Tuesday, August 06, 2019

Emancipation Fest 2019 - Sunday Gospel Service Address:

I haven't blogged in a very long while ... there are a multitude of reasons for that ... but this weekend, I was honoured to be asked to preach at the Sunday Gospel Service that was part of the Emancipation Festival in Owen Sound.

As a white over-middle aged male, it was a humbling privilege to speak in such a context, and the topic I chose to preach on was racism ... I used the words of my colleagues, The Reverends Adam Kilner and Paul Walfall, both articulate, passionate and deeply committed activist preachers who dare to envision a world free of the many ism's than run amock in our society.

The following are my written reflections delivered in the Barn at Grey Roots Museum ... my actual spoken words differ slightly because that's just what happens:

Opening Prayer
Let us pray.

You, whose love is reigning over us,
            come sit with us awhile
            and sow seeds of unity
            deep within the soil of this earth.
God, we are earth-dwellers
            whose story is that we
            are human clay,
            sculpted from the earth itself.
One day we shall return to the earth,
            just as our ancestors have.

Today we stand on complicated land.
Land originally stewarded by Indigenous peoples.
Land colonized by British settlers.
Land on which ex-slaves from the United States
            would later build their lives.

To slaves in the United States
            this land, Canada, was called
            “The Promised Land”
            evoking that “land flowing with milk and honey”
            described to Israelites enslaved in Egypt
            longing for a place to live as free people.

Come and sit with us O Holy One,
          as we pause to remember those who lie in this place.
Sit with us as we recall their lives, their stories, their community.
Sit with us as we give thanks for this place and this people
          And the stories they have still to tell.
In our remembrance may there be a commitment to fulfill that hope
          of the Promised Land, the land flowing with milk and honey.

From the roots that run deep beneath this sacred ground,
          nourish our tomorrows, and fill us with joyful hope
          as we strive to build the land that those who lie here longed for
Sit with us, and work with us as we arise seeking to change the world
          by sharing our faith, our hope
          and the stories of those who would otherwise be forgotten …

Thanks be to you O God for this time and place and this people.
          Bless us in the work we have before us,
                   and walk this journey with us as our brother and our friend. AMEN.

          I asked my colleague and friend, The Reverend Adam Kilner to help me with a year ago with the service at the Durham Rd Cemetery near Priceville by composing tha  prayer that I just used - Adam is a dynamic, passionate and intelligent young black United Church preacher in Sarnia, and is beyond driven when it comes to lifting up the awareness of Afro-canadian issues within the United Church. He happens to be running for the NDP in his Federal Riding this fall as well …
          A year ago, when the General Council of the United Church of Canada met for the 43 meeting, Adam was one of the voices coming from the black caucus of ministers challenging us to see the systemic racism that is part of our nation, our communities, our churches, and sadly often without even realizing it – ourselves.
          Adam wrote much of the prayer we began with, and as part of what was a much longer prayer offered the following:

… Canada, too, had been a place of slavery
            for two centuries prior to 1833,
            when the British Empire abolished it.

Former slaves would come to Canada
            with only the clothes on their backs
            and immediately have to face the harsh
            Canadian winters.
Those who found work in Canada
            often weren’t paid enough to replace
            all of the clothing and items they left behind
            when they were enslaved.
In the 1830s Blacks were generally
            welcomed into Canada
            but in the 1850s fear arose within the mainstream population
            of Canada.
Newspapers printing racist opinions of Whites
            about Blacks.
School systems being used to claim
            that Black children are inherently the least
            intelligent of all the races.

In 1941 the United Church of Canada
            ordained its first Black minister,
            yet couldn’t find a church
            to welcome him.

In 1943 Dresden native Hugh Burnett
            informed the Justice Minister
            that a Black person in uniform
            still could not be served in any restaurant
            in that town.
He was shocked by the Deputy Minister’s reply
            “stating that racial discrimination was not illegal in Canada.”
The prevailing attitude among Canadians seemed to be that
            blatant racism was “an American condition”.
The general dismissal of racism has remained
            in our country.
            People even denying the 2 centuries of slavery
            in Canada saying that it only happened in the United States.

If we as human beings are to have hope
            it is in acknowledging that we as individuals
            and we as groups and organizations
            are capable of compassion and understanding
We are capable of listening to the pain others are experiencing. 
We have the power to change the narrative of inequality
            and tilt it toward just relationships.

