After working almost seven days a week between my two jobs during the month of September, then delivering a lecture on practicing “Silence, Solitude, and Sabbath” this past week, and hearing a sermon on “Sabbath” on Sunday, it was time for me to put this into practice! The purpose of the Sabbath principle is to rest [Exodus 20] and remember [Deuteronomy 5]. This weekend I was able to rest from my academic and ecclesiastical labours by going for a walk with my loved one, cleaning up the garden for the season, and by painting a watercolour picture. I had the mental space to remember and reflect on all the things I am thankful for: a family that is not divided by COVID, a roof over my head when it rains, food on the table, and a little garden hut to retreat and paint are just four of the obvious ones.

I started a series some time ago painting pictures of church buildings. Church buildings used to dominate skylines of towns and cities but now those old cathedrals made of wood and stone are dwarfed by commercial skyscrapers made of glass and steel. The visual contrast makes for some intriguing art and is perhaps also telling about our values and our gods. This one below is St. Andrew’s-Wesley United Church in Vancouver. I also have one hanging in the Metzger Collection at Columbia Bible College as part of a new exhibition, “A Tale of Two Churches.” Check it out in person if you live in Abbotsford or visit https://www.metzgercollection.org

It has been a full month with two jobs! My weekly blog has had to take a backseat as a result. Here is part of the lecture I delivered in my Anabaptist History class on the first National Day for Truth and Reconciliation.

While the Anabaptist movement was in its infancy in continental Europe in the 16th century, European expansion was happening in the rest of the world.

Spain and Portugal divided the world in half between themselves in the Treaty of Tordesillas in 1494! Although Columbus was Roman/Italian, his expeditions were funded by Spanish royalty [Ferdinand and Isabella]. The Spanish conquered all of the Caribbean, Mexico, Central and South [except Brazil-Portugal] America, and western North America and Florida.

Other empires got into the act later in the 1500s. The French had a tract along the Mississippi and Missouri Rivers [Louisiana, etc]. and along St. Laurence Basin [parts of upper states, Maritimes, Quebec]. The British had most of eastern coast and the vast Hudson’s Bay territories inland.

Aside: America is named after Amerigo Vespucci, the Italian explorer who set forth the then revolutionary concept that the lands that Columbus sailed to in 1492 were part of a separate continent, even though Vespucci never actually set foot on it.

Christian European expansion was based on the Doctrine of Discovery which was the international law that gave license to explorers to claim vacant land (terra nullius) in the name of their sovereign. If the lands were not occupied by Christians they were considered “vacant” therefore could be defined as “discovered” and sovereignty, dominion, title and jurisdiction claimed. Here is an excerpt:

“Nicholas, The Roman pontiff, successor of the key-bearer of the heavenly kingdom and vicar of Jesus Christ, contemplating with a father’s mind all the several climes of the world and seeking and desiring the salvation of all…

…to invade, search out, capture, vanquish, and subdue all Saracens and pagans whatsoever, and other enemies of Christ wheresoever placed… and all movable and immovable goods whatsoever held and possessed by them and to reduce their persons to perpetual slavery, and to apply and appropriate to himself and his successors the kingdoms, dukedoms, counties, principalities, dominions, possessions, and goods, and to convert them to his and their use and profit.” 

(“Bulls of Discovery” issued by Pope Nicholas V, 1454)

This theology was based primarily on three biblical texts:

  • The Great Commission to Spread the Gospel (Matthew 28:18-20): “Go into all the world” [v.19] = Explore and colonize. “Make disciples” = make people into Christians by subjugating them. “Kill the Indian to save the soul”
  • The Divine Right to Rule (Romans 13:1-7): “God has set authorities in place” [v.1] = We are those authorities. Based on earlier “Divine right of kings”. Rebellion against this is rebellion against God and will not be tolerated.
  • The Divine Command for the Conquest of Canaan (Exodus 23:20-33; Deuteronomy 20:16-18): “Completely destroy them” [20:17] = Following God’s commands and the example of ancient Israel, slavery and genocide are acceptable ways to take territory for Christ.

