August 7, 2018
Dear Esteemed Judge Affleck,
It is with much consternation that I find myself before you, charged with contempt for your court. Let me begin by apologizing. Never at any moment have I, nor do I now, hold you in contempt. I see you. You are my brother, a fellow child of God.
Now, I know nothing about your personal life, but perhaps you are a husband, a father, a grandfather even. I am sure that you have worked hard, and loved well. I believe you must have done your very best, dedicated many long hours, much study and earnest reflection, to achieve an honourable position in your profession, and that you have deep confidence in the way we have ordered our human community, here in what has been called British Columbia in Canada.
I am grieved that my actions have been interpreted as a sign of disrespect. My intent, through my actions, was to engage in urgent dialogue, in honest conversation. The need to speak with one another is so great it caused me to behave in ways that ordinarily I would never consider. I, too, hope to be thought of as an honourable woman, who has worked hard and who loves, above all, this earth, the creatures of the earth, all of God’s Holy Creation.
Our world, the planet we all live on, our Holy Mother on whom we all depend, is in peril — She is dying. And we humans have caused this earth-wide devastation, because the dominating culture has a way of being and believing that is drastically mistaken.
[Reverend Emilie Smith was arrested April 20 stopping construction at Kinder Morgan’s Trans Mountain construction site in Burnaby BC.]
This worldview has named greed as the central good of our human community and has forgotten the cost of such selfishness. Forgotten to the degree that those who hold this way of being no longer see, or give value, to the virtues of moderation, cooperation, harmony, balance, generosity. The result of this forgetting is the snaking growth of the destruction of fields and forests, mountains and rivers, fish and caribou, lichen and cedar.
Somehow – bizarrely – many of us have accepted this greed-based worldview. We have—reluctantly perhaps – agreed that there is no other way to achieve a good life and security for ourselves and our children, but by destroying the earth. Maybe we think someone else will clean up the mess, or that some miracle technology will come and scoop our toxic poisons out of the sky and water and earth. Or that if we do the damage now, we will still have time to correct things later. Or maybe we just can’t imagine another way, and we have given up trying.
One of the very specific ways that the world has gone wrong is in this plan to expand a corroding pipeline, that carries toxic bitumen, and winds its way from the ravaged and contaminated boreal forest of the Cree, Dene and Metis peoples, through the mountains and then the dry lands of the interior, alongside the great salmon river almost to the sea, where it plans to cut through a low mountain to the ocean inlet that nestles into the great green-blue mountains to the north-east of this courthouse.
That land, that mountain, that inlet was snatched away from the original peoples who lived here, who had been living here with grace for millennia upon millennia. No treaty was ever signed, no permission was ever given, not when the land was first taken, and not in our lifetime when the original petroleum processing and loading facilities were built to send this oil out over the sea.
It was on a road, between the weirdly-named tank farm – as if something good were alive and growing there — and the marine facility off this pipeline, that I found myself one morning last April, standing, and kneeling with a handful of my beloved brothers and sisters, praying and singing and saying no to this way of being that says we have to destroy the earth, in order to live.
You see, there are other ways of seeing and being in the world. And these ways of seeing and being are desperately trying to communicate with the greed-based worldview that is killing our planet. The people on whose land these facilities are built have a way of being with the land, with the creatures of the land, with other people of the land, that deeply honours these holy things. And the right teaching of my ancestors’ traditions, which emerged over two thousand years ago out of a small, dry country on the eastern side of the Mediterranean Sea say these things:
The Earth is God’s and all that is in it, the world and all who dwell therein. (Psalm 24)
God so loved the world, that God sent a Son into the world to save the world. (John 3:16)
The founder of the tradition that I proclaim, Jesus of Nazareth, was very often at odds with the legal authorities of his time. Yet he said, “I did not come to abolish the law, but rather to fulfill it.”
Humbly, we too, the followers of this Way, do not mean to destroy any law, or to act with contempt for your court, and much less your person, but rather we mean to stand up for a deeper law, the essence of all law which says that protecting life matters more than profit.
I hope that I am not speaking out of turn. But it is time to stand up. And to demand respect for this other law, this other way of being in the world.
I am sorry if at times we have appeared to be angry. You see, these things are urgent. Last year my first grandchild was born. He arrived during the swirling smoke storm of summer, caused by the unprecedented wildfires in the woods and dry scrub in the interior, yet another terrifying manifestation of our rapidly changing climate. For almost a week he couldn’t go out into the world. His soft newborn lungs breathed the filtered air in a sealed-off room. Outside the sun hung menacingly orange in a thin grey sky. Now I await with joy for my second grandchild to be born this coming September.
