Thursday, 28 September 2017

Reflections from "the Walk"

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. We
walked 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!"

Thursday, 21 September 2017

NUMWAYUT - The Reason We Walk

The theme of our Vineyard Canada West and East Gatherings this year is Metanoia, which is the Greek word for “change your way of thinking,” often translated repent in the New Testament. Metanoia is a lifelong journey. As summer comes to end, and as we are entering the season of autumn, I’ve been reflecting on one aspect of metanoia that is critical for the followers of Jesus who happen to live in Canada in 2017. Summertime is a favourite time for me to read. This past summer, my reading included two books that seemed to both complement but also contradict each other. The first was Mission of God, by Christopher Wright, with its panoramic summary of God’s mission as the essential story of Scripture and our story, too. The second was the completion of the Final Report of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada.  The first book was an inspiring call and reminder to partner with God in his mission of reconciliation, and the second chronicled the need for reconciliation due to the role of a misplaced Christian “mission” in the running of the colonial residential school system in Canada. The themes of these two books read at almost the same time, created an uncomfortable tension in me.   

The six year Truth and Reconciliation Commission, launched after Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s official apology in 2008 on behalf of Canada to First Nations for the residential school system, spawned events across Canada over a period of six years, documenting the stories of over 7000 First Nations residential school survivors. Seven generations of First Nations children were systemically torn away from their parents and families and forced to renounce their language and culture, while Christianity was force-fed on them. Minimal contact was allowed with their families; many children had none. Whole communities were bereft of their children. In addition, there was severe physical, mental, emotional, and sexual abuse. This devastation was perpetuated to succeeding generations. So, truth and reconciliation was an invitation for all Canadians to begin the process of healing together. 

What do you do with the volume of information from these stories of residential school survivors? TRC Commissioners Honorable Justice Murray Sinclair, Dr. Marie Wilson, Chief Wilton Littlechild, have done an extraordinary job, artfully weaving these stories together into a national narrative, a story that we can all engage with. In their masterful work, they argue effectively that the story of residential schools, indeed, Canada’s colonization began far before white explorers ever arrived on Canada’s shores. In their concluding summary, they offer a series of 94 Calls to Action, all of which are critical for every Canadian to understand, but calls 48-49, 58-61 are directly addressed to the church in Canada. Some of these calls are directly related to metanoia, a call to change our way of thinking. They are why we have chosen, in lieu of our regular Sunday worship, to join with the Numwayut Walk for Reconciliation in Vancouver this Sunday, September 24.  Numwayut means “all my relations,” or, “we are all connected.”


One of the TRC Calls to Action that addresses the church (number 49) states: “We call upon all religious denominations and faith groups who have not already done so to repudiate concepts used to justify European sovereignty over Indigenous lands and peoples, such as the Doctrine of Discovery and terra nullius.” 

What is the Doctrine of Discovery and Terra Nullius? In the mid-1400’s, when European nations were fighting among themselves for territorial rights in continents such as Africa and the Americas, Pope Nicholas V issued a decree that these European “Christian” nations had the right to claim under their sovereignty lands that they “discovered.” This decree has had an ongoing impact on Canada, the USA, and other colonized territories right down to our present day. Many of us grew up being taught that Columbus “discovered” America in 1492. The problem for the explorers who went out from Europe was that there were already an estimated 100 million indigenous people living in North America when they “discovered” the continent! As Navajo theologian Mark Charles quipped, “You cannot discover something that is already inhabited… If you don’t believe me, leave out your car keys and cell phones, and I’ll come and ‘discover’ them for you!”[1] His point, of course is that what we called “discovering” was actually stealing!  

When the European nations realized that the lands were inhabited, they adopted the concept of “terra nullius,” which meant “empty lands.” These lands were deemed “empty” due to the fact that the Europeans regarded the inhabitants as uncivilized and sub-human, simply because they were non-Christian. Some of these colonialists even cited the lack of agricultural settlement as yet another indicator of “terra nullius.” 

