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The Ripple Effect #StayWokeAdvent #Ferguson #BlackLivesMatter #MikeBrown #Advent

2 Dec


About the writer: Identifies as a Follower of The Way, Anglican/Episcopalian/Quaker hybrid (which means raised Quaker, the unprogrammed variety, but then became an Episcopalian, when in the U.S. and Anglican, when in Canada..look for me at coffee hour and I will explain) but also Catholic Worker, mystic, former attorney (owned own law firm in U.S., with almost 10 years of living in a courtroom before the Gospel awakening) now a reservist with Christian Peacemaker Teams (“CPT”), formerly with CPT’s Aboriginal Justice Team but also spent a wee-bit-of- time with CPT in Colombia (that’s South America not the District of), Palestine (Occupied West Bank) and U.S./Mexico Borderlands (or the Occupied North). Iranian national by birth (born in Shiraz) and now a naturalized U.S. citizen. Female. Prior cat owner but now lives vicariously through internet cat memes and videos, to the consternation of many. On Twitter (with cat disclaimer): @shiraz43. I sent my Facebook account to Sheol, or the “abode of the dead,” as loosely translated from Hebrew.


The Ripple Effect #StayWokeAdvent #Ferguson #BlackLivesMatter #MikeBrown #Advent

By: Chris Sabas

Week 1 of Advent: 1 Thessalonians 5: 1-22 (New Revised Standard Version)

I write this post in response to the recent challenge to


cry out;



accept grace;




wake up;


hope (if even just a little);

sit with darkness;

squint at the light;






in an effort to keep watch and not be silent in light of what we have witnessed in #Ferguson, Missouri.  The writer, out of anguish, frustration and anger, asked us who observe #Advent, with anticipation of the arrival of shalom, to

“stay alert…to “stay woke”…to your senses, your mind, your body, your feelings, your spirit to where to Spirit is stirring and leaning. Stay woke….to the impact your life has on others…Stay woke…to the injustice that we either contribute to or diminish…Stay woke….to the groanings of the world…Stay woke…to the humble, radical, empire-upsetting ways of Jesus…Stay woke…to the darkness…Stay woke…to the light…and to the sacred and profane in both.”

Now trending as #StayWokeAdvent on social media, both clergy and lay members of ‘the Church’ are responding in impressive numbers. ““StayWokeAdvent” is a project of people interested in exploring the depths of the darkness and interaction with light through the time of Advent.  It is an experiment in spiritual honesty during a time of the year that is often covers up the pain and struggle of the world with a giant glittery bow.”

Advent comes from the Latin word coming or, “the Lord is coming.” As followers, we are supposed to be filled with a joyous expectation as we reflect on what Christians call Old Testament prophecies and testaments and how they have been fulfilled with Christ’s birth, or coming.  We are also to think and reflect on the predicted second arrival on Earth.  Of course, suffice it to say, reflection and introspection has seemingly been replaced with sales, wrapping paper, chocolates and smooches under some plant hanging from a ceiling rafter.

While I was still in law school, my immediate family and I decided to forego exchanging Christmas gifts because of our dismay and dissatisfaction of what we were seeing then with respect to ‘the meaning of Christmas.’  We are still dismayed and greatly dissatisfied and yes, boxes and bows still do not adorn the bottom of our Christmas tree.

But that did not negate the joyfulness that usually comes with this time of year for me…until this year.  This advent has taken on a whole different meaning for me, and in the interests of transparency, most of it is due to a recent, unexpected, significant health decline.  Ironically, in many ways, my continuing progression through the medical system will mirror Advent, and its countdown to December 25, with me receiving (hopefully) some clarification by that date.

For the most part, I have not been overly sad or distressed (yes, I do have my moments) and health permitting, I lurk on the internet or listen to the U.S. bobble heads pontificate on a range of topics, from the recent U.S. midterm elections, to the U.S. immigration debacle and even the inadequacies of the current American College Football playoff system.  When I cannot sit up for long periods of time, I stream the current H2 television series ‘Ancient Aliens’ on my laptop, while lying in bed (hey, don’t knock it until you try it!).

Oh and then there was the Ferguson grand jury.  And damn, I was feeling a bit better.  So I watched, as you did, the highly anticipated televised statement from the prosecutor and then took to Twitter to tweet my anger and disappointment.

And for the first time in a very long time, I felt irrelevant and utterly helpless.  I cursed my body and my current inability to be out of the house for long periods of time.  For approximately thirteen years, since graduating law school, and opening my practice, I was actively engaged, in some way, in what I will term the human drama: from being a public defender (primarily juvenile defender) to defending people from a variety of countries in U.S. deportation proceedings, to serving as a hospice volunteer in ‘off-hours,’ to literally ‘closing down shop,’ to continue to confront the injustices of the world with Christian Peacemaker Teams.  In CPT, we challenge ourselves and others as we address the various forms of oppression, including, but not limited to, racism, sexism, and heterosexism, within the various forms of privilege, to include white privilege.

But then came the call to stay awake and I sincerely thank the #StayWokeAdvent creator for this creative way to be engaged and the continuing challenge to think on how justice can roll down like waters and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream. (See Amos 5:24).

I thought back to a variety of speaking engagements, in which I spoke as a representative of CPT, to faith communities and circles.  I recalled reflections (and in some cases push-back) I received: “That’s all very well and good, well not really, that’s not what I mean, but what can I do about it, I mean it’s over there, and not here, and I cannot go shuffling off to some distant corner of the globe?”


Truly, what can I do about it….me, the perpetual professional socialist-hippy-tree-loving-committed-undoing-oppression-nonviolent-agitator-turned shut-in?

On every level, I am not surprised as to what happened in Ferguson, notwithstanding my immense disappointment.  Indicting a police officer in the United States is difficult; buildings and cars on fire have happened before in a variety of locations, world-wide, and as a committed professional socialist-hippy-tree-loving-committed-undoing-oppression-nonviolent-agitator, our job here is to challenge people to change the dialogue (i.e. no, we do not support the burning buildings or burning police cars, but who are we to judge in light of x-y-and z and the ongoing systemic abuses and hey, why don’t you continue to watch and *listen* rather than walk away and dismiss it, because it’s not about that); police in the United States, not just the Ferguson police department, are in fact militarized and the use of shields, tear gas, armored vehicles, Humvees, rubber bullets, flash-bang grenades etc. is an example of this; and Mike Brown, unfortunately, is just one of countless examples of an unarmed black man being shot, multiple times, by a white police officer.

Admittedly, I just have to shake my head (yes, with some eye rolls too) as I watch our country’s first black President repeatedly say “we are a nation of laws and rules.”  Our great grand experiment was founded upon slavery, conquest, slaughter and genocide of the continent’s indigenous communities and yes, property destruction (think Boston Tea Party and the fearless white “patriots”).  But we are a democracy and exceptional..well kind of.  The democracy began for white, male property owners and eventually has begrudgingly expanded to women and people of color…. in theory any way.  I am, um, exceptionally wary of the current Voter ID initiatives. And speaking of exceptionalism, well I just hope you are bold enough to click the hyperlink because that is the other part of the Gospel responsibility: to learn, to test, to challenge, and that usually begins by unnerving ourselves because that is what the Gospel is supposed to do, as it completely shatters and destroys our comfortable notions.

However, we within American Christendom get caught up in forecasting the end of days and how to properly proclaim Christ as Lord and Savior, and who is even “permitted” to do so.  We sadly forget how Christ went about day-to-day activity while he was with us.  We conveniently forget who he spent time with, who (and what) he challenged, while proclaiming and presenting examples of how heaven is indeed on earth. “The Gospel is not a fire insurance policy for the next world, but a life assurance policy for this world.”

Not only are we to test, but we are to live in faith, hope and love as Paul reminds us in his epistle to the Thessalonians, (1 Thessalonians 5:1-22).  “[E]ncourage one another and build up each other, as indeed you are doing” (1 Thessalonians 5: 11).  Upon reading that Sunday morning, I thought a lot about our responsibility to test, to the #StayWokeAdvent initiative, and how to juxtapose this with Paul’s reminding us to be patient, to seek to do good, respect those who labor among us and to give thanks in all circumstances with love.

