“I Will” – A 2nd Letter from a White Christian After the TRC

Leaving a Light_Hartwig_Creative Commons

"Leaving a Light"_Hartwig HKD_Creative Commons

"Leaving a Light" – Hartwig HKD

I’m leaving a light
For heaven
I’m leaving a light
For earth
I’m leaving a light
For father
I’m leaving a light
For mother
I’m leaving a light
For me

On Thursday I wrote a post called "I Will Never" – A Letter From a White Christian at the TRC. Never in a million years would I have guessed that the post would have gone viral. Between yesterday morning and today, this one post alone has garnered almost 25,000 hits.

It's surreal. This little blog might get 80 hits on a good day (120 hits on a GREAT day, plus a few shares). 

But that's not what is really prompting today's post.

What's prompting today's post is my sheer lack of preparadness for the stories slipping into my inbox:

  • of being taken away from siblings
  • of white privilege and denial
  • of family breakdown now because of forced family breakdown 'back then'
  • of the desire for reconciliation
  • of the different perspectives on forgiveness ("forgive but never forget", "love must conquer all", "forgiveness is sacred", "forgiveness releases us from the oppressor").

Each story has confounded me, undone me, totally rearranged me. Someone took the time to breath in courage, exhale fear and take the chance writing a white Christian about his personal story, her sacred journey. 

I don't know if I'm close to the mark, but if I had to hazard a guess I'd say this is where humility has its birthplace — receiving precious words never mine to own, but shared with me anyway.

In my faith tradition Jesus teaches me that true relational power grows through serving one another. Jesus, this man I believe is my First Love and divine Reconciler, Creator of the universe and of all people, dared to love his friends by acting as a slave: 

"So [Jesus] got up from the supper table, set aside his robe, and put on an apron. Then he poured water into a basin and began to wash the feet of the disciples, drying them with his apron. When he got to Simon Peter, Peter said, “Master, you wash my feet?”

7 Jesus answered, “You don’t understand now what I’m doing, but it will be clear enough to you later.”

8 Peter persisted, “You’re not going to wash my feet—ever!”

Jesus said, “If I don’t wash you, you can’t be part of what I’m doing.”

9 “Master!” said Peter. “Not only my feet, then. Wash my hands! Wash my head!”

10-12 Jesus said, “If you’ve had a bath in the morning, you only need your feet washed now and you’re clean from head to toe. My concern, you understand, is holiness, not hygiene. So now you’re clean. But not every one of you.” (He knew who was betraying him. That’s why he said, “Not every one of you.”) After he had finished washing their feet, he took his robe, put it back on, and went back to his place at the table.

12-17 Then he said, “Do you understand what I have done to you? You address me as ‘Teacher’ and ‘Master,’ and rightly so. That is what I am. So if I, the Master and Teacher, washed your feet, you must now wash each other’s feet. I’ve laid down a pattern for you. What I’ve done, you do. I’m only pointing out the obvious. A servant is not ranked above his master; an employee doesn’t give orders to the employer. If you understand what I’m telling you, act like it—and live a blessed life.

18-20 “I’m not including all of you in this. I know precisely whom I’ve selected, so as not to interfere with the fulfillment of this Scripture:

The one who ate bread at my table
Turned on his heel against me.

“I’m telling you all this ahead of time so that when it happens you will believe that I am who I say I am. Make sure you get this right: Receiving someone I send is the same as receiving me, just as receiving me is the same as receiving the One who sent me.” (John 13:3-18, The Message).

I will always be white. My skin colour cannot be changed. Is there room for me to pursue another cultural definition of what it means to be 'white'? I'd like to think so, but even in saying that I know this can't be done in exclusion. I, Erin, cannot declare "THIS is what it means to be white now!" and expect the past, present and future to be okay. Expunged. Healed. Presto!

I will be always be a Christ-follower. That life transformation from the Creator through Yeshua and Divine Spirit has irrevocably changed me, loved me and made me into a new creation. Yet I am not a finished product either. I see and know that my faith traditions have used words, like the words above, to punish… to find fault… to create guilt… to abuse… to demoralize… to wound… to destroy…

… all in the name of righteousness. Perhaps one day it will be different, but today is not that day. And I accept that, even as I quietly ask that people accept me as the white Christian I am.

What else will I do?

I will handle the stories you have sent me as gently as I possibly can. My hands shaking, I will try to caress them, listen to them, rest beside them in stillness and quietness. Dropping them or holding on to them too tightly aren't options. Such powerful expression of sacred life must not be discarded along the way or gripped so hard all air is crushed from their lungs.

I will hide your words in my heart, refusing to speak them aloud unless you give expressed permission for me to utter them. These are your stories to tell, not mine. That you shared them with me is an honour above value. I will seek to serve that honour by cherishing your stories.

I will share with family, friends and the next generations of Canada's genocides, residential schools, foster care systems, systemic racism, internalized racism, invisible privilege, white privilge. When the truth is learned and embraced, there is no looking away without choosing to live a lie. 

I will keep listening. Please keep sharing. I will try my best to learn what you wish me to learn, to hear what you need me to hear, and to accept what you need me to accept. 

I will be changed by your stories. Your words aren't falling on deaf ears. Instead of closing off, I choose to let your words sink into my spirit and change the person that I was, the person that I am, and the person I will become.

I will… apologize.

One woman's apology cannot hope to make up for hundreds of years of oppression, but that doesn't let me off the hook either from uttering the words:

I.Am.Sorry.

I am sorry my people, my cultures, sought to extinguish your lives.

I am sorry my faith traditions sought to re-make you, re-shape you, forcibly confine you to belief systems that brought about shame, pain and trauma.

I am sorry for not understanding inter-generational trauma sooner or better or more clearly.

I am sorry for blaming you for the actions we took.

I am sorry for demonizing you when the demons were dancing with us all along.

I am sorry for all the children who were taken.

I am sorry for all the parents left behind to pick up the pieces of a shattered life.

I am sorry for turning away from abuse.

I am sorry for the disproportionate amount of indigenous peoples in Canada's penal system — people incarcerated on useless charges, given no supports upon exit, and shown a life of a revolving prison door.

I am sorry for being too quiet about the reality of aboriginal human trafficking — the huge demand for First Nations, Metis and Inuit women and girls. If people really understood the nature of the sex trade, they would see that "choice" has no place here. 

I am sorry that Jesus… a Middle Eastern tribal man who embodied Love and Peace and Wisdom… was preached as a white power-hungry, people-condemning, hateful crusader. 

I.Am.Sorry.

I am guilty.

You deserved so much more than what was given, and you deserve so much more now than what is being offered.

All I can ask of you now is: "Will you forgive me?"

I understand if you choose not to. And I am humbled if you choose to do so.

As before, I return to that place of silence.

It is my time to listen.

Lac La Biche Mission 1924

Lac La Biche Mission 1924_Photo Credit: Lac La Biche Mission Historical Society

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