A Pastor’s Reflection on Canada 150
It may be the fact that we experience seasonal affective disorder for half the year, or simply our proximity to a country quick to toot it’s own horn, but every Canadian knows one thing at a molecular level: you’re not supposed to be “proud” to be a Canadian.
When I was a kid there was a short-lived swell of Canadian pride, boosted by a particular beer commercial, declaring loudly on bumper stickers and billboards: I AM CANADIAN!
That’s us at our most boastful. We state facts.
For most of my life I never left “the true north strong and free,” which meant I assumed our normal was everyones normal. Sure we had a family trip to Montreal (where they spoke that language from the cereal boxes), and a few sport tournaments in Edmonton (where the big mall was), but all was more-or-less similar. I couldn’t understand what we would be PROUD of.
Recently my wife and I took a two month trip to Sri Lanka. An unexpected aspect of travel is you tend to meet a lot of other travellers. We made friends from Germany, Switzerland, Europe, Australia, Holland, America, Japan, and lots from Sri Lanka. All of them, when they heard we were Canadians, lit up.
“We heard your country is always welcoming refugees”
“You guys are so humble and polite”
“That’s where Drake is from, right?”
After a few of these conversations you begin to reflect on your country and it’s culture, and on just how LUCKY you were to be born there. You even feel a little bit of… pride!
This got me thinking about Jesus. Jesus had a fascinating relationship with his own country. He was an Israelite, and at the turn of the century the Israelites were being ruled by the Romans. Their land had been occupied by a military force, who were now taxing them, and putting pressure on them to break their religious devotion to their God. Jesus was proud to be an Israelite, constantly making reference to their cultural values and teachings; but he called his disciples to an even higher devotion, another country and kingdom:
The Kingdom of Heaven.
The Kingdom of God.
Depends on who is telling the story!
Either way, the idea is the same: “What if God was King here, in this particular place? What would that look like?”
Which, of course, is a big question that revolves around another big question: “What is this God like?” What God are we talking about here? A vindictive and violent God? A God of judgment and rage? A God of ethnic superiority?
Thankfully, Jesus defined his terms incredibly well. He told us that when we watch his life, we see what God is like. He said that he, in his body, would SHOW US what God is like. “If you see me, you’ve seen the Father.”
And what did Jesus do?
He ate with those who were rejected and beat down.
He healed those who were sick and socially outcast.
He spoke out against corruption and fear mongering.
He cast out all the unclean spirits that haunted people.
He prayed and lived in full trust, believing God was only good.
He acted creatively and disarmed his enemies without the use of violence.
He forgave everyone, even those that persecuted and crucified him.
He told his own tribe, his own country, that to truly be an Israelite is to stretch out, beyond your own group, and bless those who are NOT a part of you.
He called them to be citizens of a higher Kingdom, not because being an Israelite is a bad thing, but because the only way to TRULY BE an Israelite is to, above all, commit yourself to living in a world where God is King.
Now if you have a hard time with God language, start with a translation: live according to the Highest Good you can imagine.
Pledge allegiance to Love, to Goodness, to Kindness and Mercy.
Pledge allegiance to Grace, to Truth, to Your Neighbour, to the Foreigner.
Pledge allegiance to Everyone Else You Meet, Even Your Enemy.
Pledge allegiance to Being Truly Human.
Pledge allegiance to the Sort of Life Jesus Lived.
If you’re a cook, which I’m not, I imagine you have an allegiance to the restaurant that hired you. That’s well and good, you have to belong somewhere! But above that you have a first love, a higher allegiance: you have given your life to the table. Your allegiance to your workplace can only exist if you have truly committed to being a chef.
If you’re a musician, which I’m definitely not, you have an allegiance to your record label and your band, but above that you have an allegiance to the music itself! You have to honour that first love. If you lose your love for music, you’ll never truly be able to serve the band or the label.
But here’s the kicker: if the label, or the restaurant, (the political party, the team, or the church) ever tempts you to break your first love, you will have to decide which allegiance is higher.
Now back to Canada.
I used to hate paying taxes. Then my friend had cancer in his mid-twenties. He’s a survivor today and not crippled by debt. Now I don’t groan when my bill is a few dollars higher. I meet people in our church, every week, who fled their country because of war, or prejudice, or corruption. They embrace me and say they love Canada because they are safe here. I’m currently writing a blog telling Canadian’s that their highest allegiance should NOT be to the flag, and no one from the government is going to drag me into an alleyway and beat me. We have freedom to criticize and challenge, to worship and pray.
There are many ways being Canadian fits within my allegiance to the Kingdom of God.
But scattered around our country are First Nations people, who are stuck in cycles of poverty and addiction, and largely ignored by our “progressive” country. There is a history of violence and racism that we still struggle to properly address and respond to. There is a certain self-righteousness that comes with our proud liberal identity, wielded like a sword against that OTHER country to the south, that we are SO MUCH better than. Our taxes contribute to a massive military budget. We have a bloated housing market, and serious gentrification problems, which are creating a larger gap between the rich and the poor.
There are places where my allegiance to Canada will be challenged by my greater allegiance.
Jesus talks a lot about love and acceptance, but he also said “Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth; I have not come to bring peace, but a sword.”
Before you freak out, this is a metaphor. Jesus was extremely non-violent.
But he’s not come to pursue the status quo. He’s not come to keep things conflict free. He’s not come to coddle us and make life cozy. He’s come to give us a better vision for humanity, and that might require us to use a sword: to cut ourselves off from our family, our culture, even our nationality.
If these allegiances are calling us to live in fear, hate, greed, lust, racism, or violence; then we take the sword and cut ourselves off, so that we honour our First Love.
This Canada Day Weekend, celebrate that our country, in so many ways, pushes us towards a life that looks like the Kingdom of God. Be grateful and joyful.
But before you stand for the national anthem, take a moment to ask where your loyalty fundamentally lies. What’s the highest authority you submit to?
Pledge allegiance to that authority, first, in your heart.
And with that business settled, proudly declare:
I AM CANADIAN.