On Valentine’s Day, February 14, I am writing about all the love I’ve witnessed in Victoria and throughout Canada these past weeks. An epistle on love may seem an odd juxtaposition with today’s gospel reading in which Jesus talks about all kinds of thorny issues, some of which cause pain, but Jesus is helping us imagine our best selves. Jesus wants us to live into the dominion of God’s love in this speech that is part of the Sermon on the Mount. So let us imagine in Canada living our best collective selves.
Love of children
When Jesus talks about love and faithfulness he often refers to love for children (Matthew 19:14). He calls us not to impede children, but to care for them. This past week I had the privilege of spending time with youth and students gathered at the BC Legislature. Indigenous youth and students gathered for six days and six nights, camping under the portico of the ceremonial gates. They stood in solidarity with the Wet’suwet’en Nation in Northern BC who were being forcibly removed from their land.
Led by youth and students, I also witnessed families with little children gather for drumming, chanting, and gathering around the ceremonial fire. In the evenings there was a jubilant atmosphere like a block party. I remember one little girl playing a game of Pictionary with her sibling.
These gatherings tie in to Stolen Sisters and the empowering of Indigenous women and girls. Many of the leaders are young women, advocating for a safer and better future for women and girls. Some of you may have joined the Stolen Sisters march that took place Feb. 15 in downtown Victoria, remembering murdered and missing Indigenous women and girls.
While things intensified this past Tuesday, February 11, when youth and students temporarily shut down the legislature, the gatherings remained non-violent.
This past Monday evening I joined several Anglican colleagues and two of us stayed overnight. Sleeping in a sleeping bag on a sidewalk near the inner harbour is not what I would call comfortable. In the morning some of us were waiting for a café to open across the street and to use the bathroom. One student said, “I slept much better than I thought.” This made me realize in part why this kind of movement is led by the young because their bodies can take it. That evening I witnessed people gathered chatting, telling jokes, until late into the night. While others set up camp to try to get some sleep. Overall I would describe it as a spirit of love.
Nevertheless media portrayals of the youth camp at the legislature have been less than flattering. There are headlines including the words “lawless” and “violent.” I think leaders and authorities simply freaked out when a bunch of kids and students had the audacity to disrupt the throne speech.
Hearing from others concerned about disruptive actions across Canada including bridge, ferry, and rail blockades, occupying offices of elected leaders and banks, it is understandable the situation is tense. With a little empathy both for Indigenous youth and students, as well as those whose jobs are impacted, we can understand where anger is coming from on different sides.
Nevertheless, I think the current crisis for government, is an opportunity for us as church to live into Jesus’ love with Indigenous neighbours. Spending time with folks I witnessed the strength of community. I witnessed the love of God present in all of us, all our neighbours.
We’ve heard from some that reconciliation is dead in Canada given the state of things. Maybe that’s true. But I also know that through death comes new life. As the body of Christ, building trust and relationships one by one. We are in a unique position as church. It heartens me thinking about all the love you have for Indigenous neighbours. I think about the work of the Truth & Reconciliation Committee, as well as the congregation’s willingness to take on this work on a broader scale.
In our gospel reading Jesus urges us to come to terms with our accuser quickly. What does this mean in today’s context? This is a genuine question for us all to ask ourselves, our participating in power structures, perpetuating colonial injustices, etc. We’re all caught up in this.
I think of the tweet that Gidmin’tn Checkpoint of the Westsuweten Nation tweeted for Valentine’s Day: “Love is the movement. Be fierce and be kind. Speak with strength, dignity, respect, and honour. Remember we are all one. We are in this together. All our relations [heart emogi]. #VDay #loveisthemovement #WetsuwetenStrong #MMIWG.”
It’s important for us to keep in mind that love is the guiding principle behind all the direct action we are witnessing from coast to coast. We are connected together by love.