We live in a Canada where racialized Canadians earn 81 cents on every dollar
            that non-racialized Canadians make.
We live in a Canada where racialized immigrant women earn 48.7%
            of the employment income that non-racialized immigrant men earn.
We live in a Canada where 18% of racialized men report
            experiencing discrimination or unfair treatment with police or courts
            compared to 5.8% of non-racialized men
We live in a Canada where race and ethnicity is the cause
            of most police-reported hate crimes in the country.
In 2010 52% of the 1401 hate crimes reported
            were motivated by race or ethnicity.
271 incidents of hate committed against Blacks in Canada.
Blacks accounted for 4 in 10 racially motivated incidents.

Black males living in Toronto are three times more likely
            to be carded by police than the rest of the population.

Meanwhile 55% of Canadians believe that we have overcome
            racial discrimination.

If we are looking for a Canada that is a “Promised Land”
            our hope lies in trusting one another
            to be allies and advocates.
Our hope lies in believing our marginalized
            sisters and brothers, who are simply trying to live.

The colours of our humanity should not define our relationships
            to one another.
Love, empathy, kindness, and compassion should.

They say, “Love is a beautiful thing,
            it takes a heart and lets it sing.”

Let love be the song of our humanity.
Let it be the song that connects us to who God is.

To return to the prayer that begins with the words:
You, whose love is reigning over us,
            come sit with us awhile
            and sow seeds of unity
            deep within the soil of this earth.

          As I read Adam’s painfully honest words and reflected on a world where young black men in the US and Canada have to fear for their safety AND their lives when they get pulled over by law enforcement and we’ve been witness to video after video of violence inflicted simply because of skin colour … a world where people are being suspected and abused and harassed because they have brown hues to their skin … a world where a black athlete has become the lightning rod for division because he has chosen to kneel during his nation’s anthem, and those defending the status quo fear his gesture … a world where leaders have inexplicably begun to think that it is okay to offer racist posts and tweets and proclamations as a means of rallying their base … a world where the stories of our non-white brothers and sisters have been expunged, overlooked and forgotten BECAUSE of their skin colour … a world where almost every day we hear of abuse, violence and death resulting from racism and fear – the litany of cities and places grows every single day … in THIS world, the idea of ‘come and sit with us awhile’ has great appeal for this moment and this place …
          Come and sit with us awhile as we remember the souls who we honour this weekend and who we remember and celebrate for their contributions to our community and our country.  
          Come sit with us awhile, as we recall the community of men, women, boys and girls who called this home, and who yearned for a promised land where they could be free … truly free …
          Come sit with us awhile, as we not only dream of that promised land, but work diligently and unceasingly to remember the sins of the past, BUT more importantly, work to create a better today and even better tomorrow …
          As I read Adam’s words las year, I was excited because he shared a vision of that promised land that drew people up to this area – a promise of freedom.
          Sadly, though it was a promise that was unfulfilled … a promise that remains tantalizingly close at hand, but still largely unfulfilled …
          We hear over and over leaders saying “I’m not a racist … I’m not a sexist … I’m not a homophobe … or whatever …” and then they say “some of my closest friends are … black, Arab, women, gay, transgendered … whatever …”
          I cringe when I hear those proclamations … they are ALWAYS offered in a defense of something … and they are seldom meaningful nor substantive. Instead what we need to admit is that deep down, many of us struggle with an upbringing that is thick with the various ism’s we struggle against today.
          I look back on my journey and I know I have struggled against many of the ism’s that ebb and flow through our society … I was raised in a different time, with a vastly different world view … I grew up steeped in those ism’s … and by taking time to ‘come and sit with us …” I’ve moved into recovery.
          I was tempted to begin today by saying “Hi, I’m Shawn, and I’m a racist, a homophobe, a sexist, and so on …” Because that is the context in which I was raised – I come from an amazing and loving family, but we were very much the product of our times and held many ism’s that fortunately have ebbed away as we’ve grown and matured and evolved …
          I do have friends who are every hue of humanity’s rainbow of skin colour … I have friends across the spectrum of sexualities … I have friends men and women who are members of every faith and spiritual expression imaginable … and sitting with them has changed me – I’ve grown, evolved and moved from what my roots had erroneously taught me …
          Last summer another Black preacher from within the United Church delivered an amazing and scathing reflection on the final night of our General Council meeting – The Reverend Paul Walfall offered a challenge to the Church and to our society about the insidious nature of racism and the necessity of embracing a path of reconciliation not unlike that we’ve embarked upon with our First Nations sisters and brothers … I recommend highly that you find Paul’s words online and listen …
          But for now, I would like to offer his ending reflection – after lifting up examples of unintentionally racism experienced within the church Paul offers this:
How do you cook chicken, my friends? I asked this question to a study group at St. Paul’s United Church in Edmonton. When I cook chicken — and I am no great chef — the first thing is that the chicken is seasoned. I would add the garlic, thyme, onions, green onion, pimento, paprika, black pepper and some soy sauce. If I was going to jerk the chicken, the mandatory jerk seasoning is added. All this is done from the night before I cook it and the chicken is left to marinate in the refrigerator.
When I cook, it will taste different to the chicken you cook. But you see, I offer this cooked chicken to you not because I believe that mine is superior to yours and neither do I believe it is inferior to the chicken you cook. All I know is it is different and I offer it simply asking that the different way I have done it be accepted and respected. All I ask is that you take my chicken and your chicken, and the chicken cooked by the indigenous, by the Korean and the Chinese and the many other cultures of people and let us share and delight in the differences and declare that is all good.
Let us take all the chicken we will cook and let us sit at the table of the church together. Let us ensure that the people who sit at the table are there not as guests but as valued members of the family. It is then that we will be able to look through the intercultural lens and have clear vision because we would have: Questioned our biases, challenged our assumptions, noticed who is missing, valued all voices, aimed for equity, and with a deep breath we would have lived out our commitments. Thank you

