A Cree Man, a Black Woman, a Lesbian Couple, and a Heteronormative White Lady, Walk Into a Bar
Written from Treaty 2 Territory of the Anishinaabe peoples, on National Indigenous Peoples day.
A Cree/Irish man, a black woman, a white lesbian couple, and a heteronormative white lady walked into a bar. They had gathered to eat together, during a break from presenting at a conference on reimagining the church.
Once seated, the server arrived and asked them to order drinks. A few minutes later, the server brought a very small glass of beer to the Cree man. He didn’t notice that everyone else was getting a taste-test glass of wine or beer, depending on what they ordered. Instead, a very real flush comes to his cheeks and he said to the server, “I’d like the full pint I ordered, please.” She went to bring him his full pint, and while she was gone, it became clear what had just happened.
The Cree man explained, that if he were sitting with all indigenous women, no one would have to ask what just happened. That in fact, we may all very well not be served the amount of alcohol we ordered, due to prejudice.
As the evening deepened, the heteronormative white lady reflected how each person sitting around the table experiences being conspicuous on a daily basis. Two Boomer generation women... married... affectionate... in love. A black woman, in a white world. A Cree man, sitting in a bar.
As they ate together, and laughed till they cried together, and barriers came down, so that they could all just be themselves, they unknowingly discovered a reimagining of the church.
Hint: it wasn’t a program. It was a meal. During which, no one had to censor their God-given precious nature, in the midst of a culture that “makes conspicuous”, and demands self-editing, from those who don't fit the mold.
This meal really happened. And I, of course, was the heterosexual white lady who has always felt more at home in countercultural spaces. Even despite horrifying youth group theology that in many ways taught me that what it meant to be a Christian was to “stand” against homosexuality. Deep down, I've always felt more alive and more myself with “the conspicuous”, than in rigid, repressed spaces of white uniformity.... These spaces that have done a very good job of making religion textureless, colourless, and sapped of, nuance, and deep meaning.
Last week, I took the filters off about how insidious the violence of assimilation and colonization can be. What we like to think of as a “melting pot”... as a diverse space… is often really, about being melted, and poured, and cast, into the same mold.
I wanted to share with you this story of being the straight white lady at the bar, because of some news that just surfaced.
I have long been proud that Winnipeg, Manitoba, a city I lived in for 12 years, boasts the Human Rights Museum. It is a tremendous work of architecture, and contains very moving displays and stories of ongoing struggles, and emancipation, focusing on many groups and stories around the world. I am still proud, but will note that with some news surfacing, structural work inside the organization is necessarily being done.
This week, news was released that former employees of the Human Rights Museum were asked to censor displays of same-sex couples while giving tours to certain religious groups.
Why, oh why, are we still in such a constricted, drab, puritanical culture, that even the Human Rights Museum, will censor the very real fight for their lives, that the LGBTQIA+ community has experienced, and IS experiencing?
Getting back to the word: 'violence', that I asked us to meditate on last week.
I am more and more convinced that there are many forms of violence, and perhaps the most insidious forms are the ones that never draw blood, but pave the way for unsafe spaces that shut out, and exclude. After all, I saw one statistic recently, that prior to Covid-19, suicide was the main cause of death. If you look at how statistically, suicide can be caused by expecting people to be something they are not, the statistics of suicide make a lot of sense. What do we expect, when American commercialism and academia invades the whole world, meaning that literally billions of people measure their worth up to the beauty concepts and normative standards of the most powerful military industrial culture on the planet?
Even if there is an argument that a conservative religious group has “rights” to deem homosexuality a sin, the safety and the fight for the lives of the group being censored, and being put at risk, should always come first. And woe to those who would decry “reverse persecution”, because to censor the display, is, in a very real way, erasing the violence that has been, and is being done, very often in the name of the very religious groups who don’t want to see it. And maybe that's why they don't want to see it.
What was it about the mystery of Christ, when the Cree man, the black woman, the two women in love, and the straight white lady, gathered, as real humans, and broke bread together?
