"As I mused, the fire burned"

Reflection on life as a person of faith.

Diversity: Reaching Goalposts, or a Journey?

leave a comment »

I’m spending my weekend at the second annual AISES/.caISES gathering at McGill to listen to research and presentations by Indigenous students and professionals working in STEM fields.

Before I proceed, I need to spell out those acronyms.

STEM = science, technology, engineering and math. Usually used as a collective to describe any studies involving natural or applied sciences, often read to include other sciences, anthropology, sociology etc.

.caISES = Canadian Indigenous Science and Engineering Society.

AISES = American Indian Science and Engineering Society.

(That last one is a bit of a shock for Indigenous north of the border, as the only place the word ‘Indian’ is used anymore is by the government. Most communities have rejected it except when used as an internal short hand like NDN on Twitter.)

The goal of these gatherings is to create space for Indigenous STEM professionals to gather, to strengthen community, to share knowledge and experience and to live into the reality of relationship that anchors Indigenous worldviews.

I’m also presenting a short paper titled, Settler and Indigenous Peoples: Immiscible World Views. Immiscible is a technical term from fluid dynamics which means unmixable: think oil and water. I’ve already been asked by one of my engineering colleagues if I really believe my title. Are they really unmixable?

It was a good pre-question to ponder. My first answer is yes, they are entirely unmixable, because in so many aspects the dominant Western cultural understanding of the nature of reality is diametrically opposed to Indigenous understandings of the same thing.

My second answer is more hopeful, because worldviews can be bridged. I know this to be true because Indigenous STEM professionals bridge that gap every day. It wasn’t long in practice before I realized that I was operating in a bilingual mode: switching between or blending different worldviews in engineering. I know that’s true for others I’ve spoken to as well.

It does lead me to some reflection on what diversity really means for a profession or an organization. We’re expending effort on gender diversity in the professions through initiatives like 30/30, which is important work. There are other types of diversity, and if we really value diversity our efforts cannot stop with gender, as gender is only one aspect of diversity. The one I’m at this gathering to speak and listen about is Indigenous diversity.

In Alberta, through self-declaration, the number of Indigenous engineers and geoscientists is 0.42% of our total membership. That number is probably not entirely valid because of the way we ask the question. At the same time it is probably not far off as it bears out what I know from experience. Including those I met today, I personally know six practicing Indigenous engineers.

So, back to diversity, one of the reasons these gatherings are powerful experiences is because you are surrounded by people who share a similar worldview, and similar experiences, and face similar challenges. To be surrounded by people who are just like you is to be able to relax and move beyond the usual surface issues to talk about what’s really on your mind.

It’s why the goal of a diverse workplace or diverse professions never really has an end, because there are many kinds of diversity. In our efforts to increase diversity it is equally important to be attentive to whom we are speaking to, and what we are holding up as goals and values.

The trap is not entering into the same assumptions about others that we are fighting to end people making about us.

One conversation today involved a work situation around Indigenous diversity. The hiring manager commented that they would not hire an Indigenous engineer again because the one they had hired before did not work out. There was no apparent irony in what the hiring manager, a woman, was saying. It was not that long ago that male hiring managers were saying similar things about women. So the speakers have changed with time, but the underlying attitudes maybe not so much.

This is why diversity needs to be seen from many perspectives, lest the isolation, erasure and assumptions just be transferred to a new group of marginalized peoples.

I’m super pleased with how much diversity we have in my present workplace. There are many different perspectives represented across our community, and it enriches our discussions and our work.

But (and there’s always a but) we can’t rest in achieving a destination that is never reached, and we cannot assume we have achieved diversity because it appears to our eyes that we have. Much of diversity is invisible to our assumptions, and there are still people who make up that diversity who don’t speak because they are unable to do so for fear of judgement or reprisal. I know that from first hand experience.

From a legal perspective, I’ve always been one of Canada’s three aboriginal peoples under section 35(2) of the Constitution Act of 1982:

(2) In this Act, “aboriginal peoples of Canada” includes the Indian, Inuit and Métis peoples of Canada.

It was only about 15 years ago that I started publicly identifying myself as a member of the Métis Nation.

When I did that, the first round of responses were from colleagues and family relations. I heard many comments like, “Your daughter will be happy she won’t have to pay for university.” and “Think of all the tax money you’re going to save.” Some of the blunter comments were things like, “I’m glad you are learning your history, but you know you’re not really aboriginal right?”

What those comments reminded me of was the reason I had been silent about who I was for such a long time.

Even more recently the spouse of a classmate, at our reunion, commented that she was in disbelief at those who wanted to take down all the statues of John A. Macdonald. It is a complicated question, what to do with our history, and I won’t attempt to answer that question. My reply that when your family members had been machine-gunned by troops that Macdonald sent to Batoche, it tended to shift your perspective. The impact of my words was 15 seconds of uncomfortable silence, followed by a swift change in the topic.

All this to say I am a huge fan of diversity of all kinds. Particularly as one of the 0.42% of Indigenous engineers and geoscientists in Alberta, I can’t wait.

Advertisements

Written by sameo416

March 2, 2019 at 3:48 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

Suffering

leave a comment »

I think I’ll be helping at a men’s retreat again this spring. Last year we spent three days talking about spiritual disciplines in overview. This year the request was for more of the same.

I’m not a real expert in spiritual disciplines to the point of starting to teach about some aspects in more depth. I know what works for me, and how I’ve put things together with accountability and prayer. To be able to teach at that depth to someone else is an area I’m not comfortable with, as we’re now talking about someone who has mastered some aspects to the point that they can now presume to speak to others. Using a martial arts analogy, I’m probably ok defining things like ‘kata’ or ‘riding horseman stance’ for a beginner, but actually instructing someone on the proper way to punch is beyond my competence (as opposed to pistol shooting which I can teach with some expertise).

The topic which has been pulling at my mind for the last few months is that of suffering. This is something which the modern church in the West avoids almost always. I suspect this is a side effect of existing in such an affluent time, that for most of our lives the major challenge is managing all the excess of choice we have presented. This always makes me think of Devo’s song, “Freedom of Choice”:

A victim of collision on the open sea
Nobody ever said that life was free
Sank, swam, go down with the ship
But use your freedom of choice

I’ll say it again in the land of the free
Use your freedom of choice
Your freedom of choice

In ancient Rome there was a poem
About a dog who found two bones
He picked at one, he licked the other
He went in circles, he dropped dead

Freedom of choice
Is what you got
Freedom of choice

This was one of the first real music videos (song released c. 1980). I’ve written a few times about Devo as an interpreter of modern culture. They’re an interesting group of musicians, pretty widely read, and undergrads at Kent State (yes, that Kent State, right when the shooting happened).

All this to say that suffering is a topic usually neglected, but so badly needed. If there is any one thing that can be stated with clarity – it is that everyone will experience the torment of suffering at some point in their lives, and usually repeatedly. The time to get a theology of suffering in place is not when the fire flares up, but long before when you can reflect on what is a clear theology of suffering. Impossible to do that without some discussion around the question of natural evil (which is also one of the cornerstones of atheist theology).

In my short time as a hospital chaplain (which taught me that my calling was not to chaplaincy, and bless all those who minister in that very challenging space), the refrain I heard most often from people of faith confined to a hospital bed was “Why is God so angry with me that he has done this to me? What did I do?” Coming from 80-year-old people this was a pretty clear indication that there had not been successful teaching of a theology of suffering for some time.

In a sermon engaging suffering I once asked a community why the automatic assumption existed for believers that illness or adversity = a punishment from God. Asking for a show of hands I posed a question: “How many of you have prayed for more time to serve God?” Almost every hand went up. Rhetorically my follow on question was this, “Why do you think being confined to a hospital bed with nothing to do but pray is not a Godly answer to that prayer?”

It’s shocking to phrase it that way, isn’t it?

If it’s not, you’ve probably already bought my point…long in coming I know, that reinforces the old adage: pray not to get what you want, but rather to want what you get.

Another reflection in the same community was on the Lord’s Prayer: “Save us from the time of trial, and deliver us from evil” or more traditionally, “Lead us not into temptation, and deliver us from evil”. Notice in the prayer that we’re not asking to have trials and evil eliminated from our lives…rather we’re asking for God’s help in dealing with the trial, temptation or evil that we find ourselves immersed within. One person was very troubled by the realization that this prayer implicitly includes the reality that trial and temptation and evil are normal parts of a life of faith.

We’re not asking to avoid temptations, trials and evil (in all its manifestations), we’re asking for help when we inevitably find ourselves in the midst of that particular fire. Sometimes the most powerful place of faith is when we are (literally) standing in the ashes of a life once lived – I believe that’s a Reynolds Price quotation, but I can’t find the source just now.

What do you say to a young mother of two younger children who has been given a terminal (and fast) diagnosis? Much of our modern church bromides fall short, as do most of the trite messages after the fact: “She’s in a better place.”

Eugene Peterson, in his book, A Long Obedience in the Same Direction: Discipleship in an Instant Society, (a quotation from Nietzsche) opens the third chapter with this:

The moment we say no to the world and yes to God, all our problems are solved, all our questions answered, all our troubles over. Nothing can disturb the tranquility of the soul at peace with God. Nothing can interfere with the blessed assurance that all is well between me and my Savior. Nothing and no one can upset the enjoyable relationship that has been established by faith in Jesus Christ. We Christians are among that privileged company of persons who don’t have accidents, who don’t have arguments without spouses, who aren’t misunderstood by our peers, whose children do not disobey us.

If any of those things should happen…it is a sign that something is wrong with our relationship with God. We have, consciously or unconsciously, retracted our yes to God; and God, impatient with our fickle faith, has gone off to take care of someone more deserving of his attention.

Is that what you believe? If it is, I have some incredibly good news for you. You are wrong.

My observation is that people of faith, by virtue of that faith, become exposed to more trial and tribulation than non-believers.

First example is the awareness of how much pain exists in the world. Now a report of many dying from famine or genocide becomes a personal matter for those people are all brothers and sisters in Christ. The standard of behaviour also raises that bar, as now merely looking at someone with a thought even close to inappropriate transgresses the Ten Commandments.

Given that we will each find ourselves in those times of fire, what is it that allows us to stay afloat?

A couple of decades back I was in a period of counselling for dealing with chronic pain and transition. The psychologist specialized in chronic pain and was a wonderful help in putting things together. At one point in our sessions she commented that I had a much better perspective on pain than she had seen commonly, and asked why that was. When I told her I thought it was because I had a theology of suffering (as in I understood where my suffering fit within a good, very good, Creation) our conversation turned off the DSM-IV and onto faith.

