"As I mused, the fire burned"

Reflection on life as a person of faith.

Archive for July 2016

Cosmology and Family Heritage

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A friend recently mentioned a line from a Lee Maracle novel, “How do you begin to tell someone their world is not the only one?”   In the after-effects of Synod and some transient despair around the question of reconciliation, I’m clearly seeing that the real root issue is an inability, or an unwillingness to understand that other cosmologies or world views perceive the world in radically different ways.

This is not a question of degree, as in I think that is light blue while you call it teal.  Rather it would be like you saying that’s a chair and me saying no, its a grandfather…or you saying the Grand Canyon is the result of geology and erosion, and me saying no, Creator made it as the place from which all life came.  Do you see?  We’re not even talking about category errors, but rather a completely different way of perceiving what is around us.  It is not an academic question, but a question of being.

In spiritual matters, this has been plain to me for most of my life.  I have tangible perception of spiritual realities that most people aren’t even aware of, and I’ve encountered and seen things that can physically act in our reality but are invisible to most people.  This used to weird me out, but I’ve come to accept it as a particular part of God’s gifts for me to use in ministering to His people.  I’ve met others with similar experiences, just as I’ve met others who have physically perceived the Holy Spirit as a forceful wind that pushes on them.

When I describe those things to someone who has never had that encounter, they usually look at me like I’m unhinged or conclude that I’ve misinterpreted things (“there’s more gravy about you than the grave” as Scrooge said to his dead friend).  This is what I mean about fundamentally different world views…it is nearly impossible to even cross the divide to understand what is being spoken of.

But that is true in many aspects of reality.  I could write out the wave equations for an electromagnetic wave propagating in a waveguide from first principles, and solve them to demonstrate that there are discrete modes of propagation which can be defined by the electrical and magnetic wave maxima and minima.  Unless you have an advanced degree in electrical engineering, or had carefully studied the field, you would probably look at me in disbelief.  It’s a reflection of an old adage, any technology sufficiently advanced will appear as if it is magic.

So why is it so difficult to transition between cosmologies, to actually walk in another person’s shoes literally?  I think because it involves the need to completely remake ourselves into the being who can see differently, which is something only done with much pain and willingness to accept risk to the existence of the self.  This is not an easy journey, and you can’t make it happen just by reading a few books or a few blogs.

My experience of a couple decades of embracing my family’s suppressed indigenous history has been exactly that sort of journey.

More later…


Written by sameo416

July 14, 2016 at 11:14 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

Statement of the Anglican Indigenous Bishops to the Commission on the Marriage Canon

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This is good enough material to repeat in full (as opposed to just a web link in the article previously posted).  Our indigenous bishops have voiced my pain and sense of unbalance very well in this, their submission to the marriage commission.  That this voice was submerged into a sea of other voices, and given the same degree of disregard, is a shameful act of the corporate colonial church.

Unfortunately, white society is often comfortable appropriating enough “indianess” to appear welcoming, while disregarding almost entirely the different cosmology that goes with indigenous understanding of the creation.  It is an engagement of convenience.  It ignores that our communities have an entirely different way of thinking about such questions, and an entirely different way of finding consensus that does not involve adversarial European constructs.  


To our Relatives in Christ,

It is not easy for us to approach you on the issue of marriage in contemporary society, for us, a dangerously complex cross-cultural discussion. Though we have strong feelings and commitments on these matters, we are reluctant to speak. The intense and divisive nature of this discussion in the larger Canadian society is made much more threatening in our communities by our extended experience of misunderstanding and harmful judgment by Western institutions, especially the Church. The way the language and politics around the issues of marriage and sexuality divide people makes it seem all but impossible for our true thoughts and feelings to be heard. We have come to believe, however, that we must take the risk of expressing what we understand to be the opinions of our elders. For years now, we have been in prayer—we have meditated on Scripture, listened to what our elders have to say, and thought about the traditional ways of our peoples. With these we come to you, praying for the Spirit of Truth to lead us to the right.

