I’ve been asked to share my faith journey with you and that for me has long
meant reflecting on the question, ‘how then shall I live?’ based on that
provocative verse from Micah 6:8, “What does the Lord require of you? To act
justly, and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.”
Many of you will know that I was the daughter of a preacher man, a beloved
pastor in a small German evangelical denomination. I was taught early on that my
church’s teachings were a special ‘in’ to true Christian living. My life centred on
the church community that I grew up in, which meant that I spent, by the time I
was a teenager, five evenings a week in various church-related activities. I led
music groups and youth groups, taught Sunday School, took part in Bible Study.
We also had family prayer time every evening. Dad would read the Bible, we
would all kneel and each take our turn praying for our family, for our relatives, for
our friends, for lost souls, for the sick and for the needy. I was quite certain from
a very young age that I would become a missionary and take the glorious message
of Jesus to the far corners of the earth.
What my family life also offered me was the opportunity to have long, passionate
arguments with my father, far into the night, especially, about what I increasingly
began thinking of as too narrow interpretations of who could actually get to
heaven. For the most part, this meant believing exactly as I had been taught and
by extension, this also meant that most of the rest would be destined for that
most dreaded fiery lake of hell. At some point this just didn’t make sense to me.
But, my views had to be based in the Bible and so we would pour over select Bible
verses and try to make the other see things a little differently. Those long
theological discussions always ended in prayer and off we would go to bed.
Fast forward a number of years. I spent some time in my early twenties on a
kibbutz in Israel, for the first time in my life coming face to face with living
Judaism, and, having to come to terms with the truths of a religion other than
Christianity. I simply could not understand how the amazing people I was
meeting ‘fit’ with my understanding of Christ as the only way, the only truth and
life. I then had the opportunity to spend some time in Egypt and Turkey
especially during the month of Ramadan. I was perplexed by the devotion of
people that I met, who were committed to not eating or drinking for hours and
hours for one whole month, especially in the extreme heat of the day. And it
made me ponder my own beliefs. And I asked myself, how then shall I live?
I went back to university when I returned from my travels and began to study
religion. I also studied feminism, and particularly, feminist theology. And then
my world truly turned upside down. I became painfully aware of how notions of a
Father God, once so precious to me, had led to exclusionary and harmful, even
destructive attitudes toward women, toward the feminine. I began to question
those aspects of my Christian faith that led to all aspects of marginalization and
rejection. And there were so many – those related to sexual orientation,
disability, difference, disenfranchisements in their various hues and shapes. I can
honestly say that the awakening to what might best be described as the
malevolent aspects of my Christian faith, were some of the most painful years of
my life because some of my most central , cherished beliefs were being
challenged. And I asked myself, over and over again, ‘how then shall I live’?
Many of you will know that I now spend significant amounts of my life in India. It
is not as a missionary, bringing my truth to the multitudes, but as a student. I
have come to cherish and be formed by many of the truths of others. Hinduism
has taught me that there are countless ways of being in relationship to the Divine.
Buddhism teaches me about compassion – compassion toward the other,
compassion toward myself. The Vietnamese Zen Buddhist monk Thich Nhat Hanh,
in his book How to Love, says that “understanding is love’s other name;” in other
words, loving others is all about understanding other ways of being, other truths
and others’ suffering.
In a similar vein, Mary T. Lathrap, an indigenous poet wrote her 1895 poem,
Remember to walk a mile in another’s moccasins,
And remember the lessons of humanity taught to you by your elders.
We will be known forever by the tracks we leave In other people’s lives, our
kindnesses and generosity.
Take the time to walk a mile in another’s moccasins.
And so it is that I come to another stage of my faith journey. Once again, more
powerfully than ever, as unsettling as ever before, I am learning and being
challenged to acknowledge my complicity in the violence that has come from my
privileged, white settler positionality in Canada. I am grappling, in a new way,
with the prophetic teachings of Black Lives Matter that insist that I must shift
from my comfortable position of being merely open to others and even learning
from others, to something far deeper, more jarring: I must reckon and account for
and respond to the notion that racism is the foundation of the society in which I
live and foundational to my part in that society. I am needing to acknowledge
that racism in all its forms, institutional, systemic and personal, has formed me
and been endemic to my own personal journey. I am, far too slowly perhaps,
realizing that this work will be lifelong: really thinking deeply about what it means
to be white, how my race shapes other peoples lives. Moreover, neutrality,
something that I have held up as a goal and have strived for in my learnings, really
doesn’t exist in a racist society. As a recent headline insisted, ‘Nice White People’
Can Still Be Complicit In A Racist Society’.
This also means grappling in a deeply personal way, how the 215 children in
unmarked graves in Kamloops, or just days ago, the remains of as many as 751
people in Saskatchewan, challenge my Christian faith and my place in the world.
It is far too easy to say that those were Catholic schools and that those are
historical wrongs. Until 1969, The United Church of Canada was actively involved
with Canada’s Residential School system where 150,000 Indigenous children were
taken from their families and nations and placed in residential schools. We as
members of Parkminster United are a part of that legacy. As Stan McKay, the first
Indigenous moderator of the United Church of Canada says bluntly: “The United
Church apologized in 1986 for its role in colonialism and the words rang out to us
announcing a new era of liberation from colonial captivity. Thirty-five years later,
there are continuing efforts by churches to find a path to reconciliation. The
language that is used is changing but the institution resists transformation. The
reality is that Indigenous peoples are colonized. We live with trauma and
generations of marginalization have caused us to question our teachings.” And I
ask, how then shall I live?
And so, my faith journey continues. For it to be a meaningful journey, it propels
forward. I am challenged and inspired by many in our own congregation who are
working mightily to teach us and lead us into the way of truth and reconciliation.
I am grateful that each Sunday, I am asked to acknowledge with humility and
regret, that my history, our histories, and our relationships with our indigenous
brothers and sisters have rarely been respectful. And, with humility, I try to
commit open-heartedly, on a weekly basis, to a relationship of justice and
integrity in the present and in the future.