Hidden & Hard Work: Stories of Peacemaking in BC's Lower Mainland

Edited by Matt Balcarras & Katie Gorrie

From one of the reviews:

This is a collection of stories that takes an honest, long-loving look at real people, doing the real work of peacemaking. These stories need to be read, then shared, and read again – not for telling us what to do, but for what they tell us about our common human yearning for love and home. Let them inspire, confront, and help you to re-imagine what peace can look like in our communities. May more stories be added to these blessed ones.  

      Diana Gee, Associate Pastor

      Faith Community Christian Church

Book Review of Watershed Discipleship  

Ched Myers, ed., Watershed Discipleship: Reinhabiting bioregional faith and practice, Cascade Books, Eugene Oregon, October, 2016, 223 pages. ISBN 978-1-4982-8076-1, cost n/a.

The Huu-ay-aht First Nation live on the west coast of Vancouver island, 90 kilometres down a rough gravel road from Port Alberni, British Columbia. The community operates a campground directly on the Pacific ocean at the mouth of the Pachena river. I read Watershed Discipleship while a guest of the Huu-ay-aht for four nights this past August, along with my family, on this land that has been the Huu-ay-hat home for thousands of years. Being in a place like this, surrounded by a mature temperate rain forest and a deep soft sandy beach, the ancient home of people who lived here in balance with the land for countless generations, it is easy to think about the terms and conditions of human life. The relationship I have with the planet — its biological possibilities, its physical constraints — is made plain here. This place is rich and vast but my footprint is more visible, my waste more obscene.

There is nothing here among the Huu-ay-aht that makes the patterns of destructive consumption in western civilization seem natural or reasonable. Being here, I see again the immensity and fecundity of the planet and I am both encouraged and overwhelmed. But my memory is good, and I can still remember the place where I have come from, the suburban town where I live, and I recall with crystal clarity how life there feels nothing like this damp and foggy forest springing up out of the sand on the edge of the world. Where I live it is entirely reasonable to never consider the non-negotiable biological limits of the planet. It is entirely reasonable (to most people) to live there and not know anything about where you live.

Are we, the inhabitants of this planet, in a watershed moment? Or has the moment passed? Have we passed the point of no return, consuming our way past what is sustainable? Ched Myers describes the “resisting and renewing” movement of Watershed Discipleship has having three convictions: 1) that we are in a watershed moment of crisis that demands everything we do as Christians be both environmentally and socially just, 2) that the locus of our lives as followers of Jesus always takes place (whether we realize it or not) in the context of a specific watershed, and 3) that we must be disciples of our watersheds (2). For the sake of choosing optimism I will choose to believe that we are still in a watershed moment and that there is a future of rich natural abundance still available to us on this planet, even though it does not always feel that way.

The contributors to Watershed Discipleship are also optimistic, or at least they inspire optimism in me. I am always inspired by people who do hidden and hard work that runs against the grain of mainstream capitalist culture, such as the people in this book. If I did not hear these stories I don’t think I would know that an alternative way of living was possible. Reading Katrina Friesen or Reyna Ortega or Matthew Humphrey, I believe that it just might be possible for me to live differently too.

What do you do if the truth is not encouraging? Do we ignore it? Or does it just (hopefully) mean that this isn’t the whole truth. I would be remiss if I didn’t specifically mention Sasha Adkins’ Plastics as a Spiritual Crisis. I did not find her chapter encouraging, but it is certainly the truth. The truth is that we have chosen to live lives that poison our planet. Plastics, to briefly summarize Adkins’ work, are not amenable to life on this planet. They have no place in the natural order and their poisonous presence grows with every year. To be honest, reading Adkins is like reading depressing truths from other domains of human life. The extractive and isolationist mechanisms of global capitalism are also not amenable to life on this planet and like plastics it is hard to imagine what a new world would look like without them. But that’s what we need.

When I read this book I felt like I had found something that satisfied a need I hadn’t yet been able to articulate. I have read Wendell Berry. I have felt a hunger to know my place, to have a place that I am committed to. I have thought a lot about how being a follower of Jesus means living as part of creation, enjoying abundance and appreciating boundaries. But I had not yet considered that I should “recenter [my] citizen identity in the topography of creation rather than in the political geography of dominant cultural ideation (15).” Having read this book I am convinced, not only that to live a life of justice and peace means that I must live a life that is in right relation with the land, but also that I must learn the legacy of Indigenous communities (18) that have so much to teach those of us that would hope for a future for our children when this watershed moment has passed.

