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In which we welcome a Husker to Canada

After twelve years of marriage to his Canuck here, eight years as a resident of Canada, three babies, and countless double-doubles, my husband officially became a dual citizen of Canada this past spring.

Brian becomes Canadian

canadian collage 1 canadian collage 2

To celebrate the day, we decided to embark on a day filled with Canadian stereotypes. We took the tinies out of school, and after the ceremony in Surrey, the day of Canadian Stereotypes commenced. We only had a day and that isn’t quite enough time for all the stereotypes so to start off: he received his own Team Canada hockey sweater. One must be properly attired, you understand.

Then it was off for buying hockey gear at Canadian Tire with Canadian Tire money. Then a maple dip doughnut and a double-double at Tim Horton’s using loonies and toonies.  For lunch, we ate Montreal Smoked Meat and poutine at Annie’s in New Westminster (the best poutine we’ve found in the Lower Mainland). He learned not to be offended by the term “homo milk.” He called Coca-Cola “pop” instead of “soda.” As a carpenter, he’s already familiar with a Robertson screwdriver, so that was one we could leave off the list. He can spot a Canadian anywhere in the world by their use of the word “brutal.”

Then he curled up with a copy of Anne of Green Gables and a proper beer. There were a few lessons in how to apologise even when it is not his fault, and then a grammar lesson about the importance of adding a “u” to most of his words. He proved his ability to use the modifier of “eh”  - turning statements into questions, NOT as a form of “huh?” – and he wore a toque for most of the day. And then he indulged in a bit of old fashioned tree-hugging and protesting.

He made fun of Toronto.

Later that night, we played street hockey with the neighbourhood kids. We strongly considered a visit to the ER just to cap it off but decided against it. It’s BC so no snow to shovel or Zamboni to ride. His chosen favourite hockey team – the Calgary Flames – hasn’t won much of anything for more than a decade and so now he’s also well acquainted with the resolute grief of cheering for a losing team.

Happy Canada Day to one of our newest Canadians, Bri. Sorry but we think you’re a pretty wonderful Canadian, buddy.

 

Continue Reading · brian, canada · 14

In which I offer a Christian response to #IdleNoMore

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The first time I heard the phrase “Idle No More” on CBC radio, I thought it was yet another Vancouver campaign about car emissions.

I’m a white Canadian woman from the prairies, now living in the south coast of British Columbia. I have zero Aboriginal blood, zero personal connections to the struggle and realities of Aboriginal rights. The most time I’ve spent on the rez is driving through quickly. Growing up in Regina, I had a few “native” friends (as we called First Nations in those days), but as I grew up and moved further and further west, Aboriginals disappeared from my circles of work and schooling. Now, I find myself in the position of unintentional isolation from our First Nations community.

I heard about Idle No More two months ago, and as the days have gone by, and more and more of our First Nations are participating in this protest movement, I’ve been compelled to frankly recognize both my privilege and my ignorance. I needed to learn about this movement, not only as a Canadian, but particularly as a follower of Jesus. I believe Jesus meant all that stuff he said in the Bible, and so the whole “caring for my neighbour” thing needs to show up in my real life. I wanted to know how to best love and support First Nations in this current climate.

so what is idle no more?

Idle No More is a grassroots uprising among Canadian Aboriginals. It was started by four women in Saskatchewan, Jessica Gordon, Sheelah McLean, Sylvia McAdams and Nina Wilsonfeld, more than two months ago with no funding and no “official” covering or sponsorship (I am pretty sure that qualifies for an “eshet chayil! woman of valour!”). The movement has grown to  fairly large protests and wide-spread mobilization of the Aboriginal community.

