At the Crossroads
“Thus says the Lord:
‘Stand at the crossroads, and look,
and ask for the ancient paths, where the good way lies;
and walk in it, and find rest for your souls.’” (Jer. 6:16, NRSV)
Ten of us sat together one evening in an empty church office with a vague idea, a love for our community, and a blank sheet of paper. This was my brainchild, and it had the potential to be either a raging success or a tremendous failure. I took a quick gulp, and we plunged in, never dreaming where we might end up.
But I’m getting ahead of myself.
Douglas Baptist Church (DBC) is located on the Wolastoq River, on the traditional unceded territory of the Wolastoqiyik people, near Fredericton, New Brunswick. Our congregation consists primarily of middle-class British and French Acadian settlers living in rural and suburban neighbourhoods. For a long time, we didn’t spend much time thinking about what this meant. But especially in light of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s (TRC’s) report, a few of us had felt a renewed call to shalom:– right relationships with God, with others, and with the rest of Creation.
But where should we start? We decided to start where we were, reasoning that if our existing relationships were healthy, they would lead to other positive new relationships. As Jeremiah recognizes (Jer. 6:16), before we can understand where we’re going, we have to understand where we are and how we got there.
And so, when I was asked to facilitate a Lenten art project on the theme “Crossroads: The Moments That Define Us”, a natural question emerged: What does it mean for us [at DBC] to worship God well in this place? This prompted other questions:
- Who lived here before we arrived? Are they still here? If not, why not?
- What boundaries, either natural or artificial, exist here? Who created them?
- What is the political history of this area? Which treaties apply to this region?
- What names are associated with this place? What do they mean?
- Which plants and animals live here?
- What are the area’s primary geographical features?
- What stories are attached to this place?
- What practices, individual or collective, tie us to this place?
- In what ways has God been active in this place over time?
- What could the future of this place be?
Over the next several weeks, we created a collage addressing these questions. As an art form, collage is all about relationship. By placing bits of paper side by side, we were able to create or emphasize complex relationships between the various collage, the collage as a whole, its creator(s), its viewers, the rest of Creation, and God.
Using collage also allowed us to process challenging material with our heads, our hearts, our hands, and our spirits. Together with historians, naturalists, gardeners, artists, and others, we determined the collage’s design and materials.
Over paper and glue, we discussed how settler colonialism has played out in our backyards. We explored the history of slavery here, and discovered that even though there is no notable Black presence in Douglas today, there are at least two Black Loyalist cemeteries nearby. We learned about some of the plants and animals who also call this place home, and thought about our relationship with the St. John River, known for millennia as the Wolastoq, or “Beautiful and Bountiful River”. We “met” folks who started DBC in the 1870s. We considered the seasonal practices that tie us to the land, and we meditated on the Creation Story (Gen. 1) while overlooking the river and apple orchards that we know so well. All of these we incorporated into the collage.
In the process, we started asking new questions, such as:
- How can we better express and exercise our responsibility for and to the rest of Creation?
- How can we develop collective practices grounded in the biblical Creation story?
- In what ways can we practice the principles of the UNDRIP (United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, 2007) and the TRC’s Report (2015), acknowledging that these documents represent only a bare minimum for respectful relationships with Indigenous peoples?
- In what ways can we fulfil our treaty responsibilities, even when our governments are not?
- How can we honour past generations, including those with different ethno-cultural backgrounds, while also preparing ourselves to be worthy ancestors for future generations?
- How can we better reflect shalom in the English language, which has long been a language of conquest?
- Are there other stories belonging to this Land, particularly those from the Wolastoqiyik, that we need to learn?
It has been a year since we completed the collage. One quality of collage, however, is that it is never truly finished: there is always room to reflect new relationships, or new understandings of existing ones. We are still stumbling to understand how our collective history and cultural identities shape us, and how we contribute to past and present injustice.We are still stumbling to understand how our collective history and cultural identities shape us, and how we contribute to past and present injustice. Click To Tweet
We are still figuring out how to live out God’s shalom.
For now, the collage hangs in the lobby as a reminder of a particular crossroads, a moment in time where we began to think in a different way about who we were, who we are, and who we might become together.
On its own, it’s not a solution, but it just might be a start.