Specifically, how does this happen within the us-vs-them mentality?  And here’s the catch: all of us have it, including us progressive nonviolent do-gooders, myself included.  For instance, we saw how the FBI issued a warning in advance of the grand jury decision about the likelihood that certain elements will exploit the situation in attacking infrastructure and law enforcement should the decision be no indictment.  That then culminated with the Governor activating the Missouri National Guard, several days in advance of the announcement. Can we say self-fulfilling prophecy?

This sort of thinking is frustratingly so oblivious of its contribution to the cycle; when one prepares for war, groups such as the Don’t Shoot Coalition and its rules of engagement, i.e. Rule No 1: “The first priority shall be preservation of life” is flatly ignored and lumped with the overall “enemy out there,” regardless of the fact that the majority within the community want a profound, nonviolent change.  The community wants us to at least begin by not only looking to but deeply discussing the systemic and ongoing abuses against impoverished communities.  This will require much more than so-called ‘race relations panels’ on Fox News that has been composed of all white participants (we can now dispense with the eye-rolls and begin the face-palms).

So, then we, the ‘do-gooders’ (myself included) of course shout slogans such as “the powers and principalities at work in Ferguson,” “a police state emerges,” “stop the police brutality!” or indeed, in other circles “fuck the police!” and “burn, baby burn!”  Then we shout against other comparable loud voices, either as “experts” on cable news, or via our very own platforms provided by social media, which many times results in the crossing of a very fine line between proffering an opinion or feeling and cyber bullying.  My stomach just turns with the vitriol and rhetoric offered that justify how some lives are truly worth more than other lives, because well for starters, “Mike Brown did have cigars in his pocket, you know; he’s a thug” (face-palm continues).

And it’s not just us-vs-them over there, but us-vs them, within. The vitriol is not just reserved for the KKK who threaten to kill protestors, or to ‘rabid looters’ who burn down a beauty shop, but also to people within a movement for change who have been reported to supposedly have done something, said something or talked to someone.  It has become so easy to..uh-oh, I’m going to say it…to demonize someone.

Let me back away from this emotionally, charged example.  I remember reading an interview years ago (wish I can find it to provide a hyperlink) with senior members in Congress (perhaps just the Senate). Ted Kennedy (remember him) was still alive and offered commentary, as did John McCain, Orrin Hatch and others.  I want to say this was published either just before, or just after John McCain’s 2000 Presidential run when then, he was considered a gutsy independent maverick.

The article gave an example of how ‘back in the day,’ members of Congress and their spouses would actually get together for a meal (maybe a lunch or even a dinner) and break.bread.together.  Talk together.  Spend time together.  I do not remember how often this gathering would take place but it happened on more than one occasion.  Either Kennedy, Hatch or McCain said it was much easier to reach across the aisle and work with a member of the opposite party after having spent time with them in a social setting because he was not some monster with a spinning head (not to mention Kennedy and Hatch formed a friendship!).  Many times they did not have common ground politically, but they knew how to speak to one another and how to reach a compromise.  Yes, I know, Congress was then, and in many ways still is an ‘old boy’s club’ and no doubt the public rhetoric was just as intolerable then (Senator Joe McCarthy and McCarthyism) as it is now.  But the point of that story was simple: “now” (or when it was published) to even *talk* to a member of another party, the person is loudly denounced as a traitor to party ideals.  Since its publication, this has only intensified.

We are simply gripped in a vicious cycle of sharp partisan and ideological polarization, which has permeated every single layer of our society, regardless of issue, regardless of side, regardless of ‘ism’ and regardless of privilege.  Now, I am not suggesting we stand idly by as unarmed black men and children continue to be shot and killed by the powers of the State; I am not suggesting we stand idly by and not push that certain NFL team from the District of Columbia about the insensitivity of their current name and what it represents to Indigenous Peoples; I am not suggesting that we stand idly by as other children of color, as refugees, who sought to escape a variety of nightmares within Central America, are now being deported back to face so many unknowns within those nightmares.


#BlackLivesMatter! #NotYourMascot! #Not1More! We are to scream with righteous anger and at times, may be called upon to flip the tables of the money-changers, who typically remain within our current houses of prayer (think the institutional church, or “the church”). And within this, we need to constantly check ourselves and remind ourselves that God’s ways are not our ways and that people who follow God are the probably the last ones we would anticipate.

And who cannot simply be moved to tears by that photo taken on November 25 of a weeping twelve-year African-American boy hugging a white Portland police officer, at a Ferguson solidarity rally?  The boy, Devonte Hart, had a sign around his neck: free hugs.  Bret Barnum, a white, Portland Police Officer apparently asked, “Do I get one of those?”  The pair hugged; and what a moment, fortunately captured by photographer Johnny Nguyen.  And “the wolf shall live with the lamb, the leopard shall lie down with the kid, the calf and the lion and the fatling together, and a little child shall lead them” (See Isaiah 11 1-10, New Revised Standard Version).

I hope we make every effort to support each other, and to respect those who labor among us, even with our differences of opinion.  This has important implications for our continuing spiritual formation within our human experience.  Our other continuing challenge is to see through God’s eyes and act in God’s ways, even when admonishment and flipping a table is needed. Let’s back away from the precipice of sensationalism.

And so, here I still sit, impatiently anticipating future medical appointments, following the world from afar and will continue to do so for the immediate future.  Sunday morning I was reminded of Etty Hillesum, a young Jewish woman who lived in Amsterdam during the Nazi occupation and died at Auschwitz, on November 30, 1943.  She was 29 years old.

On July 3, 1942, she wrote: “I must admit a new insight in my life and find a place for it: what is at stake is our impending destruction and annihilation…They are out to destroy us completely, we must accept that and go on from there…Very well then…I accept it…I work and continue to live with the same conviction and I find life meaningfulI wish I could live for a long time so that one day I may know how to explain it, and if I am not granted that wish, well, then somebody else will perhaps do it, carry on from where life has been cut short.  And that is why I must live a good and faithful life to my last breath; so that those who come after me do not have to start all over again.”

Remarkably, for Etty, she received affirmation for the value and meaning of life, in the midst of shocking horror and that affirmation became her guiding principle: this was more than a call to solidarity with those who suffer but she was called to redeem the suffering of humanity from within, by protecting “that little piece of You, God, in ourselves.”  “I know that a new and kinder day will come.  I would so much like to live on, if only to express all the love I carry within me.  And there is only one way of preparing the new age, by living it even now in our hearts.”

And we can live it and do live it by walking our own “Little Way”, in our every day actions and experiences, within our homes, communities and circles.  It could even include wearing a sign that says: free hugs, or even giving thanks for caretakers, or washing the dishes to help the caretakers, or spending time at a local shelter, food bank or even spending time with your faith community after worship in dialogue and fellowship (maybe you can start a book club and discuss The New Jim Crow, by Michelle Alexander).  Because every day actions and experiences, regardless of how mundane it feels (and even the petty insults and injuries, regardless of how much it stings the heart and soul), brings us within the presence and love of God the Divine.

According to St. Therese of Lisieux, Carmelite Mystic, “the Little Way” may indeed transform any situation into a profound realm for holiness, and that one might, through those little ripple effects, may actually make a significant contribution to literally transforming the world (like when one skips a stone on a smooth lake). But it will indeed take time.

And, so, for now, I’ll continue to wash our dishes when I can stand upright, and I’ll even walk the dog regardless of how much he pulls and at times sends my wobbly legs stumbling, and hopefully I can continue to take the trash can to the curb. Hey, how about a hug for this socialist-hippy-tree-loving-committed-undoing-oppression-nonviolent-agitator?  And if tears flow for either one of us, well, that’s ok because that’s the little piece of God within, outwardly feeling the moment.

Stay Woke my Friend!

