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Oh, Canada

The last few days have been full of expressions of patriotism and anti-patriotism. Canada’s 150th birthday was on Saturday. Today, obviously, is the big day for our American neighbours. The internet is, predictably, aflame with either nationalistic chest-thumping or withering criticisms thereof. There is, of course, plenty to be critical of. Canada continues to come to terms with and be confronted by its treatment of indigenous people, historically right down to the present. The USA struggles with all things Donald Trump and his “America First” agenda that seems content to kick a whole bunch of people to the curb. I suspect that no matter the insignia on our passport, many of us feel at least a little bit conflicted when it comes to waving the flag. And if we don’t, we should. Especially if we are Christians. As followers of Jesus, our national identities ought always to be worn loosely given our primary convictions and commitments to Christ and to his kingdom.

At any rate, the older I get the more I am drawn away from noisy proclamations and angry crowds and toward smaller, simpler stories. Legislation and rallies and article and protests are fine, I guess, but I need a human face, a life, a story. I need a real flesh and blood human being to save me from the abstractions and assumptions that come so naturally to me.

I was walking my dog on Sunday night in the small prairie town I live in. I rounded a corner and I came across an older Vietnamese man. I hadn’t seen him for years, but I recognized his face instantly. The church I grew up in sponsored his family to come to Canada back in the 1980’s in the aftermath of the Vietnam War. I remember when they arrived, these strange Asian faces amidst a sea of white Mennonites. I remember this man bowing endlessly in grateful deference. I remember him shoveling the sidewalks of our church, checking on the building at night, showing up to worship. I remember his kids who were superachievers and who are probably neuroscientists somewhere by now. I remember this quiet, decent Vietnamese family who made a new life for themselves in small town Canada.

He smiled at me as we approached each other. I’m not sure if he remembered me, too—I was only a kid when they arrived—but he had a kind word and a broad smile for me. We didn’t chat long, but it was good to see him again, after all these decades. Later, when I rounded the block for home I saw him in the driveway of an older single Mennonite gentleman that lives not far from me and who attended the church I grew up in. There was also a young adult from the same church who had dropped by and seemed to be showing his motorcycle off. There the three of them stood: a sixty-something year old Mennonite bachelor, a twenty-something year old motorcycle enthusiast, and this Vietnamese man, chatting away on a warm summer evening. There was nothing really remarkable about the scene, to most eyes. But it was remarkable to me. It was a symbol of what is possible in a place like Canada and what is possible when the church opens wide its arms and embraces the stranger.

I thought of this ordinary scene for the rest of the evening. It made me glad to live in Canada. This country is not perfect. I know this very well. I have two indigenous kids whose lives will always be affected in some way or another by the history their ancestors have endured at the hands of the Canadian government and realities that persist to the present. I married into a Japanese family who know very what it is to be mistreated by this nation. Canada, like pretty much every other nation under the sun has skeletons in its closet, and has reconciliation and justice work to do going forward.

But it is a good place to call home. It is a place where simple stories like the one I encountered on an ordinary summer Sunday evening are possible. And I’m grateful for it.

12 Comments Post a comment
  1. Paul Johnston #

    ….”I need a real flesh and blood human being to save me from the abstractions and assumptions that come so naturally to me”….to us all I think…thank you for this, Ryan. I will commit it to memory. It is the language of the, Spirit. 🙂 It needs to be remembered and applied.

    I’m thankful for Donald Trump. His crude understandings. His naked self interest. He is to me, politics laid bare. Through him we see the real operative spirit of western democracies.

    I know many recoil at him and will at such statements of affirmation about him. We are better than that we say. We are people of compassion we say, of charity, of fairness of opportunity. We aren’t like him at all. He is offensive to us.

    And yet which of our governments, here in Canada,claiming to practicing compassion, charity, fairness and providing opportunity does so without their efforts first providing them with elected power and position? Which of them serves as Christ served? As Christ called us to serve?

    Mr. Trump, is the vulgar truth of it all.

    I like your story. I see it with something of a different emphasis, perhaps. That story happens because children of God congregate. In this instance, they happen to be Canadian also. They could be from anywhere. Their national identity is superfluous. They have to be children of God. That is the essential thing. The essential thing if bonds of fraternity, friendship and love are to remain eternal. Every other expression of good, even the well intended good, apart from God, dies.

    No amount of canadianness or social conscience can save it.

    July 5, 2017
    • Re: Donald Trump as “politics laid bare,” yes probably a measure of truth there. But maybe only a measure. I think leaders like Angela Merkel offer a different window into what politics is and could be. At the very least they offer a counterpoint to your claim that Trump = “the real operative spirit of western democracies.” Sometimes, yes. But not always. And certainly not necessarily.

      Re: Canadianness being superfluous to the story, I agree, it’s more a story of being children of God than citizens of a nation. And yet, in this case, it is a uniquely Canadian story because Canada is the only nation on earth that does private refugee sponsorship in the way that allowed this Vietnamese family to become part of our church and community. So, not ultimate but not superfluous either.

      July 5, 2017
    • Nomad #

      “Through him we see the real operative spirit of western democracies…………Mr Trump is the vulgar truth of it all”.

      Great analysis, Paul. I could’nt agree more. Trump isn’t a politician,he’s a hard core Capitalist and an egomaniac to boot, but he is shaking up the powers that be in this country and for that I applaude him.Sadly, I don’t think he will be able to finish out his term due to the divisive nature of his presidency and will resign for the sake of the country. ….Enter Pence.

