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.

3 Types of Evil: Part 2

Part 1 of this post proved very popular on Facebook. If you haven’t read it yet, head on over to get caught up. Lots of good questions and discussion. In light of that I thought it might be a good idea to flesh out some of the ideas in that post and try to answer any questions that arose.

What should be obvious from part 1 is that evil is a complex subject. For sake of clarity I am using evil as a catch all for everything bad that is in the world. I base this on the statement God repeatedly makes in Genesis after creating stuff: “Everything is very good.” For me that means that if something is bad then it isn’t a part of the original creation. Jumping off on this, I think that our theologising is misguided when we start from the concept of original sin since Adam and Eve were created with original righteousness. So my conceptualisation of evil includes death, sin, suffering, sickness, injustice, rebellion, and self-righteousness/self-trust and anything that causes these things. 

I actually expected most of the comments to be about structural evil since that is a huge topic in the church today. However, as it turned out, most comments related to personal evil and natural evil. 

Any discussion of evil has to start with Genesis 3 where we see the story of Adam and Eve’s sin in the garden of Eden. It’s interesting to look at the three types of sin that are talked about in this passage.

Personal Evil. We begin with the curses that are placed upon Adam, Eve, and the serpent for their personal sins. It is important to point out however, that even though Adam, Eve, and the serpent sinned personally, the bible treats their personal sin differently that our personal sin because their personal sins had an effect on everyone else.

As Saul Samante asks, “Is it safe to conjecture that these three evils are not really separate entities but deeply connected with each other? Let me put it this way: Personal evil (Adamic sin), gave rise to cosmic and systemic evils. Prior to the fall, everything was perfect and harmonious. After the fall, cosmic harmony disintegrated and human structures or systems became oppressive.”

Romans says that death entered through Adam’s sin. This is significant for the rest of our conversation because a large part of our understanding of natural evil is connected to death. We will expand on this below.

Structural Evil. We also see Adam’s sin as it affects his family namely Eve and their unborn children. So here we see that Adam’s personal sin has an effect upon the structures of the day, in this case family but of course eventually expand on to become greater structures in society. As Mike Swalm points out,

“Your examples of systemic evil, for instance, could they stem from some of the systemic curse language (your desire will be for your husband and he will rule over you/enmity between woman and serpent etc)?”

Mike is on the right track. The language used in these two phrases is significant in that we see linguistic parallels between this passage and the account of Cain’s sin a few chapters later. Take a look:

In Genesis 3:16 God says to Eve, “Your desire will be for your husband, and he will rule over you.”

In Genesis 4:6, God says to Cain, “But if you do not do what is right, sin is crouching at your door; it desires to have you, but you must rule over it.”

These simple words set the stage for the battle of the sexes. They set up a struggle of evil desires that each party will have as a result of sin. The woman will desire to control her husband in the same way that Cain’s sin desired to rule over him. On the other hand, the husband response is to rule over his wife.

Of course God had already told us what the relationships should be: a “helper who is right for him,”taken not from his head nor from his feet but from his side. It is a statement of equality, of companionship, of working together, of partnership.

Natural Evil. We also see in the in the curse on Adam that his curse will impact the ground or the environment around him and this is a curse as it exists upon the natural world. Whereas prior to this the ground would give up its riches willingly to him, after the sin he would have to work for these riches with the sweat of his brow and his work would be less than productive. 

Lex Ely Aspiras asks, “In natural evil, what makes natural phenomena evil? It is easy to understand that when people suffer because of typhoon Ondoy, this indeed is evil. Somewhere in the world, a storm is raging without affecting any human being, is this also evil? An earth-size storm is raging in Jupiter for centuries, is that evil? Sunspots adversely affect life on earth, are sunspots evil? Beyond earth’s atmosphere up to the edge of the observable universe, everything appears anathema to life as we know it, is this “everything” evil?”

We saw above that Romans says that death entered through Adam’s sin. This is significant because a large part of our understanding of natural evil is connected to death. It seems that prior to Adam’s sin, there was no death. That means that because death is a direct result of sin that things that cause death are also a part of the evil that pervaded the universe after Adam. Following this along further, events that seem normal in today’s world — typhoons, earthquakes, floods, pandemics — may have existed in the past but they certainly didn’t cause death.

One question we need to ask is, “What is the cause of these weather patterns?” Certainly they are natural but are there also other causes for them? The Bible pretty explicitly says that some weather patterns such as storms, pandemics, and famines can be caused by sin. I have written about that here

There is actually some evidence that weather patterns prior to the flood were different that the weather patterns we have now. Genesis 2:5-6 says there wasn’t any rain but that a mist or underground water watered the earth. This seems to imply that the rains that came before the flood were something unique and unknown during those days. All that to say that storms may not have existed prior to Adam’s sin.

Where do the Spiritual Powers fit into all of this? Another aspect of evil emerged from the online discussion, particularly by Rei Lemuel Crizaldo and Rene del Barrio. “What about,” some asked, “The evil associated with spiritual powers?” We do see within the story the reality of spiritual powers because the serpent, who we later discover is the Satan, is in fact a spiritual power. Because of the curse we see that his power is limited through this encounter because he can no longer walk upright but must crawl on the ground dragging his belly. The question remains as to where these spiritual powers fit into today’s world.

Ultimately the question associated with this is, “Is Satan responsible for causing some of the evil in the world, too?” Many stories of people’s encounters with spiritual evil exist. I have heard stories of people being freed from spiritual oppressions that have caused mental illness and even death. The Bible also has countless examples of Jesus freeing people from unclean spirits. It cannot be denied that spiritual powers exist and are active in the world.

One thing the Bible does say about spiritual powers, however, is that their power is limited. Statements like “Don’t give the devil any opportunity to work,” “Resist the devil and he will run away from you,” and “Put on all the armor that God supplies” mean that it is within human power to not be overcome by Satan. 

Jesus, in the direct context of a discussion of whose power he is using — Satan’s or God’s — says that he needs to “tie up the strong man.” The strong man in this case is the devil.

The Book of Revelation speaks of the end of all kinds of evil, including the end of rebellious spiritual powers — Satan ends up cast into the bottomless pit and the lake of fire. Evil is eventually eliminated from creation and we get a glimpse of what life will be like without any evil.

So it seems that if we give permission or opportunity for these powers to exert themselves then they will. And it appears that if we do not give permission or opportunity then these powers cannot act.

So what then of Job? While it is true that God and Satan do have a conversation or two about Job it’s also important to note that it is in fact God who brings up the subject, not Satan. God clearly lays out the rules of engagement for how Satan is to tempt Job and in the end it is God who is glorified, and Job who is vindicated. Satan is by no means the hero of the story. Also note that Job’s trials were implemented through structural evil (bandits & enemies attack on his flocks), natural evil (a windstorm destroys his kids’ house, fire falls from heaven and consumes his flocks, and boils cover his body), and personal evil (Job prayed for them that God would forgive any sins his kids may have committed). So the tripartite theology of evil is even seen here.

Feedback is always welcome.

Sharing is what friends do.

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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.

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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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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!

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