Building together with Elements of Justice: Reflections on living into a new narrative

This week’s guest post is written by Deanna Zantingh, a Master’s student at Canadian Mennonite University, from Smithville, Ontario. She writes about her experience at Elements of Justice — an event sponsored by KAIROS: Canadian Ecumenical Initiatives –  held in BC in October 2013.

The smell of salmon from the river lingered in the foggy air while we gathered in the wooded meeting hall below the towering forest. Here, as guests in the unceded territory of the Salish people of BC, amidst the natural beauty, it was easy to know and lament how wrong it is to wreck the planet.

Photo credit Matthew Dueck for KAIROS Canada.

Photo credit Matthew Dueck for KAIROS Canada.

As the diverse ecumenical group assembled at the KAIROS Elements of Justice gathering, this larger challenge remained at the centre of our circles: How do we as people of faith live amidst our nation’s narrative that is built on profit from environmental degradation, and profit over people who stand to protect the land?

As we gathered as indigenous and non-indigenous people, it was impossible to ignore that our one commonality was our shared story: a story of two clashing worldviews and value systems, indigenous and western, and the ways we find ourselves as modern day actors in a deep-rooted story that has not, and will not end. A second question soon emerged: What does it mean to live as people of faith within the reality that we are all members of a treaty outlining a relationship of respect to people and to care of the land that has been utterly disrespected?

As a non-indigenous person, I grew up in a story that taught me some pretty terrible things about the First People of Canada, or Turtle Island. Yet the beautiful and wise voices of indigenous presenters and participants at this conference reminded me yet again of the ways we need each other, and of the ways we need to live into new stories together.

A young indigenous law student shared with us the devastating effects of fracking in his home community, and articulated that ecological justice is something that we must build together. He urged us as the church to reclaim our moral discourse in this amoral story, using our discipleship as a means of shaping people who do not seek to be self-aggrandizing individuals.

Janelle de Rocquigney leading a drum song. Photo credit Matthew Dueck for KAIROS Canada.

Janelle de Rocquigney leading a drum song. Photo credit Matthew Dueck for KAIROS Canada.

I also heard brave indigenous women like Brenda Sayers, a whistleblower on the secret and hidden implications of the Canada-China FIPA (Foreign Investment Promotion and Protection Agreement), and trade deal which would handcuff Canadian environmental policy to Chinese business interests for at least 31 years. This grew to a court battle that has come at a great cost to both Sayers and her home community of Hupacasath First Nation. It is stories like these that make me truly proud and thankful for the boldness of our First Nations hosts, and highlight for me our own great need to mirror this example.

The best part of the gathering for me however was meeting Sylvia McAdam, a founding member of the Idle No More movement, who spoke with me personally using the same gracious and gentle attitude she employed throughout her passionate discussion of Canada’s unjust legal history toward Aboriginal people. After highlighting a history of disregard, including her own family’s slave labour on a sugar beet farm in Alberta where chemicals were sprayed on them, she closed with a bold reminder that “Even in our ceremonies to this day, we still honour you.” Perhaps that’s when it dawned on me what the Kairos conference was all about: Building a relationship together that centers on honouring and respecting each other and the land that affords us life.

I pray that as the body of Christ we might have the same grace and boldness exhibited by McAdam towards those who do us deep and irreparable harm. It’s time to build together using the building blocks of justice afforded from our different stories in defense of the elements that afford us life itself, knowing that it is the Creator of life who longs to meet us here in this work, and maybe even move us toward a fuller life than we now have eyes to see.