The River Still Flows #Keewatin

12 Jul


Judy Da Silva, Slant Lake, October 2011

Judy Da Silva, Slant Lake, October 2011


And the sun still shines; at least as it appears when I look outside my window, in Toronto, Ontario.  Rains, however, have engulfed my heart and spirit, ever since I learned the Supreme Court of Canada ruled in favor this morning of Ontario’s “right” to permit industrial logging on Grassy Narrows (Asubpeeschoseewagong Netum Anishnabek) traditional lands.

As long as the rivers flows and the sun shines” (referencing Treaty #3) has become the cry of resistance since December 3, 2002 when two members of the Grassy Narrows community stepped in front of a logging truck hauling timber out of clear cuts, located on their traditional territory.  Their resistance has become the longest standing indigenous logging blockade in Canadian history.  Make no mistake, it will continue.

“Our supreme law is the Natural Law, and our right to live our way of life on our territory is given to us by the Creator since time immemorial.  Our grassroots women, youth and landusers will continue to maintain our blockade, our boycott, and our protest along with our supporters from around the world who recognize that we are standing for all life,” wrote Judy Da Silva, Clan Mother and CPT Partner (emphasis added).

The Supreme Court of Canada says that “Ontario and only Ontario has the power to take up lands under Treaty 3.  This is confirmed by constitutional provisions, the interpretation of the treaty, and legislation dealing with Treaty 3 lands.”  In theory, the Supreme Court of Canada represents and affirms what we determine to be the bastion of ‘the highest law of the land’- as understood within our notions of law, order, liberty and justice.  Our courts and system of government is supposed to be the epitome of civilization.  Thus, as the perceived bastion, the Supreme Court of Canada applied these notions and understandings in its interpretation and legal position, as it complies with applicable law.

But what is law?  Who determines law?  What should be encompassed within the umbrella of law?  Less well known, but just as if not more important, is the understanding that there is also an oral version to each numbered treaty within Canada.  For any numbered treaty to be understood, and appreciated, references to oral histories and traditions must be considered.

But if one looks at the decision from the perspective of assumed established and baseline principles of common law tradition, it makes sense.  Common law, also known as precedent, is inherent within the Canadian legal system (as well as the U.S.); it basically means that law is developed by judges through decisions of courts, with heavy deference to past cases, decisions, on the principle that it is simply unfair to treat similar facts differently on different occasions.  If no case decisions exist, then courts look to practices that have been developed over time.  Statutes and legislation are then reviewed within this lens.

I write as a beneficiary of this common law tradition.  I am not indigenous; after leaving Iran in the mid 1970’s as a very young child with my adoptive U.S., white parents, I was raised within the purview of the myths and legends of the United States.  Now, as a resident of Canada, I remain a member of this dominant system that egregiously first invaded in 1492.  I have also been trained within this dominant system, obtained my law degree, passed the bar exam, and practiced law in the U.S. for almost ten years prior to joining CPT.  Thus, this is why I write that from a certain perspective, the decision “makes sense.”

It’s all very neat and tidy, isn’t it? We trace the lineage of justice from the past, the ‘I’s and‘t’s are meticulously addressed, and I see that in this most recent decision, with Ontario’s jurisdiction under the Constitution “proven.”  Oh yes, we are told that Ontario’s power to take up lands under Treaty 3 is not unconditional, that it must exercise the honor of the Crown and that harvesting rights must be respected, and that actions for treaty infringement could arise.

Do I come across as sarcastic?  In addition to proposed logging on Grassy Narrows’ traditional territory, I look to Tar Sands development, from the Northern Gateway project to the proposed Enbridge Line 9 pipeline, and the continuing resistance by the Elsipogtog community and allies to proposed shale gas fracking, among other campaigns, that continuously say “No!” to resource greed.  In light of the responses and actions taken by the various provincial and Federal government entities, I have yet to be impressed by this notion and supposed protection of the honor of the crown.

Yes, I know, the Supreme Court of Canada traced the lineage via its analysis of the history of Treaty #3.  “In the early 1870s, Canada was a young country looking to promote Western expansion and Confederation,” and eventually, the Ojibway “yielded ownership of their territory, except for certain lands reserved to them.”

Missing from the analysis is any recognition of oral histories or oral tradition.  Missing from the analysis is the acknowledgement that in indigenous traditions, the concept of land ownership simply did not exist and because of this fact, no authority existed to transfer absolute title to the Crown.  In other words, indigenous parties, to any treaty, almost universally maintain that their laws would not allow for the transfer, sale, ceding, or releasing or surrendering of land.  Missing from the analysis is any recognition for the need of reconciliation.

Interestingly, the Court of Appeals, while ruling against Grassy Narrows in its decision (which then culminated with the Supreme Court hearing the case), wrote, “This process of reconciliation flows from the Crown’s duty of honourable dealing toward Aboriginal peoples, which arises in turn from the Crown’s assertion of sovereignty over an Aboriginal people and de facto control of land and resources that were formerly in control of that people.”  In other cases, Canadian courts have acknowledged oral traditions.  Why not today?  In one case, which I use when I present on the Doctrine of Discovery, a court wrote, “Canada’s Aboriginal peoples were here when Europeans came and were never conquered…the honour of the Crown requires that rights be determined, recognized and respected.”

Oh, I continue to pray that our children, our children’s children, their children, their children’s children…forgive us.

May Our Children Forgive Us

22 Apr

What follows is a homily I delivered in Leamington on Sunday April 14th on behalf of Christian Peacemaker Teams.  The first six photos are from a recent CPT Outreach Initiative in Ontario.  The remaining photos are from the CPT-AJT social media photo campaign, launched in support of Chief Theresa Spence during her 44 day sacred fast.  The selected scripture passage is 2 Corinthians 5:14-21.  I used an empty picture frame as a prop and reference. This blog post will be referenced in a forthcoming CPTnet release.


Stephen Jarnick of Peaceworks; CPTer Peter Haresnape; CPTer Chris Sabas; Interim Outreach Coordinator Sarah Thompson

On behalf of Christian Peacemaker Teams- the Aboriginal Justice Team, I want to thank all of you for providing me with this opportunity to speak to you this morning.

I am a full time member of the team, arriving from the US January 2012. We live in Toronto when not in communities. Our work is primarily based in Canada (or what I like to term the northern portion of Turtle Island), however, at times, projects and campaigns will take us south, to the States.

We are the Aboriginal Justice Team. However, there is nothing Aboriginal- or Indigenous/ Native- about us. I have a teammate from the UK, Colombia and Canada. I myself am from Iran and the first Iranian national to complete CPT training and to serve with the corps. I am a member of the Iranian Diaspora, longing to return to the homeland. I am now a naturalized US citizen.


Penny Christiaans, Community Capacity Development Coordinator, Aboriginal Ministries Circle, The United Church of Canada; CPT Interim Outreach Coordinator Sarah Thompson

But that’s just the tip of my identity. I am an orphan, found as a newborn, and spent almost a year in an orphanage in Tehran prior to my adoption by white US parents. I am Christian. I am specifically named after Christ; knowing the basis for my name is one of my earliest memories. My parents and I were baptized together at a little community church in Tehran because my adoption- I- led my parents to their faith and so my full name: Christine.

We left Iran in the mid-70’s, prior to the Islamic Revolution. I was perhaps 18 months old. I have no memory; just stories, pictures, dreams and some trinkets my parents saved for me. The trinkets actually make up one cardboard box, affectionately known as ‘the Iran box.’ Just imagine: an entire country, history and culture in one old, dilapidated, worn out box (because that’s what it is: old and worn out…. the box that is).

Developmentally delayed, I was ‘behind the 8 ball’ with so many developmental stages and cognitive skills as a toddler, child and even teenager. For instance, I apparently had issues with my digestive tract and my stomach when I first arrived from the orphanage. This is still an issue for me today. Eating only recently has become enjoyable for me again after almost 3 years of a heightened increase of what has been a lifelong challenge. I also needed speech therapy for English. I didn’t begin to speak until a year or even more after what is customary.


