One of my favourite ways to spend any available free time I have is to grab the camera and associated gear and head out on the road to do some outdoor or nature photography. As anyone in my family will tell you, if the camera gear is in the vehicle and we happen to come upon an abandoned old farm yard, or some old farm implements or derelict vehicles, invariably I have to stop, grab the camera and get out to explore and do some photographic “shooting”.
Photography is a great way to challenge yourself to see the world around you in an entirely different way than other people see it. A good point to illustrate this occurred shortly after Christmas, many years ago. Several nights of midwinter fog had coated everything in a thick coat of sparkling white hoar frost, including an old willow tree at the north end of our village. The image of a frost laden, lone willow tree set against a brilliant blue prairie winter sky was a photographic opportunity just too good to pass up, so there I was, next to the road adjusting camera settings and tripod location in hopes of getting the composition, light and shadows just right. Thats when my neighbour and his family pulled up in their van and stopped on the road. The driver’s side window rolled down, my neighbour stuck his head out of the window and asked, “hey Russ, what ya taking a picture of?” I was practically speechless! Even though we were both looking at the very same scene, what I saw and what my neighbour evidently saw were two entirely different things.
There are other times in my life however, apart from photography, when I often see situations and events very differently from the way other people see the exact same situation or event. One such moment occurred recently, on a Sunday evening two days after Friday, April 6th, 2018. That date will be instantly recognizable by almost everyone here this morning, for that is the sad and tragic day that the Humboldt Broncos bus accident occurred. The following Sunday evening a community prayer vigil was held at the hockey arena in Humboldt. Clergy, community leaders and members of the Bronco Hockey organization all spoke at the prayer vigil which was broadcast to a local, provincial, national and even a global audience. Of all the people who spoke that evening, there was one guest speaker in particular that left a profound and lasting impression on me. His name is Dr. Lawrence Joseph and I would like to take a few moments and let you experience for yourselves the words Dr. Joseph presented so eloquently to a grieving community on behalf of all indigenous first nations people and the Anglican Church.
Not only did the words that Dr. Joseph shared that evening speak directly to my heart, but it was also in the way he shared them that I found very uplifting and inspiring. It is often said that pride goes before a fall, but as I listened to Dr.Lawrence Joseph speak, I could not have been more honoured or proud to belong to the same faith community or family we know as Anglicans.
Dr.Joseph spoke with sincerity, humility, grace, compassion, love and respect. That was plain for all to see. But as I listened to Dr. Lawrence Joseph’s words, it became apparent to me that this was one of those moments when I was seeing something entirely different from what everyone else witnessed. As I watched Mr. Joseph speak that evening, I saw a person with unmeasurable forgiveness. Allow me to explain.
While the date of April 6th, 2018 will probably always remain instantly recognizable to most of in the future, there is a date that marks another day of tragedy in our province that may not be as familiar or recognizable to you. That date is August 9th, 2016, and it marks the sad and tragic day that Colton Boushie and some friends drove into Gerald Stanley’s farm yard. While the events of that day were tragic, what I found more disturbing was the hate filled, racially charged slurs that began to appear on social media in the days following August 9th. The racist comments that were said and printed online are not worthy to be repeated here, but their intent was abundantly clear. They were meant to degrade and condemn not only Colton but also the entire indigenous first nation peoples.
Both of these tragic events resulted in the loss of life. Both of these events caused unspeakable sorrow for families and loved ones, and yet how we as a people reacted to these two events couldn’t have been more different. April 6th 2018 brought us closer together as a community, a province and a nation. As Dr. Lawrence Joseph so wisely pointed out to us a few moments ago, in our sorrow and grief “We are all Humboldt Broncos”. August 9th, 2016 had the exact opposite effect on our society. It drove the divisive wedge of racism and hatred deeper between the indigenous and non indigenous members of our communities, our province and our nation. The hate filled comments were meant to send a loud and clear racist message: we are better than first nation peoples. None of us is a Colton Boushie!
Nothing could be further from the truth than those words.
Did Colton and his friends make some very bad choices that day? Of course they did. To be brutally blunt, did they make some stupid, and poorly thought out decisions that day? Of course they did.
But let me ask you this: is there anyone here who has never made some bad choices in their life? Is there anyone here who has never made some stupid and poorly thought out decisions in their life? I didn’t think so. The only difference between Colton and each of us is that he paid the ultimate price for his mistakes and we did not. In Jesus’s eyes no one race is better than another. Yes, we are all Humboldt Broncos. But in Jesus’s eyes we are also all Colton Boushies.
As I listened to the words of Dr. Lawrence Joseph on the evening of April 8th, I not only thought of Colton Boushie, but I also began to recall some of the countless injustices and hardships our first nations brothers and sister have had to endure because of us and our nation’s policies. Broken promises. Unfulfilled treaties. Residential schools that not only destroyed the social fabric of families, but that told you that your culture, your beliefs, your traditions and your language were “dirty” and of no value, and were no longer permitted. And if all this wasn’t bad enough, residential schools became a place where sexual and physical abuse took place in dark and hidden away corners.
My thoughts also traveled to more recent times. I thought of young first nation people on reserves today and how they live with limited prospects of meaningful work or opportunities that we take so for granted, and how, when all hope seems to be lost, they resort to alcohol, they resort to drugs, and sadly, they resort to the ultimate act of taking their own lives. As I watched and listened to Dr. Lawrence speak that evening, with tears in my eyes, I was in awe of what I was witnessing. Before me was an indigenous, first nations child of God, whose people have endured and suffered so much over that past several hundred years our hands, and yet here he is, with humility, grace, dignity and honour, bringing us words of compassion, and love and consoling us in our time of sorrow and sadness. That is why I saw what many others may have failed to see in that moment – a child of God with unmeasurable forgiveness in his heart.
As I struggle to be a follower of Jesus in this life, I am thankful for the occasional moments when I see people, places and events very differently from the way other people see them. It is in these moments that I feel I have been given the tiniest glimpse of what it is like to see the world through God’s eyes.This morning I would like to ask each of you “How do you see the world around you?” If we are honest and truthful I suspect our answers I will be much the same. Sadly, all too often we see some of the people were encounter in our lives through the lenses of intolerance, fear, prejudice, suspicion, hatred and racism. Likewise, all too often we see the places of this beautiful earth, our island home, through the lenses of greed, exploitation and neglect. In this mornings Gospel lesson, Jesus calls upon us to see the world and the people in it through a different lens.
Jesus said, “As the Father has loved me, so I have loved you; abide in my love. If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and abide in his love. I have said these things to you so that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be complete. This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you.”
Jesus’s desire is that we see the world around us through only one lens, and that lens is love. If we choose to follow the commandment that Jesus gives us, “that you love one another as I have loved you.” we will begin to see the world in a whole new way. We will begin to see the world and people around us through the lenses of kindness, respect, tolerance, forgiveness, compassion, and most importantly, love. In short, we will begin to see the world and its people through the eyes of Jesus Himself.
This morning I would like to conclude my sermon in a very different way. The words I have chosen to close with this morning are given as a tribute to Dr. Lawrence Joseph. His humbleness, graciousness, compassion, love and unmeasurable forgiveness are a light in my life. In this mornings Gospel Jesus says “I have called you friends”. It would be my great honour and privilege to be able to call Dr. Lawrence Joseph my friend!
Secondly, my closing words are given in tribute to all our indigenous first nation brothers and sisters, to young people living on first nation reserves, and they are given especially in memory of Colton Boushie. May Colton, his family and loved ones be remembered in our prayers. Rest eternal grant unto him O Lord, and let light perpetual shine upon him. May he rest in peace an rise in glory. Finally, and most importantly, my closing words are given in honour of our Creator, the One who is the Alpha and the Omega, the Beginning and the End, our one true, bright, and shinning North Star, the light of whose love guides us through the darkest nights, I pay homage and honour with these words:
In the Name of the Father: Oaktoweemau *
In the Name of the Son: Oakasisemau *
and in the Name of the Holy Spirit: Taganatseditsa *
* – Incorrect spelling. A poor attempt at being written phonetically.