All this to say that a retreat speaking about the theology of suffering is something I think I have lots to talk about, and enough experience to presume to lead others in reflecting on the topic.

Wonder if anyone will come? Not as sexy a topic as spiritual warfare.

 

Written by sameo416

December 28, 2018 at 4:08 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

Métis: the varied and never-ending questions about identity

leave a comment »

I still believe one of the best descriptions of Métis identity came from the blog of Chelsea Vowel (author of “Indigenous Writes” an excellent text for anyone looking for an introduction to the varied issues facing Indigenous Peoples). Her article, titled “You’re Métis? So which of your parents is an Indian?” outlines the usual sorts of questions we receive from those outside the community.

A deeper look into that question may be had through Dr Chris Andersen’s excellent book, ““Métis”: Race, Recognition, and the Struggle for Indigenous Peoplehood” and a related article of his I’ve found very helpful: “‘I’m Métis: What’s your excuse?’: On the optics and misrecognition of Métis in Canada” (there is a formal academic article by that name as well).

Those sorts of questions almost always circle around one foundational matter: blood quantum. Stated another way, when a white-coded person like me makes an assertion about identity — I am Métis — the usual response is to ask “How much Indian are you?”

Sometimes asked another way, “What was your last ancestor who was Native?”

The answer to all of those questions and more is: my father.

When I offer that response, there is almost always a follow-up question, “No, I mean who was the last relative who was Native?”

I’m a patient and forgiving sort, so I usually don’t jump on that line of questions. It raises a whole litany of rhetorical queries that I want to use in reply: What heritage do you identify with? What is the exact genetic percentage of DNA that allows you to claim that identity? So if you are Norwegian, how much DNA do you need to be able to claim yourself as “really” Norwegian? Is one parent enough, or does the other parent require some genetics from that part of the world? What if it’s only one grandparent? What if your grandparents were all born in Canada, and it’s only one great-grandparent?

The duality in approach usually unveils a fair amount of double standard. Unless you’re a person who identifies solely as Canadian, you are probably making identity claims that are questionable on a strictly measurement basis. Yet it’s fine to say that you are of Scottish descent, even if your last real Scot ancestor was in the 1600’s.

I’m Métis because (loosely quoting Andersen here) my family is connect in a tangible way with the Red River settlement from its earliest days. I claim a heritage that lifts up a series of certain historic events and leaders who universally stood for independent rule apart from both colonial and First Nations. That list includes the Battle of Seven Oaks, the first Red River Rebellion (1870) and the second Rebellion (1885) and leaders like Riel and Dumont. My identity (and ability to declare that publicly) is because I am connected to those events in a real way that continues to define who I am and the way I engage with the colonial reality in which we all live today.

Originally I had looked away from that personal history because, after all, it was the French Métis who were the antagonists in all those events. When I did my duty of learning the faces of my ancestors, I realized how wrong that perspective was. Turned out I had family members at both rebellions, I’m related to the first Indigenous premier of Manitoba (Norquay), one of my relations was part of the party of 4 who went to Montana to ask Riel to come back to lead his people again (James Isbister). Also discovered lots of intermarriage with the French Métis, so they were my family as well. Suddenly that history of the ‘other’ was revealed to be my history. That unveiled for me a web of interconnections and obligations that I was failing to fulfill.

I know that people who ask those questions about percentages are not trying to be racist, because when you challenge them what is usually revealed is a lack of understanding about what it is that constitutes Indigenous identity. That is partly because Settler societies are typically lacking any intrinsic identity that can form the basis for comparison (beyond, I’m Canadian and that should be good enough). I’ve become convinced that this is one reason why Settler cultures are so violent about the appropriation of other cultural practices — lacking its own internal framework of identity, it seeks to fill that gap with whatever is shiny and new in the environment. So we see young woman insisting on their right to wear plains-like feather headdresses to musical events, and responding violently when asked to discontinue abusing the sacred icons of another nation.

So the answer to the question “Which one of your parents was an Indian?” is neither. The answer to the question “How much Métis do you have inside you?” is 100%. That is not because I have been recognized for membership in the Métis Nation (in both Manitoba and Alberta), but because I align myself with a particular set of historic events that occurred in Red River and the North West as a new nation was born.

A teacher once told me that home is where the land recognizes you. I can’t begin to understand that encounter or to even explain it, except to say that it was a exceptionally moving experience and grounded me in a place and time in a different way than anything else I’ve experienced as identities. I know who I am (Métis) because the land has told me that is who I am.

So, when you encounter a person who identifies as Indigenous of any type, it is very acceptable to ask them questions about their heritage, where they are from, who are their relations. This is the same thing that Indigenous do when we encounter new people, because the kinship linkages are deep and you don’t have to go very far to find a cousin. (at a conference I met a leader from a NWT Métis community, who introduced himself as “Métis from Ft Smith.” I replied, “I’m Métis from Red River.” He shook my hand and said, “We’re probably related.”) I’m happy to talk about my family and how my relations are woven through the particular story that is the Métis.

Questions not to ask are any that relate to finding out percentages — because this is not an index for identity anywhere (except in the USA where some tribal administrators use blood quantum as a test for membership). At best you’ll get my polite response about how that’s not really how this works. At worst you’ll have explained to you that such measures of Ingenuousness are a manifestation of colonial violence against us, as the Settler state since first contact has sought to eliminate or enfranchise all of us.

There’s one good reason that Settler, colonial systems are always focused on the elimination of Indigenous bodies — we are a constant reminder that the land is not theirs, and that there remain obligations (treaties) which we entered into in good faith. To secure the land requires the Settler state to either respect the treaties, or to eliminate the other party to the treaty. This violence goes on to this day.

Written by sameo416

December 25, 2018 at 11:37 am

Posted in Uncategorized

What is our calling? To save the victims or to transform unjust structures? Final

leave a comment »

A Sermon Preached for Remembrance Sunday, 11 November 2018

At St John the Evangelist Church,  ©2018 Ps 146, Deut 17:14-20, Mark 13:1-13 “See this wonderful temple!”

My sisters and brothers in Christ, I speak to you in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Ghost. Amen.

As has been my routine for Remembrance Sunday, here we are, and here I am, with the goal of infusing our Christian engagement of remembrance of the victims of violence due to warfare with a bit of the voice of a soldier. I won’t presume to speak for all soldiers, but only for myself based on my experience and study of the subject, to talk a bit about this place of tension which we find ourselves dwelling within when we stop to consider remembrance. I have some hope that what I say today will be upsetting, or at least will cause you some disquiet, because the topic is upsetting.

If you don’t know my story, I joined the Royal Canadian Air Force in 1983 at age 17. I attended two of the military colleges and then worked as an aerospace engineering officer for 20 years until a military injury ended my career. I was not a chaplain. Instead I worked in what would be termed ‘close combat support’ with fighter aircraft, and I specialized in explosives engineering. My role for that entire period was to be ready to go to war, and to ensure that my troops were ready to go to war. So, when I speak about a soldier’s perspective on violence, I’m speaking of my bread and butter for most of that 20 years.

There is great resonance between my life as a soldier and my life as a Christian. The author of a book titled, “A Warrior’s Faith” about US Navy SEAL Ryan Job, drew this parallel, “The instant one becomes a Christian, one also becomes a warrior. The essence of Christianity is love, which is constantly under attack…God knows that we won’t win every battle…still he encourages us to stay in the fight.” I will also say that the thing which keeps military units functioning under incredible stresses is the love which exists between the soldiers.[1] But, along with that love comes the burden of what it is that we ask those soldiers to do on our behalf.

After my father-in-law was killed in a bear attack in 2005, we were out helping care for the cattle. A group of us were in a field near where my father in law had died. As he went to work with the cattle my brother-in-law handed me his hunting rifle and asked me to watch the tree line for bears. I did exactly as I had been trained, locked and loaded, and started a scan for threats. Beverley asked me why her brother had handed me the rifle and without thinking I replied, “Because I’m the only trained killer here.” // That was the first time since leaving uniform that I had spoken aloud what I’m still working through today: that my role was to bring great violence down upon those whom the government of Canada determined were our enemies. It is not intended to sound boastful but a reflection of what that vocation demands, every soldier must make two decisions: to be willing to take a life, and to be willing to give a life.

One of the first things that caught me in the readings was the opening verses of Psalm 146: “Put not your trust in princes, in a son of man, in whom there is no salvation. When his breath departs, he returns to the earth; on that very day his plans perish.” Soldiers, typically place little faith in anything smacking of government, politics or political leadership – this has to do with an ageless dichotomy between soldiers and their civilian leaders. It is rarely the leaders who are placed in harms way, but always the decision of those leaders which place soldiers in harm’s way.

What the passage also reminds us is that we are not to place too much faith in the secular rulers of this age. This is an important caution in an era when politics has become increasingly polarized and we have seen the successful election of what are politely called “alt-right” or “arch-conservative” governments, but in less polite but more precise terms we describe these as fascist in ideology. We see strains of this happening to the south of us, reflected in white supremacist demonstrations, and even in Canada with the public rise of groups like the Proud Boys and Soldiers of Odin.[2] Such movements offer the promise of certainty and comfort – if we have a conservative in the White House he will appoint the right kind of judges who will bring back the right kind of laws – and so even Christians become willing to accept a person who promises stability and values, even if their personal life and witness speaks to the contrary. As a soldier, this deeply terrifies me because I have seen in history and first hand the cost of these simplistic approaches. Dictatorships can be a safe, comfortable place to live, as long as the police are not taking your family members away.[3]

You hear this refrain in the other readings we listened to this day. Deuteronomy cautions rulers against acquiring too many horses, wives, silver or gold lest the ruler’s heart turn away. This is a clear warning that rulers are not to be part of the world’s values of things, but are to turn their attention only to God: in writing and keeping a book of The Law, Torah, by his side. The caution is against idolatry to things, replaced with a sure focus only on the Lord. The ultimate goal of this for the leader is, “that his heart may not be lifted up above his brothers, and that he may not turn aside from the commandment…”. This is something that the soldier understands intimately, that all real leaders see themselves as a part of that band of warriors and do not posture or pose based on rank or achievements.

