Navigation

Archive | canada

What the Church Could Learn From the New Canadian Cabinet

Photo credit: CTV News

Photo source: Creative Commons

It’s not too often that the world is very interested in the Canadian federal election.

Things have changed.

For the past ten years the Conservative Party has been in power here in Canada. In a parliamentary system, this meant that their leader, now former Prime Minister Stephen Harper, had been at the helm, relatively uncontested by the more left-leaning parties. But in our recent election, change had been brewing and the storm finally broke over Ottawa. In a landslide victory, the Liberal Party took the majority of the seats across the nation and became the party in power. The Conservatives are now Her Majesty’s Official Opposition and the New Democratic Party is back in their familiar territory as third-place in the House of Commons. The leader for the Liberal Party has become our Prime Minister, the leader of our nation. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau (whose father was former and now late Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau) is now our first Prime Minister from my own generation and he’s moving into 24 Sussex Drive with his young family.

Personally I didn’t vote for the Liberal Party but like many Canadians, I spent the morning of the swearing-in for the new cabinet glued to my television, cheering and even finding myself a bit teary. And it wasn’t only because it’s such a privilege to witness a peaceful transfer of power in this day and age.

So why the elation?

Because – arguably for the first time – the cabinet finally looks like Canada and reflects our values.

I’ve been quite cynical about politics over the past ten or fifteen years, like most Gen-Xers, I’ve given up on the sport. I still show up to vote but my expectations for real and lasting change or positive impact is subterranean.

But this cabinet ceremony gave me hope because of what I saw with my eyes: equality, inclusion, and diversity.

First of all, our new Prime Minister followed through on a campaign promise to form the first gender-equal cabinet. Out of 30 cabinet positions, 15 of them went to women. And we’re not talking the Mickey Mouse spots, women hold priority portfolios. Each of these women were chosen based on their merit, not simply because of their gender. They legitimately earned their spots. Women are now serving as Minister of Justice, Minister of Environment and Climate Change, Minister of Trade, Minister of Employment, Workforce Development, and Labour, and even Chief of Staff. Don’t get me wrong: I’m still plenty cynical about politics and I’m under no illusions of perfection, there are still gaps. But even so.

Other bright spots of the day’s events for me were:

  • Jody Wilson-Raybould became the first female Aboriginal Justice Minister in Canadian history. With a promised inquiry into murdered and missing Aboriginal women on the top of many of our minds, her appointment is powerful statement. Plus, she’s a total boss.
  • Maryam Monsef was a refugee to Canada from Afghanistan in the 90s along with her mother and sisters after the Taliban killed her father. Now she’s serving as the Minister of Democratic Reform. During this current refugee crisis, I think it sends a powerful message.
  • The Minister for the Status of Woman is actually a woman. (Imagine that!)
  • Really, across the board, quite a few Canadians are feeling mighty proud of this cabinet for many reasons.

As I watched the ceremony, I kept one eye on my Twitter feed. Across Canada, people were – for the most part – celebrating these choices because they so tangibly represented our values.

Whether one voted for the Liberal Party of not, Canadians were thrilled to see a cabinet that reflected a fuller picture of who we are – First Nations, immigrants and born-and-raised Canadians, men and women, regional representation, gay and straight, Christian and Sikh and atheist and Muslim among other religions, differently abled, different socio-economic stories, and so on.

At the press conference following the swearing-in ceremony, Prime Minister Trudeau was asked why gender parity was so important to him. Perhaps we were all expecting a few carefully crafted talking points, the typical boring old political speech with stats and taglines designed to humble brag a bit and provide a snippet for the evening news.

But instead, our new Prime Minister said, straight-forward and without guile, “Because it’s 2015” and then he shrugged like a hockey player picking a fight, as if to say “come at me, bro.”

Mic drop.

Of course, as you all know, I love to over-spiritualize all the things so I began to think….

