Culture

Remembrance Day. Honouring both sides of my family history. by Robyn Rapske

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November 11th, “Remembrance Day” in Canada and the commonwealth, has been celebrated since the 11th hour on the 11th day of the 11th month of 1919, honouring the end of devastating WWI in 1918. On this day, we are supposed to take time to remember those who served in our armies, fighting so that we can be ‘free’ today. Specifically those in WWI, but I believe it is now extended to remembering veterans of WWII, and by extension, any Canadian veteran who has fought to keep peace since then.

My first memory of Remembrance Day was at an assembly in Middle School. I held a small candle and stood with my choir-mates in a line against the wall of our gymnasium singing “One Little Candle”

“If we'd all say a prayer that the world would be free
A wonderful dawn of a new day we'd see...
And if everyone lit just one little candle
What a bright world this would be”

I also recall hearing the words “In Flanders Fields, where poppies blow, between the crosses, row on row....” to mark the beginning of John McCrae’s famous war-time poem.

It was important that children like me were taught to remember the deaths and the lives of those who fought in wars. We were taught to appreciate their sacrifices that allowed us to live safely in our country today.

I grew up understanding that Canadians had died in the pursuit of peace. I internalised the sense that we were the force of good, and that we’d triumphed over evil.

I’m not sure when it happened, but at some point in my life, things got more complicated for me.

I turned over a few stones of my family’s history to be confronted by things that I wasn’t sure how to process.

Yes, the majority of my family currently lives in a country deemed to be on the ‘good side’ of WWI and WWII. But, many came from Germany and German-speaking Poland. Many of them after WWII.

….Weren’t the Germans considered “bad” in both WWI and WWII?? Isn’t that why the League of Nations punished Germany in the Treaty of Versailles after WWI, so that they would not continue their ‘evil’ ways? Isn’t Germany the birthplace of Nazis and of the Holocaust?

Yes, my one grandfather served in the Canadian Military during WWII, but my other grandfather was, at the same time, a member of the Nazi German Military, along with many of his relatives. Recently I learned that the Polish Army also contained one of my relatives in WWI, which was definitely not on the ‘right’ side as I should understand it.

How do I face these facts on a day like Remembrance Day?

Do I remember my one Grandfather’s involvement with the ‘good’ side, and ignore the experiences of my family that were on the ‘bad’ side?

Due to migraine this November 11th, I sat at home for hours without much other than my thoughts, and I figured out how to process this.

I know that the topics of war, military involvement, and the experiences of veterans is very sensitive. It involves people making huge sacrifices, it creates very complicated decisions, it is steeped large amounts of politics and power-struggles, and it also contains immense pain for a lot of people.

I am of a generation in Canada that enjoys peace-time. I am looking backwards in history to WWI and WWII, to a time that western cultures reflect on frequently. I do not know enough about current wars that Canada is involved in, to have a proper opinion on those. I also don’t know anyone currently in military service in Canada. So I’m not speaking about how I feel regarding current wars.

However, I do speak to my own experience. Being connected to both sides, and remembering these globe-changing wars with complicated emotions.

My grandfather, who held me gently in his arms after I was born, bought me Christmas gifts, attended weddings, thanked God every day for the food on his plate and the safety of his family--was on the ‘wrong’ side with a gun.

If soldiers hadn’t continued killing men like my grandfather, I would not have freedom and peace today.

How do I hold this painful paradox?

Canadians and other Allied forces died in these wars. So did many of my family who were in Germany and Poland, part of the Axis and Central Powers. I would like to mourn both, but am I allowed on Remembrance Day?

What I decided this Remembrance day, and what I will try to keep at the forefront of my brain, is the reality that everyone involved suffered from the effects WWI and WWII to some degree. The ‘good’ guys, the ‘bad’ guys, and every person stuck in the path of war. It is not an Indiana Jones movie, or a war-glorifying video game, where the enemy has been stripped of humanity and no longer garners compassion.

Real war is real pain for so many. Good and bad sides. Also, evil is evil not just because it creates victims, but also because it also creates perpetrators of more evil. Those who might have been peaceful citizens became murderers for their country. Both good and bad sides became killers of their fellow humans because of these wars.

Canadians had to keep fighting for the end of this disastrous reality. As soon as it did end, they were free to choose peace instead. It gave them that chance.

As well, their triumphs also allowed my German and Polish relatives the option of peace, which they used to move to Canada. It brought both sides offers of freedom from killing.

I am so grateful that the Allied Forces fought to put an end to both WWI and WWII so that we could have peace in Canada.

But, I am also grateful that they fought so my relatives, who were the ‘bad guys’, could also have peace.

I remember the WWI and WWII veterans, for all they did. Including providing the safety and freedom of my relatives.

Every Remembrance Day, I am going to remember both sides, thank God that it’s over, and express gratitude to those who stopped it all.