You see this clearly when you listen to interviews with soldiers who have won medals for valour, and it is almost a rule that the higher the honour, the more humble the soldier. There’s a new Netflix series profiling American winners of the Medal of Honor, the US equivalent to the Victoria Cross, and you hear that humility in every story…this is not about me, it’s about the team, I really don’t think I’m a hero because some of my brothers did not return to their families. One modern Medal of Honor winner, Captain Florent Groberg, comments on a Second World War recipient, Army Sergeant Sylvester Antalok and describes what he did as “not true, no way a human being could go through what he went through and do what he did” and “I find it funny I’m a part of that society as a Medal of Honor recipient there is no way what I did is comparable to what this incredible human being did.” Sgt Antalok’s story is amazing, but by way of contrast listen to Captain Florent’s story: on a patrol with his battalion commander Captain Florent noticed a man acting strangely, when he made a sharp turn to move toward the patrol Captain Florent stepped between him and his Colonel. After pushing the man he realized he was wearing an explosive vest so he and his signaller threw the bomber to the ground. The bomber detonated his vest, causing massive damage to one of Captain Florent’s legs, but the Colonel was safe. “What I did is in no way comparable to what this incredible human did.” Is the Captain’s response. That’s the sort of selflessness that we see with soldiers, always pointing away from themselves to others, and always saying, “you should see what this other person did.” This is also one of the reasons that the soldier tends to distrust the political apparatus, as it appears lacking that aspect of selfless leadership as the focus turns to maintaining power at all costs. [4]

Political focus on everything but the person is apparent in the treatment of veterans. Each year the federal government chooses a mother to be the representative parent for all who have lost loved ones to the violence of war. This year, for the first time, the silver cross mother Ms. Anita Cenerini, is the parent of an Afghanistan veteran who died by suicide shortly after returning from the first combat rotations through that country. Her son, Private Thomas Welch of the 3rd Battalion, Royal Canadian Regiment, committed suicide on May 8, 2004 at the age of 22. His death was not considered to be service-related at the time he died. What this meant is the Memorial Cross was not awarded to his family, he did not receive the Medal of Sacrifice for death or injury in combat, and his name was not added to the Book of Remembrance – all because he was not considered a combat casualty. It was only after years of lobbying, and the reporting from the Globe and Mail I’ve mentioned before, that his death was reclassified in 2017, 13 years after his death. At the time he died there were no real services available for soldiers returning with operational stress injuries.

Things have not changed much, as we still have no systemic way to track soldier suicides. From a news article quoting Ms. Cenerini:

“There are a lot of soldiers out there who have fallen in the cracks and we’re not reaching them and they have to matter, I want them to matter, because for 13 years Thomas’s death didn’t matter. Thomas’s death didn’t matter to anyone except our family.” Ms. Cenerini had long felt like an outcast, forgotten by the Canadian Armed Forces, she said. The military investigated her son’s suicide, but kept its findings from the family until The Globe began pressing for answers. The investigation report, provided to the family last year, showed that a full military inquiry was never ordered and family members were not interviewed. Had military investigators spoken with Pte. Welch’s family, they would have learned that the young rifleman’s mental health had deteriorated dramatically after he was deployed to Afghanistan in August, 2003. His mother says she believes he was grappling with post-traumatic stress disorder.

In 2017 Legion magazine asked the same question a number of us have been asking for years: how many veterans die by suicide each year? The answer, 16 years after the start of the mission in Afghanistan, is we still don’t know. We still don’t know. A tracking mechanism planned to be in place in December 2017 does not seem to be operating. Of the about 40,000 soldiers who served in that theatre, one-third reported not making the transition back to Canadian life successfully. That’s 13,000 people. We do know that in the USA starting in 2013 the number of suicides outnumbered those killed in combat and that we have just passed the line where total deaths due to suicide outnumber total combat deaths, but unlike Canada, there is a comprehensive reporting framework in the US. We still don’t know.

The epidemic of soldier suicides points us to the caustic impact of violence but also to the tight social culture of service and how dramatic the shift is between being in uniform and out of uniform. The military is literally a different culture. Let me give you an example. I worked with people I wouldn’t trust alone with my daughter, but I would trust them with a loaded rifle to guard my back. That is because I knew that in spite of who they were, they were focused on the same mission that I was focused on, and that we would work together to achieve that mission, even if we wouldn’t be having each over for dinner anytime soon. It’s the reason I still have a stress response when I’m going to be late for a commitment: because when you miss agreed to timings in the world of soldiering, people die. That absolute bond between soldiers is something that doesn’t exist in most civilian organizations. The transition from within that system, where people understand what you have seen and done, to the outside where you are basically on your own, is stark for both soldiers and their families.

Soldier Mike Stajura puts it this way: “The truth is that I had never been in such a supportive social environment in my life.… when Veterans leave military service, many of them, like me, are leaving the most cohesive and helpful social network they’ve ever experienced. And that hurts. Most recent Veterans aren’t suffering because they remember what was bad. They’re suffering because they miss what was good.”[5]

That image of the “most cohesive and helpful social network they’ve ever experienced” should sound familiar to most of us. This is an image of what the Body of Christ, the Church is supposed to represent at its most effective. A place where the sick are healed, those with wounds will find rest, and in spite of our interpersonal differences a unity in community because we all share in the same mission: this being the worship of Almighty God. I see some of that in our community, which is the reason we’ve been here for just over 12 years, but it is not what reflects the church’s presence in the world which is more often characterised by division and discord.

The caution against relying too much on the works of humankind comes also through the Gospel reading today. As the disciples are marvelling at the glorious buildings of the temple, and the state of their theocratic nation, even under Roman occupation, Jesus reminds them that this too shall pass. Jesus goes on to describe the beginning of the birth pains of the rebirth of the world: wars and rumours of wars, earthquakes, the rise of false gods, and the loss of many. It sounds a lot like the world we live in. The largest caution is to avoid the idolatry of a Christian utopia: that is, if we can just put the right structures and rules in place, we will create that new Garden of Eden that God spoke of. There is no such promise available to us in Scripture.

As my final words, I thought I would summarize by quoting some of Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s thought. His writing sits credibly because I know he wrestled with some of those same questions in his decision to participate in a plot to kill Hitler. Bonhoeffer proposes a practical Christianity that demanded involvement with unjust systems, even if that involvement resulted in the Christian committing sin that would later need to be repented of: an ethic that demands action. He writes that “responsible action involves both willingness to become guilty and to act”. Are we willing to act and bear guilt for the love of neighbour? “For the sake of God and neighbour…one may be freed from keeping the Sabbath holy, honoring one’s parents, indeed from the entire divine law.” “Who stands fast? Only the person whose final standard is not reason, principles, conscience, freedom or personal virtue, but who is ready to sacrifice all this when called to obedient and responsible action in faith and in exclusive allegiance to God.” “Bonhoeffer used to say it is not only my task to look after the victims of madmen who drive a motorcar in a crowded street, but to do all in my power to stop their driving at all.” “Is it the sole task of the church to exercise love within the given worldly orders…to care for the victims of those orders, and to establish within the church community its own new order; or does the church have a mission in regard to the given worldly orders themselves, in the sense of correction, improvement …working toward a new worldly order? That is, is the church merely to pick up the victims, or must the church take hold of the spokes of the wheel itself?” “When he finally decided to participate in the plot to kill Hitler he did so only with the strongly conflicted sense that this was the thing God wanted him to do and yet he was doing something evil for which he needed, and hoped for, forgiveness.”[6]

I find much in Bonhoeffer’s writing that resonates with me in terms of the tension between my military service, my choice to enter military service, and my calling as a disciple of Christ. What it comes down to for me is that at one point in my life I decided what it was that I was willing to die for. My question back to the church is this: what is it that the church has decided that it is willing to die for? Amen.

[A word of explanation at this point as this may sound like my call to the church to become a revolutionary and die in the process. That’s not what I’m trying to say (although the church should be willing to take that role). We are called by Jesus to die to ourselves, and be reborn in Him. That is sometimes only seen as a once-in-a-lifetime moment, but I see it as a series of rebirth and re-commitments as you move deeper into faith. The contrary force is the one that pulls us to exist only in the world, where we satisfy ourselves by becoming part of those oppressive structures but refuse to die because we believe we are doing something too important. It struck me that the Church is the same way. Each month my Anglican Journal is full of articles about new initiatives to increase engagement (and increase the amount of money people donate) all focused on sustaining the organization. So the question – is the church willing to die? Is all about the Church’s willingness to submit itself to Christ knowing that one answer it may receive is it is now time for you to die and create new life somewhere else.]


This marvelous video out of Australia done by three women soldiers under the name “Sisters in Arms” in response to the number of people who say to women soldiers in civilian dress that they’re wearing their medals on the wrong side (because in Australia you may wear a loved one’s medals on the right at remembrance events). So they sing, “I wear my medals on the left.” Such an advanced society where we’re still acting like women can’t be soldiers…

https://www.theguardian.com/news/datablog/2013/feb/01/us-military-suicides-trend-charts

https://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/manitoba/silver-cross-mother-anita-cenerini-thomas-welch-1.4882768

https://www.theglobeandmail.com/canada/article-no-longer-forgotten-silver-cross-mother-recognizes-death-by-suicide/

https://www.theglobeandmail.com/news/national/at-least-59-canadian-soliders-died-by-suicide-after-afghanistan-war/article27075997/

https://legionmagazine.com/en/2017/01/veterans-suicide/  A very good article.

https://thesuicideproject.ca/  Someone has started a project in Canada to collect data because the government isn’t doing it.

Captain Florent Groberg: http://www.letsrun.com/news/2014/08/florent-groberg/

Sgt Sylvester Antolak: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sylvester_Antolak

1/3 did not make the transition back to Canada successfully: https://qspace.library.queensu.ca/bitstream/handle/1974/13511/Rose_Steve_R_201508_PhD.pdf;sequence=1  I also want to say thank-you to the Canadian Veterans who gave their time and insight in the interviews. Here is a compilation of their stories, woven into a single voice:

As an eighteen-year-old kid, the military gives you a sense of purpose,
It give you a sense of responsibility that you don’t usually get at eighteen.
At thirty-five I have to be my five-year-old self all over again,
“What do you want to be when you grow up?’”
Trying to find my place; who am I? Where am I going to go?
What am I going to do now?
You don’t have an answer for who you are, you’re just kind of a lost soul.

The military is like your parents,
You’re taught how to behave, how to look, how to react to things.
You don’t have that military conscience on your shoulder anymore,
Now I just have to be accountable to myself, and that’s a problem.
I found it easier to think on my feet for eight guys
than it is to organize my day-to-day here.
There were rules in the army,
there was a reason for people to do better and to be better.

Everything is so black and white when you’re in the military,
Do something wrong, you get jacked up hard,
In the civilian-world, “something got missed? Oh well, we’ll get it next time,”
To me that’s like “what? Get it next time?”
I came from an environment where sometimes there is no next time,
You do this right or that’s it, somebody fucking dies.

The military is an F-1 racecar in comparison to the company I am at now,
Going from working in a high-performance team to working in a B team or a C team.
I would walk out of meetings going, “that was two hours of god-damn time wasted,”
I work really long hours, but that’s our commitment, that’s our dedication.
I find meaning working with a bunch of people that are motivated, driven, and ambitious,
That’s what I had in Afghanistan.