This doctrine was lived out just as it was stated: by military force, economic exploitation, and religious proselytization. Explorers were followed by merchants [to glorify God by making money], missionaries [to convert people], military [to protect the former and subjugate the rebellious], settlers [to go into all the world], politicians & pastors [to keep order], police [to protect the former and subjugate the rebellious].

More than a 2 million Christian European settlers had come to the “vacant” Americas by 1800 [another 60 million after that]. By contrast, the indigenous population plummeted from an estimated 18 million to less than a million in the 150 years following Columbus’s voyages, primarily through the spread of diseaseforced labor and slavery for resource extraction, and missionization. This was the first large-scale act of genocide in the modern era.

The residential school system that followed was an extension of this 15th century doctrine. The Doctrine of Discovery has been recognized by Western courts as the legal precedent for land and resource rights up until the 21st century. I was very happy to be part of our denomination’s long overdue repudiation of this doctrine in 2016.

“Be it resolved that Mennonite Church Canada repudiate the Doctrine of Discovery as it is fundamentally opposed to the Gospel of Jesus Christ and our understanding of the inherent dignity and rights that individuals and peoples have received from God.”

This fall I have taken on a new, temporary, and part-time role of preaching and coordinating preaching at our church. Even though I have been an ordained minister for 30 years, it caused more turmoil than I had bargained for.

CRISIS OF CALLING

Do I hear you calling?

Am I going progressively deaf?

Maybe I’m just falling.

Is it a voice from within?

Is it a voice from above?

Is it the voice of a person?

Is it just in my head?

Is it from God’s heart?

Either way I’m full of dread.

Is it a desire for power?

Is it a need for strokes?

No matter what, I cower.

I’m sixty years old.

I’m not looking for change.

I’m too far along to be bold.

I’d like to retire with ease.

I don’t need a new challenge.

Don’t call me now please.

A movie provided an unintended addition to my summer reading about Indigenous people in Canada. We watched the movie, Indian Horse, based on the novel with the same title by Richard Wagamese. I’ll confess that I have not read the book and the only reason I watched the movie is because live TV was not working at a resort in the interior of BC. It is a powerful movie with real Canadian ingredients: Indigenous main characters, boreal wilderness, hockey, residential schools, hard work, and both humor and tragedy.

For those who have not read the book or seen the movie I will not give a synopsis of the movie. I will just mention that the only white character in the story who seemed to have any redemptive elements sucker punched me in the gut by being revealed as the abuser in the end. This impacted me deeply, not because of the surprising plot twist by a good author, not because I too was a victim of childhood sexual abuse, but because it spoke the truth of Canadian history. We are learning that some of our colonial and political heroes like John A. Macdonald were actually villains. I won’t weigh in on the statue debate but just say that my reading this summer has helped me to get a more accurate perspective on the Canadian story.

P.S. I will weigh in on the name debate. I was doing some research for my Anabaptist History course this past week. What was happening on our continent in 1525 while the Anabaptist movement was being birthed in Europe? Christopher Columbus landed on its shores in 1493 ushering in the first European settlements in the 1500s. Too many places on this continent are named after him. Perhaps the worst is the name of our province: British Columbia. Columbus was an Italian whose travels were funded by the Spanish Empire; thus “British” Columbia just specifies who was claiming imperial power in this region of the continent claimed by Columbus on behalf of Spain. And of course our capital city is named after the Queen of the British Empire at the time. We should follow the example of Manitoba [Ojibway “God who speaks”] with the capital city of Winnipeg [Cree “Muddy Water”].

We are buried in heat, smoke, and ash right now in southern BC. It has been a crazy summer of weather and it has impacted my little garden as well. I think the worst was the extreme “heat dome” at the end of June that broke our hottest day records by almost 10 degrees. My rain barrel ran out of water by mid-June and the one small shower in early August helped the garden for a day; but overall, it was the summer of watering every other day.