The stories and photos that I’ve included from my family below were real people with real pain, and I wish each of them never had to touch wartime. I wish none of them were involved in the murder of their fellow humans.

Each person in a war is a human to me, and I am grateful for anyone who fought so that their fellow humans could have peace.

“If we'd all say a prayer that the world would be free
A wonderful dawn of a new day we'd see...
And if everyone lit just one little candle
What a bright world this would be”


I have only a few stories of my family in the war to offer, but these are some of the things that I remember being told. Experiences that colour the reality of my family.

My maternal grandmother was trying to live a peaceful life in what was called “East Prussia” at the time of WWII. The Russians, who were waging war on the power of Germany, were coming her way and my grandmother’s family had to flee. They were German speakers in the wrong place at the wrong time. While fleeing, their train was under fire from Russian fighter pilots. Shots riddled the train-car my grandmother was on, and she watched as her mother was hit and bled to death. I only learned about this through my mother later in my life as my grandparents did not wish to relive the war if they could avoid it.

  My Grandma Tutschek on the boat coming to Canada after the war

My Grandma Tutschek on the boat coming to Canada after the war

My grandfather, who my grandmother had yet to meet until they came to Canada, was German, and of an age that demanded he join the army. I don’t know my grandfather’s feelings towards Nazis while they rose to power, but I do know that he did not enjoy being in the German Forces. My belief is that he was probably swept up into the army like thousands of other men--unsure, maybe disagreeing, maybe seeing some truth in the governments convictions, but ultimately fearing the deathly repercussions of even contemplating refusal to be in the war. My grandfather was lucky to have poor eyesight, as it prevented him from being in regular duties. He was a telephone line runner, ensuring communication between groups. I believe he still had to kill others while he on duty, but very infrequently, and only if necessary for his survival--it was not something he wanted to do.

  My Grandpa Tutschek, in his German Army uniform

My Grandpa Tutschek, in his German Army uniform

  My Grandpa Tutschek at the top, while in the army.

My Grandpa Tutschek at the top, while in the army.

Both my grandmother and my grandfather came to Canada after surviving WWII, and chose not to speak of it very much. Due to the war experience, my grandfather was very quiet, and didn’t talk much about his past, and my grandmother had some anxiety and health struggles, but overall they were very happy with their safety, their quiet lives, and the peace that they found in a new country. I grew up knowing a quiet couple that treasured me and my brother, and liked things peaceful around the home. Both my grandparents passed away in my early 20’s.

  My Grandma and Grandpa Tutschek, married in Canada

My Grandma and Grandpa Tutschek, married in Canada

My paternal grandfather was in the Canadian Forces but never had to land in Europe. However, knowing who he was, I believe the threat of one day being required to kill another person would have weighed heavily on him. I was 5 when he passed away, but I continue to hear stories about the respect he had in his Vancouver community, his kindness to others, and his deeply held convictions to follow Jesus. I am sad I didn’t really get to know him, and so I treasure the scrapbooks that my grandmother made for her grandkids with photos and stories of our family.

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His wife, my now 89 year old grandma, the matriarch of our family, was born and raised in Vancouver, but her mother and father moved here from Poland. It is her father that served in the Polish Army during WWI. My grandma said her father moved here after the war because he was tired of being in Poland, where was land constantly being fought over by German, Russian, and Polish governments. He found it very unsettling and wished for a happier, safer, and better life. He came to Canada and met my great grandmother here, being married only 5 days after meeting each other. She had been living in Warsaw, Poland, and had come to Canada on her own, I imagine also leaving behind the constantly stressed country of her birth.

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Trauma, Peace, Persistence, Grace, Integrity by Robyn Rapske

 Hillary McBride, Tenth Avenue Church, Vancouver, BC, June 25, 2018

Hillary McBride, Tenth Avenue Church, Vancouver, BC, June 25, 2018

This weekend I attended an event titled Spiritual Trauma, led by therapist, researcher, speaker and writer, Hillary McBride. Hillary is at the forefront of studying trauma, amongst other things, and I’ve heard her speak on the Liturgists podcast regarding Spiritual Trauma before. This blog post addresses mostly how Trauma impacts the work I do, but if you’d like more extensive information on Spiritual Trauma specifically, I’d recommend the podcast episode, if you can’t make it to one of her talks.

Talking about trauma can bring up difficult emotions for those who have experienced it, so if this post is making your body freak out, then I’d say not to bother reading it. I really don’t want to invoke a panic attack. Try these calming techniques if you're needing a moment of peace.


Due to working with women and families on Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside (DTES), I encounter a lot of people with some pretty intense responses to their past and current traumatic experiences. As a general outreach worker here, my job is to offer support during various crises that women and families go through. This means I step directly into moments where they might be coping with real-time trauma, being reminded of a traumatic time in their lives, or trying to manage a new crises when they’ve already got Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder going on.

