Breaking Away

statue of liberty idaho IMG_2240

Look who I found hiding out in Idaho? Well, everyone needs a break, I suppose.

Today, with the news still full of stories about the consequences of the UK’s vote to break away from the E.U., is the day I congratulate my friends to the south on their celebration of breaking away from our common parent country.

Today I am also sorting through stuff in my basement and I’ve come across a file of genealogy research – the family history of breaking away. It seems my grandmother’s great-grandparents broke away from the Americans.

Every once in a while it’s a good idea to ask, “How did we get here?” It’s all quite bizarre really.

Warning. I’m going to overgeneralize, but I’m talking about roots and patterns in the big picture. Usually, the way something is established is the way it is maintained.

I discovered, quite by accident, that my father’s grandmother was not First Nations as we supposed. Her surname was Towne and the Towne family line in America is so well researched the genealogy sites don’t bother to charge for the information. I could follow a straight line from Andrew to Andrew Elijah to Andrew to Stephen to Stephen to Jacob to Jacob to William Towne and his wife, Joanna Blessing, who were part of the new Puritan colony in Massachusetts. Three of their daughters were tried as witches in Salem. Two were hung.

This shocked me! I was raised in an environment that was anti-American. I had no idea I had American roots, let alone connections to the Mayflower Puritans and the Salem witch trials! Our source of Canadian identity was the statement “We are not Americans!”

Then I followed the trail and realized that sometime between the American Revolution and the War of 1812 my ancestors broke away from this new independent country and moved to Renfrew county in Ontario where the United Empire Loyalists settled. Violence and persecution chased them.

When my great-grandmother was a child her mother died. Her father was away working as a logger and when he returned he found the children alone in the cabin having buried their mother themselves. Since he couldn’t care for them he split the children up amongst distant relatives. One of his daughters was sent to live with a family in New York. Apparently she was treated cruelly. She was not permitted to go to school and slept in the barn. At the age of thirteen she ran away and headed north looking for her father.

After living on her own in the bush all summer Algonkin people found her. They took her in and raised her, teaching her the skills of living off the land. Later she married a Scottish hunter/trapper and raised her own family thirty miles from the nearest road. She had skills. Dad says at an old age she made him moccasins and was still an incredible sharp shooter. Her N.Y. experience added (unfairly) to the family lore about the nature of Americans. How easy it is to pass on the burden of our pain to our children.

At the same time I learned the reason we couldn’t trace one family line past a certain grandfather was that there was no record of his father. An astute cousin did notice, however that his mother and maternal grandfather had the same surname. It was not uncommon for illegitimate sons of wealthy Englishmen to be given a tract of land in Canada as their hidden inheritance.

Now I don’t believe in generational curses. That’s Old Covenant stuff. Jesus sets us free from the law of sin and death, but I do see patterns of temptation that follow family lines – especially when unforgiveness is passed on. I noticed this when studying church history as well. It is amazing how often a group that breaks away in protest manifests problems in the same area that caused them to break away within two or three generations. When we insist that “we are NOT them” we set ourselves up to become them.

My husband was invited to a Southern Baptist Independence Day/Sunday school picnic while he was working in Phoenix one summer. He told me about someone getting up and reciting the entire Declaration of Independence.

“I had no idea this thing goes on and on about why they hated the British so much and especially the king. I thought it was about their vision for their country. No. It’s mostly about protesting their treatment by the British government. It’s rather bitter.”

We have many friends in Canada who were either born in the USA or who had a parent born there who recently found themselves in deep trouble with the IRS. Apparently they were supposed to have filed tax returns in the States even though some of them had never lived or worked there.  The tax collectors demanded that foreign banks turn over private information on these folk. It cost some shop owners thousands in accountant fees to prove they owed nothing. When they were advised to contact their congressman about the threat of heavy fines (and other heavy-handed consequences the tax people are known for) they protested, “We don’t have a congressman! We don’t live there anymore. This is taxation without representation!” Oh, the irony.

When my ancestors broke away from religious tyranny they had no intention of becoming tyrants themselves, and yet in less than one generation a government backed by crazy fear-based religion hung innocent people accused of witchcraft.

When the United Empire Loyalist forefathers broke away because they opposed solving disputes with violence they ended up being part of the crew that burned down parts of Washington in the war of 1812.

Both countries, which in the 19th century were run by descendants of landless non-eldest sons and bastard sons and peasants craving property, have a history of taking for themselves land legitimately belonging to First Nations people. Sometimes they used violence, and more often, in Canada, fraud, legal loop holes and long delays. They even deliberately plied with whiskey, introduced disease, and destroyed the family unit by forcing children into residential schools.

Yesterday I read a report that ordinary people can’t afford to live in cities like Vancouver anymore because the best land is being bought up by foreigners who are even craftier than they were. Oh, the irony.

Both countries are now populated, for the most part, by the children of refugees and immigrants who fled the hopelessness of rigid class structure and rule by the elite. Now descendants of these very people have become the new oligarchy, the ones who hold the wealth and power and who decide who will be in charge of the government, the courts – and the tax office. Oh, the irony.

How do we break the pattern? By recognizing it, confessing to sin we have accepted as a normal way of doing business, by offering repentance (metanoia -change) on behalf of our forefathers and choosing to think differently. Where possible we need to issue apologies and make restitution.

The same goes for denominations formed as a result of protest, rebellion, sneakiness and lack of honour for those who have given us our roots. If you leave a legalistic church without reconciling differences don’t be surprised if your children or grandchildren have problems with rules -either having too many or too few. If you leave because a church is wealthy and doesn’t care for the poor your grandchildren could find themselves in a mega-church with catered prayer meetings at $25 dollars a pop, or becoming professional beggars looking for more ways to fund raise..

Just watch. I’m not making this up.

I’ve done this before, but I want to make it public again today. I forgive the British government for depriving my ancestors of the right of freedom of religion and recognition as sons. I forgive the American government for acting violently toward my ancestors. I forgive the family that abused my great-grandmother. I forgive the church I was raised in for not understanding the needs of the poor among them. I want to break the pattern of both distrust and complacency that I have accepted as normal in relationships with authority of all kinds.

Especially today, I want to apologize to Americans for decades of dinner discussions that expressed fear and distrust and offered more criticism than prayer. I have dedicated myself to praying for you for the past few years and I will continue to pray







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