A prayer for Palestine and Israel

“Then justice will dwell in the land
and righteousness abide in the fruitful field.
The effect of righteousness will be peace
and the result of righteousness, quietness and trust forever.” — Isaiah 32:16-17

In December 2013, Hashem Al Attar stood in front of his tin-roofed, one-story, two-room concrete home in the Beit Lahia area of northern Gaza. Beit Lahia is one of the areas where MCC is providing a month of food to people affected by the recent conflict with Israel. MCC's partner, Al Najd Development Forum, is working in this area to address food shortages and malnutrition, which were problems even before the assault. (MCC Photo/Ryan Rodrick Beiler)

In December 2013, Hashem Al Attar stood in front of his tin-roofed, one-story, two-room concrete home in the Beit Lahia area of northern Gaza. Beit Lahia is one of the areas where MCC is providing a month of food to people affected by the recent conflict with Israel. MCC’s partner, Al Najd Development Forum, is working in this area to address food shortages and malnutrition, which were problems even before the assault. (MCC Photo/Ryan Rodrick Beiler)

O God of life and love and peace,
As the cycle of violence in Palestine and Israel repeats itself,
Our hearts break once again.

Our hearts break for the people of Gaza —
For those killed and injured and displaced by Israeli bombardments
For the children and young people who have witnessed and experienced violence
For the parents who cannot protect and provide for their families
For the grandparents who have lost hope and a will to live
For all who live with indescribable suffering.

Our hearts break for all Palestinians—
For the victims of violent attacks throughout Palestine
For those who have endured decades of occupation and oppression
For those whose homes and olive orchards have been demolished
For those who languish in Israeli prisons
For those who steadfastly choose nonviolent resistance
For those whose rage has turned to hatred and violence.

Our hearts break for the people of Israel—
For those threatened by rocket attacks
For the families of abducted and murdered teenagers
For those who live with fear and insecurity
For those who re-live the trauma of the past over and over
For those who work for a just peace for all
For those who support violent force as the only way to security.

Our hearts break for the wider world—
For those who are indifferent to the pain in your “holy land”
For those who distort or turn their eyes from truth
For those who label all resistance, even nonviolent resistance, as “terrorism”
For those who fail to see the humanity of all your children.

Heal us all, O God. Heal the brokenness.

May weapons and war, apathy and blame be laid down
May diminishing and demonizing of “the other” cease.
May there be acknowledgement of harms committed
May there be new energy for building bridges of understanding
May there be new efforts to address root causes of the violence
May there be new visions of a shared and peaceful future.

O God, whose heart breaks for the world,
May your justice dwell in the land
May your righteousness abide in fruitful fields
May the effect of righteousness be quietness and trust forever
May the effect of justice be peace — enduring peace.

Amen

By Esther Epp-Tiessen, Public Engagement Coordinator for the Ottawa Office.

Oh Canada! I love you but . . .

This week’s guest post is written by Steve Plenert, peace program coordinator for MCC Manitoba.

Oh Canada, you make me so proud and so exasperated at the same time. I am so fortunate to have been born in this democratic, resource rich, multi-cultural, Olympic-curling-gold-medal producing nation! Winnipeg winters aside, for a white, middle class grandpa with educated, empowered daughters and grand-daughters, it couldn’t get much better.

Oh Canada, you have embarrassed me over the past decade or so as I’ve come (somewhat) to terms with our colonial history. The Indian Act, the reserve system and Indian Residential Schools have made it difficult to look Indigenous people in the eyes. I wish we didn’t have this racist legacy (and pain and brokenness and blood) on our hands.

Gitxaala territory near Kitkatla BCOh Canada, you are such a beautiful place with your forests and mountains and lakes and rivers and wildlife. Even the Manitoba mosquitoes can’t keep me from loving how gorgeous our geography is. How vast and intricate and exquisite!

Oh Canada, you are home to 70 percent of the world’s mining companies. Resource extraction has become the name of our prosperity game. I know how much I benefit from this in terms of social services, transfer payments and more. But couldn’t we find a way to leave some of the resources for future generations? Could we try and protect endangered wildlife and entire ecosystems from the ravages of our industriousness?

Oh Canada, you are a beacon of democracy and of government systems that include functional parliaments, legislatures, city councils and astonishingly effective bureaucracies. The people and parties that win elections get to take over power without military intervention. Government-run systems of health care and education provide quality healing and learning opportunities to the vast majority of Canadian people.

Canadian flagOh Canada, you annoy me with your Senate scandals and legislators who fear-monger people with their “tough on crime” mantras. Will locking up more Indigenous, indigent and mentally ill people actually make us safer and happier? I would like us to learn how to be communities that deal with the challenges in our midst rather than merely be individuals who care only about our own interests.