Book review of Yours, Mine, Ours

Yours, Mine, Ours: Unravelling the Doctrine of Discovery

Cheryl Woelk, Steve Heinrichs, eds.

Mennonite Church Canada

I do not especially enjoy thinking about the systemic causes of my behaviour. It is not pleasant to dwell on how I live in systems that directly influence my behaviour. This influence is not usually obvious and often not very good. 

Of course, the hidden forces that direct our lives are not all bad, and our ecclesial traditions offer many examples of systemic influences that produce good fruit. I am grateful to identify as a Mennonite and I try to draw as much as I can from the rich history of peacemaking found in the lives of so many Mennonite disciples of Jesus, which is why I am trying to be part of a local Mennonite Brethren church. 

I chose, and continue to choose, this identity in the hope of being formed by this particular body. But the question I am now faced with (and this is the question faced by Christians of all stripes) is what do I do about the parts of this tradition that are not especially Christ-like?

Perhaps the most significant – and certainly the most painful – lesson of my adult life as a Christ-follower in Canada has been learning about the shameful and ongoing history of relations between so many churches and Christians and the Indigenous peoples of this land. What makes this lesson especially painful is that, like chattel slavery to the south, our abuse of Indigenous peoples and our abuse of the land is not a freak aberration, a theologic-genetic mutation for which we have no etiology. 

Our sinful relations with Indigenous people is the product of implicit and explicit beliefs that are woven into many of our central theological concepts and dogmas. Some of the explicit beliefs have a name like the Doctrine of Discovery or terra nullis (the land belongs to no one, and therefore free to be taken). Because I believe in the fact that it is not always possible to see the link between things like theology and everyday behaviour, I feel especially compelled to ask, what should we do about this? How do I do more than just the easy, but likely impotent, disavowal of beliefs like the doctrine of discovery?

Yours, mine, ours: unravelling the doctrine of discovery, edited by Cheryl Woelk and Steve Heinrichs is a creative response to Canada’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission and their calls to action, specifically #49, which calls “all religious denominations and faith groups…to repudiate concepts used to justify European sovereignty over Indigenous lands and peoples…” 

Do you want to hear from a wide range of perspectives about the relationship between theological beliefs and our settler history? Are you concerned about how to move forward in healthy reconciliation with the First Peoples of this land? Do you want to want to be inspired by stories about people who are trying unwind the long and poisonous thread of settler theology? This is a book for you. 

This is even a book for those who are unsure that settler theology is a legitimate concern or that Mennonites have any general obligation to respond to the sins of the distant past. This book is not one thing. It is deep and wide, and might just drag you along, a literary riptide that flows against the current of our culture and our past.

I found this book, and its sister volume Wrongs to Rights, to be compelling sources of information, but it is hard to read things that are compelling because to be compelled it to be confronted with the need for change. One example, of many possible ones, from the book should suffice. In “Healing from ‘Lies that make us Crazy’: Practices of Restorative Solidarity”, the authors, Elaine Enns & Ched Myers, explain how the destructive influence of the Doctrine of Discovery is not merely a ‘sin of the past’ but that it continues to shape our destructive relationships with Indigenous peoples, which is a recurring theme in this book. The restorative practices they identify as a response are disciplines that should be familiar and welcome among anabaptists: “Learning the stories of Indigenous victimization” and “Listening to how Indigenous identify harms, needs and responsibilities.” But while these practices will sound familiar to anabaptists they, like the imitation of Christ in general, are much harder to embody than they might first seem. 

What would it mean to “Learn the stories of Indigenous victimization”? It would probably mean giving up the dominant and comfortable story of Canada as a welcoming and diverse country that has bypassed the sins of history. It is hard to give authority to alternative accounts of our nation’s history (especially during celebrations of 150 years of confederation, i.e. colonization), but there will likely be no healthy future for indigenous peoples, and therefore likely no healthy future for us as a country, if we are not able to hear and learn the truth.