So often we hear from Christians that we value these same things….we claim to honour women and minorities and other ones our culture often despises or disappoints or devastates like refugees or immigrants or the differently abled or indigenous, the marginalized and oppressed and so on. We claim to honour the “least of these” and to be a people who lay down power, who believe that the greatest is the servant, and that the way to really get ahead in the Kingdom of God is to put others first, to amplify other voices, to make room at the table. We want to be a beacon, a city on a hill, an outpost for the Kingdom of God. We see in Scripture a vision for the Kingdom of God that celebrates every nation and every tribe, every tongue and every person.

But instead, we often simply maintain the status quo in our churches and on our conference stages and in our non-profits or parachurch ministries: white men up front and in the lead. 

And so the church can be just like most of the world, perpetuating archaic and cultural standards for leadership, rather than God’s standards for leadership, just doing things the way they’ve always been done with the same people. 

I believe it’s past time for the church to prophetically lead here. For too long, we’ve confused a 1950s Leave It to Beaver episode with the wild ways of the upside down Kingdom of God.

The world is hungry to see what reconciliation and equality look like – so what if we made it a priority to model it?

What if we placed a priority on gender parity in our pastoral staff?

What if we made it a priority to give positions of power and visibility and vital decisions to people who come from a different socio-economic backgrounds?

What if we didn’t just look for a balanced photo op to keep Twitter off our back but instead really and truly welcomed and promoted and amplified the voices and experiences of women, minorities, immigrants, refugees, or those less formally educated right into valuable positions of power and influence at our conferences?

For too long we’ve hidden in the false justification that “there just aren’t enough leaders of colour or women or whomever” to choose. That’s a lie. And it’s an admission that your circle is too small. The leaders already exist. And we won’t lose a single speck of leadership capability or anointing by choosing them either – no one’s asking for a hand-out, buddy, don’t do us any favours.  

And while I’m at it, how about that equal pay, folks?

Can’t you see? By placing a priority on the Kingdom ways, the entire church will receive the favour, we only stand to benefit and to be blessed from a richer tapestry of leadership, a vision for leadership that includes the whole people of God.  

I think this commitment to equality in our institutions would signal hope. It would signal that we believe what we preach about the ways of Jesus. I think it would signal that we actually believe that we have much to learn and that sharing power is prophetic. I think it would signal that we honour the ones whom the world dishonours, that this is a safe place and a good place and a holy place.

I think it would change our churches and our ministries and each other for the better as we learn friendship and respect for one another. I think it would change how we minister and how we worship and how we speak of the mysteries of God and how we read Scripture. I think it would change the church coming up behind us and heading into the future, we would see leaders empowered among our children from all corners.

I think we would be changed, from the inside out, as a worldwide church – transformed even.

I think it would surprise and amaze and intrigue the world, giving a glimpse of what God intended for wholeness within the body of Christ – and it would be a sigh of “finally at last” from the Holy Spirit.

And then when people ask us, why is it so important to you? Why is it so important to you to have men and women leading together, to have visible minorities in positions of power, to seek out and elevate and amplify and submit yourselves the voices of people outside the usual leadership and power narratives? Why do you make it a priority to model this crazy way of working together?

Then we can reply it’s not because it’s 2015, but because this is the Kingdom of God, hallelujah, taste and see.

So, what would it look like if our churches looked like what Scripture tells us about the Kingdom of God?

I think they just might look a lot more like the new Canadian cabinet.

 

Continue Reading · canada, church, social justice, women · 24

Ron and Hermione

Ron and Hermione :: Sarah Bessey

We don’t have a big yard, its about the size of a couple postage stamps, give or take a few images of the Queen. But we do have a forest just behind the ordinary chain link fence, a dense coastal forest filled with cedars and squirrels, spirea mountain ash and coyotes. Every September, a mama bear and her cub lumber through for a few weeks and we keep our tinies inside or  carefully supervise them instead of what we usually do: open the door, set the boundaries – “this house to this house, our yard and your best friend’s yard” – and let them go. We have salmonberry bushes and blackberry bushes tangled up around a little creek that runs through, we poke our hands through the thickets, braving scratches, for the first berries of the year. By August, we’ll be sick of blackberries, the jam will already be made.