CPT Steering Committee Meeting, Toronto

School was not enjoyable for me. I looked different (the black hair and olive skin thing), had difficulty speaking, and had a very basic vocabulary throughout. Sentence construction: forget it. Math: I could have cared less when the two trains that started at opposite ends of the continent, traveling at different speeds, with different fuel capabilities, would meet. I didn’t care because I couldn’t grasp the concept. I almost had to repeat First Grade (but for my mother’s persistence and advocacy for me in terms of needed, “alternative” approaches, I probably would have). Her advocacy was needed throughout my time in public school.

I applied to 23 colleges and universities. All but two rejected me, with one rejection coming from a community college. The acceptances: some “party” school in New England, and a small, private, Liberal Arts College, in central Pennsylvania, which saw something in the transcripts (it certainly was not the SAT’s as I kept to form with my ability with standardized tests, meaning “no ability”).

Quite incredible really that I practiced law, owning my own law firm, for nearly 10 years, prior to joining CPT. I now gravitate towards books and words; I’m simply a sponge for learning. My writing has attracted notice and praise. So too my “legal” mind and skills, both inside and outside the courtroom.


From Peace, Pies & Prophets, Toronto

I decided to go to law school because I wanted to help people, primarily immigrants. I did but I also became engaged in a totally unexpected field: juvenile law. For a time, I defended youth who were charged with criminal offenses, then became the court appointed guardian ad litem (child advocate) for children in family court, and then finally served for a time as the solicitor for the local children and youth agency. I met orphans, sexual abuse survivors, sexual abuse perpetrators, as well as advocated for terminating parental rights, or to keep a child within a residential placement or particular foster home placement. No easy task to be sure and despite the challenges and overall emotional toll, I still very much appreciate my time within the juvenile system.

But much more importantly than the titles, accolades and achievements, throughout my entire academic and legal career, I was blessed with the endless love, support and commitment from my mother. My white mother. My white, privileged, mother…..

I was asked to focus on children this morning as it relates to ‘Aboriginal justice.’ The first thought that came to mind was, probably not surprising, the church run/ state sponsored Indian Residential Schools. As I began to think on what I could possibly add to a much saturated topic, I could not help but to reflect on my own experience: both as an orphan, adoptee and intended juvenile/child advocate within “the system.”


From Peace, Pies & Prophets, Toronto

And for now, I want to lift up my mother’s encouragement and support, especially during my time in the public school system, K-12. I’ll focus on aspects of privilege in a bit. My mother, despite her faults, limitations and imperfections, via her actions while I was in public school, is, in my opinion, the embodiment of this morning’s message: “For the love of Christ urges us on…”

Love nourishes the spirit. Love captures minds better than might does.


CPTer Chris Sabas; Penny Christiaans, Community Capacity Development Coordinator, Aboriginal Ministries Circle, The United Church of Canada

And speaking of spirit, the Second Letter of Paul to the Corinthians gives us the best picture of the spiritual struggle of an apostle in the New Testament. Paul is an evangelist and an apostle, but in the Corinthian correspondence we see what happens after evangelization. Between the lines of this letter, written to instruct and admonish the fledgling Christians of Corinth, we see Paul careworn yet working to live out a theology of reconciliation and transformation in the image of Christ.

So let’s review the situation. The letter picks up amid a stressful relationship between Paul and the local church, which he founded. He and the Corinthians have issues to work out before they can continue in ministry together. That work is the crucible that tests their Christian strength and ingenuity. We have the Corinthians’ side of the story only through Paul’s version of it, and he was writing not to us, but to people who knew the history. Still, we can see outlines of what happened.


We know from 1 Corinthians that these Christians were fumbling about as they sought to work out Christian discipline regarding food, sex, marriage and lawsuits. It would appear that Paul visited the church a second time after he wrote that letter, either to follow up on the charge of incest or in response to some other weighty matter. For whatever reason, the meeting did not go well. There must have been an unpleasant scene, because Paul left early, leaving sour feelings all around. Perhaps this gives some members of the church the impetus to listen to other gospel preachers and to question Paul’s authority.

From this letter, as well as from the letter to the Galatian churches, we know that many people evangelized and that some of them were apparently unscrupulous. Whatever it was, one crisis seems to have led to another. After leaving Corinth for the second time, Paul may have written an angry letter to the congregation (which is lost to history) instructing them to discipline an offending member. The offender could have been the man guilty of incest as reported in 1 Corinthians, or it could have been someone from a completely unrelated incident in which Paul or his authority was called into question during his second visit. Whatever happened, everyone was so distressed that Paul decided not to return to Corinth himself, for fear of having another problematic confrontation that would upset everyone again. Instead, he sent Titus to see what had happened and to try to patch things up. Paul was apparently distressed that he might lose this congregation to his apostolic competitors.

As it turned out, the Corinthians decided to obey Paul’s order. They disciplined their offending member so harshly that in fact, Paul had to admonish them (which is in 2 Corinthians) to rehabilitate him back into the church, after his punishment. We can see from this incident how difficult it is for congregations to discipline members when they step out of line. It is easier to gossip behind someone’s back than to administer weighty pastoral care. The question of intentional rehabilitation is just as important.


Theology, however, is not an armchair discipline, but arises from particular needs we face in life. Often those needs become apparent only in the midst of a crisis of some sort. Friends, I submit, we again, are in midst of a crisis.

For over three hundred years, many say European and Aboriginal peoples regarded one another as distinct nations in the land mass now known as Canada. But by the mid-nineteenth century, hunger for land had expanded dramatically and the economic base of the colonies shifted from fur to agriculture. Land and resources were needed and settlers began to view Aboriginal people as a ‘problem.’

The so-called “Indian problem” was the simple fact that indigenous peoples existed. They were seen as an obstacle to the spread of ‘civilization,’ and that is the spread of Western economic, social and political interests. Duncan Campbell Scott, Deputy Superintendent of Indian Affairs from 1913-1932, summed up the Government’s position when he said in 1920, “I want to get rid of the Indian problem. […] Our object is to continue until there is not a single Indian in Canada that has not been absorbed into the body politic, and there is no Indian question, and no Indian Department.”


By 1920, the “Indian problem” had been well “studied.” Listen to this portion of the Nicholas Flood Davin Report of 1879 which noted: “the industrial school is the principal feature of the policy known as that of ‘aggressive civilization’. [T]he Indians should, as far as practicable, be consolidated on few reservations, and provided with ‘permanent individual homes’; that the tribal relation should be abolished; that lands should be allotted in severalty and not in common; that the Indian should speedily become a citizen […] enjoy the protection of the law, and be amenable thereto; that, finally, it was the duty of the Government to afford the Indians all reasonable aid in their preparation for citizenship by educating them in industry and in the arts of civilization.” The reported concluded by noting that ‘Indian culture’ was a contradiction in terms, Indians were uncivilized and the aim of education was to destroy the Indian (as a “side note,” it’s worth noting the Harper government has proposed the total eradication of the reserves, with an eye towards private ownership of land and homes, effectively abolishing the tribal relation).

The intent of the residential school system was to educate, assimilate and integrate Aboriginal people into European-Canadian society. In the words of one government official, it was a system designed “to kill the Indian in the child.” The earliest was the Mohawk Indian Residential School, which opened in 1831, at Brantford, Ontario. The schools existed in almost all provinces and territories. In the North, the residential school system also took the form of hostels and tent camps.

The federal government currently recognizes that 132 federally-supported residential schools existed across Canada. This, however, does not recognize those residential schools that were administered by provincial/territorial governments and churches.  At its peak in the early 1930s, it was a state-sponsored, church-run network of 80 schools with an enrollment of over 17,000.


Attendance was mandatory for Aboriginal children to age 15. Failure to send children to residential school often resulted in punishment of parents, including imprisonment. Many Aboriginal children were taken from their homes, often by force, and separated from their families by long distances. Others who attended residential schools near their communities were often prohibited from seeing their families outside of occasional permitted visits.

Broad occurrences of disease, hunger and overcrowding are reported. The quality of education was low in comparison to non-Aboriginal schools. And we are now aware of the other horrors: sexual abuse, beatings, punishment for speaking Aboriginal languages, forced eating of rotten food, widespread hunger and thirst, bondage and confinement, forced labor, use of students in medical experiments and in too many cases, death.

