June 23, 2019
Philippians 4:4-9. John 1:1-18
As one who is first generation Canadian on my father’s side; my father having been born and raised in Norwich, England until he was five, few things are more intimidating than having the responsibility to preach on National Aboriginal Day. At home, at school, at church, absolutely everything I observed, experienced, heard and ate, was rooted in Colonialism; everything I was taught was rooted in Colonialism. Everything, literally everything, was shaped by a firmly rooted conviction (assumption) that European settlers had absolute power and authority over those who were here long before they arrived.
This influence manifests itself in a multitude of ways: I grew up in a world that was embedded with hierarchy, extrinsic categorization (e.g. Indigenous people, defined, labeled (categorized) as ‘savage’; European settlers, defined (categorized) as ‘entitled’. This world which we have known is embedded with individualism (each person separate and apart from another), racism, triumphalism (my god is better than your spiritual practices), which of course leads to religious intolerance. Over the years, as I have worked with, shared ministry with, prayed and studied with Aboriginal people in various contexts, I’ve come to realize that those developmental years in which I grew up are actually woven into the very fabric of my being. The more I learn and the more I discover, the more I realize, I’m in the process of deconstructing what I’ve always intrinsically known, and slowly – ever so slowly – learning something much more true; learning a world view that is much more humble, much more faithful to the life, death, and teachings of Jesus.
So, the best I can do for you today is to simply share some of what I am currently exploring and discovering. Next week, or next month, this message may provide a different focus because I discover that my understanding of all this shifts with each new insight.
In our Gospel reading this morning we were reminded that Jesus, the Word of God, is the agent of creation, and actually became a human being - became flesh, becoming one-with-us in our frail and often pathetic state. John says that Jesus ‘made his dwelling’ or pitched his tent among us just as God had camped with his people in the tent of meeting during their wilderness wanderings. In and with Jesus, there is no room for hierarchy in its power mongering sense; there is no room for labeling people as less than anyone else; no room for seeing any person as separate and apart from another; no room for racism, religious intolerance.
Another interesting insight emerges as we reflect on this passage within the context of National Aboriginal Day. One of the other great perils that came with the birth of Colonialism is we lost the wisdom of Indigenous people in relationship to the land. Western culture sees the land as a commodity to be used for the purpose of our own selfish enjoyment, as opposed to the wisdom of Indigenous people who recognize the Creator in the formation of the earth and all that dwells within it; that the whole earth is to be revered and treated with utmost respect.
And something very interesting happens when we read this Gospel alongside today’s excerpt from Paul’s letter to the Christians in Philippi, a church that Paul founded himself and one that he cares about deeply. Here, Paul is in prison and he has heard the news of behaviour that is arrogant, power mongering, intolerant. He begs the church in Philippi to be humble in their attitude toward one another, following the example of Jesus. He urges them to be united in their faith, and to see Christ as the supreme goal of their life and mission. He encourages them to follow what is true, honourable, just, pure. I believe that Paul is encouraging a culture rooted in Colonialism to remember and return to the ways of Jesus.
As we look at these readings, it becomes clear that Jesus was, and his early followers were, not Colonial-bound thinkers. Jesus thought more like the initial inhabitants of this land. Not one writer of the scriptures saw life through the lens of Colonialism. Indigenous Peoples of the world have an advantage over those of us who have been shaped by Colonialism in that there is still enough pre-modern worldview intact among Indigenous people to relate to the worldview of Jesus and his early followers. Jesus understood humanity’s relationship with the earth differently than we do. He spoke to the wind, to the water, and to trees; and called his disciples to do the same. Jesus was intimately connected to the creator, humanity, and the earth on which he stood.
As I have said, all this continues to be, for me, a steep learning curve. This journey of discovery has, for the moment, found me imagining a worldview that is both Indigenous and biblical; that is, viewing the world with a deep love of and respect for creation. This is where the wisdom of Indigenous people can be helpful. Many Indigenous Peoples understand:
- Creation exists because of a Creator;
- Life is intrinsically valuable because it is a gift from the Creator and, therefore, it is sacred, meaning that sacred purpose is crucial to our existence;
- The role of human beings is unique, and humans relate to the rest of creation uniquely (this includes restoring harmony through gratitude, reciprocity, and ceremony between the Creator, humanity, and all other parts of creation;
- Harmony is not simply understood as a philosophical idea; it is about how life operates and the only way that abundant life can continue, if it is to be lived as the Creator intends. For example: becoming intentional about what kind of products we use and the impact of those products on the life of the earth. (see examples below)
Keeping in mind, that the wisdom of Indigenous people sees the earth and all living things as sacred and living in relationship with the Creator, all this just makes sense. Colonialism sees the world through the lens of one having power over another. This has created and will continue to create the destruction of the Creator’s gifts of abundance. Power over the earth has led to the crisis of climate change. Power over the original habitants of this land has led to the devastating experience and lasting effects of Residential Schools, and the ongoing crisis with missing and murdered Indigenous women. (The red dress image this morning in the church serves as a visual reminder of the women who have suffered further consequences of this dominant mentality; the women who are no longer present. A worldview which says, “I have power over you and will, therefore, do with you whatever I choose.)
Throughout the gospels Jesus gave creation a voice and we are called to do the same. The truth is, we are called to live in relationship with the earth and all of the earth’s creatures.I offer this to you as a sample of what I find myself currently thinking about as I engage in the long and painful process of deconstructing Colonialism and its influence on my formation, and tentatively work toward a worldview that is both Indigenous and biblical.
As I continue to work through this challenging process, I’m pleased to report that St. Peter’s Adult Christian Education team has committed to offering various Indigenous studies over the next two years. I look forward to journeying through this process of discovery together.
Examples of intentionality in the products we use:
- Minimize the use of plastic.
- Search, within reason, for food that is grown organically. organically raised animals are raised more humanely. Organic farming is better for the environment, it reduces pollution, soil erosion, and uses less energy; it conserves water and increases soil fertility.
- Be intentional about where the things we purchase are made – who and under what just or unjust circumstances – they were made. For example, when we purchase from 10,000 Villages and read about the artisans and communities who produced the items we buy, we are, in a sense, experiencing some relationship with the people whose hands made them, and we’re helping to support developing communities in a very real sense.