Skip to content

Shared Room

Near the conclusion of his remarks about the final recommendations of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission yesterday, Assembly of First Nations Chief Perry Bellegarde offered the following challenge to non-indigenous people: Make room.

Make room in minds and hearts for new ways of understanding and relating to indigenous people. Make room for conceptions that go beyond “drunk” or “lazy” or “entitled” or “pagan” or any of the countless other stereotypes about indigenous people that not only still exist in the broader culture, but flourish.

This is surely true. This is surely the beginning—the bare minimum!—of anything resembling true reconciliation. There have to be decisions made by ordinary non-indigenous people to refuse to resort to cheap and easy answers like, “that’s just how Indians are”—answers that are, of course, not answers at all but a refusal to think or to consider that the real world and real human beings and cultures are just a bit more complex than that.

But for me, “making room” is a less abstract, much more personal thing. As I’ve written about here before, my “making room” has been quite literal by virtue of the makeup of our family. My wife and I are the parents of Ojibway/Metis twins. This is something that I quite literally could never have imagined growing up in an area where racism and anti-indigenous sentiment was and remains rampant. But life has a funny way of surprising you, I’ve learned. Something (or, more particularly, two very special someones) I could never have imagined, that was not even on the remotest reaches of my radar as a younger person, has more than anything else squeezed its way into my life, my thinking, my mind, and, most importantly, my heart. This, more than anything else, has made room where previously none existed.

I’ve been asked a number of times this week how it feels for me, a father of indigenous kids, to be at an event like this, where I and those in analogous situations, are sometimes described as part of the problem. Where I am one of those “white people” that is responsible for depriving indigenous kids of their language, culture, and spirituality, and for foisting upon them foreign versions of the above.

The truth is, it’s not always easy. Every time I see a picture taken in a residential school, every time I see a collection of beautiful brown faces in those pictures, every time I hear about children wrenched away from families and communities and the familiar identity-forming traditions and institutions that so many of us take for granted, I see my own beautiful brown kids. And I am not naïve. I know that there is a link between Canada’s history and the present-day realities that lead to indigenous kids being put up for adoption and entering child protective services at a wildly disproportionate rate to the rest of the population. And I know that I am “assimilating” our kids into non-indigenous ways of being in the world. So this making room, it comes with a cost. It’s a tricky thing to do well, whether in big ways or small ways, abstract ways or intensely personal ones.

But maybe it’s not as tricky as I am making it out to be. One thing I have learned over the years is that best way to “make room” for people, whatever their ethnicity, whatever their religion, whatever their politics, whatever their worldview, whatever their relationship to you—is to quite simply follow the teaching and example of Christ: To love as you would like to be loved.

Among other things, this would seem to involve:

  • Deciding that the person across from you is a creature of wonder, and that they stand before you “the way they are” because of a complex set of causes and a unique story that is more precious than all of the generalizations that we so easily resort to.
  • Respecting and honouring the “other” not as a means to an end, not as a part of some broader agenda, but simply because they are a fellow creation of God.
  • Asking questions, exhibiting curiosity, demonstrating an interest in what the world looks like through another’s set of eyes and experiences.
  • Being open to having your own views expanded and nuanced.
  • Deciding not to make assumptions about why others think the way that they do that you would not appreciate being applied to you and to your views.
  • Being resolutely determined to never making sweeping generalizations about a group of people that you feel would be unfair if applied to the group (or groups) of people that you happen to belong to.

Each of these things would represent a good start toward “making room.” Each of these, if adopted broadly, would represent wonderful first steps toward improving relationships between indigenous and non-indigenous people in Canada. Each of these would be building blocks toward reconciliation. Each represents a small part of how room is made.

When we do this, I think we gradually discover that the big picture isn’t necessarily about learning how to bring together indigenous and non-indigenous people, but about simply learning to be good human beings who are kind and open toward each other. This is the best of what I have experienced from so many people I have talked to at gatherings like the TRC. The most rewarding and life-giving conversations I have had have never been a white guy talking to a native guy or a Christian man talking to an indigenous woman, but about two human beings making room for each other. This has been a true gift whenever I have experienced it.

And this is what I am most grateful for when it comes to my own family, too. So often, when our kids were younger, people would tell us, “Oh, they’re so lucky to have you two as parents.” And my wife and I would always bristle at this because we never looked at our kids as objects of charity or as some kind of exercise in cross-cultural relationships, but as two, precious human treasures that were to be received as a gift from God. We made room for them once upon a time, yes, but the story ever since has been at least as much about them making room for us, and about the love that can grow in room that is shared.

10 Comments Post a comment
  1. Paul Johnston #

    And how does one “make room”? Can any ethos that is aware of Christ yet purposefully opposed to Christ, be from Him? What does scripture say?

    We must always have a heart that leads us to pray. When we see suffering, pray. If in our prayer we hear a call to action, act. If in our actions we receive accolades, be thankful but keep them in perspective. Accolades are not the way of the cross.

