No one left out: Restoration, reconciliation and adult Sunday school

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Illustration by Matt Veith from Wrongs to Rights, a book in the same series as Yours, Mine, Ours, which was used in an adult Sunday School class by Matt Balcarras at Cedar Park Church.

This comment by Matt Balcarras is particularly timely with the Walk for Reconciliation coming up September 24.

Living in Canada in 2017, we have much to be grateful for. We are spared from armed conflicts, famines and so much more that is a daily reality for many. We may even look at our neighbour to the south with gratefulness that we are not part of that particular political experiment.

What should we do with all the benefits we receive by virtue of living in Canada? This question is the appropriate response to learning about our privilege – especially as Christians. We believe in the good news, that the kingdom of God we see in Jesus is for all: everyone and everything is made whole. Thus, we need to make room for those who do not enjoy the same privileges – even if that means giving up some of our comforts.

So where do we start?

To be a Christian – to follow after Jesus – means that everything we do, everything we participate in (both actively and passively) is subject to the critical question: Is this good to do? Is this something that reflects the nature of God’s kingdom? Will participating help me become a person who looks more and more like Jesus?

This is a very high bar by which to judge our lives, but it is also the ancient and worldwide criterion by which Christians have tried to be Christian.

In many instances, it can be hard to know what is aligned with the good news of Jesus. But “hard to know” does not mean we cannot know; therefore, we have an obligation to investigate the unexamined parts of our lives to see whether they are fostering un-Jesus-like qualities.

Self-examination is difficult work, but it is the appropriate response to the gift of learning hard truths about our lives. And thankfully, we have longstanding church practices that can help us, such as sermons and adult education classes (to name just two).

A seminal year, 2017 provides us* with a unique opportunity to reflect on Canada’s current character as well as its history. We are celebrating, so the official story goes, the origin of the Dominion of Canada as a confederacy. Yet, for many people, the public celebration is a reminder of how our country was formed through the systematic abuse and disenfranchisement of the Indigenous peoples of this land.

It’s probably uncomfortable for those who would like to enjoy the simple fun of a national anniversary to hear that it is anything but simple and fun. When we’re on the winning side of the historical equation of wealth, power and privilege, we don’t like to hear about complexities and the painful dimensions of our “innocuous” social events.

However, Canada 150, like so many other things that are experienced as positive, or just benign, by the majority of Canadians is neither positive nor benign to the millions of Indigenous people who have been living under 150 years (and more) of colonialism.

As a 30-something active participant in the church, I see a lack of opportunities to work through the complexities of modern moral dilemmas as Christians. This is a major problem for me and my peers. There is a deep need for our faith community to also be our community for “thinking” and “social action.” As such, I am grateful for adult education classes that offer the time and relational space to explore the intersection of the gospel and our lives at length and interactively.

This past Lent, Cedar Park Church, Ladner, held a six-week series of classes that considered the unhealthy relationship between theological ideas espoused by the church (i.e. the doctrine of discovery) and the history of colonization in Canada.

We used Yours, Mine, Ours, compiled and edited by Cheryl Woelk and Steve Heinrichs, a remarkable book filled with stories of people who have chosen to speak and hear the truth, as well as vulnerably listen and respond to what they have learned.

In these six weeks, as I led these classes, I saw 30 – 40 people choose to be vulnerable, to admit that they did not know things that they should know. I saw these people, a mix of old and young, men and women, ask themselves what does the legacy of colonialism in Canada mean for us as Christians?

In the last few years, I have been overwhelmed at how much I need to learn, not just about the past, but how to move forward. Sometimes, it can seem reasonable to do nothing. Yet, I have also been encouraged by the many incredible women and men, Indigenous and Settler, who have been leading in this path for a long time.

As a group and as a church, we are also choosing to risk learning things that make us uncomfortable. During our final class, Bridget Findlay, the Mennonite Central Committee BC representative for the Indigenous Neighbours program gave us each a to-be-filled-in card labelled: “My personal reconciliation plan.”

So far, my personal program is quite small. One step is to join with the congregation as we participate in a Blanket Exercise, a re-learning of Canadian history. I am taking this step not only because I have been inspired to learn things that unsettle me toward reconciliation, but because I am doing this with the people of my church.

This community is helping me believe that reconciliation is possible, truth-telling and truth-hearing is possible, that shalom is possible. (Class details found on the Cedar Park website.)

Matt Balcarras

* This “us” largely does not include Indigenous people. Though we talk about an inclusive gospel, we must acknowledge there are substantial groups of people who are not part of our churches who do not ‘commune with us’ in communion; people like our Indigenous neighbours.

Matt Balcarras is a scientist and writer who lives in the traditional territory of the Musqueam and Tsawwassen with his wife and three children.

This comment appeared first on the Mennonite Brethren Herald site and is re-posted by permission.

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