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Meditation: “Although We Differ, We Are Very Much Alike” by Debbie Celsie

1st Sunday of Pentecost, May 28, 2023

          On the United Church of Canada’s website, in the section ‘All My Relations’ it states that, “Indigenous spirituality, leadership, and participation are vital to the church’s life.” These last two services we have been touching on a few of the beliefs and faith practices that the Indigenous People have built their lives upon in order for us to get a bigger picture and decide if we think this is true. We all of course have an opinion that we have formed over the years, but I think you would agree it is best to have an educated one. The Indigenous people have also had their own observations and opinions about us. Their biggest concern if I may speak on their behalf is trying to address what to them seems like a lack of values on our part when it comes to living out our Christian faith, which resulted in pain and suffering of their people. Adrian Jacobs in one of my class textbooks, ‘The Theology of the United Church of Canada’ speaks of Western Christianity as a disembodied faith, one that “does not have the ability to animate goodness in a deep and fundamental way.”


          This isn’t so much of a negative comment as it is a reality in the indigenous people’s world and history. There is no secret that there are these and other fundamental attitudes which have caused issues to arise.  This superficial Christianity that Adrian Jacobs speaks of is seen as very different from their own way of being. He also speaks of the importance of “integrating life so that there are no boundaries between the secular and religious.” These types of comments and mindsets were brought to the United Church’s attention, which is good because having these important conversations opens the door and can encourage us to seek ways to better understand what is important to the Indigenous people. We can learn more about their theology and ways that will help us be more informed.  We will find place where we can hopefully experience our faith as people of God together.


          Stanley John McKay, is one who “consistently seeks ways to build bridges between Christian beliefs and Aboriginal teachings, believing there is more to unite than divide.” That is a wonderful way to look at it, for there is so much value in each of our belief systems and so much good in the hearts of all who are involved. It is not about picking sides or drawing a line in the sand, but opening and expanding our minds, and finding ways to bring nourishment to our spirits and souls through wisdom and love shared.  


           So, when we talk about In Indigenous theology, what are the underlying values or principals that seem to stand out?  Indigenous theology is deeply rooted in what may be called a holistic wholeness affecting the whole of one’s being, physically, emotionally, spiritually, and intellectually. Indigenous people are proud to say that it is more than a set of beliefs or doctrine but a part of who they are that is embodied in all they do. One of the foundational components is “a deep faith in God as creator and great reverence for all living and non -living creatures and creations that speak to them and guide them through life in rightful and noble ways.”

          They also have a strong and abiding respect for the knowledge of their elders and ancestors. Wisdom through stories, life experiences and tales are shared, and they are not only listened to but heeded with reverence and care. These practises are strongly evident in the ‘Seven Grandfather Teachings we spoke about two weeks ago.


          Remember the eight virtues that are each represented by eight of God’s creatures.  Love is represented by the Eagle. Respect, the Buffalo. Courage, the Bear. Wisdom, the Beaver. Humility the Wolf and Truth by the Turtle. We heard last service  about our elder brother the Sun, our mother the Earth, the waters of regeneration, our grandmother the moon, our grandfather the thunder, the three Sisters, (corns bean and squash), the four-footed people, the tree folk, the bird people, the medicine families, these are our are our relatives, regarded with as great respect and worship one would give to our one true God. “The Holy Spirit has always spoken to us. our mother the earth speaks we listen. When the eagle cries we are alerted. When our mother trembles we ae humbled. When the wind whistles, we find our way. when the stars sing, we hear them tell us which way to go, and when to do what is important. When we dream of our relatives, we know we are not alone. And that we must humour their memory and presence.”