It’s hard to care about things you should care about in civilian life,
There was just an overwhelming sense that nothing mattered.
I felt like that was the pentacle of my life,
And now you’re supposed to find something else and find new meaning?
I wondered whether my life would be better if I were dead than alive,
I wondered whether my best days were behind me.

The most difficult thing is knowing that I can’t go back.
I don’t necessarily miss being blown up and shot at,
But I miss the sense of purpose that comes with combat.
Beyond your paycheck, you get paid psychologically in the military,
…a sense of purpose, focus, comradare, mission, and all those kinds of things,
There’s a lot of people that would just do it for the psychological payoff but no money.

You’re used to doing things that mattered,
Now suddenly your life is simply digesting bullshit and consuming instead.
“Inextinguishable thirst is constantly renewed torture…
…this race for an unattainable goal can give no other pleasure but that of the race itself,
Once it is interrupted the participants are left empty-handed.”

[1] “A Warrior’s Faith”, Robert Vera 2015, p. 128.

[2] https://www.thestar.com/edmonton/2018/10/07/ucp-candidates-posed-with-soldiers-of-odin-say-they-didnt-know-who-they-were.html, https://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/edmonton/ucp-soldiers-of-odin-photo-1.4854143

[3] Consider here Madeleine Albright’s recent book: Fascism A Warning, by Madeleine Albright and Bill Woodward

[4] https://www.cbc.ca/news/politics/justin-trudeau-town-hall-edmonton-1.4515822 When asked why the feds were fighting veterans in court Trudeau replied, “Why are we still fighting certain veterans groups in court? Because they’re asking for more than we are able to give right now,” I’m just wrapping up the second class action lawsuit vs the feds and insurers because of the practice of using disability pension payments as income, something done no where else in Canada. Those two lawsuits have cost a ton in legal fees and both ended up in settlement because the law on the question is so clear, yet the fed gov’t fought both in court. Not the example of a caring government, and that happened under both Harper and Trudeau’s watches.

[5] What Vets Miss Most Is What Most Civilians Fear: A Regimented, Cohesive Network That Always Checks On You, Mike Stajura, Nov. 26, 2013.

[6] This passage is mostly direct quotation from John Stackhouse’s book, Making the Best of It: Following Christ in the Real World, pp. 148-159. This is his analysis of Bonhoeffer’s ethic of direct Christian action as a crucial component of discipleship, even if that direct action requires you to commit sins which will need repentance before, during and after the event. Most of it is Bonhoeffer direct quotes, a few are Stackhouse’

Written by sameo416

November 10, 2018 at 10:14 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

What is our calling: to care for the victims, or to actively transform the world? First Draft

leave a comment »

A Sermon Preached for Remembrance Sunday, 11 November 2018

At St John the Evangelist Church (c) 2018, Ps 146, Deut 17:14-20, Mark 13:1-13 “See this wonderful temple!”

My sisters and brothers in Christ, I speak to you in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Ghost. Amen.

As has been my routine for Remembrance Sunday, here we are, and here I am, with the goal of infusing our Christian engagement of remembrance of the victims of violence due to warfare with a bit of the voice of a soldier. I won’t presume to speak for all soldiers, but only for myself based on my experience and study of the subject, to talk a bit about this place of tension which we find ourselves dwelling within when we stop to consider remembrance. I have some hope that what I say today will be upsetting, or at least will cause you some disquiet, because the topic is an upsetting one.

If you don’t know my story, I joined the Royal Canadian Air force in 1983 at age 17, right from high school. I attended two of the military colleges and then worked as an aerospace engineering officer for 20 years until a military injury ended my career. I was not a chaplain. Instead I worked in what would be termed ‘close combat support’ with fighter aircraft, and I specialized in explosives engineering. Up until 1991 I served in the Cold War era including working in NORAD in Canada, in NATO in Germany, and afterwards in Arctic operations as we faced the renewed aggression of a revitalized Russian state. My role for that entire period was to be ready to go to war, and to ensure that my troops were ready to go to war. So, when I speak about a soldier’s perspective on violence, hear that I’m speaking of my bread and butter for most of that 20 years.

I expect that this homily will be provocative for some people, particularly if you are from a tradition that places nonviolence as a key value. All I will speak to is my own experience, my vocational calling from God to join the military, and how that experience shaped my faith. Everything I learned about being a Christian in it for the long haul, about discipline and obedience, I learned in uniform. The strengths that allow me to persevere through chronic pain and limitations, another enduring aspect of my military service, are those I learned in uniform. My theology of suffering I learned in uniform. For me, there is resonance between my life as a soldier and my life as a Christian. The author of a book titled, “A Warrior’s Faith” about US Navy SEAL Ryan Job, drew this parallel, “The instant one becomes a Christian, one also becomes a warrior. The essence of Christianity is love, which is constantly under attack, thus the way. God knows that we won’t win every battle…still he encourages us to stay in the fight.” I will also say that the thing which keeps military units functioning under incredible stresses is the love which exists between the soldiers.[1] But, along with that love comes the burden of what it is that we ask those soldiers to do on our behalf.

After my father-in-law was killed in a bear attack in 2005, we were out helping my brother in law care for the cattle. A group of us were in a field near where my father in law had died. As he went to work with the cattle my brother in law handed me his hunting rifle and asked me to watch the tree line for bears. I did exactly as I had been trained, locked and loaded, and started a scan for threats. Beverley asked me why her brother had handed me the rifle // without thinking I replied, “Because I’m the only trained killer here.” // That was the first time since leaving uniform that I had spoken aloud what I’m still working through today: that my role was to bring great violence down upon those who the government of Canada determined were our enemies. It is not intended to sound boastful but a reflection of what that vocation demands, every soldier must make two decisions: to be willing to take a life, and to be willing to give a life.

This is one of the things I’ll be reflecting on today, is the cost to individuals of living in a violent world. Soldiers carry the burden of their service with them always, and it really doesn’t matter if that was through multiple tours in Afghanistan or through the laughable concept of “safe” peacetime training here in North America. Soldiers serve under an unlimited liability – it is the only role in our society where people willingly permit themselves to enter an organization where they may be given a legally-binding order that will result in their death. There are lots of professions which place members at risk: fire, police, health care, paramedics, but only one where you are obligated to follow any lawful order even if you know it will certainly result in your death – the military. The soldier does not exist under the protection of OH&S legislation, WHMIS, workers compensation, employment standards codes and a whole host of other nets that are taken for granted throughout our society.

A few years back for my 50th birthday my spouse and I went to the Czech Republic. I had always wanted to visit Prague and so we took a wonderful trip there. I had not expected it to be such an emotional encounter for me, as my first trip behind the “Iron Curtain”, a phrase now consigned to only a distant history. It was not that long ago that I would have been required to apply for permission to travel to such a place. If it had been permitted, and that was by no means assured, I would need to go through intelligence briefings before and after the visit, both to warn and prepare me and then to gather anything I had seen or learned but also if I had maybe been caught and compromised by the enemy intelligence apparatus.

We hired a local tour guide for a walking tour of the city. She was in her late 30’s, so old enough to have been alive during the Cold War. At one point in the tour she told us a story of how, as school children, they were trained to prepare for chemical, biological or nuclear attacks: they had to bring in plastic shopping bags. With rain coats and rubber boots they would tape the bags over their hands and feet, and then hide in underground passageways wearing protective respirators. When she finished the story she looked at me with some concern and said, “Most people are laughing by this point…”. I explained that while she was doing that I was in Canada training to be the attacking force under the same conditions, and that I didn’t find nuclear-biological-chemical warfare operations particularly funny. I explained that one of my roles was to operate under those conditions (we called this “STO” or survival to operate), knowing that when you are working in a place where the air will literally kill you it is really about the management of attrition. We carried with us radiation detectors so our dosing could be tracked over time, with the idea that if you were getting too high you would be kept in safety, but we all knew that if we were in that situation it would be a literal fight for our lives. The only end game scenario that played out in those Cold War exercises was everybody dies. I recall describing this to a coworker who had only served in engineering specialty roles and he asked, “Wow. How is it you can sleep at night?”

Now, all of that should be offensive to anyone who hears it. Why should anyone have to train to fight in such horrific conditions? And lest we think this also a historic relic, the same sort of training is going on today. While it may not be the Soviet Bear we fear, there are a host of state and non-state actors with access to nuclear, chemical and biological compounds, along with routine things like a variety of explosives, around us even today and sometimes just next door. What is does highlight for me is that we live in a violent world, and also how the church has been complicit if not actively promoting that violence through much of our history and continuing today. On the Moose Jaw tunnel tour about Chinese immigration to Canada I came across a poster supporting the Chinese head tax at a citizen’s rally, with the local Anglican priest speaking in favour of taxing immigrants. That’s history for sure, but the reality is things have not changed that much.

One of the first things that caught me in the readings was the opening verses of Psalm 146: “Put not your trust in princes, in a son of man, in whom there is no salvation. When his breath departs, he returns to the earth; on that very day his plans perish.” Soldiers, typically place little faith in anything smacking of government, politics or political leadership – this has to do with an ageless dichotomy between soldiers and their civilian leaders. It is rarely the leaders who are placed in harms way, but always the decision of those leaders which place soldiers in harm’s way.

What the passage also reminds us is that we are not to place too much faith in the secular rulers of this age. This is an important caution in an era when politics has become increasingly polarized and we have seen the successful election of what are politely called “alt-right” or “arch conservative” governments, but in less polite terms we might describe as fascist in ideology. This should be of concern to all of us, as the rise of fascism last time around resulted in the Second World War. We see strains of this happening to the south of us, reflected in white supremacist demonstrations, and even in Canada with the public rise of groups like the Proud Boys and Soldiers of Odin.[2] Such movements offer the promise of certainty and comfort – if we have a conservative in the White House he will appoint the right kind of judges who will bring back the right kind of laws – and so even Christians become willing to accept a person who promises stability and values, even if their personal life and witness speaks to the contrary. As a soldier, this deeply terrifies me because I have seen in history and first hand the cost of these simplistic approaches on the society and the people. Dictatorships can be a safe, comfortable place to live, as long as the police are not taking your family members away.[3]

You hear this refrain in the other readings we listened to this day. If you’re a ruler Deuteronomy cautions against acquiring too many horses, wives, silver or gold lest the ruler’s heart turn away. This is a clear warning that rulers are not to be part of the world’s values of things, but are to turn their attention only to God: in writing and keeping a book of The Law, Torah, by his side. The caution is against idolatry to things, replaced with a sure focus only on the Lord. The ultimate goal of this for the leader is, “that his heart may not be lifted up above his brothers, and that he may not turn aside from the commandment…”. This is something that the soldier understands intimately, that all real leaders see themselves as a part of that band of warriors and do not posture or pose based on rank or achievements.