Most visibly impacted by the early heat were the raspberries that were in peaking at the time. They blanched white and dried right on the plant. Thankfully, we got a few pickings before that and even a few berries after. The blueberries I planted a few years ago had no berries and may never recover. I’m not sure what farmers did to keep their plants alive because we were still able to buy good berries from them. The apples were few to start with and seemed to shrivel. Choke cherries and hazelnuts were stolen by predators like every year. Rhubarb always does well. The red currants produced a bumper crop but because they are so small it only made a very small batch of sauce. The first crop of ever-bearing strawberries was very good but the second picking is sparse right now. After two years of transition and crop failure, the grapes have adjusted to the new arbor. They are right now turning a beautiful dark purple, and are plentiful and flavourful.

All of the perennial herbs (peppermint, spearmint, lavender, lemon balm, sage, thyme, oregano, rosemary, parsley, and chives) survived although I harvested before the heat dome (I harvest early and freeze them so they maintain both their colour and flavour). Dill failed for the second year in a row. The stevia plant did okay. Basil did better than ever. Chamomile gave me a sweet bunch of flowers to add to the mint-based garden tea in June.

I grow radishes just because they are early. I gave away a few bunches of nice-looking ones to neighbours. Broccoli did better than ever with two harvests. Peas did okay. I planted onions for the first time in a few years and there will be some. Early lettuce was wonderful but it really suffered from the heat. Kale is the hardiest plant in the garden and it seems heat doesn’t bother it any more than frost, although frost improves the taste while heat makes it bitter. Potatoes were very small. It was the worst year ever for carrots because they just did not germinate even though I used the same seeds as usual. The ones I got were large and tasty but they were few and far between. The green pole beans did better than ever with an eight foot teepee loaded with beans. Beets were good again for two years in a row. Cucumbers were all kinds of odd shapes and not plentiful. Tomato plants grew big but are not yielding a proportionate amount of fruit. Yes, I said fruit, even though I think of them as a vegetable.

I’m thankful.

Heinrichs, Steve and Esther Epp-Tiessen, editors. Be it Resolved: Anabaptists & Partner Coalitions Advocate for Indigenous Justice, 1966-2020.

Mennonites are known for their practical service but also for their careful processes in committee work. This book is more about the latter with hopes that it would translate into the former. It demonstrates the revolutionary foresight of some statements as well as the too often failure to translate into any meaningful action on behalf of indigenous justice over the years. The book was published and given to me by my denomination in exchange for my engagement with an online discussion group.

Although I know that it is important work that has to be done, I am not a committee or task force kind of person. Thus, this book full of resolutions and carefully worded statements was a difficult read for me. What it did for me was give me a look at some of the good work being done behind-the-scenes while major controversies make the public news: Elijah Harper and his bringing down of the Meech Lake Accord, Oka, Burnt Church, Grassy Narrows, Ipperwash, Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s apology for Indian Residential Schools in 2008, and most recently the Idle No More movement and the Truth and Reconciliation meetings held across Canada. There is always more to it than what we see or read in the news. I have a new appreciation for the work done by tireless advocates for indigenous justice.

Here are a few of many quotes that caught my attention.

“Canada was built on the dispossession of Indigenous lands through the repression of Indigenous law, language, culture, and spirituality.” (From the introduction by Ruth Plett)

“We criticize southern Africa and the racism that is seen there, and yet we have examples at home. The problem they are having in South Africa, is that the descendants of European people are trying to wrestle with how they are going to live with the Indigenous population. In that case, the Indigenous people are the majority, so there’s paranoia in that white race that’s there. But what’s your paranoia? We are the minority here! Why can’t we deal with the problems that we criticize South Africa about? Why can’t Native people have enough land and enough control over their lives that they can have some dignity?” (George Erasmus, Dene, 1987)

