Canada 150 – Two rivers

by Kerry Saner-Harvey, Mennonite Central Committee Manitoba Program Coordinator – Indigenous Neighbours. This is the second in a series of reflections on Canada 150.

For many it’s a time for celebration. Others lean towards lament. Either way, perhaps “Canada 150” can be for us an invitation to “re-imagine” our nation going forward in the next 150 years.

Historian and political scientist Benedict Anderson has suggested that nations are “imagined political communities” in which we hold in our minds a mental image of ourselves in kinship with a large number of people whom we have mostly never met. This mental image frames our identity in relation to each other, and thus we also make certain assumptions about how others in “our nation” see that relationship as well. In the case of a nation state like Canada, this also includes assumptions about our political history and relationship to the Land on which we reside.

RCAP_Logo_rev2016At a conference marking the 20th Anniversary of the Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples, Mark Dockstator from the First Nations University of Canada shared a provocative image of how European Settlers and Indigenous peoples have each imagined our histories.

Drawing upon the Two-Row Wampum from the Haudenosaunee legal tradition, he illustrated how each of us have imagined our history differently. In the almost universal Euro-Canadian paradigm up until 50 years ago, Indigenous peoples either didn’t exist at all or were imagined as “Indians” that needed to be assimilated into our historical stream or erased—essentially as “citizens minus.”

So, if I were to elaborate, while Indigenous peoples may have imagined themselves rowing their own canoe in their own river, if we Settlers perceived them at all it was to be brought aboard our steamship of civilization—or else tied on behind in some small broken-down canoe, pulled along in the wake of our river, if not already lost and forgotten somewhere downstream.

canoe on river

Unfortunately, we know that in many ways we are still taking away their paddles (or outboard motors) and dragging them along behind us.

Northern Stores and our welfare practices continue to create economic dependency. And northern mining and hydro development often care less about their consent than their compliance. I often hear that autonomy over Land remains one of the most important concerns for Indigenous communities today. Colonization is about taking away control and autonomy of a people, in whatever form that takes.

Around 1970, Dockstator suggests a significant number of Euro-Canadians began to perceive a diverging stream, as Canadian Settlers finally began to hear Indigenous claims to land and constitutional rights. Since then self-government and Nation-to-Nation negotiations not only emerged into our realm of possibilities, they began to slowly happen. We’ve begun to imagine a shift from “citizens minus” to “citizens plus” as we recognize much of the harms done and seek alternatives.

So, in our evolving Settler view of history, we look back on the last decades and see a new stream that has begun to diverge from our river. We now more broadly acknowledge that Indigenous peoples deserve to row in their own canoes. And this is significant.

But, as I think on this, I wonder if perhaps the Sepik Siawireal challenge for us Settler Canadians, looking back on the past 150 years, is to alter our perspective enough to re-imagine that Indigenous peoples have never really been traveling on our river in the first place.

Dockstator suggested that Indigenous peoples on Turtle Island have more or less always imagined themselves as sovereign. As far back as 1613, the original Two-Row Wampum (Tawagonshi) Treaty, the Haudenosaunee confederacy asserted that their Indigenous River should remain separate and parallel. Thomas King, in The Inconvenient Indian, reminds us that Aboriginal sovereignty is “a given”—and in fact has even been recognized in the U.S. and Canadian constitutions and Supreme Court decisions (194).

Perhaps we could look back across the field and see that the stream we thought has been branching from our river, has really been their own river all along. In other words, it never has been and still is not up to us to grant Indigenous peoples rights or sovereignty. To think this way is to recolonize history by assuming that we’ve been the ones to define the relationship since European contact. Rather, Indigenous Sovereignty is a continuous reality that we need to re-imagine for ourselves and to begin to act upon.

Perhaps we might even consider that our right to paddle in our river here actually emerged from the graciousness offered to us through the sacred Indigenous legal tradition of the treaties.

Of course, this is just about shifting our own Canadian Settler imaginations. The United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP) reminds us it is Indigenous peoples’ right to journey their own river in whatever canoe or speedboat or cruise-liner they wish to travel in.

In an ever shifting political landscape, we all need to navigate carefully, but if we are willing to be intentional and creative in recognizing the two rivers flowing independently, we will hopefully find a way to reconciliation and peace in the generations to come.

Learning and unlearning — for reconciliation

This week’s guest writer is Pam Peters-Pries, associate program director for MCC Canada.

March 21 is the International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination.  March 21 was chosen because on that day in 1960, police killed 69 people at a peaceful demonstration against apartheid “pass laws” in Sharpeville, South Africa.  The United Nations General Assembly proclaimed the day in 1966, calling on the international community to increase its efforts to eliminate all forms of racial discrimination.

We should celebrate the many steps, big and small, that have been taken to eliminate racial discrimination since then. The apartheid system in South Africa has been dismantled. The American civil rights movement resulted in many policy changes prohibiting racial discrimination and segregation and protecting the rights of minorities.  In our own country, the Indian Residential School Settlement Agreement and the Truth and Reconciliation Commission acknowledged and urged action to address the long and tragic history of systemic discrimination against Indigenous peoples in what we now call Canada.

An International Day of Anything proclaimed by the United Nations can be an occasion for grand thoughts and actions – to look across the sweep of history and acknowledge change, or to address the highest ranks of power in our societies and demand change we yet wish to see.

But it should also be an occasion for us to look at small things, at the practical actions we can take in our everyday lives to contribute to a grand and global vision. This is a great day to think about what we can do to contribute to the ongoing work of reconciliation between Indigenous and non-Indigenous peoples in Canada, reconciliation that has the potential to eliminate the discrimination faced daily by Indigenous peoples.

Senninger's Learning ModelAt an intercultural competence and anti-racism training I attended last year, I learned about Senninger’s Learning Zone Model. The model assumes that in order to learn, we have to venture out into the unknown. We need to move from our comfort zone, where things are familiar and where we don’t have to take risks, to our learning zone.

The learning zone is a place where we are stretched, pursue our curiosity, and make new discoveries. As we learn, we should aim to get close to – but not into – our panic zone.  In the panic zone, our learning is shut down by a sense of fear.

The TRC’s Calls to Action place tremendous emphasis on education – on learning. What many of us learned about Indigenous history and current realities in school or through the media is inaccurate and inadequate. And so this learning zone model is instructive for us.  Certainly, we need to get out of our comfort zones. We may find comfort in the stories of settlers coming to an “empty” land that was peacefully “surrendered” by Indigenous people to settlers through treaty-making. We may find comfort in the belief that settlers prospered through hard work and perseverance alone, not through privileges – such as access to land – granted to them at the expense of others.

As we work towards reconciliation between Indigenous and non-Indigenous people—a task each citizen in this country carries every day and not just on the International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination— we need to move out of these familiar comfort zones and into our learning zones.

In our learning zones, we may discover that the history we learned hides from us the history of systemic displacement of and discrimination against Indigenous peoples in this country. We may discover that discrimination against Indigenous peoples is not a thing of the past, but continues today in the lack of access to clean drinking water in many Indigenous communities, under-funding of Indigenous education, and disproportionate representation of Indigenous children in foster care and of Indigenous people in the criminal justice system.

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More than 7000 people joined the Walk for Reconciliation at the closing event of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, Ottawa, May 31, 2015. MCC photo/Alison Ralph

For some of us, venturing into our learning zones may mean heading very close to panic zones for a brief time, as a radical shake-up of long-held beliefs and perspectives may be needed for us to begin to see these things that have been hidden from us. But panic is not the goal, and is not a sustainable place. Learning is the goal.

So let’s be gentle but ready to dis-comfort each other.

The learning zone may be uncomfortable, but it may also be surprising and emboldening. It is a place we must explore if we are to unlearn the “comforting-to-some” myths and misperceptions that reinforce discrimination of Indigenous peoples. It is a place where we can learn the truth about Indigenous history, suffering, resilience and genius, and discover the grace and generosity inside ourselves that can feed the long work of reconciliation ahead .

Art that heals, art that discomforts

This week’s writer is Janessa Mann, new advocacy research intern for the Ottawa Office. Janessa is from Ottawa and is working on a Master’s degree in International Development Studies. 

This winter, the National Gallery of Canada in Ottawa is hosting a retrospective on Alex Janvier.  Described as “one of Canada’s most acclaimed contemporary artists,” Janvier is from the Cold Lake First Nation in Alberta.

Janvier explores Indigenous experiences in his art, including his own personal experience at the Blue Quills Indian Residential School. Janvier is important to the construction of Canadian culture because he has been able to bring Indigenous experiences into the public eye, especially in light of Canada’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission which concluded in 2015.

“My art is truly North American . . . it has its Indigenous roots. Some of my artwork is healing for myself and for anyone who wants to accept it that way.” –Alex Janvier

Normally when I go to the art gallery I take my sketch book, possibly my copy of 1001 Paintings You Must See before You Die, and consider colours, shapes, techniques while I relax with the beautiful pictures. When I see art that I don’t like, I challenge myself to consider why I don’t like it. Is it because of the way the content has been captured? Is it from an era that, try as I might, I can’t connect with?

This exhibition was different: I loved Janvier’s art and style. But it also made me uncomfortable because of my “colonial-settler guilt.” I hope that writing about the art exhibit will help me to understand why I was uncomfortable, and see what I can do with that discomfort.

The retrospective highlights the courage and resistance of Indigenous peoples in Canada and, as such, it offers a very powerful challenge to colonial-settler discourse. I find that I often feel strong guilt around the Doctrine of Discovery.  But in my opinion, this was the point of the retrospective: to make viewers feel uncomfortable and show an alternate Canadian experience. For example, in 1967, Janvier was commissioned by the Department of Indian and Northern Affairs to produce 80 paintings for Montreal’s Expo. Janvier signed his paintings with his Treaty number, 287, to protest Canadian Indigenous policies.

janessa-with-painting

Studying “Intertribal Indians Unlimited” (1990), acrylic on canvas, 175X698 cm (Collection of Glenbow Museum, Calgary).  Photo supplied by Janessa Mann.

One of the most interesting sets of paintings was “Intertribal Indians Unlimited” (1990) and “The Apple Factory” (1989) because of their beautiful colours and the style of abstraction, and because they were very poignant in their critique of Canada’s history. One of the plaques explained that Janvier was challenged by Indigenous communities, and called a “red apple” for his success, which meant he looked “Indian” on the outside, but acted White on the inside. Rather than be hurt by this critique of his artistic success, Janvier painted the concept that the Residential Schools were “apple factories,” because they assimilated Indigenous children.

Janvier’s pieces, while beautiful and skillful, manage to dismantle the Doctrine of Discovery and make one feel uncomfortable for Canada’s role in enacting intergenerational trauma on Indigenous children.

What the retrospective lacked, in my mind, was a challenge  to viewers of Janvier’s art to respond. In James Schellenberg’s post on this blog some months ago, he says that “It is one thing to acknowledge an injustice, and another thing entirely to put things right. What was done in the past cannot be undone.” At the end of the gallery was a bulletin board where we could post our reactions, but there were no resources to learn more about Canada’s colonial legacy in general or the Residential Schools in particular.Moreover, there was no challenge for visitors to do something with their new knowledge. Without a “call to arms,” the exhibit cannot really succeed in creating change.

What can I suggest?

Organizations like KAIROS and MCC have provided opportunities for people to learn about Canada’s history from an Indigneous perspective through the Blanket Exercise, an experiential teaching tool to work through the “historic and contemporary relationships between Indigenous and non-Indigenous peoples in Canada.” Find out if Kairos is hosting a Blanket Exercise near you, and consult their resources. Look into other expressions of Indigenous culture. Contact  your MP about the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.

And, if you are in Ottawa before April 17, 2017, I encourage you to explore Alex Janvier’s art! On Thursday evenings, all museums in Ottawa are free, and currently there is no extra cost for this special exhibition.

Further Reading:

Constructing a reconciliation response: understanding the UNDRIP by Claire Maier

A settler encounters the Doctrine of Discovery by James Schellenberg

Unlearning the Doctrine of Discovery by Rick Cober Bauman

Wear an orange shirt on September 30

This week’s writer is Miriam Sainnawap, co-coordinator of MCC Canada’s Indigenous Neighbours  Program.

The fourth annual Orange Shirt Day is taking place on September 30th — a day to commemorate the experiences of residential school survivors and their families. Wearing an orange shirt  when we gather is way to raise awareness of the legacy of the Indian Residential School System and build solidarity with the survivors.

Phyllis Webstad is a former survivor at St Joseph Mission (SJM) residential school and one of the leading founders of the Orange Shirt Day. The day is an outcome of her own story. When she was a young child, her grandmother bought her a shiny new orange shirt for school. The shirt was taken away on her first day of school at St. Joseph Mission. The first Orange Shirt Day was held in Williams Lake, BC in 2013. Phyllis’s story is a shared history for every survivor and their families: of something taken away, contributing to loss of language, culture and the sense of identity of who one is and where one belongs.

orangeshirtdayThe intergenerational legacy of residential schools has left an imprint on families of every generation where many of us; including me, are on the journey of restoring our collective ties and knowledges within our respective Nations. We exemplify our resilience and strength, we are gracious people.

Every September 30th, I’m committed to wearing a orange shirt in honour of my family and friends,  my community and  all the survivors and intergenerational survivors, because they matter to me. As the slogan printed on my shirt says, “Every child matters.” Indeed, every child does matter.

The Truth and Reconciliation Commission issued 94 Calls to Action, encouraging all Canadians to come to terms with the dark history of Canada’s residential schools system when children were taken away from their families. It is about dealing with the uncomfortable truths.

Canada is at a beginning point of the right relationship with Indigenous peoples. Honestly, we still have a long way to go and we’re not fully engaged enough to moving forward. The key is to have courage. We need each other, and we create momentum when we come together. in a spirit of mutual respect, responsibility and partnership.

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MCC Canada staff on Orange Shirt Day, September 30, 2015.  MCC photo/Alison Ralph

Unlearning the Doctrine of Discovery

This week’s guest writer is Rick Cober Bauman, Executive Director of MCC Ontario.

“The church is the chaplain of empire.”

These words came from Adrian Jacobs, a Haudenosaunee pastor and Circle Keeper, and a former colleague in MCC Ontario. He was a presenter at a MCC Canada workshop on the Doctrine of Discovery, April 5-7, in Winnipeg. He credited the statement to someone else, but he went on to give ample evidence of its truth.

The Doctrine of Discovery (DoD), Jacobs and other Indigenous speakers informed us, is that legal framework and deeply held belief that European explorers and expansionists assumed sovereignty over the lands — as well as the inhabitants and resources — in which they discovered themselves in the 15th and 16th centuries.

DoctrineDiscovery

Photo courtesy users.humboldt.edu

If the DoD had fizzled out and expired 500 years ago, it would still have had more than enough power to pillage and harm. But of course it thrived more than fizzled. And, backed by popes and monarchs, it would not just allow — but would require —  the British, French, Spanish and Portuguese to lay full claim to the “new world” they “discovered.”

Why would Mennonite Central Committee bring 45 MCC and Anabaptist church leaders from across Canada to Thunderbird House in the heart of Winnipeg’s north end to discuss a five-century-old “doctrine”?

Largely because the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) called us to study, understand, and eventually [hopefully] repudiate it. And MCC has been taking the TRC, its witness-gathering, and now its final report very seriously.

But that begs another question: Why would the TRC, concerned as it was with Indian Residential Schools, push churches and church agencies to make repudiation of the DoD so central? The diagram of a dying leafless tree, shown near the end of the workshop, helped to make that clear. A presenter noted that the “dead fruits” on the branches of the tree — fruits such as alcoholism, poverty, abuse and broken relationships. The tree’s roots bore words like white supremacy, colonialism, racism and the Doctrine of Discovery.  The TRC had asked us as faith people to go deeper than the branches, to be brave enough to venture closer to the roots, and to speak a challenge to the cause of fruits dying on the branch.

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Chief Justice Murray Sinclair, TRC Commissioner. MCC photo/Alison Ralph

But if the church was really the chaplain of empire, soothing the souls of conquerors and surveyors, why is the church also directly named by the wise voices of the TRC as needing to make a response?

The answer to this question came out gradually and unevenly. During a Bible study session, we looked for “redemption” and “gospel” in several texts. At least some of these texts told the story of the Hebrew nation pushing its way into the lands of Canaan. The texts looked and smelled for all the world like conquest stories with Doctrine of Discovery at their core! And yet for 2 days we faith-focused MCCers clung to our deeply held conviction that the reconciling love-as-power Jesus does in fact offer hope in the face of the despair represented by the DoD.

The first conversation I had after the workshop was with a 20-something Masters student who has paid close attention to social justice movements globally. The Doctrine of Discovery was a new term to him. I winced a little, realizing I may have been in a bubble for a few days. I wondered how this important but abstract concept could be made real.

Can MCC nurture an understanding of the impact of the DoD that will move Mennonites to rethink our own understandings of our place in Canada? Will this understanding move us to act in ways that, to quote the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, offer“redress” and provide genuine “restitution” for the terrible harms experienced by Indigenous neighbours as a direct result of a 500-year old assumption about their being sub-humans in terra nullius?

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Hundreds of people particpated in a mass Blanket Exercise on the steps of Parliament Hill, June 2015. MCC photo/Alison Ralph

Perhaps we would be helped by using the Blanket Exercise in each of our churches across Canada. Used as the introduction to our workshop, the Blanket Exercise is a visceral, visual, walk and listen through 500 years of history in this country. It begins with many people standing on a floor covered with blankets; they represent the Indigenous people of Turtle Island before contact. When it ends, the few surviving Indigenous peoples occupy a few remaining blankets, all of them scrunched and folded into tiny sizes and separated from one another. The Blanket Exercise is one of the best popular education tools in a long time and it could pack even more punch with a stronger introduction to the Doctrine of Discovery.

In recent months we at MCC have been highly engaged with hundreds of small groups and churches across Canada who want to welcome refugees, especially those from Syria. MCC has actively facilitated private refugee sponsorship since the arrival of Southeast Asian refugees after the Vietnam War almost four decades ago. We have become rather proficient at being good hosts.

Now, can our critical study of the Doctrine of Discovery help us unlearn the much longer history of five centuries so we can become better guests?

A reconciling wind

A fresh and hope-filled wind is blowing across the land.  It is called Reconciliation.  Spearheaded primarily by the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC), this wind emerges from a wider Indigenous-led movement demanding restored relationships between Indigenous and non-Indigenous peoples in Canada. It beckons all Canadians to join a journey that promises to be difficult but also beautiful and life-giving.

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Reconciliation Walk, 31 May 2015, Ottawa. MCC photo/Alison Ralph

A sign of this reconciling wind took place in Winnipeg on December 18, 2015 when six universities, three colleges and the Manitoba School Boards Association came together in unprecedented collaboration to sign a historic agreement called the Indigenous Education BlueprintCanadian Mennonite University was one of the signatories.

The ground-breaking document commits the institutions to work respectfully with Indigenous leaders to advance reconciliation through education, research and skill development. It binds them to “concrete practices in order to respect, celebrate, and support Indigenous peoples, knowledge, and success.”

The agreement builds directly on Call to Action #62 of the 94 distinct Calls to Action issued by the TRC when it issued its complete and final report in December.  Action #62 calls for the residential school legacy, Treaties, and past and present Indigenous contributions to this country to be a mandatory part of the curriculum in each province and territory.

In referring to the tragic legacy of the Indian Residential Schools, Chief Justice Murray Sinclair, head commissioner for the TRC, has said, “Education is what got us here and education is what will get us out.”  In his view, and the view of many Indigenous people, lack of awareness about the residential school system – indeed, about Indigenous people and their contribution to Canada – is a key factor in the broken relationship between Indigenous and settler peoples across the country.

dragonfly-icon-reconciliaction-400pxStephen Kakfwi said recently that Call to Action #62 is the single most important of the 94 Calls to Action. “Ignorance and lack of awareness is the basis of racism and indifference and apathy,” he insists.  “Ignorance dehumanizes us as Indigenous people; it dehumanizes all people.” Kakfwi is a residential school survivor who has served as president of the Dene Nation and premier of the Northwest Territories, and is currently president and CEO of Canadians for a New Partnership.  He insists that Action #62 could be a game changer for Canada.  “Canadians will no longer be able to say ‘we didn’t know.’”

Katsitsakwas Ellen Gabriel, Mohawk activist and artist, says, “We cannot continue to invest in the societal ignorance of such a huge part of our history. . . . Every single minister of education must be implementing the real history of Canada’s colonization.”

KAIROS is actively promoting Action #62 as part of a campaign called Winds of Change and encouraging Canadians to sign a petition that presses each provincial and territorial government to work with Indigneous leaders to implement the mandatory curriculum called for by the TRC.  KAIROS is a coalition of 11 national churches and church organizations actively promoting reconciliation and encouraging Canadians to embrace the winds of change and to take action for reconciliation.  KAIROS has developed a report card, identifying a baseline of where each province and territory currently stands in teaching about residential schools and Indigenous peoples; it will update this report card as changes are implemented.

Please circulate the petition and sign it!  It is small but exceedingly important thing that we all can do to foster reconciliation and to build a better future for all Canadians.

The hope-filled wind of reconciliation is blowing across the land. It beckons those of us who are settlers to learn that which we have not learned about Indigenous people – and also to un-learn the destructive myths, stereotypes and untruths that have held us captive for so long.   As the TRC has stated over and over, reconciliation promises to be a long and challenging journey, but it also envisions a beautiful future of justice, healing and respectful relationships.  How can we not welcome and embrace wind?