 My coworkers walking down a back a DTES alley on International Women's Day 2016

My coworkers walking down a back a DTES alley on International Women's Day 2016

Because of this, despite having a basis of education in Social Work, I continue to find ways to expand on my understanding of it--hence attending this weekend seminar.

What is "trauma"? Well, that’s a huge topic on its own. I’m not an expert in the research and study of that topic. So instead, I will throw down a few points from my recent experience hearing Hillary teach on it.

Trauma, she pointed out, means “wound” in Greek. In our understanding of trauma, that “wound” can refer to something harming the body (eg. concussion), it can refer to something harming the mind (eg. emotional, verbal, financial abuse etc), or to the mingling of those two (eg. emotionally and physically abusive relationship leading to a concussion).

The brain is a leading factor in our response to trauma, and it’s a confusing but amazing thing.

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One of its many attributes is that it has an intense survival instinct, with a variety of tools to support that instinct.

When something within the body is harmed (from a broken bone, to abusive language tearing at your concept of self), one of those tools jumps into gear without our conscious effort.

This, as Hillary taught us, is a form of intense “Sensory Memory”. When a traumatic event happens, the brain’s sensory system will memorize what exactly is happening in that moment. In the future, if anything similar begins to happen, the brain has remembered that it’s time to activate fight/flight/freeze modes without consulting your conscious decision-making skills.

For instance, if you’re in a cycling accident with a car that ran a red light, next time you’re cycling and a car is coming up to another red light, regardless of whether it is properly stopping, your brain may send out signals to tense up and prepare to react quickly just in case it doesn’t. It wants to keep you alive and well, and regardless of your opinion on the matter, it will probably start an adrenaline rush in case it’s needed to keep you safe.

This is a great survival instinct, and it’s probably why we survive longer than age 6.

This is an unconscious action, and not something you can easily stop from happening. It is fantastic in this circumstance, as cycling can be dangerous if you’re not alert to dangers that are always quite real.

However, what if you were verbally abused by someone over time, and your brain imprints a survival instinct to tense up any time you’re around a person who resembles the one who verbally abused you? You can end up tense, anxious, and frightened whenever someone reminds you of that person, and it can be frustrating because those people may not actually be dangerous.

Just as the brain creates this imprint without consulting your conscious brain, likewise it won’t easily be changed by your conscious choices. Only with some intentional therapies, certain ongoing practices, and lots of time can we change our unconscious survival reactions.

It’s my experience that these are part of what we sometimes call “Triggers”. Being ‘triggered’ by an enclosed space, by the presence of a white male in power at a church, by hearing loud noises close by, by human touch, it’s all part of those learned survival tactics of the brain that may be frustrating, but they’re trying to keep you alive, and it’s hard to change them.


Pausing a moment for what may seem like an irrelevant story but I swear, it’s not:

Recently my supervisor asked our team to read the books of the bible Ezra and Nehemiah. She is also a Reverend so she likes to refocus on the Bible when we're doing our work, which is nice.

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I believe this is the relevant summary of what I got from those books (feel free to correct any historical inaccuracies):

In Ezra, God’s temple is being rebuilt in Jerusalem, but there are immense barriers to them completing it. People in power nearby created systemic pressures because they didn’t like how the Judeans’ God inspired people to be less subordinate to the kings. They stalled it and made everything harder in this pursuit given by God. Eventually, however, through persistence, the Judean people build the temple back up.

In Nehemiah, the Judeans begin to rebuild the walls of Jerusalem, and this time they have the power of a wealthy king on their side giving them construction materials. However, they are still being discouraged from this task by others. The enemies of Judah plan violent surprise attacks. The people rebuilding the walls had to hold a sword in their hands to fight, as well as continue their efforts to build.

Our supervisor asked us to think about what we are 'building up' in our lives, and what our 'swords' are, which we use to fight off those things trying to prevent us from building.


I’ve decided that what I’m trying to “Build” is Peace.

Peace in someone’s painful, chaotic moments
Peace between myself and others
Peace in everything and anything I have any influence over

I think of Peace as the opposite of trauma. If we have experienced trauma, aren't we always trying to find our way back to Peace?

As for what I have to “Battle” back at, I think that involves anything that threatens Peace.

In order to pursue Peace, and at the same time battle back against what discourages Peace, I use these three “swords”:

Persistence, Grace, Integrity

Persistence

It takes time, energy, supports, and commitment in order to heal from trauma. Studies in “Neuroplasticity” (the brain's ability to heal itself) show that it is possible to heal from trauma, but it can take a long time, and it involves dedicated supportive systems and significant helpful contributions to that healing. Hillary pointed out how, if we say the phrase ”Just get over it!” that we don’t understand how the brain works. It’s a long process and it has less to do with conscious decisions of ‘being over it’ and more to do with ongoing support, practice, and time to rewire the brain.