How could so-called “Christian” nations think in a way that was so contrary to the life and message of Jesus? This mindset goes back to Constantine in 300AD with the unholy marriage of church and state, resulting in Augustine’s “just war” theory to support state sanctioned violence. This later gave room for the crusades and the inquisition. As Buffy Saint Marie stated, “When the Doctrine of Discovery was decreed, there were serial killers on the thrones of Europe!”[

This Doctrine of Discovery provided the roots for the colonization of the Americas and Africa, among other nations. To this day, the Doctrine of Discovery still forms the basis of our Canadian constitution including the “Indian Act,” Canada’s laws and justice system.  The Doctrine of Discovery is a systemically racist doctrine that has perpetrated the worst kinds of injustices and abuse. Indeed, it constituted the roots of the residential school system. The residential school system was simply the fruit of a dark and hidden root called colonialism, and as such, was an attempt to “kill the Indian in the child.” Most tragically, this was done in the name of God and Christian missions. It created this terrible disconnect between Christ and his church in the minds of many First Nations people in Canada, who are otherwise very open to the Creator and to Jesus, but to this day, will not enter the church. 

Such are the roots of a colonial world that many Canadians grew up in. As a child, I lived within 30 miles of an Indian Residential School (Grouard) in northern Alberta, but I had no idea that such an institution even existed until I was 35 years old. Nevertheless, I was indoctrinated with colonial assumptions that Canada had been “discovered,” and as such, became unknowingly complicit with the system, regardless of my best intentions.  As I now read the TRC’s Call to Action, I am impressed with how important it is to First Nations that we, as communities of faith that bear the name of Christ, name and publicly renounce this horrific Doctrine of Discovery, because it is the root of some of the most heinous injustices and crimes known to humanity.  


The whole colonial saga can be disheartening for those of us who are engaged in Christian mission. Yet, it is the very Gospel which was so badly misrepresented, when truly understood, provides hope. It calls us to metanoia, which includes naming and owning our colonialist mindset, confessing our sin of misrepresenting Christ and his Good News, and humbly seeking forgiveness from our First Nations sisters and brothers as a first step towards a new relationship. We can’t rewind the past, but we can take ownership of it and learn from it, as we work out an equal and just relationship. 

That is why it is critical that the church specifically responds to TRC Call No. 49.

Some churches have already done so. The United Church of Canada’s national website has these words:  We repudiate the Doctrine of Discovery, which asserted that lands belonged to the Christian powers that “discovered” them. 

In addition, the Anglican Church of Canada made this statement in their 2010 synod: [We] repudiate and renounce the Doctrine of Discovery as fundamentally opposed to the gospel of Jesus Christ and our understanding of the inherent rights that individuals and peoples have received from God. 

Evangelical churches have also responded. The Christian and Missionary Alliance Church have published this prayer in a beautiful document on their national website that covers all 94 Calls to Action, and this one specific to no. 49: Father God, We regret that Your Church was party to the use of the Doctrine of Discovery and terra nullius in the expansion of European sovereignty over land that had been in the care of Aboriginal peoples. We regret the dislocation that resulted from these concepts. We pray that Your Church will be pro-active in bringing healing and restoration to those whose ancestors and present families continue to live with the negative results of this dislocation.


In this season of reconciliation, metanoia means proactively finding ways that we, as the Vancouver Eastside Vineyard Church alongside our Vineyard tribe in Canada, respond to TRC Call to Action, No. 49, as communities of justice, mercy, and humility. Of course, formally renouncing the Doctrine of Discovery is only the first step towards decolonization. If we stop there and go no further, "decolonization" can quickly become a cheap “buzz word,” the latest trend, or simply a meaningless metaphor to make us feel better about ourselves in our culture of domination. No, real decolonization means a life long journey of metanoia, of unlearning the past, changing our way of thinking, and working out in practice, policy, and habits, both personally and corporately, what renouncing the Doctrine of Discovery really means. 

Any role the church takes in encouraging this partnership of justice and reconciliation is a vital part of our mission and message as the church. Numwayut – we are all connected.  This Sunday, this is the reason we walk.  

[1] Mark Charles, “Race, Trauma, and the Doctrine of Discovery,” Lecture at Calvin College

[2] Buffy Saint Marie, “God, Reconciliation, and the Doctrine of Discovery,” Context with Lorna Dueck