But I am scared too. Honestly, I don’t know what world we are leaving to them. I feel helpless, and I feel angry. I am furious that greed seems to trump long life and well-being for the generations to come. I am furious that the destructive practices of our economy seem to trump – again and again — right and honourable living.
But then I remember: my tradition also has something to say about righteous anger. There was one time remembered in all four of the gospels when Jesus was furious. Incandescent with rage. This is when he cleanses the temple. Making a whip of cords, he drives the money-changers out, those who prey on the poor.
“You have made my Father’s Holy House a marketplace!” he roars.
All of Creation is God’s Dwelling Place. All of Creation is holy. It is not to be used for the filthy piling up of useless trinkets for a precious few, for a short period of time. The Earth is not a product, it is not a resource to be developed. The Earth is holy and lovely and worthy. The Earth has a body, a spirit, a life, a soul and memory.
Tragically, our Christian teachings were used as weapons in the process of colonization, assimilation, destruction of this land – yet inn their heart they proclaim a different way. There is a core teaching of profound love and worship of God’s world, and a teaching about brothers and sisters and neighbours, about caring for little ones, vulnerable ones. Above all, we are to honour in humility the Life force of the Universe.
Recently, we in the church realized, with shattered hearts, that in our direct and full collusion with state power, with what was then, “the law” , we betrayed the very message of what Jesus came to reveal to us. When the church followed the law of the state, when we built residential schools to house kidnapped indigenous children, taken from their communities, we forgot about love, we forgot about humility, we forgot about inclusion.
Recently, in the past 20 years or so, we the church looked back and saw the trail of destruction that lay behind us, that lay on our altars, on our very doorsteps. We saw so clearly how we had come up short, stale and sick. We saw and we repented and then we said that we were sorry – more thhan we could ever say—for the harm done in our collaboration with thhe state in the horrific Indian Residential School system.
These things were perfectly legal then – and horrifically wrong.
We have promised to be a reconciled people. For our commitment to renewed life with the peoples who first lived in these lands to be real, we must radically stand down from our insistence that we are right. For there to be true reconciliation those who in the past hundred years or so have held a tight grip on power – the state, the courts, the church – must with humility relinquish that insistence that we have the only correct interpretation of the world, of the sacred, of the law.
Now, we have heard the report of how the authorities, the police, and the company security officials viewed the events of the morning of April 20th. With the indulgence of the court I would like to tell you about how I experienced that morning.
We arrived before dawn and in the early hours, as the sun hung below the eastern horizon, we spent our time in prayer and song, in quiet conversation. Slowly the sun rose over the oil facility, and the tanks glowed eerily in the pale green morning. It smelled like a gas station, and my stomach felt soft inside. Visible, just barely, was a tall tree, in the midst of a clearing. Something caught the sun and flashed. It was an upside-down cone, suspended in the giant cedar, to prevent eagles from nesting there. I hung my head in sorrow.
And then The People of this Land came to stand with us.
They stood straight across from me, drumming and chanting. The song sank and the song rose and covered us, pressing us, pinning us to the land. We could not move. The song was so loud the mountains across from us heard and were glad. The little mountain where we stood — so carved and damaged already by human greed –breathed and said thank you. The drum echo shivered up and along the inlet, came back filled with the promise of the ancient ones, the ones who have been here forever. The echo was a song of gratitude, an invitation and — finally — a command.
Listen to me says the drum, song, the echo, the water, the mountains, the inlet, the sea, the ancient ones, the ones whose hearts were broken when this land was taken, the ones who watched when this land was murdered for the first time. Listen to me says the drum. In humility, in sorrow, in reverence. Listen.
And so we stood, we knelt. I knelt. With all that I am and all that I am, I said I am sorry.
On the other side of the fence birds scatter-sang in the trees that were left. So many trees have been cut, making way for the tail end of the pipeline.
The trees and the mountain, the eagles’ eggs and the eagles matter. They are here still. The eagles, the trees, the bears, the whales, and the original peoples.
Because the crucifixion of this land, and the people of this land did not work.
Though the bosses try again to say this land is theirs, we kneel and say, no. This land belongs to the One who made it. And we turn in obedience towards that One, and to those who have promised in truth to care for it.
The genocide of the Coast Salish people did not work. They are still here. They stand before me, drumming. God, the creator of Heaven and Earth, continually pulls life out of death, and all things are renewed. The crucifixion is not the end, but the pivot of all things towards God. All that was done on this land, that was unholy, a sacrilege, will be undone.
Which is why we knelt there that morning. That is why we would not leave. In obedience.
The only one who holds authority here is the One who made Heaven and Earth. The One that speaks here with the true voice is the drum. Listen.
In the Name of the One who created us,
In the Name of the One who redeems us,
In the Name of the One who breathes all life into being.
Emilie Teresa Smith