#time4reconciliation

The above title is one of the many hash tags being used on Twitter to promote and report on the final Truth and Reconciliation Commission event, which I am attending. The TRC works with the mandate to bear witness to the stories told by survivors of the residential schools in Canada. In sum, residential schools were established by churches under contract with the government, which had the expressed purpose of assimilating the aboriginal peoples of Canada. The TRC recorded countless instances of abuse – sexual, physical, emotional and spiritual – perpetuated on children taken by force from their parents and “raised” by an institution. A conservative estimate of the number of children (not to mention their families) affected by this atrocity is 150, 000. As can be imagined, the blunt effect of this ripples across society in generations of indigenous peoples, and will do so for some time to come. This afternoon I had occasion to participate in a march that was meant to honour the survivors of this tragic history, to mourn its victims, and to pray that reconciliation might come from the courageous truth telling that has happened over the course of the TRC.

I spoke with a few survivors during the walk. Their experiences were varied, but one gentleman, who has done some work with the process commented that all of the victims share at the very least the traumatic experience of being taken from home. Even those who had positive experiences (not common by all accounts, but not altogether absent), still faced the hardship of such a rupture and then going through trying and difficult experiences without the love of family and the support of cultural and spiritual practices that had sustained their families for generations.

I heard a survivor speak yesterday about his horrific experience. His courage in sharing a memory that must pain him in its recollection was remarkable. More remarkable still was his lack of malice directed at the church, whose symbols have now become cyphers for sexual abuse. Moreover, he even spoke of hope as he thought upon the indigenous children now reaching adulthood – children who have not grown up in residential schools, and so know the kind of love that a parent gives. This generation, he noted, are learning their ancestral languages, soaking up their culture, and practicing their ceremonies. If they are doing so well, he said, imagine how their children will shine!

I tasted something of his optimism at a Kairos conference happening alongside of the TRC, in which some young indigenous adults made presentations. I experience them as people whose minds are on fire, and whose hearts are both tender and fierce. Their presentations demonstrate that justice is dripping from their fingers and the words from their lips are seeping with respectful righteousness. They can sniff out pretension, privilege and entitlement, and have eagle eyes that spot inequality while on the fly. Some might call them idealists; I call them prophets. These will lead us into reconciliation and teach us the path of peace, if we care to listen

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Eternal Springs Hope

Last Wednesday evening my GC 101 (Christianity and Global Citizenship) class went to hear two speakers dialogue on the topic of Truth and Reconciliation after TRC.  The TRC is a commission established by the government of Canada to address the horrid legacy of Indian Residential School system and began shortly after the formal apology by the Canadian government in 2008.  The commission’s mandate was extended but will soon be complete.  Many of us are asking “What next?”  The dialogue was a propos to the topic of the class that day: Where do we find hope?

I had helped organize the dialogue, and so had some hosting responsibilities after the dialogue proper.  Consequently I had one of my colleagues take over my class until the point came when I would be able to get back.  It took twenty minutes or so and she had, in the interim, written the word “Hope” on the blackboard, and then invited students to come to the board and write words to respond to the theme of hope.  You can see the results:

IMG_20141119_210256IMG_20141119_210240

When I came into the class she told me it was now up to me to make some poetry with these words, so here it goes:

How can we sing hope?

Where will we find strength to suffice?

Whence reassurance and solace for our spirit?


How can faith forge a future?

Is it possible apart from forgiveness and its revelation of revolution:

a refusal to render eye for eye?  A freedom to

love the neighbor no matter what,

no matter where?


How can we love?

Love’s continuities, love’s capabilities, love reliabilities

escape me.  I fail to love even me.  I am undone

and so only won by the One whose

promise, whose

plan place me

in the divine palm.


And there, there in the nail scars

God’s trust in me thrusts even me

into love divine,

into faith fleet of foot

into holy hope.

From Author to Editor to Auditor

Patick Modiano, the 2014 Nobel prize winner for literature, expressed interest in learning what it was about his work that earned him this honour. He was quoted saying that “one cannot really be one’s own reader.” This aphorism, which seems at blush to be but a throw away line is anything but. It is an observation made by a writer who has honed his craft for many years. The line set my mind to thinking about reading my own writing.

Do I read my work? I certainly edit my work. Anyone who writes any amount knows that getting words on paper is but the tip of the iceberg that is writing. Below the written tip is an ice mountain of work: wrestling the right word into place; switching paragraphs hither and yon beyond the patience of the harshest editor of all – the self. But is editing a work reading it? Once again, yes and no seems to go as a best first stab at answering the question: yes our eyes scan the words and detect errors and distractions, but no too; no in the sense that I do not experience the same kind of dislocation I feel in reading other authors. And so while it seems that I can have the experience of entering my text as a reader, I do not have the experience of the text entering me – at least not in the same way that I experience that when reading the writing of others. When I read the work of others I have this gratifying sense of utter alienness; of being at sea as I ask what the author has in mind. When I write, by contrast, I struggle to get what is in me out, and onto the page. When I read my own work, this is what I read.

So it seems that I cannot really read my work, but it also needs to be said that I cannot but read my work: ignoring what I have put to paper seems impossible. Something of the self remains resident in my writing and so not attending to it is rather like ignoring a mirror: not impossible, but surely difficult. And as is the case with many difficult bits in life, asking why it is that I am drawn or repelled by this or that is surely a salutary experience. What is it about the mirror that arrests me? When I revisit what I have written I do not encounter someone vastly different (as can happen in reading your work) , but I do experience a sense of the self at a distance. Perhaps this is because writing, at least for me, is not so much an experience of saying what I think about this or that, but an experience of saying whom I am. This self, however, really comes to be known to me in my writing. What I had intuited becomes concretized in my text. And because it is hard to encounter the self on account of my proximity to my writing, I need others – I need others, other readers and editors. As I hear what you encounter in my texts, I am given a fresh chance to hear myself anew, to become my own “auditor” in the sense that the word auditor comes from the Latin word for “to hear”(and so someone who “audits” a course listens in on it). My readers make me an auditor, an observer of my own work because my readers hear me out and in their hearing I begin to see and hear what I have written anew.

In the end, while it might be the case I cannot really read my work, it surely is the case that I can “hear” it by grace of your reading. You become for me ears to hear and eyes to see my work anew and for that, I say thanks.

Far from Truth

Far from truth, this lie

sneaks along in the night:

sun blind-sided,

moon on the wane,

stars amiss,

darkness reigns.

Yet this cannot hold; its promised

security, its pretense of

surety collapse, this

feigned “everything covered”

crashes in on itself.  And

from the chaos curiosity is

recovered, uncovered, discovered.

Darkness lightens as this burden

of certainty stretches to breaking – my

bonds, my fetters, my chains

snap and You burst upon me – You

Firefly, Flaming Sky, Lightning’s Cry and

I, I glow yet

again.