The MB Confession of Faith (another somewhat hidden influence on our praxis) calls us to resist “the unjust exploitation of the earth and its peoples.” Perhaps this can be a principle that we allow to influence us as we work to be more Christ-like in the formation of our church tradition in the years to come.

Book Review of Embracing the Other

Grace Ji-Sun Kim, Embracing the Other: The Transformative Spirit of Love, Eerdmans, Grand Rapids, Michigan, 2015, 182 pages, isbn: 978-0-8028-7299-9, cost: not available

I have been carefully reading and mulling over the complex, rich and compelling content of this book for several weeks, and today I have finally started to put together my thoughts on paper. Today is the day after the election. Today is November 9, 2016. Other commentators on this work have already called it prophetic and I must echo their sentiments. Kim, with unrelenting clarity and precision, touches on many of the issues felt more keenly today than perhaps has been felt by many people in the established north american church in recent days. In continuity with the best of the prophetic tradition, Kim draws attention to the sins of the people and calls us to a different way.

It is hard to know what parts of this book will be hardest to read for those readers who come from more comfortable parts of society and the church. This is a hard book. It is a hard book because it is hard to read; it is technical, detailed, and academic, but it is also hard to read because it is unrelenting and determined in its analysis of race and gender based oppression and supporting toxic theologies. Hard stuff indeed. And, as in this case, these are all issues that are hardest to hear about when they are connected to the lived lives of real people. The issues at stake in this book are all personal, as theology always is, but here the personal stake and personal cost is embodied for us by the author. In the first chapter, The Lives of Asian American Immigrant Women, she says, “The advent of Asian immigration was neither easy nor pleasant…”, a fact that is true and demonstrably understated as she spends the remainder of the chapter spelling out just how terrible the asian immigrant experience, her experience, has often been. It is certainly hard to hear, as a Canadian, more evidence that we are not the welcoming people we would like to think we are (32), and it is certainly hard to hear that the church we identify with is not as egalitarian and just as we would hope (104).

The hardness of the book does not end there. It is hard to look at historical injustice with the focus that Kim provides, as she describes the terrible experiences of Korean ‘comfort women’ (29,30) or the systems that produce the experience of Han for many Asian American women: “Han arises when institutions, communities and nations create laws, policies, and institutions that cause subordination and subjugation of groups of people (39).” For Asian American women, and even women more broadly, Han is produced by so many parts of life - work, marriage, images of God (84,82,9,136,146) - that you eventually get the feeling that misogyny is produced by many embedded narratives, theologies, and structures, and is currently inescapable. But perhaps even harder than having the dark underbelly of human history placed in front of you is being presented with the cold hard facts that this underbelly is not in fact history, and is still a very real and active thing. 

There are two things, however, that stand out in this book as being very difficult to digest. Kim directly addresses the problem of ‘whiteness’ and she does so in a way that does not leave much in the way of wiggle room for those who would like to see themselves as not-racist because they do not do overtly racist things. One of the most powerful ideas about race, championed here by Kim, but echoed by many others elsewhere, is that racism is a sickness that sits deep within us and is not as easily disavowed as we would like. Racism is not something that can be avoided by avoiding direct contact with explicitly racist acts:

Race functions as a category of human classification, identity, and differentiation for the benefit of some and the detriment of others…To identify someone as ‘racial’ is to say they are not white…Because whiteness is seen as nonracial, white privilege is upheld systemically through favourable rules and practices toward those racialized as white…Because whites often fail to recognize their power and privilege, it is sometimes necessary to prompt their awareness in order to work towards justice (43-44 - emphasis mine).

The Han of Kim, and of all racialized people, will not be eliminated by being nicer to people who are different you are you. Whiteness and white privilege is a fault line that runs deeper than niceness can bridge or fill. And she’s right, privilege is misidentified by the privileged as the default, the normal experience of most people, which is always hard to hear (if you are white).