While the movement uses a lot of really big verbs and nouns and images about respect, rights, and revolution, Idle No More started because of Bill C-45. (We can talk about the democratic practice of an omnibus bill later, perhaps, because gracious, what a miscarriage of democracy…) So Bill C-45 is an omnibus bill, attached to our budget currently going through Parliament, with hundreds of provisions included, which (and these are the key ones related to Idle No More) seriously undermine our environmental sustainability as a nation and the sovereign rights of the First Nations still existing within our borders. It has already passed first readings. At its core, most of these changes are connected to the almighty economy and development related to pipelines. Already more than 16,000 lakes and rivers within Canada have had their protected status removed in order to facilitate oil exploration and resource mining on First Nations land. These omnibus bill provisions are likely just the next step towards this relentless economic development at the price of our environmental sustainability and the covenantal relationship we’ve had with First Nations stretching back centuries to the Crown’s agreements of the late 18th century. (A reminder: we’re not talking modern business contracts in this relationship: we’re talking ancient covenantal relationship, which carries a solemnity and respect and consistency come what may.)

Aaron Paquette said: This is much greater than angry protesting natives, this is about becoming aware of the world in which you live.

First they gutted the sciences, long term studies that would help us understand our ecosystem better so we could develop more responsibly, and no one said a word.

Then they cut funding for our shared history and those who work to preserve it, while at the same time dumping tens of millions of dollars into celebrating a British colony war that happened before we were even a country, and still no one said anything.

Then the world was made aware of the shameful conditions for small children growing up on underfunded, polluted Reservations. A small murmur and then nothing.

And now, because of the apathy they see, this government has taken galling steps to sell out our wilderness, our resources and sovereignty. And not even to the highest bidder. It’s a yard sale with no regard for responsibility or care for anyone who might be negatively affected (in other words, all of us).

Bill C-45 came to Ottawa on the heels of the crisis in Attiwapiskat. When the remote northern community of Attiwapiskat declared a state of emergency, their horrible conditions exposed the real conditions of many reserves throughout Canada as more akin to third-world standards. Attiwapiskat was an “in-your-face” example to those of us without connections to the reserves about the how life really is for our First Nations.

Inadequate housing. Little to no schooling. Addictions. Abuse. Loss or abandonment of children to the government systems. No jobs. Poverty. Little access to healthy food. High rates of suicide. Poor water. No heat in the winter. The list went on and on.

So Attiwapiskat declared emergency, and yet, due to the complexity of the Indian Act, treaties, government red tape, and the general consensus that there is “plenty of money being thrown at” the First Nations so there must be rampant corruption and mismanagement, very little was actually accomplished.  Like many Canadians, I was horrified by the sight of small Canadian children and families living in shacks in the north with no jobs, no money, no toilets, no heat, no hope. How is this even happening here, one of the richest nations in the world? Both of these instances are serving as a sort of “tipping point” in a long line of injustices and abuses within the community.

Idle No More was launched in an attempt to wake the sleeping giant, to shake First Nations and all of Canada out of apathy. As a result, the protest has become bigger than this one omnibus bill. It’s now turned into rhetoric and conversations about sovereignty, colonization, justice, treaty-honouring, respect, and sustainability. It’s not just about rivers and lakes, it’s what this decision represents for our treaty partners, and the bigger issues surrounding how the bill is being run through.

The mission statement of Idle No more calls “on all people to join in a revolution which honours and fulfills Indigenous sovereignty which protects the land and water. Colonization continues through attacks to Indigenous rights and damage to the land and water. We must repair these violations, live the spirit and intent of the treaty relationship, work towards justice in action, and protect Mother Earth”.

From Indigenous Nationhood: When asked what do we want, that question can be answered in two parts:

(1) In the short term, Canada must withdraw the suite of legislation impacting First Nations, amend those omnibus bills which threaten our lands and waters, and restore the funding that was cut to our First Nation advocacy organizations and communities;

(2) In the long term, Canada must set up a Nation to Nation process whereby First Nations and Canada can address many of the long outstanding issues related to the implementation of treaties and sharing the lands and resources.