You see this clearly when you listen to interviews with soldiers who have won medals for valour, and it is almost a rule that the higher the honour, the more humble the soldier. There’s a new Netflix series profiling American winners of the Medal of Honor, the US equivalent to the Victoria Cross, and you hear that humility in every story…this is not about me, it’s about the team, I really don’t think I’m a hero because some of my brothers did not return to their families. One modern Medal of Honor winner, Captain Florent Groberg comments on a Second World War recipient and describes the story of US Army Sergeant Sylvester Antalok as “not true, no way a human being could go through what he went through and do what he did” and “I find it funny I’m a part of that society as a Medal of Honor recipient there is no way what I did is comparable to what this incredible human being did.” Sgt Antalok’s story is amazing, but by way of contrast listen to Captain Florent’s story: on a patrol with his battalion commander Captain Florent noticed a man acting strangely, when he made a sharp turn to move toward the patrol Captain Florent stepped between him and his Colonel. After pushing the man he realized he was wearing an explosive vest so he and his radioman threw the bomber to the ground. The bomber detonated his vest, causing massive damage to one of Captain Florent’s legs, but the Colonel was safe. “What I did is in no way comparable to what this incredible human did.” Is the Captain’s response. That’s the sort of selflessness that we see with soldiers, always pointing away from themselves to others, and always saying, “you should see what this other person did.” This is also one of the reasons that the soldier tends to distrust the political apparatus, as it often appears lacking that aspect of selfless leadership as the focus turns to maintaining power at all costs.

I encounter this the few times I let myself get pulled into social media fights about governments. As a client of Veterans Affairs Canada since about 2000, I have to say that in terms of support the government in power is irrelevant from the perspective of an injured veteran. Assertions like, “Harper was worse” are meaningless from a veteran’s perspective, because I’ve not see that support improve beyond mild indifference over the last 18 years. It may start with grand words about supporting our wounded, but it always ends with talk about a shortage of money.[4] My second class action lawsuit is just concluding after 4 years in the courts – the first one was about the same question, and after fighting for years in each case the government is settling. Much like Indigenous rights, veterans rights too often need to be won through the courts.

That indifference tied to cost concerns is also clear in the association of veteran’s suicide with military service. Each year the federal government chooses a mother to be the representative parent for all who have lost loved ones to the violence of war. This year, for the first time, the silver cross mother Ms. Anita Cenerini is the parent of an Afghanistan veteran who died by suicide shortly after returning from the first combat rotations through that country in August 2003. Her son, Private Thomas Welch of the 3rd Battalion, Royal Canadian Regiment, committed suicide on May 8, 2004 at the age of 22. His death was not considered to be service-related at the time he died. What this meant is the Memorial Cross, was not awarded to his family, he did not receive the Medal of Sacrifice and his name was not added to the Book of Remembrance – all because he was not considered a combat casualty. It was only after years of lobbying, and the reporting from the Globe and Mail I’ve mentioned before, that his death was reclassified in 2017, 13 years after his death. At the time he died there were essentially no services available for soldiers returning with operational stress injuries.

Things have not changed much, as we still have no systemic way to track soldier suicides. It has been promised but governments, regardless of what political stripe they represent, have all treated this with some indifference. In the words of Ms. Cenerini,

“There are a lot of soldiers out there who have fallen in the cracks and we’re not reaching them and they have to matter, I want them to matter, because for 13 years Thomas’s death didn’t matter. Thomas’s death didn’t matter to anyone except our family.” Ms. Cenerini had long felt like an outcast, forgotten by the Canadian Armed Forces, she said. The military investigated her son’s suicide, but kept its findings from the family until The Globe began pressing for answers. The investigation report, provided to the family last year, showed that a full military inquiry was never ordered and family members were not interviewed. Had military investigators spoken with Pte. Welch’s family, they would have learned that the young rifleman’s mental health had deteriorated dramatically after he was deployed to Afghanistan in August, 2003. His mother says she believes he was grappling with post-traumatic stress disorder.

In 2017 Legion magazine asked the same question a number of us have been asking for years: how many veterans die by suicide each year? The answer, 16 years after the start of the mission in Afghanistan, is we still don’t know. We still don’t know. A tracking mechanism planned to be in place in December 2017 does not seem to be operating. Of the about 40,000 soldiers who served in that theatre, one-third reported not making the transition back to Canadian life successfully. That’s 13,000 people. We do know that in the USA the number of suicides outnumbered those killed in combat starting in 2013, and that we have just passed the line where total deaths due to suicide outnumber total combat deaths, but there is a comprehensive reporting framework in the US unlike Canada. We still don’t know.

The epidemic of soldier suicides points us to the caustic impact of violence and also the stresses of service. What it also highlights for me is how dramatic the shift is between being in uniform and out of uniform. The military is literally a different culture. Let me give you an example. I worked with people I wouldn’t trust alone with my daughter, but I would trust them with a loaded rifle to guard my back. That is because I knew that in spite of who they were, they were focused on the same mission that I was focused on, and that we would work together to achieve that mission, even if we wouldn’t be having each over for dinner anytime soon. It’s the reason I still have a stress response when I’m going to be late for a commitment: because when you miss agreed to timings in the world of soldiering, people die. That absolute bond between soldiers is something that doesn’t exist in most civilian organizations. The transition from within that system, where people understand what you have seen and done, to the outside where you are basically on your own, is stark for both soldiers and their families.

Soldier Mike Stajura puts it this way: “The truth is that I had never been in such a supportive social environment in my life.… when Veterans leave military service, many of them, like me, are leaving the most cohesive and helpful social network they’ve ever experienced. And that hurts. Most recent Veterans aren’t suffering because they remember what was bad. They’re suffering because they miss what was good.”[5]

Now, as one last comment about my military service – that image of the “most cohesive and helpful social network they’ve ever experienced” should sound familiar to most of us. This is an image of the Body of Christ, the Church, at its most effective. A place where the sick are healed, those with wounds will find rest, and in spite of our interpersonal differences a unity in community because we all share in the same mission: this being the worship of Almighty God. I see some of that in our community, which is the reason we’ve been here for just over 12 years, but it is not what reflects the church’s presence in the world which is often characterized by division and discord. That has impacted soldiers too, as there have been instances in Edmonton of soldiers being refused access to worship.

The caution against relying too much on the works of humankind comes also through the Gospel reading today. As the disciples are marveling at the glorious buildings of the temple, and the state of their theocratic nation, even under Roman occupation, Jesus reminds them that this too shall pass. Jesus goes on to describe the beginning of the birth pains of the rebirth of the world: wars and rumours of wars, earthquakes, the rise of false gods, and the loss of many. It sounds a lot like the world we live in, and the world that has existed since Jesus’ departure. The largest caution out of that passage is to avoid the idolatry of a Christian utopia: that is, if we can just put the right structures and rules in place, we will create that new Garden of Eden that God spoke of. There is no such promise available to us in Scripture. Yet this is what motivates many of our brothers and sisters, including those who support the rise of those ultra-conservative politicians, because they believe that they will work to bring about the Christian state that they long for. That is an idolatry, as it involves placing faith in structures of humankind to bring about God’s promised rule.

As my final words, I thought I would summarize by quoting some of Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s thought. His writing sits credibly with me because I know he wrestled with some of those same questions in his decision to participate in a plot to kill Hitler. It is the same weight that CS Lewis and JRR Tolkien carry when they write about battle and death as I know that they were both there, in the thick of it, in the trenches of World War I. Bonhoeffer proposes a practical Christianity that demanded involvement with unjust systems, even if that involvement resulted in the Christian committing sin that would later need to be repented of, it is an ethic that demands action: he writes that “responsible action involves both willingness to become guilty and freedom”. Are we willing to take on and bear guilt for the love of neighbour? “For the sake of God and neighbour…one may be freed from keeping the Sabbath holy, honoring one’s parents, indeed from the entire divine law.” “Who stands fast? Only the person whose final standard is not reason, principles, conscience, freedom or personal virtue, but who is ready to sacrifice all this when called to obedient and responsible action in faith and in exclusive allegiance to God.” “Bonhoeffer used to say it is not only my task to look after the victims of madmen who drive a motorcar in a crowded street, but to do all in my power to stop their driving at all.” “Is it the sole task of the church to exercise love within the given worldly orders…to care for the victims of those orders, and to establish within the church community its own new order; or does the church have a mission in regard to the given worldly orders themselves, in the sense of correction, improvement…working toward a new worldly order? That is, is the church merely to pick up the victims, or must the church take hold of the spokes of the wheel itself?” “When he finally decided to participate in the plot to kill Hitler he did so only with the strongly conflicted sense that this was the thing God wanted him to do and yet he was doing something evil for which he needed, and hoped for, forgiveness.”[6]

I find much in Bonhoeffer’s writing that resonates with me in terms of the tension between my military service, my choice to enter military service, and my calling as a disciple of Christ. What it comes down to for me is that at one point in my life I decided what it was that I was willing to die for. My question back to the church is this: what is it that the church has decided that it is willing to die for? Amen.


This marvelous video out of Australia done by three women soldiers under the name “Sisters in Arms” in response to the number of people who say to women soldiers in civilian dress that they’re wearing their medals on the wrong side (because in Australia you may wear a loved one’s medals on the right at remembrance events). So they sing, “I wear my medals on the left.” Such an advanced society where we’re still acting like women can’t be soldiers…

https://www.theguardian.com/news/datablog/2013/feb/01/us-military-suicides-trend-charts

https://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/manitoba/silver-cross-mother-anita-cenerini-thomas-welch-1.4882768

https://www.theglobeandmail.com/canada/article-no-longer-forgotten-silver-cross-mother-recognizes-death-by-suicide/

https://www.theglobeandmail.com/news/national/at-least-59-canadian-soliders-died-by-suicide-after-afghanistan-war/article27075997/

https://legionmagazine.com/en/2017/01/veterans-suicide/  A very good article.

https://thesuicideproject.ca/  Someone has started a project in Canada to collect data because the government isn’t doing it.