    Beware those who speak of goodness, yet won’t speak of Christ. Is goodness their position or has the appearance of goodness gained them position. Look again at a cruciformed Jesus on the cross, what was His worldly reward for His goodness? What did Isaiah say centuries earlier about how it would go for him who bore our inequities? When we bear inequities when we suffer with and for the suffering, how should we expect it to go for us? What would be the likely sign that you were truly following the ways of Jesus?

    The devil comes in many seductive ways. None more seductive then when he comes masquerading as goodness, for goodness’ sake. Pray and discern.

    “Commit your work to the Lord and your plans will be established” Proverbs 16:3 NRSV

    June 4, 2015
    • How does one make room? Well, I offered a few thoughts above in the bulleted list above…

      In addition, I would say that among the many important things that Scripture teaches about these matters is that those who love are from God (1 John 4:7-8). And, correspondingly, that those who do not love are not from God, no matter how eager they are to “speak of Christ.”

      June 7, 2015
  2. Paul Johnston #

    And what is love, Ryan?

    Can love make space for, turning over tables in the Temple? Referencing some as “broods of vipers”? Prioritizing spiritual relationships over familial ones….”Who are my brothers”…Relationships that will pit parent against child and child against parent? Despair? Gnashing of teeth? Unquenchable fire?

    The Father sacrificed His only Son, for love’s sake. Can love crucify?

    How does the, “Passion of our Lord” from Gethsemane (sweating as if blood; mental anguish beyond comprehension), through scourging and crowning of thorns (inhumane torture) and the horrific desolation, pain and abandonment that was the Cross, square with contemporary ideas of love?

    St. John says elsewhere in the passage you quote…””the whole world lies under the power of the evil one…and every Spirit that does not confess Jesus, is not from God. And this is the spirit of the antichrist”….

    I cannot read the epilogue of St. Johns letter and conclude anything other then the fact that mortal sin is eternal death. How should one respond to those purposefully choosing and influencing others to choose, eternal death?

    Revenge is not justice. Hate is not love. You do well to remind me

    Mortal sin is mortal sin my brother and I do well to remind you.

    Love is patient, love is kind, love does endure. Love abounds in mercy and compassion but to suggest love does not also rebuke and discipline, is to my mind, to suggest a love that does not come from Jesus.

    Don’t the Gospels admonish us not to, “cast our pearls before swine?” Didn’t Jesus Himself choose silence as His response to those whose hearts and minds were already made up?

    There is more going on with love then just feelings of fraternity and social justice. A lot more.

    Affirmation, even tolerance of mortal sin; mine, yours, theirs; is hate disguised as love. The antichrist as Christ.

    I honestly believe Jesus has great plans for you. I honestly believe you are a mighty voice. I urge you, in what I believe to be His name, to come to terms with your understandings of sin and it’s pervasiveness in the world.

    Lastly, for love’s sake, be careful with your wording, Ryan. I give your concluding statement the benefit of the doubt but it could be interpreted as a curse of my person. Never curse, brother. The devil waits on these opportunities.

    June 8, 2015
    • And what is love, Ryan?

      “Love is patient, love is kind…” 1 Corinthians 13 is a good place to start, from my perspective.

      Is there a severe side to love? Yes. Without question. Must sin be named? Yes. Without question. I have never denied this, even if I have expressed reservations about our human eagerness to mete this out. I am far more comfortable with divine judgment and vengeance than with human versions. God can be trusted with such things. We, clearly, cannot. At least not reliably. Human history would seem to furnish ample evidence of this.

      (I have to confess, though, that I’m having a hard time figuring out how we got from the content of my post to themes of “mortal sin” and “the antichrist.” I’m searching in vain for where I might have advocated such things.)

      Re: your last paragraph, I confess that I simply don’t understand your response. A curse of your person?! No. Never. I’m quite frankly stunned that you would suggest such a thing.

      In the statement that you seem to be referring to I was simply reflecting on what I see to be a persistent historical reality. The church has often been zealous to speak, to convert, to dominate, to conquer, to judge, to be truth warriors for Jesus. But has the love of God been in this? Or the love of ourselves and our rightness?

      June 8, 2015
  3. Paul Johnston #

    Thanks for the response, Ryan. Much appreciated. There is much we can agree on. It appears my concerns regarding your understanding of the fullness of love are unwarranted, I’m happy for that. Sometimes it is good to be wrong. 🙂

    I don’t deny either your dual claims regarding justice, that (a) human applications are not God’s applications and that sadly the church has at times seemed to be motivated by love of,…”.ourselves and our rightness”.

    That being said, we are the church and if we are truly listening to the promptings of the Spirit don’t you think we are capable of bringing God’s justice to bear?

    I don’t think the Lord intends, what we would describe as suffering, to have the final word. Healing and justice is available to us all. It has been since the Pentecost.

