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In which redemptive violence is a myth for Syria

Peace is not merely a distant goal

I am not an isolationist. We belong to each other, of course, we do. The people of Syria are our people. This vicious civil war has been going on since spring 2011 and Syria’s children dying horrific deaths, her activists have been murdered, more than 100,000 of her people have been killed, some of them with the neuro-toxins of chemical warfare, and there are 2 million – million! – refugees.

Who could isolate themselves from such suffering? Who would turn away from such evil?

And yet I am absolutely against any military intervention in Syria.

Bombing Syria will not solve a single thing in this conflict and it will bear repercussions for decades. Precedent has been set by other conflicts, particularly in the Middle East, that bombings are not strategic and military intervention will not fix anything, particularly over the long term.

There are many logistical, political, reasonable, legal, and just-plain-common-sense reasons for our nations to avoid bombing or military action in Syria. (Check out questions 6 & 7 in this article at the Washington Post, 9 Questions About Syria You Were Too Embarrassed to Ask)

But beyond the obvious and well-documented reasons and precedents to avoid military conflict in the Middle East again,  let me add this reminder:

Redemptive violence is a myth.

In the same way that I want to be a feminist in the way that I believe Jesus would be a feminist, I want to engage with world conflict in the way I believe Jesus would engage with world conflict. I believe that followers of Jesus should never be the ones calling out for war or bombings or violence of any kind. Violence is evil, and partaking in violence will never bring about real or lasting peace. Each side in this conflict believes they are in the right and it’s clear there is no “good guy” here. Violence continues and spirals and worsens and there is no redemption in sight. Why would we contribute to that evil in any way?

We sow the wind, as the prophet Hosea warned, and then we are surprised when we reap the whirlwind.

As followers of Jesus, we are meant to live the ways of our Saviour into every corner of our existence. In this instance, I support and engage with efforts advocating for immediate care of refugees, worldwide diplomatic pressure and dialogue, particularly with Syria’s neighbours and allies, and a strong commitment to the practice of non-violence. We should be the voices and hands of peace making in our world. Walter Wink calls this “the third way” – the action alternative from military intervention and isolationism.

Non-violence isn’t passive: it’s active and hard and real. It’s a discipline and it subverts violence with radical peace-making.

Disciples of Jesus are meant to live as ambassadors and signs of God’s shalom. Peace-making is not for the faint of heart and it is the prophetic call of the believer.

We must pursue the third way – not passive and yet not violent, this is the way of the peace maker.

Go on and write or call or email your government to make sure your voice is heard.

Go on and give money NGOs and ministries working to relieve suffering, particularly for refugees, and to end conflict within Syria.

Go on and become active in the refugee community of our city.

Go on and speak up in your community and take the side of peace making.

Go on and sign petitions or participate in peaceful protest.

Go on and educate yourself.

And go on and pray – with your voices, your spirits, your bodies – for peace.

 

Continue Reading · peace, politics, social justice · 28

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 I hope you never leave us

 

You’re always a bit more, aren’t you, Quebec? You’ve always been the one in the family that locks herself in the washroom, weeping, the one that drinks too much, the one that makes love on cobblestone streets, the one that shouts that no one in this family loves me, no one understands me! ever! before storming away again while half of us chase you, begging you to stay, and the other half mutter good riddance. Quebec, you’ve always had the best food, we know it, God, you can cook, only you would give the world towering smoked meat sandwiches and poutine, a dish that no one believes is real, and everyone thinks sounds like too much, until they taste it and then, all of the Too Much is rich, and decadent, and satisfying. But you’re more than the stereotypes, we all know that, but those of us here in the west, the children of the protestant hard-workers, are befuddled by you.

Quebec, I first fell in love with you in 1995, during the referendum years. Just a high school girl in Alberta, I was probably everything you wanted to leave behind, when you packed up the station wagon, and roared away, sobbing that it was really, truly over this time. I remember waking up every day, rushing to the newspaper for news of your whereabouts, writing book reports as love letters, how I felt like you were breaking up the family, being unreasonable, and yet loved you for it, just the same.  With my friends, I wrote long-hand letters, detailing the reasons why we wanted you to stay with us, and they were sent, bearing stamps of the Queen’s image, to high school kids that wouldn’t be able to read them without a translator.

