This is a beautiful song. It made me shiver when I heard it live at one of the Wailin’ Jennys stupendous shows.
But the shivering was not just because of loveliness of the music.
Alana asked me to write this post because I was in Saskatoon in spring 2000. That year, the story broke of a practice among some of the city’s police officers: upon coming across very intoxicated First Nations’ men, instead of taking them into jail for the night, they drove them out of town to an isolated spot and dropped them, leaving them to walk home. Only thing is, a late night in a prairie winter does not afford much hospitality for people, especially people without proper coats or boots–though more hospitality, perhaps, than some human beings show others. At least one of the men who were dropped off died. One man who made it home also made a complaint. The story became national news, and reporters began asking questions. This caused a new investigation to be opened, leading to a judicial inquiry concerning a young man whose death in 1990 from hypothermia had been assumed to have been a simple tragedy (as if there ever are such things).
The media dubbed the practice of those particular police officers ‘starlight tours’. The treatment of First Nations’ people that it refers to is the subject of the song.
Kingdom come, their will was done
And now the earth is far away
from any kind of heaven
Hallowed be these frozen fields
And every single one of us
still left in want of mercy
Take us home
A whole complex of issues appear in this terrible light, everything from how society deals with the poor and marginalised to what police are and should be for to the repercussions of criminalising behaviour around certain substances, and more. For me, as a Christian minister, the reference to the Lord’s Prayer in the lyrics compound the awful pain at the heart of the song. The words of the prayer speak of the need for daily bread, for being forgiven as we are forgiven, of calling for the will of God to thrive on earth as in heaven. But here in this song we have a reminder that, with human ideas of power, with the inability to pay attention to the needs and desires of others, with exerting our own will over those others, the churches have been complicit in creating the mentality that certain people have less value than others. The churches have played a part in stratifying society and teaching people to believe that some inequalities, and therefore the violence that results, are allowable.
This does not mean that all Christians have done this. No, there have been and are and will be many who stand in solidarity with the downtrodden and dispossessed. Yet they do not erase the way that the churches, in disregarding the stories and languages and bodily life of native people, helped to prop up stereotypes of certain fellow human beings as careless, drink-loving, violent, dirty…oh, I can’t write any more. These things can’t be erased. But they can be amended. And they must be.
Another song from the Wailin’ Jennys.