Last Sunday, September 24, was a remarkable and historic day in our city and nation. Here are a few personal reflections that I journalled on those unforgettable moments...
Saturday night, I worked feverishly on the final assembly of our Vancouver Eastside Vineyard Church signs thanks to some help from Markus’ borrowed stapler gun and some lumber from Home Depot. The signs had already been printed and laminated by Karen, our pastoral assistant and I mounted them on posts long enough so that they could be seen from a distance. Kathleen and I planned on transporting them on transit as it’s a bit hard to find a parking spot when up to a 100,000 people are expected at the Walk!
Sunday morning, our transit bus pulled up to our bus stop where we were waiting at Hastings and Lakewood. I felt a bit embarrassed that this was the first time I had taken a bus since the compass card had been introduced, and neither of us had a card! "No worries," I thought, "I have cash." I offered a $5 bill and some change to cover us both and the bus driver said, “No paper money.” We were stuck. He saw our confusion and said, “Don’t worry about it,” and let us on for free to our great relief! Must buy that compass card!
Our bus route took us through the heart of the downtown eastside including Main and Hastings. Have you seen Main and Hastings at 8:45am on Sunday morning? It looked like a war zone. Kathleen wept at the sight of the carnage while all I could do was silently pray, particularly for a man across the aisle on the bus who was doubled over in pain from withdrawal. It all felt connected to the Walk we were about to embark on.
We got off at Hamilton Street and walked the short distance to Library Square at the corner of Hamilton and Georgia. We held up our signs, and our Vineyard peeps began to gather at 9am. Kathleen and I counted about 30-35 of us that we saw, kids included, who joined in with the tens of thousands of others, indigenous and non-indigenous. Others from VEV had sent their encouragements of solidarity to us. This would be our worship service today. I observed a bit later as the crowd was stretched a kilometre in front of me, that the Vineyard signs seem to punctuate the crowd from beginning to end! It was quite remarkable to see. I was so proud of our church. We were small, but not insignificant.
Back at Georgia and Hamilton, there was already a large crowd gathering at 9am and we engaged in light chatter and small talk. All the while, I was aware of a solemnity and even heaviness that I felt in the air.
Right on time, at 9:30am, the events began, when a First Nations elder, speaking through the public address system, introduced herself by her First Nations name and then her government name. She told us what nation and family clan she was from, including her traditional territory, and then announced that she was a residential school survivor. For the next few minutes, she told her harrowing story of abuse and suffering at Indian Residential School. It was so necessary for us all to hear this again, right at the beginning of our day, as a reminder of why we were walking. It focused us and pulled us together. Yet, I felt such a deep sense of discomfort as she told her story. I bowed my head in shame as she spoke. I became aware that my companions who were with me were feeling the same. I heard sniffles and the tears flowed. As she spoke, it seemed like the whole crowd had bowed their heads similarly with a sense of corporate shame. On this beautiful day in this beautiful city surrounded by oceans and mountains, we were aware that we lived in a land that had perpetrated this kind of suffering on generations of people. How could this be?
I acutely also felt shame as a leader in the Christian church. So much of the suffering she described was done in the name of Christ. She listed the litany of abuses and insults heaped on her, such as being called incessantly, a “good for nothing dirty Indian.”
Yes, I bowed my head in shame. Like Israel, we as the church had been called to bring blessing to all the nations of the world, including indigenous nations, but, due to our idolatry, arrogance, and disobedience, we had brought indescribable devastation in the name of Christian mission. Thanks to the “Doctrine of Discovery,” we had confused our Christian mission with colonialism and racial and cultural superiority and in so doing, misrepresented Christ and his Gospel to generations of indigenous people. Again, I bowed my head in shame and tears of repentance flowed. Never again. We must keep telling this story so that never again, we allow this to happen, for the sake of our children and grandchildren and generations to follow.
Then, mercifully and remarkably, this beautiful First Nations elder declared that she had chosen to forgive. Through her native spirituality, she was on a path towards her own healing. Then she prayed. She prayed a powerful prayer to the Creator. She prayed a blessing on us and that the Creator would smile on us that day. I felt cleansing as she declared this. She blessed us to walk. No, it didn’t look like conventional church on Sunday morning, but, I sensed deeply that she was praying to the One God, the God that I worship.
Then, we walked, indigenous and non-indigenous together. We walked in reverence. Wewalked in worship of the Creator who had brought us all together on this special day. Some of us were followers of Jesus. Many were not – at least not in the framework of orthodoxy that we would be familiar with. While most First Nations are open to the Creator and Jesus, association with the church is too painful. There are too many triggers and associations with the pain of the past. Yet, on this day, we all worshiped and followed the “Creator” together. There was a universal sense of reverence for the Creator of us all – the One God who had made us all one on that special day, “Numwayut!” We are all connected.
I felt assurance that this One God would be faithful to draw each person to himself and to reveal his Son in a way and time that was unique to each person’s journey who walked that day. But, this day was not a day for me to say this. My “sermon” for that day was to be silent and to walk. Yes, … silence, walking, tears. This was also my offering of worship, and the worship of the congregation I am so privileged to be a part of. They get this.
Kathleen and I were again so honored to walk alongside Cee-ne, our sister and friend for 25 years, a residential school survivor from Lower Post. She along with her family gave us the keys to her community which is one of the greatest gifts we have ever been given. Her housemate, Dave, kindly offered me his Numwayut t-shirt so that I could wear it. On it was a button that says, “94 Calls” with an eagle feather through it, a reference to the “94 Calls to Action,” by the Truth and Reconciliation Commission Final Report. It was healing therapy for me to wear it that day.
Then we gathered at Strathcona Park, enjoying music and speeches, again by indigenous and non-indigenous speakers and artists, host nations and the nations. National Chief, Perry Bellegarde spoke eloquently and powerfully. Then, my hero, Hereditary Chief, Robert Joseph spoke. I love this man and his gentle disarming spirit. He is a “Canadian Desmond Tutu” or “Martin Luther King.” “Bobby Jo” they love to call him. I also loved his words this day and I left the park with them resounding in my heart, washing the last vestiges of shame away and healing me. He said, “I have been crying today because I am so happy, as I look out at the sea of faces across this park. It’s a good day to be indigenous. But, we cannot be reconciled alone. We need each other…We are all in this together. Numwayat!"