Source: tumblr.com via Sarah on Pinterest

 

I dated one of your sons in those years, do you remember? His sweet and gentle parents were from a small town on the St. Lawrence, and I was as in love with them, as I was with that dark-haired boy. They prayed over our meals en francais, and I practiced my French until my accent was sublime, but we broke up, and when I stopped kissing that boy with the dark curls in the backseat of his father’s Honda hatchback, his mother-tongue all flew away from my mouth for good. I wonder if that brief spot of near-fluency was a good-faith gift from you, just for a time, just for that family.

I’ve never been further east in Canada than Toronto (and I was unimpressed, I’ll be honest). There is a lot about you that I just don’t understand, and so I’ve had to rely on your emigrants to my world, on the newspapers, on novels, on good music, on school french classes for a decade, and food so rich, it burns money in the evenings around real fireplaces. Montréal, I’ve longed for you, the way that some people long for Paris, and when your protests go on and on and on, and you bang pots and pans and rattle the doors until the wee sma’s, I feel like you’re braver than me, ballsier than the rest of us, and you will not be denied.

I may not be checking the newspaper to read about you every morning now (doesn’t that sound so quaint now?). But I’m watching, listening to you, I promise, from nearly the furthest point west from your borders, and I’m trying to teach my tinies our languages, and there is a knot of dread, about the size of a peach pit, right in the centre of me, over the looming spectres of you leaving us, all over again. I like our family better with you in it, but this time, you don’t seem angry, you seem determined.

So here I am, next to a blueberry field, next to a rainforest mountain, in the west, and I care what is happening to you, yes, I do. Your elections last night unfurled with violence and surprise and drama, with footage of people in the dark and flashing lights. I sat and watched and thought, of course, of course. Your elections are fraught affairs, nothing of the BC snipping and finger-pointing and lip-pursing, even your politicians are too much for the rest of us, while we endure more of not enough.

Darling, I know your minority government has big plans for the dreams of the separatists, but here, before you pack the trunk of the car, meaning it this time, let me tell you this: we love you. I hope today goes well for you. I hope everyone is well and whole and calm. And I hope you never change, I hope you stay with us forever.

 

Continue Reading · canada, love, politics · 17

In which I don’t understand Syria

This week, Egypt is figuring out their first election, and, you, Syria, you are burying your babies in Houla.

I don’t know you very well, Syria, but today, my heart is with you. I can hardly bear to look at the images, to read the news trickling from your borders, in a smuggled and anguished whisper? It’s been more than a year, we all rallied on Twitter and cheered the Arab Spring, now it’s months and months later, I watch the news and almost the only thing I can say, almost the only thing any of us have been able to say for more than a year, is what the hell is going on in Syria? How is this happening?

You’re at a tipping point now, the UN tells us, since the massacre at Houla. The peace plan has not been implemented. There is no humanitarian corridor. Refugees are trapped. The massacres, the torture, the bombings, the systematic rape of your women and your young men, the bloodshed, it continues, and somehow, still, you are hopeful that you will be free.

Or so I hear.

Image via BBC News

Today my government expelled the regime’s diplomats from our country. This step of isolation is a necessary diplomatic one, probably long overdue, but it doesn’t feel like enough, when I see the mass graves, when the grieving men lift up the bodies of their children to shove their lifeless and crippled bodies at the television cameras, here, here, here, you are keening and begging us all to look at your children, look at them, there, dead in your arms.

I had to turn away, I could not bear the sight of your loss and grief.

I don’t understand you very well, Syria, we’re so far away from each other in so many ways. I don’t understand the politics, I don’t understand the religion, I don’t understand the nuances and the sides, I don’t understand the history, I don’t understand how and why and who. I want to understand, I want to know more, but I don’t think I ever could truly understand, how could I?

But here, in my safe and secure home, in free and democratic Canada, I want to understand you, I want to stand with you for peace. I understand grief, I understand fear, I understand love, I understand justice, I understand the yearning for freedom, I understand courage, I understand the human spirit, and I see those beautiful and tragic truths in your people.  I am weeping for your children, for you my Syrian sisters and brothers, and I am praying for peace, praying for strength, I am praying like it matters.

Be strong. We are with you.

To donate towards humanitarian relief, check out the International Committee of the Red Cross (working with Syria’s Arab Red Crescent.)

 

 

Continue Reading · peace, politics, social justice · 12