The great irony of this censorship of a display that shows the fight for equality of the LGBTQIA+ communities, is that for the Christian groups, (who I will speak to, because I am a Christian), the very reality of the presence of Christ was on display, and was covered up. Was erased. Because if you want to experience the presence of Christ, you must look in the eyes of those who have suffered. For who they are. You must look in the eyes of those who have been rejected. Forsaken.
Last week I mentioned the film Into the Wild and spoke about the privileged white boy trying to escape his own mold. The "burning house". The "ladder up against the wrong wall". What I might call Puritan Consumerism... the way the dominant culture casts films, commercials, workforces.
This week, interestingly, I read that the bus that Chris McAndless lived in, has become a pilgrimage point for kids today, trying to escape their mold. Just this week, the state of Alaska had a helicopter lift the bus from its location, because kids were dying, trying to get to it. What was sacred about that bus, that would inspire someone to risk their life to get to it? Now that it is removed, what will replace it? How will culture continue to attempt to iron out the kinks trying to surface out of this straight-laced world?
In these past few weeks during the Black Lives Matter protests, I've seen the argument, "oh, so people can gather to protest, but not to get back to work”?
Yes. They can.
How hard is it to understand someone who works a 40 hour week that still needs to collect food stamps, being more inspired to hold up a sign that says “I matter”? Maybe, just maybe, stepping out into a pandemic to declare “black lives matter” is worth risking one’s life for, over and above showing up at a job that takes up all of your waking hours, but doesn’t even feed your family.
Think of how violent it is for people who have been melted and poured against their will, into a mold they don’t fit? I actually believe that even the people who "fit the mold", display violence, because even they have never felt permission to be their true selves. I think white supremacy has scrubbed and polished many wild white kids until they were raw. Cleanliness is next to Godliness, after all. (And then, when they go looking for meaning, all that they can initially see, is commercialized appropriated culture that until recently was outlawed.)
I believe this straight, white world that has been constructed, is one of the "kingdoms of this world" that Satan offered Jesus in the desert. After Jesus had been baptized into an alternative kingdom, he was tempted to fall for the lie of scarcity. Jesus dug deep, and knew that this kingdom on offer, was not of God's making.
What is so threatening about God’s vast and varied creation? And why is this vastness, and all this variation. most threatening to so many who actually believe all this was made by a Creator?
But also, what is so threatening for the Human Rights Museum, that they would think twice about shamelessly standing with all who have been persecuted… and to remember that a group must never be considered first, if they are feeling persecuted for who they exclude…?
One possible answer may be... where we arrived at last week… even if it is secretly lurking deep in the background of our collective psyche:
where most of the equity is found, there you will find also, the most entitlement.
Our economics are not sacred.
A Cree man, a black woman, a white lesbian couple, and a white, heteronormative lady walk into a bar.
And Christ showed them how to reimagine church.
Which is really, how to reimagine a new heaven, and a new earth, rooted in an ancient wildness, that will not conform to the kingdoms of this world.
When I used to go grocery shopping, before our homestead had developed enough to produce our own food, I often would chat with an indigenous woman who worked at a grocery store I frequented. She would reference my kids and speak about her own children. My eldest is school-age but we have made the decision to “forest school” them, or “wild school” them. Meaning, they’re 6 and 4, and are literate, and filled with wonder about numbers etc, but we also want them to know they belong to the earth. When my 6-year-old is struggling with something, one tree-climb, with the vantage point he gets up there, cradled by his favourite tree, works out the troubles and gives him the capacity to breathe, distance, and free himself.
When this woman at the grocery store would say, “is he starting school this year?”, I found myself in a moment of pure contradiction. I answered, “no, we are forest schooling them… we want them to feel at home in this world.”
Speaking to a number of indigenous Elders in Canada, I have been made aware that although the Residential School horror was bad enough, it has been made clear to me, that compulsory education was the brunt cause of the destruction of indigenous culture. Villages that lived one place in summer, and another in winter, along the trap lines, were torn apart, because the grandmothers and mothers had to stay back with their children, while the grandfathers and fathers went to the trap lines. This tore the way of life utterly apart. And the children learned to read and write English. Which to this day, marks whether or not you end up incarcerated.
