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Only an Orange Shirt (September 30, 2018)

I’m going to do something a little risky today. It’s risky because I know we don’t all think the same way about this … but I want to raise some questions which are important for us to consider.

Let me begin by acknowledging that we gather for worship this morning on the traditional unceded territory of the Ktunaxa People. We are grateful for the opportunity to work and worship in this territory.

I want to begin by confessing to you, as James counsels us. I want to tell you how disappointed I am in myself. I’ve been learning some stuff over the last few years that has been staring me in the face my whole life long … and it never registered. There were hints of it throughout my life, but I never put it together.

I am deeply sorry for my ignorance, for my lack of knowledge.

But that also means that I get it. I understand how it is that we haven’t learned what is becoming increasingly clear, and so I try to be compassionate about that kind of stuff with others. We come at this stuff with different questions and different opinions. We don’t all agree.

I’m not sure what finally got through to me, but it did get through to me. And now, it has become an important part of the gospel word for me.

In the last couple of weeks, I’ve been preaching about Jesus calling us to deny ourselves, take up our cross, and follow.

Today’s gospel tells us that we are to be salt … that we are to flavour life with God’s gospel purposes, and to live at peace with one another.

I want to ask some questions today, which are rooted in the gospel for me. My refrain will be “How can we flavour life with the gospel?”

Today is Orange Shirt Day. Why orange shirts? Listen to the story in her own words from Phyllis Webstad. She is an aboriginal person, from the Northern Secwpemc (sek we’ petch) First Nation, about an hour south of Williams Lake.

“I went to St. Joseph’s Mission Residential School for one school year in 1973–1974. I had just turned 6 years old. I lived with my grandmother on the Dog Creek reserve. We never had very much money, but somehow my granny managed to buy me a new outfit to go to the Mission school. I remember going to Robinson’s store and picking out a shiny orange shirt. It had string laced up in front, and was so bright and exciting—just like I felt to be going to school!

“When I got to the Mission, they stripped me, and took away my clothes, including the orange shirt! I never wore it again. I didn’t understand why they wouldn’t give it back to me, it was mine! I didn’t want to be at school anymore, but I had to stay there for 300 sleeps.

“The colour orange has always reminded me of that and how my feelings didn’t matter, how no one cared and how I felt like I was worth nothing. All of us little children were crying and no one cared.

“I was 13¾ years old and in grade 8 when my son Jeremy was born. Because my grandmother and mother both attended residential school for 10 years each, I never knew what a parent was supposed to be like. With the help of my aunt, Agness Jack, I was able to raise my son and have him know me as his mother.

“I went to a treatment center for healing when I was 27. I have been on this healing journey since then. I finally get it, that the feeling of worthlessness and insignificance, ingrained in me from my first day at the mission, affected the way I lived my life for many years. Even now, when I know nothing could be further than the truth, I still sometimes feel that I don’t matter.”

That’s why I’m wearing orange today.

That story is not unique. Many of our aboriginal brothers and sisters tell that kind of story. That’s partly why this has become such an important thing for me. It brings me to tears.

In the light of a story like that, how can we flavour life with the gospel? How will we be salt?

Part of the history behind this is what’s called the Doctrine of Discovery. Have you heard about it?

The Doctrine of Discovery was an edict issued by Pope Alexander VI in 1493. It stated that any lands not inhabited by Christians were empty, unowned, and available to be discovered, claimed, and exploited. The Pope called these lands “terra nullius” — “nobody’s land”, and it was applied to North America.

On the basis of the Doctrine of Discovery, the colonial powers—England, France, Spain, Portugal, the Netherlands—were able to exploit land which had been inhabited by Indigenous Peoples from time immemorial. These colonial powers accumulated massive wealth by extracting natural resources from the land.

The Doctrine of Discovery denied the essential humanity of our brothers and sisters who lived here. They weren’t “Christian” (as defined by church powers), and therefore the land was considered empty. The Doctrine said that there were no humans here.

The Doctrine of Discovery laid the groundwork for the racism and injustice that still exists.

In 2010, our General Synod repudiated the Doctrine of Discovery. We denied it had any validity, and we confessed our culpability. And now, we are working hard to reconcile with our aboriginal brothers and sisters.

In the light of our church’s repudiation of this doctrine and working towards reconciliation, how can we flavour life with the gospel? How will we be salt? How will we seek to be reconciled?

There are so many facets in this discussion—but I don’t want to overwhelm you. The main thing at this time, it seems to me, is that we begin to educate ourselves. As I said at the beginning, I don’t have many answers. But I do know that in the light of the gospel, these are important questions for us to talk about.

Our church has made some significant steps. But they are only first steps, baby steps, on a journey that will take generations.

We can get involved on that journey. Here are a couple of ways to start:

  1. Let’s become more aware of what’s going on, what has happened, and what we can do now; there are some wonderful resources online, including https://www.anglican.ca/tr/reconciliation-toolkit/
  2. Let’s begin a conversation with our Ktunaxa brothers and sisters so that we can begin the journey towards reconciliation and wholeness, and so I’m planning to begin a conversation with Chief Joe Pierre.

It’s a global problem but the solutions are local.

Survivors of residential schools will keep telling their stories. We will continue listening with open hearts. That’s why I’m wearing orange today, without alb or chasuble.

What I know with an absolute certainty is that, as Matthew tells this story, we are the salt of the earth and we are the light of the world. If we have lost our saltiness, how will life be flavoured with the gospel? If we have lost the light, how will others learn about God’s inclusive love?

Let me leave you with this question. How can we flavour life with the gospel? How will we be salt?

Thanks be to God.

Rev. Dr. Yme Woensdregt

September 30, 2018 (19th Sunday after Pentecost, Proper 26)

Mark 9: 38–50

James 5: 13–20

Esther 7: 1–10; 9: 20–22