The news coming from our country, Canada, is not good news these days. From cultural genocide, the death of innocent children left unrecognized or memorialized, to the blatant murder of a Muslim family - and all that unfolds, untold, in between - it is not a time to feel overly proud about being Canadian.
And to be honest, about being a Christian.
It is a heavy time. A time of reckoning. For us as a country, for us as a church.
And many of us, especially those of us who have lived as part of what are described as “privileged communities”, wonder how to respond. What to say? What to do?
Certainly we should express our horror, sorrow, and our compassion and love.
For those of us who have not experienced fear, hate, oppression, refusal, dismissal and violence because of the colour of our skin, of what we choose to believe in, or what country we come from - perhaps we need to spend more time listening.
I can’t help but wonder if we should be quieter in the midst of all that is unfolding. Quieter so that we can allow our sisters and brothers - be they Indigenous, Muslim, Asian, Black or otherwise - to have a chance to tell us their stories. Their stories of fear, devastation, oppression and grief.
The Bishop of Toronto, Andrew Asbil, spoke to the clergy of Toronto on Tuesday during our bi-annual clergy conference. Amongst other things, he spoke about us bearing, along with those who are suffering, the pain they are enduring. Of course, those of us who are not directly affected by the sins of racism and intolerance cannot fully know what that pain feels like. Yet we can sit with our sisters and brothers and honour their stories, their pain with our loving presence.
To respond in this way is not passive, as some might assume. Rather, it puts us in the uncomfortable position (which many of us do not want to be in) of acknowledging our own culpability.
Thirty years ago I was part of a conference that discussed racism. It was held in the States and I was part of a small working group. I spoke about the racism towards black people that I had encountered in my own family and how I wanted nothing to do with it. A black woman in that group, came across the circle to me and said, “I forgive you.” At first, I was appalled because I did not say I held any racist views or thoughts. Thankfully I had a deeper awareness that something else was unfolding in that moment and I remained silent, receiving her forgiveness.
I know that no one in our parish celebrates the horror of 215 unmarked graves or the murder of a Muslim family. Sadly though, many of us are a part of a history and a culture that has allowed beliefs that have led to these actions. There is much to unlearn, much to confess, much to be forgiven for.
Rather than action or words at this time, I would humbly suggest to our church community that we listen. That we create places for those who have suffered to tell their stories. We know those stories will need to be told over and over for healing to happen well. Let us not interrupt with our apologies, though heartfelt, often only for our own comfort. Let us truly love our neighbours by elevating their stories, their experiences and their journey of healing.
Like I said, this is not a passive response. Prayerful listening allows us to hear in deeper ways what we couldn’t hear before. Time allows stories to unfold and the deeper meaning to be made clear. And the space we create in our listening silence is a way to lovingly honour our sisters and brothers in the very difficult and long journey of healing they are attempting to make.
Participating in the pathways of healing and reconciliation with our racialized sisters and brothers is going to be a very long journey - one that will continue after most of us are long gone into the new life. So let us be thoughtful, patient and full of care as we navigate the ways we can and should participate. I suggest the following:
- We start by listening to the stories of our brothers and sisters who are impacted first hand by horrors of hate towards those considered “other”. What are your thoughts for how we can best do this? (Please share your thoughts with our wardens: firstname.lastname@example.org)
- We continue the good work of our Truth and Reconciliation Group - planning learning events and ways in which we can support and encourage local and national Indigenous Communities. Regardless of what church looks like in the fall, let us make a commitment to this process. I know of three people who have already expressed interest and energy towards continuing the leadership of this endeavour.
- And let us grieve, as our hearts call us to, as the heart of God calls us to. Find ways to mark your grief and your solidarity in holding the grief of those who are truly suffering. Light a candle each night as you pray for the healing of the world, placing that candle in a window where someone else might see that small, but true light.
Come Loving God.
Come into this hurting place.
Sit with those who weep And hold their hearts,
so they do not falter.
Come Loving God.
Help us to listen with loving intent.
Sit with us as we hear what we cannot bear.
And mould our hearts, so that we might follow your heart.
So be it.