In my work--this means that I can show love, support, and care for someone over and over for the next 5 years, and might only see gradual changes, but I shouldn’t get discouraged, because it’s normal to take a long time to build back peace. The building of the temple in Jerusalem was interrupted for 15 years, and they must have been so tempted to be discouraged and give up--but they didn’t. So I shouldn’t.

Intergenerational Trauma is also a real thing which extends the time it takes to heal on a larger scale.

Intergenerational Trauma can be a result of environmental re-traumatizing--if the environment doesn’t change much, obviously the traumas just keep going. For example: Residential Schools happened in Canada beginning in the 1870’s, and then governments altered their policies, but continued the trend of separating kids from their families and cultures via the 60’s Scoop. From the 1960’s to the 1980’s, massive amounts of Indigenous children were moved from their families into foster care or adoption. As of 2016, 52% of kids in the foster care system in Canada were Indigenous, but across Canada, Indigenous children only represented 7.7% of the population. There’s not much chance to get out of the trauma of family separation, if it keeps continuing.

Scientifically they’re also discovering that, even if the environment changes, the brain and body can pass along genetic markers helping their offspring avoid certain traumatic experiences.

There is an experiment ongoing, which Hillary described, (if you’re an animal rights activist I’m sorry, you’ll hate this experiment), where mice are being given the scent of cherry blossoms right before receiving an electric shock in the foot. These mice developed a fear of the scent of cherry blossoms. When they inseminated female mice with the sperm of these fearful mice and baby mice were born--despite the mother and baby never being exposed to electric shocks or to the 'father' mouse, the baby hated the scent of cherry blossom scents! They’re still continuing the study--they’ve already confirmed that the genetic marker that creates a fear of cherry blossoms has been passed at least 2 generations.

This study is new, so we’ll learn much more about the reasons for this as science progresses, but it is beginning to create a scientific defence for what so many people have already known--that the learned responses to traumatic events can be passed along generations.

So for example, integrating this information into my own life; I work with a lot of Residential School survivors, 60’s Scoop Survivors, and the children and grandchildren of these survivors. Indigenous people and Settler people in Canada will have to keep working for many generations before things will be fully peaceful. It will take a long time for people to “get over” the fear of white people separating their families, and the distrust of government and churches.

This leads to my next important weapon:

Grace.

Just as God had Grace and sent Jesus to redeem us, save us, and make us whole, despite our inability to be ‘deserving’ of these gifts--I see Grace as an important part of loving, supporting, understanding, and being kind to people who may be acting out their responses to trauma in unhelpful ways in relationship with me.

If “Sensory Memories” can be created by trauma, and those memories can become “triggers” for people, this can mean that someone may have a horrible reaction to me without realizing that's why they are upset. It could be because of how I look, the way I speak, where I work, the religion I hold to, the way I pray, the power I am unaware I have--simply because one or some of these things resemble someone who has traumatized them or their family. The past trauma may not be my fault, but their reaction to who I am is overwhelming for them, and it is their brain’s learned response to protect themselves from someone like me.

Their biology is protecting them without them even realizing it.

Due to the nature of the community that I work within, I have been yelled at, screamed at, sworn at, I have been called a F***ing C***, I have been threatened, I have been called racist, I have been told I’m a bad Christian, I have had women throw very clever guilt-trips my way.

I don’t like being treated this way, but when I understand trauma, I am less concerned with feeling offended and indignant, and more concerned with what led them to need this survival tactic.

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I still put in boundaries, such as saying “I believe your situation, and I want to hear more, but I’m feeling unsafe, so go take a break and cool off”. Or it can look like a physical barrier, when a man is unable to handle his emotions and starts smashing his fist against our door so we keep it closed.

It’s less about me, and more about their past, so I don’t take it as personally anymore. I have grace for their situation. I want to see them heal, rather than scold and judge them for their behaviours which are uncomfortable for me.

Integrity

Integrity can be meant in many ways, but I understand that integrity means that one's words match one's actions.

If I know how trauma is a huge part of everyone’s lived experiences, and I say I care about fostering Peace for others, then it only makes sense that I take action to create that Peace.

One example of how I’m trying to match my beliefs to my actions, is through my use of words.

I try not to use words that others identify as ‘triggers’ when I know what they are. Not only for individual traumas, but for collective traumas.

After understanding our body’s response to trauma, I don’t see avoiding “taboo” words as being “Politically Correct”, I see it as understanding the instinctive reaction that someone’s brain is going through, and doing my best to help avoid triggering it. Hillary didn’t relate her teaching on trauma to this concept, but I think it can be applied.

Ijeoma Oluo says in her book "So You Want To Talk About Race?":

“The history of a word matters as long as the effects of that history are still felt”.

I would say that this history of trauma associated with a word will probably be felt until the environment changes and the generational trauma is given a chance to heal.

