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.  

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