          Today we also hear about another important facet that really pulls it all together and that is the Indigenous Medicine Wheel known as the Sacred Hoop, which has been used by generations of various Native American tribes for health and healing. It embodies the Four Directions we incorporated into our liturgy today. Each of the Four Directions (East, South, West, and North) is typically represented by a distinctive color, such as black, red, yellow, and white, which stands for the human races. The Directions also represent: Stages of life: birth, youth, adult (or elder), death; Seasons of the year:

spring, summer, winter, fall; Aspects of life: spiritual, emotional, intellectual, physical

Elements of nature: fire (or sun), air, water, and Earth; Animals: Eagle, Bear, Wolf, Buffalo and Ceremonial plants: tobacco, sweet grass, sage, cedar.


          All this influences how the Aboriginal peoples view the world in how the process of life evolves, how the natural world grows and works together, how all things are connected, and how all things move toward their destiny.

Now while our earlier Faith Statements have not always been in sync with the indigenous ways of believing but they are certainly more appreciative of our newer liturgies especially in our Song of Faith. That incorporates one area of our United Doctrine that is what we call  ‘Eco theology’ If looking for ways too unite rather than divide this is certainly one of them. Our Song of Faith is a wonderful piece of liturgy which resonates with much of the beauty and spirituality that we hear and sense with the Indigenous theology. It speaks of a God who seeks relationship through all things. It speaks of a God who is inclusive and can be called many different things because of who’s divine versatility and broad manifestations make the possibilities endless, Redeemer, and Sustainer, God, Christ, and Spirit, Mother, Friend, and Comforter, Source of Life, Living Word, and Bond of Love, how Nothing exists that does not find its source in God. How we Find ourselves in a world of beauty and mystery, of living things, diverse and interdependent, of complex patterns of growth and evolution, of subatomic particles and cosmic swirls, and how we sing of God the Creator, the Maker and Source of all that is, in all things, in all ways, always.


          We both believe subscribe to the idea of a Great creator, Great Spirit or Great Mystery. A power or being that created the world and everything in it.  That God reveals himself through dreams, prophecies, and other events. That there is life after death. and that we pray for forgiveness of sins.

           Quite interesting, In the 2011 Canadian census, which is the most recent one to give us information on religion, 63% of Indigenous respondents self-identified as Christian, compared to 67% of non-Indigenous respondents. Most Indigenous people identified as Roman Catholics; the next largest groupings were, in order, Anglican, United Church, and Pentecostal. Many Indigenous people are Christian while many others maintain both Christian and traditional beliefs.

            Now this is the tricky part because those coming into the church or are already in the church are those one would think have identified as Christians. Does that mean we would still be expecting them to be us?

The Indigenous Peoples have come right out in the past declaring that THEY are not seeking to impose their religious beliefs or values on others. BUT OR rather, they seek the space to recover and revitalize their own religions following hundreds of years of suppression. That is the vital part.  Yet to date,  indigenous have found having an opportunity to be more closely involved with the Christian church has caused much conflict because of the expectations of the broader western church in what the indigenous people were expected to say, do and how they were supposed to act, it was only fairly recent that  British Columbia Elder Alberta Billy  frankly spoke up and said  for everyone to hear “We have our own way of doing things.” “and others followed suit relieved someone had the nerve to say what had needed to be said for so long.

          And in recent years thankfully we have more positive comments it was Adrian Jacobs again, who wrote these two statements, “We in the indigenous faith community of the United Church of Canada have a comfortable place to pursue our unique identity as indigenous followers of the Jesus way,” and “United Church of Canada has provided a comfortable and supportive environment to explore an indigenous understanding of spiritual matters[1] Both of these comments are wonderful affirmations and it is great to see the United Church and the Native People working towards reconciliation in the way I believe God has always intended us to do.


           In August of 2012, at the 41st General Council, The United Church of Canada acknowledged the presence and spirituality of Aboriginal peoples in the United Church by revising the church's crest. The crest changes include incorporating the colours often associated with the Aboriginal Medicine Wheel. The placement of these colours will vary according to the traditions of the nation but there are to teach us those already a part of the united church to seek balance in the physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual aspects of the circle of life and within our church.


