I’m following up my previous posts by announcing the release of my slide show of the trip. Go to the “Slide Shows” tab and click on “Haida Gwaii.” The purpose of the trip to learn more about Indigenous culture seems especially poignant and appropriate these days as the pope visits our country to apologize for the part that the Roman Catholic church played in the abuse and genocide (Although he did not call it that, what else can we call it when the population of Haida Gwaii was reduced by 95% in a few generations?! It was not accidental; there was a deliberate policy to get rid of Indigenous people. Please refer to my previous posts about this.) of Canada’s Indigenous people.

When we say to people that we went to Haida Gwaii, many people have a blank look and ask, “Where’s that?”

“Oh ye of little knowledge of your own country!” Some people will know when we say that it used to be called “Queen Charlotte Islands” but it has been more than a decade since that name was retired along with the British merchant ship by that name that landed on the shores of Haida Gwaii a few hundred years ago. It was known as Haida Gwaii for 13,000 years before that and now the original name has been recovered. The Haida, along with the Gitxsan and Wet’suwet’en people of the Skeena basin, where we also visited, have led the way in recovering their lost cultures, languages, economies, and governments. We were privileged to be their guests and students for two weeks.

And what about the weather? Every day was similar: a high of 16, partly sunny, partly cloudy, with an occasional shower. It was perfect! Much better than sweating on a beach on some tropical island.

I hope you enjoy the pictures and I hope they will provoke some questions and thoughts about how we might continue to work on reconciliation and decolonization.

The Indigenous peoples of the Pacific Northwest are known for their totem poles. We lost count how many we saw on our trip—probably over 50 in the areas we visited on Vancouver Island, Haida Gwaii, and around Hazelton. The most in one place was 16; all in view of each other in Kispiox. The tallest one—although this is disputed—was in Alert Bay on Cormorant Island. Perhaps the most famous was the one at Windy Bay on Lyell Island that was put up on the 25th anniversary of the Haida standoff against clear-cut logging that eventually led to the creation of Gwaii Haanas as a National Park Reserve. (This is a fascinating story that has been chronicled in a number of books I read before and while we were there. All that We Say is Ours by Ian Gill highlights the story of Guujaaw, artist, activist, and the first president of the Council of the Haida Nation. Paradise Won by Elizabeth May focuses on the political process behind the creation of the reserve. Shaping the Future of Haida Gwaii: Life Beyond Settler Colonialism by Joseph Weiss is an ethnography of the Haida struggle toward peoplehood and nationhood.)

As we sat in contemplation of the totems in Kispiox we noted a cross on a church building in the background. This initiated a discussion about some of the sad ironies and juxtapositions of Christian history from Constantine to colonialism.

THE CROSS AND THE TOTEM

The cross on our shields

led us into battle,

but we burned the totems

because they were evil.

The cross on a steeple;

enter the narrow door,

but we banned the potlatch—

No gatherings anymore!

The cross around my neck

made of silver and gold,

but the totem stands weathered

with its stories untold.

The cross is broken;

we’ve forgotten what it means,

but we preach to the natives

because we think they have needs.

The cross and the totem

both made of wood;

each have a story to tell

and in both cases it’s good.

I had the privilege of accompanying my spouse on her Indigenous learning tour to Haida Gwaii recently. Due to its remote location, Haida Gwaii was more vulnerable to colonial diseases in the 1800s (population reduced from over 20,000 to less than 600 in one generation), yet in the latter part of the 20th century the Haida have been a leaders in the resurgence of Indigenous pride, culture, and politics. Much more could be said, but let me just share a poem about the spirituality I experienced on the islands. It reminded me of my visit to the Isle of Iona a decade ago.

Thin places;

islands off

the northwestern edge

of a continent.

Only by bird and boat;

so remote.

Cold winds and yet

Spirit hovers warm

in the mist—

thick.

Thin places;

islands away

from the northwestern edge

of establishment

where they recognize

how everything’s related.

Water above;

water below;

the difference is the trees—

thick.

When I became aware that June is both Indigenous History Month and Pride Month (And today is National Indigenous People’s Day in Canada), I realized I had to do one more blog on books I had read in the past few months. I have already posted about books I read on these topics before, but there were more to choose from, so here are two more:

Carlson, Keith Thor, Albert (Sonny) McHalsie, Jan Perrier, editors. A Sto:lo Coast Salish Historical Atlas. Sto:lo Nation, 2001.