Oh Canada, I am so proud of our Charter of Rights and Freedoms! This is one banner piece of nation building for which much of the world envies us. I don’t have to be the same as everyone else to be safe here. I can live out my faith convictions or sexual orientation without fear of being locked up for them.

Oh Canada, I would love it if we could look past our individual rights and freedoms sometimes. We could do much better at helping the marginalized to be less so. Be they Indigenous, incarcerated, mentally ill, economically challenged, racial or sexual minorities, we could be still more inclusive and welcoming in our communities.

Oh Canada!  I love you but . . .

Calling for a passionate pursuit of nonviolent peacemaking

June 28 will mark the 100th anniversary of the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand, heir to the throne of Austria-Hungary, by a Serbian nationalist. World War I exploded just a month after the assassination – a war of untold death and destruction.

National_War_Memorial,_Ottawa,_Ontario

National War Memorial, Ottawa. Credit: Wikimedia Commons

An estimated 17 million people were killed in the “Great War,” including soldiers and civilians, and some 21 million were wounded. One in 10 Canadians who served in the Canadian Expeditionary Force died – over 60,000 in total. Approximately three million women became widows and 6 million children became orphans in Europe alone. The use of deadly new weapons such as machine guns, tanks and airplanes, as well as chemical weapons such as mustard gas, added to the carnage.

Today, many analysts agree that World War I planted the seeds for World War II which occurred twenty years later. By imposing draconian penalties on the “losers” (Germany and its allies), the “winners” (Britain, France and their allies) helped to foster the resentment that led Germany to invade Poland in 1939 and to start an even more deadly global conflagration. One historian has called World War I, “nothing less than the greatest error of modern history.”[1]

Over the next months, Canada and other nations will be focusing much attention on the centenary of World War I. Despite what is now known about the terrible cost – and the folly – of World War I, Canadians will no doubt once again hear the oft-repeated refrain that World War I “made Canada a nation” or, as a Veterans Affairs publication puts it,

Nationhood was purchased for Canada by the gallant men who stood fast at Ypres, stormed Regina Trench, climbed the heights of Vimy Ridge, captured Passchendaele, and entered Mons on November 11, 1918.[2]

ON -- peace signAt Mennonite Central Committee we believe that war is wrong. Period. War is not something to be celebrated – it is something to be mourned. Our convictions are rooted in our peace church tradition and our commitment to Jesus, who calls us to love our enemies and to live peaceably with all.

This conviction is strengthened by MCC’s work among people suffering from war and violence around the world. A partner in Lebanon says it well: “Any war, anytime, anywhere [ends with] mutual defeat.”

To be sure, we in MCC mourn with Canadian families who lost loved ones in World War I (and in succeeding wars), just as we mourn for all victims of war. However, like the people at Peace Quest, we believe that the centenary of World War I should be an occasion for reflection, dialogue and debate about what is truly gained through war.

We believe all Canadians – not only those who share MCC’s religious convictions – should be asking questions like these:

  • What are the root causes of war?
  • What does war look like from the “other side”?
  • Does war build peace? Or does it perpetuate violence?
  • Who benefits when wars are fought? Who suffers?
  • How can we know truth in wartime?
  • What builds a nation? Its military might? Or the way it welcomes refugees, provides education and healthcare for its citizens, honours its treaty obligations, and nurtures values of caring and compassion for others?

The anniversary of World War I should, above all, be an occasion when Canadians commit themselves to learning about, investing in, and practicing non-violent alternatives to war. Those alternatives do exist – that much we have learned! Surely, one of the most important legacies Canadians can offer the global community during this anniversary year is a  passionate pursuit of nonviolent peacemaking.

Look for the following resources to help you, your church, your school or your group mark the anniversary of World War I.

