The Black Chair

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I walked into the room noting the dissident sorrow and blatant agony saturating the atmosphere.  The room itself was big, airy, not congruent to the sharing of intimate and devastating life stories, but it worked.  I continued toward the sharing circle hearing a grown man weep like my toddler into a microphone.  As I survey the room for a place to sit, I am haunted by the wails.  It is not often I hear grown men weep.  The chairs blanketing the sharing circle are black.  People of all colours, shapes and sizes litter the audience.  They are all captivatingly haunted by what they hear.  I find a spot in the back.  The man finishes his wail, sits down as broken a man as I have ever seen.  People don’t clap.  They let out airy and loud gasps. Some are weeping.  Others are stoic and undoubtedly overwhelmed by the brutality of an evil many can only imagine, but has been experienced by this man.

I sit.  I try to get comfortable and emotionally prepared for what I will be hearing as I sit in a black, plastic chair.  I look up.  A new guy, in his early 50’s is about to talk now.  He slowly lifts the mic to his lips.  Breathing heavily he almost inaudibly cries into the mic “I was raped when I was 5.” 

The tears begin to well up in my eyes as the sound of those words hit my ears with a fury.  That is only a year and a half older than my eldest son.  I wipe my eyes before the tears make their way down my face.  My eyes wander.  Those listening are in shock.  There may not be a dry eye in the place.  My capacity for empathy is saturated by the pure evil this man experienced while at a Residential School.  He continues his story.  I hear most of it, still haunted by the first 7 words out of his mouth.

I was not sure what to expect leading up to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission in Vancouver.  Lord knows the Vancouver traffic afforded me ample opportunity to reflect and ponder my curiosity.  Yet, somehow, as if divine intervention I found my way to a black chair at that particular time, at that particular place.  My journey to that chair was shaped by privilege afforded to me by my white European Settler ancestors.  The journey of the Residential School survivor to his black chair was drastically different.  It was brutal, defined by powerlessness, raped of his humanity. 

But we found ourselves in the same room.  Sitting in each our own black chair.  Many others too, found their way, penned by their own histories, and sitting in black chairs.

Our skin colour didn’t matter.  The only thing that mattered was our common humanity.  The point was to listen.  Few shared their stories.  It was our humanity that linked us amidst our differences.  It is how I imagine Pentecost.  A people bound together by our humanity, embracing our differences united by the loving God.  But here, on this day, our humanity required us to listen.  Listen to the pain of a people many of whom are trying to maintain their own humanity amidst the evil which shaped their lives.  If there is any integrity in our humanity on this day, and everyday henceforth requires us to pursue Truth and pursue with great cost Reconciliation with our Indigenous brothers and sister.

I believe in a God of reconciliation.  A God whose name was taken in vain in both word and deed by many of the Residential schools operating in Canada.  But if I have any ounce of faith in me, in a God who reconciled a broken humanity to God’s self through the grace and shalom of Jesus I am compelled to pursue this same peace and shalom in the community of Creation with my Indigenous brothers and sisters.  May I be damned if I don’t.     

I sat in the black chair.  Forever changed by that which I heard from the mouth of a man who had been to hell and was trying to find his humanity again.  I got up off that black chair forever changed. 

Practicing Families

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Passing on the faith from one generation to another needs to be a high priority for every church community.  Introducing children to the grand narrative of scripture and with that, an invitation to participate in this grand story of restoration and redemption is at the heart of this endeavour. The importance of spiritual practices in this journey of ‘passing the faith’ cannot be underestimated.

As a youth pastor, I emphasize that the most important place where ministry happens is within the home.  More importantly, I am always concerned with ways in which to equip families to tackle head on the question of ‘how do we teach our children about faith in Jesus?’  Which brings me to an exciting and terribly important blog project called Practicing Families

At it’s core, Practicing Families is an online ministry that equips, and facilitates the spirituality of families in a manner that is formative for both parents and children.  To be a practicing family takes patience, effort, an appetite for experimentation and a desire to have the presence of Jesus be formative for a particular time and place. 

When asked to participate as a contributor in this online space I jumped at the chance. 

Be sure to check out this online resource to be encouraged, inspired to try spiritual practices with your family, and to participate in a journey with many others who seek to facilitate and strengthen the ministry of the family.     

www.practicingfamilies.com 

Be sure to check out the facebook page too. 

https://www.facebook.com/PracticingFamilies

The Spirituality of the Psalms: Walter Brueggemann

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When we pray these Psalms, in community or in private we are surrounded by a cloud of witnesses who count on our prayers.  Those witnesses include first of all the of the Israelites who cried out against Pharaoh and other oppressors.  But the cloud of witnesses includes all those who hope for justice and liberation.  This does not detract from the conviction that God is powerful Spirit.  It does not reduce the Psalms to political documents.  It rather insists that our spirituality must answer to the God who is present where the questions of justice and order, transformation and equilibrium are paramount.  We dare not be positivists about our spirituality, as though we live in a world in which all issues are settled.  The spirituality of the Psalms assumes that the world is called to question in this conversation with God.  That permits and requires that our conversation with God be vigorous, candid, and daring. 

Walter Brueggemann, “Spirituality of the Psalms”  74.

Psalms are messy.

Life is messy.

Sometimes we are offered a spirituality that does not do well with the messiness of life.  It glosses over the dirty and serves up heart warming clichés on a silver platter.  What this kind of spirituality does not leave room for is the human experience. 

The Psalms are loaded with questions, wonderings, challenges, and pain.  They are jam packed with the human experience that dares to explore with a candid vigour a conversation with God about real life and faith. 

Read a Psalm.  Pray through a Psalm and participate with ‘the cloud of witnesses’ in a messy spirituality. 

Have you read a Psalm today?