This was much more than an atlas; it was an exhaustive history of our region in text, charts, and maps from the perspective of its original people. It included all aspects of history from geology and geography to human activity and economics. I had previously read Before We Lost the Lake by Chad Reimer (See blog from a year or more ago) but this gave vivid visual detail to the loss of the lake with pictures and maps. It should not have come as a surprise last fall when the lake returned after heavy rains. The whole country took notice last November and millions of dollars poured in to help farmers and businesses rebuild, but one hundred years ago, nobody paid attention to the fact that the draining of the lake decimated the economy, livelihoods, and culture of the people who had lived there for thousands of years. Until the flood happened last fall, many people in our city were unaware of the history of the lake. This is why we need an Indigenous history month.

A few weeks ago I participated in my first powwow hosted by the Sumas nation. They live right on the edge of what used to be the lake. I wondered why this was their first powwow in more than two decades. It felt very much like a Mennonite Central Committee Festival: people of all ages, no alcohol, booths selling wares, food vendors, music, and most importantly, meeting people you haven’t seen for a while. There was a good turnout and a great time was had by all!

Chen, Angela. Ace: What Asexuality Reveals about Desire, Society, and the Meaning of Sex. Beacon, 2020.

The minority sexual orientation of “asexuality” or “ace” (those who are not sexually attracted to anyone) represents a critique of our over-sexualized culture and the idea that sexuality is central to identity and that “having sex” is an essential part of being human. There is more to human identity than sexuality! There is more to sexuality than genital activity! Our sex-obsessed society needs to hear this critique because it has denigrated sexuality through commercialism and hedonism. Evangelical Christians need to hear this critique because they are similarly sex-obsessed, just in a negative way by denigrating sexuality through condemnation and exclusion of those who love differently. Although it is not written by a Christian author, the book also offers some important contributions on values that Christians hold dear: friendship, caring, and respect for diversity.

I’m planning to attend the Pride events in our community in July. Perhaps it will also be like an MCC Festival.

At first I thought that it was unfortunate that Pride Month and Indigenous History Month have to share a month, but there are at least two intersections. One obvious one can be seen when we make an addition to a fluid acronym: 2SLGBTQIA+. “2-Spirit” is a term used within some Indigenous communities, encompassing cultural, spiritual, sexual and gender identity. The term reflects complex Indigenous understandings of gender roles, spirituality, and the long history of sexual and gender diversity in Indigenous cultures.

It is good for Indigenous people and 2SLGBTQIA+ people to be proud of who they are. Both featured months are about lifting up and encouraging minority groups in our society that have been oppressed and denigrated in the past. This is a Jesus-like thing to do. This is why Jesus says he came! “The Spirit of God is upon me because she has called me to bring good news to the poor, to proclaim release for the enslaved, sight for the blind, freedom for the oppressed, and equality and fullness of life for all.” (Luke 4:18-19)

Dueck, Cameron. Menno Moto: A Journey Across the Americas in Search of my Mennonite Identity. Biblioasis, 2020.

For my last book blog, I am writing about a book written by an author who is exactly like me! He grew up in the same evangelical, conservative Mennonite denomination that I did, just a few hours away from me in the same Canadian province. In fact, I went to Bible college with his older brother and did youth ministry with his older sister! We are probably related. As a globe-trotting journalist residing in Hong Kong, he flew the coop further than I did since my only adventures were living in five different Canadian provinces and changing to a more progressive Mennonite denomination.  

The purpose of his book is to discover his Mennonite identity by journaling through a motorcycle trip from his family home in Manitoba to visit people in Mennonite colonies in Mexico, Belize, Bolivia, Paraguay, and Argentina. When I teach Anabaptist history I tend to focus on 16th century origins and how the theology coming out of that era might be translated into a post-Christendom context; and since the majority of my students are not Mennonite, we tend to focus on faith and theology, more than culture, as what defines the terms Anabaptist and Mennonite. Although Dueck’s search might include faith, it is not what seems prominent in his search. What marks most of the people he visits is a combination of geographical and cultural separation from “the world” through a simple rural lifestyle.