There are several key players and extreme positions within the movement and the government: Prime Minister Harper, Chief Teresa Spence as an icon of the Idle No More young revolutionaries, drum circles, elders, statesmen, chiefs, passionate youth, and also the brilliant Shawn Atleo as head of the Assembly of First Nations.

From âpihtawikosisân: The Canadian government continues to mouth platitudes about its supposed dedication to this relationship, while it slashes funding, ignores our emergencies, pulls out of comprehensive land claim discussions, ‘consults’ with us and then ignores everything we told them, all while pursuing a hard-line agenda which accepts only termination as a result. We have been backed into a corner and we are literally fighting for our lives. We are literally dying, in so many preventable and unacceptable ways. I’m not being poetic or hyperbolic here and I don’t just mean culturally.

 

Idle No More :: Sarah Bessey

so what is the Christian response?

I don’t actually like the idea of “The” Christian Response. There is a lot of diversity within Christianity, many ways to respond. Some of us are called to this work in a front-lines sort of way but all of us are called to care, all of us are called to love.

So if we believe that Jesus meant what he said, then the question that truly needs to guide our varied responses is this one: what would Love want to do here? So here’s what I think that means within the context of Idle No More:

Stay and listen and learn

We must listen. Before anything else, we must listen. We must listen to the truth of the histories, the experiences, the personal stories, the larger historical context. Sometimes the best way to love someone is to listen to them, so start there. Show up at a rally, make a friend, email a blogger, listen and read something other than filtered media, with an open heart to learn and honour. Then make sure that your words, your posture, your attitude, and actions communicate the dignity of truth that you love, you support, you are seeking justice and friendship as a student and fellow traveller.  Also, remember to find the joy, find the fun, find the love that exists in each other and celebrate it. Remember, we’re talking about people here, not a cause. PEOPLE. Complex, diverse, wise, interesting people with unique stories and experiences beyond the obvious and one-note stereotypes. We can’t separate God’s justice from God’s presence.

Recognize our role and repent

Much of the problems that plague First Nations communities have their roots in their treatment and abuse at the hands of colonization. Residential schools, forced assimilation, racism, systemic murder, crippling economic inequalities, lack of adequate schooling, we have a disgusting history as a nation when it comes to our First Nations. We need to repent of the evil, yes, but we also need to repent of our continued disconnection of turning our neighbours into “The Other” through stereotypes and divisions. We must recognize our own failings and habits, our own poverty, our bad habits of treating our friends and neighbours as “a cause” instead of as a partner.  Refugee advocate, J.R. Goudeau pointedly reminds us:

Christians are often implicit in asymmetrical relationships that privilege First World over Third World, white over black, men over women, urban over rural, Western over Eastern, cosmopolitan over “primitive.”

So many of the imperial relationships that broke down in the twentieth century have been examined in-depth in academic and political settings, and yet we barely touch this subject in many churches.

We travel. We bring back sideshows and videos. We talk about “the poor,” “orphans,” “the least of these.”

We are guilty of not examining the acts of translation that turn an ordinary Bolivian into an object of sympathy for our mega-churches. We are guilty of using the degrees of removal that separate an upper-class white Midwestern Christian from a Haitian mother as guilt trips or morality moments. We are guilty of objectifying African villages by making their stories about our reactions, our acts of generosity, without really stopping to see what is happening their on the ground.

We are guilty of using “the poor” as objects or foils sent to teach us about ourselves rather than people in their own right.

Instead of pretending injustice doesn’t exist or opining that “they should just get over it already” or paying lip service to “things are so much better now,” there is something spiritual and powerful to repentance, confession, and seeking forgiveness as individuals, religious communities, and a nation. We can no longer point to the occasional corruption or grandiose actions or ongoing mismanagement of a few as an excuse for our perpetual inaction or devaluation of an entire community’s very immediate and pressing needs.

