An Excerpt from Unsettling the Word: Biblical Experiments in Decolonization
This week we are looking at an excerpt from the book Unsettling the Word: Biblical Experiments in Decolonization. (2018) This book, edited by Steve Heinrichs, is a compilation of writings from over 60 Indigenous and Settler authors who wrestle with the Scriptures, re-reading and re-imagining the ancient text for the sake of reparative futures. It was created by Mennonite Church Canada’s Indigenous-Settler Relations program and intended to nurture courageous conversations with the Bible, our current settler colonial contexts, and the Church’s call to costly peacemaking.
The specific excerpt we are highlighting today is written by Sheila Klassen-Wiebe, a Settler Christian living in Winnipeg – Treaty 1 territory and homeland of the Metis Nation. Both the author and editor have given us permission to use this piece on our post today.
As you listen to this except, we would like to encourage you to take note of what (if anything) makes you feel uncomfortable. It is a challenging read that we hope will help all of us to examine our privilege and respond to the repeated calls in Scripture to rise up against injustice, steward creation lovingly and be an active participant in the kingdom of God. Please listen to it and read along and then spend some time reflecting on the questions below.
Come now, you rich people, weep and wail for the miseries that are coming to you. (James 5:1)
RIPE FOR JUDGEMENT
Hey, you! Yeah, you – the white settler, (neo)colonial,
fur trader turned
Do you know your fortunes are about to turn?
Rant and rail, weep and wail.
No good that will do.
The sentence has come down.
That black crude investment, blood of the earth,
will burst from its confining steel veins, giving
slick sheen to pristine waters.
Fish belly-up and gasping;
you too drink the poisoned water.
Hectares upon rolling hectares of shining gold will parch and perish,
million dollar combines silent in the field
as drought conquers the land.
You have taken more than you need,
hoarded for yourself today what could sustain your children tomorrow.
But it’s running through your fingers like sand
or maybe dust/rust,
rotting, molding, withering, fraying,
eating your life like a cancer,
“nothing gold can stay.”1
Treasure stored up in dirty stocks and bonds
will be your “treasure” on the day of reckoning.
“For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.”2
Weekly pay cheques meted out meticulously,
Minimum wage and not a penny more for all those
Migrant workers picking peaches,
factory labourers in mind-numbing lines,
“dirty Indians” hoeing fields of sugar beets
on lands your ancestors loved, and stole.
Health and dental care not your problem, so you say,
hearts hard and ears deaf to the cries, the petitions,
the tired despair of workers
you’ve used and discarded.
Listen! Can’t you hear them?
God is not deaf!
From fields and factories, the cries rise up to Lord Sabaoth.
From inner city tenements and remote reserves,
their cries batter the doors of heaven.
And the Creator opens the door.
From ancient times this Divine Warrior has battled
injustice and oppression.
The Lord of Hosts has heard.
The Lord of Hosts will hear…and hear…and here
will act with justice once again.
You rearrange rivers and lakes
to feed your hydroelectric need-greed,
drunk on the power of those humming lines,
oblivious to the destruction of traditional lifeways, sacred sites,
You have water slides, water parks, just turn-on-the-tap water to drink,
yet Indigenous neighbours, just down the road
die with an 18-year-long boil water advisory,
drink water from throw-away plastic,
suffer mercury poisoning from the Settler mill.
But you live!
In gated communities,
Crisp new suburbs of cookie-cutter condos,
Walk-through pantries and walk-in closets,
Marble countertops and maple cabinets,
As reports of substandard housing
In remote communities
Play on your flat screen TV:
“Eighteen people live in a shack with
No indoor plumbing, mold on the walls…”
You are ripe for judgement.
You have twisted the flat steel blade of the law to serve yourself
And let justice die.
You have murdered the innocent
with your insipid concern for suicides amoung Indigneous
with your hardness of heart for prisons full of Indigenous
casualties of “the system,”
with your apathetic silence about missing and murdered
with your cultural genocide in residential schools, legacy
ongoing and unforgotten.
How can they resist?
Ah, but these words, brother James, are surely not for us good Christian
Surely your audience is elsewhere,
the big shots who work in government, legal offices,
the callous who don’t give a cup of cold water in the name of Christ,
the irreligious who don’t pray your kingdom come.
Surely they are not for us.
1 poem by Robert Frost, “Nothing Gold Can Stay”
2 Matthew 6:21
Which part of this excerpt stood out to you? Did any part of it make you feel uncomfortable? Why do you think that is? Thinking back on what you have learned in these past weeks about Indigenous history, culture and spirituality, how does this reading challenge you?