Walk with Anglicans
We think about how Jesus’ love is revealed in concrete expressions of love. On Wednesday at noon I joined Anglican Bishop Logan McMenamie and Anglican colleagues on a walk from Christ Church Cathedral to the Legislature. Originally the walk had been planned to bring greetings to Indigenous youth and students, but since they closed their camp on Tuesday evening, we arrived at a mostly empty legislature. There was a group of elementary school students from Brentwood Bay gathering there for a school outing and had signs of love and solidarity. We had hoped to have a simple prayer gathering on the front steps but as it was legislature staff were busy pressure washing the front steps, washing away any traces of the student camp. To their credit the youth and students spent several hours cleaning up their food supply tents, first aid, and an area used to store sleeping bags and hold sacred gatherings. They extinguished their ceremonial fire and a generous supply of firewood. Whatever ashes and crumbs were left were washed away. And yet the memory of that gathering hung in the air.
One thing Bishop Logan emphasized in a social media post linking the concerns of the Wet’suwet’en with Stolen Sisters is the following quote from a recent Anglican statement titled “Statement on Conflict on Wet’suwet’en unceded Territory:
“We share the concern that the MMIWG Final Report Calls for Justice 13.1-13.5 have not been addressed in the planning and implantation of the Coastal GasLink Pipeline. We call on the government of Canada and British Columbia, along with Coastal GasLink to “complete gender-based socio-economic impact assessments on” this project and “include provisions that address the impacts of projects on the safety and security of Indigenous women, girls, and 2SLGBTQQIA people.”
In others words, we’ve still got work to do. Love work. You could call this Bishop Logan’s love letter for Valentine’s Day.
At the legislature I met a man also named Lyndon. He is from Kelowna and is using his vacation time traveling around BC, participating in acts of love. He joined us for the prayer service at the legislature and posed for a photo with the group. You never know who the Spirit will send into your midst.
Jesus Intensifying Love
Turning towards our gospel reading. Today’s gospel reading isn’t everyone’s go-to gospel thinking about love. Commentator Eric Barreto suggests we look at the wider context of what Jesus is saying. While Jesus sounds judgy at times, think about the gospel as Jesus intensifying our commitments to love. Instead of obsessing about following rules or law, Jesus is challenging to go a step further, thinking about love and empathy. There is a movement between Jesus saying “you have heard it said” to “and I am intensifying this mandate…”
For example, Jesus escalates things from “You have heard it said you should not commit adultery” and Jesus backs this up into the way we think about and objectify other people. Isn’t this what the #MeToo movement has been trying to communicate? Rather than blaming women asking if they “asking for it” by wearing certain clothing or acting a certain way, Jesus turns the whole thing on its head. If a man is lusting, then perhaps the man should cut off a member that is causing him to stumble. You don’t hear the power preaches quoting this verse too often.
Here we also thinking about MMIWG, how race has often played a role in terms of the Highway of Tears and which missing person’s reports receive more public attention than others.
There are also difficult words about divorce in the gospel reading, which are especially hard to hear for anyone who has undergone a divorce. It is good to take a brief looks at unpacking these words. One thing that is helpful is to consider the context in which Jesus is speaking. At a time in which women had very little autonomy or financial independence, Jesus is empowering women in this passage. He is telling men they cannot divorce their wives and leave them destitute except under exceptional conditions. To turn it around, Jesus is telling us we have a duty to care for our spouses and ensure their financial wellbeing.
Unfortunately passages like these have too often been interpreted in legalistic ways that have caused harm. Today in which divorce is a legal consideration for the most part and not arbitrated by religious institutions, the reading can be hard. Remember that you are loved no matter what. Jesus reminds us to surround one another in grace and love. Our goal as church is to live into that love. We not urge people to remain in abusive or unloving relationships, but to care for one another, and sometimes ending relationships is the loving thing to do.
What kind of love have you witnessed these past weeks? I invite you to consider ways in which collectively as church we are living into this intensifying of love. Loving ways we are doing the work of building relationships with Indigenous peoples. Loving ways we are building trust among one another. On that note I invite any of you to book an appointment with Pr. Lyle or me to talk about issues you have on your mind, whether about the church’s solidarity with the Wetsuweten or anything else. I have enjoyed conversations I have been having with many of you in recent weeks.
Remember you are a child of God. You are loved. Go forth and love others. Amen.