RESPECT! – Learning from the Seven Grandfathers

I can hear them, even now, their voices wash over me like a gentle breeze. My Grandad’s stern, crisp, Belfast accent. My Nannie’s sweet playful, almost wistful Northern Irish lilt. My Gran’s sing-songie Welsh tones. The three Grandparents I knew, and I adored, whose voices echo even now across the years, over the miles, across many waters, along this shore, prompting me with the values which were instilled in them by their grandparents. Not the least of which was the insistence that I, we, you, all of us must respect our elders. Back then, in the exuberance of my youth, I didn’t think much of the values my own elders tried to impart to me. I do remember thinking that their warnings about respecting my elders, was just their way, as my elders, of making themselves heard. Now, with my own youth and exuberance spent, the reality that I am now older than they were when my Grandparents claimed for themselves their right to be respected, I wonder if I’ve done enough to instill the values my Grandparents instilled in me, in my own grandchildren. When they stand on the shores of this majestic lake, will my voice float across the waters and if it does will the values of my elders, still be heard, so that they too will one day be able to claim for themselves the right to be respected?

This beautiful water which carries the echoes of my elder’s wisdom to me, was named by the elders of our Indigenous sisters and brothers, Ouentironk. Ouentironk is the Anishinaabe language, and it means Beautiful Water. From the Anishinaabe elders, generation after generation have heard the teachings of the Seven Grandfathers waft across the waters of Ouentironk; teachings imparted to ensure that each generation could discover for themselves the ways to live in peace; peace with the land, peace with the waters, peace with their neighbours, peace in themselves. The teaching of the elders which insists that, “To cherish knowledge is to know Wisdom. To know Love is to know peace. To honour all of Creation is to have Respect. Bravery is to face the foe with integrity. Honesty in facing a situation is to be honourable. Humility is to know yourself as a sacred part of the Creation.  Truth is to know all of these things.” Wisdom, Love, Respect, Bravery, Honesty, Humility, Truth, seven sacred teachings imparted from one generation to the next, values carefully chosen to remind each generation to judge their own actions by considering how their actions will impact the harmony of generations to come.

Standing here on the shore of Ouentironk, this Beautiful Water, I cannot help wondering if generations to come will know the beauty of this water or will the ways of those of us who are settlers in this land, and the ways of our elders, will they continue to destroy the harmony of generations to come. I know that my elders held little respect for the elders of the Indigenous Peoples of Turtle Island. I know that the values of my own elders failed to instill in me much, if any concern for the harmony of generations to come. It is oh so telling that our own congregation’s celebration of National Indigenous Sunday does not include a single Indigenous person. While I’d like to blame the corona-virus lockdown for this, I cannot. A very big part of settler privilege is the shameful reality that most settlers, we live our lives isolated from Indigenous Peoples. The harmony of our own generation remains unrealized as a discordant cacophony rages in storm after storm. We settlers have grown weary of the discord as each storm rages: pandemic fears, accentuated by the news of systemic racism, followed by waves of nauseating grief revealed by the discovery of 215 tiny bodies, callously tossed into an unmarked grave, and the haunting reality of untold numbers of murdered and missing indigenous women. There was no time to hunker down in our small socially distant boats, before the storm of Islamophobia raged once again, sweeping away members of three generations of a family.

What will the generations to come hear from us, their elders, when they stand on this shore? What harmonies will echo down from our generation to the next, and the next, and the next? Can we settlers sift through the sins, the crimes, the abuses perpetrated by our elders and underscored by our indifference. Can we sift through these to discover some wisdom in the teachings of our past? Can we settlers listen and learn from the elders of our Indigenous sisters and brothers? Can we move from the discord of our white, settler privilege to harmonies which will ring true to those who suffer the pain we have wrought?

From our ancestors, we proclaim a gospel which tells the tale of a teacher and his students caught in the waves raging storm. The confident teacher, lies sleeping upon a cushion in their small boat, his students terrified that they are about to drown, wake their teacher, demanding of him, “Teacher, doesn’t it matter to you that we’re going to drown?” Their teacher awoke, rebuked the wind, and said to the raging waters, “Peace! Be still!” And the wind dropped, and everything was perfectly calm.

