Barefoot & Preaching is a syndicated monthly column in The Catholic Register.
It has been a profoundly difficult few weeks to live in Treaty territory and the homeland of the Metis. To live in a land that welcomes people to safety but cannot guarantee it. The discovery of 215 children in a grave confirmed what elders and family members have known and lived with for a long time. The murder of four Muslim family members across three generations leave a child to grieve. The rhetoric and buck-passing is rivalled only by the silence in its inadequacy. A generous friend asked how I am this week, and I said that I am deeply uncomfortable.
Several years ago, I was working with a group of people and we were intentionally trying to invite more diversity. And as we welcomed new people, the conversations reflected the diversity of the participants. Things felt different for those of us who had gotten used to how it had been before. (Before, when we were all white, all Catholic, all born in Canada.)
I was reflecting on this shift with one of our new Indigenous members. I said that things were uncomfortable for some. And she said, with the characteristic honesty that I have come to love deeply, “Welcome to what it feels like for me all the time.” I am grateful to Tara and the many other friends and colleagues who have chosen to teach me when they might have rejected me and my ignorance.
Until Tara said that, I hadn’t really thought of myself as being invested in my own comfort. I hadn’t thought about how much I tried to protect others from being uncomfortable. And I found myself leading in a situation where it wasn’t going to be possible – or desirable – to keep everyone comfortable. I had to choose.
Here’s the thing about racism and injustice, truth and reconciliation: it is devastatingly uncomfortable for those willing to see it. More significantly, systemic oppression and injustice is a cause of trauma, violence, and even death for the human beings targeted by it. Historically and presently, people are dying from racism. I choose my own discomfort, the destabilizing of the situations and systems that harm my neighbours and me.
As Catholics (and Christians more broadly), as the descendents of colonizers, we are generations late to the discomfort. It is a privilege to be welcomed to feel it now; reconciliation is so much more than we deserve. The cost of my comfort is that others are not only constantly uncomfortable but endangered by my (and our) comfort. So it is past time for us to learn to be uncomfortable, to take a walk to the edge of things when we have been used to having our own stories and experience at the centre of everything.
This story is not about me, and for as long as Christians of colonial descent do not see our role in it, the racism and injustice will not stop. It needs to end, so I will be learning about deconstructing systems of oppression for the rest of my life. I offer this list of some of the discomforts I have been learning:
- To listen to how others see me, my church, and/or my ancestors without being defensive.
- To stop protecting people from discomfort by stopping conversations, sidestepping conflict or disagreement, or trying to ignore things.
- To sit in and learn about others’ religious rituals and spiritual traditions, especially when they are unfamiliar to me, offered in a language I do not speak, or present theological differences to my own religious and spiritual understandings and practices.
- To speak up when people say things that actually are or might be perceived as racist, discriminatory, uninformed by data, or traumatic triggers to those who suffer.
- To challenge the things that I have believed to be true and test them against others’ ways of understanding the world.
- To allow those I have wounded to tell me what they need from me for healing.
- To thank people who point out my errors and oversights, to ask for forgiveness, and to change my behaviour.
- To give up my seat at the table to make room for others, and/or proceed with conversations about groups of people only when they are represented.
- To pursue truth and reconciliation and healing even and especially when it is uncomfortable, inconvenient, and disruptive for me.
Because the cost of my comfort is others’ suffering, I choose a different way. In this post, I am only qualified to share my own story. I am reading and relying on the wisdom, stories, and teachings of others. Links to reading lists follow below. I hope you might leave some of your favourites in the comments.
May tears and heartache allow us to see and learn from those who have walked the path of grief before us. May discomfort drive us toward being good neighbours and allies to all those who suffer. May we all be agents of truth and reconciliation so that justice and healing can be our shared future.
Read more here:
Truth and Reconciliation Commission: Calls to Action
Regina Public Library Reading List for Reconciliation
Saskatoon Public Library Reading List for Reconciliation
Ibram X. Kendi’s Anti-Racist Reading List
Bishop Susan Hassinger and Dean Teddy Hickman-Maynard’s Reading List for Dismantling White Privilege in the Church
Willie Ermine, The Ethical Space of Engagement, Journal Article
Brian Arao and Kristi Clemens, From Safe Spaces to Brave Spaces, Journal Article
I was reflecting on this shift with one of our new Indigenous members. I said that things were uncomfortable for some. And she said, with the characteristic honesty that I have come to love deeply, “Welcome to what it feels like for me all the time.”