“We must be careful not to invoke a double standard, namely, to accept political action as appropriate when undertaken for our advantage, often involving special privileges, but to reject as “political” similar action undertaken to promote justice for others… Mennonites have benefitted much from broken treaties and from the herding of Indians onto small reserves of marginal land.” (MCC Canada “Why Apologize?” 1992)

“According to the United Nations’ Human Development Index, the majority society in Canada benefits from the highest quality-of-life measures of any country in the world. But by this same UN standard, the social conditions facing Aboriginal people in Canada, taken by themselves, would place that population in 63rd place among the nations of the world.” (Canadian Ecumenical Jubilee Initiative, 2000)

Be it resolved “That Mennonite Church Canada repudiate the Doctrine of Discovery as it is fundamentally opposed to the Gospel of Jesus Christ and our understanding of the inherent dignity and rights that individuals and peoples have received from God.” (Mennonite Church Canada, 2016) I was happy to be at these meetings and voted in favour of this resolution that was carried unanimously minus one.

King, Thomas. The Inconvenient Indian: A Curious Account of Native People in North America. Anchor, 2013.

I knew of Thomas King’s reputation as a writer with a biting wit and so I thought this work of historical nonfiction might be a good summer read. I was not disappointed. The book was both entertaining and insightful.

A few things were immediately noticeable. King uses the term “Indian” in the title and the body of the book with some sarcasm and mentions “aboriginal, first nations, and native” but it seems the term “indigenous” was not yet in use at the time of writing. The book is unique in that he attempts to tell the story of indigenous people in both United States and Canada. Despite the differences in policy since contact and colonization, the 49th parallel is obviously an artificial boundary that meant nothing to indigenous people. I was a bit disappointed when he says that he does not want to start with Christopher Columbus but then does so anyway. I would have benefitted from some pre-contact stories. An important contribution is that he refers to specific indigenous tribes and nations whereas settlers tend to generalize and treat them all the same. King demonstrates the height of his witty truth-telling when he differentiates between Live Indians, Dead Indians, and Legal Indians. “Dead Indians are dignified, noble, silent, suitably garbed. And dead. Live Indians are invisible, unruly, disappointing. And breathing. One is a romantic reminder of a heroic but fictional past. The other is simply an unpleasant, contemporary surprise…The Legal Indian is a by-product of the treaties signed with Native nations.”

A quote from Andrew Jackson sums up white settler attitudes both then and still today. “What good man would prefer a country covered with forests and ranged by a few thousand savages to our extensive Republic, studded with cities, towns, and prosperous farms, embellished with all the improvements which art can devise or industry execute, occupied by 12 million happy people, and filled with all the blessings of liberty, civilization, and religion.” King makes the reader feel uncomfortable and it is a necessary discomfort; for example, referring to Christianity as a “conquest religion” makes me squirm even if I identify as an Anabaptist, pacifist, anti-establishmentarian Christian. He goes on to say that most religions are similar and he knows of none that might be seen as a “seduction religion where converts are lured in by the beauty of the doctrine and the generosity of the practice.” This made me think of Brian Zahnd’s book, The Beautiful Gospel where he tries to argue that Christianity is indeed a seduction religion! I agree with Zahnd but this does not change the historical record to the contrary. “Missionary work in the New World was war…Christianity [was] a stakeholder in the business of assimilation…or if you want the positive but somewhat callous view, you might wish to describe Christianity as the gateway drug to supply-side capitalism.” This is a history I have to embrace as my own before I can ever hope to convince people of the beauty of Jesus and his message of radical love.

King addresses the various ways that Europeans have attempted to deal with the “Indian problem” from extermination to assimilation to education in residential schools. These policies may have officially ceased but the past is still the present and to say, “Forget about the past. Today is a new day. Let’s enjoy it together” is a ridiculous sentiment that King debunks. So then, “What do Indians want?” King climaxes the book with two chapters (8 and 9) answering this question. “If you understand nothing else about the history of Indians in North America, you need to understand that the question that really matters is the question of land. Land has always been a defining element of Aboriginal culture…For non-Natives, land is primarily a commodity.” In this light, his retelling of the Oka crisis in 1990 was very important for me to read. It was very different from what I read and heard about in the news at that time.