Captain Florent Groberg: http://www.letsrun.com/news/2014/08/florent-groberg/

Sgt Sylvester Antolak: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sylvester_Antolak

1/3 did not make the transition back to Canada successfully: https://qspace.library.queensu.ca/bitstream/handle/1974/13511/Rose_Steve_R_201508_PhD.pdf;sequence=1  I also want to say thank-you to the Canadian Veterans who gave their time and insight in the interviews. Here is a compilation of their stories, woven into a single voice: (this is from Steve Rose’s doctoral thesis available at the link above)

As an eighteen-year-old kid, the military gives you a sense of purpose,
It give you a sense of responsibility that you don’t usually get at eighteen.
At thirty-five I have to be my five-year-old self all over again,
“What do you want to be when you grow up?’”
Trying to find my place; who am I? Where am I going to go?
What am I going to do now?

You don’t have an answer for who you are, you’re just kind of a lost soul.

The military is like your parents,
You’re taught how to behave, how to look, how to react to things.
You don’t have that military conscience on your shoulder anymore,
Now I just have to be accountable to myself, and that’s a problem.
I found it easier to think on my feet for eight guys
than it is to organize my day-to-day here.

There were rules in the army,
there was a reason for people to do better and to be better.

Everything is so black and white when you’re in the military,
Do something wrong, you get jacked up hard,
In the civilian-world, “something got missed? Oh well, we’ll get it next time,”
To me that’s like “what? Get it next time?”
I came from an environment where sometimes there is no next time,
You do this right or that’s it, somebody fucking dies.

The military is an F-1 racecar in comparison to the company I am at now,
Going from working in a high-performance team to working in a B team or a C team.
I would walk out of meetings going, “that was two hours of god-damn time wasted,”
I work really long hours, but that’s our commitment, that’s our dedication.
I find meaning working with a bunch of people that are motivated, driven, and ambitious,
That’s what I had in Afghanistan.

It’s hard to care about things you should care about in civilian life,
There was just an overwhelming sense that nothing mattered.
I felt like that was the pentacle of my life,
And now you’re supposed to find something else and find new meaning?
I wondered whether my life would be better if I were dead than alive,
I wondered whether my best days were behind me.

The most difficult thing is knowing that I can’t go back.
I don’t necessarily miss being blown up and shot at,
But I miss the sense of purpose that comes with combat.
Beyond your paycheck, you get paid psychologically in the military,
…a sense of purpose, focus, comradare, mission, and all those kinds of things,
There’s a lot of people that would just do it for the psychological payoff but no money.

You’re used to doing things that mattered,
Now suddenly your life is simply digesting bullshit and consuming instead.
“Inextinguishable thirst is constantly renewed torture…
…this race for an unattainable goal can give no other pleasure but that of the race itself,
Once it is interrupted the participants are left empty-handed.”

[1] “A Warrior’s Faith”, Robert Vera 2015, p. 128.

[2] https://www.thestar.com/edmonton/2018/10/07/ucp-candidates-posed-with-soldiers-of-odin-say-they-didnt-know-who-they-were.html, https://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/edmonton/ucp-soldiers-of-odin-photo-1.4854143

[3] Consider here Madeleine Albright’s recent book: Fascism A Warning, by Madeleine Albright and Bill Woodward

[4] https://www.cbc.ca/news/politics/justin-trudeau-town-hall-edmonton-1.4515822 When asked why the feds were fighting veterans in court Trudeau replied, “Why are we still fighting certain veterans groups in court? Because they’re asking for more than we are able to give right now,” I’m just wrapping up the second class action lawsuit vs the feds and insurers because of the practice of using disability pension payments as income, something done no where else in Canada. Those two lawsuits have cost a ton in legal fees and both ended up in settlement because the law on the question is so clear, yet the fed gov’t fought both in court. Not the example of a caring government, and that happened under both Harper and Trudeau’s watches.

[5] What Vets Miss Most Is What Most Civilians Fear: A Regimented, Cohesive Network That Always Checks On You, Mike Stajura, Nov. 26, 2013.

[6] This passage is mostly direct quotation from John Stackhouse’s book, Making the Best of It: Following Christ in the Real World, pp. 148-159. This is his analysis of Bonhoeffer’s ethic of direct Christian action as a crucial component of discipleship, even if that direct action requires you to commit sins which will need repentance before, during and after the event. Most of it is Bonhoeffer direct quotes, a few are Stackhouse’

Written by sameo416

November 10, 2018 at 2:33 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

Land Acknowledgements?

leave a comment »

Patrick Mascoe, an Ottawa educator, wrote this in a recent article in the Ottawa Journal (October 27, 2018, “Mascoe: Here’s why land acknowledgements are both meaningless and patronizing“):

Let me use an analogy that everyone should be able to understand. Your home gets broken into and a man walks off with your television. You discover years later that every time he turned on your television set he acknowledged that it wasn’t his TV, but thanked you for its use. Would you be OK with that? I think I would be pissed.

This article reflected, from a Settler perspective, some of my disquiet over land acknowledgements. I mean, I’m happy to hear Settler organizations thoughtfully employ those sorts of things, but at the same time it leaves me uneasy. In Mascoe’s words, what does it mean when someone takes something from you, and acknowledges that, but does nothing to change things. More on that later.

I have been thinking about these acknowledgements over the past year as I’ve seen the words used in a variety of forums:

  • With sincerity followed by an elder’s words and prayer at the opening of CCWEST 2018.
  • With sincerity followed by an elder’s words and prayer at the opening of a restorative justice conference in the USA.
  • Not at all at a number of professional meetings and conferences.
  • Opened by a elder with prayer at a reconciliation themed workshop.
  • Read by rote at openings of plenary sessions at CNAR 2018.

The three events with elders praying were interesting in contrast. One of the things that can be done when an elder is invited to open in prayer is to publicly demonstrate proper protocol for engaging that elder. Even though you may have asked the question much earlier (hopefully with a gift of tobacco or other medicine), it is appropriate to do a gifting at the opening. This is a teaching moment for everyone present, so they will see modelled the proper way to respect an elder’s presence.

CCWEST did that, the reconciliation workshop did that, but there was no overt gifting at the restorative justice conference. It may have happened, but we could not tell if it had been done. Not doing a portion of that publicly leaves Indigenous in the audience (at least this person) feeling a little uneasy. I was wondering if I should intercept the elder to make a personal gift.

A surprising request came from one of my coworkers prior to an internal function, if I would permit an acknowledgement to be done at the opening. She was surprised when I thanked her for being bold, and that as Métis I deeply appreciated her gesture. I have thought about bringing the practice into my workplace, but held back because I did not want to impose something on a Settler organization, this seeming too much like a use of the same sort of power that Indigenous have experienced since 1492. Using the same sort of coercive power for a good purpose does nothing to advance reconciliation, in my mind.

I was happy for this gesture at my employer, because it was Settler-led. That is perhaps where the value comes in one step along a lengthy process of re-education about what history really represents.

It contrasted sharply with a comment made in a meeting of technical officials from other parts of Canada. After a question was asked about the response of my profession to the TRC, I heard one say there was nothing of relevance to our profession. After a moment of speechlessness I offered to draft a document outlining where I thought there was direct relevance. As my profession was one of the key engines of colonialism, that level of unawareness was shocking.

At CNAR, it was clear they had decided as an organization that this would be part of their commitment to reconciliation. And that makes me glad to see interest and action. One workshop was all about reconciliation, which was also good – although one miss was some discussion about the radically different worldviews possessed by Indigenous as contrasted with Settlers. I don’t believe reconciliation can proceed until there is an understanding that we see reality in oppositional ways. What does it mean to a Settler when I say that I am in relationship with the land? That the land is alive and acknowledges me?

What was missed at CNAR was some teaching around why the land acknowledgements were being proclaimed. It would be appropriate, as a change in direction, to offer the rationale for the change and also why it was important. That question: whose land are you standing on? Is critical in the reconciliation process, for the entire Colonial Enterprise has been enabled and funded by the exploitation of land as object and possession. Devoid of that context what the acknowledgement becomes, literally, is a piece of paper that someone is told to read out at the opening. Land acknowledgements are supposed to prompt reflection leading to changes in behaviour, but can’t do that if there is no teaching surrounding the words.

Worldview differences come through clearly in the way those acknowledgements are usually received. We are standing on “their” land, which we took from “them”. The acknowledgement leads a listener to believe that we’re implying the land was previously owned by someone else. That concept, land ownership, is a colonial idea and does not have place in an Indigenous understanding of place. So the misunderstandings can easily be reinforced.

After hearing the acknowledgements I intended to add my own to the beginning of my presentation. I stopped short as it was a little snarky, and I was presenting with two non-Indigenous colleagues and I did not want to bias their part of the presentation. This bit is the more about why land acknowledgements don’t seem to lead to real change.

I have what is titled a “Short Term Indigenous Access Pass” to Banff National Park. This is a program started just this year which provides members of the Métis Nation of Alberta free access to all National Parks within Alberta. Now I like free stuff as much as anyone, and we normally purchase an annual pass as we are frequent users…but,

Did anyone consider the irony in issuing an Indigenous person a “pass” to access a national park?

This is a reminder of the pass system used by Indian Agents to control movement of First Nations on reserves. That stings a bit, but there is a deeper impact that I’ve not seen mentioned.

Our national parks mostly formed by the forced dispossession of Indigenous peoples, followed by restriction on freedom of movement in and out of the park. Some had land bought out, but this was still forced. This recent story is one example.  (‘All we can do is forgive’: Descendants of Métis trapper visit site of his eviction by federal government). This is another. (Parks Canada vs Aboriginal Peoples). Finally this about the formation of Jasper National Park. (this last group is a series of cooperatives formed of status, non-status and Métis families).

So the CNAR land acknowledgement done within Banff National Park (which I was accessing under a “Short Term Indigenous Access Pass”) failed not only to acknowledge what being on another nation’s traditional lands means, but also that these lands were doubly taken away. Indeed, my access to parks under this pass has the same restrictions as anyone else who uses the parks, for example:

Can I hunt or practice traditional activities in the park?
Except where pre-existing harvesting agreements exist, the Indigenous Peoples Open Doors Program does not authorize the bearer to, among other things, hunt, fish, trap, harvest plants and natural objects, or remove cultural objects within the National Park/ National Historic Site.

Which means that the act of gathering sage or cedar in a national park is an offence for me, just like anyone else.

Mascoe’s words ring true for me, because sometimes those land acknowledgements cause more pain for Indigenous than they reconcile. It also lends itself well to a thin response to reconciliation designed to aid in the lessening of cultural guilt for the past.

At this point the usual Settler response is something like this, “Are you people never happy? What do you want?” (as a side note, starting any conversation with ‘you people’ is never a good move.)

Ultimately I think what we want is a return of use of the land. In the short term I would settle for more thoughtfulness around how things like land acknowledgements are done.