Despite our mixed feelings, we are grateful that you give us an opportunity to speak. We speak to you as Indigenous Bishops and we will try to speak in an advisory manner, expressing, not only our opinion, but an account of some of the breadth of opinion among Indigenous people. We understand ourselves to be bishops for all our peoples, regardless of their opinion, sexuality, or faith. Though we take responsibility for what we say here, we have discussed these ideas with many and, more particularly, sought the counsel of one of our elders in the preparation of this statement. The most important parts of our report communicate what we understand our elders to be saying about marriage. It must be understood that this is spoken in the very real and hazardous context of our community life and the crisis in our family life today. This context is directly connected to the very painful history of colonization and its ongoing stress, poverty, and dispossession.

It is not forgotten by our elders and peoples that a great deal of this history was activated by attempts to destroy our families by the government and church. This leads to our primary position in this discussion. It is no longer acceptable to impose Western cultural questions and approaches on our societies, as if they were another segment or faction of a Euro-North American whole, either needing to be updated, tolerated, or assimilated in to the larger body. We absolutely reserve the right to make these choices and decisions, now and forever, on our own terms and in our own way.

At present, we do not hear our concerns and approach in either side of this very strained discussion. Our approach is not understood by either, and so we must, as far apart from that conflict as is possible, express our position with as much clarity as we are able. Our second primary position is, therefore, that our understanding of marriage appears to be quite different from the dominating society and both sides of this discussion within it.

For the rest of Canadian society, marriage appears to be a social contract between two people, who have the right, under law and as a human right, to form their family life in any way they see fit. (We can understand this point of view, since we are—sometimes by choice and 2 happily, sometimes with no choice and unhappily—compelled to be a part of the larger whole. We understand the Canadian society and its norms much better than it understands us.) In the understanding of the larger society, the focus of marriage is the individual choice, well-being, and happiness of the couple.

Although the well-being and happiness of couples is essential, for our elders marriage is a ceremony of the community and the primary place where we enact our understanding of Creation and the relationship of God to the universe. It is a ceremonial act that portrays our world view; it is our cosmology. What the ceremony says to the community is every bit as important as what is says to the couple. Many of our communities connect this ceremony to our experience of acceptance, salvation, and freedom in Christ. Marriage has become, for them, a picture of this mutual acceptance. Today, this is, in many communities, an affirmation of our Indigenous life and, though it may seem to be strange to many, an affirmation of our life before the arrival of Westerners and their missionaries.

Marriage is, in Indigenous understanding, an act in the spiritual realm, activated by ceremony and the commitment and love of the couples and their families. Encouraged by Christian theology and the reading of Scripture, many Indigenous Peoples enthusiastically held on to a view of marriage that saw the ceremony as activating a number of hidden but healing present rivers of spirit within the larger community. It is not that this is the only place in Creation where this happens. It is, however, the place where our elders see it in a clear and complete way. In this, the differences of sexuality, family, and clan, expressed in the marriage ceremony and family life protocols, were a necessary and essential part of this flow. Older members of the commission may remember a time when the Western view of marriage was also more sympathetic to the spiritual nature of Indigenous marriage. In this view, the spiritual character of the act was the most important part and the elements that predominate today were secondary and were derived from the first.

Though we are painfully aware that many people can no longer even imagine our cosmology or our understanding of marriage, the inspiration we receive from the world view of our elders is our only motivation; it is the encouragement that brings us to speak in the face of almost certain misunderstandings and opposition. Other questions raised about sexuality may receive various levels of reception within our communities, like anywhere else. For the most part, Indigenous counter-statements to modern trends in the understanding of sexuality were not directed at gays and lesbians, who have been and remain—in those of our communities that remain healthy, balanced, and inspired by Indigenous values—an accepted part of our communities. With this statement, we affirm that we understand gay and lesbian Indigenous people to be members of our communities and family. Not only worthy of our pastoral care and welcome, they are our brothers, sisters, children, and elders. There is no place for hatred and separation in Indigenous communities and, especially, in Indigenous Christian communities.

