Tuesday, 1 April 2014

Exposing Skeletons in the Closet

Lectionary passages for April 6, 2014. Ezekiel37:1-14, Psalm 130, Romans 8:6-11, John 11:1-45

"Them bones, them bones, them dry bones..." the song runs through my head when I read Ezekiel 37. The story of the valley of bones coming to life invokes a creepy fascination and bizarre mental images. It terrifies the kid in me, yet the idea of going from death to life instead of the other (normal) way is completely intriguing!

I've always heard this interpreted positively, emphasizing renewed life, but today I have a different feeling about it, and it leans more toward terror because there is pain in exposing bones, bringing them to life, and learning to live with a new (even if better) reality.

This past weekend, I spent 2 days at the Truth and Reconciliation Commission in Edmonton learning about the impact of the residential school system (1870-1996, 150,000 children) on First Nations people in Canada. Sitting in on sharing circles, I heard survivors speak of the horrors of being torn from their families when they were 4-6 years old and having their clothes, hair, names, and language taken away upon entering the school. Hunger, sickness, confusion, abuse of all sorts, and isolation was all meant to 'kill the Indian in the child.'. The "dry bones" of this legacy of horror are in evidence in the tears of mothers who lament that because of the damage, they were unable to parent their own children. It is in evidence in the many survivors who spoke of turning to alcohol or drugs to dull the pain of remembered trauma, stolen children, and to stop the ceaseless onslaught of nightmares. It continues to affect the children today because of the broken families, the lost identities and culture, and the ingrained racism that blames people for the horrible heritage forced upon them.

The TRC was meant to enable the process of bringing renewed life to these dead bones, but I can't get the words of one survivor out of my mind. She was desperately weeping as she said; "I thought that telling my story would help, but it's made it worse..." The anger and hurt was all there, but instead of being buried, it was exposed and she was actively and publicly stalled in her agony. The residential school was decades in her past, but her pain was immediate and at the level of crisis. Renewed life doesn't happen just because story flesh is put on the bones of the past. Something more is needed.

The truth really hurts. More and more bones are being uncovered and refleshed by the commission, but it's not enough if that's where it stops.

Many people have skeletons in their closets that they don't talk about, betrayals, abuses, bad habits, loss, regrets, and other unmentionables. When we can keep our closet doors closed, we pretend to get on with life as if we are okay. Skeletons are quiet, they don't move around, but we don't like to look at them. What would happen if flesh and life was added to what we keep hidden? I imagine voices would come from the closet, and when they find the door handle, bodies would walk out and enter the room. Individuals and families and communities would learn hard things and have to deal with them.

The TRC has blown Canada's closet wide open. Many Native people are courageously telling their stories and it hurts. It hurts desperately. Over and over we heard both survivors and leaders and the commissioners say that truth telling is only the first step, and despite the pain, it is the easiest step. That is terrifying, even as it is hopeful. The hard work begins now. Reconciliation is the work of responding to the truth. As a country and as individuals, are we going to try to stuff these stories and these people back into the closet, or are going to hear them and walk alongside?

In Ezekiel's story, the bones don't really come to life until God's spirit fills them with the breath of life. Story flesh on bones isn't enough, people need to be infused by God's spirit, by the Creator's spirit. Over and over at the TRC, survivors who were on a healing path talked of the importance of the Creator. I think they would resonate with Ezekiel's vision.

I still like the bones coming to life image, but I wonder how many of us have the courage to do more than just listen to the story. What would it take for our skeletons to come to life? What would we deal with if our hidden stories were told? What kind of reconciliation is needed in our lives as individuals and how do we start down that path?

I am glad to have been a part of the TRC event, but it was only a beginning. I got a glimpse of my country's closet, and there are valleys full of bones that are getting up, walking, and getting life from the Creator. Will I find a way to be part of that new life? Will our society and churches respond with true lament, confession, and a way to make sure this will not happen again?

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