This sacred story, told down through the generations of our ancestors, now rings in our ears. Sadly, in our socially distant boats, with storms of the pandemic, racism, poverty, and violence, raging all around us, we see ourselves as the demanding followers of the Teacher, left with no other choice but to wait for some sleeping teacher to wake up and save us, by magically commanding the raging waters to “Be still.” It is as if we have failed to learn anything at all from the very Teacher, we expect to save us. We settlers who profess to follow our Teacher, refuse to learn from our most revered elder, who insisted that he and the CREATOR of storms are ONE. We have forgotten the language of story itself and failed to embrace the power of metaphor to carry us beyond the storm. Jesus lived and died proclaiming the Wisdom of his own elders, which insisted that we are created in the image of our MAKER, that we are fearfully and wonderfully made, empowered with such wonderous creativity and capable of unfathomable destruction. Jesus, our Teacher, insisted the only way to achieve peace was through the harmony which comes when we LOVE one another, for we are created in the image of the ONE who is LOVE and that same LOVE lives, and moves and has being in the world in, with, through, and beyond us. Yes, Jesus calmed the storm, and everything was perfectly calm. But Jesus didn’t let his students rest. Disturbed by their failure to do anything to save themselves, Jesus demanded to know, why they were so frightened?  “Have you no faith?”

Have we no faith? Tossed about by the raging storms of pandemic, racism, poverty, and violence, have we no faith in the creative powers which live in, with, through and beyond us? Are we content to confine the powers of LOVE to a long-ago Teacher, even if that Teacher tried with his very life to teach us that the LOVE which created us, lives in us? Our Teacher, Jesus lived to  show us how to use the power of LOVE to save ourselves? Our saviour is not out there, or up there, or back there in the past. Our saviour is the ONE who IS LOVE, and that ONE, that LOVE lives and breathes in, with, through, and beyond us. Calming the raging storms, creating the harmonies of justice which in turn creates the very peace we long for. This is our work. We are called to embody the very LOVE which created us to be LOVE in the world.

But in the turmoil of so many raging storms, where do we begin? I hear my own Grandparents’ voices encouraging me to respect my elders and I wonder if perhaps, respecting my own elders means seeing them in the fullness of their humanity and recognizing that all too often the choices which they made leaned heavily into humanity’s destructive powers and not into humanity’s creative powers. As each generation evolves, we need to learn from our elders, even as we learn from our own experiences. So that, we can develop wisdom which we might impart to the generations which follow us.

Jesus, our beloved Teacher, insisted that the most important rules he learned from his elders were to LOVE our CREATOR and to LOVE our neighbours as we LOVE ourselves, Jesus then went on to insist that even our enemies are in fact our neighbours, and went so far as to insist that we learn to love our enemies. So, let us respect our elders by seeking ways to LOVE our neighbours as we LOVE ourselves. Surely, our LOVE for our neighbour must include learning to LOVE our neighbours’ elders as well.

So, let us look, on this Fathers’ Day to the Teachings of the Seven Grandfathers, who as the sacred story goes, gifted the generations which followed them with seven Teachings which even now echo across this Ouentironk, this Beautiful Water. Listen to the sacred teachings of the elders of our sisters and brothers: “To cherish knowledge is to know wisdom. To know LOVE is to know peace. To honour all of Creation is to have respect. Bravery is to face the foe with integrity. Honesty in facing a situation is to be honourable. Humility is to know yourself as a sacred part of the Creation. Truth is to know all of these things.”

Seven teachings may seem like a tall order for those of us who are only beginning to embrace our calling to be LOVE in the world, especially when so many storms are raging all around us.

Where do we begin? Like the students in Jesus’ boat, I want to know which teaching of the elders is the most important. Alas, to our shame, in our congregation there is no Indigenous teacher of any generation among us to instruct us on how to begin. So, let us begin with something we hold in common with our Indigenous neighbours, respect for our elders. Let us begin with Respect: as the Indigenous Elders insist: “One of the teachings around resect is that in order to have respect from someone or something, we must get to know that other entity at a deeper level. When we meet someone for the first time, we form an impression of them. That first impression is not based on respect. Respect develops when one takes the time to establish a deeper relationship with the other. This concept of respect extends to all of Creation. Again, like love, respect is mutual and reciprocal –in order to receive respect, one must give respect.”

