What do the Shiloh Baptist Church and the Yardbird Suite in Edmonton, AB have in common? They are both places where community gathers and both places that play music? The answer is yes to both of those, but another answer is that they were both formed by the Black community that immigrated to Alberta in the early 1900's. There were small pockets of communities that gathered around Edmonton as people journeyed from the USA in search of a new start, new opportunities and places to form new communities. (more on this history at vimeo.com - We Are the Roots: Black Settlers and their Experiences of Discrimination on the Canadian Prairies: https://vimeo.com/257364347)
While this seems like it was almost a century ago, only half that time ago in history, there were approximately 125 Ku Klux Klan chapters in Alberta and Saskatchewan. That reality shocked me... and as I reflected on it, I was thankful that it was not the reality of our place today. However, there are pockets of discrimination that remain and we also wrestle with greater systemic issues like... pandemic, militarization, individualism, capitalism, unequal democracy, racism, consumerism and meritocracy… to name just a few.
What do we do as church, and as Christians, to dig into difficult topics such as these? Our place, as christians in society, has been a debated one and is by no degree easy or certain. The place of the church in relationship to politics, government, economics, social structure and more, is a very complicated one. What we can do though, is inform ourselves about the history of the past and attempt to not make the same missteps into the future. A key way to do this is to learn from people of colour and hear the history from their perspective. Listening to how another race or culture contextualizes theology doesn’t have to mean heresy, interpretation depends on context and differences can be beneficial to the collective whole.
Changing your lens changes what you see, context... angle... perspective. As a community we can see what and how we see, not only what we are looking at. One natural example could be how we see water in a cup. Different states, molecular levels, ocean, lake, river... etc. The gift of community is to be able to say this is how I see it, now share with me how you see it. Then we can appreciate the perspectives of each other, so that we can love our neighbour better.
The Kairos Document (KD) is a theological statement issued in 1985 by a group of mainly Black South African theologians based predominantly in the townships of Soweto, South Africa. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kairos_Document It was later looked at and adapted by countries and faith communities in Central America in 1988. One of the core tenants of the KD, simply adapted to fit our North American contexts could read:
All of [the church’s] activities must be re-shaped to be more fully consistent with a prophetic faith related to the KAIROS that God is offering us today. The evil forces we speak of in baptism must be named. We know what these evil forces are in [America] today. The unity and sharing we profess in our communion services or Masses must be named. It is the solidarity of the people inviting all to join in the struggle for God’s peace in [America]. The repentance we preach must be named. It is repentance for our share of the guilt for the suffering and oppression in our country. Much of what we do in our Church services has lost its relevance to the poor and the oppressed. Our services and sacraments have been appropriated to serve the need of the individual for comfort and security. Now these same Church activities must be reappropriated to serve the real religious needs of all the people and to further the liberating mission of God and the Church in the world.
But the Church of Jesus Christ is not called to be a bastion of caution and moderation. The Church should challenge, inspire and motivate people. It has a message of the cross that inspires us to make sacrifices for justice and liberation. It has a message of hope that challenges us to wake up and to act with hope and confidence. The Church must preach this message not only in words and sermons and statements but also through its actions, programmes, campaigns and divine services.
We live in the time between, we operate from a place of both/and on a spectrum where most people are either standing on the black or white polar ends. It is not a passive waiting and this time is nothing but easy. It is full of pain and uncertainty and we cry out to God for comfort and strength. Are we a contrast people?
The three books I have pictured above, are ones that talk about contrasting people. A novel about Japanese internment, a theological reflection about Black lives & the church and a collection of essays about Indigenous justice and spirituality. Reading them caused me to grieve, reflect on my own place of power, consider how I interpret theology and wrestle with who I am and how I should change. They are all ones I would recommend and would be happy to let you borrow. I really feel we need to be learning about these things, seeing how it reforms our Christian reformed hearts and get us talking with those in our communities to bring about change. In God's hands,