Based on Jeremiah 8: 18- 9:1
Hear these words from the prophet Jeremiah, poured out in anguish over 2600 years ago, as he grieves the destruction of his people… (read Jeremiah 8: 18- 9:1)
Hear these words again, poured out in anguish today, by a First Nations elder in Canada, a grandmother or grandfather, as they look at the legacy of being aboriginal in this country. (read again Jer. 8:18-9:1)
History is happening this weekend in Vancouver. The National Truth and Reconciliation Commission has been meeting at the PNE to listen to the stories of residential school survivors. Congregational members and ministry personnel from the UCC along with representatives of other churches, and the public in general, are there to listen and to bear witness to the truth.
And what is the truth? I share these words from former UC moderator, The Very Rev. Bob Smith who will be sharing them at St. Andrews Wesley UC this morning.
“Jesus said, “If you continue in my work you are truly my disciples; and you will know the truth, and the truth will make you free.”
Someone once said that “there are two kinds of truth, small truths and great truths. The opposite of a small truth is a lie. The opposite of a great truth is another great truth.”
Well, there are two great truths here today – and there’s the rub. The first is a truth that drives us to our knees. For twenty-seven years, ever since our church made its first stammering apology to the First Peoples, those same people have been telling us their truth, about what it has been like to live in another Canada than the one we have known, a Canada where lands were seized and then despoiled, families rent asunder, languages and cultures lost irretrievably, hopes and dreams of generations denied. As we have learned over and over again this past week, their truth has been an enslaving, debilitating truth, antithesis of the truth that would make people free.
The second great truth is found in the sacred stories and scriptures of all great religions. They have at their heart a vision of a time when brokenness and suffering are ended, when the peoples of the earth are reconciled to one another, when the body of God which is the world is healed. Jesus as we know called that the time of “the reign of God”. He taught us – well, we know what he taught us – that the way for us to know that truth is to follow his way.
Some of you were there twenty-seven years ago when the church’s apology was read for the first time in public before the great crowd outside the teepees where the first nations elders had been waiting. There followed a long moment of utter silence, broken only by the booming voice of an Anishanabe elder. “Now”, he said, “what in the hell are they going to do about it?” “It’s time, dear sisters and brothers, to bring the two great truths before the Creator. Time to get off our knees and stand upon our feet. We have some serious walking to prepare for.”
I remember when news first began to break about the `Indian Residential schools.’ I was shocked and saddened by the news that children had been taken from their homes so young, and many had suffered not only the separation from home and family, but had been abused, physically, sexually and emotionally. I also remember feeling just a wee bit relieved, knowing the United Church of Canada was certainly not involved in anything like that – that was a Catholic thing. Alas, I was much mistaken…
In the mid 1990’s at BC Conference, we heard from former students of the Port Alberni Residential school about the physical and sexual abuse they suffered at the hands of a dorm supervisor Arthur Plint, and the daily suffering they endured, separated from their families, language, culture, with no safe place to go.
1) Co-presiding at a wedding in WilliamsLake with Shuswap elder Ralph Philips. He told me the Creator must be laughing, because he swore he would never have anything to do with a `church’ person, after his experience in a residential school, and here we were – sharing a wedding. I listened to Ralph’s story, and we ended up taking our church youth group out to X’atsul, the restored Shuswap village, to learn from Ralph and other elders about their culture and religion.
2) Watching `Fallen Feather’ a locally produced documentary on the Indian Residential school in Kamloops and the Canadian government’s plan to `destroy the Indian in the child,’ and the complicity of the churches in this plan. This is a very well presented documentary, which I encourage everyone to see.
3) Attending the TRC in Kamloops this past May. It was very powerful and very painful to listen to the stories of abuse.
I wore my clergy collar to indicate `Yes I am here and yes I am willing to listen’. The poet Denis Saddleman from Coldwater reserve near Merritt read a powerful poem where he described the residential school as a monster that devoured him as a child.
Story after story has been told this weekend in Vancouver, and the lament from the psalm and from the prophet Jeremiah are as timely now as when they were first written.
Some might wonder, do we have to keep hearing these stories. Well, as much as I appreciate the Eagles’ song `Get Over It,’ I know you can’t truly get over an injustice of such magnitude quickly or easily, and I know from personal experience, you don’t get over something until at least one other person has heard your story and said, `What was done to you was wrong, you didn’t deserve it, it wasn’t right, no excusing will make it right. I hear you and I am sorry.’
The soul doesn’t want to be saved; the soul wants to be heard.
It’s so basic. You know, don’t you, when someone is only semi –listening and is already planning their response based on what they thought you were going to say, and you know when someone is genuinely and whole-heartedly listening, so that you can be heard.
The reading from 1st Timothy is a request to pray for the leaders – yes we need to pray – for leaders, political, church leaders, for ourselves in whatever leadership capacity we have – so that we may act with integrity, with justice; that we may listen deeply with the desire for healing and wholeness for everyone.
So in our prayers today we will pray for those who tell their stories and those who listen. Amen.