So when I say I found myself in a moment of pure contradiction, I mean, that now I, someone of white settler descent, have the right to choose whether I want to institutionalize my children. I get to teach them truths that still haven’t made it into the curriculum. For instance, in the United States, the Tulsa Race Massacre will be taught for the first time in Oklahoma. It was in 2015, that the Residential School genocide began being taught in Canada. But even the way our maps are drawn and how we're educated about geography, determines how we look at the world. When my family and I toured through the United States in 2016, I was performing concerts, often in churches. And Ian would hang out with our wee ones in the nursery. I remember seeing maps of the United States that were made into rugs. And the map showed that the border to the North was a coastline. As though Canada was an ocean. Of course that stuck in my Canadian craw, but also, it made me recall The Tribal Canoe Journey, remembering that the border between British Columbia and Washington state, splits apart a very important story and territory of the Esquimalt Nation. (This area has also experienced devastating oil spills recently.)
Looking at the actions of many differing groups of people who gathered across the world to declare that Black Lives Matter, I ponder this dilemma, this contradiction of “wild schooling” my kids. It makes me think of the film Into the Wild, with the obviously traumatized privileged white boy running away from the constructs and restraints that kept him and his entire culture so lacking in richness and, frankly, actual happiness. He wanted to throw off the expectations and call bullshit on the cool civility of his world.
Meanwhile, he was literate in the written English word. He had access to the best education. At the same time that he was being funnelled toward the best Ivy League schools, other black kids his age, without access to learning how to read English, were being funnelled toward the expanding, privatized prison system.
I made a point recently, when someone told me that they were working with a kid who couldn’t even spell the word “Anishinaabe”, that maybe it is because that word is an english construction, because the Anishinaabe culture was from an oral tradition. Now, you might think I’m being extreme. Why would I defend what looks at first like “illiteracy”, when it seems like the more someone has the capacity to read (English, that is), the less likely they are to be incarcerated? Let’s peel back the layers a bit more. Here in the film Into the Wild, we have a young man destined for the Ivy League, who ends up dying in the wilderness of Alaska, trying to untie himself from his system. And here we celebrate all people of colour in the realm of excellence in education. So long as it is excellence in the kind of education we deem to be acceptable. Literacy in plant communication and living in Deep Time, totally don’t matter. Or literacy in an oral tradition language means nothing.
In other words, at this point, so long as the black, indigenous and people of colour communities don’t show any sign of wildness, they are on the right track. And any time people in these communities show wildness, stripping off the constraints of oppression, it is seen as “too radical”. So, even as I revel in throwing off the constraints of this deeply sick civilization, I can feel my privilege in doing so, because I can do it and largely fly under the radar of scrutiny.
We can watch a film like Braveheart, and cheer for William Wallace. Or read about Boudica the Eceni tribal queen who led over 50,000 people from many tribes against Rome in Britannia, in the 1st Century, and cheer for her.
One of the reasons why I’m convinced that Jesus was brown, or possibly even black, is because we (meaning white people) cheaply superimpose his nonviolence onto brown and black bodies today. We sterilize his nonviolence, and have the audacity to associate it with civility. We situate the Civil Rights Movement in a PG 13 setting, and engender the expectation that so long as you are black or brown, you MUST all have a sophisticated philosophy of nonviolence, not even comprehending the depth of training and practice and grief work it takes to respond to violence with nonviolence.
In his book The Greatest Prayer, John Dominic Crossan speaks of the line “lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil” in terms of the nausea-inducing instinct and temptation to hit back when we're being hit. That this prayer was prayed by those under the threat of violence, to name how profoundly tempting it is to respond to violence with violence. When Rome occupied Jesus’ world, the violence that occurred to his people, and the expectation that his people remain in their station to feed Roman citizens, the mistreatment of those who were seen as less-than, was more than any person or group of people should ever have to bear. The wealth-building off the backs of the “uncivil”. I don’t think the struggle that this incarnation of God went through, as he prayed “lead us not into temptation” can be comprehended. When he drove the money changers out of the temple, was he perhaps giving into the temptation? What do we make of that scene? Maybe he regretted it. Or maybe he was channelling the God-given wildness inside himself that didn’t fit into the expectation that he remain cooperative and civil in the face of corruption.