We don’t live in the wilderness, just a quiet little neighbourhood of semi-detached homes on the edge of town in the valley. We’re next to a blueberry farm. We have been thinking seriously about moving this year. We got so far as to buy a house and set our moving dates but then for a few reasons, it all fell apart. Now that it’s been a few weeks since that disappointment, I’ve come to see the grace hiding in that falling apart. It’s a small thing in the scheme of things, I know, but it loomed large for our little family and was the source of much conversation. We continue to weigh our options, should we stay or should we go?

And life continues. I’m in the midst of editing the new book which is slow going in this season. I stop frequently to nurse the baby or to make lunch or to pick up the tinies from the bus stop. I have a babysitter for our preschooler two mornings a week which is an enormous help. My husband takes the three big kids to my parents’ place for the day on a Saturday now and again, giving me the house and the baby to myself as I try to put a chapter to bed. Serendipitously, two weekends ago when he did that, it was a chapter about how discussions of theology need ordinary people to be involved, how well-educated and well-read and well-travelled scholars also need us low church experiential local folks talking about how we see and experience and know God, about how theologians are hiding in every walk of life. I wrote those words at my kitchen table with the youngest of four tinies beside me, snoring. Naptime writing is urgent writing, sometimes I think it might be my best thinking. This isn’t speculation: if theology – how we think about God and then how we live that out – isn’t for all of us, then what is it even for?

Caring for small children, being a homemaker, can be repetitive and ordinary: laundry, cleaning bathtubs, long walks made twice as long by wandering and questions, grocery shopping, nursing, all of it. Life is rarely as exciting as people like for it to appear on Facebook. We go to church, we participate in leadership meetings to shape the conversations of our communities, we pray for our friends, we make meals, I write posts and articles and books about God, we wash our minivans, we set up the sprinkler for the neighbourhood kids and hand out freezies to hopeful hands, we go to work, we talk about the people we know. Sacred and beautiful, sure, I’ll say that, but also slow and daily and sometimes monotonous, too.

But even in that ordinary work, I keep trying to give shape to the new world, to the dangerous possibilities of living our lives right now as if God saved everything, as if it is all redeemed or being redeemed. If what I believe about Love doesn’t find a roost here in my regular and ordinary and unremarkable life where I learn and practice what Eugene Peterson called “the biggest nouns and verbs,” then I have no right to those words in moments of transformation and change and importance. There are chickadees perched on the railings of the deck, just for a few seconds. They fly in, perch, flinch, and depart, over and over. I like to think they’re all checking for the crumbs leftover from the weekend of eating outside. Maybe they know which house has messy eaters.

My husband and I sat outside on Saturday night, watching the sun set. It’s nearly summer solstice and the days are long. We put the tinies to bed in broad daylight and settled onto our back deck, facing the forest. The sun sank behind the house and that last golden light of the day hit the trees. In the morning, the light is cool and white and sharpening; but in the evening, it’s warm and liquid, it softens the forest.

Brian and I talked about the regular things: should we move? should we stay? We talked about the kids and about work, about the plan for the week ahead. I’m distrustful of people who always seem to be thinking of deep spiritual things, always striving and going-going-going: I think they must be horrible to live with. I think we need the humanity of laughter and Netflix and ordinary life. We poured a glass of white wine each and wrapped ourselves up in blankets. Joe is reading under the covers with a flashlight, I think tonight he’s reading James and the Giant Peach. Anne has left Babysitters Club books littered around the house, Evelynn is devoted to Robert Munsch these days, of course – that slapstick humour perfectly suits her. I secretly love when they sneak-read. Is there any reading more delicious than that sneaky after-bedtime reading when you are a child? The evenings are still cold when the darkness gathers.

