A Community Exploring Faith, Seeking Justice, and Living with Respect in Creation

Office & delivery address: 165 Avenue Road, Unit 402, Toronto ON, M5R 3S4

Weekly Sunday Services on Zoom and in person at 10:30am at 729 St. Clair Ave. W


Relationship, Relationship, Relationship

September 24, 2023
Rev. Dr. Russ Daye
Orange Shirt Sunday
Joel 2 (selected verses)

Blow the trumpet in Zion;
sound the alarm on my holy mountain!
Let all the inhabitants of the land tremble,
for the day of the Lord is coming, it is near—
a day of darkness and gloom,
a day of clouds and thick darkness!
Like blackness spread upon the mountains
a great and powerful army comes;
their like has never been from of old,
nor will be again after them
in ages to come.

Fire devours in front of them,
and behind them a flame burns.
Before them the land is like the garden of Eden,
but after them a desolate wilderness,
and nothing escapes them.

They have the appearance of horses,
and like warhorses they charge.
As with the rumbling of chariots,
they leap on the tops of the mountains,
like the crackling of a flame of fire
devouring the stubble,
like a powerful army
drawn up for battle.

Yet even now, says the Lord,
return to me with all your heart,
with fasting, with weeping, and with mourning;
rend your hearts and not your clothing.
Return to the Lord, your God,
for he is gracious and merciful,
slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love,
and relents from punishing.
Who knows whether he will not turn and relent,
and leave a blessing behind him,
a grain-offering and a drink-offering
for the Lord, your God?

Blow the trumpet in Zion;
sanctify a fast;
call a solemn assembly;
gather the people.
Sanctify the congregation;
assemble the aged;
gather the children,
even infants at the breast.

In response to his people the Lord said:
I am sending you
grain, wine, and oil,
and you will be satisfied;

Do not fear, O soil;
be glad and rejoice,
for the Lord has done great things!
Do not fear, you animals of the field,
for the pastures of the wilderness are green;
the tree bears its fruit,
the fig tree and vine give their full yield.

Isaiah 43:1-7

But now thus says the Lord,
he who created you, O Jacob,
he who formed you, O Israel:
Do not fear, for I have redeemed you;
I have called you by name, you are mine.
When you pass through the waters, I will be with you;
and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you;
when you walk through fire you shall not be burned,
and the flame shall not consume you.
For I am the Lord your God,
the Holy One of Israel, your Saviour.
I give Egypt as your ransom,
Ethiopia and Seba in exchange for you.
Because you are precious in my sight,
and honoured, and I love you,
I give people in return for you,
nations in exchange for your life.

Do not fear, for I am with you;
I will bring your offspring from the east,
and from the west I will gather you;
I will say to the north, ‘Give them up’,
and to the south, ‘Do not withhold;
bring my sons from far away
and my daughters from the end of the earth—
everyone who is called by my name,
whom I created for my glory,
whom I formed and made.’

The prophetic books in the Hebrew scriptures, like the Hebrew scriptures as a whole after a fashion, are all trying to come to terms with the same massive global phenomenon, and what that is is that humanity has started to organize itself into communities and societies on a much greater scale.  It happened the world over.  This transition from tribal units, relatively small, often nomadic or attached to a particular place, started to be replaced by cities, nations, empires.  As those new human collectives started to form, they became hierarchical, very well symbolized by a core symbol in one of the most ancient empires – Egypt – the pyramid, and what was happening is well represented by a pyramid.  The very few at the top had the majority of wealth and power, and the many at the bottom bore the weight of the whole thing, suffering, in many instances.

Given where ancient Israel is located, and the place from which ancient Israelites came, which is the Near East, it was like a chessboard for the play of empire.  Great empires – Egypt, Assyria, Babylon, Persia – grew and wandered back and forth on this land, conquering it, relinquishing it, crushing the people.  They weren’t all the same, but they were all organized according to what Walter Wink, the biblical scholar, would call “systems of domination”.  Systems of domination.

So, the prophets, and others producing the scriptures, for ancient Israel are continually wrestling with these questions:  What do we do with this?  How do we find justice in the midst of this?  Do we resist empire or do we try to become the empire?  How do we treat the economic losers – orphans and widows and foreigners and slaves?  Who’s God in all of this?  What does God want from us?  And even at this moment, as empire rose and males started to dominate females, the God of ancient Israel becomes characterized as more and more male and warrior-like, which produces behaviour on the part of the powerful that the prophets resist.

I think these are fantastic passages to inform us on Orange Shirt Sunday, as we look towards the National Day of Truth and Reconciliation.  But, in order to do this, we have to make a shift.  We’ve been trained; those of us who grew up in the church, those of us who are educated for ministry, those of us who’ve been through a lot of bible studies, we are trained to read these scriptures and apply them today as though the church sits in the place of ancient Israel, and what I would say today what we need to do is remove the church from the location of ancient Israel and insert the Indigenous peoples of this land into the slot in the story occupied by ancient Israel.

They’re the people who had an imperial project, as a matter of fact, the play of empires – the French empire, the British empire, the Spanish empire, others – played out on their lands like a chessboard, and they were the ones who were pushed to the very bottom of systems of domination.  So think, as I read these verses again, about mothers and fathers and communities who had their children taken away to residential schools:

Do not fear, for I am with you;
    I will bring your offspring from the east,
    and from the west I will gather you;
I will say to the north, ‘Give them up’,
    and to the south, ‘Do not withhold;
bring my sons from far away
    and my daughters from the end of the earth—
everyone who is called by my name,
    whom I created for my glory,
    whom I formed and made.’

To reveal to you a sense of how the domination system has played out in relation to Indigenous people, I want to tell a story I was in the middle of, sort.

A few weeks ago, I talked about apartheid in South Africa in the sermon; and many of you wanted to talk to me about it afterwards because you had your own experiences of that.  In the year 2000, after I had spent six months in South Africa researching apartheid and its end, I came home to complete my graduate studies and waiting for me was an email inviting myself and my then wife, Fiona, to go to Burnt Church, New Brunswick as non-violence observers in the midst of the fisheries conflict that was happening there.

This actually played out over 3 years (1999-2001) when the Supreme Court of Canada made the martial ruling that said the First Nations on the East Coast could hunt, fish and harvest from public lands without being controlled or regulated by the Canadian government authorities, later clarified somewhat in a second decision.  Because it was the most lucrative of those industries, really, the trouble centred around the lobster fishery, and when the First Nations started to initiate their own lobster fisheries, this is what they were met with – violence on the water.

In the summer of 1999 in Esgenoopetitj First Nation, in New Brunswick, the first fisheries boats went out and they were confronted by boats of non-Indigenous fishers.  There was rammings, there were shootings, there were invasions into their community, traps were burned on the wharfs.

Years later, one woman who had been a child at Burnt Church (Esgenoopetitj at that time) told me a story about walking down to the beach with the young children of her community whom she was caring for and some non-Indigenous folks were off the beach, in their boats, and they were skipping bullets like rocks along the surface of the water, and they would strike the beach, and the children had to run away and hide behind things so they wouldn’t be hit by the skipping bullets.  This is what arose.

This is a picture taken in the year 2000 with a government boat ramming a boat filled with Indigenous fishers.  In the first summer, it was mostly non-Indigenous fishers who carried out acts of violence, and so what the Department of Fisheries and Oceans and the RCMP did, in preparation for the second summer, is they beefed up.  But one of the things they did to beef up is they took some of the non-Indigenous fishers and deputized them as DFO officers and gave them government boats.  So, early upon the launch of the fishery in the second year, there was story after story of these kinds of rammings taking place.  To my eye, this was the first reminder of the domination system in South Africa – police agencies becoming criminalized carrying out illegal violent behaviour against racialized people.  When that started to happen, I started to get the scent of the domination system of South Africa in my nostrils.

Here you see something we witnessed lots of times – an Indigenous boat rammed and then the fishers beaten with night sticks as they fall into the water.

The media showed up in droves.  In the year 2000, I was living in Esgenoopetitj First Nation, so I was present to the media.  It’s an amazing thing to be present to a big story that makes the national news, and then to see how it’s played out in print and electronic media.  I would say that the range of the quality of reporting was wide but the problem with it was encapsulated in one episode that I witnessed.  It was actually the first day that I got to Esgenoopetitj First Nation.

A number of Indigenous fishers had gone out in small boats, like the ones you had seen, and they were fishing.  And then boats with RCMP officers and DFO officers came towards them very quickly and ran over one of the boats, splitting it in two, causing the fishers to jump into the water.  Then another small boat or two of Indigenous fishers approached them as their fellows were being beaten with nightsticks in the water, reached into the bottom of their dories and threw rocks at the DFO and RCMP officers to push them off long enough to be able to rescue their fellow fishers, and this was being filmed.

So, they come ashore with the film, and it’s given to (the) CBC, and this video plays out on Newsworld exactly as taken, throughout the day but by the time it got played on the National that evening, some editor had taken the video, cut it in two and started the story with Indigenous fishers throwing rocks at police agencies.  The second smell of the South African domination system in my nostrils – the media being turned to tell lies or half-truths in ways that serve the power relationships of the domination system.

What was at the heart of this?

The federal government went to Indigenous communities all around Atlantic Canada and said, okay, you’ve got this right to fish.  We’ll make a deal with you.  If you accept our regulations, and fish in the seasons that we outline and in the ways that we outline, we will give you training and equipment and boats.  Not a bad deal, but you have to receive a limited number of fishing licences and they have to be given to individuals in your communities.  In other words, you have to adopt the form of fishery that the nation that dominates you uses, and most of the communities made the deal, which I’m not criticizing.  But, Esgenoopetitj First Nation said no, what we’re going to do is give a small number of traps to every man, woman, child and other in the community,  and we are going to fish communally, and we’re going to do it in the seasons that we choose according to our understanding of ecological realities; and that’s what was at the heart of the fisheries conflict when this First Nation refused to be shaped according to the economic realities of a system that had dominated them for centuries.

These are two teachers at Esgenoopetitj First Nation.  She’s from Esgenoopetitj, he’s actually from the Wampanoag people on Mashpee down in Massachusetts but married her and moved to Esgenoopetitj and is a very influential spiritual teacher in the Wampanoag Confederacy.

Do you know what role they played in this conflict?

I would say the most important role:  day after day after day, ceremony, ceremony.

In these passages, what’s the turning point?

Blow the trumpet in Zion;
    sanctify a fast;
call a solemn assembly;
     gather the people.
Sanctify the congregation;
    assemble the aged;
gather the children,

They gathered the community.  Pipe ceremonies regularly.  Sweats.  Talking circles.  I guess he understands it to be his job as a spiritual leader to get up every morning of his life and do a First Light ceremony outside:  First Light ceremony doesn’t happen at sunrise, it happens at that point where the pitch-black night starts to have just a little bit of blue; in the middle of the summer when I was living in his house, that’s like 3 a.m.!

And where did he choose to do it every morning, sometimes dragging me out of bed to go with him?

There was an encampment of the Indigenous warriors who had gathered from all across Canada, even Turtle Island, who were there to protect the people.  Young men, sometimes hot-blooded in conflict, camped on a particular point at Esgenoopetitj First Nation on the Miramichi Bay.  He chose to build the fire and dance in a circle and sing songs of peace, sometimes with me awkwardly with my two left feet behind him, every morning, so the first thing the warriors before waking, and upon waking, heard, was songs of peace, and the first thing they smelled was the sacred fire.  Non-violence.

Anybody recognize that guy on the left?

Bill Phipps, Moderator of the UCC at that time.

This was an observer group made up of church people – Anglicans and United Church mostly – some of Robin’s friends from the Christian Peacemaking teams joined as well.  You see that guy on the top right, with all that hair?  And look to my right – anybody recognize that guy?  Jim Sinclair, who was Executive Secretary of the UCC not long after – he was one of the observers.

Our job was to do three things:  be present to the ceremony, absorb the teachings of peace, put our bodies between the policing agencies and the non-Indigenous fishers and the Indigenous fishers as a non-violence reduction program, take video, and then to go to the world and tell the story.

Friends, that’s your job too – our job collectively.

One of the terrible problems with the Protestant church historically, despite all of the fantastic things we’ve done, is we kind of think that our salvation and the restoration of society lies in thinking about things correctly – if we have the right opinions on social issues, that’s going to make a change.  If we have the right theology, that’s going to make a change.  If we think correctly about programs of action and then design them and then go and act, that’s going to fix the world.  It isn’t.

The gospel and the lessons of the TRC and encounters like this tell us that salvation lies in relationship, relationship, relationship.  If we truly, as a church, repent – which means to turn 180Õand go the other way – then our job is to do what that observer group and Bill Phipps and others did at Esgenoopetitj, which is to go and listen.

And now there are places we can all go.  In Allan Gardens there’s a Sacred Fire that has been burning since November, and an encampment.  Go, with a tobacco tie or two or three, offer it to the elders there, share your name – you may be invited to be smudged and go to the Sacred Fire.  You might have to go back a second time, a third time.  In our announcements today, there’s an invitation to a Pow-Wow.

The turning of our whole society is the same turning that was taking place as the spiritual teacher danced around the Sacred Fire at first light every morning – that’s the gospel turning, that’s the prophetic turning and it can’t happen here (Russ points to his head), and it can’t even happen with our feet, marching in the streets and acting unless it’s happened here (Russ points to his ears) by learning the stories, here (Russ points to his eyes) by seeing the people, and here (Russ points to his heart) listening deeply enough so our hearts turn, turn, turn.

Friends, this is the restoration to which we are called.


Recent Sermons