Indigenous people still feel racism, so the word “Indian” matters. It was used in ideologies such as “Kill the Indian, Save the Man” to justify cultural genocide (Richard Pratt, as cited in Cheryl Bear-Barnetson’s book). It was used in racial slurs and still is. So I won’t use it outside of explaining why it’s inappropriate. I don’t want to trigger the trauma that is associated with that word.

Maybe Indigenous people themselves will use that word, but I’m part of the group of people that wielded it in terrible ways, so my use of it can be very triggering.

If I say I care about not triggering the historical and ongoing trauma in people, this is one example of how my behaviour matters in order to create that.


I know it sounds like a lot of work, and sometimes it can be.

But honestly, it’s quite helpful.

Not only can I personally cope a lot better with the trauma I see in the world if I find something to do about it, but it also really impacts people around me for the better.

I have heard and seen miraculous things when women and families are given the safety of a place that makes efforts not to re-traumatize them. They may not be able to express it all the time, but I see it in their trust of me, in how they know that we will always be there for them.

Change flourishes in those places. I’ve seen women grow so much stronger than they thought they could, because they were given opportunities to be safe, and to rewire their brains slowly towards more Peace. They did hard work of healing, but the context is a huge help.

People sometimes talk about my job like I’m willingly doing the most painful work in the world.

But actually, this job gives me more hope than I thought I could have in a world full of trauma and pain. Women have a much better chance to heal in a place full of safety, peace, love, and non-judgemental care, so if we can help create more of that, there is hope.

Peace

Perseverance

Grace

Integrity

Some of What I Got Wrong, Some of What I’m Trying to Get Right (or The Clumsy Efforts of Reconciliation in One White Life. Part 2) by Robyn Rapske

I care about the well being of other people. I think many people say they care about others’ well being, too. For sure every church I’ve been in claims that as a value and a goal.

Since my early 20’s I’ve tried to expand my care for others by widening my perspective on how to do this well. This has meant trying to learn a lot. Who others are, why they are struggling with life, how they would like to be treated by me, what structures are in place that are harming them, etc

It’s not easy to get better at caring for others, and I struggle to do it, especially when I’m tired, when I’m commuting, when I harbour resentment towards someone, when I just feel like I can’t read or learn more about the pains that people suffer, etc. And of course there are limits--I do not have to put myself into situations with someone who is speaking or acting abusively towards me. I also can’t care for everyone all the time, (due to being tired and stuff!) so I have to figure out what setting those ‘healthy boundaries’ means. But still, I keep trying.

One of those things that I’ve been trying to learn more about and widen my perspective on is:

Racism

That big, confusing, dark, painful thing

Historically, currently, and most likely into the future, racism hurts the well being of people all over the world. It’s hurting my closest friends, my coworkers, my fellow church congregants. Many of the people on Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside whom I meet are suffering from it, the authors of many books I’m reading are harmed by it. It touches unbelievably large amounts of people I will never meet.

I've made this post also Part 2 of The Clumsy Efforts of Reconciliation in One White Life series because in my home country of Canada, racism also harms Indigenous people in very painful ways, and this post ended up talking a lot about how this can contribute to my clumsy efforts of reconciliation.

I am just one person talking about my one experience as a white person. If you would like to learn a lot more than what I can offer, and from the lips of people who are my teachers in all of this, I think highly of these books from my recent readings:

“So You Want To Talk About Race” by Ijeoma Oluo
“I'm Still Here: Black Dignity in a World Made for Whiteness” by Austin Channing Brown
“Introduction to First Nations Ministry” by Cheryl Bear-Barnetson

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The hardest thing about trying to battle back the racism for my loved ones, is that it is so multifaceted in my life;

I’m white (very, very white).
I grew up without consciously realizing I was embodying racist beliefs.
I didn’t realize for a long time that systems of my country and other western countries were supporting racism and sustaining structures to keep racism in place.
When I realized that racism was bigger and closer to my life than previously thought, I tried to improve, and ended up being slow and sluggish at improving.
I’m currently doing my best, and I am still so, so behind.

But,

I care about the well being of others.

So even if I can’t perfect these efforts, they're worth working at.


Sometimes, it’s nice to learn from other people’s mistakes. If you can watch someone else’s mistake before you make it, there’s that freeing possibility of not having to make the mistake yourself.

In a vulnerable moment, I’m going to air out some of my mistakes as I’ve begun to realize them.

At a recent event I attended, Registered Clinical Counsellor, Hillary McBride, pointed out that shame, which keeps us from loving ourselves, doesn’t actually change us, and in fact it drives us into even more dysfunctional behaviour. So I share these things with as little shame as I can manage for myself. 

Oh, also, if you’re not white, you’ve probably heard/experienced enough racism, so feel free to skip these confessions if you don’t want to have to deal with some of this racist history of mine.

