A week of stories…

It has been a full week, and it culminated for me in two events on the weekend…both affiliated with St Andrew’s. The first was the Kairos Blanket ceremony on Parliament Hill, wherein people gathered to learn through interactive story telling, the history of aboriginal and non-aboriginal peoples of Canada. Participants are led through pre-contact, treaty-making, colonization and resistance periods.  Blankets play the role of the land while we standing on them, played the role of the Indigenous people. Waves of settlers and the influence they brought to bear on the native people of Canada was impactful when you play the Indigenous role, and watch as people are led away (off the blankets) because of a handshake or brushing of a Hudsons Bay blanket, that (inadvertently or deliberately) caused their death (smallpox, T.B.) or as others are led away to residential schools or reallocation sites,  leaving you (if you are not yourself led away) on a much reduced blanket.

We hear of our 150th birthday for Canada, and recognize that for ten thousand years our Aboriginal brothers and sisters have lived here on this land. And our thinking about the celebration shifts a little.

On Saturday St. Andrew’s hosted the Dr Bryce exhibit. A man of conscience who, in addition to his leadership in the field of Public Health (writing Canada’s first Health Code for Ontario, serving as president of the American Public Health Association and founding member of the Canadian Public Health Association) also worked as Chief Medical Officer for the federal government.  He played the role of “whistleblower”  and documented evidence of the rate of Aboriginal children who were dying in residential schools.*  (First Nations Child and Family Caring Society of Canada).

He reported the schools overcrowded, poorly ventilated and made it clear to the churches and Canadian government that children were dying at an incredibly high rate. He demanded a remedy, which sadly never came. His own career jeopardized and positions in the civil service blocked for him,  forced Dr Bryce into early retirement. He wrote in 1922 a book “The Story of a National Crime: An Appeal for Justice to the Indians of Canada” outlining the government and churches’ roles in creating and maintaining conditions that led to the death of large numbers of students.

Dr Cindy Blackstock spoke on Saturday to Dr Bryce’s courage and his own inspiration to her as an Aboriginal woman and Child Health advocate. She told us that she looked purposefully for a good person. She felt there must be good people in the world and if she could find one, there must be more. People who have the moral courage to stand up for justice for the oppressed when it is unfashionable and potentially self-sacrificing. Dr Bryce was such a person and she encouraged those of us attending, to unlearn or to relearn what we have been told about Aboriginal peoples and to learn the truth about injustices that still afflict their community and ours. (ie. the underfunding of Aboriginal children’s health care (compared to the average Canadian child) which insidiously in its inequity, intimates a lesser value/importance of the Aboriginal child. How knowing this, should incite us, as good persons, to fairness and to stand up for all children in our country. We recognize too,  the ongoing effect the residential schools and the forced assimilation of culture still has on the Aboriginal people today and their need for healing/health care, cultural renewal and ‘just’ hope.

Of course there is so much more to both of these events than I can write here… but on Sunday the sermon was about Pentecost.

James M. spoke at the Children’s hour and told us his story, about a moment in his young life when time ‘stood still’ for him and he felt touched / directed by the Holy Spirit to work with refugees. A story of mission.

Karen spoke about how stories make meaning for us in our lives..and  how who tells the story and how it is heard, matters.  That stories are powerful and some stories are hurtful to others and damaging beyond generations. That our words are gifts to be used wisely and carefully.

Unintentionally and intentionally our stories shape our thinking. Often another person’s story (perspective) can cause a shift in our thinking…and open our eyes to a truth not previously recognized.

Jesus used stories, like the Good Samaritan, to cause a shift in thinking of the people in his society to illustrate who in fact, is their neighbour. His uplifting of the Samaritan and his not uplifting of the priests who passed by, shifted the perspectives of the listeners, who may have had their own stories (stories that defended their priests’ actions to avoid the robbed man who had been left for dead on the road to Jericho. (ie. To touch a dead person could render the priest unclean and unable to serve his congregation in the temple). It was a shift in perspective to see themselves (as chosen people of God doing what they though religiously correct), being the unjust and the Samaritan as being the ‘good’ in God’s eyes.  

It was a week of shifting stories… of which I personally became more aware of how stories I have been told have stuck and have never been challenged. Stories that raised my society or family, or self…and perhaps inadvertently belittled another.  I am humbled by how powerfully these stories can limit and dictate my interactions with fellow humans (and creatures) and undermine both my and my community’s ability to love fully and justly in the world… .and I am glad that God’s story shifts the context and opens the mind to an alternate truer reality.

I would urge you to read up more about the Dr Bryce story on our St Andrew’s website and listen to the sermon from Pentecost Sunday and read about the Kairos blanket exercise on the Kairos website. I haven’t done any of them justice here…but if you read/listen to their stories, it may just shift your thinking about your own stories and those you have heard.

 Rev. Karen tied the Pentecost story (the infusion of the Holy Spirit on the people and the ability to speak in tongues recognizable to each other), into the idea of God’s story in the world. How barriers are broken through Christ’s death and resurrection so that we are free to be in the world and with one another in life and in hope.  And as was so eloquently stated in Vanessa’s post baptism blog (of a few Sundays ago): Jesus has freed us from cultural ties and has allowed us to all interpret love through His spirit.

I will continue to think on this… on my words and stories… and try to listen more carefully and intentionallyto other ‘tongues’, stories and perspectives.

Most importantly, I will immerse myself more fully in God’s Word and His story…and in it all, listen and pray for the Holy Spirit to make those appropriate shifts in me…that  move me forward as a Christian, responsive to God, in the world.

Diana B.

Please note the Peter Bryce Exhibhit will be on display again at St. Andrew's on Canada Day, 10am-2pm.