It is difficult to know, in the widespread and deep destruction of our history and traditions by colonial occupation, what our views were in the past, in times prior to the advent of European occupation and domination. Though many, if not most, of our societies appear to have had protocols of welcome and acceptance for homosexual members, we see little evidence that these practices were thought to be similar to marriage. Though these things were treated in various ways across our many and varied communities, we understand that there are many similarities 3 between the way marriage is viewed in the past and the way it is understood by many of our elders today.

We know that, for many, our insistence that 1) Indigenous communities must decide and rule on these matters on their own, and that 2) marriage is understood differently in our communities, will be seen as opinions that are tied to colonization and designed to express hurtful and hateful attitudes towards the gay and lesbian community. We disagree. We also hope to show that this is not true by our actions, through our fellowship, compassion, and love toward all people. We must always, at the same time, simply and resolutely declare what we believe to be true and what we believe is for the best.

Among our own people we acknowledge that there is no clear consensus about many aspects of these things. This is why we have taken the approach of this statement, speaking to our understanding of what our elders are saying, but also acknowledging that there are those who disagree—to them we extend our hand in the hope of mutual compassion and love. We know that there is also disagreement among our elders about what our own response should be, if the Anglican Church of Canada changes its teachings and laws about marriage. Some view this as intolerable, a few find this acceptable, and many would be willing to accept that we disagree with the larger church on these matters, as long as our societies, communities, and nations have the acknowledged and welcome freedom to act on their own. This last view is certainly the most widely held across the whole of our discussions on the issue. As we report these views, we cannot predict how this discussion will go forward among us. We can assure everyone that, if changes are made in church teachings and practice, there will be an extended conversation among our communities regarding an acceptable way forward.

We, as the Indigenous bishops of Indigenous communities, declare our commitment to what we understand to be the traditional, spiritual, and Indigenous understanding of marriage. We, therefore, cannot accept any changes that might be made without consultation with our communities. We pledge our love and pastoral care to all, within and without our communities, whatever their position may be. We uphold the inherent right and ability of our communities to make these decisions on their own. Finally, we promise to continue in a spirit of reconciliation and conversation with any who are willing to join us in the fellowship of Christ’s disciples. With this statement, we believe that we must also commit ourselves to the renewal of family life in our communities, through our love and respect for every one of our members. At the same time, this discussion and the crisis of our communities, call us to begin a new era of the honoring of the ceremony and discipline of marriage.

The Rt. Rev. Adam Halkett

The Rt. Rev. Mark MacDonald

The Rt. Rev. Lydia Mamakwa

Written by sameo416

July 13, 2016 at 12:06 pm

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Marriage Canon (un-un)changed…for now…but does it really matter?

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This news story from the CBC announced the result of the much-awaited (in some quarters) vote at the General Synod of the Anglican Church of Canada to amend the Marriage Canon in order to permit “same-sex marriage”.

And now it looks like the motion did pass, because of a problem with the way voting was set up.  This story states the vote was miscounted.  I don’t have to change much of what I’ve written because pass or not, the vote is almost irrelevant.  What is relevant is the divisiveness and acrimony that has resulted.

The bullying problems are also reported as being the northern delegates, that is, those from primarily indigenous dioceses.  Bishop Robertson left the floor at one point in protest:

Northern representatives complained about feeling bullied, while Larry Robertson, Yukon bishop, left the floor in protest, saying he was angered at what he called the adversarial process.

As reported, the vote failed on the basis of one vote in the House of Clergy.  A momentary side path for some Synod 101 to explain what happened.

In matters of doctrine, a change to the Canons (church laws) require a 2/3 majority in each of three groups that vote at Synod: bishops, clergy and laity.  Doctrinal matters are of such central importance that only that large level of agreement, in three independent groups, can make a change.  (this of course assumes that you accept that doctrine can be decided by majority vote, which in itself is only a modern development in the church’s understanding of its polity).  If that change is voted in with 2/3 majority in each House, it would then have to be voted in at a second Synod, again a reflection of how important doctrine is to the church.  This means that the amendment will not legally take effect until passed at a second synod (2019) again with 2/3 majority in each House.