  • MCC’s annual Peace Sunday Packet for churches. The theme this year is “God’s Vision: a World Without War.” Available on mcccanada.ca in late August 2014.
  • A Remembrance Day peace resource for teachers. The theme for this new resource is: “Is Another Way Possible?” Available on mcccanada.ca in September 2014.
  • Project Ploughshares is an agency of The Canadian Council of Churches which contributes to peace and disarmament through research, policy analysis and action.
  • Peace Quest is an organization “stimulating a nation-wide conversation about peace and our country’s role in peacemaking, reconciliation and social justice” in the context of the 100th anniversary of World War I and Canada’s 150th year as a nation.

By Esther Epp-Tiessen, Ottawa Office Public Engagement Coordinator

[1] Niall Ferguson, The Pity of War (Basic Books, Perseus, 1999), p. 462.

[2] Government of Canada Veterans Affairs, Valour Remembered: Canada and the First World War, 1914-1918 (Government of Canada, 2000), p. 27.

 

National Aboriginal Day: A watershed moment for Canada

By Sara Stratton, Member Relations and Campaigns Coordinator, KAIROS: Canadian Ecumenical Justice Initiatives

We’re at a watershed moment for Canada, one where we have the opportunity to carry on as we always have in our relationship with Indigenous peoples or one where we can move forward in new, more respectful ways.

Which path will we choose?

Gitxaala territory near Kitkatla BC

Photo courtesy of Katie Quinn (KAIROS)

National Aboriginal Day, June 21, is described on the Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development Canada website as “a special day to celebrate the unique heritage, diverse cultures and outstanding achievements of First Nations, Inuit and Métis peoples in Canada.” Proclaimed a mere 5 months before the final report of the Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples, it is also a time, as former Governor General Roméo Leblanc noted in his proclamation, to acknowledge the unquestioned place of Aboriginal rights in Canada, including inherent rights to lands and resources.

KAIROS: Canadian Ecumenical Justice Initiatives—a coalition of which MCC is a member—is making the connections between Indigenous rights and ecological justice in a program called Watershed Discipleship. Bringing together biblical and theological reflection with hands-on environmental experience and social analysis, KAIROS is exploring how the environmental and Indigenous rights issues in our own backyards—our own watersheds—are part of larger Canadian and global justice struggles. And, we’re committing to take action.

What would the world look like through a watersheds lens?

If you looked at a political map of continental North America, you would see a brightly coloured array of 62 assorted shapes—the political divisions among 10 provinces, 3 territories, and 49 states.

If you looked a watershed map of continental North America, you would see 5 enormous, variegated shapes which follow the contours of the landscape—coasts, mountain ranges, tundra, arctic, prairie, and desert. And through these shapes flow rivers and streams, pausing in small ponds and huge lakes before pouring into the oceans that surround this continent.

athabasca-river-2

Photo courtesy of godisinthedirt.wordpress.com

The Arctic Ocean, the Pacific Ocean, Hudson Bay, the Gulf of Mexico, and the Atlantic Ocean: these are North America’s watersheds, the lands and the waters that feed and sustain us all. Through the oceans they are connected to watersheds around the world, and through these waters, we are connected to brothers and sisters across the planet. They are connected to each other; they connect us.

When you look at the world through the political lens, all you see is division. When you look through the watersheds lens, all you see are connections—and the mutual responsibility we have to each other and the earth.

For KAIROS, National Aboriginal Day is very much about how we might live into that acknowledgement of Indigenous Rights, how we live into right relationship. It has a particular resonance this year, as we look towards another set of recommendations—those of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, which will be released a year from now. In 1996, the final report of the Royal Commission was placed on a shelf and never fully enacted. What will become of the TRC report?

So here we sit, at a watershed moment. What will we do, as Canadians, as Christians, as watershed disciples?

We are all in this watershed together; what will we do to help it see justice?

For more information and to become involved, please visit www.kairoscanada.org

Trust

In mid-May, Canadian Parliamentarians participated in the 3rd annual Iran Accountability Week. Members of the Conservative, NDP, and Liberal caucuses joined together to “sound the alarm on Iranian domestic repression” through a press conference, statements in the House of Commons and Senate, and a special meeting of the Subcommittee on International Human Rights.

