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(Blog) From the Pews: Lessons from the Bow!

From the Pews offers members of the UCiM community an opportunity to share their own faith journeys, questions, challenges &/or doubts. We invite you to walk with our Brothers & Sisters & share your feedback and thoughts. And, should you be so moved & feel you too would like to contribute to this aspect of our ministry, please contact Dea. Richard! He would be excited to walk with you, & support your 500-800 word submission, which might include your own photo to accompany the blog and a brief 2-3 sentence description as to who you are!

“Time, like an ever rolling stream, bears all her sons away”
from Isaac Watts’ paraphrase of Psalm 90

We travelled West earlier this month, as far as Lethbridge and Calgary. The countryside between Winnipeg and the foothills is reputed to be flat and boring. We have never found it so. Everywhere the Canadian prairies are marked by the mile-deep sheet of ice that covered it 20,000 years ago, by the massive glaciers that were left when the ice sheet retreated, by the mighty rivers that carved out awesome valleys from western Manitoba to the foothills. The land has a history, a past that speaks itself to all those who take the time to look.

The Bow River gave us a little lesson as we drove from Lethbridge to Calgary. Approaching Calgary from the southeast by anything other than a major highway will lead to the realisation that bridging the Bow is not something to be undertaken lightly. The several dead-ends we encountered were at least scenic as well as frustrating.

One city defined by a river valley is Saskatoon. Just over 100 years ago people of European origin began to settle there in the aftermath of the second Riel Rebellion, in which the exercise of military might had made First Nations’ claims to justice moot until our own time. Exactly 100 years ago some forerunners of The United Church of Canada established St. Andrew’s College to educate Christian ministers to serve those increasing numbers of settlers. Lynn and I were there for the celebration, as Lynn represents our Conference on the St. Andrew’s Board. The College has served well through many changes, and continues to offer both academically sound and culturally relevant theological education.

Graduates of that institution, and of United College here in Winnipeg, were prominent among those who began in the 1970s to raise the issue of recognition for the injustices done to First Nations by the European invasion a century before, and continued by our failure to recognise and respond to the dreadful damage we had done. These efforts led in the 1980s to the formal apologies by the United Church to our First Nations sisters and brothers, apologies that led other denominations and the Federal Government to take similar steps. Since then we have been walking a path toward reconciliation and renewal with First Nations people, a path that is far from ended, but which gives the promise of justice.

One of my greatest teachers, Hannah Arendt, wrote that human actions are irreversible. Our choices and deeds set us on paths which, once taken, allow no return. That is part of the tragic dimension of human life. But, Arendt went on to write, humans have been gifted with a power that allows us to overcome the irreversibility of action, to swim upstream against the rivers of time that bear us all away. That power is the power of forgiveness. Those who have heard the Good News know that the power of forgiveness is a gift from God who, in Christ, has shown us most clearly the human face of forgiving love, and offered that power to us. The Good News proclaimed by the graduates of schools such as St. Andrew’s has helped begin the process of repentance and forgiveness that will overcome the irreversible consequences of a century and more of injustice.

Forgiveness as a human power can only be given to others. How tightly bound our lives would be without this power! We would be forever at the mercy of the irreversible consequences of those flawed human beings with whom we are fated to live. Offering forgiveness allows us to begin again in our relationships, something we surely need every day.

But what about that flawed human being from whom we are never apart? If we cannot forgive ourselves, and those around us are either unaware of our need for forgiveness or are unwilling to give it, how can we not be swept away by the current of our past? In Christ, we become aware that God has forgiven us, even before we know our need for it. Where the Bow Rivers of our past choices and deeds have cut great valleys in our lives, God’s forgiving love provides the bridge we need to get to the other side, to a life of peace and justice. Our gratitude for that gift motivates our forgiveness of others.

John Badertscher is an old guy
who sometimes wears sunglasses
in a futile effort to look
like Jack Nicholson.

From the Pews blog


  1. Shelly Manley-Tannis

    thanks for this John – forgiveness is definitely a topic or issue that comes up again and again for us humans. The good news is that we’re having trouble doing it, God always offers it!

  2. John B;
    I loved your last two paragraphs as you summarized on forgiveness. We must focus on the concept of “bridges” for our future in our society, over the previous theories of “walls” from a previous time period. This concept is required in relationships, politics, and in river ways, the benefits are clearly the way God would want us to travel.

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