There was an interesting comment from the Primate yesterday that some were complaining of bullying in the small table discussion groups.

My own experience of these discussions is that there is a fair amount of bullying going around regardless of your particular theological stance on the question.  I’ve been told by clergy colleagues that the greatest threat to the church is orthodox theology.  As someone who follows that particular line of thought, being told that you are the greatest threat to the future of the church is not what I might term a welcoming, inclusive sort of experience. That’s just one of a series of events where I’ve witnessed and experienced coercive power being used to exclude one particular perspective.

It’s the reason I won’t attend gatherings on the subject as the use of coercive power to control and silence is too painful to witness in a group that publicly declares they are following the way of Christ.

What has become very apparent to me is that the church throws around terms like ‘inclusion’ and ‘welcome’, but means very different things from what I understand those words to mean.  When 66.67% of a group supports one thing, and 33.33% supports something diametrically opposed, it is difficult to find a place where you might talk about being inclusive.  The very nature of the discussion is fundamentally exclusive because the democratic and legal process is only structured to create winners and losers.  As I’ve pointed out previously, this debate is not really about ‘inclusion’, but about deciding which particular group it pains you the least to exclude.

Right now, it is obvious that the church as a whole is least pained by excluding anyone with a theologically traditional view of the sacrament of marriage.  Even if that voice reflects about 1/3 of the community.

I would welcome some honesty around that aspect of the discussion.  It’s one of the elephants in the room because the history of passing such motions results in division in the church.  For example, the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Canada (ELCIC) after affirming such a motion reported 35 Alberta congregations leaving the church and a 25 percent decline in the budget (Anglican Journal, July 8,2013).  “Drawing the circle wide” is a bit of an oxymoron when it results in the fracturing of the body of believers.  We probably won’t have as dramatic a shift, but only because a number of those parishes have already left to join ANIC or other bodies.

In the past 10 years of discussion on this point, I have seen that degree of honesty only once.  An online discussion around the topic, involving those of all perspectives, considered this question of exclusion.  One pro-change participant finally stated why it was that they were not pained by excluding those of an orthodox bent: “You’ve had your time while others were excluded.  Now it’s their turn.”  Not ‘drawing the circle’ wide in any real sense, just changing the membership of who happens to be inside that circle.

This was a startling admission, and I was happy to have read it as it cleared up for me my confusion around the term ‘inclusive’ as used in these discussions.  Inclusive means including those whom you wish to include, while excluding those whom you really aren’t that concerned with.  I’m being harsh in stating that because it is how I perceive the use of the word ‘inclusive’ when it deliberately excludes people like me.  I think this the real lie behind the use of such terms.

There are lots of other things to say, but I’m going to avoid rehashing things I’ve said repeatedly in the past (like in my submission to the Marriage Commission).  Two points.

The first is a prediction.  Within three months the majority of Canadian dioceses will proceed to wholesale approval of same-sex marriages, rendering the national church discussion irrelevant.  This was a safe prediction to make, since two bishops openly stated they were going to proceed anyway, and a third would have publicly announced the same plan later this week.  The Marriage Canon was changed a few years back to remove the ‘man’ and ‘woman’ specifics, and now reads that ‘duly qualified persons’ are able to be married.  Since ‘duly qualified’ doesn’t get defined anywhere, there is a legal doorway that anyone can drive through at will.

Frustrated leaders are just going to go ahead and do it anyway, which in itself says something about the broken state of both our theology and our ecclesiology.  If the vote passed we would have feasting, when the vote failed now we’re going ahead anyway because we are certain that we know what is righteous.  This is a pretty cavalier approach to a matter that started out defined as doctrinal in nature.  That this does not cause gnashing of teeth throughout the church is another sign of how far we miss the mark when it comes to a real understanding of the Body of Christ.