We must get to know our Indigenous sisters and brothers so that together we can develop respect for one another. Sadly, far too many of us settlers have entered into relationships with Indigenous neighbours only to use them to try to assuage our guilt, or to teach us how to do better, or to solve our problems for us. This is not respect. We settlers, we have homework to do. Knowing requires learning, learning requires careful study, humble listening, discipline, taking risks, the courage to make mistakes, looking foolish, owning our guilt, and acknowledging the pain we encounter in the people we are longing to know. Only when we learn the respect which comes from really knowing the other will we be ready for the difficult work of reconciliation.  As the Indigenous Elders insist, the truth is, Wisdom, Love, Respect, Bravery, Honesty, Humility, Truth these are teachings which go hand in hand. To have wisdom” they insist, “to have wisdom one must demonstrate love, respect, bravery, honesty, humility and truth.”

The Grandfathers’ warning to each successive generation insists that, “You are not being honest with yourself if you use only one or two of these teachings. Leaving out even one of these teachings means that one is not embracing the teachings. We must always speak from a truthful place. It is important not to deceive ourselves or others.”

My hope, my prayer for my own generation is that each of us might wake up in our socially distant boats to embody the power of LOVE which lives and moves and has being in, with, through, and beyond us, and rise up to command the storms raging around us, by the power of our LOVE  to “Be Still. Peace.” Then we can set out onto the shores of this new emerging future which stretches before us, resolved to respect our elders, all of our elders by getting to know our neighbours in ways which foster respect for the gifts of our CREATOR. So that together, we might learn from one another to LOVE our CREATOR with all our hearts, with all our souls, and with all our minds, and to love our neighbours as we love ourselves. For, in loving our Indigenous neighbours we will come to know the wisdom passed down to them from their elders, who knew the wisdom of judging their own actions by trying to imagine the impact their actions might have on the generations which follow them. Surely, in our shared, common humanity, our concern for those who follow us will give us the courage to work with one another to foster the harmonies of justice, so that peace may break out among us and for generations to come the beautiful water of this Ouentironk might carry the echoes of our cries, “Peace, Be Still!” to the generations who follow us. Let it be so. Let it be so now and always. Let it be so.  Amen.  

View the full National Indigenous Peoples Sunday Worship below

CLICK HERE to DOWNLOAD the Order of Service

We Are ONE!

Here we are again. How did we end up here again? As I listened to a politician, his head adorned in a neatly wrapped Sikh pagri, insist that “this is our Canada!” my own heart sank. For I too, have spoken my own objections, along the lines of: “This is not our Canada.” As my head fell in shame, this politician used these words: “The reality is, this is our Canada. This is our Canada!  Our Canada is a place where 215 little kids were found dead in an unmarked grave. Our Canada is a place where you can’t walk down the streets if you wear a hajib because you will be killed. This is our Canada. We can’t deny it. We can’t reject that because it does no one any good. The reality is our Canada is a place of racism, of violence, of genocide of indigenous peoples, and our Canada is a place where Muslims aren’t safe. They aren’t safe,” he said. “They aren’t safe. Muslims are not safe in this country.”[1]  Whether you agree with his politics or not, Jagmeet Singh’s indictment begs the question: How did we get here? Why are the seeds of racism and hatred flourishing in our land, and in the lands of our neighbours? The stark realities are clear, even if the sources of the infestation remain hidden, buried beneath our carefully held illusions of our own innocence.

They were out for their daily, evening stroll. A close loving family, coping with lockdown, by strolling the streets of their own neighbourhood. Taking in the sights.  Reviewing their day. Telling their stories. Anticipating tomorrow and the tomorrows after that. He, he is a deranged young man whose mental illness is fertile ground for the seeds of hatred scattered across our land, growing within our communities such noxious weeds, that our efforts to root them out fail over and over again.

We can no longer deny that the seeds of racism and hatred are growing at a pace which threatens to choke our long-ago dreams of a multicultural paradise. We dreamed that dream.  We spoke pretty words. We invited newcomers into our land. We planted our seeds and we hoped for the best. But we failed somehow, not enough water? not the right fertilizers? or perhaps, too much neglect, and indifference?