I don’t blame King for his cynicism when he jokes about trying to come up with a “happy ever after” ending to the book. There is lots of sad evidence about how unkindly Canada treats its original residents to this day. But I am of the western mind, I also like happy endings; and, even in the sinking ship of human degradation I am buoyed by a hopeful eschatology. One of the “happy” stories he writes about in his concluding chapter is the formation of Nunavut in 1999. The announcement a few days ago of Mary Simon becoming the first indigenous (Inuit) Governor General in Canada is a fitting update to the Nunavut story that ends the book. Good news indeed but I hope she makes us uncomfortable a few times.

Barman, Jean, edited by Margery Fee. On the Cusp of Contact: Gender, Space and Race in the Colonization of British Columbia. Harbour Publishing, 2020.

I had never heard of the word “unceded” when I moved to British Columbia from the prairies in 2000. This means that there were never any treaties signed here between Indigenous nations and the new settler nation of Canada, as there are in regions on the other side of the Rockies. “Unseated” is what settler government policies did for Indigenous communities both here and elsewhere. The fact that there are no treaties does complicate relationships between Indigenous and settler people in British Columbia.

British Columbia is a unique province in many ways. “The rivers run the other way here,” I remarked when we first moved here. “‘The west beyond the west,’ as Barman calls British Columbia… is geographically, socially, and historically distinctive…The early history of the province features San Francisco, Honolulu, and Canton (Guangzhou) rather than Ottawa, New York, London, or Paris. Vancouver is a cosmopolitan city amidst one of the world’s last frontiers. The Indigenous peoples in British Columbia are the most linguistically and culturally diverse in any province.” One thing that is the same across North America is the decimation of Indigenous life. “Between contact in 1770 and the 1830s, diseases [introduced by Europeans] killed between 60 and 90 percent of the Indigenous population in British Columbia.” And of course, later government policies involving residential schools caused cultural genocide for those who remained.

In this collection, the most jarring essays for me were the first two about erasing Indigenous space and indigeneity in Vancouver. Kitsilano and today’s Stanley Park were reserve lands that were “unsettled” of Indigenous people to make way for white settlement. Maybe it was because I’ve enjoyed the beautiful parks at both locations that caused the dissonance. The erasure of Indigenous land and people was based on racism and greed. I’m sad, ashamed, and angry. I don’t know what to do about it but I now visit those places with a new perspective, realizing that settlements thousands of years old were razed to the ground and people chased out to make way for parks and developments. The totems in Stanley Park almost seem like an insulting token.

The middle two sections about women and families contained various interesting social histories and fascinating stories of creative, courageous women who beat the odds to survive and thrive. Chapters touched on Chinese, Hawaiian, Indigenous, and mixed race families. I knew some things about Chinese history on the west coast but I did not know about Hawaiian settlements. I have hiked at Kanaka Creek in Maple Ridge and did not realize that “Kanaka” was a name for Hawaiian people who had a settlement in the area. The theme that runs throughout these chapters is that “almost all white newcomers accepted the notion of a hierarchy of the races, which conveniently put themselves at the top. Indigenous people were doubly disparaged, being darker in complexion and non-Christian, and thus ‘uncivilized.’” One unique chapter, “Island Sanctuaries” was about the settlement of mixed race families on some of the coastal islands where they had more autonomy and less racism.

The last section on schooling was especially poignant in light of the recent discovery of more than 1,000 and counting unmarked graves on the lands of former Indian Residential Schools. A lengthy quote from Fee’s introduction to the essay, “Schooled for Inequality” does a good job of summarizing the essays in this section.

