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.

Thoughts on drought in a very dry year. Is this drought a call for justice?

Saskatchewan is in the middle of a drought. A drought in its simplest form is when there isn’t enough rain to make the crops grow. The lack of snow and rain over the past year, coupled with record-high temperatures, have succeeded in drying out the soil to the point where crops are not growing. It isn’t the first drought to hit Saskatchewan and probably won’t be the last. Some say that drought is a direct result of climate change, which some say is caused by human activity.

The plight of the Saskatchewan farmer has more meaning for me this year since my wife and I have been spending a lot of time on the farm. It makes me want to find ways to help.

The Bible says that drought can at times be a sign of God’s judgment against structural evil. It got me thinking. Is it possible that the current drought is connected with recent revelations about Canada’s founding principles? For those unaware, headlines in Canada have been dominated by stories of the Indian Residential School System, an official policy by the Government of Canada and church groups to “remove the Indian” from First Nations children — basically the government of Canada had a policy of cultural genocide against First Nations peoples in an effort to both make them better citizens and to convert them to Christianity. North American society has also been rocked over the past several years with calls for justice for the systemic mistreatment of women, for systemic racism, for legacies of slavery, and for other historical injustices. I have written about some of these things here, here, and here.

At this point I need to offer some clarification lest I be misunderstood: As I have written elsewhere, structural and natural evils are different from personal evil. Structural evil is a system or pattern of beliefs or activities in an organization or culture that hinders or opposes the advance of God’s kingdom in this world. Natural evil includes things like famine, drought, disease, wild animals, floods, storms, and disease. So any judgment on structural or natural evil is not on individual farmers for their sins but on society as a whole for its sins.

But even though the reasons may be systemic, the impact is indeed personal. There are mental stresses associated with farming and drought. Farmers are extremely resilient. I recall a conversation I had with someone in the Ag industry in Saskatchewan a few years ago. He said he respects how farmers are able to do everything that they can to grow good crops but the fact remains that a major part of farming is out of their control — namely the weather — and that they continue to do it year in and year out regardless of how the previous year went.

In times like this, Christians like to quote 2 Chronicles 7:14 which reads, “However, if my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves, pray, search for me, and turn from their evil ways, then I will hear ⌞their prayer⌟ from heaven, forgive their sins, and heal their country” (God’s Word).

Of course Canada has never claimed to be Christian nation so I am genuinely not sure how this verse can be applied today, but the Bible gives many examples of God’s interest in the nations including both blessings and curses.

The very first mention of natural evil in the Bible is in the context of farming. Adam was told by God in Genesis 3:17-19:

”The ground is cursed because of you. Through hard work you will eat ⌞food that comes⌟ from it every day of your life. The ground will grow thorns and thistles for you, and you will eat wild plants. By the sweat of your brow, you will produce food to eat until you return to the ground, because you were taken from it. You are dust, and you will return to dust” (God’s Word).

So it’s not completely crazy to assume that the land responds to structural sin, meaning that even if the 2 Chronicles 7:14 quote isn’t entirely apropos for today’s world, it might be apropos for drought situations since the immediate context of the verse is drought brought upon by society’s sins.

In any case, what would “humble themselves and seek my face” mean in light of the new call for social justice?

One aspect would have to include repentance. Repentance is hard to do because it involves not only humility but admitting that we are wrong. I don’t know about you but I don’t like doing that. So just at that level repentance is problematic. How much more public repentance?

Another aspect would have to be renovation. Repentance also includes making sure the future is better. It means changing the way I think and act. It means rectifying the past — rectification means rebuilding or renovating those past actions that I want to repent from. Renovation is hard because it starts with tearing things down. Some use the word “deconstruction” for this — a rather complex term that we don’t have time to go into today. I will say this, though. While deconstruction may include the use of a sledgehammer, it also has a level of control. It’s not mere demolition but needs to have some order to it, it needs to be systematic, and it needs to be useful.

The Bible does speak of a generational aspect to sin, which connects us to the sins of the past even if we weren’t present during those times. The lives we live today may have been directly impacted by decisions made by our progenitors and that means that we may still benefit from their sins.

