Friday, all three former railway employees involved in the terrible tragedy at Lac-Mégantic were acquitted. Most locals didn’t want them convicted. Even though the three men have admitted they bear some responsibility in the loss of 47 lives, everyone knows the fault lies higher up, with what the Bible calls the ‘principalities and powers’. If there was a Jonah for Lac-Mégantic, the prophet wouldn’t be in that little village. Jonah would be walking through parliament, in an Ottawa whose successive governments, Liberal and Conservative, let regulation go slack, and through Wall Street, or wherever the now bankrupt MMA Railway’s shareholders and executives live and work. Those are the people who should hear the call to repent. Some of those people might – actually – be you and me. We think ethical investment is an option. Is it, really? In light of Lac-Mégantic? Would Jonah have a word for us when we too, value financial returns over human life?
All Saints’ is about a community bigger and better, more surprising, more joyful and more inclusive than we could possibly imagine. It’s about lighting a candle for someone who has died, and honouring the fact that there are lines that connect us with them that go on despite death, lines we can hardly guess at, but that our Creator knows intimately. Why? Because they were woven with gracious intent into our very fabric of being.
If we were really free, then fear and desire would not be so powerful. Jesus said: You shall know the truth, and the truth shall set you free. And when we really take a moment to look closely, the ideas that imprison us are lies.That the clothes make the woman or man. That we can solve an unhappiness inside with some form of success, that winning the lottery can make anyone happy, that the busier we are, the more important we are. That we need to be afraid of those different from us. That we can survive without love, or others. Lies, one and all. 500 years ago, Martin Luther’s great insight was that all that we need, we’ve ALREADY been given.We do not need to buy what is already ours, free. We human beings are not perfect. True. But we don’t need to be. And the people who say we should be, are playing games. Follow them and we’re buying into a cycle that will keep us forever trapped. Luther said that, thanks to our Creator, love is free. Not only that, but it’s also freeING. There’s a side-effect: the more we realize we don’t have to prove anything, the more we’re free to work for love and justice, for others. We’re not just free from. We’re free for. We’re free to make the world a better place by standing up against injustice and intolerance. Intolerance always plays on that same fear. If Jesus taught us not to be afraid, we don’t need to be fearful. We can break the control that others – especially politicians, these days, in the United States but also here in Quebec – try to have over us, using our fears.
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.
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: