I love my country

It’s Canada Day, July 1, when we commemorate the British North America Act, which brought Canada into being as a country. Often in the past it’s been a day to wave flags, set off fireworks, and just generally celebrate. The last few years have given it a different flavour (see my Canada Day post from 2017), and this year more than ever. We have been hearing of the finding of unmarked graves on the grounds of former residential institutions (let’s not call them”schools”) set up to de-indigenize our indigenous peoples. Children died at those places, and weren’t considered important enough for the authorities to send their bodies back to their families. Many of the deaths do not seem to have been properly recorded, and the graves were never registered.

Some have been calling for Canada Day celebrations to be cancelled, and some places have done that. I have some sympathy for that move, except that it takes away the opportunity to use the day for some collective reflection on one of the most shameful aspects of Canadian history.

I love my country. I have always seen it as a land of great opportunity, a land with the space to make many people welcome, a land of huge promise. However, much of that promise has been deliberately withheld from some people. The most obvious is the case of the indigenous people, but Canada has also abused the rights and freedoms of other groups, notably Japanese Canadians during WWII. There was also systematic discrimination against people of various ethnicity seeking to immigrate here.

When I say I love my country, it is not with the “My country right or wrong” kind of sentiment I recall from some U.S. voices during the Vietnam war. That’s not real love, but a kind of wilful blindness to what the country could be. Canada is in many ways a good country, populated for the most part by good people, but that does not mean everything about it is good. To truly love a country, just like truly loving another person, means for me to be ready to work to make things better when they need to be better. To love my country means to have the courage to call for and work for the righting of wrongs wherever they may be. If I love my country, I have to accept that it can break my heart.

It’s love with the eyes fully open, the brain fully engaged, and the heartfelt conviction that we can always do better.

Canada, I love you, but it’s time to do better, acknowledging and dealing with past wrongs, and seeking to build a country where all may enjoy the blessings of freedom and peace.

Remembering…

I was recently invited to take services at another parish on Nov. 10. For those of you outside Canada, this is the Sunday right before Remembrance Day, Nov. 11. It’s a major secular observance, recognized differently in various parts of our country, but nonetheless a significant annual event. As it happens, I won’t be taking these services, but that doesn’t change my feelings about the day.

The date goes back 101 years, to the declaring of the Armistice that ended World War I. It was known as Armistice Day for some years. After WWII, the new name was necessary, because the Nov. 11, 1918 Armistice was no longer the date when peace came to the world. The second world war had put paid to that notion, in spades.

The day became particularly known for remembering the “ultimate sacrifice” paid by men (and women) who had given their lives in the two wars. I will never disparage what that may mean to anyone. As I will relate later, one war death touched my family very greatly. What I have long felt about the day is that it tends to look backward, mourning what was, rather than looking forward, seeking to build the peaceable society for which our war dead died.

Why do people wage war? It seems to me that warfare and the things that make for warfare are signs of our fallen nature. I believe that God intended that people would live in peace and harmony. War is a sign that humankind has failed to live up to God’s wishes for creation. We arm ourselves against enemies, not because God desires it, but because we and our enemies have failed to live as we ought. War may sometimes be necessary, because evil sometimes seems to get the upper hand. But war is only a way of stemming the tide of evil, not of building the peace which is God’s plan for all humankind.

William Boyd Jack, M.C.

My grandfather went to war in the early years of WWI, a medical officer attached to the Royal Leicester Regiment. He was known for his good humor and his ability to bring hope to every situation. About six weeks before the 1918 Armistice, he went forward to help rescue a wounded soldier. He and another man were pinned down by machine gun fire, and he died in the field. For his heroism he was posthumously awarded the Military Cross. My grandmother wore the ribbon proudly for the rest of her life, but what a life that was! She was left with three young children, and one more born posthumously. She never remarried (which was a rare thing in those days, given the number of men who had had died in the war), and her children grew up with no father, overseen by uncles who tried to manage their lives.

The toll taken on our family is incalculable. My mother grew up with a horror of war and things military. After my father graduated from medical school in 1941, he did his duty, and enlisted in the army, going overseas while my mother was pregnant with my older sister. My mother lived the the rest of the war years in terror of being left alone as her own mother had been. I didn’t understand much of this until the sixties, when I was at university and the Viet Nam war was underway. I had been aware as a child that Remembrance Day was difficult in our house, but I had never realized why.

