What do you feel when you see a homeless person with a cardboard sign at a stoplight or someone drunk and screaming at passersby in Dundas Square? And... how does that feeling change when you know their story and what got them there? How about when that person is an acquaintance? In the course of just a few days last week, Mark learned new truths about our First Nations neighbours, particularly the men and women who are survivors of Canadian residential schools – 150,000 boys and girls who suffered tremendous trauma for over a hundred years in being separated from their families and forced to undergo abuse in many forms. There is power and healing in their stories, stories coming to light in the initiatives of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, in events such as Mending the Sacred Hoop, and in documentaries such as We Were Children.
This week Mark sits down with Steve Authier. He worked at a steel company in Hamilton for 30 years and then moved from volunteer church leadership into full-time pastoring at The Meeting House and Heise Hill BIC church. A strong advocate for the power of story, Steve discusses three areas where he's seen how story changes and improves everything. The first is his experience with evangelism, sharing the good news - and how his convictions about story figure largely in what the good news even is, and how it means we engage with the people who live on our street. The second is his experience with the federal Truth and Reconciliation project that started in 2008 and bringing it into his church and making it accessible to the general community of Stouffville. And the third is the Stouffville Peace Festival of 2013. Ultimately, Steve challenges us to get informed about people's stories, to “make it matter to me,” and then find a way to make a small difference where God is already at work.
Notable Quotes from Steve Authier:
“When I discovered that the original church had actually been a pacifist church for like the first 300 years I was like, 'What? What’s going on here?' And that just blew me away.”
“What we tried to do is we tried to find out what’s going on out in our community. 'What’s God up to?' as they say. 'Where’s he already at work? What’s happening out there that we can maybe find a need that needs to be filled?'”
“I prefer to walk alongside someone - develop a relationship. As churches we've done so much damage in our communities, in our culture, that it's hard to actually do that. What a lot of Christians want to do, just walk up, pronounce the gospel, as they say, have people come on board and they go to Jesus 101 class…. There’s another way. That we need to do. Because this other way of being in their face isn't going to bring that message of love and peace and hope. The only way it's going to happen is if we actually develop relationships with people.”
“Get out. Hang out in your community. Get involved in stuff. Get to know people. Hear their stories. Let them hear your story.”
“It is hard. You have to be very intentional in saying, 'I want to get to know my community. I want to get to know that person 5 doors down, 10 doors down, I want to hear their story…' so that you can develop some kind of relationship. I shouldn't say that - it almost sounded bad. It's not so that you can develop some kind of relationship. No. It's just what we should be doing. As human beings, we are better when we live in community, when we love each other, support each other, hear our different stories.”
“I'm okay with me having lived here for four and half years, having developed some good relationships with all sorts of my neighbours and not one of them did I overtly talk to them about the gospel. I'm okay with that…. I'm okay with having done this because I think some of this stuff needs to happen. Because we've done too much of the 'in your face.' We've done too much of that and people are tired of it. Sick of it."
“For me, the gospel, the positive gospel, is the message of hope of Jesus. Of loving each other. Of caring for each other, caring for the oppressed. Understanding that his kingdom is here now."
"Probably the best example of the power of a story is when I got to hear the story from Dr. Izzeldin Abuelaish, who’s a Palestinian, who’s known as 'the Gaza Doctor.' And he's a three-time Nobel Peace Prize nominee, and he was telling his story about what happened to his family and he was talking about his relationship with God. And I was sitting there listing to his relationship with God and how he was presenting it. And I was so moved by his story. And here I am - a Christian pastor - who a lot of people will tell me that Izzeldin's relationship with God doesn’t exist because it's not 'the Jesus.' And suddenly I'm listening to his story and I’m going, 'Wow. This guy’s relationship with God is every bit as real as mine.' I don’t ever want to hear another person tell me that a Muslim person's relationship with God doesn't exist. Because I saw it. I heard his story, and he moved me.”
“Listen to someone’s story. It's way better than throwing them a bunch of verses…. From about 19 to 21, 22, 23, I did it all the time. To everyone who would listen to me. Everyone who I could throw a verse at, I just rammed it down their throat. And I never, in all that time, had a positive experience from it.”
“…It sealed my belief in the Truth and Reconciliation program. That it doesn't have to be a huge thing. Just one on one. Hear somebody's story. Acknowledge it.”
“Try to hear stories. There are different ways in different communities that you can hear their stories. Try to hear their stories. And maybe at one point in your life in your journey… you can do something to help the First Nations people. Because it's not like, 'Oh we did this apology and now things are great.' There's lots still that needs to be resolved and dealt with, and those things are only going to happen when we as Canadians step into situations where we can make a difference.”
“Get involved. Make a difference. Look for that opportunity where God's at work, and you can step in, too.”
“We don't have to turn to violence. There are others ways that we can do this, that we can resolve conflict. There doesn’t have to be violence…. Izzeldin Abuelaish’s book is called I Shall Not Hate. So if we can start there; let’s just not hate our enemies. Yeah, some Jesus guy said something about loving your enemies? How about we start there? By not hating them. By not turning to violence. It’s not the only option that we have.”
“There was definitely the theological side that, 'We believe in the peace teachings of Jesus.' So how do we bring that to our community? I mean, you’re going to have to look pretty hard to see the Stouffville Peace Festival and Jesus to the outsider. But it’s there. That’s why it’s there. We’re trying to make it not an overtly Jesus thing because we’re trying to make it appealing to as many people as possible. And I hate to say it, but you stick a Jesus label or worse than that a church label on this… because of our culture and what’s happened - what we’ve done - you’re just not going to be able to deliver that message of peace.”
“You can make a difference. Don’t wait for something to happen.”