I’ve been very fortunate to be asked to teach a class this week in the Indigenous Studies Summer Program of the Vancouver School of Theology, on Pilgrimage and Indigenous Journey. I will be using the work of First Nations artists, writers, activists and film-makers to talk about Indigenous Journey, and letting those sources speak, as much as possible, for themselves, as well as encouraging the Indigenous students to share their own stories of journey, and comparing and contrasting these with other forms of global pilgrimage and travel.
Consider this: when we think of the participation of Canadian churches in the decimation of the First Nations, we repent of residential schools and the 60s scoop. But it started even earlier. Christian missionaries, both Catholic and Protestant, were among those who urged the Saulteaux, the Cree, the Blackfoot, the Assiniboine and others to make treaty with Ottawa, right around that 150-years-ago date Canadians are celebrating this year. “Christian Indians” (as they were called), influenced by their priests and ministers who attended the negotiations, urged their traditionalist brothers and sisters such as Mistahi-maskwa (Big Bear) to take treaty. Since Christians were so crucial in brokering the numbered treaties, shouldn’t Christians have a special responsibility, now, in making sure they’re upheld? (with others, I will be walking the Battleford Trail in August 2017 to draw attention to an often forgotten part of Saskatchewan, and Canadian, history. For more info, see shfs.ca)
The more things change, the more they’re the same. Some of us tend to idolize Luther. But scholars point out he’s only important because he came at a kind of tipping-point. Despite the significant, obvious differences, we live in a similar time. There is again, as there was during the European Reformation, a revolution happening in social media. There is again, as there was in the 16th century, a kind of apocalyptic feeling in the air, a shock-wave of anxiety at the rapid pace of change. There are again various forms of political uprisings and revolts among the disadvantaged. Remarkably, there is a similar fear of the Muslim world’s influence on Europe, a fear stoked for political reasons by leaders in the West. There is, again, an important wing of Christianity (this time found on television and online) that offers to the gullible and the afraid, salvation in exchange for money. Cities are still the crucibles of social, economic and technological transformation. And there is again, as at the time of the Reformation, a church caught in the middle, and unsure of the way forward.
Voters these days seem more and more lazy and irrational. We are addicted to the easy sugar of slogans and of self-serving lies. Through history, to our shame, Christians have also been dangerously irrational. But always, thankfully, some of the faithful have also been NON-rational – not IRRational, – but non-rational, in a positive and difficult, discipleship, way; that is, revelatory, narrative and reaching for a dream that may never be realized, but makes life better in the meantime. Loving your neighbour, doing good for no return, giving up privilege for the sake of those who have none – these are also non-rational actions. They follow a dream of service, not selfishness. Luther wrote: ‘We are God’s work, and God’s poem. God himself is the Poet; we are the verses God creates (LW 7:366)”. When we embrace this kind of non-rational openness, we open ourselves, not to slogans and lies, but to art, visions, and transformative dreams.
A spoken word I performed at the 2017 Suomi Conference, Hilldale church, Thunder Bay, April 30, 2017. Click below to hear (and watch!) it. Dedicated to Liisa and Jari Lahtinen and the people of Thunder Bay:
Way back in 1982 John Mellencamp came out with Jack and Diane. That song ALWAYS pops into my head when I read about the disciples after the crucifixion. They were so lost. Oh yeah, life goes on, long after the thrill of livin’ is gone. Which is to say: sometimes our dreams disappear before we do. I imagine Peter down by the water with the nets in his fingers, wondering what he’s supposed to do with his life, now that Jesus is gone. Yet the sacred word of the resurrection turned out to be that sometimes we shouldn’t try going back to normal. I miss lots of things about the ‘old days’ – my parents, my physical condition, my hair! But I don’t miss overt racism against First Nations, teachers smoking in the classroom, bullying encouraged in school, open sexism against women, gay-bashing and anti-Semitism. Some day soon, God willing, we’ll look back in equal horror at the ways the banks now make profits, the outsourcing of pollution, the obscene salaries of CEOs, and the gutting of our little towns and industries by the almighty dollar. Can we be prophets who call out injustice, hurt, and hate? The resurrected Jesus stands on the shoreline of our lives, calling to us in our little boats. Don’t go back to normal, he shouts out. That’s done. You can grieve it, if you need to, but it’s gone. Come sit, and be quiet, and have a little something to eat. And then together, let’s talk about what you’ll do next. Let’s sit and think and ponder and plan whatever resurrection is needed.
I remember the first time I drove with GPS. I heard a word I’d never heard before: Recalibrating. You’re going one way when maybe, you should have been going another. The machine doesn’t fuss, or fret, or blame you. You could go off a cliff and it would just…recalibrate. Do not be afraid, says the angel to the two Marys who had come to anoint the body. RECALIBRATE. THAT was the message to the women who came to the tomb. The path your life is about to take, the angels said, is different from the one you had planned. Something has happened. Something dangerously hopeful. Recalibrate. After Jesus dies, it says in Matthew’s Gospel that the city leaders ask for a guard for the tomb. Matthew’s the only Gospel to recount this. “We want to make sure that his disciples don’t come to steal the body,” they say, “Otherwise his disciples will claim that he’s been raised, so the last deception will be greater than the first.” That phrase has always stuck with me. How can we, who celebrate this day, answer people who believe that we ARE living a deception? How about this? What’s unrealistic is NOT Easter. What’s unrealistic is our death-denying, hiding-the-facts-from-ourselves society claiming we’re never get older, just better. Some deny resurrection. But then we swallow the big lie that there’s no death, period. What’s unrealistic is paying hundreds of dollars for creams to hide our aging, or living in a world where the contents of a dumpster are entertainment on TV. What’s unrealistic is people who call themselves Christian who celebrate the world’s biggest bomb and never think about the fact that all that shiny metal is designed to blow human bodies up. The Marys were on their way to anoint a dead body when they were surprised by life. Like my experience learning to drive with a GPS unit for the first time, our Creator sometimes knows the path better than we do. Life comes THROUGH death. Do not be afraid. Life can triumph. The way can be recalibrated.Christ is risen. He is risen indeed.