Wednesday, June 24, 2015

What Sort of Country? -- A newspaper piece for July 3, 2015

Every year, on the first of July we pause and celebrate the country in which we live. But I want us to do more.

I want us to ask ourselves what kind of country we want Canada to be, and then to ask how WE –not our governments, not our leaders, WE the people of Canada – are going to make that happen. I also want us to ask ourselves how we are not the country we want to be, how our history and our present show that we have missed the mark.

For many of us the answers to these questions are shaped by our understandings of the Divine, by our understanding of what sort of a community God would have us create. Who has God created and called us to be?

This year these questions in my mind take on a new urgency. At the beginning of June the Truth and Reconciliation Commission released a report which outlines a program of cultural genocide, an attempt to eliminate First Nations as a group within the population. This program was led by the government and openly supported and aided by the church community. The report names our past and our present as a lived reality of racism. European and Christian arrogance about what it meant to be “civilized” led us to do things that shock and sicken many modern readers.

Is this what God called us to do? To denigrate our neighbours? To make them second-class citizens in our midst? To create and maintain systemic racism that continues to echo in our present?

I would say no. I would say we have missed the mark. I would say God is calling us now to repair the damage that has been done and to build healthy relationships.

Years ago the fathers of Confederation were wondering what to call this new country. They chose the term 'Dominion' based on Psalm 72 verse 8:
May he have dominion from sea to sea, and from the River to the ends of the earth. The hope was that the country would indeed stretch from seas to sea and from the St. Lawrence to the northern ends of the earth. Psalm 72 sings about the king and the kingdom. I wonder what else it might have to say...

How about these (verses 4, 12, 13, 14)?May he defend the cause of the poor of the people, give deliverance to the needy, and crush the oppressor.
For he delivers the needy when they call, the poor and those who have no helper.
He has pity on the weak and the needy, and saves the lives of the needy.
From oppression and violence he redeems their life; and precious is their blood in his sight.

In light of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission report we need to ask: “have we formed a country that meets those criteria? Or have we turned our back on our neighbours, oppressed them, chosen not to deliver and help them?”

As a country we stand at a turning point. We can choose what kind of a country we will be. We can choose how we will live together.

It may not be easy. We will have to hear and accept hard truths about who we have been and who we are. We will have to acknowledge that true reconciliation and change will be a long process.

To use “churchy” language, we need to confess our sins, we need to name what has been done and what is happening and name who benefits and how. We need to repent, to turn around, to go another direction. We need to be willing to let go of old understandings to allow new understandings to rise up. What needs to die so that new life can appear?

I think we as a country are up to the challenge. I think God is calling us to embrace the challenge. I think that in the Truth and Reconciliation Commission report God has given us a real opportunity to grow a new understanding of who we are as a country, as a community.

My fear is that we will be afraid or unwilling to take up the challenge, to make use of the opportunity. My fear is that we will be not be ready to face the reality of racism in our midst. My fear is that some will say it “costs too much” to bring about true change, to build healthy relationships between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Canadians.

Canada turns 150 in two years. What kind of a country will we choose to be by then? How will we show the choices we have made? What kind of country is God calling us to be?

Happy Canada Day!

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