Rev Susan Johnson, National Bishop of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Canada writes a regular column for each issue of Canada Lutheran.
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NATIONAL BISHOP'S TURN
Facing Difficult Truths
This issue we have a shared column by National Bishop Susan Johnson and Executive Director Willard Metzger of Mennonite Church Canada (MC Canada). The relationship between the ELCIC and MC Canada continues to grow. Bishop Johnson and Rev. Metzger participated as part of the cross-country Justice Tour earlier this year and were also at the closing events of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) in Ottawa. They share their reflections on the TRC here.
I had the opportunity to attend the closing events of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) in Ottawa. I am sure you have heard the basic facts. 150,000 children went to Indian residential schools (IRS) over the 113 years they were in operation. At least 6,000 of them died—a number comparable to the percentage of those who died in the Canadian Armed Forces in World War II. The schools had cemeteries but no playgrounds. There are currently 80,000 survivors of IRS still living. The intergenerational trauma that has been experienced as a result of IRS has direct links to the extreme problems of violence, addiction and poverty in Indigenous peoples.
I knew the facts before I went to a single TRC National Event. But I had not heard the pain, seen the tears, been moved by the stories of individual people. Valerie Getzon said “Statistics are human beings with the tears dried off.” The TRC events connected me with the tears—those of the survivors and my own tears as well.
The commission laid out an extensive roadmap towards reconciliation. Ninety-four calls to action addressed to government, churches, the criminal justice system and all Canadians. In 2011 our church committed itself to working toward right relationships between Indigenous and non-Indigenous peoples. We need to do everything we can to respond to the calls to action of the TRC.
As Commissioner Marie Wilson said “We must demand the same bravery and trust from all Canadians as has been shown by IRS survivors.” As commissioner Justice Sinclair said: “We have described for you a mountain. We have shown you the path to the top. We call upon you to do the climbing.”
It’s a daunting task, but commissioner Chief Littlechild told us, “The most important words taught to us by survivors are “I’m sorry; I love you; thank you.” Pretty good words for us to remember as we move forward in reconciliation.
National Bishop Susan Johnson
When truth is being spoken it is hard to only hear what you want to hear. Truth has a way of speaking directly to the soul even when the mind has tried to dull the hearing.
The Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) has been giving voice to residential school survivors. These emotional conversations sink into the heart where voices cannot be easily muffled. It seems simpler to shut out what is being said. It is often the preferred option.
But avoidance takes as much energy as engagement. Denial takes as much energy as acknowledgement. Resistance is as difficult as acceptance.
When truth is being revealed it takes work to remain uninformed. When facts become evident it takes work to maintain disbelief. It is not easy to pretend ignorance.
I have listened to hearts express pain so raw that my mind begs to stop listening. My emotions beg for distance. It takes energy to remain open and vulnerable so that what is being spoken can penetrate me deeply. But it takes just as much energy to deny a fair
When the deep conversations of the heart emerge, a fight ensues. In fact, it would appear fighting is not optional: either we fight to remain uninformed, or we fight in support of the new information.
But I have come to realize that difficult truths are a friend of God. Revelation is a result of the Spirit’s work. I’d rather fight apathy than struggle against the spirit of God. Confronting the truth is not easy, but it has the potential of setting you free. This is my prayer as we discern a new future together with our Indigenous brothers and sisters.
Executive Director Willard Metzger
Canada Lutheran, Jul/Aug 2015
Rev. Susan C. Johnson, National Bishop of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Canada writes a regular column for each issue of Canada Lutheran.