Story and Message for July 2
The summer we moved to Halifax, we drove to Cape Breton to visit Bonnie’s grandmother’s cousin in Whycogomagh. The person who sold and rented fishing tackle offered to lend me salmon-fishing gear and Frank’s neighbour offered to show me his favourite trout holes. Everyone was supportive and friendly – an example of the best there is about Canada. Down the highway was the Whycogomagh reserve after whom the town was named. There seemed to be very little connection between the people on the reserve and the people in town – a reminder of the most serious gap in Canada. I returned to Halifax thankful for the generosity of the people we met and unaware of the gap.
O Canada: Follower of the Way
Matthew 10:40-42 “We are intimately linked in this harvest work. Anyone who accepts what you do, accepts me, the One who sent you. Anyone who accepts what I do accepts my Father, who sent me. Accepting a messenger of God is as good as being God’s messenger. Accepting someone’s help is as good as giving someone help. This is a large work I’ve called you into, but don’t be overwhelmed by it. It’s best to start small. Give a cool cup of water to someone who is thirsty, for instance. The smallest act of giving or receiving makes you a true apprentice. You won’t lose out on a thing.”
Jesus raises the importance of hospitality at least 3 times in Matthew. When he sends his disciples out as evangelists, he advises them that if any village refuses to provide hospitality for them, it will be worse for that village than it will be for Sodom and Gomorrah. The second time is this reading. The third occasion is Judgement Day in Matthew 25:31-46 and the need to provide for the hungry, the naked and those in prison.
Some followers of Jesus choose to do only what is declared here: welcome and provide for other followers of Jesus. Others see these passages as pointing to a broader way of being. And some Christians will do none of these, or no more than they are comfortable doing.
I choose the second option, to use these and other passages as pointing to ways of following Jesus in and through the world in which we live. Hospitality is a prime value or principle in many cultures including Middle-Eastern society for thousands of years.
In 1980, Canada with 24.5 million people brought in over 100,000 Vietnamese refugees. Today with 39 million people we struggled to bring in about 25,000 Syrian refugees. With the growth of Neo-Liberalism/Neo-Conservativism, the world, and Canada, have more citizens who care less about others and more about their personal wealth. We have a healthy economy, but fewer people are benefitting from the wealth that is being generated.
By contrast, we are shifting in other ways.
Affirming congregations, businesses and governments show we have grown in our capacity to accept people who are different from the norm. The principle of being affirming, of welcoming and making a place for every person, regardless of whatever label that may be attached to that person shows the direction to following Jesus in the world today.
Canada was instituted as a Christian country: our original title, Dominion, and our slogan, from see to sea, came from Psalm 72 in the Bible. Our imperialistic mind set for the first 90 years of our history led to failing to follow Jesus in our treatment of indigenous people, Chinese workers, Ukrainians, Jews, South Asians, and Japanese, among others. We did create UI, now called EI, old age pensions, CPP, health care, and other programs to build a social safety net. But more is needed.
For Canada, my prime areas of concern include: reconciliation with indigenous peoples; greater effectiveness and generosity in programs and treatment of refugees; more respect and generosity for homeless people starting by seeing them as partners instead of as a project; and changing our attitudes towards and support of mental health care.
I’ll begin with the last: On Friday, June 23, over 50 friends and family of Heidi gathered at the chalet at the top of the Kimberley Ski Hill for the celebration of her life. After tributes were made to her, her sister read Heidi’s final letter. In it, Heidi said many things. But what stuck with me was the plea to do more with and for people with mental illness.
A judge criticized governments recently for failing to provide the care needed by the young man he was supposed to sentence. It takes up to a year for a child to get mental health care. Our attitudes and beliefs about mental illness cripple our system of providing mental health care, and we need to change our attitudes so governments will be pushed to do more. We are also responsible as individuals to do our part. If we notice someone’s behaviour is odd, check with them, ready to listen without offering advice or judgement. If someone seems isolated, try to build a relationship with that person. A person in Montreal with mental illness was killed by police on Tuesday evening. Young people are killing themselves on remote reserves. We need to do more.
Shifting briefly from our national scene, her celebration of her life and other events had me consider what it means to be affirming. To me, it is important that children feel like part of church, not a church project. You and I need to consider how truly welcoming we are to people who are poor, people with physical disabilities, and to people with mental illness. Does the Rainbow Flag mean we would be welcoming to a person with Tourette’s syndrome or a developmental impediment that results in potentially disruptive behaviour in worship?
Back to the national scene, the first three tasks about indigenous people, the homeless, and refugees begin with seeing all people as sisters and brothers and the readiness for generosity and trust in working with them to help them move their lives forward. As we do so, we will advance the kingdom of Heaven in this world.
The starting point in our reading was giving a glass of cool water to someone who is thirsty. As we gain success in small acts of hospitality, we grow as disciples and become more able to succeed in larger acts of hospitality. At no point dare we become complacent like average Canadians, looking at what we have achieved, believing we do not need to do more. As we grow in our capacity to show hospitality to others, we grow as disciples, coming closer to God and to what we are called as God’s children. In this way we experience the deep sense of accomplishment and connectedness that comes with life a kingdom of heaven life. Thanks be to God. Amen
Postscript to the Message
Governments will claim they are doing all they can. Here are some ways in which governments could free up the financial and other resources they need to help Canada change from being a good country to a great country.
- Legalize and regulate most or all recreational drugs, replacing the criminal justice system with public health and mental health services as responses to drug abuse issues. This will free up the billions we spend on policing, courts, and correctional services trying to control, without success, those drug issues.
- Create some kind of Minimum Annual Income to eliminate the need for minimum hourly wages and open up opportunities for people with limitations on their ability for regular work to find work that helps make our society a better place.
- Return to the tax rates we had in 2000 for corporations and individuals and dedicate the difference in tax revenue to reconciliation, low income housing, and refugees.
- Have all involved governments and agencies look at our system of laws and bylaws and regulations that prohibit innovation in developing and providing economical alternatives for housing.
- Advocate with international partners for development projects in the countries receiving most of the refugees in the world that would provide economic development providing employment for both nationals and refugees and sources of income for those countries. The goal for this should be replacing refugee camps with economic zones that benefit nationals, existing businesses and farmers in the host countries and refugees.
- Fully committing to providing the supports indigenous children, youth, and families need including educational and health resources whether they live on or off reserves. When the wider society demonstrates that indigenous children and youth are just as important as other children and youth, it demonstrates a readiness to truly participate in processes that lead to reconciliation.
- Carefully review our defense policy and goals in terms of our role and place in the world today. I suspect our military leadership still has a WW II mindset and has not fully grasped how new technologies could more economically achieve our real defense needs.