How about this for a starting point: before your organization starts using land acknowledgements, have a real discussion with real Indigenous people who are actual members of those dispossessed groups. Ask them what they would like to see you do as a first step in reconciliation. Maybe even ask them what nations you should be acknowledging – there are mistakes in some that are published. Ask them if they prefer to be referred to by colonial titles “Stony First Nation”, or if you should be using their actual name, “Iyarhe Nakoda” or an anglicized version, “Stony Nakoda First Nation”.

As a part of that acknowledgement do some research about where you are situated. Find out what actually happened in that area, including if there were forced movements of people by colonial authority and acknowledge those events as well. Bring life to those people by acknowledging what happened to them as a part of that colonial experiment.

Bring in an elder to open with words and prayers, and learn the proper protocol for engaging them. This stuff is not hard, and all you have to do is start asking questions of Indigenous or local Indigenous organizations. Most of us are happy to help and to be asked.

Reconciliation is all about renewal of relationships, and respect, and that does not happen by reading words on a piece of paper.

Written by sameo416

October 27, 2018 at 1:56 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

Can there be reconciliation without there first being truth?

leave a comment »

A sister in the faith and in Métis heritage and I presented this morning at the Canadian Centre for Scholarship and the Christian Faith (CCSCF) conference on Indigenous People and the Christian Faith at the Concordia University of Edmonton.

The abstract is below and here (http://www.ccscf.org/2018-abstracts/).

In reading our abstract this week I’m not sure that I achieved the lofty goals we had set out. Our intention was to make a blended presentation of experiences in the art installations interleaved with experience of the world-view collision by looking at Newtonian rationality versus Indigenous and Quantum understandings of reality. Each of the “parts” below was separated by engagement with images from the art installation and my sister’s teachings.

To the group that sat with us through the hour, Hiy Hiy for engaging in the challenging discourse. I also give thanks for your comments and reflections.

My speaking notes are at the end. The intention is to put this into a paper that will eventually be published, which is when the full narrative will be presented.

As a caution, this was prepared more quickly than I like to work. I believe I have cited all the external sources, but I was reading a bunch of books and journal articles in the month leading up to the conference so I may have missed proper attribution. I’ll catch that in the final paper.


Can There Be Reconciliation Without There First Being Truth? Indigenous and Settler Cosmologies and the Ni wapataenan/Maskihkîy âcimowin Projects

With Canada150 there has been Settler talk of reconciliation and much Indigenous counter-talk about the lack of real reconciliation. Reconciliation requires a level of truth speaking sufficient to ground all parties in a deep and relational understanding of one other’s reality. The Cree word for truth is tâpwêwin, which can be understood as “speaking from the heart”. Tâpwêwin asks us to quiet our own voices and assumptions and listen with open hearts, minds and spirits. It asks us for vulnerability and humility as we learn another’s deep and intuitive cosmology or worldview in the form such learning is offered, lest the exercise become merely another opportunity for the imposition of a solitary worldview. Even surface adaptations in an attempt to encompass a radically different worldview will ultimately be unsuccessful. Interactions involving the western church and Indigenous peoples have consistently left the dominant, colonial worldview unquestioned, with the result that reconciliation-focused overtures have often not been gladly accepted by Indigenous peoples, sometimes leading to anger and confusion on the part of those making the overtures.

This presentation will begin with a discussion of three cosmologies: Western science, Western theology (reflecting the worldview of the church), and Indigenous (from the presenters’ points of view). It will be demonstrated that the worldview of many sciences remains Newtonian: positivist, reductionist, linear, mechanistic and human-centric. Western theology, the historic queen of the sciences, continues to operate in the same mode, meaning the dominant worldview in the Church is also Newtonian. Newtonian perspective and scientific method pursue objectivity by deliberately separating ontology (understanding of being) from epistemology (understanding of truth).

In sharp contrast, Indigenous cosmologies find the separation of being and knowing inconceivable. In a relational reality where all my relations encompasses human, non-human, living and what Western eyes would call inanimate entities, the knowing of something is inseparable from its relationship with the knower. Echoes of this Indigenous cosmology are heard in modern physics, where the quantum understanding of reality also reflects an intrinsically relational Creation. The discoveries of modern physics are only now being integrated into other scientific fields. These contrasting and incompatible worldviews come into play, often unconsciously, in attempts at reconciliation between Settler and Indigenous. If truth is to precede and enable reconciliation, the first step is acknowledging and learning these contrasting cosmologies.

The practical challenges of cosmologies in collision will be discussed as a real manifestation of divergent understandings of reality. These discussions will focus around the stories of two recent public art installation projects in Edmonton that brought together Settler and Indigenous in a space that could allow collaborative creation. The 2016 Ni wapataenan (We see) project focused on Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls (MMIWG), as well as boys and men. The 2017 Maskihkîy âcimowin (Medicine stories) project brought together Indigenous, Settler and newcomers to share stories through a web application that tied each narrative to the land around a large tree sculpture, The Giving Tree (a Métis narrative about sharing and community). Both installations involved joint Settler/Indigenous dialogue and a mutually-accepted goal of engaging both the physical and spiritual realities of reconciliation.

The learnings from these experiences will be summarized as a means for the Settler Church to understand its need for a revision of its default understanding of reality. It will be argued that the Indigenous worldview, like the quantum understanding of reality, is a more authentic and Gospel-centric cosmology than the Newtonian framework that has shaped the Church’s thought since the Enlightenment. This revision is essential if the Church hopes to engage in reconciliation with Indigenous communities as well as recover its own true cosmology.


We acknowledge that the land on which we gather is Treaty Six Territory, the traditional gathering place for many Indigenous people: including the Nehiyawok (Cree), Saulteaux, Anishinaabe, Niitsitapi (Blackfoot), Métis, and Nakota Sioux Peoples. We acknowledge those nations and give thanks for this use of the land.

Intro

My family grew out of the Hudson’s Bay employee James T Anderson, an Orkneyman who came to Canada in 1796 and soon married a Saulteaux woman named Mary. They birthed a very large family that now stretches across Western Canada. I have had relatives involved in most major events of the Métis Nation.

This presentation grew out of shared frustration with the idea of reconciliation within the church, something which caused both of us to look more deeply at our experiences to pull out some patterns to explain. What we were faced with was a church that just didn’t seem to get it – ‘it’ being reconciliation with Indigenous. As an Indigenous man I do not feel fully at home inside the church I have been a member of since birth. There are many reasons for that unease, but all relate to the same fundamental issue: we speak different languages. In spite of some common grounding in theological method discussion of Indigeneity is usually a one-sided conversation. What has struck both of us in those encounters is that challenge results from incompatible world views in collision, and the inability of individuals to consciously engage the Creation using a different world view.

In terms of language, we’ll use our community’s generally accepted term “Indigenous” to refer to Canada’s first peoples collectively. We do so acknowledging that there is no “Indigenous” perspective because the reality is hundreds of distinct communities comprise that collective. Canadian Indigenous tend not to use the word “aboriginal” unless we are explicitly referring to the legal concept that word carries: being section 35 of the Constitution Act that defines Canada’s three aboriginal peoples as First Nations, Métis and Inuit. For us, “aboriginal” is an imposed title. For the non-Indigenous we will use the term Settler, capitalized, as used by Settler scholars Lowman and Barker specifically to highlight the, “difficult subjects, uncomfortable realizations and potential complicity in systems of dispossession and violence.” (Lowman and Barker, p. 2)

We’re going to review this conflict of cosmologies between Settler and Indigenous, partly through exploring differences in knowing and being, and partly through stories of our experiences – we are what we will speak. We do not speak for the entire community, so what you will hear is our perspective as two Red River Métis. We also bring forward our own experience working through different cosmologies: I’m an applied scientist. We share training in the way of Western theology. When it comes to world views you might say that we’re both multilingual.

Our goal today is to share some of our insight into Settler and Indigenous world views in collision, around the question: can there be reconciliation without there first being truth? A truth that permits difficult discussions, and deep engagement.

These cosmologies will always be in collision because of basic differences in the understanding of being and knowing: of ontology and epistemology. This was made apparent in work leading two art installations intended to bring Settler and Indigenous together in joint work to see how reconciliation might be worked out in practice. Her experience suggests that such approaches to reconciliation will be difficult until there is a fundamental shift in mutual understanding, particularly in movement away from the traditional colonial approach which is offered unquestioned as the correct and default mode of discourse. Until both groups focus on speaking from the heart and listening for tâpwêwin reconciliation will only be conceptually realized.

Part 1:  The Enlightenment created a fundamental shift in modes of thinking. Although Enlightenment scientists such as Newton saw their work framed in a Christian context, the rationalist, positivist and reductionist approach led to a shift in sources of truth. Truth was framed in the context of the scientific method, progressively eliminated the place of mystery in thought eventually extending to exclude belief and faith. Reductionist thought informed all aspects of academic study, and continues to this day in the modes of thinking used throughout Western culture. The Eurocentric science-centred world view still dominates all thought.

Central to the developing scientific method was the need for absolute objectivity, by constructing an aloof approach to observation. It required a separation between being, ontology and knowing, epistemology to preserve the necessary objectivity to ensure the data are not biased by the observer. You could not think about something and experience it at the same time. This understanding of reality was imposed on the new world as the defining method of colonialism.

“Newtonian physics…described a world of absolute space, time and matter” that could be completely and universally comprehended. (Deloria, 2017) The reductionist approach addresses complexity by reducing the complex to component parts, studying the gear wheels and springs independently, and then reassembling the structure that is now completely understood. Works well when reality is a watch. Does not work so well when that reality is not so simple. This reductionist approach supported things like the documentary hypothesis of J, E, D and P sources in the field of historical Scriptural criticism. Theologian Andrew Louth recognized a “division and fragmentation” in theology and the larger culture because of, “the one-sided way we have come to seek and recognize truth… manifest in the way in which all concern with truth has been relinquished to the sciences,” (1983) That approach, forced into Indigenous education, convicted people that traditional sources of knowledge were untrustworthy or even evil.

Newtonian thought also led to the dualism of mind and body (Descartes) reflecting separate ontologies. The mind possessed thought while the body occupied space, one intangible in a physical sense, the other existing only in the physical. Reductionist thinking conceives of a reality of discrete things which can be properly known and explored independent of other ontological entanglements. This was applied through colonial imposition or “epistemic violence” (Seuffert 1997) on the colonized peoples, as the “right” and only way to think and be.

This reductionist approach also informs the Settler understanding of knowledge. There is no question of whether knowledge should be possessed, only if there is the will to possess it. Knowledge is commodified in Western thought, to the extent that we believe in the fundamental right of access to any knowledge that we desire. Knowledge is available for purchase at will, with little concern as to how the knowledge will be used, or if the person desiring the knowledge is prepared and capable of possessing that particular information.

