A friend of mine was recently riding his bicycle when he was pulled over by the police. He was on the sidewalk, which is illegal. But. He was also going through the Atwater underpass, where there is no bike lane, and LOTS of scary traffic. In some spots there are just inches to spare between you and the cars. A driver swerves slightly, and they’ll knock you down. Not to mention the potholes. You may remember that a cyclist died not long ago going through an underpass like Atwater. After that, the mayor of Montreal, among other people, has told cyclists that they should take the sidewalk on those small stretches in underpasses where NOT to do so would be dangerous.
Apparently the Montreal police haven’t been listening to the mayor. When my friend came through the underpass on the sidewalk, the police were waiting. They pulled him over and hit him with a fifty-dollar ticket. As it turned out, however, that was only the first of his problems.
Give us your ID, the police said to him. Now. My friend is a nice guy. In his fifties. Grey hair. Clean-shaven, riding his bicycle home from his job downtown. Maybe even wearing his dress shirt, and a tie. But he knows the law, and so he said to the police: “I’ll give you my name and address so you can send me the ticket. But the law states I don’t have to give you my ID. No Canadian has to surrender their ID on demand to the police unless they’re being placed under arrest.”
He was right.
However, right isn’t always what’s important, apparently. Within seconds the Montreal City Police had my friend handcuffed, his hands behind his back. They marched him into the back of a police van. They started yelling into his face. Telling him he would be thrown in jail for obstructing justice. Telling him he was going to get a police record and never be able to cross the border into the United States again.
They searched his pockets, pulled out a USB stick that he had, and then, right in front of his eyes, broke it in half. All because he wanted his legal rights.
They say religion and politics don’t mix. Whoever said that didn’t know the Bible. My friend is not religious. But I’m saying that faith has something to say to what you and I should think of a situation like that. In fact, religion and politics mix ALL THE TIME.
Then all the elders of Israel gathered together, it says in the Bible, and they came to Samuel at Ramah, and said to him: appoint for us a king.
Samuel tried to tell them.
You don’t WANT a king, the old prophet said to them. Rulers are a BAD idea. Rulers will do what they do best. They’ll tax you. They’ll form a police who will oppress you. They’ll make you slaves. They’ll take your children and put them in their armies and then your children won’t come home. A government will take your money, your food, your security and eventually, sometimes, your life. And they’ll do all this, just because they’re rulers, and you’re not. Are you sure you want a king?
And the people of ancient Israel said: Yes.
You know what they say: be careful what you wish for. Because now what are WE, and most people in the so-called developed countries asking for? Security. And we’re being asked if we’re willing to pay what that dream might cost.
True faith has never been particularly comfortable with governments. Now – for me to say that is controversial. It’s not an opinion everyone shares. But there’s a reason why the Bible says: “God is a jealous god.” and “You shall have no other gods.” It’s idolatry to mix up our faith with nationalism. The Kings were NOT good for Israel. Similarly, there’s a reason why Jesus died the way he did. Jesus did NOT die helping plague victims. Jesus was killed by a state, and in the name of law and order. Jesus was executed, as a troublemaker (remember my friend) by a legal government. A government, by the way, that was promising peace, prosperity and security.
Just before Jesus died something else happened that was interesting. The Gospels say that Pilate led Jesus out onto the pavement in front of the mob: “Would you have me crucify your King?” Pilate asked. And the crowds, although they didn’t know it, echoed the ancient Israelites. Jesus stood right there, in front of them. And they shouted back: “We have no king but Caesar!”
In other words, one more time people picked a man over their Creator.
The point here isn’t any specific government. The point is about giving up what the Creator first gave us – ourselves. This whole issue is about sovereignty. According to the Bible, we human beings are created in the image of God. We were given sovereignty over ourselves, in order to freely serve our neighbors, including animals and the natural world. And yet, rather than think like saints, rather than act as agents of love just a little lower than the angels, rather than risk uncertainty, most of us quickly give ourselves up voluntarily to corporations or parties or whatever else tends to enslave us. We trade ourselves for convenience.
But the prophet says to us: We do not have to be like the other nations.
This last week the Truth and Reconciliation Commission publicly released its report in Ottawa. Whatever else you might think about this or that provision, the BASIC thing that’s being asked for, the bottom line, is simply one thing: justice.
Governments – of ALL stripes – have been very bad at giving that. Apparently the Conservative minister of Indian affairs refused to stand with others when it came time to applaud the call for changes in legislation. If the prophet Samuel had been in Ottawa, he’d have said to us, ‘well, what do you expect?’ Power doesn’t help the weak. Power tends to serve power. Which is precisely why if we are children of faith, we need to act in a DIFFERENT way from rulers and governments. We need to be COUNTER-cultural. We need to take a stand for others, and with others. We need to identify and then help overcome what every state, of every political persuasion, will do to thwart justice.
Be careful what you wish for says Samuel. It’s good advice. Think about your democratic vote as a theological choice. Do we really want security at any price, including losing our own freedom? Do we really want a slightly better income at the cost of poisoning the environment? Do we really want to save a few dollars at the cost of historic injustices to the First Nations that can and should be overcome?
My friend sat in the police van for about 45 minutes. Other cyclists would come by, get their tickets, and look at him sitting there, handcuffed. “They looked scared,” my friend said. Like they were thinking: ‘what did HE do?’
But harassment didn’t win out over justice. Eventually, my friend said, a policeman came back to see him. It probably didn’t hurt that my friend had no record, and had never been in trouble with the law. The officer took off his handcuffs. When my friend asked what he was supposed to do next, the officer told him to get lost. The irony is that in the end, he didn’t even get the ticket.
Our Creator asks us to look beyond ourselves to a better world. A world that doesn’t depend on peace and security from Ottawa – or anywhere else. For we know that if the earthly tent we live in is destroyed says Paul, we have a building from God, a house not made with hands. So we do not lose heart.
There have been, and will be wrongs. That’s the world’s system. But our faith tells us that we are to stand, as Jesus did, with those who need justice. Religion and politics SHOULD mix. It’s time for us to get over wishing for a king. We can wish for justice and for peace, instead. And then do what we can to help make it happen.