As you can probably tell from my hack-handed metaphors, I’m not much of a gardener. Like many of my fellow Canadians, I’ve smugly looked askance at the racial turmoil in our American neighbours’ land, and I haven’t paid enough attention to what’s happening in my own backyard. I am, however, a theologian and a student of religions. I know that the very word Islam translates into English as peace and that the Qur’an teaches that “PEACE” is one of the names of ALLAH.  I know that our indigenous sisters and brothers teach that all people should live in harmony with the nature and all that nature contains. I know that our Jewish sisters and brothers gifted us with the commandment to “love our neighbours as we love ourselves.” I know that Sikh communities hold values which extol an egalitarian vision of community in which men and women, and members of all social groups are equally respected. I know that our Hindu sisters and brothers hold dear the doctrine of ahimsa, which means to foster respect for all living things and includes the practice of non-violence. I also know that our sisters and brothers of no particular faith at all, understand the values of living without fear, in lands where all people are free to live peacefully.

So, why are the seeds of racism, and hatred flourishing in so many lands? Especially, when so many splendid gardeners have planted so many good seeds upon the land? I may not be much of a gardener, but one thing I have learned, is speed with which weeds can grow to make a mess of any garden. Fear and our self-centered quest for survival are spreading unchecked within us and around us. Fear of the “other,” fear that “they” “those people” are somehow a threat to “us,” a threat to “our ways,” a threat to “our lifestyles,” our very survival, these fear as irrational as it has become, this fear is fertilizing the seeds of racism and hatred which are growing like weeds.

So, if “this is our Canada” what are we to do? The Qur’an teaches us that our CREATOR created us all “out of one single soul, created, out of like nature, the mate, and from them twain scattered like seeds countless men and women.”[2]

In the Qur’an you will find these words: “O humanity! Indeed, WE created you from a male and a female, and made you into peoples and tribes so that you may ˹get to˺ know one another. Surely the most noble of you in the sight of ALLAH is the most righteous among you. ALLAH is truly ALL-KNOWING, ALL-AWARE.”[3]

The Christian mystic Julian of Norwich provides a way of seeing our sisters and brothers of all faiths and of no particular faith at all, Julian insists that, “we are not just made by God, we are made of God.” The very nature of the DIVINE MYSTERY which we call God, is in the DNA of all.  We are all sacred, all holy, all DIVINE, created as ONE by the ONE in whom we all live, and move, and have our being. When we begin to see the DIVINE MYSTERY, which is the LOVE we call God, in ALL, we need not fear “the other” for we are ONE in the LOVE which made us.

I can already hear some of you ask, “That’s all well and good, but what are we to do to? How do we tend to this blessed garden?”  There are weeds growing everywhere and fear is on the rise. I do wish I was a better gardener. All I can say is that LOVE casts out fear and if we can eliminate the fear, then the noxious weeds of racism and hatred will wither and die.

Yeah, I know what you’re thinking, what does this LOVE look like, how do we apply this LOVE to our beloved garden? Well, dear ones, I suspect that some of our gardening skills have lain dormant for far too long. It is long past time for us to be LOVE in the world. The next time you see a woman wearing the hijab or a man wearing a turban, put yourself in their place and ask yourself, what you would want if you were them. This is what it means to love your neighbour as you love yourself.

A smile, I know it’s difficult right now to smile when we are wearing masks, so smile with your eyes and say, “Hello. Good to see you!”  or “Salaam Alaikum.” If you don’t have friends from different religions and cultures, ask yourself why and begin to make some overtures to strangers. Put yourself outside your own comfort zone. Take some risks. Make some mistakes. Learn new ways of being human from humans who do things differently that you do. Take a course in another religious tradition. Make a friend. Be a friend. Commit outrageous acts of kindness. Be recklessly hospitable.

Foolishly generous. Listen and learn. Stand in solidarity. Grieve with those who are grieving. Try to understand the pain of those who have been wounded. Give up some of your privilege, lord knows, most of us have way more than our fair share. Be LOVE in the world by planting some seeds and then tending those seeds and watching them grow.

