Happy Anniversary Canada?

This weekend marks 150 years since confederation in our fair country. Social media feeds, as well as newspaper editorials and such have variously greeted this auspicious occasion: some with celebration, some derision and some hand-wringing. Those who celebrate look at the many ways in which this country works or has worked well in promoting multi-culturalism, universal health-care, a measured presence on the world stage, etc. Those who mark this day with derision are mindful of broken treaties with and cultural genocide of Indigenous peoples, sordid treatment of Japanese, Ukrainians, Chinese, Jews and others, as well as exclusion laws of the 20th century. Those who wring their hands are living hard into the truth of all of the above, presented here in a summary form that does little justice to it all.

It is interesting to sit back a bit and ponder this matter from the perspective of faith. In my Christianity and Global Citizenship classes I often point students to the seeming ambiguity of the category of citizenship for the early Christian community. On the one hand, Paul claims that our citizenship is in heaven (Phil. 3:20), while on the other hand in Acts 22:25 we have a picture of Paul making use of his Roman citizenship to his advantage. Christians might be forgiven for having a confused relationship with the state. A history of some expressions of the faith demonstrates a tortured attempt to live faithfully in both guises of citizenship, with varying degrees of success. At certain points in history the state and church have virtually collapsed, while there have also been instances of radical discipleship eschewing any identity with “kingdoms of this world.”

Luther distinguished without divorcing church and state with God being seen as the guarantor of order in both realms. This has sometimes resulted in a Lutheran quietism that has been tragic in epic proportions. We have learned that being a citizen of heaven demands of the faithful an accounting of their engagement as citizens of this world insofar as they accrue such a status! In short, people of faith are not to be so heavenly minded as to be either naïve or cynical. A solid accounting of the nation’s commitment to peace and justice is demanded of all.

So, then, what of Canada on this 150th birthday? Is this to be celebrated, or not? But maybe the questions is misplaced. Is Canada really celebrating a birthday? Metaphors pack weight and that of birthday is mightier than first imagined. It proposes a kind of organic history of Canada that might well be deemed destiny. But Canada, as are all nations, is a construct. It is a political creation that resulted from conferences and consultations, backroom dealings and such. It is a legal entity and what was marked on July 1, 2017 was the 150th anniversary of this, not its birthday. Canada was not born on July 1, 1867 because nations are not born, they are made. This entity is both brilliant and broken. Marking 150 years of Canada is more like remembering the anniversary of an institution than the birthday of a child. The latter deserves unconditional love and the former a critical yet appreciative evaluation.

I am happy to live in Canada. I am embarrassed by its failures, many of which have made my life rich. And so I put up a flag on my porch, but when I look at it I remember that red is the colour of blood, and that my pleasure has been other people’s pain, and that the leaf calls me to reconciliation and solidarity, not gloating and entitlement.

Being Red, Being White

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Today we celebrate Canada Day.  I’ve always loved this holiday.  I’ve celebrated it in many and various places, but perhaps one of the most memorable was last year’s festivity.  For my readers with a little longer history with me, you may recall that last year I was in Norway at this time of the year, making my way with five other pilgrims from Dovre to Trondheim.

 

We were all Canadians, and I recall that at one point in the day, we dropped our packs, raised our voices  and belted out “O Canada” in a Norwegian meadow on the side of a mountain.  It was a memorable moment, touching even.  In some ways, this moment recapitulated the enigmatic character of  pilgrimage – in its various guises.  People in pilgrimage studies have studied the why, the how, the where, the who and the when of pilgrimages.  But to tell the truth, this pilgrimage was as much circumstantial as by design.  The invitation just came at the right time, and my wife and I had enough interest, and the bank account gave us a thumbs up, and so we went.

 

 

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But our going, at least my going, was something of an internal journey: some making sense of my DNA.  Where is the locus of my people – or at least half of them.  What did they leave behind?  Why did they go?  Did they ever want to return?  Alas, so many of my questions remained unanswered, yet attenuated by the stubborn beauty of this land called Norway.  We did learn of the difficult economic time at the end of the 19th Century that had ripple effects for many years.  We learned of the impossibility of finding enough land for a house full of children.  Of course, I also knew of the attractive – if not quiote honest – images being used on posters to encourage immigrants to the prairies.  Pictures of buxom young women (blond of course) in front of acres and acres of wheat bordered by vineyards.  Little did those young Norwegian men know that they would end up on a prairie in sod huts with land requiring back breaking work.  And as for the young women?  Some were lucky in love, but others not so much.

 

Immigration is hard work.    Immigrants have to navigate how to fit in, what are appropriate social cues etc.  And yet immigrants still come.  They often hope to escape the very real possibility of death by war or interrogation or targeted hatred.  In others cases, like that of my grand parents, they were simply looking for a place to call home.  As we sang “O Canada” in that Norwegian dale, I knew that Norway was not my home, but I also recognized as a second generation Canadian that my people are fresh on the land, still learning what comes by second nature to the First Nations of this continent.

 

Canada Day is a day for Canadians to consider the gift it is to be hosted by generous First Nations, but it is more.  It is an invitation to return hospitality to those coming from afar.  It is good to be the stranger – even on a Norwegian mountainside – so that I, so that we, can practice the radical hospitality and infectious joy that marks the way of the One whose way I follow.  Dear Canadians, take time this day to recall what brought your people to this place, and try to imagine the feelings of those wondering if they will ever fit in, and if so, how.  Take some time today, or in the next few, to become what you have enjoyed: grace, hospitality, and an ease with the land.  Happy Canada Day all!