We were waiting for our owls. We have two owls out back, I’m not quite sure what kind, perhaps a western screech owl. We have heard that owls mate for life. I don’t know if that’s true or legend, but every year, we see two owls in the summer nights, year after year after year. Our owls come out to hunt. We like to sit there in the near-dark and watch them, swooping down to the forest floor, returning to rest on the branches of the trees with their prizes.

We had a long discussion about what to name our owls, pairs of names are always fun to consider. Romeo and Juliet? Peanut and Butter? Antony and Cleopatra? Nip and Tuck, á la The Blue Castle? Anne and Gilbert? Elizabeth and Darcy? We settled on Ron and Hermione since, well, they are owls and so the Harry Potter books are entirely appropriate.

I don’t think we’re going to move. And it’s entirely the fault of the forest. I live in a tidy little neighbourhood of identical houses, sure, and I don’t have a yard, I get it. But we have the silence of the night and a creek, we have Ron and Hermione, we have the trees, and I don’t think I’m ready to give that up. Maybe I’ll change my mind. A trampoline and a garden would be nice.

When life can feel a bit dull and prosaic, my forest nights somehow keep me grounded in the dense amazement of being alive. I remembered an old Roald Dahl quote I read once, “And above all, watch with glittering eyes the whole world around you because the greatest secrets are always hidden in the most unlikely places. Those who don’t believe in magic will never find it.”

I believe in magic.

I believe in ordinary and repetitive and daily boring life and the way magic hides in plain sight.

I believe in church picnics and breastfeeding, I believe books matter and summer nights are for sitting outside while the sun sets. I believe in good coffee and eating berries off the bush. I believe in going for walks with children because they are so slow and perfectly inefficient. I believe our theology is formed in our lives and experiences, and I believe we need to listen to each other. I believe in working hard and loving what we do. I believe in unsupervised children and sidewalk chalk and sprinklers. I believe in kitchen tables and piles of books. I believe in windows being wide open while sun-tanned children go to sleep at a reasonable hour so that they can read under the covers with a flashlight. I believe in heavy blankets for cool summer nights and long conversations over a shared bottle of wine, I believe love lasts a lifetime even if it changes, and I believe in birdsong in the morning. I believe in owls.

image source

Continue Reading · canada, enough, faith, family, journey, love, marriage, moments · 38

What church planters can learn from Target’s failure in Canada

24266506_BG1

Target has failed in Canada. And I can’t say that I’m surprised. But it’s not because I know much about retail. My notable retail experience includes three years working at Smart Set in Southcentre Mall during high school. I was excellent at folding t-shirts for the 2 for $25 table. Oh, and I worked the music department at Chapters back in the days of music departments with old-fashioned items like CDs. Bless.

Nope, a retail giant analyst I am not, but what I do have I offer to you: regular old church experience.

Most of my childhood and teenage years as a neo-charismatic Christian in western Canada can be characterized by an almost identical exercise: a big American name comes to Canada to Reach Canada for Christ™, plant a church, and then in rather short order, heads back over the border, usually while blaming us for the failure.

That sounds a bit bald and harsh, but I don’t mean to be. It’s simply been my experience. So first, let me say this: I’ve seen church plants succeed in Canada. Many of them, in fact. Some of them followed the Church Planter Handbook that must exist somewhere (i.e. don’t even TRY unless you have $100K in the bank and a rockin’ worship team) and others have been messy organic and unlikely. All of them bring me great joy. I love to hear of new churches opening around us – we are a people of abundance, not scarcity! Also worth noting is that in the midst of these imperfect scenarios, there were lives changed, people saved and set free.

And yet this has been my experience and so I admit, I’m a bit wary now of outsiders coming into Canada as self-appointed missionaries to Reach Canada For Christ™. I’m not quite at the “get off my lawn” stage yet though. So when news broke today about Target’s abject and utter failure to expand into Canada, I began to think this morning about how church planters to Canada (or even within Canada) can learn from the Target failure.