Jesus compared the Kin’dom of DIVINITY, the Family of the DIVINE to “a mustard seed, which people plant in the soil: it is the smallest of the Earth’s seeds, yet once it is sown, it springs up to become the largest of shrubs, with branches big enough for the birds of the sky to build nests in the shade.”

A little boy is lying in a hospital bed, and he is in pain. Let us plant seeds and tend this garden in Fayez’s name, trusting that we are ALL ONE, ONE in the LOVE, which is our CREATOR, ONE in the LOVE which is the MYSTERY we call God. Amen.

View the full Worship Video below

CLICK HERE to DOWNLOAD the Order of Service

[1] Jagmeet Singh, House of Parliament, June 8, 2021

[2] Qur’an 4:1

[3] Qu’ran 49:13  Dr. Mustafa Khattab, the Clear Quran

Every Child Matters!

Since the news of the discovery of the unmarked mass grave in which the remains of 215 children were buried, I’ve listened as various politicians, commentators and even friends have used words like: unbelievable and shocking. Unbelievable and shocking? I wonder? I wonder how there can be anyone who has lived in Canada for more than a decade or so, who can honestly claim to be surprised, let alone shocked at this news. Royal commissions, government inquiries and survivors have been testifying for decades about the horrors of the residential school system, the sixties scoop, sexual abuse, neglect, torture, murderers, disappearances, deaths, and generational trauma. If we are surprised, shocked or can’t believe it, I suspect we have only ourselves to blame. I am a settler in this land, and I expect that many of you are settlers as well. Our histories as settlers are intertwined with the histories of the families of all those many children who suffered for generations; children who paid the price for our privilege, children who even now continue to suffer the effects of intergenerational trauma. We have known for a long time now. This news should not shock us, precisely because it is so very believable. We’ve known it for far too long to be excused from our own ignorance.

Echoes of this tragedy first began to reach me some fifty years ago. I went to school, high school, on the West Coast in a small town called Ladner. Today, Ladner is pretty much a suburban bedroom community from which people commute to their jobs in the city of Vancouver. But back in the early 1970’s, Ladner was just a small fishing village. It was a terrific place to go to high school; that’s if you were white and middle-class. I don’t really know how it was for the handful of folks who weren’t part of the white-privileged majority. Looking back on it now, I can see that minorities were marginalized.

I remember when I was in grade ten; a new girl showed up in our classes. Shirley, we were told, came from somewhere way up north, in British Columbia. I remember our homeroom teacher introduced Shirley as, an Indian who had travelled south for her education. We were told that there weren’t any high schools where Shirley came from, so she had to leave her family behind and come down to Ladner all by herself. Shirley was boarding with a family in Ladner.

About all I can remember about Shirley’s first days with us is the unusual way that Shirley dressed. Back then there was a sort of dress code; we all wore the same stuff; blue jeans, which dragged on the ground, and both boys and girls wore the same kind of white tee-shirts and you just had to have the latest thing in footwear: a name-brand pair of leather sneakers. We thought we were so cool, with our anti-style look, which in our rebellious naiveté we didn’t realize was actually a style in and of itself. But Shirley didn’t fit in. Shirley wore clothes which we openly mocked as “stylish.” I remember that all her cloths looked new and expensive, as if someone had taken her out and bought her an entire wardrobe of old people’s cloths; and by old people I mean 30 somethings. Shirley just didn’t look like one of us. But that didn’t really matter because Shirley wasn’t one of us and so we never included her in anything that we did.

