Why We Shouldn’t Sing O Canada in Church

This last week we’ve witnessed the terrible tragedy of two Canadian soldiers murdered, not off in Afghanistan or Iraq somewhere, but right here, at home. The first killing was a half-hour’s drive away, in Saint-Jean-sur-Richelieu. An unsuspecting middle-aged soldier was hit by a driver who came out of nowhere, for no reason. The second murder was just down the highway in Ottawa. That second soldier was a nice young man in the prime of his life, who was guarding – if you can call it that – the war memorial at the Parliament buildings. He must have thought his tourist duty was the best job ever. He wasn’t guarding so much as posing. That was his contribution to the war – he spent his days dressed in a kilt, probably picked for that duty because he was good-looking, mugging for shots with tourists from all over the world.

And yet he was shot, at point blank, for no reason other than wearing the uniform of the Canadian military.

Four men dead, two of them soldiers. Whether the killers were actually militant Islamists as they pretended to be, or mentally-ill home-grown Canadians who wanted to pretend they were terrorists, the fact remains. It was the war in Iraq and Syria, that somehow, in some convoluted way, led to these killings.

And even though our news media, to their credit, generally haven’t gone all crazy like the American networks about this, even though we’ve tried to be balanced and not assume that there’s a terrorist horde around every corner in Ottawa or Montreal, that maybe these killers were crackpots, still, it was war that gave the killers the delusions they needed to act out and murder these poor men.

Come with me now, says Psalm 46, and regard the works of the LORD.

            The Bible talks about war. We forget that. It talks a LOT about war, a whole lot more than it talks about a lot of other things. Come regard war with me, it says. Note what desolations God has brought upon the earth – behold the God who makes war, not to continue, but to cease. Behold the God who breaks the bow, who shatters the spear, and who burns the shields with fire.

All, apparently, so that we human beings can just keep doing what WE do best: building MORE bows, and forging more spears, and hammering out more shields – or their modern equivalents. So we can kill each other some more.

The official response to the killings this past week is already in motion. Ottawa is locked down. The Parliament buildings, where people like you and me could just wander before, will never be so open again. There will be more and more, and more surveillance, and we will have asked for it, all in the name of security. We will, voluntarily, become more and more the kind of police state that we have fought against in the past. All to try and stop this kind of crazy extremist from striking again.

It’s clear there’s something terribly wrong with the system. But not just the system, there’s something wrong with the human race. It’s something inside of us. Otherwise it just doesn’t add up.

Today I saw a Christian priest smile at a young Muslim couple, the mother in a head-scarf, the father carrying a baby, as they followed their toddler down a hallway at the university. Not long after that a Jewish man walked by, with his prayer shawl fringe hanging under his coat. Everybody looked so happy and untroubled. You could hardly find a more sincere picture of inter-religious peace. On the metro I saw a young Afro-Canadian man, dressed in black with tattoos, wearing headphones and looking tough, get up from his seat and offer it with a smile to an older white woman. Inter-racial peace, looking easy. I was at a conference where Roman Catholics and Protestants and Buddhists and Muslims all sat together and chatted about what their faith means to them.

And yet this is the same world where there are beheadings, and tortures, and mass graves, and drones and kidnappings and burnings and more horror than we can even imagine.

So which is it? And which are WE? Are we human beings capable of – and ready for – peace with each other, and acts of toleration and respect and love? Can we for once in history live out the Psalm when it talks about breaking the weapons of war? Or what IS it in us human beings that creates those two killers, capable of going to a place like Saint-Jean or Parliament Hill, and taking an innocent life for no other reason than the uniform, so clearly NOT thinking about the children and spouses and loved ones left behind, about the devastation and hurt?

Very truly I tell you, says Jesus, everyone who commits sin is a slave to sin. There is a terrible slavery to evil in our world, an intentional and evil blindness that not only allows, but actually encourages murder, and rape, and torture. I find it almost impossible to understand, but clearly it is there. And yes, it IS usually on the other side of the world from our nice suburbs and houses and universities and parliament buildings. But not always. That evil is close at hand, and not always foreign.

So notice what the Psalm says. How does war cease? Be still, it says, and know that I am God.

It’s when we think that WE are gods, ourselves, that WE have the power of life and death, that we make decisions about other creatures – human AND animal – that are based, not on respect or empathy, but on cruelty and ignorance. Gods don’t need empathy. Human beings do. Our first task is to remember who we are. And who we are NOT.

Evil, according to the Psalm, comes from pride and from a lack of connection. What STOPS evil is the realization, and the training, if we’re talking about raising children, that we are LIMITED. What’s important is to realize that we don’t, and can’t know everything. That maybe any decision we make might be wrong. Call it humility. Be still and know that I am God. You are not. YOU do not have the power of life and death. I do, says the God of Israel.

Jeremiah puts it another way. This is the covenant I will make after those days, says the LORD. I will write my law within them, and I will write in on their hearts; and I will be their God, and they shall be my people.

This is actually what the Reformation was about too.

No human being can decide, said Luther. Not the Pope, not the Bishops. Not the Princes. But we can know this. We can know, and feel, and remind ourselves and others that we are loved just as we are. We are not gods, with the right to decide. We are limited human beings. Our job is to spread and celebrate life, not take it.

You and I can’t stop what’s going on in the Middle East, even when it comes home in such a terrible and costly way. But what we CAN do is to take every single chance we can to fight idolatry. We can make peace at home, and pray God that it spreads. We can refuse to judge, refuse to objectify, refuse easy answers and quick solutions.

There was the cavalcade of vehicles today, carrying the remains of Nathan Cirillo back home to Hamilton for burial. Some of the pastors of our church wondered whether it was appropriate to sing O Canada in service. Not that anyone asked me, but my answer would be no. We can sing O Canada elsewhere. Here, in our places of worship, our job is sing of a land bigger than any nation. And to pray. To pray for Corporal Cirillo’s poor bereaved family. To pray for humility. To pray for peace. And to pray that the words of scripture might come true, and the blindness of evil might give way to the light of love, so that the God of Jacob might truly remain our stronghold, the surest defense.

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