Algerian philosopher Frantz Fanon claimed that the binary of the colonized and colonizer has no alternative but to end in violence. And we like to look at history from our PG 13 romanticization of nonviolence and think “well that’s simply not true! Look at Jesus! Look at Gandhi! Look at Martin Luther King!” … oh… wait… what happened to them? They were all killed. Right. It “ended” in violence. And as a culture, we’re far more conditioned to expect Jesus not to be violent, than we expect the Roman crucifiers to be nonviolent. We are conditioned to accept the violence coming from the law. We expect the system to be violent, and often are desensitized to it.
I’m not saying “go and be violent”. I’m also not saying, “go and loot”. However, I do find it fascinating that more people have spoken up against the looting, than they have at the brutality of caging of the children on the borders. Or even in basic terms, that nearly everyone expects indigenous children to be educated by the white system, in order for them to seen as respectable. Or honourable. Or I’ll get even more extreme… we still only validate those literate in the written English word. Oral tradition has no value in our meritocracy structure. Wisdom and tradition and original instructions for contentment, are nothing compared to a doctorate or two.
Do you see what I’m getting at?
I don’t know how I’m coming across with these thoughts… but I will say, that I don’t think nonviolence is “not wild”. I don’t think nonviolence is “not radical”. And I don’t think that nonviolence is “civil”. Martin Luther King claimed nonviolence was moral and practical but never should we ever condense what he meant into the reduction that white systems get to be violent, and black and brown people must practice forgiveness, and that’s it.
Is it okay for white civility to be violent? Is this brutal binary, whose very foundations are rooted in policing enslaved black bodies, and monitoring indigenous bodies with “pass and permit” imprisonment on reservations, the the only way to serve and protect people? Can we imagine new ways to live and be in this world? How can we find the poetry within ourselves to identify with the frustration exhibiting itself across the world?
As slave trader statues come down, how can we ritualize new forms and innovation? Audrey Lorde said, “the master’s tools will never dismantle the master’s house.” And think about it… the white nationalists who marched in Charleston in 2017, were chanting, “you will not replace us”. I’m just going to say it… is there a way for me, for you (if you're a white land owner), to dig deep down in there, and sense that the defensiveness and accusations of “reverse racism” comes from a place of scarcity? When we’re threatened by the words, “black lives matter”, and take it personally, as an affront to our own “mattering”, we must ask ourselves, how deep does our conditioning go, that there isn’t enough love, land, life, and liberty to go around? That we’d take the scraps from the table of Empire and hoard them as the turf we’ve worked so hard for, and fail to see the Big Picture at play.
Joseph Campbell said, “there is perhaps nothing worse than climbing a ladder and discovering that you’re up against the wrong wall.” Martin Luther King said, “I fear I have integrated my people into a burning house.” When we have invested most our lives (and identities) in the “burning house”, when we have poured our energy and resources into climbing the ladder that’s up against the wrong wall, how do we relinquish our pride, and surrender into a philosophy of “there is enough”? What kind of grief work and growing up do we need to do, to see the game we’ve been playing? What do we each need to surrender, to give away, to release, in order to free ourselves from the chains of this entitlement, which is... white supremacy?
I used to be “colour blind”. I used to be “not racist”. I have cherished indigenous, brown and black people. Then I began a very humbling, (still humbling), journey.
In the NBC interview with Martin Luther King, 11 months before he was assassinated, he and Sander Vanocur speak of the “visible villains” in the South, and the more invisible villains in the North. It is as though when Martin Luther King died, what died with him was this narrative. Like it went underground. but luckily was passed on to these brilliant young black and indigenous leaders we are seeing today.
Here in Canada, over 10 years ago, I began the journey of participating in the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, which is and was JUST THE BEGINNING, for racial justice here.
