When Terrible Things Have Been Done in the Name of Jesus


[Trigger warning: Violence, trauma, loss, especially as related to indigenous communities.]

“You represent the ones who died in violent encounters as settlers took your land.”

“You represent the ones who starved after overhunting.”

“You represent the thousands who died from diseases spread by the colonizers.”

We started out as 15 people, standing on blankets spread out on the floor. The patchwork and heirloom quilts represented the northern half of Turtle Island, or modern-day Canada as most of the world knows it. As we stood there, we assumed the role of the original inhabitants of the land.

My friend Alana, a woman of Haida and European decent, led us through the Kairos Blanket Exercise. She had started off with a song from her culture, her voice rising and falling to the beat of the drum, the melody mournful and proud. It was a song of quiet resistance.

We continued the exercise, moving through the shameful history of the land and recounting the consequences of what was often church-sanctioned white supremacy. As my friend moved closer to the present day in her recital of lives stolen and lost, her husband, playing the part of the European, slowly folded up the corners of the blankets. Some of the blankets were no longer touching the rest now.

Turtle Island grew smaller and divided.

“You represent the Stolen Generation from the 60’s Scoop.”

“You represent the children in foster care today.”

“You represent those forced into residential schools and cut off from their family and culture.”

One by one, we stepped off the blankets until there were only two persons left standing. The blankets were now folded over and over on themselves, shrinking to a small, untidy pile in the center of the room. The weight in my chest grew heavier as I looked around at my friends who are indigenous. They have suffered and lost so much, yet they are still strong. They carry the stories of lost generations in their bodies today.

The weight of history—the weight of thousands of dehumanizing decrees and actions and ideologies—were pressing upon us all.

It would be easy to swallow the lump in my throat, to drown the anger and shame in quick fixes and pithy phrases. It is especially difficult to sit with the knowledge that terrible things have been done in the name of the Jesus I love. My first instinct is to want to separate the Living God from the sins of his followers, but I still myself. This is a time of mourning.

My words cannot bring back the lives that are lost. Denials and defensiveness are ineffective and dismissive of the real pain that still affects our brothers and sisters.

God never asked me to be his lawyer; God asked me to bear other’s burdens. I must learn to carry the loss alongside the survivors. I must learn the art of lament. If I cannot first grieve with the suffering, then I cannot have any part in their healing.

It is time for the church to learn that Lament is Biblical.

So I dim the lights, I light the candle, I carry the song of lament and wait for the morning.