To return to Adam’s words - may we dare to 
 Let love be the song of our humanity.
                                      Let it be the song that connects us to who God is.

Let us then, sit for awhile, and further dare to share a meal at a table where ALL are welcome, ALL are valued, and all are present … let us draw a deep holy breath and in the presence of all those who have gone before us, sit together at table … this is the promised land these folks came to find - let us finally make it happen for them & for us.
          And to close, I want to share the words of the Rev. Paul Walfall, who in a pastoral letter to his congregation in Alberta marked the anniversary of Emancipation by writing:
          On Thursday August 1st 2019, we marked the 185th Anniversary of the ending of   slavery in Canada as the British Abolution of Slavery Act came into force that day     in 1834. For 400 years conservative figures estimate the approximately 15 million       men, women and children were the victims of the transatlantic slave trade. … The celebration of the ending of slavery is neither to make persons feel guilty nor         a premise to bludgeon persons about racism. For me it is an opportunity to         humbly acknowledge our history and to resolve to make a different and better       tomorrow. The poet Maya Angelou reminds us “History, despite its wrenching      pain cannot be unlived, and if face with courage, need not be lived again.” 

          Let us rise from this place and go into the world daring to come and sit with each other awhile and tell our stories, share our histories and dare to live that incredible vision that brought so many northward – that vision of a promised land … that vision of justice and equality … 185 years on, let’s recommit ourselves to making it happen, and driving back the darkness of hate and ism’s that lessen the value of our sisters and brothers … let us sit at table and share a meal and build the community that has long been dreamt of, and that drew generations towards the promise of freedom … let us face our history with courage and create a better tomorrow!
          Let us face the present, and its chorus of suffering and violence and death, with the song of love … Let us sit down together and break bread and share a meal and celebrate our differences and show the world a better way … let us sit at table AND build a better community and a better world …
          Thanks be to God, let us pray …

Thursday, October 15, 2015

My brother's eyes ...

I'm on a journey ... it is a journey I've spent an inordinate amount of time making while I was insisting that I was "fine" when I wasn't fine at all ... in truth I have been disconnected from myself more and more as I traveled farther along the path ... 

This past week has become a radical turning point for me ... the time has come to find my balance and reconnect with myself ...

Today I was reading Eckhart Tolle and found the following quotation:
 "... people with strong pain-bodies often reach a point where they feel their life is becoming unbearable, where they can't take any more pain, any more drama. One person expressed this by saying plainly and simply that she was "fed up with being unhappy." ... they know that neither their unhappy story nor the emotion they feel is who they are ..."

