Hope & Hopelessness

I have been dwelling on some memories these past days. I have been recalling my first ministry placement. I flew into the isolated community of Shamattawa. This aboriginal community had been displaced from their territory and plunked in the midst of another band’s ancestral territory. The few who wanted to remain connected to the land had to travel two- or three-days journey to hunt and trap. Disconnected, disheartened, and despairing  the community sank into a malaise. Suicide, gas-sniffing, and violence became the hallmark. My white middle class worldview was shaken! I had no ‘pat’ answers but learned to listen. This was over forty years ago and still this community suffers.

I also remember my tour with Malcolm Harding as we visited community after community on the northern section of the Diocese of Brandon. In one community we were asked to visit each site of violence and death and to offer ‘cleansing prayer’. People felt ‘haunted’ by these deaths. We spent a long, long day being ushered from place to place. In each one we heard a story of horrible violence and loss. We heard of despair and addiction. Most of these communities were ‘relocated’ in order that lands could be flooded, and hydro electricity produced. For years afterward, as I turn on a light switch, I think of the toll that my hydro has cost so many First Nation communities.

Forty years later I still have no pat answers. I do believe that one of our resolutions ought to be to do no further harm! Economic development ought not ever be done at the expense of First Peoples. We hear the word reconciliation bandied about and reconciliation is sorely needed. Reconciliation though, like the Tango, takes two, and it takes work. Folks can apologise and apologies can even be accepted but reconciliation does not happen with forgiveness (though that is a mammoth step!). I have worked with alcoholics for years and they have no trouble feeling sorry. It is easy to feel sorry! But ‘sorry’ does not change anything! A decision followed by action is the only thing that changes things. Like drunks awaking to be confronted by the damage we have caused we easily slip into an abject sorrow and feel as if we are righting wrongs. We are not! That sorrow cannot be sustained unless it is turned into some positive action.

Years ago, I learned that the best I could do in the face of the pain and loss, was to sit in the dust like Job’s friends at their best. I learned to live my life in a way that was winsome and when my friends asked about my hope, then I would share my story.

Our ultimate hope is that Jesus plans to make all things right. In the meantime, we are his agents, loving the world and offering his healing presence in each and every situation, doing so with gentleness and respect.

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