So off the top of my head, here’s a few connections I made between Target and outsider-church-planting in Canada:

1. Target tried to open American stores in Canada. That sounds a bit silly when I write it out but here’s what I mean: Americans often tried to start American churches in Canada. They wanted churches that looked like American churches and they wanted people who thought like Americans. And then there would be frustration because we weren’t, well, American. We didn’t worship like Americans, we didn’t have the same values at times, we thought differently or had different context. It felt like we spoke different languages. For instance, I’ve seen American preachers get so frustrated because we listen to sermons instead of hollering back. Or would import a lot of American teaching or values cloaked in Jesus-y language, conflating the two. Instead of adjusting for that difference, the leadership often just tried harder to make us fit their version of Christian. It felt more like they were trying to colonize us into American Christians than make disciples. The kicker? when they quit and left, it was always with the parting shot that it was our fault. We didn’t play by their rules.

2. Target was out of stock of the essentials. When people went to Target, they simply never found what they actually went there to get. It’s hard to miss this metaphor for the church in Canada. Often what we have to offer as a church isn’t what people actually want. Canada isn’t the United States and we aren’t Europe either. Each community has its own religious history and even that changes drastically from neighbourhood to home. For instance, I grew up in a post-Christian pocket of western Canada where I didn’t have a single Christian friend or teacher to my knowledge. Meanwhile, folks my age here in Abbotsford mostly grew up either Mennonite or Sikh. (And yes, I’ve learned to appreciate both Indian food and Ukranian food.)

3. Target went too fast. In less than a year, the retail giant created 133 stores and a few distribution centres. From a church perspective, I saw many church planters fail because they also went too fast. They landed and set up shop quickly. They weren’t part of the community, they had no friends, they didn’t take the time to live among us and with us. They had no base and they often kept a strong line between “them” and “us.” Instead of becoming part of our lives, instead of developing a theology of place, they simply parachuted into our lives and then, when it didn’t go well, they left us. And just as the retail workers at Target are left in the lurch, our small congregations were often left to scatter in the aftermath, trying to find healing as best they could. At times, it was devastating. There are many friends of mine from that season of life who have simply given up on church because of these flash-in-the-pan experiences. We felt expendable: useful when they had their big big plans for their big big ministry launch but when things got tough, we were left behind. They didn’t love us and it became obvious. We were a project, not people.

4. Target refused to allow people in Canada to lead. Like most retail giants, leadership isn’t valued as much as management. We often saw the church planters come with Their Vision and Their People and Their Six Month Plan: we were there simply to execute their plan. Our input was not required. The planter was The Man of God, we were the dumb yet adorable sheep here to be led, not to co-lead or contribute. There wasn’t a teachable spirit to the leadership which is interesting to me now, twenty-odd years later, because I remember the folks there and there were some incredible leaders among them. It seems like a dehumanizing waste to turn them into pew fodder or cogs for the machine. There are bigger questions here about discipleship, leadership, and the purpose of the church, of course, but I’ll leave it there.

5. Target didn’t connect to the communities where they set up shop. The leaders often didn’t consult the area churches, leaders, or believers. They simply showed up and started without a thought for other believers already labouring in that field. They didn’t take the time to become part of the team – maybe because they thought they were above the team? who knows. Our church communities might be small but they are strong. I often joke that here in western Canada, if you’re a Christian, we either know you or we know someone who knows you. Our world is small and there isn’t anywhere to hide. Burning bridges is harder when you have a small community of believers. That small community is one of our great assets – we cheer each other on, work together on projects, and avoid competitiveness with each other (speaking generally, of course). I love how churches in our area work together so well, so often particularly when it comes to major events or causes. But by not connecting to their community, these leaders often missed opportunities to learn and to be part of something amazing.

I’ll miss Target in theory. I feel incredibly sad for their employees today.

But the truth is that I didn’t shop there either. 

image source

Continue Reading · canada, church planting · 108

In which I offer a Christian response to #IdleNoMore

stand-up_0

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 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 · 59