“The Possibility of Canadian Pride?”
Matthew 25 (MV #114) & Psalm 33
Rev. G. Scott Turnbrook; Northwood United Church; July 2, 2017
We Canadians are normally retiring and apologetic, but … do you feel it? Do you feel that palpable sense of Canadian pride? On this Canada 150 weekend, we gather with an almost uncontrollable enthusiasm for Canadian pride, don’t we? We are adorned in red and white; maple syrup in our veins, and our lips are poised to sing “Oh Canada” at the top of our lungs. And it seems that we have much to be proud of. From the true north strong and free, so many wonderful things have originated. What do you think of? We might think of the invention of the telephone, or insulin, or the stem cell, or the early prototype of the light bulb. And what about the superhero “Superman” or the invention of the game of basketball. Our Canadian pride continues through our sports achievements over the years. Jesse Owens’ mark on the track world; Roger Banister’s four minute mile; Kurt Browning landing a quad in his figure skating routine; Michael Phelps becoming the most decorated Olympian of all time winning twenty two Olympic medals in 2008; and Sidney Crosby’s ‘golden goal’ against the USA in 2010. Or you might think of our abundance of natural resources: oil, natural gas, fresh water and fertile land. And the more one travels outside Canada, the more we realize that we truly live in the most beautiful place on earth. Canadian pride…yes, we have lots of it. But sometimes I wonder … perhaps we have a little more pride than we should.
We do have our transgressions, don’t we? In 2011 the nation, and perhaps the world, was appalled at our behavior as we acted like petulant little children following Vancouver’s loss at the Stanley Cup final and a horrible riot ensued. A year prior to that, in 2010 we recall the horrible treatment of the protestors of the G20 Summit being hosted in Toronto. Yet those seem like small potatoes, in some ways. The elephant in the room, I would suggest, that occurs on every Canada Day is felt around our relationship with the First Nation peoples. While we may be deeply proud of our accomplishments over the past 150 years as a nation, we need to remember that our genesis into what later became our valued cultural mosaic occurred through a colonialist mindset. We came from our various countries and forcibly inhabited the land of the Aboriginal peoples. We settled here and built lives, and more often than not, forgot about whose land we are on. And when the government deemed it in the best interest of the First Nations community, we built Indian Residential Schools which removed children from the influence of their own culture and sought to assimilate them into the dominant Canadian culture. These schools were designed to “take the Indian out of the child” by removing them from their families, their language, their culture and their faith. Over the course of the school’s existence almost 1/3 of Indigenous children (150,000) were placed in residential schools. An estimated 6,000 children died while living in residence. And, as we know all too well, many of our Canadian churches – of which the United Church is one – ran some of the residential schools on the Canadian government’s behalf.
Thankfully, all the schools are closed now, but if you have ever heard a residential school survivor speak, you can hear the legacy of the damage. Some years after the closure, the United Church offered a formal apology when Moderator Stan McKay apologized on behalf of the church saying “we tried to make you be like us and in so doing we helped to destroy the vision that made you what you were”. Many will remember this as quite a divisive time for the church. Many were concerned that this would bankrupt the church with many legal claims that would be made against the church who had just acknowledged its role. Would our churches need to be sold in order to pay out these potential legal claims, they wondered? But our Moderator made the apology and our church continued on, doing the right thing. In 1998, two years later, representatives from the First Nations community spoke at the meeting of our United Church’s General Council and formally accepted our apology. A decade later, our Canadian government followed suit and Prime Minister Stephen Harper offered a public apology in 2008. The Truth and Reconciliation Commission was immediately established to uncover the truth about the schools. The Commission gathered at public and private meetings across Canada from 2008-2013 and presented its multi-volume report in 2015.
Over the last few years, I have increasingly been proud to be a Canadian in deeper ways. Certainly, I am proud of our land and our science and our achievements, but the real source of my pride is felt in how we, as a nation, are dealing with these cracks in our foundation. As a minister, I have conversations with people outside the church who inquire about my leadership in an institution that has caused so much pain throughout history. And yes, indeed, we have caused much pain and suffering. As I think about it, we are a human-run institution who seeks to allow God’s kin-dom to flow through what we do and what we are. I ask people who inquire about the church if they still drive a car, knowing how many fatalities have been caused by human error behind the wheel. I ask, if we should give up on our children when they fail a test, when they come home late, when they get pregnant as a teenager, when they get arrested? We don’t give up on cars, or our children, and we don’t give up on the church. We don’t give up on the church because it seeks to be that expression of God’s will of peace, justice and love as expressed in Jesus. Whenever us flawed humans enter into the equation, there is always that risk for us to mess things up, but it continues to be the best vehicle for realizing “thy Kingdom come” that I can imagine. So, no, I don’t give up on the church!
I think that is what both texts are speaking to. The Psalmist puts it this way in verse 12: “Happy is the nation whose God is the Lord”. Many will remember back to our time with Jesus’ beatitudes when we uncovered how there is a parallel translation for “happy” as there is for “blessed”. When a nation places God as their Lord, they are happy; when a nation places God as their Lord, they are blessed. The psalm places this as a decision for the people. We are happy / blessed if and when we place God as our Lord. The question must constantly be one of discerning our thoughts and actions as being ones which place God as the Lord. Do we place monetary profit ahead of the prophets who call us to justice? Do we place the rights of the few above others? What role does God’s creation play in our decision making? What about the voices of the vulnerable? Are they heard amidst the voice of the powerful? The Psalm connects with Jesus’ teaching in Matthew 25 which we sung. When did we see the face of Jesus Christ? When you were hungry and we gave you food to eat. When did we see the face of Jesus Christ? When you were thirsty and we gave you something to drink. When did we see the face of Jesus Christ? When you were a stranger and we welcomed you. When did we see the face of Jesus Christ? When you were naked and we gave you clothing to wear. When did we see the face of Jesus Christ? When you were ill and we sat at your bedside. When did we see the face of Jesus Christ? When you were in prison and we visited you. When did we see the face of Jesus Christ? Pope John Paul II would later say that “a society will be judged based on how it treats its weakest members”. When did we see the face of Jesus Christ?
There is a third text that I would like for us to consider. Christi Belcourt, a Metis woman, bravely offered these wise words as we celebrate Canada 150. I can almost imagine some of the angry prophets of old speaking through her words. She writes: “Canada, I can cite for you 150 Lists of the dead 150 languages no longer spoken 150 rivers poisoned 150 Indigenous children taken into care last month 150 Indigenous communities without water 150 grieving in a hotel in Winnipeg 150 times a million lies told to our faces to steal our lands. Canada, I can cite for you 150 Forms of resistance 150 battles to the death 150 water warriors walking 150 naming ceremonies 150 ways we shake the ground with dance and song 150 tattooed expressions of sovereignty 150 times 2 million days faces were painted with earth of this land. Canada, I can cite for you 150 Summers coming of resurgence 150 thousand babies birthed in ceremonies 150 thousand status cards burned 150 thousand youth marching for water 150 thousand children with braids and feathers in their hair 150 thousand Indigenous words being spoken without English 150 summers coming of Mother Earth calling out to our hearts 150 summers coming where you too, will finally come to understand the power and spirit of these lands and waters as our ancestors have known and have been trying to tell you for 500 years.”
This is a sobering way to end a sermon, yet this is where we are. Broken humans with all our flaws, yet also children of God who are forgiven and redeemed by the grace of Jesus Christ and empowered by the Spirit to live out the gospel vision of peace, justice and love. May we humbly celebrate this great land and the diversity of its peoples. May we remember whose land we rest as we live with God’s ways of peace, justice and love at the centre of all that we are and all that we do.