However, I would like to note that some have spoken of positive experiences while at the residential schools. But, those traumatized by the well known horrific experiences in the residential school have suffered pervasive loss: loss of identity, loss of family, loss of language, loss of culture. Adaptation of abusive behaviors learned from residential school has also occurred and caused intergenerational trauma- the cycle of abuse and trauma from one generation to the next. Research on intergenerational transmission of trauma makes it clear that people who have suffered the effects of traumatic stress pass it on to those close to them and generate vulnerability in their children. The children in turn experience their own trauma.


The system of forced assimilation has had consequences which are with Aboriginal people today. The need for healing does not stop with the school Survivors- intergenerational effects of trauma are real and pervasive and must be addressed.

And I’ll go further. Native children, presently in care, today, surpasses the residential school era. We are in what many call the Millennium Scoop. Instead of being at home with their parents, brothers and sisters, tens of thousands of First Nation children are in foster homes, staying with distant relatives or living in institutions. This is a culmination of decades worth of social ills: a disheartening mix of poverty, addiction, history and politics that have conspired to separate First Nations children from their parents. Researchers aren’t certain how many native children are no longer living with their parents. A study in 2005 pegged the number at 27,500 but since then, provincial and federal data, as well as empirical reports suggests the numbers have risen.

Former auditor general Sheila Fraser estimated First Nations children were 8 times more likely to be in care than other Canadian children. She pointed out that in British Columbia, of all the children in care, about half are Aboriginal- even though Aboriginals are only 8% of the population. Throughout Canada as a whole, Aboriginal people make up about 2% of the population, but between 10-20% of children are in care.


The National Anglican Indigenous Bishop, Mark MacDonald, has described our present reality as a “tsunami of need.” As if it can’t get any worse, suicide rates among Native youth is rising and, as described by Bishop MacDonald, are at ‘crisis levels.’

We may have a useful mirror if we return our attention to ancient Corinth. From the writings that remain, it’s clear that Paul understood some of the Corinthians as holding a triumphalistic view of the gospel that led them to be impressed with their own spirituality and to treat other believers as ‘less than’ themselves. From Paul’s perspective, the situation was approaching a crisis.

Second Corinthians was written by a real human being to real human beings in a particular place in a particular moment in history. The more we know about them, their world, their lives, and their issues, the more clearly we can understand this communication between the early Christians at Corinth and Paul.


It’s important to note the role of letters in Paul’s culture. In a world without high-speed communications or travel and in which travel was expensive and often dangerous, letters took on great importance. Letters were considered to “stand in” for the presence of the letter-writer. Teachers wrote handbooks to guide good letter writing.

Paul also wrote letters for specific reasons. Something was going on with him or the church or both that caused him to write, and he wrote to address what was going on. The letters do not contain general, abstract theological reflections but pastoral words addressing the occasion that prompted the writing. We must be careful, therefore, reticent even, about drawing abstract theological conclusions from Paul’s letters. We should also attend to Paul’s rhetoric. Paul was not concerned to report information objectively or toss out an opinion for what it was worth or some other such effort. He wanted to persuade the Corinthians to see a situation as he did and to act as he believed they should. Rhetoric is the disciplined art of persuasion and was highly valued in the ancient world. Paul’s letters are highly rhetorical. If we pay attention to the rhetorical strategies and devices Paul uses to argue his case and bring the Corinthians to his side, we can understand more clearly the case he wished to argue.


We also need to keep in mind that these first Christians were figuring out how to live as God’s alternative community in the midst of the patriarchal structures and imperialist values of the Roman Empire without a New Testament or long-standing Christian traditions to guide them. Debate was inevitable. Those with different perspectives from Paul and from one another were not necessarily “bad guys.” Rather, they were part of a legitimate and necessary struggle to understand how to be faithful to Christ in their time. In many ways the Corinthian letters are as much the Corinthians’ story as Paul’s. Too often we caricature and stereotype those who disagreed with Paul rather than appreciating their role in this new movement. And you know, too often we caricature and stereotype those with whom we disagree in our own churches. Perhaps learning to practice such an interpretation as we read Paul can be a step toward learning to practice it in our faith communities also.

In such a time as the present, our Corinthian forebears in faith may be able to help us. The first lesson they offer is this: when diverse people come together around their faith in Jesus as the Christ, conflict is inevitable. Sometimes we might think that the earliest Christians had an easier time than we since they were closer to the events of Jesus’ life when the fire of the Spirit burned brighter. The Corinthian story reveals how romanticized such a view is! From the earliest days of the Christian movement, we see that a shared faith in Jesus did not prevent real human differences from erupting into conflict. The same is true today. And indeed, a shared faith in Jesus does not prevent egregious harms from being committed, by those professing faith in Christ.


The question then for Christians, therefore, is not, “Will there be conflict?” but rather, “How will we respond to conflict?” The Corinthian letters, and 2 Corinthians in particular, tell the story of conflict among Corinthian believers and also between Paul and some Corinthian congregants. We can watch and learn from them.

2 Corinthians contains Paul’s spirited defense of himself. In fact, in the last three chapters we see his anger seep out. He is grappling with his fear that the troubles in this congregation could harm his ministry elsewhere, because they could damage his reputation. But he is doing much, much more than venting his frustration. It is no accident that the teaching on reconciliation that is the heart of the meaning of Christ’s death finds its most beautiful expression here. He is calling his new Christians, and himself, into a higher spiritual space, above their petty quarrels. Paul is big enough to see his own weaknesses and mistakes in judgment, sure enough of his call not to back down, and strong enough to take the heat. He is interpreting Christ as much for himself as for the Corinthian Christians.

Reconciliation is the result then of the maturity they, together, acquire in Christ. “For the love of Christ urges us on.” This is perhaps one of the most powerful phrases in Scripture. It vividly amplifies that Paul considers himself an apostle, but not of his own accord, but by the will of God. This is true of all Christian vocation; we do not seek, but discern it, then follow as the way opens to us. This phrase is the key to a great secret that Christians discovered and that the Roman world had no access to: love, not military occupation, compels allegiance. The use of force or the threat of punishment seeks to break the spirit, while love nourishes it. Our responsibility then is to teach the world that love, not might or power, transforms.


To continue, the message of the cross- again that love captures minds better than might does- and that Christ’s love revealed by his death, rather than threat of punishment, brings us to know God and to see one another afresh and in a new light. The gracious act of Christ in dying for the human species should always teach us that no one is above another. This we cannot keep to ourselves. Its point is to transform the world. We are participants in Christ; in other words, as Christ’s ambassador, we are to advance the work of reconciliation. God’s appeal is made through us, apostles as Paul was: not of our own accord certainly, but by the will of God. Being a Christian is not just about following commandments- but is about letting Christ take possession of our lives and transforming them.

We cannot live as before. Behold a new quality of living. Menno Simons commented on this text passionately: “[God] has roused us from the dead and led us into life…For we feel His living fruit and moving power in our hearts as may be seen in many places by the lovely patience and willing sacrifices of our faithful brethren and companions in Christ Jesus.” Menno expounded the newness of life that comes from participation in Christ.


Through the 2008 apology to the survivors of the residential schools, in which Prime Minister Harper called the schools a ‘sad chapter’ in Canadian history, and with the launch of the Truth and Reconciliation process, Canada is seeking to address the injustices of the past.

But just as we need to understand and orient ourselves to the Corinthians and Paul of the ancient world, we need to orient ourselves to our indigenous sisters and brothers: know “their world”; “their lives”; “their concerns.” We simply need to listen; we’ve been dictating and gabbing for 500+ years. Then, and only then, we can more clearly understand and begin to conceive of our responsibilities as the ambassadors of Christ. Then and only then will we no longer think of them and us, or us and them, but truly as sisters; as brothers. The New Age that Paul envisioned in his plea for unity would indeed be upon us.

What do we need to understand? It’s simple: we are not talking about some distant past. Trespasses continue. We need to work, now, to avoid perpetuating the cycle of discrimination so our children are not left having to apologize for our mistakes.