    I remain convicted that sufficient grace abounds in each and every day, through each and every circumstance, that what we perceive as suffering, particularly the form that overwhelms and distorts us, is also another opportunity for us to mediate God’s saving grace. When the suffering is too close to my heart, too much for me to bare. I need you and others like you. When it is that way for you, you need me and others like. But always and only if we come in the name of the one who sends us.

    With regard to these last to posts of yours, be careful not to look for solutions from institutions that purposefully do not claim Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior. Would the Jesus you know from scripture work through agencies that purposefully reject Him? He came for sinners but what about sinners who remain steadfastly unrepentant? What is your best understanding of what God’s justice might look like for them? If in love and zeal we do not speak, we do not make right, loving, Spirit informed efforts to convert, what may happen to them? What may happen to us if we don’t make the effort?

    When Satan infiltrates our desires, then yes, conversion takes on the cloak of power, dominance, judgment, vengeance… but surely we must have enough faith that, informed by the Holy Spirit, conversion, as God intends it, is our most holy commission.

    Be careful also to wish to encounter another solely in your mutual humanity. This form of “making space” without the armor of Christ, leaves you both defenseless against the antichrist. Humanism is a trap. You must always come as a man of Christ.

    Lastly, I did not mean to shock or offend you with my comment regarding cursing. I was concerned that your use of quotations around the phrase, “speak of Christ” might be directed at me given that many of my responses to you over the past several threads have at times made that audacious claim.

    I appreciate your clarification but would also like to remind that while it is true many have spoken falsely in the name of the Lord, I believe so many more have spoken the truth.

    God answers prayers and it is my experience that discernment is an available grace to all who truly seek it.

    June 8, 2015
    • That being said, we are the church and if we are truly listening to the promptings of the Spirit don’t you think we are capable of bringing God’s justice to bear?

      Capable? Yes, certainly. Guaranteed. Certainly not. Again, see world/church history. Many people have followed what they were convinced were the “promptings of the Spirit” into all kinds of evil. I spend last week hearing more storied from the residential schools of Canada. This is just one of many examples in the whole religion/empire colonial history.

      With regard to these last to posts of yours, be careful not to look for solutions from institutions that purposefully do not claim Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior. Would the Jesus you know from scripture work through agencies that purposefully reject Him? He came for sinners but what about sinners who remain steadfastly unrepentant? What is your best understanding of what God’s justice might look like for them? If in love and zeal we do not speak, we do not make right, loving, Spirit informed efforts to convert, what may happen to them? What may happen to us if we don’t make the effort?

      I didn’t say anything about solutions from institutions. The post was simply a reflection upon the posture I think we ought to adopt toward one other. Having said that, “Would the Jesus I know work through agencies that reject him?” Well, yeah, I think he might. He certainly could. He’s been working in and through people and institutions that reject him (i.e., human beings) for quite a while now. The church is sometimes at the top of this list.

      What is my understanding of sinners who remain steadfastly unrepentant? They will get precisely what they want. A present and a future without God. This is why we seek to proclaim the truth of Christ, in word and deed, but always with gentleness and respect (1 Peter 3:15-16).

      Be careful also to wish to encounter another solely in your mutual humanity. This form of “making space” without the armor of Christ, leaves you both defenseless against the antichrist. Humanism is a trap. You must always come as a man of Christ.

      I always come as a man of Christ. I can do no other.

      June 9, 2015
      • Paul Johnston #

        We are two sides of a good coin, I think. 🙂 Your promptings of reasonableness, gentleness and compassion are surely true. Mine towards vigilance in prayer, discernment of Spirit, and courage of conviction also resonate, to me, of truth.

        By way of a Catholic analogy you are the Assisi, I am more of a St. Michael the Archangel sort of guy…ok I sell you short….you’ve also got the mind and pen of a great Christian pastor and theologian…. Father Henri Nouwen comes to mind… 🙂

        So what is left for me to say here?

        Christ deferred to Pilate but only gave fleeting engagement. Cleary to my mind, this is the right posture to have with governments that do not affirm Jesus as Lord and Savior.

        Our energies must not be misspent on false understandings of truth and reconciliation. Rather we must renew our efforts within the church, strengthening faith so that we the people of God live as a truer example of the love of Christ.

        The world does not need more political process. It needs real Christians.

        To those who would honestly wish to make space, Christ is the only answer.

        To those who would wish to claim their rightful space, Christ is their only reconciliation.

        June 9, 2015
  4. Paul Johnston #

    Forgive me, I will not be able to respond further today… I suspect you may find no small amount of joy in that lol… I have chores to do.

    Today is a day off for me and my family needs me to do some laundry and prepare a nice supper. Godliness is very often learned in humble tasks. 🙂

    June 8, 2015
    • mike #

      Before enlightenment: Chop wood Carry water. After enlightenment: Chop wood Carry water 🙂

      June 8, 2015
  5. Paul Johnston #

    I laughed so hard…So true, Mike. Thanks for a great morning smile 🙂

    June 9, 2015

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: