As I Was Saying is a forum for a variety of perspectives to foster faith-related conversations among our readers with the goal of mutual learning, even in disagreement. Apart from articles written by editorial staff, these perspectives do not necessarily reflect the views of The Banner.
In recent weeks, multiple announcements have been made of discoveries of unmarked graves at former Canadian residential schools for Indigenous children. Waves of agony have crashed across the country.
The numbers are as large as they are horrific: 215 graves found at one school in British Columbia and more than 160 at another; 751 discovered at a school in Saskatchewan; 104 graves at a Manitoba school. And, likely, many more children are still lying silently in unknown graves yet to be found.
It is a time of mourning, anger, and pain, both for those of Indigenous and non-Indigenous heritage. We cry and we wonder how and why such evil and wrong could have been done to precious little children.
That the residential school evils were perpetrated on Canadian Indigenous children for seven generations (from the 1880s until the late 1990s) is hard to fathom. That the residential schools existed to eliminate all aspects of Indigenous culture (to “kill the Indian in the child”) is excruciating. That neglect, abuse, and death were so rampant is wrenching and unbearable.
And that all this occurred in church-run schools with crosses perched on their roofs, helmed by people who professed to follow Christ—there are no words strong enough to describe how brutally wrong this is. How contrary what was done is to Jesus’ teaching to sacrificially love others with mercy and justice.
And yet, for me, there is a sense of cognitive dissonance, a separation of myself from those who inflicted these crimes against thousands of little children and generations of Indigenous families.
I find myself filled with just anger at the terrible harm done, placing myself squarely on the side of the “good people.” After all, I had no part in creating or running the residential schools, which ended before I even reached adulthood. I’ve never had a goal of committing cultural genocide against an entire group of people. I believe racism is always wrong. My goal is to stand on the side of justice and to live with mercy. I even have a colourful yard sign on my lawn proclaiming that hate of all forms has no place in my home. Surely, I am not complicit. Not I.
But the truth is that I am complicit; I am not without guilt. And, I think, each of us—every single person—is likewise not without guilt.
When we take a deep, honest, and genuine look into our own hearts, we are all apt to see sinful attitudes that cause a whole lot of harm and pain to others. Things that make us complicit in the perpetuation of systems, classifications, and societies that value some and devalue others, a juxtaposition of privilege and suffering.
Attitudes such as judgment, superiority, pride, self-promotion, and hatred are thorns that germinate in our hearts until they ultimately bloom into actions, big and small, in which we love and welcome some people and yet deny others. Automatic prejudices cause us to react to or even treat the privileged as if they have great honor, the kind of people we want to welcome into our lives and families with open arms, and yet we react to and treat those at the bottom as the kind of people we want to hold at arm’s length or push away even farther.
This pushing away of those we deem less worthy is perpetrated against numerous groups or classifications of people and can come in many forms from racism to ableism to ageism to homophobia to classism to all sorts of ways in which we see ourselves as better than another. The consequence is always that someone is devalued or harmed. It creates inequities, injustices, and a world of pain, rejection, suffering, and loss for the people on the bottom, those who are quite possibly already hurting deeply.
How easy I find it to live a life where it is the norm to look the other way while holding onto my own privilege in a world where others are devalued, looked down upon, and mistreated. It’s personally very rewarding.
And yet this is utterly wrong. You see, when we look at the gospel accounts of how Jesus lived his life, we notice that very often it was the broken and hurting of society that he chose to sit with and visit. Jesus didn’t show a preference for the high in society over the people with less privilege. So often we do differently.
The answer is to bring our hearts to the Creator, to ask our loving God who values mercy and justice so highly to search us and reveal the ways and attitudes within our hearts and lives that are hurtful to others. To implore our Father to weed them out of us and replace them with humility, gentleness, justice, mercy, fairness, and most of all love.
Psalm 139:23-24 leads us in this crying out to God: Search me, O God, and know my heart; Try me and know my anxious thoughts; And see if there be any hurtful way in me, And lead me in the everlasting way.