Wednesday, June 11, 2008

That Sinking Feeling

In four days I will be preaching on the issue of Canada - First Nations relations. The texts that will be read are Exodus 3:7-15 and Philippians 2:1-11. At this point I feel simply sunk in the conflicting or ambiguous stories and the sheer complexity of it.

Initially I wanted to trace a theme of possession and ownership that still determines the relationship as it functions today but it is of course not simply binary as there is praise and corruption to be found at nearly all levels. It is one thing to sift through documentation dealing with land claims (I will not even wade in here). I have no doubt that First Nations people have legitimate claims here but when documentation is penned by those in authority who are known to have had questionable characters and motives it must be frustrating trying to agree on the "primary sources". I am thinking also of the residential school system which our prime minister will be apologizing for in 10 minutes time. There have clearly been atrocious physical and sexual abuses that have occurred as native children were often forcibly removed from homes so that they would attend these schools. It is also addressed that schools of this sort at that time in history were often the site of abuses (I know our small town school had its abuses). There are others who had a positive experience at residential schools and how they would not be prepared for life without them. In addition there are those speaking from within the native community claiming that they know people who are fabricating the stories of abuse. Growing up near a native reservation I remember all the racist stereotypes of what people from that community did and how they lived. I saw way to many homeless and impoverished native men on Winnipeg's north end main street. I have witnessed beautiful celebrations of native community and spirituality when I was working with an "at-risk" youth. I heard a number of young native people talk about the corruption that occurs within their tribe . . . that you have to be in the right family or know the right people to get more of the government money. I drove through Caledonia the morning one of the land-claim protests became violent.
I am not sure what else I should have expected. This is life. But how is it that I can even begin to speak about this from the pulpit? The Exodus texts speaks of a God who sees, hears and feels a people he calls his own. This God calls an individual as the one who will bring the people into a 'spacious land'. God promises to be with this individual and when this persons asks the name of the one who is sending him God speaking, "I AM WHO I AM." In the Philippians passage Paul pleads with the church to "do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves." He then goes on to proclaim our need to have the same attitude as Christ and so follows the great kenotic image of Christ who,
being in very nature God,
did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage;

rather, he made himself nothing
by taking the very nature of a servant,
being made in human likeness.

And being found in appearance as a human being,
he humbled himself
by becoming obedient to death—
even death on a cross

These are both passages about identity. They are identities that are not determined, solid or fixed. The project of European settlement in Canada was one control and possession. Whatever was encountered in the new land was to be determined and fixed under the emerging political power. There are of course varied stories within this project but the overall movement was undeniably one of control. I suppose this is where I will work from. Hopefully from this place of uncontrollable identity we can begin to learn of, ironically, firm and absolute living as it is being taken up with Christ whose name is above all names. A life of absolute contingency and relationship to neighbor and God . . . I still feel sunk.

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