I do think We the United Church, and our United Church Doctrine or theology, has proved we are not a superficial Christianity, and that we can always learn and adapt as we have done before and will do again. It takes two for true reconciliation, one to make amends, one to forgive and both are needed to open their hearts and truly let each other in, grow as one, now it’s up to us to decide whether that would make this church, this world a better place to live.


I close with a portion of "A Song of Faith" … 

God is Holy Mystery beyond complete knowledge, above perfect description.

Yet, in love, the one eternal God seeks relationship.

So, God creates the universe and with it the possibility of being and relating.

God tends the universe, mending the broken and reconciling the estranged.

God enlivens the universe, guiding all things toward harmony with their Source.

Grateful for God’s loving action, we cannot keep from singing.  With the Church through the ages, we speak of God as one and triune:

Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. We also speak of God as Creator, Redeemer, and Sustainer God, Christ, and Spirit Mother, Friend, and Comforter, Source of Life, Living Word, and Bond of Love, and in other ways that speak faithfully of the One on whom our hearts rely, the fully shared life at the heart of the universe. We witness to Holy Mystery that is Wholly Love. God is creative and self-giving, generously moving in all the near and distant corners of the universe. Nothing exists that does not find its source in God.

Our first response to God’s providence is gratitude.  We sing thanksgiving.

Finding ourselves in a world of beauty and mystery of living things, diverse and interdependent, of complex patterns of growth and evolution, of subatomic particles and cosmic swirls, we sing of God the Creator, the Maker and Source of all that is. Each part of creation reveals unique aspects of God the Creator, who is both in creation and beyond it. All parts of creation, animate and inanimate, are related. All creation is good.

We sing of the Creator, who made humans to live and move and have their being in God. In and with God, we can direct our lives toward right relationship with each other and with God. We can discover our place as one strand in the web of life. We can grow in wisdom and compassion. We can recognize all people as kin. We can accept our mortality and finitude, not as a curse, but as a challenge to make our lives and choices matter. Made in the image of God, we yearn for the fulfillment that is life in God. Yet we choose to turn away from God. We surrender ourselves to sin, a disposition revealed in selfishness, cowardice, or apathy.

Becoming bound and complacent in a web of false desires and wrong choices,

we bring harm to ourselves and others. This brokenness in human life and community

is an outcome of sin.  Sin is not only personal but accumulates to become habitual and systemic forms of injustice, violence, and hatred.

Yet evil does not—cannot— undermine or overcome the love of God.

God forgives, and calls all of us to confess our fears and failings with honesty and humility. God reconciles and calls us to repent the part we have played in damaging our world, ourselves, and each other.

God transforms, and calls us to protect the vulnerable, to pray for deliverance from evil,

to work with God for the healing of the world, that all might have abundant life.

We sing of grace.

The fullness of life includes moments of unexpected inspiration and courage lived out,

experiences of beauty, truth, and goodness, blessings of seeds and harvest,

friendship and family, intellect and sexuality, the reconciliation of persons through justice and communities living in righteousness, and the articulation of meaning.

And so, we sing of God the Spirit, who from the beginning has swept over the face of creation, animating all energy and matter and moving in the human heart.

We sing of God the Spirit, faithful and untameable, who is creatively and redemptively active in the world. The Spirit challenges us to celebrate the holy not only in what is familiar, but also, in that which seems foreign. We sing of the Spirit, who speaks our prayers of deepest longing and enfolds our concerns and confessions, transforming us and the world.

We offer worship as an outpouring of gratitude and awe and a practice of opening ourselves to God’s still, small voice of comfort, to God’s rushing whirlwind of challenge Through word, music, art, and sacrament in community and in solitude, God changes our lives, our relationships, and our world.

We sing with trust.

Scripture is our song for the journey, the living word passed on from generation to generation to guide and inspire that we might wrestle a holy revelation for our time and place from the human experiences and cultural assumptions of another era.

God calls us to be doers of the word and not hearers only.

