O thou before whom all words recoil, make us masters of ourselves, that we may become the servants of others: take our minds and think through them, take our lips and hands and speak through them, take our hearts and set them on fire. Amen.
I’m holding a number of emotions in my heart right now. I feel joy about the staged re-entry into in-person community worship here at the Cathedral. I am so excited about seeing you, and laughing and crying with you. I cannot wait for you to hear the choir in person, to hear sermons in person, to see old friends and make new connections. We are family. I cannot wait to see people’s feet! I cannot wait to share in the Eucharist together, for real. And at the same time, I feel deep grief over the discovery of what surely will be only the first of the unmarked graves on the grounds of Residential Schools. I knew in my head that there had to be unmarked graves of children; so many witnesses have been telling us that, but I know it had not hit my heart until the discovery on the lands of the Tk'emlúps te Secwépemc (tk -kum-loops-te-swabum) nation. I’ve been a bit of a doubting Thomas, it appears I had to see the wounds to feel the pain of the residential schools in my heart. I am so sorry it took me this long to listen properly, and to hear the truth. We are all part of the human family and I and people like me have caused great pain to our siblings
I am grieving also because the entitlement and privilege into which I was born, is built on a history that terrorized and actively killed or let die men, women and children, simply because they were not like me.
And, then we hear in this morning’s Gospel we are all called to be “Children of God.” I believe Children of God are the people who see each other as individuals, as worthy, as loved, and build a community from that, build a family of diverse, worthy, loved individuals, most of whom have been wounded in some way.
And those of us who have privilege, who have economic or social status may mistakenly believe that we are the favoured children in this family. And we would be wrong. In the words of Archbishop Desmond Tutu, “we are all one. Black, brown, yellow, red, white, male, female, gay and so-called straight, we are all one.”
We are all children of God.
Think of most of the adventure or horror movies of the last 100 years. The character who is the minority, often African American, is the one who gets eaten by the anaconda first, or is killed by the guy in the hockey mask quite early on. It’s a trope. It is the white guy hero who is almost eaten, almost run over, or almost dies from some awful disease, but who gets away. My friends, the children of the Tk'emlúps te Secwépemc (tk -kum-loops-te-swabum) couldn’t get away. And what about the hours of “Cowboy and Indian” movies so prevalent in my childhood. The “Indians” were never the “good guys”. They didn’t get away. A recent article about Sacheen Littlefeather who stood at the podium of the 1972 Academy Awards to refuse the Best Actor Oscar on behalf of Marlon Brando tells of how 6 security guards had to hold John Wayne backstage as he tried to prevent Ms. Littlefeather from speaking. 6 men held John Wayne back from… just what was he going to do to her? She might have been protected from John Wayne, but she didn’t ‘get away’ either. Her life has been filled with slander and hatred for speaking out for less than a minute all those years ago. John Wayne is remembered as a Hollywood Icon, a hero in a marked grave. Ms. Littlefeather is dying of breast cancer in relative obscurity. I hope her grave is marked.
We are all children of God.
We are returning to our beloved Cathedral. This is such good news, and I am filled with Joy. And, we have work to do, here and now. We have work in reconnecting for ourselves and with each other as we slowly re-engage here at the cathedral. We were yanked from our friends and our community and told to stay away. We were no longer allowed to worship in the way we wanted. We were not allowed to sing our songs in public. We were not allowed that basic human need to touch, to hug each other. It has been a difficult and trying time. Unlike so many First Nations people, most of us get to escape. We get to come back to our community, we get to come back to worship in our tradition, we get to come back to sing our songs (one day soon.) We will touch again. And it will be different, it will not be just like it was, because we are different, because the world is different. We have seen the wounds of the innocent. And perhaps in our own way we now have some inlking of the experience of so many First Nations people in this country. We are fortunate to be able to return, and now our ancestors, our families, the First Nations on whose stolen land we worship, and the spirits of those 215 children ask, who are you going to be now? what are you going to do now?
I invite you to pray and act on three things in response to these questions.
First, we have healing to do ourselves before we can adequately continue reconciliation. A first action we can take is for us each reach out to someone you have not seen since the pandemic. Reconnect on the phone, hear each others voices. Reconnect in person, safely, if you feel comfortable, see each other’s eyes lighting up. Speak of what you have missed, and what you will enjoy together as the summer warmth opens our doors that much wider. Express gratitude that we are returning and honour those who did not return. There is much to do as we come out of our confinement. We need to care for each other.
Second, as we stumble towards reconciliation, in the midst of our own healing, we settlers are being asked to listen. I invite you to listen for example, The Rev. Dr. Ray Aldred’s sermon from June 6 at First Baptist.
And I suggest there is a particular quality to the listening we settlers must practice. My partner Olivia and I walked a portion of the Camino Santiago in 2019. Olivia self-describes as “spiritual but not religious” and comes to services here and on line, pretty much only when I am preaching. In fact, she has never participated in communion here. We began our walk on the Camino in the ancient Roman city of Lugo, about 100Km from Santiago. We attended a mass there the day before we began our adventure. Olivia wept through much of the service. We attended the English mass when we arrived in Santiago, no tears, but we attended a Spanish Mass the next day, and she wept through much of the service. We then spent 5 days in Madrid, and attended mass at the cathedral there, and Olivia wept again, and took communion. Why, she wondered, was she crying in these Spanish services. And then, she had the insight. It was the words. She would come here to the cathedral, and hear the words like “Father”, or “sin” and off she’d go. Her mind would take her off into various places and wonderings; arguing, defending. When she was listening to the Spanish service, she could not understand the individual words, and was listening with her heart and spirit. She had no words in response, only tears.
I believe that is indicative of the listening that is being asked of us settlers. There are no words. There is only listening to the yearning, to the cry of a sibling calling out in pain. And if we really are Children of God, how would we respond?
Third, please join one of the TR Circles here at the Cathedral. Let’s stop asking Frist Nations people what we settlers can do. There is a list. No need to check it twice. It’s the TRC Calls to Action. A simple and important step you can take to start is to join the people in our community, working with Helen, to write 215 letters for 215 days to petition the government to fully implement “Jordan’s Principle,” TRC Call to Action #3. Briefly, Jordan's Principle calls on the government to provide adequate funding for the needs of First Nations children on reserves immediately and at their time of need. It is named after a First Nations boy who spent two years in hospital where, tragically, he later died because the government was tied up in requiring paperwork from the boy's family before they would issue funding for treatment and care on his home reserve. This important initiative from our community will be launched tomorrow, and I hope you will join in.
We are all children of God. We can start and continue our own healing work. We can listen to the yearning. We can write 215 letters for 215 days.
To close, Olivia and I have been watching the Netflix series, “Sweet Tooth,” where a group of children are born who appear different. They are threatened, experimented upon and murdered because they are different. In the final episode of the first season, a group of these ‘different children’ meet one of their number; a stranger to them. They are all imprisoned in a barn, awaiting experimentation and death. In the midst of their terror, they hug the stranger. The narrator says, “Family is what we make it. Each one of us. Together.” As we return, step by step to this beloved and loving community, my prayer is that we remember the 215 children, the 10’s of thousands of First Nations families torn asunder by our part in the residential school system. We remember the millions of people around the world, and around the corner, who face racism, sexism, trans and homophobia, every day. And we remember, we are all children of God. “Family is what we make it. Each one of us. Together.”