In that same interview, Martin Luther King says with the agony of betrayal in his heart, and a suppressed choke in his throat (I can’t breathe?), that “the vast majority of white Americans would go but so far.. it’s a kind of instalment plan, for equality. And they are always looking for an excuse, to go but so far.” And then he goes on to say that when looking back at when he preached his “I have a dream” speech, “I must confess that that period was a great period of hope for me. And I’m sure for many others all across the nation, many of the negroes who had about lost hope. Who saw a solid decade of progress in the South. And in 1964, 1963, 9 years after the Supreme Court’s decision, to be in the march on Washington, meant a great deal. It was a high moment. A great watershed moment. But I must confess, that that dream that I had that day, has at many points, turned into a nightmare. Now I’m not one to lose hope. I keep on hoping. I still have faith in the future. But I’ve had to analyze many things over the last few years, and I would say, over the last few months. And I’ve gone through a lot of soul searching, and agonizing moments, and I’ve come to see that we have many more difficult days ahead, and some of the old optimism was a little superficial, and now it must be tempered with a solid realism. And I think the realistic fact is that we still have a long, long way to go. And we are involved in a war, on Asian soil, which if not checked and stopped, can poison the very soul of our nation.”
So… with that… I would invite us to meditate this week on violence. Why is it that violence can be considered covert, or even acceptable, so long as it happens by military or police? I invite us to meditate also on how violence can be hurled invisibly by neoliberal meanness and pomp. Forgive me, but I’d rather see public mourning in the streets… a collective tearing of the cloth, that mourns the bloody real, than liberal patronization, which, over half the time, is done by white academics to distance themselves from their own complicity. Is that really “nonviolence”?
We have not fully arrived at a place where we can, all of us, gather, and use wisdom and tears, to ritualize the removal of statues and symbols that stand for, and symbolize white supremacy. Imagine gathering to listen to unheard voices about how that statue makes them feel? Imagine replacing those statues with names of unnamed people, brutalized by this system. Imagine everyone grieving wildly, in deeper understanding, calling on the indigenous heart of our own ancestors, so we don’t show up like some nondescript blob, repressed and unreal, judging the frustration, and the tears of oppression.
I have witnessed this kind of listening and grieving with the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, but that still didn’t keep Bill C- 262 from being undemocratically blocked from the Senate.
I don’t know when or if we will "get there". But I think beginning the journey of realizing that if you get to be civil all the time, that someone, no, many someones, are working and paying with their bodies, for your comfort.
Nonviolence is not tame. Real unity will never be brought about by uniformity. “All lives matter” and “color blind” has no alternative but to be blindness to inequity. Reparations is not charity. Humility means - get back into the earth, the soil, teeming with a diversity that is not measured by white standards, and get down and dirty and in doing so, come alive.
So much is being rewritten. And it won’t be done perfectly. And I’m not saying any of this perfectly. But honestly, what in the world is stopping us from trusting that there is enough?
Perhaps to the end of my days, I will never understand how Christian people who sing “our God is an awesome God” choose to hoard land, and live with scarcity as the driving force behind all cultural expression.
Damn straight I’m going to tear my clothes and weep at that. Damn straight it’s time we stop demanding that black, indigenous, and people of colour have to measure up to what the system deems worthy of merit, and constantly prove to the system that they are not wild... translation... "savage"... translation "barbaric". What a horrible thought, to think that all humans across this beautiful world attempt to lose their wildness, in order to be accepted by a shitty system.
God is a wild God, not a tame God. God has no doctorate.
When that fiery love meets dust, we should expect to see flames one way or the other, because incarnation means that our free, liberating, wild God, wants us to be liberated, too. Yes that fire is grounded in Love, and in a Lover who prayed for the strength to not be tempted into violence against his people's oppressors... but those words should never be relegated to a cross-stitch in a nondescript world, made and protected by violence. if that happens, which it has, that cross-stitch is as far from nonviolence as you can get.
What in the world keeps us from coming truly alive?
There is enough.
Scarcity is a lie.
Alana Levandoski is a song and chant writer, recording artist and music producer, in the Christian tradition, who lives with her family on a regenerative farm on the Canadian prairies.