 

Mistake #1

From high school into my early 20’s, I genuinely used to think that I was better, and elevated, and 'above' racism because I had a Congolese friend, a Persian friend, a Nigerian friend, a few Chinese friends, and a Phillipino friend.

What I've Learned:

Just because I have valued, and became friends with people who are part of a group that has historically suffered oppression due to their skin colour, did not make me immune to racism. It’s not like a vaccine, I was not protected from the many unrealized misdeeds I probably did, unaware of how racist they were. I cringe at wondering what I've said and done without realizing the racism that inspired me to act that way.

This belief also had the even more troubling effect of preventing me from making further efforts to see what racist behaviours I had. Like a false-negative test for cancer, I couldn’t treat the thing that existed because I thought I didn’t have it (except in this case the cancer would harm someone else other than me). I'm very grateful for the teaching of professors, authors, film directors, etc that led me to realize I had deeper problems going on.

 

Mistake #2

I didn’t see Indigenous people until my early 20's.

I grew up in Canada, so I obviously must have seen Indigenous people around, but what I mean is that I did not really see them. If an Indigenous person walked past me, my brain categorized them as Filipino, or Hawaiian, or some other ethnicity that I didn’t fully recognize and didn’t bother finding out about.

What I've Learned:

This blindness is probably because I learned about Indigenous people in the context of the incomplete history given to me by my schools. In textbooks and stories, Indigenous people were wearing regalia, associated with longhouses or teepees, occupying themselves with tanning hides, etc. This is obviously part of many Indigenous cultures, but that’s where it stopped for me. I didn’t see Indigenous people as someone shopping at the mall with me, participating in choir competitions like me, owning cell phones, eating next to me at the McDonald's. They were firmly stationed in my brain as a historical people no longer rooted in current Canada.

I knew nothing of the complex and painful history leading up to where Indigenous people are now, and also could not see that we were living in the same culture, with all that our society entails. It wasn’t until my I attended UVic’s Social Work program where I learned about the history more in-depth and learned from Indigenous teachers themselves, that I began to finally see. Thank God for the learning I received there.

 

Mistake #3

Even as I began to see Indigenous people, I still feared their traditional cultural practices. I thought they were dangerous, full of idolatry. It was entrenched within me, this fear, and who knows how it came out in my words and actions and general lack of support for Indigenous people's cultural practices.

What I've Learned:

Well, I’ve learned a lot about Christianity and Indigenous beliefs. First of all, I did not grow up understanding that I lived in a particular, man-made culture. And I did not see that this culture was just one unique way of expressing one’s life. I didn’t know that my western style of worshipping God, honouring God, and communing with God was not the only way to do so. Second of all, I was either fed misinformation about Indigenous cultural practices, or not taught about them at all.

To illustrate with a few examples; Smudging freaked me out. I didn't understand it, and it felt like a spooky, strange, 'savage' practice. What I found, once properly taught, is that it's quite multifaceted and wonderful. Smudging can just be another practice to use in connection with God (Creator). It can be used as a physical act of preparation for praying with God. It can also be used to dedicate a new home or an important room to God, just as I've seen oil used to anoint a new home while Christians pray over it. Another example: I thought that Indigenous people worshipped animals and nature and ‘mother earth’ in idolatry. I didn’t remember that Christian scriptures are absolutely full of talk that animals and nature are innately tied to God. When traditional Indigenous practices respect and honour creation with a variety of ceremonies or prayers, the ultimate goal is to respect and honour God. How beautiful!

As the author of “Introduction to First Nations Ministry”, Cheryl Bear-Barnetson of the Nadleh Whut’en First Nation, said in her book:

“A question that burns in the mind of every non-Native Christian when thinking about Indians: ‘Is Indian religion evil?” That is a valid question for American or Canadian people to ask, however it is very offensive for a Native person to hear. Please do not think that indigenous people are overly sensitive, they are not. After five hundred years of being scrutinized, stereotyped, and misunderstood, indigenous people often feel overly exposed. Christians react in a similar fashion when radical Islamists state that Christianity is a false, polytheistic religion.” 

In her book, Cheryl provided much more information about Indigenous beliefs, which helped chip further and further away at that ignorant fear of mine. Again, if you're Christian and Canadian and not Indigenous, please consider reading it. It's not even very expensive on Amazon


These are just some examples of how I’ve accidentally done wrong, and some of what I’ve learned. I have spent a lot of mental energy trying not to say and do the wrong things, expanding my knowledge on how to be less racist.

However, what I’ve been learning through the wisdom of others, including in the books I’ve recently read, is that this still isn’t enough.

Racism exists in systems, in people, and in culture. With what efforts I can muster, I’ve been shown that, aside from talking about racism here, and changing the thoughts inside my own head, I should also be seeking ways to actively battle back at racism in larger society.

