Walking the Pathways of Peace: Summary and Conclusions

Today marks the end of this series, the second on this blog that has engaged with efforts to ‘decolonize’ Christian thought and practice. In June 2021, I looked at some of the false narratives Christians told to underpin European imperialism and colonization, including the ‘Doctrine of Discovery’, the myths of Christendom and Progress, and damaging ways of understanding such biblical ideas as election, humanity’s vocation to exercise ‘dominion’ over the earth, and the universality of God. And now this series has looked for areas of potential common ground, listening to what Indigenous knowledge-keepers and leaders say are their important cultural and spiritual values and seeing how those ideas connect with Christian theology. The point is not to (mis)appropriate the Indigenous cultures of this continent, but to use their values and tools as a mirror against which we as Christians might re-examine our own traditions, and if necessary, read them against themselves in order to tell better, more representative and faithful versions of our stories.

In this series, we have found that a common array of values present throughout Indigenous cultures, which Randy Woodley has called ‘the Harmony Way’, paints a very similar picture of the life humanity was created to live that is found in the Biblical vision of peace, or Shalom; and, that the living out of this way closely resembles what the Scriptures call ‘faith’. We’ve also seen that there are strong areas of resonance among our traditions with respect to values such as humility, gratitude, responsibility, and vocation, even as dialogue with our Indigenous neighbours might cause us to look at these shared values from different angles and thereby tease out different areas of focus from what we might be used to. Even where our traditions might differ most, such as in our understandings of how humanity relates to the rest of creation, we found that, while Christians have never quite gone to the same places as Indigenous traditions, some have gotten remarkably close.

Finally, we have looked at some of the ways Indigenous cultures embody and transmit their values — storytelling, ceremony, and visions and dreams — and seen how their understanding of these rather universal tools might inform how they are understood and used within our own Christian tradition.

But, again, we might ask why all this is important. If it turns out that our religious traditions share many of the same values, why would we need to reassess ours?

At this point I cannot help but think of the story told by many Algonquian peoples, including the Potawatomi and Anishinaabe, known as The Seven Fires. It tells the story of a chain of prophets who appeared to the people over the generations, offering them glimpses into the future. In these visions they are told that a new, duplicitous, people will arrive on their shores, and are urged to leave the Atlantic coast and head West to preserve their ways. As time goes on, it says, these new arrivals will create untold changes in the world and the animals will disappear. But eventually, things will start to change:

There will be a rebirth of the Anishinaabe nation and a rekindling of old flames. The Sacred Fire will again be lit. It is at this time that the Light-skinned Race will be given a choice between two roads. If they choose the right road, then the Seventh Fire will light the Eighth and Final Fire — an eternal Fire of peace, love, brotherhood and sisterhood. If the Light-skinned Race makes the wrong choice of roads, then the destruction which they brought with them in coming to this country will come back to them and cause much suffering and death to all the Earth’s people. (Edward Benton-Banai, quoted in Fiola (2015))

It’s hard not to read our own times reflected in this story. There can be no doubt we are at a moment of crisis, in which the tug-of-war between the ‘better angels’ of the West’s nature and its demons has reached a breaking point, with the future of the world hanging in the balance. Will we learn from the mistakes of the past, and turn away from the paths of domination — of the powerful over the powerless, the rich over the poor, White over Brown and Black, humanity over creation, Progress over Sustainability — that have caused so much damage to our communities and planet? Or, will we double-down on what’s familiar, whether out of fear of change, hatred of the other, or denial of the problem?

These questions are for the broader Western world — and indeed the whole world, which has become so Westernized over the past few decades — but they should have particular resonance for Christians, because we have at the heart of our faith a story that is incredibly at odds with the ways of the world. We have a story that has humility and love as the foundation of creation, and yet, since at least the fourth century, many among us have allowed ourselves to get swept up in the currents of other, faster-moving stories — the mythologies of the Roman Empire, Aristocracy, Capitalism and Progress — and have simply put a thin Christian veneer on them. And that is why, I believe, we must return to the sources of our faith and reassess what we’ve inherited — to test the Christianity we have been taught in the Refiner’s Fire of the story of Jesus. The story of God as revealed in Jesus of Nazareth remains, always, the blazing Sun that is our centre of gravity. And it calls us all home, in every generation, to those ways of humility and love, to Shalom, God’s peace that is not simply the absence of violence but the presence of healed and whole relationships.

The choice is ours. Will we hear God’s call and return to peace? Or, will we continue down the road of division and destruction? I pray that we will make the right choice.

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