These words caused me to say "Oh shit ... that's me ..."

I'm unhappy 
I'm tired 
I feel totally disconnected with myself. 
I look around and wonder how things have become so cluttered and out of control and I don't feel like I'm being authentic in the life I'm leading ... I've grown angry and resentful, and a lot of ugly emotion is bubbling just beneath the surface ... 

To be blunt and honest, I DON'T LIKE THE PERSON I'VE BECOME. 

I know inside there lurks a happy, enthusiastic, passionate, inquisitive and fun loving person who has been lost and hidden away for too long ... I know that since the deaths of Mom, Mr Baumbach, Scott, Indigo, Anfinn and Uni, I've lost my connectedness to THAT me ... In the wake of Mom and Scott's deaths I tried to be strong and to be there for my kids. I tried to pick up the pieces and carry on. I tried to heal and resume my life ... 

I failed on an epic scale!!! 

I broke and I instead of healing I buried the hurt.
The hurt turned to resentment
The resentment grew into alienation 
And the alienation fed a deep anger that coloured everything and left me feeling worthless and unworthy ... 

I pushed EVERYONE including my children away ... 

... and with each push the anger grew ...  

This past week I've come to realize many things. Foremost is the need for me to heal myself and to let go of the unhappiness that has weighted me down ... I need to reclaim me and my life and shake off the STUFF physical and otherwise that is dragging me down ... but my greatest realization comes from the moment when the hearse pulled away from the funeral home carrying mom's body that cold January day in 2011 ... 

As it drove away, I remember turning and looking at my big brother ... he was always the BIG, STRONG, TOUGH one ... he was the one who despite our long history of scraps and fights, could be depended upon to be there to help me through whatever life might throw my way ... he was in EVERY WAY my BIG brother ... but in the wake of mom's death I watched him struggle ... 

That day standing in the parking lot in Tavistock, I turned and I saw in his eyes a depth of pain and sadness that tore my heart out ... he looked so sad, so vulnerable and so lonely ... For the first time in decades I hugged him ... and he hugged me and I felt his body shudder with tears for the first time in almost a week ... 

With ALL of our busy-ness and activity after Mom died, I watched Scott move through many emotions - emotions I shared - but I hadn't witnessed him cry ... 

Until that moment ... wrapped in my arms I felt him weep ... not for long ... for a moment ... but he wept ... 

The look of sadness and pain that I saw in his eyes stuck with me since ... in the short days we had before I found myself burying him too, I prayed that he could find freedom from that pain and sadness ... 

On a brutally cold night in February, I know he did ... as his earthly journey ended, he claimed freedom and peace from the suffering of his mind, body and spirit that had dogged his path for years ... 

But on Monday night, I looked into the mirror and I saw Scott staring back at me ... not a ghostly apparition but rather I saw in my own eyes the SAME pain and sadness that I had witnessed in my brother's eyes ... I saw Scott looking back at me, because like the little six year old boy who struggled to make sense of a world turned upside down by the death of his beloved Daddy, I was struggling to make sense of a world that had been turned upside down over and over and over ... 

On Monday night ... I looked into the mirror and didn't see even the slightest spark of joy and I knew in that moment something was wrong ... something was wrong and it was time to stop pretending "I'm fine ..." 

I'm NOT fine ... like my brother, I carry deep hurts and deeper sorrows ... like Scott I yearn for peace ... but on Monday I made a choice to stop the direction of my journey, and to find my way back to a place of balance, a place of wholeness, a place of true joy ... the joy I have long said motivates me, but that I have lost my connectedness with ... 

I looked into my brother's eyes, and committed to healing myself and living whole ... Scotty ALWAYS smiled ... looking back it was his coping mechanism .. looking forward it will be my goal to smile more, and to allow the joy that lies within to overwhelm and dominant my being ... 

In my healing I will choose to let go of the unhappiness and instead choose joy ... the true joy I've celebrated frequently, but struggled to experience myself ... this week, I looked into my brother's eyes and out of love for him. for my children, for my friends and most of all for ME, I have chosen to reclaim the spark of joy and fan it back into a raging inferno ... 

The journey has begun - one breath at a time ... one conscious, mindful breath ... 

TO LIFE !!! 
TO JOY!!!!