There is also something spiritual in accepting that apology and forgiving, according to Kenny Blacksmith. We cannot underestimate the power of forgiveness and restitution, and the power of making things right, of turning from our old ways and moving forward into justice with renewed purpose and focus. Work and live on the side of reconciliation and justice.

Encourage and live the values of negotiation, conversation, friendship, and reconciliation

We come alongside one another as brothers and sisters, as treaty partners and covenant partners, committed to the relationship’s sustainability, with deep respect and honour. Christians should be the first ones to reject violence, to disavow the language of shame and paternalism, acts of oppression and dismissal. That has no place in the heart of one who practices the ways of Jesus’ upside down kingdom. Even in the places of disagreement for best way forward, there is a way to disagree beautifully in love and respect. Moving forward in hope is more important than brinkmanship, saving face, getting the final word. These are complex, tangled issues which will likely have complex and varied solutions and responses. Conversation, negotiation, good faith is key.

Commit to community development

As Christian social activist D.L. Mayfield wrote, “we should all be engaged in the brokenness of our communities. And we should all be working through how we use our gifts and creativity to shine light in dark situations, in ways that dignify and uplift and empower others.”

We are the people of justice seeking and peace making. I’m not talking about “helping the poor” in the lame and destructive colonial ways connected to assimilation and conversions, palatable stereotypes and hand-outs. No, I’m talking about participating in the redemptive movement of God, his heart to reconcile and redeem within First Nations together. I believe God cares about housing and economics, about overcoming addictions and families, about children and clean water, about schooling and sustainability. This may look like working within the community as a partner, it may look like supporting active work, it may look like participating in a big life-changing way, foster care advocacy, it may look like writing to our government, employment, opportunity, friendship, or perhaps protesting or participating, it may look like advocating for these changes and opportunities at the highest levels of government. We need policy makers and pragmatists, we also need prophets and poets. We can come alongside our brothers and sisters, lending our voices and power to theirs, and stand together for a unified people advocating for justice and peace and wholeness. We support, we believe, we are with them for the long haul.

Pray

Pray for peace and justice, the restoration of hope and leadership. We must pray for the root of injustice to be removed, for wisdom in our leadership, for forgiveness and justice. We must pray with our spirits, with our words, with our hands and with our feet.

and read more…

Official Idle No More

Idle No More on Facebook

 

9 Questions About Idle No More at CBC News

The natives are restless. Wondering why? by âpihtawikosisân

The revolution will not be televised (but it will be tweeted) by Aaron Paquette

Idle No More: A Christian Issue by ChristianWeek

What is the Idle No More movement…really? by Indigenous Nationhood

The most common way people give up their power is by thinking they don’t have any by Shaneisms

Stephen Harper, First Nations, and an opportunity lost by Chris Hill for CBC

Idle No More: Canada’s Indigenous “Occupy” by Bilbo Poynter for the Christian Science Monitor

Wiconi International

Gathering Nations with Kenny and Louise Blacksmith

 (If you have other resources or articles, feel free to share them in the comments.)

 

Continue Reading · canada, faith, local, politics, social justice · 28

In which an uneasy pacifist wears the poppy

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My grandpa was a good-looking kid from the Canadian prairie when he marched away to war. He was shot on a hill in Italy during a pre-dawn raid. He fell in the cold, thick mud while it poured rain, everyone rushing past, a stampede. Bright red blood from his back thigh soaked into the thick fabric and the mud while he, unsure if he would live or die, was desperate with a fear more sharp than pain. A buddy of his pulled him to safety that day, carried him, slung over his back, gear and all, he ran them both straight down that hill.

He never talked about the war much. Oh, he sang old songs like “Praise the Lord and pass the ammunition! We’re going on a mighty mission” and joked about his wound, his buddies. But once, in uncharacteristic solemnity, he admitted that he’d never been so afraid in his life as he was that day on that hill, alone in the mud, surrounded by the sounds of his friends running and screaming and falling and dying in the dark.

“We were terrified,” he said. “We were just a bunch of kids.”