“Declared to be educating Indigenous children to assimilate into the mainstream society as equals, residential schools succeeded only in marginalizing them, destroying their cultures and languages, damaging their family relationships, and undermining their confidence. The system governing the schools was fundamentally flawed in ways that led to marked inequality in the treatment of white and Indigenous children. Four themes stand out: First, all Indigenous people were seen as the same, no matter what their culture or history. Second, although expected to complete the same curriculum as white children, Indigenous children spent far less time in the classroom because their labour was required to keep the schools running. Third, since the main goal of the religious denominations that ran the schools was Christian indoctrination, teachers were usually volunteers rather than professionals, and therefore generally untrained and of low quality. Finally, federal funding of both residential and day schools for Indigenous children quickly fell below provincial funding for public education. Indigenous pupils were excluded from public schooling where they could have done better and been closer to their families.”

And one more quote from Barman gives some insight into how we might respond today. I have heard talk about court cases for teachers and administrators who committed abuse. There is also pressure on the Vatican to provide an official apology on behalf of the Roman Catholic Church that ran many of the schools (the other churches involved have already offered such apologies). These are necessary but this quote points the finger elsewhere and if Barman is correct then that would leave none of us off the hook! “The reasons for the failure [of the residential schools] had less to do with the actions of individual teachers or administrators than with a federal policy that legitimized and even compelled children to be schooled not for assimilation but for inequality. While teachers and administrators of goodwill were able to ameliorate the worst aspects of the system for their pupils, all of the individual goodwill in the world could not have rescued a system that was fundamentally flawed.” For this, all of us must take responsibility. We are the government and so we, the people of Canada, must pay the costs of the damage that federal policies have done in the past. The pittance that the federal government gives to Indigenous nations—and that many settler Canadians complain about being too much—is barely a penny in the pail of what we owe.

This year I am not celebrating Canada Day along with Victoria, BC and other people across the country. The terrible history of residential schools and the oppression of indigenous peoples has always been there but we have finally become more publicly aware in the past few months. This is not a time to celebrate. Yes, I am privileged and thankful to be living in this country with all its natural splendor, cultural diversity, and economic opportunity. But I am ashamed that my privilege has been on the backs of indigenous children and their families. In light of this it will be a day of reflection and solidarity with our indigenous neighbours in their suffering.

As an educator, I am pledging myself to learn more about this history in my reading this summer. I have already read the TRC report that came out a number of years ago and almost everything there is to read about Louis Riel, so I am adding On the Cusp of Contact: Gender, Space, and Race in the Colonization of BC by Jean Barman, The Inconvenient Indian by Thomas King, and Be It Resolved: Anabaptist & Partner Coalitions Advocate for Indigenous Justice, 1966-2020. I will offer some reviews and reflections of these during the summer.

The following statement comes from the latter collection of resolutions, letters, and public statements. It was written in 1970 in the year of Manitoba’s centennial by the late Menno Wiebe, anthropologist and executive secretary of the Mennonite Mission Board. It is a preamble to a litany of confession that seems ahead of its time in light of the Vatican’s refusal to offer a confession 51 years later. I have changed a few words to connect it to Canada Day 2021.

Celebration of [Canada Day], it must be remembered, is basically an insult to the people of [indigenous] ancestry whose history and “nationhood” was not begun but terminated with the formation of European states in the Americas. It was the intention of the Mission Board to do some pioneering in repentance. Our fast moving society and the success and activity oriented church programs simply haven’t ever taken time for remorse or felt the need for repentance. [Today] we feel otherwise.

And a few lines from the litany itself that still ring very true:

Leader: We have, by our silence, sided with the powerful forces of government and industry when they invaded your rights, discounted your modest protest, and exploited your resources.

ALL: Forgive us, Lord!

Leader: We are guilty of tracing America’s history back no further than 1492. Canada, for us, is only [154] years old. The accounts of your own history, your stories, your dreams and your visions have meant nothing to us. We have wanted your furs, your wild rice, your skill in the woods, but we didn’t want you.

ALL: Forgive us, Lord!