The final hard thing in this book (and probably the hardest) is Kim’s proposed response to all this racism and misogyny, i.e. the titular ‘Spirit of Love.’ Now ‘the Spirit of Love’ sounds like something everyone can get behind, but Kim means something specific and something that will be hard for many to embrace. Kim explains that the love that is transformative is best identified as eros, intimate subjective engagement: “The erotic bridges the passions of our lives - the physical, emotional, psychic, mental and spiritual elements (141).” She also explains why this kind of love will be hard to embrace: our beliefs about love, its nature and appropriate role have been shaped by the sinful theologies we inhabit. “…Eros denotes the disorderly and the source of temptation that could drive humans to insanity…However, much of this negativity can be attributed to a dualism that works to benefit a white Eurocentric male perspective. Therefore it is no surprise that some perceive reason to be superior to emotion, male to female, logos to Sophia, and logic to Eros (143).” This is where Kim takes us: theologically and ecclesiastically, we need to eliminate our sinful misogyny and racism. How are we going to do this: engage with each other in a way that does not perpetuate these sins, embracing each other with a love that is intimate and erotic. This is a hard way forward. Intimate and erotic love sounds very messy and vulnerable.

Hardness and discomfort are marks of the prophetic. If you are concerned about systems that mask and perpetuate misogyny and racism you need to actively resist patriarchy and whiteness. One way to do this is to give space to voices like Kim’s. She is seeking a theology that liberates, and liberation is something that benefits everyone, even the unintentional oppressor.

The Gospel Calls us to be Unsettled 

Restoration, reconciliation and adult Sunday School

Living in Canada in 2017, we have much to be grateful for. We are spared from armed conflicts, famines and so much more that is a daily reality for many. We may even look at our neighbour to the south with gratefulness that we are not part of that particular political experiment.

What should we do with all the benefits we receive by virtue of living in Canada? This question is the appropriate response to learning about our privilege – especially as Christians. We believe in the good news, that the kingdom of God we see in Jesus is for all: everyone and everything thing is made whole. Thus, we need to make room for those who do not enjoy the same privileges – even if that means giving up some of our comforts.  So where do we start?

Alignment with the gospel

To be a Christian – to follow after Jesus – means that everything we do, everything we participate in (both actively and passively) is subject to the critical question: is this good to do? Is this something that reflects the nature of God’s Kingdom? Will participating help me become a person who looks more and more like Jesus?  This is a very high bar by which to judge our lives, but it is also the ancient and worldwide criterion by which Christians have tried to be Christian. 

In many instances, it can be hard to know what is aligned with the good news of Jesus. But “hard to know” does not mean we cannot know; therefore, we have an obligation to investigate the unexamined parts of our lives to see whether they are fostering un-Jesus-like qualities. 

Self-examination is difficult work, but it is the appropriate response to the gift of learning hard truths about our lives. And thankfully, we have longstanding church practices that can help us, such as sermons and adult education classes (to name just two).

The gift of learning opportunities

A seminal year, 2017 provides us* with a unique opportunity to reflect on Canada’s current character as well as its history. We are celebrating, so the official story goes, the origin of the Dominion of Canada as a confederacy. Yet, for many people, the public celebration is a reminder of how our country was formed through the systematic abuse and disenfranchisement of the Indigenous peoples of this land. 

It’s probably uncomfortable for those who would like to enjoy the simple fun of a national anniversary to hear that it is anything but simple and fun. When we’re on the winning side of the historical equation of wealth, power and privilege, we don’t like to hear about complexities and the painful dimensions of our “innocuous” social events. However, Canada 150, like so many other things that are experienced as positive, or just benign, by the majority of Canadians is neither positive nor benign to the millions of Indigenous people who have been living under 150 years (and more) of colonialism. 

The Anabaptist tradition of learning in community

As a thirty-something active participant in the church, I see a lack of opportunities to work through the complexities of modern moral dilemmas as Christians. This is a major problem for me and my peers. There is a deep need for our faith community to also be our community for “thinking” and “social action.” As such, I am grateful for adult education classes that offer the time and relational space to explore the intersection of the gospel and our lives at length and interactively.

This past Lent, Cedar Park Church, Ladner, B.C., held a six-week series of classes that considered the unhealthy relationship between theological ideas espoused by the church (i.e. the doctrine of discovery) and the history of colonization in Canada. We used Yours, mine, ours, compiled and edited by Cheryl Woelk and Steve Heinrichs, a remarkable book filled with stories of people who have chosen to speak and hear the truth, as well as vulnerably listen and respond to what they have learned.