It’s not just about me keeping my ‘street cred’ as a ‘nice person’--coming off as someone not actively doing racist stuff. It’s about going out of my way to try changing the systems that people with my skin colour have been benefited from on the backs of people without my skin colour.

Ijeoma Oluo says in her book:

“We cannot understand race and racial oppression if we cannot talk about it….But understanding, on its own, will never equal action.”
“Talk. Please talk and talk and talk some more. But also act. Act now, because people are dying in this unjust system. How many lives have been ground up by racial prejudice and hate….We have to learn and fight at the same time. Because people have been waiting far too long for their chance to live as equals in this society”

But what to do? The anxiety of feeling overwhelmed with how many problems there are is real.

Well, Ijeoma provides some good examples in her book, which I encourage you to get ahold of. I won’t list all of her suggestions here, as that would make this post even longer than it already is!

My husband Thomas suggested to me that I pick one of Ijeoma's ideas, and commit to doing it, using the accountability of writing it here to get it done. It’s a fair point; my inner integrity won’t be satisfied if I don’t commit to doing what I said I would here.

One of Ijeoma’s suggestions is:

Vote for diverse government representatives. Help put people of color into the positions of power where they can self-advocate for the change that their communities need. Support candidates of color, and support platforms that make diversity, inclusion, and racial justice a priority.”

She also suggests:

Get in schools. Do you know what the racial achievement gap is in your school district?”

Well, we have an election coming up in Vancouver for mayor, city councillors, park board commissioners, and school board trustees. This seems like a great opportunity to use voting powers that I don’t use as much as I could. Although I’ve participated in local elections more in my adult years, I haven’t really put the energy I could into influencing it with my vote. And not just in researching the candidates to vote for the 'best' option, but rather making my voice heard in all of the candidates offices.

For example, I clearly like writing, so why am I not writing letters and emails to candidates in elections? I can make my desires quite clear, pointing out that if they want my vote, this is what I will care about and vote for. This can address those in power as well as the ones making significant decisions in Vancouver schools.

If I find someone I really support, then would I consider volunteering for them? Giving them donations? I suppose we’ll have to see.

Nominations are in September, but already there is a lot of talk around who is running, and that gives me plenty of time to get some letters ready.


Again, the imperfections of my attempts are going to continue being so real, but I shouldn’t get disheartened. The efforts are worth it. Some may even say that it's very 'Christian' to keep trying to provide relief in society from racism.

And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength. The second is this: You shall love your neighbour as yourself. There is no other commandment greater than these.
Mark 12:30-31

He has told you, O man, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?
Micah 6:8

Calling It Bravery by Robyn Rapske

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Recently Thomas and I travelled for over two weeks. We celebrated his Masters program graduation in Philadelphia, we visited some friends in Scotland, and then we finished off with a few nights in London. It was a whirlwind, and I loved it. Feeling the pride of Thomas’s accomplishments, seeing my friends’ new baby in Scotland, meeting up in London with a friend for a show--it was all so wonderful.

However, as I posted pictures of our escapades on my social media pages, and received exclamations from friends over what grand adventures we seemed to be having, I thought about the stuff that didn’t make it on Instagram. I posted about castles, hikes, food, landmarks and monuments. I had a fantastic time commentating on the wonderful sights we were seeing.

But there was other stuff that I dealt with while travelling. Stuff I didn’t think people wanted to see.

I have sincere, uncomfortable, frustrating fears around travelling. And I travelled anyways. And I was proud of myself for it. I call it ‘bravery’. But that felt weird to post on Instagram, so I didn’t. However, why not? I'll do it now!

People who know me well, will know I have lot of fears, as I try to be vocal about what gets me anxious. Speaking about these fears can help me name them and find humour in them. The list of things that make me afraid is large, and has varying degrees of intensity from day to day. I think the only person in the world who might know all of them is Thomas, and even he forgets about some.

One of these things is heights. Another is the related sensation of falling from a great height. You’ll never find me bungee jumping or doing any free-fall amusement park rides. It makes my stomach churn.

Unfortunately, both of these fears tie in closely to flying.

Sitting 37,000 feet in the air, relying on the skills of flawed humans to put together a powerful engine and a sturdy metal structure to ensure that I don’t die by falling is terrifying to me.

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In 2010, my fear of flying began to show up when I made the long trek to Zambia and South Africa.

In 2016, when I went to Calgary for Christmas with my brother’s family, leading up to the trip and during the trip I had a constant, nagging anxiety at the knowledge that I’d have to fly again soon. It was very unpleasant.

By 2017 I knew I’d struggled through too many flights with gripping anxiety, so I decided I would finally accept the help of drugs. Flying to Philadelphia, and then home from New York, I gave my body the kindness of Ativan.

So a month ago, knowing that I’d be boarding six different planes for varying flight lengths, I had the Ativan ready. But as I kept checking in with my body, I was surprised to notice that the tell-tale anxieties weren’t starting. As we drove to the airport, sat in security checks, and found our boarding gate, nothing escalated. I wasn’t sure why this was happening, I found it quite interesting.