As an example of this collision, consider the account of biologist Henry Huntington conducting a census of beluga whales through traditional ecological knowledge. A group of Indigenous hunters speaking about whale populations suddenly veered off to discussing the increasing beaver population. As the scientist started to interject to turn the conversation back to the whales, the elders explained that increasing population of beaver led to more dams, and a loss of salmon spawning habitat, leading to less salmon for the whales. Huntington later said he would never have made the connection alone because a salt-water biologist would not stop to think about fresh water ecosystems. Western thought perceives the universe fragmentally through “atomism” (Cajete, 1999) and missing the key relationships..

Newtonian or Enlightenment cosmology informs the thought of Western culture to the extent that it has and continues to be the default mode of thinking about reality. This mode of thought is in opposition to Indigenous cosmology.

Part 2: About 150 years ago physicists began to increasingly theorize about quantum effects. Shown specifically through Einstein general and special theories of relativity, an alternative understanding of reality became available. While this is often misstated as “everything is relative”, what quantum reality tells us is that reality is relational, and frames of reference matter. Newton doesn’t work that well when things get really massive or really fast. To make precise calculations using Newtonian mechanics sometimes requires that quantum corrections be applied, for example to compensate for distortions in space-time when massive objects like planets pass through a gravity well. Newton provides, we might say, only a limited and distorted perspective of reality.

That limited and distorted perspective of reality continues to inform modes of thinking which have been applied universally and forcefully in countries where European colonial activity was present – that epistemic violence I mentioned earlier. This was the epitome of the oft-quoted statement about the goal of the Residential School system, “to kill the Indian in the child” – as the goal was to displace the unscientific and “savage” Indigenous world view with what was considered the superior and universal Eurocentric cosmology. That Eurocentric cosmology separates ontology and epistemology, and deliberately conceives as humans as the only being with agency in the Creation. This interpretation of foundational writings such as Genesis places humanity over the Creation, to “subdue it and have dominion over it” (Gen 1:28 KJV). The impact of this form of reading on the colonial venture was to further reinforce the divide between scientifically overconfident Europeans and the “savage” first peoples.

This reflects a reality where world views continue to collide and colonial ideals such as manifest destiny, the Doctrine of Discovery or terra nullis are still very much in place in terms of Settler/Indigenous relations. That those doctrines were so highly endorsed by the church universal, has created a lasting rift that we do not see being resolved anytime soon. The reason for that: a church still firmly rooted in Enlightenment thought that still demonstrates behaviours that look very much like those colonial doctrines.

These world views in conflict are also clear in protests by land and water protectors. The Settler media often portrays the Indigenous resistance as a sort of aboriginal NIMBY- it would be fine to clear-cut or to build a pipeline as long as it’s not on reserve land. This misses the point entirely. We protest not because we are seeking to protect our land or our water, we protest because we are seeking to protect one of our relatives. So damage done to the land in a pipeline leak does not appear to Indigenous as, say, a dusty living room floor that needs vacuuming. It would be more like our Grandmother’s house being filled 4 feet deep with oil, and that beloved relative having to live in that reality. Indigenous world view reflects a fundamental relationality usually described as “all my relations”. As David Cajete describes it, Indigenous express a relationship to the natural world that could be called “ensoulment” – a web of relationships with all things, captured and remembered in songs, ceremonies and rituals. With this ensoulment, imagine how destructive it is to have this connection severed, so the land does not recognize you, and you do not recognize the land.

The place where we see aspects of that world view comes to us through the growing understanding, or perception of the quantum reality that surrounds us. Quantum physics starts with the assumption that everything is in relationship, based on the interaction of energy fields. Where this leaves us is with Settler society and the Settler churches still very much operating from a dated and outmoded world view, that reductionist and positivist perspective gifted to us out of the Enlightenment. This collision of world views is clearly manifest in almost every attempt of Settler Christians to engage in reconciliation focused activities.

The colonial desire to impose its cosmology continues in the daily experiences of Indigenous around the world: consider our MMIWG. The colonial narrative seeks to place those deaths in an historic context, as part of an unfortunate past that we have grown out of, while our reality is that those deaths continue to this day. I see weekly notices through Native Twitter of young women and men who are missing. Witness the struggles of Indigenous lawyer Cindy Blackstock who won a Canadian Human Rights Commission judgment calling the federal government to provide equal funding to FN child support services, which was repeatedly appealed by the federal government. Witness the 2017 Supreme Court decision concerning a modern treaty where the Yukon government ignored extensive consultations by reversing land use restrictions it had previously agreed to. The government was censured by the court for failing to abide by the treaty. This is happening today and is not part of some earlier unfortunate time – for we Indigenous, we continue to live within a colonial reality.

Part 3: The Indigenous worldview approaches reality as all my relations – which cannot be truly understood unless you also understand that to an Indigenous mind the thought of splitting apart knowing and being is incomprehensible. Reality is intrinsically relational, which includes accepting as family members things which the Western science world view would call inanimate. Indigenous reality treats ontology and epistemology as inseparable: so the way of thinking about the land and the experience of relating to it are the same. (Lowman and Barker, 49). It is a reality where all those relations are infused with agency, and a reality where there is much mystery. This holistic encounter with Creation forms the basis for a powerful methodological tool for obtaining knowledge.

Biologist Robin Kimmerer, of the Citizen Potawatomi Nation, speaks to this relational reality when she describes the Indigenous love of land, and the reality that when you love the land, the land in turn loves you back. A key part of Indigenous cosmology is the idea of reciprocity. Use of the land is an exchange through reciprocity, where the land sustains and teaches us, and we in turn care for and sustain the land. As is becoming very clear in more modern studies by biologists and anthropologists, there were multiple types of advanced land management practices used by the numerous first peoples that lived here. Our people knew how to care for the land, and knew that in caring for the land, the land would in turn care for and teach them – reciprocal love and caring.

This relationship reflects an ontology in relation to all other beings, beings including all the natural world: animal, plant, mineral, earth, water, fire, air. It is a truly holistic and all-encompassing world view. Blackfoot academic Leroy Little Bear (2008) discusses this ontology and epistemology by summarizing Indigenous world view this way: everything is in flux; everything is spirit-infused; everything is alive; everything is interrelated; all is in a constant motion of renewal and repetition; all thought is holistic. Little Bear also conducted a series of meetings between Indigenous knowledge keepers and theoretical physicists in Alberta. In those interactions the physicists realized that the “new” learnings of modern physics had been part of traditional teachings for thousands of years. So we speak today of Indigenous science and engineering, acknowledging that our ancestors had a rich and nuanced understanding of reality which rivals the cutting edge of science today.

Kimmerer writes, “Plants were reduced to object. What was supposedly important about them was the mechanism by which they worked, not what their gifts were not what their capacities were. They were really thought of as objects….I was teaching the names [of plants] and ignoring the songs.” Western science asks us to learn about organisms; Indigenous science asks us to learn from them. There are other way of seeing, of knowing, and reconciliation must arise from an ability to consider those other world views.

Part 4: As an example of Enlightenment thought, consider a group gathered to perform a task such as erecting a flag pole to claim a piece of land. As the group discusses the work what will emerge is a linearly sequenced listing of tasks which must be completed: cut a pole; locate the spot; obtain a shovel; dig the hole; erect the pole; fill in the hole. In this world view the tasks follow a neat path of linear causation A to B to C to D until the task is complete. This is a classically Newtonian approach to the world, reductionist and mechanistic – and admittedly it works well for completing such tasks. It reflects our cultural understanding of causation, which works in straight lines.

This is the basis of most Western science. In engineering we are trained to hold mastery over the physical reality. But engineering is quite mercenary in its desire to do things cheaper and faster and we don’t understand reality well enough to do that perfectly. All engineering involves the use of safety factors, which sounds like a good thing, (it is), but it reflects our imperfect knowledge of materials. Because we do not fully understand reality, we add in buffers to accommodate the mystery underlying our craft without acknowledging our imperfect knowledge.

Indigenous causation and quantum causation are highly non-linear processes. In the quantum world we are investigating “mysterious action at a distance”. Indigenous thought processes are open-ended, indeterminate and mysterious. Anthropologist David Smith explains his investigation into Chipewyan ontology or “bush sense” by concluding that all aspects of the Creation are infused with agency, and that all beings “human and nonhuman are inextricably engaged in a complex and communicative relationship.” Reality is at once both material and spiritual and perception is not dominated by the visual, as in European contexts, but by an amalgam of input from all the senses and teachings and ceremony to learn of all things visible and invisible. Smith goes on to observe we say trees are made of wood without realizing this is a “mechanistic metaphor” for trees are no more made of wood than mountains are made of rock. Trees are wood, mountains are rock, and neither trees nor mountains are fabricated. “Even though quantum physics suggests that reality is relationship—that reciprocity is the being of our being there is a strong tendency to think of ourselves as observers of an external reality and not as participants in a reality that can never be validly externalized except as a consciously adopted methodological fiction.”

The challenge for reconciliation is that our churches still operate in that reductionist mode of thinking – when faced with a new challenge, the action of a mainline church is to commission a task force, create a new business plan, formulate a new fund-raising initiative: responses of an Enlightenment problem-solver. Until we learn to move out of that place, we will continue to mess up the relationships required to begin to move toward reconciliation. There are glimmers of light showing through: the growing interest in figural reading of Scripture is one area where the dominant church world view is also being challenged, because a reductionist reading of Scripture limits our ability to perceive the deep mystery and relationality of the Word. The motivation for that switch in hermeneutic follows a line of reasoning similar to what we are speaking of here, the need for a shift in world view.

Conclusion

In the Indigenous concept of reciprocity, all activity is relational. As we have spent time today sharing with you our stories and teachings, we are a part of that relational reality. The reciprocal nature of Indigenous understanding places some onus on you who have received these words to do something with them – this is not intended to be an academic subject to be debated and left behind, but something which forms a pivot for growth in each person who has heard. That reciprocity rests now with each of you to decide how things will be different now that you have heard and received our words.

 

 

Written by sameo416

May 5, 2018 at 12:49 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

Urbane Adventurer: Amiskwacî

thoughts of an urban Métis scholar (and sometimes a Mouthy Michif, PhD)

Joshua 1:9

Reflection on life as a person of faith.

Engineering Ethics Blog

Reflection on life as a person of faith.

asimplefellow

Today, the Future and the Past all kinda rolled up in one.

istormnews

For Those Courageous in Standing for Truth

âpihtawikosisân

Law. Language. Culture.

Malcolm Guite

Blog for poet and singer-songwriter Malcolm Guite

"As I mused, the fire burned"

Reflection on life as a person of faith.