I now invite you to join and put yourselves in the picture- to commit to act for truth, reconciliation and equity. No doubt, all of us have in our minds pictures and ‘freeze frames’, either from history or from recent events, of all that is “wrong” in Canada’s relationship with Indigenous peoples. But what do you picture when you think on the future of equity and justice that we sincerely seek?

[empty picture frame] Let’s picture it. Let’s try to move beyond abstractions. What snapshot could be inserted here? What would just relationship look like?

To live in right relationship, for today, let’s focus on language and I’ll return to the residential schools of the recent past. We are not talking about students- but survivors. Students are not forced from home and the arms of their mothers by the Royal Canadian Mounted Police in the dark of night, prohibited from speaking their native tongue, or required to pray to a deity by the name of Christ and God several times daily…. I was a student; a student faced with many challenges to be sure, but a student. Not, a survivor.


…Privilege. We, those of us here today who cannot claim indigenous or native blood, are privileged. By that simple fact alone: our blood is not “red.” Although Canada consistently ranks as one of the world’s best countries to live in, applying the same criteria to Indigenous peoples, Canada falls to around 60th place. We need to address this gap so that we do not have to apologize again. The Canadian government’s apology will mean so much more if Canadians end the cycle of inequity that Indigenous peoples face in education, health care and social services.

Please know, I am a long term visitor. I live in Canada. Before that, I lived in the States, so all within Turtle Island. I stand before you apart of this privileged class. My hair is black; my skin is olive, but my blood is “white.” I am not indigenous to Turtle Island. I act “white.” I speak “white.” Some in the Iranian Diaspora do not consider me Iranian; just this past year, an Iranian told me that I “am not a good Iranian.” Thus, I am a Westernized, educated, feminist woman. I am Christian or as I prefer to say, a Follower of The Way. My white mother, who loved me to the ends of time, had the ability to consistently fight for me during public school.


Yes love is part of the equation, but if we are to take our roles as ambassadors for Christ seriously, recognizing privilege is key too. I am in no way suggesting that all white people are living the life of luxury with immense power and influence… let’s keep this in context. How many native mothers loved their children; the children who were ripped from their arms by the Mounties? The Indian Act, still in effect today, has gone through countless amendments and changes. At one point, indigenous persons could not leave the reserve unless they received permission from the appropriate government agent. In effect, they needed a hall pass. This was at the height of the residential school genocide. Parents could not even leave to begin to look for their children. Love was simply not enough.

Let’s continue. Remember we are focusing on language…. Christian Peacemaker Teams- the Aboriginal Justice Team. How dare we, ‘eh? We consider ourselves allies, committed to the cause and lifting up the voice of the indigenous communities who have invited us in their circle. Recall no indigenous or native person serves on team. Dr. Lyn Gehl, Algonquin Anishinaabe-kwe from the Ottawa River Valley wrote a blog entry in February, in which she analyzed allies who wish to align themselves with Indigenous peoples. While she recognizes alliances are needed, she simply does not trust alliances led by “white” people (or men, even Indigenous men).


I am referencing white with quotes; she did too. She says, “[M]y preference here is to say “white people” because after all we are all Indigenous to the earth and we all have Indigenous knowledge that we need to go back to. I certainly don’t say white people as an insult.” She continues: “Don’t get me wrong, it is great to know that other people and political organizations understand that solidarity is key. But I also know full well that unless “we” stand behind the people most oppressed “we” will not gain the solidarity needed. This is because the people most oppressed need to know that when the people who are less oppressed get what they need and want- whatever that is, like getting rid of Harper in the next election – that they will continue to stand behind their needs rather than drop their needs.” So what would our name change look like?…. I have no idea. I’m just asking, I don’t have an answer today.

To start to live in right relationship, I suggest we look to where this “began”: the children. The youth. And keeping in mind the words of Dr. Gehl, let’s get behind a group of indigenous youth. I put in this picture frame a photo of the original 6 youth who set out on The Journey of Nishiyuu. This didn’t receive much “main stream” coverage.


For a bit of background, according to Cree legends, in a time before humans came to being, all creatures in the natural Kingdom foresaw the birth of a new species that would one day roam the Earth. They referred to this new species as “Nishiyuu,” which literally means human beings. However, the term has a complex and much deeper meaning, which include the interconnectedness of all life, as well as the oneness of time within which all life begins and ends. This community continues to call itself the ‘Nishiyuu’ (human beings), to distinguish themselves from their relatives in the Natural Kingdom. They add the term could be said to include reference to all humanity.

6 Youths from the community of Great Whale, located in Northern Quebec on the shores of Hudson’s Bay, commenced a sacred quest January 2013. They walked to Ottawa, a journey totaling over 1500 kilometers, in the “dead” of winter with frigid temperatures and deep snow, to deliver a strong message to other First Nations across Canada that the Cree Nation of Quebec are still present and true keepers of their language, culture, traditions and that they continue to respect the sacred laws of their ancestors. By the time they reached Ottawa at the end of March, the walkers grew to a caravan and were joined by hundreds of people, indigenous and non-indigenous, in Ottawa.


I said I wanted journey back to where this began: the youth… but also to the land. The residential school policy was just one major land and resource grab. Remember Duncan Campbell Scott: to absorb into the body politic, to destroy the collective unit. Harper’s initiative to eradicate the reserve system is simply the continuation of wanted unfettered access to countless resources. Thus the Journey of the Nishiyuu reinforced their traditional trade routes and emphasized the fact that they never surrendered their land. “This land, the earth, the rivers, the winds, the mountains, the clouds and all of the creation, we are the true keepers and will continue to do so until time on earth is over.”

I conclude with a portion of their initial press release: “By facing these challenges that our people are subjected to everyday, our youths will reinforce the traditional bonds that existed between the Cree Nation and our historical allies by restoring the traditional trade routes that linked the Cree, Algonquin, Mohawk and other First Nations throughout Turtle Island for the betterment of future generations. […] The time to stand united is now, we support the Idle No More Movement and respect the duties entrusted upon our Leaders. Through peaceful processes, unity and proper negotiations, we can solidify our rights to ensure the earth and our way of life will be fully protected forever. […] The Ancestors will walk with them. Creator of all things, the Giver of Life and the Spirits of the earth, please watch over them and return them home safely. They left as young men to carry the heaviness and emptiness that surrounds us all, but they will return home as Great Men[!]”


…. Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable to you, O Lord, my rock and my redeemer (Psalm 19:14). Amen.


The Silence of Reconciliation

6 Feb

What follows is a homily I wrote and delivered Sunday Feb 3rd at Dannforth Mennonite Church, Toronto.  CPT-AJT routinely receives these type of invites.  I lift up Chief Theresa Spence and her sacred fast.  While not specifically mentioned in the message below, this link will provide the reader further background regarding the work I did, in solidarity of Chief Spence.  And with that, all of the photos that appear within the text are photos received and posted by CPT-AJT during the photo campaign.  The scripture reading is Isaiah 32:16-17.


On behalf of Christian Peacemaker Teams- the Aboriginal Justice Team, I want to thank Pastor Tim Reimer, and all of you at Dannforth Mennonite Church for providing me with this opportunity to speak to you this morning.

I am a full time stipended member of the team; that means I receive a needs-based stipend, per month. Many of us ‘full timers’ jokingly say that we have taken the vow of poverty. I joined team January 2012 and the team is based and lives in Toronto. While I am originally from Iran, I have lived in the United States since I was approximately a year and half. Prior to joining CPT, I was a licensed attorney, with my own practice, with nearly 10 years experience, focusing on US immigration law.

Yes, it’s been quite the change for me. My finding CPT, and decision to join the Aboriginal Justice Team, is part of a larger framework: I am discerning a call to ordination, as a priest, within the Episcopal/ Anglican tradition. I feel I can ‘out-do’ Moses with the amount of whining and questioning, but all joking aside, I feel I was led to CPT, because the ministry has given me what I needed: space between my life as a litigation attorney and whatever comes next.