He came home. Many of his friends did not.

November 11 is Remembrance Day for Commonwealth nations. I have a plastic poppy pinned to my heavy fall coat. Since I was little-little, reciting In Flander’s Fields in school assemblies while holding paper cut-out poppies glued to green cardboard wreaths,I swore that I would always remember. My eldest daughter sang a song about peace in a school assembly yesterday, she asked me about war and soldiers, and I didn’t really know what to say but that it made me so sad.

N’oubliez pas.

War is complex, horrible, evil. As a Christian, I have felt lead to a path of peace-making but it’s an “uneasy pacifism” because I don’t know how it looks all the time, how best to live a consistent pro-life ethic with peace and love in a culture of violence, power and war. I know that pacifism is not total and absolute abhorrence of all violence – instead, to me, it’s a policy of non-aggression and active peace-making.

It’s living in the tension between my beautiful ideals and the ugly realities of the world, figuring out how to make-peace every day.

God, I’m so proud of him. I’m proud of my grandpa’s guts, of his bravery, his story. I’m proud of an entire generation’s commitment to a cause, proud of what they accomplished, proud of what they did in the face of fear and uncertainty.

I can’t bring myself to wear a pacifist’s white poppy. No, I need the blood-red one - baggage and uneasy pacifism, wonderings and tension, be damned.

This weekend, I remember my grandpa, I remember his friends, I remember my friends – and their husbands and wives, I remember every man and woman who has served in war-time. I remember the true cost and the reality of war. I listen to my daughter sing in her childish voice a song she can’t even fathom yet, and I will pass on the memories that I still carry of the look in his eye, that day he said: we were just kids. And I was so scared.

This is no day for nationalistic flag-waving nor idealistic condemnation. It’s a day for solemn remembrance, quiet knowing. One eye on the fields still covered with poppies, watered with blood and shit and mud, and on the wartorn homes of the world, for those that shall never grow old, the years never marking them.

May our veterans know how deeply I grieve with them, pray for them, love them, honour them. I fervently pray and speak and work for peace because I remember.

I will not break faith with them.

Lest we forget.

Continue Reading · canada, peace, war · 20

In which it’s not much fun being The Project

My parents were decidedly anti-establishment when it came to religion and politics, particularly my father (don’t ever get him started about Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau….). So we came to faith in an unorthodox way, and we participated in small, organic, faith communities, we were never The Moral Majority up here. I still feel more comfortable in school gymnasiums, kitchen tables, forests, and pubs for church, than I do in the monuments to the modern mega church movement.

While I was growing up, American men were always arriving in Canada as missionaries or church planters. They would show up, ready for the mission of “Reaching Canada For Christ.” They usually had a bit of famous-name-power (or thought they did). I lost count of how many “revivals” I sat through, listening to all of the ways that the Canadian church was failing, the ways that Canada was going to hell in a hand-basket, the litany of how we did it wrong, and God had called them here to show us how to do this faith thing the right way and, then, “we would see a  move of God like nothing ever seen before, bless God!”

One after another, their big projects, their church plants, their ministry launches, they all failed. And quickly. In less time than it takes to travel once around the sun, these charismatic preachers went home to the Bible belt, and their parting shot? It was our fault. “You Canadians” are a hard-hearted people. (Now, I think they meant that we weren’t as loud or communicative as they would like, they prefer a big show of emotion and we weren’t very good at that kind of thing, you see. We didn’t respond according to the textbook.)

I wonder now if it’s not so much “Reaching Canada For Christ” as wanting us to adopt their version of church and culture and success. They wanted us to worship like them, to lead like them, to process like them, to think like them. They truly believed that their way was the Biblical and Best way.  Bless them, it must have been hard and confusing work in a different culture.

They left a lot of hurt in their wake. The wounds inflicted still ripple out, far-reaching, in a way that their pet missionary project never did.