It would have been absolutely fine and kind to my body to pop the Ativan and fly, in anticipation that I might get anxious later on.

But I wanted to see what my body would do. I thought I’d try out it’s limits. So I breathed through the parts of flying I hate the most (take off and landing *shiver*), and lo! I made it through five of the six flights on our trip without the assistance of Ativan.

Each flight I waited to see what my body would do. I breathed through anxious moments and waited to see if they’d go away. Thomas complimented me each time I didn't pop my Ativan. It was wonderful to feel like I was overcoming the thing that makes me afraid.

That sixth trip, however, was a 9.5 hour flight home from London, in which the stresses prior to boarding were more than usual, and I was not feeling at ease.

I got through the takeoff, and the anxiety didn’t calm down. The sweaty palms, the racing thoughts, and the desire to cry was not going away. I decided that the line was too far. The anxiety was too much. I took my Ativan.

And that, by the way, is fine. I’m not going to hold on to any stigma that taking Ativan was weak. I personally found my bravery in seeing if I could try to do the thing that scares me without the help of a drug, but at some point, I think it becomes unkind to my body to push through unnecessary pain. So I was brave five times, and one time I was kind to myself. At no point do I consider my experience ‘weakness’.

There were many other times that anxiety accompanied my experience throughout the trip, and I had to decide what was a limit to push through and what was not worth it.

Would I do the hike that hugged cliffs, wind pushing at my body, the sea and rocks below? I did. I needed Thomas to hold my hand at parts, but I did it. I had my reasons for trying.

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Should I climb the tower to overlook Edinburgh, protected only by a small railing? My knees shook terribly, but I did it for the view, and after some photos promptly scurried down the spiral steps and drank water at the bottom while my heart rate cooled off.

I also had to face the question of whether or not I could even travel in my current condition. I’ve had chronic fatigue and brain fog since November last year from a concussion, and I had no way of knowing what my limits would be on this trip. I had a LOT of anxiety about worst case scenarios. And in part, they were slightly merited. My short time in Edinburgh was spent wondering how I’d get through each next hour, because my brain felt like it wanted to quit. And I did have to quit once we arrived in London, I missed out on the British Museum because of it. The majority of a day in London was spent doing very little, feeling very poorly, despite having only 2 full days to explore the city. But again, despite all of these fears and possible outcomes, I wanted to travel, it was worth it to me, so I tried being brave. And I'm so glad I travelled.

Each of us, I feel, have our own things to be brave about. These fears of mine seem like little battles in the very great troubles of the world. But they are my battles. And unfortunately they haunt my life in a way that only I will ever really understand. There are a lot more of them, which I won’t get into now, and I’m sure we all have our own sampling of them. Maybe for you it’s eating alone in the cafeteria, writing exams, talking to that intimidating coworker, attending an event you only know one person at, etc.

I know how silly my fears can sound--oh ‘bravery’ in such privileged circumstances. ‘Bravery’ in such glamour as being able to travel. I understand. To a degree.

It is still my reality, and the biological responses of what scares me are real. Therefore my bravery to face these issues is also very real.

So when someone comes to me and describes that they’ve done this seemingly mundane life activity that actually terrifies them completely, I am so excited for them! Although we have different fears, I know that feeling. I acknowledge that, for them, this was a horribly terrifying experience, and I’m very proud of their bravery to do what they did.

At the same time, if they were paralyzed by that fear and did not feel they could face it that day, I also get that! I understand. And I’ll let them know that just because one day they didn’t face that fear, doesn’t mean that they never will.

It’s up to each of us to face our fears. We know ourselves better than anyone else, and if we push ourselves, it’s because whatever we’re thinking of pushing through is worth it to us. And if our ‘pushing through’ looks different than others’, that’s okay too.

My bravery feels like bravery because I call it that. Maybe that's just me. I try not to call it ‘just getting through life’, or say ‘it’s pathetic that I deal with this fear’, because naming it ‘bravery’ is kinder to myself. Some loved ones call it bravery too. Thomas holds my hand and looks me in the eye and says he’s proud of me when I fly. When I hiked next to that terrifying cliff, he told me he was proud of me. My mom always said she was proud of me for doing things that she knew were scary for me. My closest friends never shame me for my fears, but smile and say they’re glad I did the thing that I wanted to do despite the fears.

I’m trying to take heart in my own bravery, unique to the things that are hard for me. I would love to see you do the same, and I will try to be a good support to you, if I meet you when you’re facing a fear.


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In the theme of this being Mental Health Awareness Month, please consider your own mental health and the mental health of others around you. 

If you'd like to donate to an organization that I really like, which addresses mental health, try out Libero Magazine here:  

Libero Magazine