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Reconciliation Walk, May 31, 2015, Ottawa. MCC photo/Alison Ralph

by Esther Epp-Tiessen, Public Engagement Coordinator, MCC Ottawa Office

Advent of change?

By Monica Scheifele, Program Assistant for the Ottawa Office.  Monica’s reflection is based on the Lectionary readings for the 3rd Sunday of Advent: Zephaniah 3:14-20, Isaiah 12:2-6 and Philippians 4:4-7.

There has been much talk about change in the last few months with, first, a federal election, and then a new cabinet being sworn in, and the new government setting its agenda. Many may ask, though, whether this change will be lasting or whether it is all just talk that we have heard before.

I recently came across the poem “We are Preparing for Christmas” by Peter Ediger which speaks of the darkness of cynicism, oppression, fear, and guilt. I realized that even though I am generally a positive, optimistic person there are times when it is easy to be overcome by the “darkness of cynicism.” Perhaps living in Ottawa and working in the area of advocacy makes one more susceptible to this particular “darkness” and its message that nothing really changes.

cropped-img_6353a.jpgThe face of government may change and there are many new MPs with great ideas, but can the system really be changed? Question Period seems civil now, but it won’t last long. The Make Poverty History Campaign was launched 10 years ago, but there’s still poverty. Isn’t it naïve to think the new Sustainable Development Goals will be more effective in bringing about change than the Millennium Development Goals? Wars continue and there seem to be more refugees and displaced people than ever. Terrorists keep popping up everywhere and it feels as if no one will ever be truly safe ever again. As Peter Ediger so aptly laments, “The darkness of cynicism envelops the soul and the darkness of cynicism makes heavy the heart.

Fortunately we are in Advent, a time for good news. As I study the Lectionary readings for this third Sunday, I am struck by the many images of good news contained in these passages. Zephaniah 3:14-20 overflows with images which could clearly be defined as good news, including the removal of judgments and disasters,  the lame being saved, the shame of the outcast being turned into praise, a returning home and restoration of fortunes. Who wouldn’t rejoice on hearing these words? Isaiah 12:2-6 offers a glimpse of something a little more abstract when it speaks of the Lord becoming our salvation, while the writer of Philippians 4:4-7 focuses on the theme of rejoicing in the good news that the Lord is near and there is no reason for fear or worry. All this does indeed sound like good news and — as Ediger puts it — “softly lightens the heart.”

Then we come to Luke’s account of John the Baptist’s ministry, with John calling the crowd “a brood of vipers” who should flee from “the wrath to come.” These words don’t sound like good news and may even have been the result in part of “the darkness of cynicism” as well. Then again, maybe there is good news even in judgment. Soldiers and tax collectors were part of those crowds and were obviously affected because they asked what they should do to, in John’s words, to “bear fruits worthy of repentance.” Tax collectors in particular would have been perceived as the epitome of sinners at that time, profiting while being the agents of Roman oppression. John’s language was strong and forceful, but his message was good news for those oppressed by the Roman Empire because it meant the dominance of evil would come to an end. There would be justice as evil-doers changed their minds, turned around and did something good. What a powerful message of good news.

Colombia Christmas

This photo is from the Day of the Little Candles (Dia de las Velitas), in Bogotá, Colombia. It’s the official start of Christmas, where families light candles at night for each member of the family and to welcome and guide Mary on her journey to Bethlehem. (MCC photo/Anna Vogt)

Even better is that the good news doesn’t end there. In all four passages of scripture, there are references to the presence of the Lord. The Lord is coming, is near, or in our midst. No one listening to John likely imagined that the Messiah’s arrival was so close at hand or would happen in such a humble setting, but it did. God is present with us.  Change is not only possible, but it is happening in unexpected ways. Individual hearts and minds can experience positive change which means the world also can be changed.

Over fifteen years ago more than 120 countries came together in Ottawa to sign the Anti-Personnel Mine Ban Convention (often known informally as the Land Mine Treaty), which no one thought possible just a year earlier. As a result, millions of landmines have been cleared and destroyed, saving lives and returning land to productive use. Out of that work emerged the effort to ban cluster munitions. The recent Truth and Reconciliation Commission with its many recommendations appears to be starting a process of healing.  And the announcement of an inquiry into murdered and missing Indigenous women is another hopeful sign.

May the words of the Lord break through our cynicism and let us rejoice in the good news that every effort (advocacy related or otherwise) toward a just and peaceful world is bringing change.