Reconciliation with Creation

Laurel Dykstra spoke on March 8 as part of the New Westminster Ministerial’s Lenten speaker series on reconciliation. As requested by participants in the event these are Laurel’s speaker notes with links to resources.

My background for approaching these questions

I am the priest of Salal + Cedar -worship outdoors, equip ppl for climate action, for next brave step

8 + years doing work to engage Christians and churches in climate justice work

-started by asking youth

Wild Church movement, – In the past 10 years, dozens of Wild Churches, communities which gather outdoors to pray, have sprung up all over North America. Wild Churches have a range of practices, leadership models, and relationships to denominations and even to Christianity. They are a kind of functional critique of Christianity’s failure to care for creation and most Wild Churches claim to exist as a response to climate crisis or as a place for engaging climate grief.

Watershed Discipleship -older movement with Ched Myers as the key articulator.

A Watershed is the geographical rain catchment area that divides up our land, the area within a circle of mountain peaks that drain into the ocean at the same place. Watershed discipleship plays on two aspects of this word—the first is that the watershed itself—a natural division where species, weather and sometimes Indigenous languages change—is the primary place where we live out our discipleship (more on that later)—the little lifeboat of species with whom we are thrown together.

Watershed is also a word that is used metaphorically—we say that we are at a watershed moment when things are critical—a raindrop above a mountain could go 2 different directions with vastly different outcomes. –and in terms of species extinctions, deforestation, ocean pollution and global climate change we are at a watershed moment. A little difference now could result in a big change.

Prior to that I was part of the team preparing for the Truth and Reconciliation Commission on Residential Schools

 -for 3 years met with Indigenous and church leaders building relationship

TRC out of process in South Africa

-El Salvador(?), -both offered amnesty in exchange for truth in a situation of extreme power imbalance or imbalance of perpetrators

-Greensborough –Klan shot up a rally,  Detroit -redlining of Black people from housing

I had mentors who worked in each of these processes

I don’t know of a process that I would call an unqualified success -but from my people I know they have sometimes been places of transformation and healing

Why we need to be careful about reconciliation language

In Canada particular caution -even though TRC process was requested by indigenous -residential school survivors it was also a government mandated process

-in my experience right now many more church people are enamoured with the idea/language of reconciliation, and many indigenous people feel very disillusioned

-among the critiques that I hear and these are not all, are:

the truth was not told (esp the way the commission excluded examination of the deaths that occurred at the schools)

-that reconciliation supposes a return to a right, good and equal relationship

Latin roots: to become friendly again, or to reinstate a friendship

 -many ppl this never existed between indigenous and settler people, between Indigenous children and govt. mandated, church-run schools

-the harms of residential schools continue to be perpetrated in ongoing ways and benefitted from, so cannot reconcile (in Christian language) without repentance and without restitution,

Without stopping harm

-despite the fact that “all Canadians are named parties”-side-stepping of responsibility -at the height of the residential school era the vast majority of Canadians identified with one of the denominations that ran RS, people who are not Christians say -it wasn’t us, Christians say it wasn’t our denomination, or we paid our share of the settlement agreement, or that was another generation

-that the Calls to Action of the TRC have mostly been ignored or taken up in less than meaningful ways –as we move to talk about reconciliation with land/creation/ the calls around Indigenous People’s right to Free Prior and Informed consent to what happens on their land is particularly relevant.

Reconciliation with Creation

So we’ve riffed a little on some of the issues with “reconciliation” -let’s talk about creation, the planet, the more than human world.

I cannot overstate the magnitude of climate emergency. The biggest deal in our lifetimes. The future is likely to be very different for young people, in ways that we can’t imagine.

-profound distortion

Anthopocene –age of human impact

Eremocene -age of loneliness (e.o. Wilson)

Is reconciliation the right language?

-yes humans have lived in relationships -mutually nourishing with place, creatures,

Different cultures differently but all of us have an ancestral past that

But some of the same critiques apply

-Are we telling the truth? –Gale Yee Hebrew Bible scholar talks about bible in climate denial, denial about culpability Center and Library for the Bible and Social Justice event (Lenten Bible Detox)
Are we committed to not doing harm?
Are we taking meaningful action?

