The earliest waves of Finnish immigrants to Montreal consisted overwhelmingly of young Finnish women. Unlike in other areas of Canada, where Finnish immigrants engaged in forestry or other labour, in Montreal the gender balance was definitely female! These determined and resourceful young Finns often worked as domestic help in the ‘grandes maisons”, or the large and rich homes of the Montreal wealthy. They were the primary movers behind starting the congregation, and the initial financial offerings they raised came from their own, often meagre, earnings. Through the years, unlike in many other churches, women and men together have always been on church council, and active in the direction of the congregation, its music and its social life.
It’s not surprising that so many of the Suomi activities planned for fall 2017 in Montreal – a Finnish bus trip to the Eastern Townships on Oct 14, the sold-out Suomi 100 Ball in December – are likewise spearheaded by women. The historical video can be watched here: https://vimeo.com/235420822
When I read Enn Raudsepp’s book Vändra, it was eye opening. The novel makes it very clear that Estonians have rarely been able to live on their own land. In the Middle Ages, German landowners came and took over everything, making the Estonians serfs and peasants. Then the Soviets came, again and again. Today is “Red Army Sunday”. If anyone knows about strangers taking over land, it should be Estonians. They know, as do the First Nations here in Canada, what it is to have foreigners pushing you out. Estonians know what an injustice that is. Estonians should, then, also know that the right thing, the loving and just thing, is to name that injustice for what it is, even here and now in Canada. So you, mortal, says Ezekial, you I have made a sentinel for the house of Israel; whenever you hear a word from my mouth, you should give a warning. I guess we who are Christians are not quite over the “should” stage. We should identify injustice, not just at the end of the Second World War, but also now. We SHOULD develop solidarity and empathy for people who are not like us. In that way, the reign of justice, of our God, begins already, in a very small way, here and now.
I’ve been very fortunate to be asked to teach a class this week in the Indigenous Studies Summer Program of the Vancouver School of Theology, on Pilgrimage and Indigenous Journey. I will be using the work of First Nations artists, writers, activists and film-makers to talk about Indigenous Journey, and letting those sources speak, as much as possible, for themselves, as well as encouraging the Indigenous students to share their own stories of journey, and comparing and contrasting these with other forms of global pilgrimage and travel.
Consider this: when we think of the participation of Canadian churches in the decimation of the First Nations, we repent of residential schools and the 60s scoop. But it started even earlier. Christian missionaries, both Catholic and Protestant, were among those who urged the Saulteaux, the Cree, the Blackfoot, the Assiniboine and others to make treaty with Ottawa, right around that 150-years-ago date Canadians are celebrating this year. “Christian Indians” (as they were called), influenced by their priests and ministers who attended the negotiations, urged their traditionalist brothers and sisters such as Mistahi-maskwa (Big Bear) to take treaty. Since Christians were so crucial in brokering the numbered treaties, shouldn’t Christians have a special responsibility, now, in making sure they’re upheld? (with others, I will be walking the Battleford Trail in August 2017 to draw attention to an often forgotten part of Saskatchewan, and Canadian, history. For more info, see shfs.ca)
The more things change, the more they’re the same. Some of us tend to idolize Luther. But scholars point out he’s only important because he came at a kind of tipping-point. Despite the significant, obvious differences, we live in a similar time. There is again, as there was during the European Reformation, a revolution happening in social media. There is again, as there was in the 16th century, a kind of apocalyptic feeling in the air, a shock-wave of anxiety at the rapid pace of change. There are again various forms of political uprisings and revolts among the disadvantaged. Remarkably, there is a similar fear of the Muslim world’s influence on Europe, a fear stoked for political reasons by leaders in the West. There is, again, an important wing of Christianity (this time found on television and online) that offers to the gullible and the afraid, salvation in exchange for money. Cities are still the crucibles of social, economic and technological transformation. And there is again, as at the time of the Reformation, a church caught in the middle, and unsure of the way forward.
Voters these days seem more and more lazy and irrational. We are addicted to the easy sugar of slogans and of self-serving lies. Through history, to our shame, Christians have also been dangerously irrational. But always, thankfully, some of the faithful have also been NON-rational – not IRRational, – but non-rational, in a positive and difficult, discipleship, way; that is, revelatory, narrative and reaching for a dream that may never be realized, but makes life better in the meantime. Loving your neighbour, doing good for no return, giving up privilege for the sake of those who have none – these are also non-rational actions. They follow a dream of service, not selfishness. Luther wrote: ‘We are God’s work, and God’s poem. God himself is the Poet; we are the verses God creates (LW 7:366)”. When we embrace this kind of non-rational openness, we open ourselves, not to slogans and lies, but to art, visions, and transformative dreams.
A spoken word I performed at the 2017 Suomi Conference, Hilldale church, Thunder Bay, April 30, 2017. Click below to hear (and watch!) it. Dedicated to Liisa and Jari Lahtinen and the people of Thunder Bay:
Way back in 1982 John Mellencamp came out with Jack and Diane. That song ALWAYS pops into my head when I read about the disciples after the crucifixion. They were so lost. Oh yeah, life goes on, long after the thrill of livin’ is gone. Which is to say: sometimes our dreams disappear before we do. I imagine Peter down by the water with the nets in his fingers, wondering what he’s supposed to do with his life, now that Jesus is gone. Yet the sacred word of the resurrection turned out to be that sometimes we shouldn’t try going back to normal. I miss lots of things about the ‘old days’ – my parents, my physical condition, my hair! But I don’t miss overt racism against First Nations, teachers smoking in the classroom, bullying encouraged in school, open sexism against women, gay-bashing and anti-Semitism. Some day soon, God willing, we’ll look back in equal horror at the ways the banks now make profits, the outsourcing of pollution, the obscene salaries of CEOs, and the gutting of our little towns and industries by the almighty dollar. Can we be prophets who call out injustice, hurt, and hate? The resurrected Jesus stands on the shoreline of our lives, calling to us in our little boats. Don’t go back to normal, he shouts out. That’s done. You can grieve it, if you need to, but it’s gone. Come sit, and be quiet, and have a little something to eat. And then together, let’s talk about what you’ll do next. Let’s sit and think and ponder and plan whatever resurrection is needed.