This past week Denise, Pr. Lyle, and I attended the BC Synod Study Conference at Loon Lake near Maple Ridge, BC. It was the first time I had taken the ferry over to the mainland in over two years so that was significant in itself. It was the first time in three years we met together as colleagues in-person for the study conference. Really good to be together and gather for a time of fellowship and study. Someone remarked that it looked pretty fun judging by the photos shared on social media. I didn’t want to share photos of us sitting inside a conference room listening to speakers. It doesn’t make for great visual storytelling.
Nevertheless one of the keynote speakers was Bishop Barbara Andrews, retired Anglican bishop. She was bishop of the now defunct Diocese of the Cariboo. They needed to arbitrate settlements over residential school claims. Rather than arbitrate claims in court the diocese simply handed all of their assets over to the government for distribution among Indigenous claimants. I don’t know if it’s the only diocese that chose an intentional process like this, but they share a remarkable story. In consultation with Indigenous elders, the diocese was renamed a Territory of the People. In fact you can see what they are up to by visiting them online at TerritoryOfThePeople.ca.
Bishop Barbara was also well placed for mediating talk around reconciliation in part because she is Indigenous herself and carries a status card. She shared a lot of wise words around reconciliation with our group. I won’t try to summarize it all now, but a few things stood out that also come out in our scripture readings for the day.
Bishop Barbara said, “Reconciliation is about relationship, relationship, relationship.” She cautioned us measuring efforts in building bridges with Indigenous groups through grand gestures or programs. She emphasized that it’s about cultivating and nurturing relationships with Indigenous people we have in our everyday lives. The little things matter. Relationships matter.
We hear that relationships matter in our reading from Acts. Paul receives the vision from the man in Macedonia crying for help. Eventually Paul and others meet up with Lydia who hears and believes the word of God. She welcomes Paul to baptize her whole household. This is among the few stories we here in scripture about a woman as a business owner given agency over faith matters. The story here isn’t about Paul having a charismatic influence over a large crowd but rather a story about Lydia and her household. It’s a human story and one we can relate to on a more personal scale.
So too with reconciliation we don’t start with asking how we fix society-wide systemic issues but rather how we begin with the relationships we already have. Bishop Barbara noted often we forget the most important people and relationships in our lives who are closest to us. We have visions of something grander and we fail to consider the important work we are already doing and make sure we cultivate that.
Bishop Barbara noted that some Indigenous people absolutely hate the word “reconciliation.” Indigenous communities aren’t the ones who tend to use this word most often. She said we’re not just sitting around talking with fellow Indigenous people about how reconciliation is going. Nobody does that and in fact some Indigenous people see it as a shortcut some non-Indigenous people use to make ourselves feel better. To feel that things are getting better and that these problems of generational trauma and inequity are going away, even when often they are not.
Only two years ago as the pandemic restrictions were beginning I remember Shut Down Canada actions including in downtown Victoria that included the image of an upside down Canadian flag with the phrase, “Reconciliation is Dead.” I remember the anger non-Indigenous folks had when bridges, ports, and railways were shut down. And then contrast that when the convoy shut down main arteries of Ottawa and clogged highways, border crossings, and downtowns with truck traffic. It took weeks before public outcry rose and police responded. There were more white folks approving of convoy actions than there were of Shut Down Canada actions, the latter predominantly led by Indigenous folks. This is where it’s with humility that we build relationships and discuss questions around reconciliation as non-Indigenous people. It’s not for us to impose our will upon others.