I think it is fantastic that you are embarking on these questions together during the season of Lent  -a time when we think about sin and repentance

-biblically an awful lot of the focus on sin and repentance has nothing to do with individuals and everything to do with nations, cities, peoples, communities. –so individual repentance won’t change corporate sin -are we taking corporate responsibility? And that doesn’t mean beating each other up for using straws or not eating vegan.

But naming and opposing the principalities and powers -that we participate in

Capital-ocene –just ordered a book theology ecologically focused, with solidarity as key

So there are a LOT of cautions and caveats here but if Christians are to seek reconciliation with the more than human world it must be both individual and corporate

What I offer for the rest of my talk is a review of some elements (not a comprehensive program) that I think are core to that work.

Act like it is an emergency

Seth Klein’s book A Good War looks at Canada’s mobilization in WWII as a model for how we might do the corporate work to respond to climate emergency

-policy and funding “do what it takes”

-tell the truth

-leave no one behind

We have to act, and action is an antidote to despair

Mutual Aid and Solidarity -Dean Spade’s book Mutual Aid
Sheryl Johnson’s Serving Money Serving God -on how churches can put our money where our mouth is in terms of justice

Climate Justice Approach

In their unprecedented Joint Message for the Protection of Creation (2021), Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew, the spiritual leader of the Orthodox church, Pope Francis, the leader of the Roman Catholic church, and the archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby leader of the global Anglican Communion echo the language of the climate justice movement saying, “the people bearing the most catastrophic consequences of these abuses are the poorest on the planet and have been the least responsible for causing them.”

The term “climate justice” has been in use since the 1990s, its origin is credited variously to groups from the global south and communities fighting environmental racism in North America. In deliberate contrast with the term environmentalism which positions “the environment” as a backdrop acted upon but separate from humans, climate justice attends to power differences between individuals, communities, and nations related to race, gender, indigeneity, economic status. The impacts of global climate change are not borne equally and neither is the work of responding. Racialized, impoverished, Indigenous, coastal and island peoples experience the greatest impacts while bearing the least responsibility and are at the forefront of movements for land defense, mutual aid, and corporate and governmental accountability globally and in North America. Climate justice reshapes climate action from a technical effort to cut emissions into a just transition that also addresses human rights and social inequality. 

Climate reparations although voluntary were part of the -latest COP gathering

Reconciliation with creation means talking about racial and economic justice and it means being alert to ecofascism (teen Vogue has an excellent primer) -overpopulation in impoverished places as key problem

Interspecies humility, curiosity and reciprocity

Western/Christian worldview is that humans have a special place -above creation -whether that is steward, or extractor

–kin Queer Nature –who I really can’t recommend enough talk about creature-kin and the practice consent with creatures

Robin Wall Kimmerer -potawatimi botanist -braiding sweetgrass, gathering moss

Grammar of animacy, species as sovereign, relationships of reciprocity

“Knowing that you love the earth changes you, activates you to defend and protect and celebrate. But when you feel that the earth loves you in return, that feeling transforms the relationship from a one-way street into a sacred bond.”

-not romanticizing wilderness as “untouched and human-free”

Spiritual practice/sacrament

Sallie McFague -work around the sanctity of the more than human world

The earth as God’s body

S+C take traditional sacrament -esp eucharist out of doors

But more importantly to see the sacred in all that is around us

To practice wonder

-around grief, loss, lament, repentance

-listen for the divine word in Scripture and in nature

-is collective

Spiritual Disciplines
not b/c it will change what is wrong in the world -but b/c we hope we will not be changed by the world
We do that in 3 ways—through 3 spiritual disciplines.
To know our story
To know our tradition
To know our place