In addition, Ambassador of Religious Freedom Andrew Bennett issued a statement urging Iranian authorities “to release all those who have been imprisoned in Iran for merely practicing their faith,” including Bahá’ís, Christians, Dervishes, and Sunni Muslims.

Finally, in an address to the American Jewish Committee in Washington, DC, Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird continued to express his distrust of Iranian President Hassan Rouhani’s nuclear ambitions: “Kind words, a smile and a charm offensive are not a substitute for real action, nor are they an effective mask to disguise the old hatred. That’s why I’m deeply skeptical about Iran’s intentions.”

IMG_2477This rhetoric was ringing in my ears as I accompanied a delegation of academics, students, and MCC colleagues to Iran to participate in, among other learning opportunities, the sixth round of dialogue between Shia Muslim and Mennonite Christian scholars.

To be sure, there is also no shortage of distrust toward Western political leaders to be found in Iran. The last two days I spent in Iran were national holidays marking the 25th anniversary of the death of Ayatollah Khomeini, the leader of the 1979 revolution that overthrew the U.S.-supported monarch known as the Shah of Iran. Although the streets of Tehran were empty and the shops of the famous Grand Bazaar were shuttered, I did catch excerpts of some of the speeches by Iranian leaders on local TV.

And in conversations with Iranians it became clear that skepticism toward the West—if not disappointment, frustration, and concern—is based on more than speculation about intentions. The people of Iran have borne the cost not only of foreign meddling in their internal political affairs, but of foreign support for Iraq during a long and devastating war in the 1980s, and now widespread economic and political sanctions imposed by the United Nations.

Beyond political hostilities, however, I think the lack of trust between Iran and countries like Canada is also rooted in ignorance and misunderstanding.

For example, I expect that many Canadians have little awareness of Iranian culture and history—a lack of awareness that can easily lead to a lack of appreciation or respect, and undermine the dignity of Iranians.

IMG_2510During a trip to Hamedan, one of the oldest cities in the world, I saw inscriptions that date back to the height of the Persian Empire 2,500 years ago. I visited the tomb of Esther and Mordechai, an important pilgrimage site for Jews in Iran. And I toured the mausoleum of Avicenna, one of the greatest and most influential Islamic scholars at the turn of the first millennium.

Attending a conference in the city of Qom on a twentieth century Iranian philosopher, Murtada Mutahhari, and meeting with university professors in Tehran, it was clear that the legacy of Avicenna lives on. Iranians not only have a passion for philosophical and theological debates, but an impressive education system to nurture the curiosity and skills needed for these debates.

Beyond displaying the influence of a rich intellectual tradition, the dialogue between Shia and Mennonite scholars highlighted a broader interest in engagement in at least some segments of Iranian society. Instead of isolation and hostility, I observed a spirit of openness and hospitality.

In reflecting on my trip, it seems to me that building trust between Iranians and Canadians is a necessary first step to overcoming fear and conflict. And it seems to me that dialogue is one modest but important way to begin to establish trust.

As anyone who observed the exchange of thoughts between Shia and Mennonite scholars will attest, dialogue does not mean we leave our principles at the door before we sit down at the table together. Indeed, instead of watering down our convictions, dialogue demands that we foreground the things that are most important to us.

IMG_2376Dialogue forces us to explain what it is we believe, why we believe it, and to respond to questions about those beliefs.

Dialogue, like advocacy, is a form of witness. It can make us uncomfortable. It can make us vulnerable. Perhaps this is why it can also make us more confident and assured in our relationships.

In any case, if trust is the product of dialogue rather than a prerequisite for it, then I think we have reason to be concerned about the current posture of the Canadian government toward Iran. As MCC has noted in the past, cutting off diplomatic ties, issuing strongly worded statements, and seeking to impose accountability from a distance appears to be undermining the prospects for justice and peace.

Beyond supporting rare opportunities for formal dialogue, the challenge that remains for us all is to find creative ways of establishing trust between peoples divided by culture, religion, and politics.

By Paul Heidebrecht, MCC Ottawa Office Director