In these six weeks, as I led these classes, I saw 30–40 people choose to be vulnerable, to admit that they did not know things that they should know. I saw these people, a mix of old and young, men and women, ask themselves what does the legacy of colonialism in Canada mean for us as Christians?

In the last few years, I have been overwhelmed at how much I need to learn, not just about the past, but how to move forward. Sometimes, it can seem reasonable to do nothing. Yet, I have also been encouraged by the many incredible women and men, Indigenous and Settler, who have been leading in this path for a long time.

As a group and as a church, we are also choosing to risk learning things that make us uncomfortable. During our final class, Bridget Findlay, the MCC BC representative for the Indigenous Neighbours program gave us each a to-be-filled-in card labelled: “My personal reconciliation plan.” 

So far, my personal program is quite small. One step is to join with the congregation as we participate in a Blanket Exercise, a re-learning of Canadian history. I am taking this step not only because I have been inspired to learn things that unsettle me toward reconciliation, but because I am doing this with the people of my church. This community is helping me believe that reconciliation is possible, truth-telling and truth-hearing is possible, that shalom is possible.

*This “us” largely does not include Indigenous people. Though we talk about an inclusive gospel, we must acknowledge there are substantial groups of people who are not part of our churches who do not ‘commune with us’ in communion; people like our Indigenous neighbours.

2009 Master's Thesis in Philosophy

From the introduction:    

The current situation in consciousness studies is one where popular notions of the mind are consistently under attack from neuroscientific research, and of course this is really only a new twist in the ongoing scientific correction of folk psychology going back to James and beyond. Sellars’ (1962) picture of the clash of scientific and manifest images is perhaps appropriate here, as it is the case that some researchers perceive themselves as supplying the evidence that undermines the dubiousness of the manifest image of consciousness. Daniel Wegner is one of these researchers and his claim that the conscious will is an illusion is his effort to liberate us from the seductive intuitions that lead us astray. “The fact is, we find it enormously seductive to think of ourselves as having minds, and so we are drawn into an intuitive appreciation of the conscious will (Wegner 2002, 26).” This sort of claim is a perfect example of the kind of conclusion, made on the basis of Wegner’s extensive empirical research, that requires a robust explanation of its conceptual targets in order for it to be convincing. It may be the case that our belief that we have minds is based on its seductive nature, but to prove this requires an appropriately rich and relevant account of what it is we actually believe, that is, what our intuitive concept of the conscious will contains. The problem we can see in Wegner’s work, however, is that too little effort is put into rigorously defining the concept of conscious will. Bertram Malle is someone else who is critical of this type of scenario, and he puts the problem with Wegner and others like him this way: 

Are they going to talk about these things the way ordinary people do (that is, are they going to use the folk concepts with their normal meaning and reference), or are they introducing technical terms? ... Ultimately, whenever a scientist describes a folk assumption and claims that some evidence shows it to be wrong, the scientist has to adhere to the folk meaning of the relevant concepts, or else the evidence isn’t relevant (Malle 2006, 208-209). 

The call for conceptual constraints simply represents the need for general conclusions like Wegner’s to reflect either the general understanding of a concept or to argue for a special sense of a term. Even if there is a debate over what should be a constraining factor for a concept, for example whether or not phenomenology is valid for informing our concepts of conscious mental states, it is still reasonable to expect Wegner, or anyone else, to show how his conclusions are conclusions about what we actually experience. 

The in-depth critique of Wegner’s work on the conscious will in this paper will make two conclusions obvious. The first one is that even though it is important for science to provide constraints to our theoretical problems (See Ross 2006, 126), the opposite is also true, and Wegner does not offer us a convincing argument about the illusions of our agency because he does not take measures to incorporate appropriate conceptual constraints. The second conclusion arises from our observations of Wegner’s failings, and it is that we can improve our empirical efforts by employing phenomenological insights into our conceptual frameworks. Much of the weakness in Wegner’s account is produced by his lack of phenomenological considerations, and this suggests that a way forward for our ongoing empirical research into consciousness and behaviour should involve our conceptual targets being formed with phenomenological insight.  

Full text provided below.