      July 11, 2017
      • Paul Johnston #

        I hope not, Nomad. In spite of his prodigeous ego and intellectual short comings, Im not yet convinced that Mr. Trump is a fraud. Millions voted for him because they have seen a real erosion of income and opportunity since globalization. Worse still they worry what these trends mean for the welfare of their children and grandchildren. If Mr. Trump is capable of not being drawn into elitist orchestrated pissing contests bent on keeping him distracted from the real tasks at hand, he might actually do some good.

        Anybody who doesn’t think that economic and political power is held in too few hands, isn’t paying attention.

        July 13, 2017
      • In spite of his prodigious ego and intellectual short comings, I’m not yet convinced that Mr. Trump is a fraud.

        Out of curiosity, what would it take to convince you?

        July 13, 2017
  2. Paul Johnston #

    Hmmm….I see Merkel and politicians like her as the bigger problem. I am convinced that “globalization” as it is presently understood is the new colonialism, the economic and political means by which the tyranny foreshadowed by Huxley in, “Brave New World” will be effected. Trump is likely a faux-populist, put forth by establishment interests to thoroughly discredit populism so as in the end, we are rushed headlong back into, “globalonialism” TM

    Political and economic systems have and always will continue to enslave. Different only by degrees of freedom….”how much freedom must we be seen to create, real or imagined, so as to maintain the order that suits the exclusive interest of those who control it.

    There is only freedom in Christ. Only through Christ is all mankind lifted to their true potential. Equal in value and truly fraternal.

    Insofar as we are to be political, that is to say only as it pertains to effecting Gospel outcomes, I would think some form of populism would be the preferred means. The Gospel only works locally, through relationship, spreading outward and upward. From the bottom up, lifting and elevating all people as it moves. “Globalization” rightly ordered. At any rate, this is how I see Jesus’ ministry in political terms.

    “Top down” methods, will always suppress the dignity of the many for the greed of the few. To support any of their efforts, is to my mind, to support an anti-gospel spirit and death for mankind.

    Let us leave human politics altogether and work towards the creation and expansion of purposefully Christian communities. That is a struggle worth loving and living for. 🙂

    …”Sons of Corinth”…maybe another trademark name lol

    July 6, 2017
    • I agree with what you say about true freedom and equality coming through Christ. I don’t necessarily agree with your assessment of Merkel and the value of movements of populism as the the preferred political road forward. Populist movements can overthrow movements and lead to change. They can also be reactionary and ignorant and change positions with whiplash-inducing frequency, as we have seen lately. Populism, like every other political movement or arrangement, is capable of great good or great evil and stupidity. I guess this is true of anything we humans get our hands on.

      July 10, 2017
      • Paul Johnston #

        Good points. They last two sentences particularly had me nodding in agreement and laughing out loud….too true, too true..

        What I’m trying to say though is that, politically speaking, I see Jesus as a populist. Mediating at the individual level first, leading to collective political expression by the many. “Bottom up” politics, so to speak. “Populism” as I understand it.

        Merkel, Trump, Trudeau, Putin and the like, irrespective of the specifics of their political expression, other then to say they are quite diverse, 🙂 reflect a, “top down” approach to governance that seems much less Christ centered to me.

        Kind of like letting the Sanhedrin’s of the world run the show.

        July 10, 2017
      • Fair enough. My own view of politics and politicians tends to run something along the lines of, “Who’s going to do the least harm?” Perhaps I just have less faith in bottom up politics than you do.

        July 11, 2017
      • Paul Johnston #

        Ha, ha. More faith in populism? Me? Probably not. I’m convicted that an intentional, personal relationship with the Lord Jesus Christ, mediated by the Holy Spirit, lived in sacramental community (the collective experience of the Holy Spirit) is the non negotiable foundation of living a, “true” life.

        Human wisdom can be a valuable tool. But it seems to me real human wisdom, insofar as it has merit, comes well after the choices have been made. Human wisdom is reactionary. Not so much learned in the moment of choice, or subsequent choices but gleaned many years later after careful examination of many choices over substantial periods of time. Human wisdom often comes too late. And even then is only helpful if it is applied as it should be applied. Loving God, loving self, loving neighbour.

        Most applied human wisdom is self serving as far as I can tell. And in our present state of socialization, politically and economically, encouraged to be so.

        Things change for the many, for better or worse, when the many are moved emotionally/intuitively/spiritually to make different decisions. The facts of the matter don’t so much inform the choice so much as they bare witness to it. Describe the fruit of it, so to speak.

        So if this is true we must first influence the operative spirits at work among people. We must be first convicted that the Holy Spirit is operative within us, so as to accomplish this task.

        This is what I mean when I say, “going all in on the Spirit”.

        July 11, 2017
  3. I live in South Africa and my wife, children and I have recently decided to try and immigrate to Canada. It seems a long shot in our circumstances but we’re pretty determined to find a way. SA is a beautiful place but crime is everywhere, political corruption is completely out in the open and the economy is a disaster. I’m glad to see that you have a kingdom mindset and can still appreciate the blessings of living in a place like Canada.

    July 9, 2017
    • Thanks Wesley. I wish you all the best in your efforts to get to Canada. As it happens, I’m currently reading Alan Paton’s old classic, Cry the Beloved Country and have South Africa on the brain. It sounds like a beautiful and deeply conflicted nation that has been so for a very long time.

      July 10, 2017

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