During the Viet Nam war, many draft-age men came to Canada from the US, because they could not or would not agree to fighting in that conflict. I learned around that time that my father had considered taking a medical position in the US when we were planning on emigrating from the UK. My mother told my father that if we had ended up in that country, she would have expected my brother and me to come to Canada. My father’s position, quite consistent with why he went overseas in 1942, was that he would have expected us to do our duty. It was not a happy time for them — or for me, once I realized what the story was.

I was involved in the ’60’s student peace movement. I became used to being attacked for being a Communist, a pacifist weakling, an enemy of our people. I reject all of those: what I am and what I remain is a follower of Jesus of Nazareth, the Prince of Peace. In the ensuing half-century, I haven’t changed my position in any material way. I still believe that peace is what God intends for God’s people. I still believe that peace is built through people acting peaceably, not in anger. I still believe that war, however necessary it may seem at times, is not part of God’s wishes for us.

We rightly remember on November 11. Many sacrifices were made in the wars of the last century, and we have much for which to give thanks in that regard. Nonetheless, this giving of thanks is done is sadness, remembering the loss of so much human life, the disordering of so many families, and the waste laid to so much human accomplishment.

When we remember on November 11, let it be with a ever-new commitment to building a society in which God’s peace is real and visible in all things.

We remember best by working for peace.

Thanks be to God for those who died to make this world a better place. We owe a great debt to them.

Thanks be to God for those who continue to work to keep that hope alive. Our children will be in their debt.

Safe, legal, and rare

Much internet bandwidth has been taken up over the last few days on the matter of abortion, after some legislative initiatives in a couple of states in the USA. It’s a fraught issue, no matter on which side of the divide you find yourself. Do I dare wade into the issue? I have a feeling that whatever position I take, I risk losing the affection of some friends.

Nonetheless…

When abortion first became legal in Canada, my father was deeply distressed. He was a dedicated doctor and committed Christian, regarding abortion as murder. He could not at first reconcile himself to its legality in this country. A few years later, somewhat against his wishes, he found himself as a member of the local “Therapeutic Abortion Committee” charged with reviewing abortion requests, as was then required in Canada.

His time on that committee changed his position dramatically. He told me that he had never before really encountered women seeking to terminate pregnancies, but now he was required to hear their stories first-hand. What he learned was that in almost of all the cases they considered, the “applicants” had no good choices. Desperation was the rule, and if they could not get a legal abortion, many women intended to procure one by any other available means.

In other words, these abortions were going to happen, whether my father liked it or not. If the committee did not approve a request, the procedure would likely happen in unsafe and illegal circumstances, putting the mother’s life at dire risk.

This was in the 1970’s. Unsafe and illegal abortions had been happening for centuries (millennia?) before that. Untold numbers of women had died seeking to assert some control over their lives and what was happening in their bodies. The new legislation in Canada sought to make abortion safe and legal, reducing the death toll. Surely that was a good thing.

But (again) nonetheless…

Whatever the legislators of the world may decree, women will continue to assert their right to reproductive choice. The decision whether or not to terminate a pregnancy should be up to the woman in question — and to no-one else.

Every abortion is in some way the ending of a life, however we understand it. No abortion is a good thing, but it well may be the least bad outcome of a bad situation.

I believe that abortions should be safe and legal, and that women have the right to choose when and if they will bear a child. I also believe that abortions should be rare.

Current moves to re-criminalize abortion focus only on the act. In economic terms, they are supply-driven. The thinking seems to be that if you cut off the supply of the service, the act will disappear. History and human experience such as my father’s tell us that this is a vain hope. Sending an Alabama doctor to jail for 99 years will never eliminate the desperate need experienced by many women.

Speaking again in economic terms, to make abortions rare, we should address the demand. What kinds of situations lead to women needing to terminate pregnancies? Incest and rape have been widely adverted to as particular circumstances, but they are in fact the exceptions. There are many others: poverty, domestic violence, illness, unemployment, lack of appropriate housing — all of these factors and others contribute to the demand for abortion.

To make abortion rare, we must build a society in which every child is wanted, every child is cared for, every child is safe in his or her home, every child has an equal prospect of growing up in peace and happiness.

