Decolonizing – By Dave Holmes

Scripture John 5: 1-9

So Jesus comes down by the Sheep Gate in Jerusalem, to this pool called Bethzatha.  The gospel says that all these invalids and sick people are laying around next to the pool.  Apparently the legend was that periodically the Spirit of God would “trouble the waters” and the first person in would be healed.  And while he’s there, Jesus meets this guy who has been ill for 38 years.  For 38 years he’s been lying by this pool, but whenever the Spirit troubles the waters, he loses the race.  He’s mobility challenged, and he has no one to help him.  And Jesus asks him, “do you want to be made well?”

What a dumb question!  This guy has been sitting by a healing pool for 38 years!  Of course he wants to be made well!  Doesn’t he?

Sometimes, I’m afraid, we get rather attached to our illness, to our dysfunction.  Sure, the guy is there by a healing pool.  But he’s been there for 38 years.  His life may not be grand, but by now, I’ll bet it’s comfortable.  It’s normal.  After all this time, is he willing to risk something new?  So long dependent, is he willing to stand on his own two feet?   Sometimes we prefer what is uncomfortable (but normal) to what is risky and different.

Do you want to be made well?

When I was in spiritual direction with an Ignatian (Jesuit) spiritual director, I was often asked that question.  I would bemoan my inability to acquire a good habit, or leave a bad one behind, and my director would ask me, “is this what you really want?”  Deep down, do you want this change, or is it just that you think you should want it?  For an alcoholic, do you really want to stop drinking?  Or deep down, do you still like it?  Do you still want to avoid the pain, or whatever it is you drink to forget?  What’s in the depths of your heart?  What do you really want?  So oddly enough, my prayer was often, “God, I want to want this – help me to want to be healed.”

Here’s a different example, or perspective.

A few years ago Karen got me a book called “Mistakes Were Made, But Not By Me.”  It’s a book about what’s called “cognitive dissonance.”  It turns out that if we make a small mistake, it’s relatively easy to say, “oops!  My bad.  Sorry.”  But if we make a huge mistake, a mistake that really costs someone, a mistake that maybe costs lives and does irreparable harm – if we make that kind of mistake, it is very very hard to admit it.  Because that kind of mistake challenges our self-image, challenges the assumption we like to make that we are the good people.  In fact, often our minds will simply not permit us to see the mistake, or the sin if I can use that language.  We will edit our memories.  We will shut down certain lines of reasoning.  We will even continue in that sin or that error, rather than admitting it, even if we know better.   Generally speaking, we will not allow our self-image as a “good person” to be challenged.

Why won’t the United States look seriously at gun control?  How much blood needs to be spilled?  How many children need to be shot?  Well – maybe the more blood that is spilled, the harder it is to look.  Maybe we simply will not allow our minds to see that the land of the free and the home of the brave is also the land of the fearful and the home of the violent.

photo of moccasin

Which brings us to the blanket exercise, and the treaties, and to residential schools, the Indian Act, and the reality of colonialism in Canada.

This is the text of the United Church of Canada’s first apology to First Nations peoples.  It is 30 years old this year, from 1986.

Long before my people journeyed to this land your people were here, and you received from your Elders an understanding of creation and of the Mystery that surrounds us all that was deep, and rich, and to be treasured.

We did not hear you when you shared your vision.  In our zeal to tell you of the good news of Jesus Christ we were closed to the value of your spirituality.

We confused Western ways and culture with the depth and breadth and length and height of the gospel of Christ.

We imposed our civilization as a condition of accepting the gospel.

We tried to make you like us and in so doing we helped to destroy the vision that made you what you were.  As a result, you, and we, are poorer and the image of the Creator in us is twisted, blurred, and we are not what we are meant by God to be.

We ask you to forgive us and to walk together with us in the Spirit of Christ so that our peoples may be blessed and God’s creation healed.

This apology was acknowledged – not accepted – and these are some of the words of response from the All Native Circle Conference two years later:

The Apology made to the Native People of Canada by the United Church of Canada in Sudbury in August 1986 has been a very important step forward.  It is heartening to see that The United Church of Canada is a forerunner in making this Apology to Native People.  The All Native Circle Conference has now acknowledged your Apology.  Our people have continued to affirm the teachings of the Native way of life.  Our spiritual teachings and values have taught us to uphold the Sacred Fire; to be guardians of Mother Earth and strive to maintain harmony and peaceful coexistence with all peoples.

We only ask of you to respect our Sacred Fire, the Creation, and to live in peaceful coexistence with us.  We recognize the hurts and feelings will continue amongst our people, but through partnership and walking hand in hand, the Indian spirit will eventually heal.  Through our love, understanding and sincerity the brotherhood and sisterhood of unity, strength, and respect can be achieved.

The Native  People of the All Native Circle Conference hope and pray that the Apology is not symbolic but that these are the words of action and sincerity. We appreciate the freedom for culture and religious expression.  IN the new spirit this Apology has created, let us unite our hearts and minds in the wholeness of life that the Great Spirit has given us.

For 30 some years we have lain by the healing pool, hoping.  But we are not healed.

  • Some 50% of native children live in poverty.  The figure for settlers is 17%.
  • In 2011 the UN  Human Development Index – measuring health, knowledge, and standard of living – ranked Canadian settler society sixth out of 177 nations.  Indigenous peoples in Canada ranked fifty seven places lower.  If you live on a reserve, you are more likely to end up in jail than graduate high school.  Even something as simple as clean drinking water has been a problem on something like 87% of Alberta reserves.
  • We are shocked when we hear that youth suicide has become epidemic in Attawapiskat.  We are horrified when we hear that the residential schools, some of which were operated by the United Church of Canada, amounted to an attempt at cultural genocide.  We are shocked and disbelieving when we hear that children under our care in residential schools had a higher death rate than soldiers in World War II.
  • First Nations, Metis, and Inuit peoples did not break apart their own family structures.  They did not destroy their own cultures and economic base.  They did not cause the earth to warm, overfish the salmon, pollute the rivers, or destroy the buffalo.

Canada does not have an Indian problem. 

Canada has a settler problem, a colonialist problem, from which First Nations, Inuit and Metis – along with the earth itself – are the primary sufferers.

The problems faced by the world today – from global climate change to ISIS to racism to poverty to mass extinction – are, argue with me if you can, primarily due to a colonial mindset that views the earth and non-white peoples as resources to be exploited.

So this morning, I want to address Jesus’ question to us, to the largely (though not entirely) settler community of Knox.

Do we want to be healed of that colonial mindset?

  • Are we willing to become painfully aware of the profound harm caused by our ancestors, which continues to this day and in our generation?
  • Are we willing to take the identity hit that comes from the realization that we are part of something that is morally, terribly, wrong?

For 30 some years, we have been hanging around the edges of a healing pool.  We have not climbed in, and we are not healed.  And I think Jesus is asking us, insistently:  do you want to be healed?

After 30 some years, I think I finally do. I think it’s time to think 7 generations into the future.  I think it’s time to say “please” and “thank you” to Mother Earth.  I think it’s time to stop seeing some people as more, and others as less important, somehow.

What about you?  What about us?  Do we want to be healed?  Do we want to be made whole?

See how our Blanket Exercise turned out. Lots of photos too.

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