The Stones Will Cry Out by Jennifer Henry
Spirited Reflection offered at the Orientation Assembly of Development and Peace, Otterburne, Manitoba, June 12, 2015
Jennifer Henry is the Executive Director of KAIROS
And some of the Pharisees in the crowd said to him, “Teacher, rebuke your disciples.” Jesus answered, “I tell you, if these were silent, the very stones would cry out.” Luke 19: 39-40
In Canada today, there are more than a few who seek to silence words of social or ecological justice that fail to align with the relentless pursuit of resource extraction. Policy debate is foreclosed by omnibus legislation, and there is retaliation against those who speak uncomfortable truths–defunding, surveillance, barring advocates from meetings, the irresponsible rhetoric of terrorism. More than a few will rebuke with the dismissive word “political” when words of faithful justice try to find breath.
And yet, in this Canada–of advocacy chill and of silencing dissent–“the very stones cry out.” 12 days ago, I stood at the human rights monument in Ottawa and sobbed. After days of unlearning and relearning in the KAIROS intergenerational gathering, after a powerful walk for reconciliation, and on the eve of the release of the findings of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, I had lost my words. Over the last years, I have had the honour of representing KAIROS at six of the seven national TRC events where I listened to truth that continually broke my heart. 12 days ago I was so brimming with that truth it would only spill out in tears.
We were gathered in a simple liturgy. To the sung chant, “Listen, Listen, listen to my heart’s song. I will never forget you. I will never forsake you”, everyone present was invited to lay a stone in a gentle cairn on the steps of the monument.
To me, every stone that was laid cried out. Cried out the truth of every child who went to residential schools, every parent left behind and every child who did not make it home. Cried out the truth of the larger process of colonization that has left its devastating mark all around the world. Cried out the truth that my ancestors of blood, but also of faith, were collaborators maybe even protagonists in this terrible dehumanization, and that I am colonization’s beneficiary. Cried out the truth that our faith got distorted by racial superiority, needs for security, and missionary zeal. Cried out about the injustices that continue in inequities in housing, education, child welfare, health, in high incarceration rates, youth suicides and missing and murdered Indigenous women.
The stones cried loudly of the truth. And that is the mission and solidarity call right now in Canada–to speak the truth that we have come to know through the courage of residential school students.
But there were other stones there too. Carved into granite at the front of the human rights monument–in English and French–are the words “Equality, Dignity, Rights” from the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Inside the monument, those three words are inscribed on granite plaques in 73 Aboriginal languages. A 74th plaque acknowledges that this monument is on the traditional territory of the Algonquin people.
These 74 granite stones cry out truth but they also cry reconciliation. They speak a way forward, about finally honouring the contributions of First Nations, Inuit and Metis peoples. They speak about doing everything possible to help recover the diverse languages, cultures and spiritualities that we tried to eradicate but that offer so much not just to Indigenous but to Canadian identity. They cry reconciliation through renewing relationships of peace and friendship, as envisaged by some of the early treaties. Respecting Indigenous rights–land, treaty and inherent rights–within the framework of the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples not just here but all around the globe. The stones insist on justice as a necessary path.
What is the mission and solidarity call? The stones cry out—in Cree and Ojibway, in Inuktitut and Michif—to close the equity gap, for land rights and Indigenous justice. This year KAIROS will invite Canadians to respond to key Calls of Action issued by the TRC through our Winds of Change campaign. We will encourage the commitment of Canadians to changing attitudes and behaviours but also policies and laws that still stand in the way of reconciliation with Indigenous peoples.
For KAIROS, commitment to reconciliation with Indigenous peoples is our strongest priority, but it is inextricably linked to a commitment to reconciliation in and with all of creation. For our alienation from creation, for our damage to land, waters, and air, the trees do not clap their hands, the stones cry out. Stones broken apart as fracking, done without free prior and informed consent, disrupts ecological integrity. Stones irresponsibly mined, not just here but by Canadian companies all around the globe. The shifting landscape of the Arctic or the Pacific destabilized by climate crisis, the pollution of waters by tailing ponds–creation is groaning and needs our advocacy.
Here Christendom has not always been faithful and the Indigenous voice is a prophetic one. We rebuked their land wisdom, their concern for consequences to the seven generations, their vision of the web of life woven by the Creator—and we did this at our own peril and a betrayal of the biblical message of creation: “it was good.” In so far as Indigenous peoples speak that truth into our present ecological crisis, invite us be mentored by that wisdom, bring leadership to our movements for climate justice, we can find a new way forward—a rediscovery of our own deep needs for reconciliation with creation in the Creator. Ban ki-Moon has said that the health of Indigenous peoples is critical to the health of the whole planet. I think he is right.
“And some of the Pharisees in the crowd said to him, “Teacher, rebuke your disciples.” It is always easy to point to the Pharisees and make a dynamic analogy to those we don’t like. My friend, National Indigenous Anglican Bishop Mark MacDonald, has taught me to always try the Pharisee role on for size. And too often it fits. Where are we telling ourselves, telling each other, to be quiet? Where are we rebuking ourselves because our truths are uncomfortable or our hopes are too much to ask? A self-imposed silence because our advocacy demands, our partners’ calls for solidarity, are implausible, unrealistic.
Biblical scholar Walter Brueggemann says that “prophetic must be imaginative, because it is urgently out beyond the ordinary and the reasonable.” If we aspire to nurture prophetic voices, to be disciples who speak gospel, then we need to give the extraordinary and unreasonable breath. Christ defied death. That turn-the-world-upside-down, transformational Gospel is what we believe in. Gospel justice in the service of life needs to be as unreasonable as that.
Our mission and solidarity call is to boldness in public witness in this silencing time. To advocate for dreams of justice, a right that partners in Congo, in Colombia, in the Philippines risk their lives for. We believe in the Word made flesh—made flesh in love and justice, deep peace and reconciliation. May we continue to find our voices, inspired and accompanied by the truth of that living Word.