Banning abortion will do none of this.

To be truly “pro-life” means to me to promote quality of life for everyone. To be truly “pro-choice” means to me to give the possibility of a real choice for a decent life for everyone. I can see no real conflict between these two positions.

Abortion should be safe.
Abortion should be legal.
Abortion should be rare.

As a man, I relinquish all supposed authority over what choices any woman may make about her sexual and reproductive choices. That’s not my right.

Here I stand.
I can do no other.

A Royal Wedding – and the Gospel

Disclaimer: I have not watched all of the wedding of the Duke & Duchess of Sussex. I have listened to some of the music, and I have paid close attention to the  homily. As with any couple setting out on the adventure we call marriage, I wish them well, and pray that their union will be long and fruitful, in many ways.

Nonetheless, I must declare myself as a non-Royalist. That’s not to say I want to get rid of the monarchy, but rather that I am mostly indifferent to the institution as we have received it in Canada. There’s a good argument that having a monarch helps to keep our politicians honest, and I’m OK with that. But the actual practice of constitutional monarchy in Canada is largely conventional. We nod to the Queen in many ways, but in reality, a nod is about all we do.

QEIIQueen Elizabeth II is a remarkable woman, a person for whom I have great respect. She has negotiated the demands of a more-or-less impossible job with grace, dignity, and resolution. She will be greatly mourned by many, including this writer, when she dies.

What will happen then? Will people and nations who have given their allegiance to QEII for more than 60 years immediately and unreservedly transfer it to her son? Some reports have suggested that Charles will have a great deal of work to do to win over the affection of many people. His time to do this will be limited: he is only 5 months younger than me, and I’ll be 70 in a couple of months.

What this is all about is the parlous state of the monarchy, both in the U.K. and the rest of the Commonwealth of Nations. I note that the Commonwealth was invented in QEII’s reign, so this grouping of former British dependencies has known no other head than the current one. Several Commonwealth nations have removed the Queen from being head of state, and others have had significant debates about it. It is unlikely that my country, Canada, will enter into such a debate, because that requires re-opening our Constitution, and that carries a whole mess of problems.

Anyway… this was supposed to be about a wedding. The groom is now 6th in line for the throne, which essentially means that he is in very little danger of ever having to move into Buckingham Palace. He can do what he likes, and he has done so, by marrying a woman he clearly loves, but whose background is so far removed from the traditional world of the Windsors that she might as well have been born on a different planet.

prince-harry-meghan-markle-engagementI congratulate Prince Harry and Meghan. Love has brought them together, and I pray that love will see them through the years ahead. It will probably not be easy for either of them, especially her, although she does seem to have her eyes wide open.

The part of the wedding that seems to have gained the most notice is the homily by the Most Rev. Michael Curry, Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church. I watched and listened as Bishop Michael preached. I rejoiced in the strength of his message of love and the centrality of love. I tried not to giggle as the camera panned over the assembled guests, revealing various levels of stiff upper lips, amusement, dismay, joy, and discomfort.

bishop-michael-curry-via-episcopal-digital-networkBishop (no, Brother!) Michael preached the Gospel. He reminded us that love IS the answer, and that “If it’s not about love, it’s not about God.” He asked us to imagine a world where love rules. He mostly didn’t address the marriage couple directly, which some friends of mine have criticized, but his attention was very clearly on them at most times. What this implied to me was that their marriage was to be evidence of the love by which God created the world, by which God redeemed the world, and by which God continues to renew the world. I don’t think they are stupid people: I believe they got the point!

Bishop Michael’s sermon got people’s attention, and that’s a very good thing. He preached the Gospel of Christ to at least a billion people, an opportunity which comes to very few preachers. He did his Church, his Country, his people, and his Lord proud. I am glad to call him a fellow priest of the Anglican Communion. He knows and lives and preaches true evangelism.

The traditions of royalty are not a bad thing. But we were reminded this past Saturday that they are not the whole thing, nor even the main thing. The main thing is the proclamation that “Jesus is Lord,” and that therefore no one else can claim that title. And as Michael Curry reminded us, Jesus’ lordship is not about power, it’s not about prestige, it’s not about titles and dignities. No, it’s all about love: love of God, and love of neighbour.

Best wishes to the newlyweds: may their marriage be to all us of a sign of God’s love.