Yesterday we heard about the remains of another 751 children buried in unmarked graves on a former residential school property in Saskatchewan. What else can we feel but guilt, shame, and remorse? I weep with all indigenous people who are reminded of their families torn apart by government policy and church compliance.

Where do we start in the work of truth and reconciliation with our indigenous neighbours? For Christians, one small beginning is to tell the truth about this in our worship gatherings. “Land acknowledgements” have become common practice to open civic events and at the same time controversial in regards to whether this is mere tokenism or an important ritual of recognition. Using land acknowledgements as part of church worship adds another layer to civic ceremonies. I personally think that we should incorporate land acknowledegments into Christian worship. Here are three reasons why.

Our word “worship” comes from the Old English WEORTHSCIPE, meaning “to ascribe worth”. To worship is to state what is most important and most valuable, i.e. what is of ultimate value to us. When Christians worship we are “ascribing worth” to the God of the Universe who created all things, sustains all things, and redeemed all things through Jesus Christ. It is appropriate then that our church developed a land acknowledgement statement to be used in our worship gatherings. Our church’s land acknowledgement statement is a deep act of worship because it is acknowledging that God is the creator of everything and owns everything and we are but stewards. To acknowledge God as Creator, Sustainer, and Redeemer of everything is central to worship.

Secondly, such a statement also acknowledges that the heart of the Gospel of Jesus Christ is reconciliation that includes reconciliation with God, with our neighbours, and with all creation. The beginning of reconciliation is confession and apology. This too is a basic Christian practice. This is something all the church bodies that were directly involved in the residential school system have done and we await and urge the pope to now do so on behalf of the Roman Catholic Church. One thing that our own church’s statement does not do but should do is confess our sin of racism and cultural genocide that our ancestors were complicit in and continues in our own hearts today. One day, hopefully we will get to this part as a church. To be faithful to the Gospel of Peace [Ephesians 2:11-22], it behooves us to make statements of confession and repentance in our worship services on a regular basis.

Some may object that such a land acknowledgement is just political tokenism and we should keep politics out of our worship services. Worship in any form—song, prayer, sermon, ritual, etc.—is a deeply political act. The first confession of faith and the first act of worship for the early church was their statement: “Jesus is Lord.” All citizens of the empire at the time were required to pay homage to the emperor with the statement of allegiance: “Caesar is Lord.” Thus, the primary statement of worship was also a statement of political allegiance to the reign of God as inaugurated in Jesus of Nazareth because this God demanded exclusive worship. Going to church to worship God is a political act no matter what the form and content! If you don’t want to make any political statements join a country club. Politics is about allegiance and relationships; this is what the church of Jesus Christ is about: allegiance to Jesus and renewed relationships with others.

A land acknowledgement is but the beginning. If this is all we do then it is mere tokenism as it has become in some public events and ceremonies. God doesn’t want us to put too much energy into crafting an hour of songs, prayers, and sermons. “I can’t stand your religious assemblies. I will not accept your offerings. Away with the noise of your songs!” (Amos 5:21-23) True worship is primarily about what happens outside the walls of the church building. Following Jesus is about all of life. We need to learn about the history of injustice toward indigenous people in Canada and then we can begin the work of reconciliation. “But let justice roll on like a river, righteousness like a never-failing stream!” (Amos 5:24)

Here is the land acknowledgement statement for our congregation, Emmanuel Mennonite Church:

As a faith community, we believe that the earth is a gift from God our Creator. Together with the first people of this land, we are called to be stewards of this earth that sustains us, and we are grateful for that privilege. Therefore, we acknowledge with deep gratitude our presence on the unceded, traditional, and ancestral homeland of the Matsqui First Nation, affiliated with the larger Sto:lo Nation. The land is an important part of our faith and we also recognize that it is has always been at the center of Indigenous life, culture and spirituality.  May we treat this land and all its people with respect and understanding, as we strive for peace and right relationships with all who share it.