Since I have branched out from the same roots as Dueck, I could identify with a lot of his musings about identity. There are things about my background that I love and other things that I detest. “Some Mennonites made me feel like I belonged and others made me want to shed my cultural identity.” I would say the same thing about the broader identity of “Christian.” At the same time it is important to embrace all aspects of our generational backstories, however uncomfortable they may be. (I’ll leave the expansion of that insight for another time.) I also agree with him that there is “no clear Mennonite identity that I could frame and hang on my certificate of me.” The same is true for all aspects of identity, and Dueck recognizes this as he writes in the midst of the struggle for a unique Hong Kong identity during the protests of 2019. This makes his journey a universal tale that all humans can identify with. Our particular brand of conservative Mennonites, because they have moved so much geographically—from Netherlands to Poland to Russia to Canada to Mexico to Belize to Bolivia and to increasingly nether-regions of the world—make them a somewhat unique case study. Perhaps that restlessness is in our common genes and has just carried the two of us to British Columbia and Hong Kong instead.

This is the last of my blogs about books I have read the past five months during my study leave. During my previous sabbaticals I wrote a book, but that was not on my list of projects this time around. I also did a lot of reading related to the courses I teach on Anabaptist history and spiritual formation. I read 10,000 to 12,000 pages during each study leave including Martyrs Mirror and The Complete Works of Menno Simons (That is 2,000 pages right there!).

Since I have reduced my teaching load to 75% the past few years, my goals were more modest this time around: no book project, perhaps a read a few books on my subject areas, with more of a focus on serving our constituency through preaching. I did prepare and preach 10 sermons, but it was my reading that surprised me—over 7,000 pages! The first book I read, Ubuntu by Michael Battle (See post in January), inspired me to read authors who were not like me, i.e. not straight, white, men. It was inspiring and challenging—and so good for me! Now I have made a lot of work for myself to integrate some of these things into my courses for the fall. I did not have this in mind for the twilight of my teaching career, but I guess it proves wrong the old saying that you can’t teach an old dog new tricks. Have a good summer!

Hopkins, Denise Dombkowski. Journey Through the Psalms. Chalice, 2002.

Midway through my study and service leave I received my teaching load for the fall. I will be teaching Psalms again after about a five-year hiatus. With this news, I added another subject area to my reading list. In the past I used Eugene Peterson’s Answering God and Walter Brueggemann’s Spirituality of the Psalms as my texts. They are two of my favorite writers and both have written multiple books on the Psalms. Why change when it might be a “one-off” teaching the Psalms course this year? Well, part of my commitment to read authors who are not like me meant that I would also be looking for some books on the Psalms by women or BIPOC authors. In one of my subject areas: spiritual formation, it has been easy to find books by sexual and racial minorities, but both Anabaptist history and biblical studies are dominated by white men. I did find three commentaries on the Psalms by women scholars in our library: Dianne Bergant, Nancy DeClaisse-Walford, and Denise Dombkowski Hopkins. Unfortunately, commentaries generally do not make for very interesting texts, especially for first-year students.

One day while browsing on the internet I discovered Journey through the Psalms, also by Hopkins. It seemed a good introductory book, less technical and more accessible than a commentary—and had a foreword written by Walter Brueggemann. Sold! I would at least order the book and read it, even if it was not usable as a text. After reading it, I chose to use it as my text for the course. Why? It is systematically written using Brueggemann’s orientation, disorientation, and new orientation spirituality and the five genres of psalms as the outline for chapters. It was written shortly after 9/11, very conscious of the political, social, and religious context at the time which inaugurated a new awareness on our continent. Hopkins writes with obvious scholarly background, but also with a heart for social justice, openness to hearing minority voices, a concern for personal spiritual formation, and an emphasis on the use of the psalms as congregational liturgy.

Perhaps the Psalms are the one book of the Bible everyone can agree on. Who objects to songs and poetry? Two types of psalms can be problematic for some readers: 1) laments, both sad and angry, and 2) triumphalistic praise psalms. I have come to embrace the first, but the second type of psalms have become problematic for me of late. Hopkins has very insightful and helpful responses to both problems, but let me quote her questions rather than her responses as they might serve as a rhetorical device just as powerful as her answers.

Regarding laments: “How can we deal with disorientation if our culture will not acknowledge our questions as we make the painful move into disorientation? Does the community of mutual caring that is the church care enough about the pain of its members to make room for the lament in its liturgical life, teaching, and counseling? How does your church deal within its worship services and ministry with this kind [war, school shootings, sexual abuse, etc.] of deep pain? Why is a psalm like 88 [109 or 137] in the Bible? Must we get our theology straight before we pray? How many [North] Americans boast of our glorious history, not realizing that this history was one of oppression for many of our people?”