Reconciliation also has to be a part of it. To be reconciled is to have a restored relationship. It is what happens when people humble themselves, repent, and renovate.

So then, how can we help farmers? We need to make some decisions. What does our nation need to repent from? What do we need to tear down? What do we need to renovate? How can I participate in building a new nation?

Maybe we can start here:

  • Revisit “truth.” Is what I think to be true actually the Truth?
  • Repent & Ask Forgiveness.
  • Practice Reconciliation.

Feedback is always welcome.

Sharing is what friends do.

Image by Maud Correa on Unsplash.

Of Governments and Hope: Where should I look for hope?

The Bible doesn’t really have all that great a view of governments. Certainly we are to obey governments but that’s not what i mean. The bible’s best option for human governance is always presented as being God.

We see this throughout the story of Israel in the Old Testament. Israel is freed from Egypt because Egypt’s government had enslaved them. God then led them through the wilderness to the Promised Land.

We see this in the story of Israel’s first king — Saul — a move that God saw as being a rejection of his rule, and even the most cursory of reads of Samuel, Kings, and Chronicles shows us the failure of this system.

We also see this in the choice of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John to use the term “gospel” when identifying their story type; gospel or good news being the term Roman Emperors used to describe their own ascension to the throne. The four are in essence saying, “Jesus is a better emperor than Rome’s!”

That’s why government in the Bible is often referred to as an animal (most translations maintain the archaic expression “beast,” but as I’ve said here and here that that leads to strange interpretations). What this means is that we shouldn’t be surprised when the government tears us to pieces. The example in Canada at the moment is the whole Indian Residential School system (which I have written about here, here, and here) but I am sure we can come up with countless other ways governments around the world mess things up. Some organisations —such as Transparency International, Amnesty International, and Wikileaks — exist merely to evaluate the level of mess that governments make. Of course in the Biblical examples we also see some animals that have fatal wounds but don’t die, perhaps indicating domesticated governments who aren’t as powerfully bestial.

This is of course the danger of identifying any human political theory or system with God’s way. One recent Facebook conversation I had highlighted this. My friend pointed out the abuses that more leftist firms of government were guilty of, including the top echelons becoming rich while the rest remained poor. Of course the same could be said for rightist governments and their billionaires. Apart from this there are the similarities between parties on a vast range of issues — their differences are often highlighted but their end policies often end up being the same.

Regardless of the level of wildness in government, it is clear that something else is needed. So what’s the solution? I see at least two:

Lamb of God. The Bible describes Jesus as being more like a lamb than an animal. Certainly He is also the Lion of the Tribe of Judah, but in the context of the animal or beast language used in some parts of the Bible, Jesus as lamb is contrasted. No one in the created world — animals included — is found worthy to get God’s plan rolling: “” Eventually it is the lamb who was slain who is able to open the seals.

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.” It’s the phrase “has become” that I would like to focus on. How does this process happen? There are some that view eschatology as something God does at the end of time. Our only tole as humans is to be the cause of the end because of our unbridled wickedness.

But I wonder if that is indeed the way things are meant to happen? If our wickedness brings about the end, is it possible for us to work together with God in the transformation of the kingdom?

Certainly God has included humans in his plans. Jesus did after all commission his human disciples (including us) to make disciples of all nations. Whose disciples are these to be? Jesus’ disciples of course. What will these disciples do?

Disciples are filled with the spirit, whether that means being empowered to do the work of God, to a way to cope with the troubles of the world without using addictions.

Disciples reconcile people to God and to each other. Paul talks about the ministry of reconciliation that we have on earth. This reconcilition imitates what God through Jesus began. He then says that “has given us this ministry of restoring relationships” as well.

Disciples bear fruit. We often interpret this to mean make disciples but fruit in the Bible more often than not refers to a personal transformation. This is best exemplified in lists of comparisons, most famously enumerated in Galatians 5, but also found elsewhere.

Disciples continue Jesus’ Isaiah 61/Luke 4 tasks of proclaiming Good News, forgiving others, giving sight to the blind, and freeing the captives.

Unfortunately the church hasn’t always been successful at fulfilling these tasks. What’s also unfortunate is that I have not always been successful at fulfilling these tasks. We have a lot to work on, both corporately and as individuals, in the process of working together with God for the transformation of our societies.