Gord Hill, Kwakwaka’wakw artist in Alert Bay, BC, created a one page comic that names some of the challenges with reconciliation. It states, “According to the TRC, “In this context reconciliation means: the act of restoring a once harmonious relationship.” Critics point out that this implies there was a once harmonious relationship between Indigenous peoples and European settlers and colonial powers that just needs to be restored. The focus of residential schools however minimizes the impacts of colonialism including genocide and the theft of land and natural resources. The concept of reconciliation also ignores current and ongoing colonization, which has resulted in numerous confrontations between Indigenous peoples and state security forces over the last two decades. Many conflicts have arisen over land struggles, with one of the most recent being the Wet’suwet’en nation’s efforts to stop a natural gas pipeline. This struggle led to a large solidarity movement across the country led largely by Indigenous youth in early 2020. One of the main slogans used during this mobilization was “reconciliation is dead.” For how can reconciliation occur wen the colonial regime continues to impose its will on the Indigenous population and when the oppressive conditions under which they live do not fundamentally change…?”
A focus here is conditions for Indigenous people changing. Many of us may feel we are better read and more aware which is good. But we need to find ways to translate that into improved relationships and change.
There is a lot for us to consider. Again scripture is helpful for us as Christians discerning paths forward. In our gospel reading from John 14 Jesus talks about God building relationship with each of us. Jesus says, “Those who love me will keep my word, and my Father will love them, and we will come to them and make our home with them.” A little later Jesus goes on to foreshadow Pentecost and the sending of the Advocate or the Holy Spirit. In other words the Holy Trinity is about building relationship with us. Receiving Jesus we receive not only Jesus, but also the word of the Father or holy parent. And not only the holy parent but also the gift of the Holy Spirit. God as relationship desires to befriend us, to build relationship with us, and invite us into a way of holy world making rooted in love and reconciliation. And yet as Gord Hill reminds us, it’s not an act of reconciling when there wasn’t a good relationship to begin with.
Where does that leave us today? Bishop Barbara together with the Holy Spirit calls us back to work on relationships. However she gives caution that only if we are willing to approach the work of relationship building with humility. If we go in without sincerity and openness to being changed by the process we risk doing further damage. Better she said in that case to support efforts of people already doing good work. We know what that’s like as well when people go to mend fences in some family situation and all they do is stir the pot. That’s not what is needed.
Consider also our reading from Revelation. “Then the angel showed me the river of the water of life, bright as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb through the middle of the street of the city. On either side of the river is the tree of life with its twelve kinds of fruit, producing its fruit each month; and the leaves of the tree are for the healing of the nations.” Too often as mainline Christians we have abandoned Revelation to evangelicals and Pentecostals, giving them free reign to abuse interpretation of this text. Instead we hear words about God’s beauty and love for creation. We hear about the tree of life that produces leaves for the healing of the nations. Let us return to these texts of love and healing and relationship building. Trusting that we too are receiving visions and dreaming dreams of building a better world for all our neighbours, especially Indigenous neighbours who continue to suffer.
What about you? Where do you find yourself this day? When we are hurting, when we have wounds that haven’t been dressed and properly cared for we lack the energy to care for others’ needs. We first need to have our injuries addressed. I talk to people even with the privilege of having secondary health insurance through work that they lack the time to make use of it. They’re too busy getting kids off to school and then cooking dinner after a long commute home to do anything for themselves. They give to others but neglect themselves because self-care seem impossible.
I hear from trans friends who lack adequate access to dental care. Without coverage through work or school or families who can support them they turn to GoFundMe campaigns often leaning on other trans folks who also struggle financially. Meanwhile we hear about the market gains of billions of dollars of the wealthiest corporations and individuals while everyday people struggle.
If this is you, struggling just to get by day by day, reach out and talk to one of us as co-pastors or someone else you connect in the church. We are here to lift one another up. And we don’t do this work alone, but rather together as the body of Christ in Greater Victoria and beyond. We know some of you connect with us from far away through online worship and relationships. Drop us a line. We’d love to hear from you. You can find our contact details at LutheranVictoria.ca
We are discovering we must become healthy or on the road to health and loving ourselves in order to extend that love to others.
As Bishop Barbara says, “It’s about relationships, relationships, relationships.” Let us live into the gift of love that God the Holy Trinity gives to each one of us. Amen.