Regarding praise: “Is our praise of God in worship simply a tool for buttering up God, a means to an end? Have we become so mechanical and unthinking in our praise that our hallelujahs have become hollow? Have we come to expect that one worship service will be more exciting than another? Does our own praise embrace the pain of the world and its injustices or ignore it? Do we view those who are not secure and well-off outside of God’s creation blessing? In what ways do we affirm an act/consequence way of thinking in our daily lives? In what ways does the church reinforce the belief that we get what we deserve? How might our affirmation of act/consequence serve to critique and transform our society and promote justice instead of contribute to the status quo and social control?”

Last year on Victoria Day I blogged about why Asian history month was more important than Victoria Day. I will continue it this year and make it a tradition. During my sabbatical this year I have attempted to read mostly authors who are not male, white, cisgender, and heterosexual, i.e. people not like me. It was more difficult than I thought, but so far I have managed to do this for about 75% of the books. It has been a challenging and educational journey! For Asian history month this year, I will feature five authors of Asian descent whose writings I have enjoyed and learned from.

Skye Jethani (Indian): I discovered Jethani about a decade ago by reading his book, The Divine Commodity, a most creative melding of Van Gogh’s art and Christian spirituality that combats North American consumerism. My favourite book of his is, Futureville: Discover your Purpose for Today by Reimagining Tomorrow that critiques two common and polarizing evangelical eschatologies, proposing a third one that actually helps us to live faithfully in the present. He has the ability to present deep theological and spiritual truths in a creative and compelling narrative style.

Ken Shigematsu (Japanese): To my embarrassment, I did not discover this local author until this winter even though his books in my area of teaching have been available for more than five years! Before becoming a pastor of Tenth Avenue Church in Vancouver, he was a successful globe-trotting business man. He writes about the relevance of spiritual disciplines in the life of busy urbanites in Survival Guide to the Soul and God in My Everything. I appreciate his fresh take on the classic disciplines.

April Yamasaki (Chinese): All biases aside,—she was my pastor for 19 years—Yamasaki is an experienced and inspirational writer with many books to her credit. My favourite is Sacred Pauses, a collection of eighteen spiritual practices from prayer to play. It holds up well in the midst of a plethora of books in this genre. The book is marked by gentleness, accessibility, and personal warmth.

The late Gary Yamasaki (Japanese, spouse of April): Again, biases aside,—he was my teaching colleague—Yamasaki was a brilliant and innovative scholar responsible for developing and articulating perspective criticism in the area of biblical hermeneutics. His most accessible book is, Insights from Filmmaking for Analyzing a Biblical Narrative, where he compares watching movies and reading the Bible.

Hyung Jin Kim Sun (Korean): Sun is a pastor and doctoral student who contributed a chapter to Peaceful at Heart: Anabaptist Reflections on Healthy Masculinity. His is the best chapter in the book in my opinion because he best captures the essence and purpose of the entire collection of essays by focusing on the unique struggles of Korean men as they develop and integrate a peaceful masculinity and spirituality amidst cultural stereotypes and compulsory military service.

Enns, Elaine and Ched Myers. Healing Haunted Histories: A Settler Discipleship of Decolonization. Cascade, 2021.

At just under 400 pages of archaeology, cartography, ethnography, social history, and theology this was a heavy read! At the same time it was a personal memoir of Elaine Enns’ Russian Mennonite family story, a prophetic witness of how European colonization has affected Indigenous people, and a challenging call to Christian discipleship. Instead of attempting to capture the essence of the entire book I will focus on one small section, called a “theological interlude”, that particularly challenged me as a theologian.

“Most would be ‘progressive’ settler Christians today prefer to disassociate from the painful, half-millennium-long history of missionary entanglements with colonization. We are not, however, exonerated by such a ‘move to innocence’. Our society was fundamentally shaped by intimate collusion between churches and empire—regardless of whether or not one calls oneself a Christian. Many settler privileges are rooted in this legacy. To exercise ‘response-ability’ we must resist the temptation to simply ignore this history (as conservatives do) or denounce it (as liberals do). Restorative solidarity requires going to the roots of this dis-ease in our tradition.”