I wonder what we should work on first?

Feedback is always appreciated.

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Image by Bill Fairs on Unsplash.

Oh no, Canada: Reflections on Canada on Canada Day

Reflection is good for the soul because it causes us to look back on events that we normally view on default and look at them with new eyes. Canada Day is one of these things, especially in light of a recent push to reconcile history with the past. Even using the term “default” is actually problematic because what may be default thinking for me is different for someone else. The history that I read may be different from the history someone else reads. My understanding of the past is also almost certainly different from the actual past.

Canada’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission identified the residential school system as a form of cultural genocide. What we are beginning to realise is that some form of physical genocide may also have been happening. Certainly the past was a lot more dangerous than the present, with diseases like TB and the influenza pandemic of 1918 taking many lives, but there are also documented cases of abuse and death at the very hands of those entrusted with the care of these young First Nations children. What makes things worse is that it doesn’t seem to be merely a government issue (and governments do tend to be animal-like), but also a church issue. This is because churches were an integral part of the Residential School system.

Because of these issues there have been calls to rethink Canada Day. After all, why celebrate the country when the country is built on such shameful actions that has made some many mistakes? Some communities are cancelling Canada Day celebrations, while others are planning alternative events to help incorporate victims of Residential Schools into Canada’s story.

So what is the answer? I think it lies in the concepts of Truth, reconciliation, and repentance.

Truth. This is the debate between history and the past (that I have discussed elsewhere). In a nutshell, history is “texts” about the past from a certain perspective. Texts can include writing of course but can also include any aspect of society (citation) including statues, memorials, and events like Canada Day. The past is the actual events that have happened and are being interpreted when doing history. History changes all the time as new perspectives create new interpretations but the past remains the same.

Reconciliation, or restoring relationships, is supposed to be a major part of the church. After all, God has given the church the “ministry of reconciliation.” Relationships need to be restored people and God but relationships between people and other people also need restoration. The church has emphasised the first aspect throughout the years — and in many ways this emphasis may have led to the residential school disaster by ignoring God’s command to love our neighbour as we love ourselves — but hasn’t worked as hard on the restoration of interpersonal relationships. We haven’t been as good at this part as we could have been.

“What about forgiveness?” some may ask. Forgiveness does need to happen, as Matt Stovall, writing from a First Nations’ perspective, points out in his great FB post on this. However, forgiveness works best when it is coupled with repentance, which means the church, as the offending party, needs to repent and ask forgiveness.

So what needs to be reflected upon this Canada Day? Where does reconciliation need to happen? Where does truth need to be reevaluated? How can I ask forgiveness?

On Canada Day, let’s reflect on Canada and repent of our sins. Our eyes are finally opening to the our ugly past. How will we make a better future? Listen to someone’s stories of their residential experience. Read the Truth and Reconciliation Commission Report. Read Dr. Peter Bryce’s 1907 Report on the Indian schools of Manitoba and the North-West Territories. Read about residential schools, reconciliation and the experience of Indigenous peoples.

On Canada Day, let’s reflect on the church and repent of our sins. It’s quite simple. For church insiders there is a wide range of church types and theologies, that are unknown and even meaningless to church outsiders. The specific churches involved in the Residential School System cannot be separated in people’s minds from the idea of “church.” As I have said elsewhere, “even if we weren’t physically present during these atrocities, we are still complicit in them because people bearing Jesus’ name did these things. Don’t we also bear Jesus name?” So as churches we need to seek ways to ask forgiveness. We need to reflect on the theologies that we hold that led to the whole Residential School system. We need to find ways to connect with First Nations People. We need to reflect on what repentance looks like for you and me.

On Canada Day, let’s reflect on Truth and repent of the untruths and half-truths we have believed instead. I have written elsewhere on truth. Suffice it to say, none of us has a complete understanding of absolute truth. Don’t get me wrong— I do believe in absolute truth but at best I can say we are approaching absolute truth. That means that part of the way forward includes reflecting on the truths that I know and how those truths coincide with the truths that others know and changing our truths so the future is better than the past.

Feedback is always welcome!

Image by Derek Thomson on Unsplash.