When I sit under the stars, I feel my relative smallness in the universe and a simultaneous gratitude that God saw fit to have a place for me in it. I feel called to step into this massive work of creation and place my tiny hands in God’s eternal hands and hold the tension alongside the Spirit.
I heard Imperfection laughing with me. Her laugh sounds so much like God’s grace to me.
Over the last four years, maybe one of my biggest learnings is that the mess is not just a place to clean up or avoid. Hiding it away (whether for showing a house or perpetuating my denial) doesn’t make it any less real. The mess waits, bides its time, slowly seeps out of the cracks of inevitable imperfection. The mess is a space we live in. Because the alternative is to suspend our living while we wade through the mess.
As fall turned to winter, I found a prayer for life transitions in Common Prayer, A Liturgy for Ordinary Radicals. We were considering a move, in the middle of a pandemic. It all felt very complicated. And the opening line of the prayer resonated with me: “Lord, help...
The problem with letting God catch me is that I have to jump. I have to give over the middle and the end, precisely at the place that feels most vulnerable. In the height of risk, surrender is the call. I want to let it ring. I’ll call back when it works better for me. Despite thousands of recitations of the words, it turns out that I am not okay with being enough. I want to be everything. I want to jump and catch, and the world does not work that way.
Image by Pezibear from Pixabay Longing is a place I visit frequently, passing through on the way to somewhere else. The floor is worn at the entrance way and in front of the window, where walking gently back and forth has left its mark. The chair...
Shoveling for hours, I dug mostly for more space inside myself.
The God who has held me for every moment of my existence does not offer a heady salvation from a massive throne on a far off judgement day; the Spirit pours the saving into creation and wraps itself around me in every moment.
And all these awkward stages in life and in creation are part of the miracle of being alive. They are neither better nor worse than seedling or mature stages of growth. Where did I learn to judge the awkward as bad, the uncomfortable as awful, the exposed as wrong?
On Being Barefoot…
Before the burning bush, God asks Moses to take off his sandals, to notice and reverence that he walks on holy land. This holy land continues to burn before me, before us, signaling God’s presence before we arrived rather than because we did. This life we are living was holy before we existed in it. This land and creation we call home is the first book of revelation, God’s love letter to us, bearing witness to the Creator of it all.Our lives and the moments that make them up are the stuff of sainthood, our invitations to participate in Divine life to be swallowed up and fulfilled by God. At the grocery store, in the false solitude of our cars and commutes, in our laundry rooms, and over text messages. My shoes run the risk of “protecting” me from the sacredness of this naked moment. And how I love shoes, and how my sensitive toes resist the prickles of grass and the mess of sand. But barefoot is how my spirituality works, daring to live an embodied and earthy love of Jesus who took on flesh. I’m wandering through this life, yearning to let go of my shoes, to walk reverently and with deep attention to what passes under my feet and to what isn’t yet my path. Barefoot is how I write, how I speak, how I work. Experience shored up against an insatiable thirst for knowledge; direct honesty honed by sensitivity; and vulnerability chained to a commitment to competency. And an unapologetically barefoot tendency to speak it as I feel it, which leads me to…
I’m a preacher without a pulpit, with words that burn until they are spoken ~ aloud or on a page.
My ministry is one of colliding words and ideas, reaching out to find a connection with God’s amazing people.
The world seems to me to be spilling over with grace and we seem to be people who, all too quickly forget that all of this is pure gift.
When I’m driving, eating, visiting, resting, cleaning, working, playing, and almost everything else, I’m frequently stunned by the pure miracle of what simply is.
It’s not all promised joy and ease, but it is all presenced and remembered by the One who gives it. And I can’t stop talking about it, proclaiming it, preaching this good news that we have not been forgotten or forsaken in any moment of this life.
For reasons I don’t quite understand, my words seem to be given to encourage and inspire. In a world where women and girls are still too-often silenced or secondary, I’m barefoot and preaching because my soul won’t rest any other way. If my words can be a gift to you, then that is a gift for me.