"As I mused, the fire burned"

Reflection on life as a person of faith.

Truth and Reconciliation One

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My dear wife and I are taking advantage of a free course audit at The King’s University College on the Canadian Truth and Reconciliation Commission…first class was last night. The course outlines the history of the residential schools, what is presently going on and takes both an historical and theological critical look at everything.

As I was listening to the discussion, I had a number of things that popped to mind.  The students are being asked to journal each week, so I thought I would blog my part of that.

1. It strikes me that the ‘solution’ to the residential schools problem, being the settlement that assigns a damage quantum to each person’s experience, is a very European way to deal with the question. I discussed this with a lawyer friend today, and she agreed that the government solution, while being negotiated between the parties, was primarily struck in a legal framework (meaning English civil law). There is an aspect of this event that strikes me as the nation using the same tools that resulted in the residential schools in the first place.

2. If it is ‘reconciliation’ we seek, is a legal/financial compensation framework the way to do that? Restitution may be part of the picture, but the greater goal is to re-establish a covenant that existed between equals at first contact. That goal, I believe, will not be achieved in the present approach which is more legal and contractual rather than covenant forming.

3. If the real goal is reconciliation, how can that activity have a fixed end date? Reconciliation, at least in the Christian understanding, implies a re-creation of relationship that endures. This contrasts strongly with the government perspective which seeks a delimiting of liability and fixed end dates. If a point in time comes when the government says “we’re done”, there’s a strong chance of re-injury of that reconciled relationship.

4. I had a question months ago that involved the ‘banality of evil’. We like to think that an encounter with evil will be immediately obvious to us, and that we will always chose the path of light. The reality is that the most evil decisions are made by good-intentioned people like our neighbours (and ourselves). The whole point of the banality of evil is that true evil…the things that history judges as the great horrors of humankind…are often at the time just another decision. The current process involves some demonization of the players of the day: Duncan Campbell Scott and his implementation of the government policy of absorption is now presented as an unspeakable act of evil. Yet, I have a feeling that Scott was a dedicated public servant implementing government policy to the best of his abilities. That doesn’t excuse the actions, but it is a powerful cautionary tale to us…

…because the question that it leaves in my mind is this: if those people of that day implemented a policy that we today see as clearly evil, and failed to recognize what they were doing as evil, what things are we absolutely convinced are good today, which in time will be judged by history as equally evil?

Most people react to that idea with shock and outrage, and the usual rationale given is that we are much wiser and aware today than the people of the past. That, I’m afraid, is bollocks.

The human spirit is the same today as it was then, in spite of the trappings of grandeur we take for granted today, like smart phones, the internet and modern medicine. Our capacity for evil is undiminished even in this heady age of the western world. The reason is the brokenness of creation, and the sheer banality of true evil – our confidence is our blindness.

So I’m left wondering – what great evil are we perpetuating today without even being aware of it?

5. Finally, there has been a hung swing in attitudes about the residential school system, so that now it is universally considered to be evil. This ignores two important points: there was good done through that system, and there were good people dedicated to doing the best they could inside that system. Looking at each in turn…

There was good done through the system. I was at a clergy function, and there was a First Nations lady with us. A room full of white guys, all looking to feel guilty about the past. The bishop asked lady (a residential school survivor, as she would be called today) if she would be comfortable sharing some of her pain. This wise woman (an elder and classmate of mine) started laughing. Her response: “The residential school was the best thing that ever happened to me. It let me get an education and I wouldn’t be in seminary today if I hadn’t gone there.” The room fell into a shocked silence, I think because all those white guys were so certain in their presumption that her experience had been horrific.

[as an aside here, that’s exactly what I’m talking about when I mention our capacity for evil…that room was full of loving clergy who were certain what the right thing to do with that lady was to share her pain…now extend that room of well-intentioned people to government, who are making decisions about how to fix problems, also convinced that they understand things exactly – you see my point, it is the things we are incapable of seeing in ourselves that lead so easily to that evil]

The other aspect is the impact on the staff who were dedicated and devoted to their Christian mission to educate and care for those children. What happens to them and their families now that we’re all certain that the system was evil shot through? Have we now made the decision to victimize a different segment of the population while we try to save another?

This tension is what comes through clearly in the Anglican Church’s efforts to ‘draw the circle wide’. The overt statement is we welcome all, but if you find that the theology an doctrine being promoted is unacceptable, you’re told that you don’t have to join the circle. The real choice is not to welcome all, but to chose who it is that we mind excluding the least.


Written by sameo416

January 9, 2014 at 9:35 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

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