In this interlude they claim that if Christians had followed Jesus’ instructions in Luke 9:1-6, the history of the world would be profoundly different. In brief sum these instructions are to “proclaim an alternative sociopolitical order called the kingdom of God” [marked by love and justice] and to “heal people oppressed by the demonic and disease.” They were also instructed: “Don’t carry your baggage into your host community” (v.3). “Because the history of Christian missions is long and complex” they feel the need to qualify the above with four observations:

  1. “The spread of Christianity across time (two millennia), space (the entire globe), and cultures (almost none untouched) hasn’t always and everywhere been synonymous with colonization.”
  2. “It is crucial to recognize that Christian mission did fuse cross and sword, conversion and conquest, evangelization and subjugation.”
  3. “Christianity, since its inception, has been intrinsically mission-driven. The first disciples took up Jesus’ annunciation of God’s kingdom as an alternative to the Roman Empire, a vision of grace, social equality, mutual aid, and healing… What began as a grassroots mission from below for liberation from empire, however, began to change… as it became a project of imperial conquest from above [by the so-called Christian empire].”
  4. “Christianity is not the only missionary movement historically, nor should mission be seen as inherently religious.” Many social and political movements have spread their perspectives with “evangelical fervor”, including modern capitalistic consumerism.

The authors conclude the interlude with Jesus’ exhortation to “respect one’s host by learning how to live within the limits of their hospitality, and knowing when to leave.” We never left, so now we have the hard work of decolonization left to do. That is the subject of the rest of the book.

I have read a few books since my last post, but none worthy of a new post (Another one that took over 200 pages to tell me to love everyone. I guess Christians have a hard time understanding that this is central to our faith). So, since today is “Red Dress Day”, the day to remember missing and murdered indigenous women and girls, I post a picture of a book I have not read yet. This is a day to cry for justice and truth that are in this case necessary before we will have love and peace. I will read this book and travel this highway this summer accompanying my spouse on her learning trip. It will be both educational and emotional.

Sprinkle, Preston. Embodied: Transgender Identities, the Church, and What the Bible has to Say. David C Cook, 2021.

Tonstad, Linn Marie. Queer Theology: Beyond Apologetics. Cascadia, 2018.

The authors are both self-identified Christians committed to the church and both have PhDs; both books address the intersection of sexuality and theology by giving a basic introduction to terms and definitions, but that is where the similarities end. Even first impressions are contrasted. Embodied has a flat black cover and is written in a casual, almost chatty style; Queer Theology is fronted with bold coloured abstract art and seems to be written for grad students. Sprinkle is a white, cisgender, heterosexual male who runs his own non-profit organization; Tonstad is a queer woman who is a seminary professor at an Ivy League school. The most significant difference is that Embodied is basically an apologetic for a specific view whereas Queer Theology seeks to go “beyond apologetics.”

It is sad that a 285 page book needs to be written to an evangelical audience to tell them to love all people regardless of sexual orientation. This is Sprinkle’s bottom line as it was in his previous book, People to be Loved. Throughout the book he wrestles with the question: “If someone experiences incongruence between their biological sex and their internal sense of self, which one determines who they are—and why?” As the title implies, he feels that the biblical record favours the body being the primary determiner of identity, with exceptions and openness. (It is somewhat ironic then that in his previous book he concludes that same-sex bodily desires should not be expressed in intimate relationships.) The other repeated line is that “if you’ve met one transgender person you’ve met … one transgender person.” In other words, “a one-size-fits-all understanding of what it means to be trans* needs to be locked in a box and tossed into the sea.” Embodied is a grace-full and helpful read for those who are not familiar with the world of transgender identity. It was interesting to read at the same time as Queer Theology.

Although Queer Theology was only half the number of pages, my guess is the number of words in each book might be similar, making Tonstad a bit more difficult to read on a purely aesthetic level! Highly theological writing adds to this. Tonstad has only one chapter dealing with what Sprinkle does in his entire book (Actually, we could also include his previous book in the same chapter!), i.e. articulates a particular biblical and theological apologetic for how the church should respond to people who are LGBTQ+ (She uses “queer” as a broad singular term acknowledging that not all in the community are comfortable with it.). She argues that “queer theology is not, or should not be, about apologetics” because these arguments (on either side) are not “theologically rich, insightful, or illuminating.” There must be more, she insists.

The “more” is the subject of the rest of the book which I risk encapsulating in one quote. “[Queer theology] should have the following characteristics: it needs to take the messy realities and complexities of people’s lives seriously; it needs to stand against the distortive powers of capitalism and colonialism; it needs to express and honor human bodily being; it needs to get beyond the search for identity, fixity, and finality; and it needs to be about God’s presence in, identification with, and love for the body, the way God calls us to bring love […] and justice together.” Although Sprinkle and Tonstad would disagree on many apologetic arguments, and of course on the value of apologetics in the first place, I wonder if Sprinkle could affirm this statement. I would enjoy hearing their dialogue.