I will make a different sort of prediction.  The impact of the cavalier approach to matters of common concern will spark a ripple of disregard for all of the polity of the Anglican Church of Canada.  This has already started, with reports over the last few years of parishes deciding to do things differently on their own initiative.  When the leadership disregards normal process (by saying I’m going to do it anyway regardless of the vote), it should not be a surprise when other leaders use that license to bring forth their changes.

What has bound us as a church for many years was a deep sense of moral obligation to each other.  This was not a legal obligation, and was summed up in the Solemn Declaration as being an intent to remain in community.  This moral authority is only a historic footnote today, as we begin to scatter to whatever winds happen to be blowing on that day. Being in community brings forth mutual moral obligation.  If the moral obligations are not respected, there is no chance that there can be real community.

The second I find greatly troubling on a deeply personal level.  The Church is completely disregarding the indigenous voices calling for a maintenance of traditional understanding. This is nothing short of a repeat of the residential schools experience for the indigenous person.

Strong words? Certainly.  Appreciate that from the aboriginal perspective this is once again a white, colonial manifesto being imposed on my community without dialogue and against our will.  Indigenous tradition reflects a far more nuanced view of sexuality than the European, but it also reflects a very traditional understanding of marriage.  While that has been stated, no where have I seen any restraint out of respect for these people that the Church (at least in Michael Peer’s words) wants to engage in healing and reconciliation. This is the second great lie – we want to reconcile, but only if you’re willing to follow us as we revise our understanding of the sacraments.

This perspective has been made clear numerous times, but there has been no willingness or effort to engage my community in a way that respects tradition and the traditional way of engaging in discussion about change.

I’ve seen a whole series of stories floating around about indigenous celebration of other sexualities.  I’m not knowledgeable enough to comment on those particular teachings, but many of those stories smack of colonial cultural appropriation.  What I hear loud and clear from the elders, almost universally across indigenous cultural groups, is that this is very contrary to their understanding of the teachings.

From the CBC news story above:

Indigenous bishops resisting change

The bishops’ group had indicated in February that the threshold would likely not be met. Indigenous bishops had also said they would resist having “Western cultural approaches” imposed on them.

From a previous source (my submission to the marriage commission) :

This is such a significant point, as it directly engages traditional teachings that exist in aboriginal cultures. The church is beginning to acknowledge that aboriginal cultures have a rich tradition independent of that which the settlers brought to Canada. This tradition has survived the repeated attempts of settler culture to destroy it. Does the Anglican Church now wish to begin that path of adversarial relations with aboriginals anew? For the church to consider moving in a direction that is contrary to the teaching of the elders, has the potential to alienate many northern congregations:

Bishop Lydia Mamakwa of the Northern Ontario mission area also commented that there is no First Nations representation on the committee. “Keep this in mind that the church and the Bible teaches that marriage is between one man and one woman…Our elders are very strong in that belief and they would like to see that continue, so please keep this in mind for our First Nations people, as they are part of the Anglican Church of Canada. (Anglican Journal, May 4, 2014)

At a provincial synod a few years ago (when I still was willing to take the risk of being in community that way) one of the Rectors from a northern, indigenous parish made a comment about the marriage question.  He said, “The day after such a motion is passed, my parish will cease to exist.”  Why?  Because it was so contrary to the indigenous understanding of what marriage was about.

As a Metis person, this troubles me in ways I can’t even begin to voice.  My family experienced racism from the church that led to a complete denial of who we were (this stretches back into the 1870s in Red River).  My great-uncle was likely the first aboriginal bishop in Canada, and certainly the first Metis bishop, but that will never be known in the history of the church, so effective was the death of who we were as a family.

Now, I find myself in a very similar space, wondering how safe it is to be me…in a church that has again spoken clearly about the place of indigenous voices within its community.





Written by sameo416

July 12, 2016 at 12:37 pm

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