Most of us in this room are not Halkomelem speaking people but here we are on this land to know our story/or our histories—how did our people come to this lower Fraser Watershed? Our you one of the first people’s whose creation stories are here and whose ancestors have been here for tens of thousands of years? Did your family come 100 years ago? Or 10? Or last year? What are the forces of extraction, migration, flight, conquest that brought you here and how do they connect with the trees, minerals, fish, oceans of this place

knowing our tradition—delving into scripture and church practice to find those places that particularly honour and celebrate our connection to creation and engaging those and applying them here in our watershed. Do you know how many figures in the bible have a great spiritual experience under a tree? By a special body of water? Do you know how many trees have names? That the Land is called a witness and participant in covenant?

knowing our place—also called Watershed Literacy means learning the geography, the geology, the plants and animals of our bioregion. I have heard that on average a child can identify more than 100 corporate logos and fewer that 10 plants. –Can you tell a cedar from a hyssop? Do you know our 5 local species of salmon? Could you tell them apart?

For me this spiritual discipline has been the one with the greatest spiritual richness -coming to know and love my watershed neighbours

Senegalese environmentalist Baba Dioum said, “we won’t save places we don’t love; we can’t love places we don’t know; and we don’t know places we haven’t learned”

Having plugged others’ work in my talk I want to do a little “shameless self promotion”

Book coming out in the fall –Wildlife Congregations -Hancock House that is about attending spiritually to creatures and the question of interspecies loneliness –really about spending a year visiting as many gatherings -mass congregations of local wild creatures as possible

Invite Salal + Cedar come and animate your Sunday Worship, or Sunday School, or vacation bible school.

And as we move into discussion I’ll leave you some paired concepts to ponder:
Sin and repentance
Collective and individual action
Kinship and wonder

A Visit to Holy Cross

By Atsumi Nakao
The visit of Rev. Laurel on March 27 started with a bit of stir. Our beloved musician Seira had to be absent on the day, and we were seeking an alternative way to deliver beautiful music to welcome Rev. Laurel. Then Laurel offered a song without printed lyrics or music. I sensed that Laurel must be a person who has so much up their sleeve. That turned out to be true.

Rev. Laurel brought us two guests: Salal and Cedar in a jar. We decorated our church with Salal at our wedding last year August, yet we were not aware of the Indigenous meaning of them. Decolonization starts in a way we center the value and view of how indigenous people steward this beautiful land. I thus really appreciated that Laurel shared such a deep meaning of Salal and Cedar.

Rev. Laurel started the sermon by acknowledging our history, resilience and faith in the face of racism then, I wondered, what value and view we can offer as a community. I have always been healed and empowered when I encounter Indigenous people’s spirituality and culture, and I have been blessed by the warmth and kindness of this community. As Covid restrictions are loosening and our church is opening to the neighbourhood, maybe it is a good time to think about how we can walk the way of Jesus in our own ways.

Speaking of the culture, Rev. Laurel joined our Japanese language class after church. We learned numbers and had a number bingo game together. It was a pure joy that we shared the time.

One of the things we kept talking about after the church was how Rev. Laurel had done a queer reading of the prodigal son, which was a huge takeaway point so I would like to share the story here (You can watch Laurel’s sermon here as well.) Before Sunday, I thought the father was the God figure and the prodigal son was celebrated because he had repented. Rev. Laurel said their father is not good because he is not as macho as he is supposed to be. Father embraces his son and kisses him, almost like a mother. Then I thought, what would be the masculinity that could encompass this loving, forgiving nature.

I am not a Japanese Canadian descent whose family immigrated to Canada before the war, but a new immigrant who just arrived here six years ago. As I researched the history of the Holy Cross, I realized there is a resonance with this story.

The previous Holy Cross church was confiscated and sold by brothers and sisters who shared the same faith. Japanese Canadians lost the cultural and social hub when they returned — this distraction deeply impacted their lives. However, we gather here today as we are gifted this St. Peter’s church by the same sisters and brothers. As Rev. Laurel preached, the “failed” father, prodigal brother and everyone is welcome to the feast. We can always come back together at the same table to celebrate this gift of abundant opportunities.