Also, I feel it’s no coincidence that I am with the Aboriginal Justice Team. I am an orphan, adopted by US born parents, in Tehran, Iran. I was found in the city of Shiraz, which is in the south-western part of the country. The story that accompanied me to the orphanage in Tehran: I am indigenous, from a local semi-nomadic tribe that was near Shiraz at the time of my discovery- the Qashqai people.

While I had a formative Christian upbringing, my first memory is of my “story” and I credit my parents with instilling in me a sense of pride and awe of Iran, its history, people, culture, traditions and that too of what they knew of the Qashqai. And the backdrop to my childhood is the US-Iranian hostage crisis, the icy political climate between the US and Iran, and resulting racist attitudes and opinions towards anything Iranian by too many US-ers, that continues to this day.


Because of my upbringing, I have always been attracted to, well, anything indigenous/ Aboriginal, or as is said in the States, anything Native American. I enjoyed learning. But it was at a distance. And not until it became clear during my CPT training that I would be joining the Aboriginal Justice Team, did it dawn on me, that in many ways, I was “coming home.”

I am still learning but I am now immersed: spiritually, physically and emotionally. I am truly privileged, and blessed, with what 2012 presented to me: I have met so many warm, wonderful, beautiful people. I hold onto teachings I receive from Elders and cherish the gifts that I have received from the various communities I have visited, from the Grassy Narrows First Nation in Northwestern Ontario, to the Little River Band of Ottawa Indians, in Michigan.

I see familiar faces today, and for those of you that know me, I engage with a lot of energy. So, as Advent approached, I was selfishly looking forward to the anticipated down time that Christmas/ New Year’s historically provides to the team. For a variety of reasons, I wanted to spend Christmas week in a modified silent retreat. I was scheduled to leave December 23rd to join the Sisters of St John the Divine, a Monastic Community within the Anglican Church of Canada, in Toronto, to return January 1st. The rest of the team had scattered to locations far beyond the city, and I was the “keeper of the watch” for the project, and this is why I was staying within Toronto.


… I believe acclaimed movie director, Woody Allen, said, “If you want to make God laugh, tell [God] about your plans.”

Attawapiskat Chief Theresa Spence. Idle No More. Round Dance Revolution. Native Winter. Twitter. Facebook. Email. Flash mobs. Multiple, pressing, CPT-net releases. Lack of sleep. Inconsistent eating patterns. Needless to say, the 12 Days of Christmas were quite noisy and clatter-filled for me, with very little periods of rest, or opportunity for reflection.


As I reflect on today’s reading, we truly get a glimpse of what can only be described as a fascinating image: “Then justice will dwell in the wilderness, and righteousness abide in the fruitful field. The effect of righteousness will be peace, and the result of righteousness, quietness and trust forever.”

Before we proceed, let’s review the context of this portion of Isaiah. The book is well known and formative for us, primarily because the early Church, in an effort to bear witness to Christ, found the book of Isaiah quite useful. Over all, the book of Isaiah is an extended, complex prophetic meditation upon the city of Jerusalem and its meaning for the faith of ancient Israel and then, by extension, for our faith as well.


It’s important to keep in mind that with Isaiah, we need to think deeply about the significance of the city of Jerusalem for biblical faith. At the time, Jerusalem is not only the location of the Temple, where the God of Israel has promised to be present, but is also a very real urban center, with political practices, international entanglements and temptations to military adventurism. Thus, the city was endlessly placed in jeopardy and kept under threat by the larger states surrounding it. Over the span of the book of Isaiah, the city is affected by the Assyrian Empire (745-712 BC), the Babylonian Empire (615-540 BC) and eventually the Persian Empire (540-333 BC).

Our reading of Isaiah then focuses upon the relationship between the theological reality of Jerusalem and the political reality of Jerusalem, a relationship that is not always clear cut. The prophet invites us to study that interrelation of life and faith, a relationship that continues to be never easy or obvious as we may imagine. In the book, we hear two theological accents that are in deep tension with each other: divine judgment and divine promise to protect and sustain the city for sake of the Temple and the Davidic dynasty.


The two themes provide a way for us to think about the world differently. In this way, our deepest faith convictions are continually connected to a lived reality. So in a large general sweep, the book Isaiah is divided into two parts:

1. Chapters 1-39 are about loss. In these chapters, we learn that God will judge the city and its wayward economy and military policies, which are rooted in unfaith. In thinking on this theme, we come to realize that all our favorite arrangements of the world stand under divine judgment.
2. Chapters 40-66 embody hope, particularly that the deportation of the 6th century BC will soon end and the speedy recovery of the city will be glorious. We are focused on the good fortune God will yet give us.

The twofold message of judgment and hope, of exile and homecoming, is perhaps “easily” transposed for us in Christian reading into the crucifixion of Jesus and the resurrection of Jesus. So then the narrative of Jesus reiterates and replicates the narrative of Jerusalem. Looking at our own Christian faith and worship, we focus in turn on loss (of a Friday kind) and the capacity of God to work a newness (of an Easter kind). We ourselves can move from the book of Isaiah to the main claims of our faith.

Speaking of loss, I at times found myself utterly at a loss to comprehend, make sense and unpack the events that were unfolding around Chief Theresa Spence.

For instance, on New Year’s Eve, Prime Minister Stephen Harper issued what I understand is a yearly, end of the year statement, which to me, seemed comparable to the yearly State of the Union address, issued by the President of the US in either late January or early February. In it, the Prime Minister wrote, “We also continued to strengthen our relationship with First Nations[.]”


By this point, Chief Spence had been patiently waiting for the Prime Minister’s visit in her Teepee, situated on Victoria Island, Traditional Territory of the Algonquian Peoples, otherwise known to us as Ottawa, Canada’s capital city, maintaining her sacred fast for 21 days. Idle No More had packed malls and blocked intersections throughout Canada with round dances and flash mobs, and the tiny Aamjiwnaang First Nation was nearing the two-week mark of its blockade of the CN rail line near Sarnia, which was erected in solidarity with Chief Spence.

And still, even at this juncture, many people were scratching their heads, asking, “Where did this come from?” Omnibus Bills C-45 and C-38 were simply, unfortunately, a mere matching of letters and numbers, prior to the New Year’s Eve release. Unfortunate: because both bills have significant impact on First Nation communities. Unfortunate: because both bills were passed without the requisite duty to consult First Nations. For instance when Bill C-45 was brought to the House of Commons for a vote in early December, members of the New Democratic Party invited a delegation of First Nation representatives into the chamber to be heard, only then for the delegation to be refused entry upon arrival by the majority party.


Unfortunate: because Bill C-38 numbers more than 400 pages and amends dozens of pieces of legislation from environmental regulations to employment oversight. Unfortunate: because Bill C-45 leaves 99.7% of Canada’s lakes and more than 99.9% of Canada’s rivers from federal oversight, making Canada’s pristine waterways prime for the unfettered use by private resource companies. Unfortunate: because both bills actually have a significant impact on all Canadians, not just Indigenous Peoples.

And rather than probe the ramifications of both omnibus bills, rather than trace the bills and see their causal connection to the overall daily struggle that Indigenous Peoples face: and that is living in third world conditions while in their backyards, mega development projects extract resources from their lands while their children have the highest rates of infant mortality, diabetes, malnutrition, alcoholism, drug dependency, abuse and incarceration than other children in Canada and rather than lift up Chief Spence’s sacrifice and actions, the majority of main stream media, social commentators, other public officials, and society, consistently berated, insulted and ridiculed her.


Each jab only fueled the many longstanding myths that so many Canadians have towards Indigenous Peoples. For instance, Sun News Network held a contest on their Facebook page, asking people to use one word to describe her, with the lure of a prize for the best answer. Some of the words submitted included: fat, oink, garbage, chief two-chins and hippo. Others couldn’t just stick to one word. One wrote: “Stop sucking Lysol.”

Thus far, the accompanying Idle No More rallies, protests and flash mobs have remained peaceful but tensions continue to rise. At a New Year’s round dance, a pamphlet with the image of a middle finger and the word “Indian” was circulated, and at another recent gathering, a pick-up truck drove through a round dance that had formed in an intersection, pushing one person aside (no one was hurt).