I’ll be honest: it’s not much fun being The Project. No one likes being a Mission Field or Project or Prop or Photo Op.  No one likes being talked down to, or patronized, or condescended. No one likes being Talked At or Talked About, it’s not fun to be generalized or stereotyped. (In the years since then, I’ve learned a bit more about postmodernism, and post-Christian culture, about missional church, about the contextualization of the Gospel, all of that stuff. That helps me understand a bit more of what happened there, and why those guys failed. And why it keeps happening. And I don’t feel bitter or resentful of the frequent arrivals and departures of missionaries, not in the least, some of them do great work, and I’m thankful for them. I try my best to assign positive intentions to these types of things, and give grace because God knows how many times I’ve done something eerily similar, and tried to make my way of understanding God and Church and Life equate with The Way, and I’ve probably hurt others in my blind zeal. In fact, I know I have. And I hate that.)

When I went to Haiti, I was reminded of those guys arriving in Canada. (Not exactly apples-to-oranges, I’ll grant you.)

I wondered if Haitians feel the same way sometimes about all of the Westerners arriving on their island to “show them the right way” to do everything from construction to Jesus. Is it humbling? Is it hurtful? Is there a way to partake in community development and discipleship without ethnocentric posturing, without railroading context and culture and wisdom? Is there a way to come alongside one another with tenderness and grace and friendship, honouring dignity and context, with humility?

I wondered how many people show up, determined to “Reach Haiti for Christ”, in their matching Mission Trip T-Shirts, and then blunder and hurt  in their ignorant good intentions, before leaving to never return, only the wound remaining to fester. (Check out JR Goudeau’s series on poverty for some great perspectives on this.)

The problem was never that these guys came to Canada with the intention of reaching Canada for Christ. (I imagine them with very sincere intentions.) The problem was the way they did it. The problem was that we were their Project, we were their Mission Field.  We weren’t their friends.  And they were quick to leave us, to never return, to blame failures on us.

They didn’t see the ways that God was already at work among us.

God didn’t arrive in our community when they showed up; He was here all along. (He still is.)

I think the same way about Haiti. God is already at work among there, in new and beautiful ways, and we have much to learn FROM Haiti. God did not arrive in Haiti with the mission-trippers and NGOs. Tara Livesay said it so beautifully:

With each passing season I’m more and more convinced that the kindest, most loving, and most respectful, most relational thing we can ever do is to just rete (stay) and koute (listen). Don’t come to teach.  Come to learn. Don’t come to tell. Come to listen. Don’t come to accomplish. Come to sit. Come to stay. Come to build one thing: relationship. Whenever I take an opportunity to truly do that, I am humbled and I learn.

I have decided (for now anyway) that how we do a thing is as much a part of the redemptive story of God as the conclusion of it all.

That was part of what I loved about the team at Help One Now – everywhere we went, people said, “Oh, you’re the ones who come back!” And I loved that about Heartline, too: the inherent friendship, the team atmosphere, the respect for each other, was palpable. What a difference from what I had experienced or heard about “missionaries” and mission trips!

The Kingdom of God is not about numbers and success stories, about outposts and flag plantings, about projects and missions, about slide shows in church with smiling brown babies, about compelling blog posts and child sponsorship manifestos.

The kingdom of God is a seed, a grain of wheat, the kingdom of God is a treasure in a field, it’s leaven in the bread, it’s a feast, and a wedding, and a party, it’s the forever way, there isn’t a flash-in-the-pan performance with God’s ways. And the people of God are salt, and light, a city on a hill.

There aren’t any “big things” for God anyway, in my opinion.

I think that the people of God stay when everyone else leaves to the next sexy project or cause.

We’re the people who love, who push back darkness together, we freely give honour and dignity. We make friends.

And we’re the ones who come back, the ones who learn before we teach, the ones who listen, and the ones who stay.

 

 

 

Continue Reading · canada, faith, Haiti, social justice · 58