A question of citizenship, Part 2

Following on Part 1 — what then about this image of Mount Rushmore in the Black Hills of South Dakota, with four native chiefs superimposed above it?  The Lakota / Dakota tribes were violently removed from their land when the U.S. government decided it was time to break the treaties because gold had been found in them thar Black Hills.  But I wasn’t interested in belaboring the old massacres and injustices.  I was actually looking for something positive — a way to express an alternative to the American Dream version of the Bible expressed by the clergy at the recent presidential inauguration (and elsewhere too – no party politics at issue here).

The clergy praying in Washington spoke of “God’s will for America,” but their scripture verses were not actually about America at all.  In Canada, we sometimes (though less often) have the same kind of mistaken public religious references — for example, the Order of Canada medallions patriotically contain a New Testament quotation that says, “They long for a better country.”  The problem is that the rest of that Bible verse adds the phrase “– a heavenly one.”  Ironically, the quotation speaks of people who turned from a focus on the land of their birth or adoption in order to search for something of higher value and of a more inward nature, something called “the kingdom of God.”

So what image could I use to illustrate this ironic difference?  Well, I settled on a picture of Indian chiefs in the sky above the Black Hills monument.  I needed something that would hint at the notion of people trying to hold onto an outlook that is beyond their present situation and country but that is also not removed from worldly realities.  The native people of both the U.S. and Canada have some experience in this.  They were invaded and surrounded by a society to which they did not belong.  They tried to hold on to their own way of life and beliefs but the outside world had many soldiers and guns, as well as thousands of covetous gold-diggers and land-hungry settlers.  That crowding world understood little or nothing of their experience of life and did not hesitate to use any means necessary to push them aside.  They were forced to deal with the European world and to some extent to assimilate to it, even while hoping to keep their true identity as natives.

So here then was a parallel to the concept of the spiritual kingdom.  The disciples of Jesus, when he was telling them about this kingdom, were slow to get it.  At first their minds were looking (according to their religious tradition) to the physical land and its laws, and they kind of expected that their Master would somehow push back the Romans in order to establish himself and his disciples in positions of power in a restored Jewish homeland.  But they eventually came to grasp the notion of a spiritual citizenship, one that was not about national or ethnic politics.  They would have to learn to live as citizens of heaven while continuing to live within the Roman world.

This matter of “being in the world but not of it” is evidently a difficult one to handle but it is made more difficult when some religious leaders use spiritual references in order to promote that other society, thereby clouding the distinctive identity of each. Perhaps “kingdom people” and native people could learn to have more of an appreciation of each other’s dilemma, that is, of the challenge of living in one society, with its national dream and political interests, while holding at heart a passport (so to speak) of a different world with different outlook and priorities.

A question of citizenship, Part 1

I enjoy freedom. Freedom to think without penalty, to express without being judged by the law, to follow God without condemnation from religious laws, freedom to choose my friends and to reach out to them. I don’t know about you but in my life these freedoms did not come easily or automatically, and not without consequences.  But the older I get the more I enjoy a free life.

I wish more people would see life this way but I have found that some of my attempts at telling others about it have simply ticked them off.  But I still like to follow thoughts to see where they go, mostly for myself, though I do occasionally share these journeys of the heart and mind with others.  Like the previous blog, today’s topic is not political but I’m again using politics as the springboard to some reflections.

Are you a Canadian or an American, or something else?  Recently I was watching the inauguration of a new American president and noted again how different Canada is from the United States.  The ceremonies in Washington involved no fewer than six praying clergy people, five Christian and one Jewish, and other clergy among the invited guest list. I’ve never seen that in Canada.  Many Canadians would think that would be quite out-of-line, not to say politically incorrect.  We may love our country and think it’s the best in the world but we just don’t see ourselves as God’s “shining city on a hill” to bring the message of Canadianism to a thirsty world.  The clergy at the inauguration, however, did paint such a verbal picture, and they would have even if the new president had been a Democrat.

At this event, as well as at other American political events I have witnessed over the years, God and the mandate of “American exceptionalism” received frequent mention by clergy and by politicians.  Whether it is a conservative Republican event or a liberal Democrat one the expressions of personal faith in country are virtually the same, and each political side has its own Christian cheering section full of belief.

How different this is from what we might expect in their northern neighbor.  Can you even imagine a maple leaf version of the Mount Rushmore memorial — way up in the Rockies or Laurentians the giant-sized heads of four Canadian prime ministers?  Sir John A., Wilfrid Laurier, Mackenzie King, Joe Clark?   No, that would seem just too un-Canadian, even a bit idolatrous.  And yet that’s not to say that Canada is oh-so superior.  No, we have our own challenges.  The awful personal attacks and negativism we see in American elections is here too, though in a slightly more subdued Canadian way, and the religious communities have contributed their strong views in our history just like they have done (and still do) in the U.S.

Just thinking.  Just sharing some of my thoughts about freedoms and citizenships, whether on earth or in the skies.  Look at the visual illustration above.  I’m coming to that but I know that attention spans are short.  I’ll explain the picture and round off these thoughts in the next blog.


A few thoughts

A few thoughts as our neighbor to the south prepares to hand over the presidency to what is surely a clever and also troubled man.  I assure you, these are not political thoughts but just a few observations on some all-too-typical human situations.  The president who is leaving after two terms was, and is, an imperfect human, as we all are, but he spoke of hope and grace, including a divine hope and grace, to a distressed and divided nation.  In other words, he did what he could, in his talented but fallible way, in his sometimes very good way, to make a better nation.  As he leaves the executive office that nation will have to discover whether it can or will take up the torch, though the lies, horrors, and governmental stalemate of the past few years place that in considerable doubt.

I said that these are not political thoughts, for I have seen this kind of thing before in other contexts, far from the world of national governments.  Many human organizations, whether social, artistic, scientific, educational or religious, have seen this before.  They have called someone to lead, to come and help them in a trying situation, and someone came and did to the best of ability what he or she could.  And some time thereafter a few troubled minds began a campaign of opposition, of denigration and defamation.  And often there was much damage done because too many people allowed themselves to be swayed by fear, by untested allegations, and by that terrible human tendency to deal with one’s own self-doubt by believing the worst about others.

The people who incite these crusades of internal division are typically those with considerable personal challenges, troubles which they have not well overcome, and they have learned (perhaps subconsciously) how to manipulate others to follow them into the chaos.  Frequently these adversaries know how to use against their target one particular mistake or instance of poor judgment, and their hearers are taken in.  Such vocal people need help, yes even our empathy and assistance, though instead they are often taken as truthful experts.  And people do follow them, without a proper checking of the facts or sometimes not even so much as speaking to the vilified ones to get their side of the story.  It is the sad account of many human organizations.

Yet there is hope.  There is the possibility of enlightenment, the kind of learning that happens when we open our eyes, clear our minds, get on a higher level and see how things are on our dysfunctional planet.  That takes some humility, an admission that we ourselves are part of that dysfunction.  And there is grace, for us and for all who pray that good will come out of these kinds of troubles, and we can become better people for having had such pains.