forcibly from their families for the purpose of eradicating their culture then we need to cut that hand off. If our foot causes us to sin by standing on the necks of God’s children then we need to cut that foot off. If our eye causes us to sin because we are looking at children with the sinful desires, then we need to pluck that eye out!

The same can be said for our society, whether that is culture, theology, doctrine, ideology or practice. If our systems seek the eradication of Others’ cultures, if they cause us to oppress the helpless, if they cause us to lust after them, then we need to cut off and pluck out those parts of our society, whether that is culture, theology, doctrine, ideology or practice.

What is the stated destination for people who act in this way? Quite simply it is hell. Hell isn’t something we talk about a lot but I would suspect that there’re very few people who wouldn’t see hell as a suitable destination for people involved in the abuse and mistreatment of children.

The passage also provides a way forward — to be salt. Saltiness is a positive biblical trait. Salt provides flavour. Salt acts as a preservative. Salt creates buoyancy in water. And salt brings peace to the world. But it seems as if our salt has lost its flavour. What will we do to restore that saltiness?

Today on the national day for truth and reconciliation remember that every child matters.

Help is available. Call the 24-hour national Indian Residential Schools Crisis Line: 1-866-925-4419.

Feedback is always welcome.

Sharing is what friends do.

Image by Neeta Lind on Flickr. Some rights reserved.

Thoughts on Truth and Reconciliation for Orange Shirt Day

Eva and I spent a couple of hours on Saturday looking for Orange t-shirts. We went to several stores in the area but were surprised that there weren’t any for sale. Eventually we ended up at the Wanuskewin Gift Shop on Broadway in Saskatoon where we found a few shirts in 3X and 4X sizes! We were extremely pleased that we found something even if they are far too large.

“What’s the big deal about orange t-shirts?,” you may ask. Phyllis Webstad tells the story of the orange shirt that inspired Orange Shirt day. As she says,

“I went to the Mission for one school year in 1973/1974. I had just turned 6 years old. I lived with my grandmother on the Dog Creek reserve. We never had very much money, but somehow my granny managed to buy me a new outfit to go to the Mission school. I remember going to Robinson’s store and picking out a shiny orange shirt. It had string laced up in front, and was so bright and exciting – just like I felt to be going to school! 

When I got to the Mission, they stripped me, and took away my clothes, including the orange shirt! I never wore it again. I didn’t understand why they wouldn’t give it back to me, it was mine! The color orange has always reminded me of that and how my feelings didn’t matter, how no one cared and how I felt like I was worth nothing. All of us little children were crying and no one cared.”

Today Orange Shirt Day has become the National Day for Truth and Reconciliation. I have already written on truth and reconciliation here, here, and here. Eva and I wanted to participate this year but I had a couple of questions, the most prominent of which is a logistical one: How can I be involved in Orange Shirt Day without also profiting from it? I would hate to be a participant in some kind of cultural appropriation and it would be an even greater shame for the oppressors to further profit from the day. For example, the Hudson’s Bay Company recently came under fire for selling Orange Shirts. This is especially poignant given the company’s history in Canada. Fortunately, the Company had followed the proper procedures, as outlined in the Orange Shirt Society’s guidelines. But that isn’t the case for every company doing this.

The next question I had was how do I go about the process of reconciliation particularly in a culturally appropriate way. I am working on a post about conflict resolutions in the Bible. Most Christians assume that Matthew 18 is the only way to do things. I happen to disagree with this but let’s agree with this for argument’s sake. What would that entail when it comes to truth and reconciliation in Canada? Since Mt 18 is all about bringing the offending sibling back into fellowship we need to recognise that that is us!

Us. I will say that my family history is full of discrimination and persecution. My father’s side has roots in the Mennonites who moved around the world trying to find places where their pacifism would be acceptable. They moved from the Netherlands to Prussia to the Ukraine and eventually ended up in Canada. My mother’s family has roots in the First Nations particularly in how the fur traders interacted with First Nations women that lead to a group of people known as country born. But in spite of this history of discrimination and persecution, I have grown up completely separated from those identities and live a life of privilege. So when I say that we are the offending sibling I am including myself in that. This is especially true for those involved in churches when talking about residential schools.

What can we do to foster truth and reconciliation? I can think of a couple of options that will lead toward reconciliation.

In reconciliation, the offenders don’t set the agenda. Rather, as the offending party we must place ourselves in a position of powerlessness. It’s not enough to apologise. Often when giving an apology I find myself frustrated that the offended party wants to talk more about how offensive I have been. All this shows is that I am not truly apologetic and I don’t want reconciliation. This is particularly hard when it comes to corporate evil. The Canada we know has been built in part on a flawed foundation that is in need of renovation. What does that renovation look like? Ask someone who is affected by the flaws to find out.

In reconciliation the offenders need to listen. We need to be humble and submissive and to listen to the stories of those we have offended because that is the only way for us to experience their pain. Let’s start this process by listening and watching as Phyllis Webstand tells us her story.

But as Phyllis says, her story is not unique. Another part of the reconciliation process is to find someone in our own community who we can share stories with. Only by sharing stories can we find truth and reconciliation!

Help is available. Call the 24-hour national Indian Residential School Crisis Line: 1-866-925-4419.

Feedback is always welcome.

Sharing is what friends do.

Image by Rod Long on Unsplash. Video by orangeshirtday.org.