Isaiah 58:5-6 (New International Version)
5 Is this the kind of fast I have chosen,
only a day for a man to humble himself?
Is it only for bowing one's head like a reed
and for lying on sackcloth and ashes?
Is that what you call a fast,
a day acceptable to the LORD ?
6 "Is not this the kind of fasting I have chosen:
to loose the chains of injustice
and untie the cords of the yoke,
to set the oppressed free
and break every yoke?
It was the first day of Lent, the start of 40 days of repentance and reflection.
How fitting that a group gathered in Toronto on that particular day, as guests of the Faith and Culture Inclusion Network, to learn about the challenges faced by the First Nations peoples of Canada.
The speakers: Cindy Blackstock, C.E.O. of First Nations' Child and Youth Caring Society of Canada, and Jonathon Thompson, Director, Health and Social Development, Assembly of First Nations.
The event had been organized in a very short time frame, but was a significant opportunity to learn about issues facing the First Nations.
We were humbled and challenged as Cindy and Jonathon recited the facts of life for the First Nations peoples of Canada, opening our eyes and wiping away prejudice, ignorance and apathy as they did.
Cindy spoke calmly about the inequity and humiliation that result in social problems and broken families. Photographer Liam Sharp shared his documentation of the plight of the children of Attawapiskat whose school should bring shame to all who see the photographs. He said that he felt it necessary to bring the story to Canadians. "Is this our Canada?" he asked. He said that it wasn't what he thought it was.
Cindy spoke of her hero, Dr. Peter Henderson Bryce, who is buried in Beechwood cemetery in a humbly marked grave."Real heroes need not shout," she said. Dr. Bryce caused official embarrassment by condemning Native boarding schools as breeding grounds of tuberculosis.
She said that when she visited his grave, she was, "listening in the wind," because she hasn't yet learned to speak into the silence that Bryce spoke into.
There were only about 70 of us there on Ash Wednesday, 2009, but I couldn't help thinking of the Civil Rights movement in the United States and how Rosa Parks stood up to the wall of silence that sanctioned the humiliation of a people and how people heard about that and were challenged to stand with her. Could this day be such a turning point?
Cindy challenged us to each consider, "What is my special gift? What can I contribute?" I believe that each person in that room was hand picked by God to be there. There were pastors, writers, newspaper editors, photographers, social workers, leaders and direct support staff who work with people with disabilities. What if each of us did what we could?
Refuse to countenance prejudice when we hear it spoken
Educate others on the issues we are aware of
Not be okay with the fact that there is an Indian Act
Not be okay with the fact that there are reserves
Not be okay with the fact that "status" expires every five years
Write to the premier and prime minister and say that in Canada equality matters
Go to the website in support of Jordan’s Principle and add our support
Dear Lord, forgive our ignorance. Thank you for opening our eyes and for an opportunity to work for justice. For this is the kind of fasting you choose that we engage in.
Micah 6:8 (New International Version)
8 He has showed you, O man, what is good.
And what does the LORD require of you?
To act justly and to love mercy
and to walk humbly with your God.