When I was on retreat last week, I had occasion to mention the mantra which has stood me in good stead for my recent decade of work with the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Canada (ELCIC) where I was ecumenical and interfaith officer and supported the work of our theological working group.
I live on someone else’s land. I move in a diverse society. I have my being in Jesus.
The construction “live and move and have my being” is lifted from the Bible. It’s from Acts 17: 28. The Apostle Paul is visiting Athens and speaking at the Areopagus, a prominent rock outcropping, and locus of a high court, located northwest of the Acropolis. We read,
22 Then Paul stood in front of the Areopagus and said, “Athenians, I see how extremely religious you are in every way. 23 For as I went through the city and looked carefully at the objects of your worship, I found among them an altar with the inscription, ‘To an unknown god.’ What therefore you worship as unknown, this I proclaim to you. The God who made the world and everything in it, he who is Lord of heaven and earth, does not live in shrines made by human hands, 25 nor is he served by human hands, as though he needed anything, since he himself gives to all mortals life and breath and all things. 26 From one ancestor he made all nations to inhabit the whole earth, and he allotted the times of their existence and the boundaries of the places where they would live, 27 so that they would search for God and perhaps grope for him and find him—though indeed he is not far from each one of us. 28 For ‘In him we live and move and have our being’; as even some of your own poets have said, ‘For we too are his offspring.’
Paul contrasts the God he knows with the “unknown god” of the locals and, at length, he goes on to quote a poet familiar to them called Epimenides. Epimenides was a 6th Century BC Cretan philosopher, prophet and contemporary of Aristotle and Plato, who also refer to him in their writings. Epimenides is speaking of Zeus when he says “in whom we live and move and have our being”. Paul coopts the phrase and applies it to the God he knows.
I’ve always liked the construction but accord it my own meaning in my own context, thus: I live on someone else’s land. I move in a diverse society. I have my being in Jesus. It could also be framed in the plural of my Christian community, thus: We live on someone else’s land. We move in a diverse society. We have our being in Jesus.
I live on someone else’s land. This refers to my settler reality vis-à-vis the First Peoples who occupied the land I call home, locally and nationally. So the sentence is something of a confession and hints at a reality which demands a posture of humility and which includes the possibility of redress.
I move in a diverse society. I lived and worked and am now retired in a context of great human diversity: Christian diversity, religious, ethnic and cultural diversity, racial diversity, diversity of sexual personhood and identity and so on. Here, too, a posture of humility is required to navigate the breadth of the human family.
I have my being in Jesus. This is a creed. But it is a creed which doesn’t immediately contrast me with, or exclude, other Christians. It locates me for people of other faiths or of no faith and invites conversation about what “having my being” means to me. If or when invited, I can speak of being a follower of Jesus and of his central teaching to love God and to love our neighbour.
So “I live on someone else’s land, I move in a diverse society and I have my being in Jesus.”
This expression served me well as someone who worked in the church’s diplomatic corps representing the ELCIC and the head of our church, National Bishop Susan Johnson. It still serves me well as life on the Land of First Peoples, in an ever more diverse society, challenges me to discern how best to follow Jesus and to love both God and neighbour.
André Lavergne — writing from a settler-descendant’s home on the traditional lands of the Neutral, Anishnaabe, and Haudenosaunee peoples on the Haldimand Tract (1784).