Be Part of the Healing Process by Listening Well
Canada Day was very different this year.
In Regina, Saskatchewan, it was a beautiful, hot sunny day, yet the mood was somber and reflective. In Wascana Park, there was a small, memorial walk down Albert Street. Then a quiet toned-down gathering, and, at dusk, a candlelight vigil on Albert Street bridge where, in other years, crowds would gather to watch the annual fireworks.
My wife and I, being of Nehiyawak (Plains Cree) descent, took our grandchildren to the gathering on the Legislative grounds, all proudly dressed in orange t-shirts. We listened to the stories being shared, the expressions of grief, calls to action and remembrance.
Vandalism is Not the Answer
I am greatly dismayed and aggrieved over the destruction and vandalism of Catholic churches across the country. This is not reflective of indigenous values and is an outpouring of grief and trauma turned to anger, bitterness and rage. I pray for the healing of those groups of individuals who would commit such crimes, hoping that they come to realize that such actions only serve to perpetuate racism, prejudice and division.
I am also confused by the removal of statues of national leaders. This movement is not reflective of true reconciliation. Allow me to introduce the idea of adding a ‘‘David Addendum” to the plaques that commemorate leaders of the past: “He was a man after God’s own heart, but he committed adultery and murder.” Perhaps on every church should be a plaque that reads, “Jesus Christ was the only man without sin. We freely admit to falling far short of his glory.”
Etched on my memory is the look of startled wonder of an angry indigenous man whom I quietly asked, “What if the God of the Bible is not the god of the residential schools?” after listening to his story and adamant rejection of the Bible I offered.
How to Just Listen
These days, I have spent much time listening to the grief and anger being poured out, having absolutely nothing to say. Like listening to Holocaust survivors, there is nothing that can be said. Anyone who has listened to the stories knows that to be called to listen is a privilege. Can I offer some advice on listening?
1. Don’t compare anything being said with your own story.
Hear the story being told by the person telling it, and receive it as the holy thing it is.
2. Trust the person doing the telling to share as much as they want and to know when to stop.
Don’t cut it short by offering a tissue as if to say, “That’s enough. Here – dry your tears.” Don’t hug the person as if to say, “Please stop sharing.” Let the person tell you their story, as much or as little as they want.
3. Don’t offer advice, or scripture, or a trivial meme you saw on social media.
Offer your heart. What do you feel? How would you respond if the person sharing was your son or daughter? As a Christian, be the incarnate God. Christ in you is the hope of glory. Not your glory. His glory. Not your hope. Their hope. Christ in you is their hope of His glory.
4. Empathize, don’t apologize.
It was neither Jesus nor yourself who committed those atrocities. Truthfully, yours is not the apology they are looking for. Empathy says, “I’m sorry that those things happened to you,” not, “I’m sorry for the things that were done.” That is a subtle but enormous difference.
5. Don’t defend the church, God, or the Word of God.
As to the Word of God, rather than defend it, release it. Speak it, declare it. It is, after all, still the power of God unto salvation. But gently, as Christ the Healer would.
The Road to Healing
There will undoubtedly be many more unmarked graves found throughout the summer that lies ahead.
Peter has some applicable words for us, his disciples to remember:
If you are insulted because of the name of Christ, you are blessed, for the Spirit of glory and of God rests on you…For it is time for judgment to begin with God’s household; and if it begins with us, what will the outcome be for those who do not obey the gospel of God?…So then, those who suffer according to God’s will should commit themselves to their faithful Creator and continue to do good. (1 Peter 4:14,17,19)
I choose to honor the children who died at residential schools by praying for the healing of those impacted by residential schools and these grisly discoveries. I don’t simply mean Indigenous peoples; I mean all Canadians. For Canada.
As we take time to reflect on who we are as a country, to acknowledge past realities, to re-commit ourselves to our commission as ambassadors of reconciliation, positioned and raised up for such a time as this – let us gladly bear the burden, lift up the cross, declaring Christ and him crucified.
God, keep our land…