Returning to Chief Spence, the slander continued far beyond mocking her body image to discredit her. Main stream media ridiculed the choice of fish broth as “the cheat.” Upon learning she was drinking tea and fish broth, the story changed from -hunger strike-, to -liquid diet-, as if 10, 20, 30, 40 days without solid food is easy. Again, had the media and commentators taken one additional step,- just one- they would have discovered that fish broth carried deep cultural meaning for Anishinaabeg people. It symbolizes hardship and sacrifice and means of survival. Their ancestors survived many winters on fish broth because there was simply nothing else to eat; not because the environment was harsh, but because of consistent land loss and colonial policy that were so fierce, Anishinaabeg were forced into an imposed poverty that many times left fish broth as the only sustenance. And with that, colonialism has kept Indigenous Peoples on a fish broth “diet” for generations upon generations.

This connection to the legacy of colonialism was utterly lost on mainstream Canada, and most likely, Prime Minister Stephen Harper, who remarked in 2009 at the G20 in Pittsburgh that Canada “has no history of colonialism.”


…. Loss… loss of decency, respect, loss of spiritual connectedness…to each other… to the land.

The drama around Chief Spence primarily unfolded in Ottawa… the urban center for Canada, the place with political practices and indeed, temptations to military adventurism. While I previously emphasized that to read and reflect on Isaiah, we need to think deeply about the significance of the city of Jerusalem, this does not automatically translate that Ottawa is our present day Jerusalem. No. And, consistent with that, while it may be “easy” to transpose the concrete reality of Jerusalem in Isaiah into a claim for Jesus of Nazareth, care must be taken never to forfeit the concrete historical reality of the city of Jerusalem.

However, the cipher “Jerusalem” functions for us as a metaphor for any centered symbol system- political, economic, psychological or even ecclesiastical. And with that, Isaiah shows us that God is powerfully and decisively- though perhaps hiddenly- engaged everywhere in the reality of the world.


Recall the general division of Isaiah: Chapters 1-39 are of loss and Chapters 40-66 are of hope. But today’s reading is from Chapter 32. That’s because we easily find ourselves in the middle of the poems of loss and hope. We too are engaged in the reality of the world. Thus, we are to be the carriers of God’s transformative will in this world. Isaiah focuses upon the sovereign capacity of God to make all things new. That future, however, is not simply a divine gift, but is a human task, given to people like us.

And to break this down further, we should actually look to portions of verses 14 and 15: “For the palace will be forsaken… until a spirit from on high is poured out on us…” And this is the spiritual power of truth, purity and righteousness. In Isaiah, in terms of renewal, for a real renewal to occur, those who are led to salvation must receive a share in God’s spirit. People’s relationship with God is no longer left to our own efforts, but given by the spirit. And that then becomes the central miracle of the new age, a new reality out of the chaos of the present.


Because this new life, or new age, is a life in God’s presence, the power of the divine nature, or the spirit, will exert an influence. It will penetrate the heart as rain penetrates the earth. But if the heart is hardened, the spirit grieves, causing it to withdraw, with the result that the flow of divine life is cut off. Hand in hand with the penetration of hearts is the spirit’s guidance in just about every aspect of life: political activity, art, craftsmanship, all of our relationships are subsumed under the operation of the spirit because the aim is to actualize the will of God in all the forms of human existence.

To carry out God’s transformative will in this world, God demands that justice be done. Without justice, nothing can be accomplished. No enduring peace, security, or reconciliation is fathomable without the basic foundation of justice.


“Then justice will dwell in the wilderness, and righteousness abide in the fruitful field. The effect of righteousness will be peace, and the result of righteousness quietness and trust forever.”

And for righteousness to result in quietness? I invite you to close your eyes. [space of 30 seconds] Silence can be frightening because it strips us as nothing else does, throwing us upon the stark realities of our life. Ask yourself, when’s the last time you sat in utter silence? [long pause] What did you learn about yourself by turning off all the background noise, music or words of every-day life? [long pause] What did you hear as the clatter of your noisy heart dissipated? [long pause] Picture the complete quietness of your soul. [long pause] Feel the peace settling over you. Feel the warmth. But listen [pause]: listen to the sound of sheer silence. Just as Elijah discovered at Horeb, the silence can provide the needed guidance and instruction.

Ok; you can open your eyes now.


 There is no question that this country, and the United States for that matter, needs to move forward in the spirit of reconciliation, with respect to its relations with the First Peoples of Turtle Island. If we choose to look at the world through the media lens, it’s been light years since Chief Theresa Spence decided to end her courageous sacred fast.

But Marie Wilson, one of the three commissioners of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, recently commented that Chief Spence did make a difference in that she “woke sectors of Canada up to the fact that there is a problem.” Commissioner Wilson did acknowledge that many of those ‘sectors’ are “no-where” close to having a deep understanding of what the problem is but she feels that Chief Spence’s sacred fast helped create momentum that will hopefully get the right people in the same room so at least there can be a dialogue. She said, “if we continue to live as strangers to each other in our country, how can we possibly hope to achieve any kind of basis for ongoing long term reconciliation.”


Let’s give credit to where credit is due; I came across a non-Christian, non-indigenous blog post that made its rounds on Twitter and Facebook and I quote from it now: “Through her fast, [Chief] Spence spoke to us in the language off the body and the *spirit* that animates it. It’s a far more feminine style of language than our own non-native tongue, so no wonder she’s been dismissed and derided and the power of her actions has been missed by many.

That’s still the common fate of our feminine side in this culture, but things are changing, and we see the signs everywhere. She is an emblem of an amazing shift happening all around us. What the history books will say, if things work out as they should, is that Spence stands among the most courageous and creative political leaders to have graced this country’s main-stage. She will be praised for her uncanny timing, bold strategic initiative and ability and willingness to serve as a bridge to ways of thinking and seeing that are still very unfamiliar to the mainstream. Whether we notice or not, our perceptions are going to shift as we step into a new time through a new relationship with our First Nations sisters and brothers.”


And to continue, this time from an indigenous blog post, written on Day #32:

“Not Chief Spence, but Ogichidaakwe Spence – a holy woman, a woman that would do anything for her family and community, the one that goes over and makes things happen, a warrior, a leader because Ogichidaakwe Spence isn’t just on a hunger strike. She is fasting and this also has cultural meaning for Anishinaabeg. She is in ceremony. We do not “dial back” our ceremonies. We do not undertake this kind of ceremony without much forethought and preparation. We do not ask or demand that people stop the fast before they have accomplished whatever it is they set out to accomplish, which in her case is substantial change in the relationship between the Canadian state and Indigenous nations. We do not critique the faster. We do not band wagon or verbally attack the faster. We do not criticize because we feel she’s become the (unwilling) leader of the movement. We do not assume that she is being ill advised. We do not tell her to “save face.”
We support. We pray. We offer semaa. We take care of the sacred fire. We sing each night at dusk. We take care of all the other things that need to be taken care of, and we live up to our responsibilities in light of the faster. We protect the faster. We do these things because we know that through her physical sacrifice she is closer to the Spiritual world than we are. We do these things because she is sacrificing for us and because it is the kind, compassionate thing to do. We do these things because it is our job to respect her self-determination as an Anishinaabekwe.”


“Holy woman.” “Emblem of an amazing shift happening all around us.” “A new time.”

Have we seen a glimpse of the new age to come, as envisioned by the spirit laden Isaiah, so many years ago?

We have definitely been blessed with her leadership, insight and her grace.

But we need to acknowledge that the struggle continues. Canada’s waters remain unprotected. Treaties continue to be eroded. Parliamentary process continues to be side-stepped. Chief Spence helped shape the path. Let’s look to Idle No More and pray for the spirit to shower us with guidance and instruction, as we remain committed to the walk in unity upon this path of justice, reconciliation and toward right relationship.

Aye, to know when we have reached that pivotal moment, when the substantial change between the Canadian state and Indigenous nations has occurred. Well.. you know what they say: ……the silence is deafening.

…. Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable to you, O Lord, my rock and my redeemer (Psalm 19:14). Amen.