A bit of a flashback...
July 1, 1867. After years of negotiations and cajoling and hard work the British North America Act came into effect. Four British colonies in North America joined together to become the Dominion of Canada. Later the colony of Prince Edward Island would be convinced to join in. Then the vast area of Rupert’s Land, formerly under the nominal control of the Hudson’s Bay Company, would be transferred to Canadian control, with the resulting formation of the province of Manitoba. Then the colony of British Colombia would sign on. A few decades later two provinces would be carved out of the Northwest Territories. Then 4 decades would pass and the last “father of Confederation” would bring Newfoundland into the fold. Finally the people of the Eastern Arctic would succeed in getting a new territory named Nunavut changed. And now we have grown from 4 provinces in Eastern Canada to a nation that lives out the dream of our founders: a dominion that stretches from sea to sea and from the river [St. Lawrence] to the ends of the earth.
And now there are all sorts of events and campaigns across the country in this year where we mark 150 years of Confederation. How does the church respond?
That is a bit of a complicated question, particularly in a denomination that began with the hope of being the “church with the soul of a nation”.
National holidays are a big part of life. Our faith, we believe, speaks to all parts of our lives. So we expect national holidays and faith to speak to/with each other. And yet... In the end the church is not called to extol the virtues of any one particular country (or political party platform or economic system). The church is called to proclaim the Gospel of Jesus Christ and the Kingdom of God. Sometimes that means we need to choose not to take part in acts of civic religion. For example this is why many churches make a conscientious choice not to have national or provincial flags in the sanctuary (for the record, in some places, particularly in the United States, the question of flags or no flags has been as hot a debate as pews vs chairs). What is our faith story saying to us as the nation around us celebrates Canada 150?
I think that the faithful response is to do two (well sort of three) things.
The first thing is to look honestly at the nation Canada is and how it got to this point. There are two sides to this task. One is to ask what is worth celebrating about who we are and who we have been, and then legitimately celebrate those things. There is lots of help in this task – much, if not most, of the official government resources out there are about celebrating the country. The danger is that we as a nation stop there. Even as we celebrate who we are as a notion (and as a nation) we remember that we are not the Kingdom of God on earth. As an act of faith and honesty part of commemorating Canada 150 has to be to ask ourselves about the shadows of Canadian history and present. This is hard work. God challenges us, as individuals and as parts of our various communities, to look carefully at where we have been who God has created us to be and when we have fallen short.
Once we have done this reflecting on who we are, and who we have been we are ready for the more important piece. I have always believed that significant anniversaries are only part about the past and present. For any community an equally important question is “who do we want to be in the future and how will we make that happen?”. If we only celebrate the past 150 year this year we have missed an opportunity.
And now the question for faith communities.
As faith communities we ask ourselves how we (positively and negatively) have contributed to the Canada of the last 150 years. As faith communities we look to our tradition and our Scripture to get a sense of what sort of community God is at work creating. And so, as faith communities we continue to ask the question we should have been asking all along. Where and how is God calling us to bring our faith into the life of the communities (from the local, to the national, to the global) of which we are a part? As people of faith how will we help to create the Canada we want to see in the future?
150 years ago the vision of a dominion stretching from sea to sea was borrowed from the book of Psalms. The Psalmist was not talking about this collection of provinces and territories we call Canada. The Psalmist was talking about God’s Kingdom. We in Canada are a part of that. God is at work in our midst, helping us make a better country, one more in line with the Kingdom. Where will we join in?
[More to follow. In church. On July 2nd (which means I have a month to sort out what I need to say).]
One of the marking posts of Canadian culture for all of my life has been an official understanding that we are a multicultural society. We have not always agreed what this means (personally I have always liked Joe Clark's image of a "community of communities") and we have not always agreed if it is a good thing but it is a part of who we are. I found this article where it seems that the current Prime Minister moves even beyond his father's understanding of what it might mean to be a truly multicultural society. Does it mean we no longer have a core identity? Something I continue to ponder.