The Spirit breathes revelatory power into scripture, bestowing upon it a unique and normative place in the life of the community. The Spirit judges us critically when we abuse scripture by interpreting it narrow-mindedly, using it as a tool of oppression, exclusion, or hatred. The wholeness of scripture testifies to the oneness and faithfulness of God. The multiplicity of scripture testifies to its depth: two testaments, four gospels,

contrasting points of view held in tension— all a faithful witness to the One and Triune God, the Holy Mystery that is Wholly Love.

We find God made known in Jesus of Nazareth, and so we sing of God the Christ, the Holy One embodied. We sing of Jesus, a Jew, born to a woman in poverty in a time of social upheaval, and political oppression. He knew human joy and sorrow.

So filled with the Holy Spirit was he that in him people experienced the presence of God among them. We sing praise to God incarnate.

Jesus announced the coming of God’s reign— a commonwealth not of domination,

but of peace, justice, and reconciliation. He healed the sick and fed the hungry.

He forgave sins and freed those held captive by all manner of demonic powers.

He crossed barriers of race, class, culture, and gender.

He preached and practiced unconditional love— love of God, love of neighbour,

love of friend, love of enemy— and he commanded his followers to love one another,

as he had loved them. Because his witness to love was threatening, those exercising power sought to silence Jesus. He suffered abandonment and betrayal, state-sanctioned torture and execution. He was crucified.

But death was not the last word. God raised Jesus from death, turning sorrow into joy, despair into hope.

We sing of Jesus raised from the dead We sing hallelujah. By becoming flesh in Jesus, God makes all things new. In Jesus’ life, teaching, and self-offering, God empowers us to live in love. In Jesus’ crucifixion, God bears the sin, grief, and suffering of the world.

In Jesus’ resurrection, God overcomes death. Nothing separates us from the love of God.

The Risen Christ lives today, present to us and the source of our hope.

In response to who Jesus was and to all he did and taught, to his life, death, and resurrection, and to his continuing presence with us through the Spirit, we celebrate him as the Word made flesh, the one in whom God and humanity are perfectly joined, the transformation of our lives, the Christ.

We sing of a church seeking to continue the story of Jesus, by embodying Christ’s presence in the world. We are called together by Christ, as a community of broken but hopeful believers, loving what he loved, living what he taught, striving to be faithful servants of God. in our time and place. Our ancestors in faith bequeath to us experiences of their faithful living, upon their lives our lives are built.

Our living of the gospel makes us a part of this communion of saints, experiencing the fulfillment of God’s reign even as we actively anticipate a new heaven and a new earth.

The church has not always lived up to its vision It requires the Spirit to reorient it,

helping it to live an emerging faith while honouring tradition, challenging it to live by grace rather than entitlement, for we are called to be a blessing to the earth.


We sing of God’s good news lived out, a church with purpose: faith nurtured and hearts comforted, gifts shared for the good of all, resistance to the forces that exploit and marginalize, fierce love in the face of violence, human dignity defended, members of a community held and inspired by God,  corrected and comforted, instrument of the loving Spirit of Christ,  creation’s mending, We sing of God’s mission.

In grateful response to God’s abundant love, we bear in mind our integral connection.

to the earth and one another we participate in God’s work of healing and mending creation. To point to the presence of the holy in the world, the church receives, consecrates, and shares visible signs of the grace of God In company with the church’s baptism and holy communion. In these sacraments the ordinary things of life —water, bread, wine point beyond themselves to God and God’s love, teaching us to be alert.

to the sacred in the midst of life.

We place our hope in God. We sing of a life beyond life and a future good beyond imagining: a new heaven and a new earth, the end of sorrow, pain, and tears,

Divine creation does not cease until all things have found wholeness, union, and integration. with the common ground of all being.

As children of the Timeless One, our time-bound lives will find completion, in the all-embracing Creator.

In the meantime, we embrace the present, embodying hope, loving our enemies,

caring for the earth, choosing life.

Grateful for God’s loving action, we cannot keep from singing.

Creating and seeking relationship, in awe and trust, we witness to Holy Mystery who is Wholly Love.  Amen.

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