The language of reconcilation — in one word

I have recently learned that some (many?) of the indigenous peoples of our province and country are objecting to the use of the word “our” in referring to them. In the context we were discussing, it seems we are no longer to pray for “our indigenous brothers and sisters,” but for “the indigenous peoples.” The specific objection is that the possessive pronoun “our” implies ownership, and the indigenous people are no-one’s property. I really get the second part, but I was a bit taken aback by the first idea. Does saying “our brothers and sisters” imply we own them? As I understand the English language, possessives can have that meaning, but their use in this kind of context refers more to interpersonal relationships than to ownership — at least in as far as I use the language.

That’s my perspective. But I do recognize that my use of language is not absolute, and how I use a word may not resonate well with someone from a different cultural/linguistic environment. For indigenous peoples in Canada, living with a heritage of the underside of colonialism, the implication of ownership and control is clearly very powerful, overriding any nuance of meaning that I may have understood.

There is a principle of building community which Paul expands on at length in chapters 8 through 10 of his First Letter to the Corinthians. The presenting issue is whether Christians should eat meat which has been sacrificed to idols — not a huge issue in most places today, at least as far as I can see. Nonetheless, Paul’s extended discussion of the issue comes to a widely-applicable ethical position. His position can be summed up as not knowingly doing anything that will give offense to another “brother or sister,” whether or not that thing is important to us.

Do I fully comprehend the power of using “our” in the context of referring to Indigenous people? Of course not: I am of settler stock, in fact, I am an immigrant. It is impossible for me to grasp the depth of the issues in the same way as a resident of a place like Maskwacis or Opaskwayak. But I can hear the effect that my language — easily taken for granted — can give offense, causing hurt where no hurt was intended.

I am resolved to pay attention to the language I use, striving always to hear how it may hurt others. It’s a hard road, but reconciliation depends on hearing each other in spirit and in truth. May my speech be clear and loving.

God bless my country?

I live in Canada. Tomorrow, July 1, is our national holiday, Canada Day, the day when we celebrate the inauguration of the Confederation that is still our defining constitutional reality. It’s 150 years since our country became a defined national entity. There will be parties tomorrow, and we will participate in them, with joy and thanksgiving. This is a wonderful country.

And yet….

As I write, members of our country’s First Nations are protesting on Parliament Hill in Ottawa, erecting a teepee as a sign of “reoccupation” of the land on which the seat of our government stands. They are not celebrating “Canada 150” in anything like the way we settlers are.

I am an immigrant. My passport declares my place of birth to be “Richmond UK,” at that time in County Surrey, and now a part of Greater London. My family came to Canada in the early 50’s, in the great exodus of medical doctors that happened after the introduction of Britain’s National Health Service. Our life in Canada was challenging for my parents, far away from family and the familiarity of home territory. Nonetheless, they made a firm decision to stay here, to put down roots, and to build a life for their family. We use to sit around the dinner table and hear stories of the old country, but on one occasion I remember my father saying that he was so glad he had brought his family to this country. He talked about it as if it was the promised land — and very likely for him it was just that.

I learned some years later that he had a choice of jobs when he left the UK. Instead of Canada, we could have ended up either in the USA or South Africa. Events of the past quarter-century have made me very glad that he chose Canada.

And yet — as the current events in Ottawa make very clear — this is not a perfect country. I came to Canada aged not quite four, and have had a good life here. Nonetheless, I am very conscious that what I enjoy is not enjoyed by many others, and that the original inhabitants of this land have paid a heavy price for the blessings which I have received. I am in their debt.

This is a wonderful country: we have incredible landscapes, rich resources, a wealth of great people. But we have built a lot of what we have on the backs of the people who were here before us, and who do not share much of the bounty of the land we now call Canada.

I celebrate my country. I give thanks for the people who have made it what it is, knowing that those people are both indigenous and settlers. I pray that the years to come may continue to be a time of reconciliation between our peoples; and that the original inhabitants of Turtle Island may find a full role in the unfolding of our country’s future.

No nation is perfect. We all have stains on our history, which we cannot remove. What we can do is acknowledge our part in inheriting those stains, and continue to work towards reconciliation between those who are historical enemies.

God has blessed this country richly. May all of its peoples come to rejoice in our mutual blessings, and so help to build God’s Kingdom in this place