I remember a social studies class in which the teacher asked Shirley to tell us about her life in Northern British Columbia. The tale that Shirley told us about the reservation on which she lived was unbelievable to our young, ignorant, ears. Shirley claimed that she had been forced against her will to leave her family behind and travel all by herself to live with a family that was only interested in the money that the Indian Affairs department paid them for her room and board. She said that her parents would be thrown into jail if they didn’t allow her to be taken away. She said she’d run away several times, but that she’d always been caught and then they would punish her family because she’d missed so much school. So, she claimed that her family hated living on the reservation. Shirley told us that it wasn’t safe on the reservation because most of the men drank. My classmates asked all sorts of questions, but there was something in the way they asked the questions which made it clear that none of us believed a word Shirley was saying. How could any of this be true? Nobody would ever take kids away from their families by force. We refused to believe that parents could be thrown into jail if their kids don’t go away to school. Besides, why would our government send you to a school so far away; why not just send you to a school nearer the reservation so that you could go see your folks on weekends? Shirley and an answer for that: according to her the government picked schools that were far away so that the Indian kids wouldn’t just run away from school and head back home. The only way home for Shirley was on an airplane and the government only gave her two tickets a year. Besides there was nothing to do on the reservation. So, she might as well stay south. Even if she hated it. When the teacher asked Shirley about conditions on the reservation, Shirley spoke really softly about there not being enough water and food to go around. One of us said, “that was because they spent all their money on booze and cigarettes.” Shirley began to cry, and the teacher abruptly ended the conversation. Later in the cafeteria, there was a lot of conversation about the lies we were convinced Shirley had told us. We simply did no believe a word Shirly said. I refused to believe her at all. I mean really, in my young mind, I thought, this is Canada after all. Canada is a great country, a good place. My parents brought us to Canada because it’s the land of opportunity. To my shame, I remember thinking, if Shirley’s people were having a tough time, it was not our government’s fault. I believed they had only themselves to blame. I believed this because I was taught that all we had to do was to work hard and we would get ahead. My culture insisted that they, those Indians must not care enough about the way they live to bother to improve their life. I was raised to believe that Canadians are good people; we’re not racist. My ignorance was matched only by my arrogance.

I had a naïve understanding of this country. I was taught to look at Canadian history through rose-coloured glasses. I was taught about the honour and gallantry of the early settlers of this land, hard workers one and all; good honest people who’d left the hardships imposed on them behind, in their homelands so that they could build lives for themselves here in Canada. I was not taught, and I knew nothing of the world which Shirley described. We weren’t taught anything about broken treaties, or the abuses perpetrated by the Indian Affairs Department, and we’d certainly never heard about the travesty of residential schools. The conditions Shirley tried to tell us about and the circumstances in which she found herself sounded unbelievable to us. So, we assumed she had to be lying. Ignorance and denial were not just our collective responses to Shirley’s story, in my heart of hearts, I chose to believe my own culture, never once considering that Shirley even a culture of her own. None of us stopped to consider the dignity of the First Peoples of this land. None of us even imagined the wisdom of Shirley’s elders, or the beauty of her sacred stories.

So, the good people of Ladner, myself included, we continued to marginalize Shirley. Her story was too unbelievable, and we were too incapable of seeing beyond our carefully constructed version of reality. But Shirley’s story as unbelievable as we found it; her story pales in comparison to the countless stories of those children who were scooped up and forced into the residential school system.

Nearly fifty years have passed, since we refused to believe Shirley. In 1996, the last of the residential schools was finally closed. Since then, we’ve all been told countless stories of sexual abuse, torture, neglect, violence and death. When I consider the courage, it took for Shirley to tell her story, only to be met with our refusal to believe, I can’t help but marvel at the steadfast courage of the countless survivors who have testified over and over, again and again only to be met by justice delayed.

So, this week as we all gaze at all the memorials which have cropped up all over this land, all those tiny little shoes neatly lined up in rows, 215 little lives, tossed aside to make a way for settlers to walk, I wonder: do we finally believe it? In our grief, will we let the truth of their little lives transform us? As we weep, will we finally listen and actually hear the stories of survivors? Will the generational trauma of our indigenous sisters and brothers penetrate our ignorance, denial, arrogance, self-righteousness, or worse yet, our indifference? What form will our confessions take? What shape will our penance turn into? What sacrifices will we offer for the sake of justice? What tangible fruits will emerge from our promises to do better? I don’t know, how we will learn to love our neighbours as we love ourselves. But I do know, that if those little lives mean anything to us, at all, then, in the name of ALL that IS HOLY, we must, urgently learn to love our neighbours as we love ourselves.

May the GREAT SPIRIT in whom we are ONE, move us beyond our tears, beyond our grief, beyond our pain, beyond memorials, so that the wounded may heal, even as we, the wounders learn to embody the LOVE which unites us all in the work of justice. Amen.

VIEW the full SERVICE of LAMENT Worship video below

CLICK HERE to DOWNLOAD the Order of Service