Last year, Eva and I spent Canada Day while stuck in Canada because of COVID-19-related travel restrictions. It gave us a chance to be reacquainted with the land of our birth and hear first hand some of the issues facing Canadians. Now, a year later, Eva and I are back at our home in Quezon City, Philippines, wondering how Canada is on its birthday.
A year ago, I took the opportunity to write a few reflections on Canada in light of some of the less honourable achievements the country has had. Here is a link if you are interested in reading my thoughts from a year ago.
Our paths over the past 2 years haven’t been as clearly marked as we would have liked. The pandemic introduced enough changes that it felt like we were losing our way. Apart from the obvious issues associated with health and disease, there were also concerns of financial distress, social distress, disconnection, and religious freedom. Fortunately things haven’t been as bad as predicted in those areas. But it has caused us to reflect a lot on where we are going — especially in the church. It reminded me a little of driving.
Eva and I have spent the last two years in Canada. We had initially planned only 3 months but … COVID-19. While in Canada we got the chance to be reacquainted with Canadian weather; or more specifically driving in Canadian weather. We saw it all, from burning hot days with nothing but dust to blinding snowstorms. It reminded me of real life. The past 23 months have certainly been interesting, and I expect that things haven’t entirely returned to normal just yet. Who knows how many more months of uncertainty there are?
When driving, the goal is to stay on the road but sometimes that isn’t as easy as we think it might be. Here are some examples:
Some roads are clearly marked with nice lines, they are paved, they are dry, it’s daytime, and the sun is shining when you are driving. There is nothing better than this. We often have days like this, don’t we? We are in the groove and everything seems to be going all right.
Sometimes there is snow on the road. But even if this is the case, when the road is plowed you can still drive between the lines with some changes. Instead of two lanes, only one is available. Instead of being able to travel at normal speeds, snow and ice force us to slow down. But we keep on driving.
When the road isn’t plowed you hope there is someone who has already gone down it so you know generally where you need to go too. You will also need to use a technique my Dad called, “Driving by the seat of your pants.” This means that we drive more by feel than by sight. We can even say, “Walk by faith and not by sight.” But we keep on driving, cautiously.
Sometimes the weather takes over and makes things extremely difficult. When you are driving in freezing rain you need to use all your resources. Turn the heat up full blast on the defroster. Use the wipers and fluid constantly. Stop every now and then and clear the windshield. Open the side window to know where you need to turn. But we keep on driving, slowly and cautiously.
Sometimes you can’t even see the world around you. When the snow is still falling, and blowing, and you can’t see more than 3 metres in front of you, and you spend each moment in fear wondering if you are going to hit the ditch, or worse, drive off a cliff in the mountains, you need to rely on your wits in order to make it. Have you driven the road before? Does the GPS tell you where the curves are? Can you see anyone’s tail lights ahead? But we keep on driving, foolishly.
This is perhaps how many felt when the pandemic began because the pandemic affected the roads that the church normally drives down. Eva and I arrived in Canada on a Monday, with great plans to visit friends and churches from Port Alberni to Thunder Bay. By Thursday of that same week all of those plans went out the window because of the implementation of anti-COVID-19 measures. All of a sudden we were doing church by the seat of our pants. It was quite the ride. We all became experts at new things: Zoom, preaching to a camera, uploading videos to Vimeo, livestreaming, building community in new ways. It was weird. It was uncomfortable. But somehow it worked.
We did manage to visit friends and churches — in fact we spoke in more churches than we could have if we can been in person. The ministry of the South East Asian Theological Schools boomed with more classes and students from around the world. We connected with lots of people on Zoom. We even celebrated a significant birthday with nothing more than a computer, some videos, and and internet connection. We kept on driving — and so did you!
We know this because we have talked to many of you. We discussed plans for how to do church in a pandemic. We debated on Facebook about the proper approaches we needed to take. We chatted on Zoom about the future of the church. We even taught classes about what to do next. We used all the resources available to us: Theology, church history, Biblical studies, Christian fellowship, meetings, conversations, books, blog posts, videos, and sermons. Even though the road was treacherous at times, we now appear to be coming out of it (I hope). And guess what? The church is still here. People are still committed. Hope continues to be renewed. The mission continues. And we have lots of new understanding and tools to use for the future.
God is good!
How has it been for you? What kind of “driving” have you been doing lately and how have the roads been? How has your church been made stronger because of the trials of the past 2 years?
Feedback is always welcome. Please use the comment box below.
I hear a lot of talk about the how the Christian influence in the west is slipping away. Sometimes this is referred to as the culture wars. Other times it’s referred to by terms such as multiculturalism, open borders, and statements like, “When people come to our country they should learn to do things your way because this is our country!” This is coupled with an uptick in things often labelled as “persecution” often tied to complaints that others are now calling the shots when it comes to values and morality.
And one can’t deny that change is happening. There is a definite change in Western societies’ values and morals and the influence of the church is definitely waning. Values that have long been identified as being Judeo-Christian are being replaced by other values and this has some Christians worried that the church is dying.
There is another perspective to this, however. Sometimes we confuse church with Kingdom and assume that our little corner of what God is doing is everything. Change can happen in various parts of a Kingdom without the Kingdom itself being destroyed. I grew up in Saskatoon, a small city in Western Canada that was fairly homogenous. Most people living there 30 years ago had a European heritage with some First Nations and Metis peoples seemingly on the fringes of society. That has all changed. Saskatoon is now a very cosmopolitan city boasting citizens from all around the world, with large non-European immigrant populations. The voices of the First Nations and Metis peoples are also stronger in the new society. In spite of all these changes Saskatoon is still Saskatoon — it is just a better and more interesting Saskatoon than when I was younger.
Andrew Walls, a missiologist and church historian, talked about the nature of the church worldwide. He saw how through church history the centre of the church would shift from one place to another. Walls described this is shifting “serial” rather than progressive. This means that the centre tends to shift from one place to another. For example, even though the church may have started in Jerusalem, Jerusalem is no longer the centre of the church today. That centre has shifted throughout history from one place to another. When we look at the current situation in the west that has been the centre of the church for so many years we can see that centre is shifting away. A 2009 study by Johnson & Chung tracks this center around the Mediteranean from Jerusalem, north through Europe, and currently moving south in Africa. Others have made similar claims.
So what does that mean for us today in the west? Well, we can mourn the loss of influence that we are having in the world and will have. We can also rejoice that God is moving the centre of his church to other places who are taking up the challenge of leading his church into the future.
We can understand that we can also survive on the fringes. After all, many of our fellow Jesus-followers have been there for a long time. They can teach us how to live under persecution, how to live even though no one focusses specifically on our spiritual needs, how to live when theologizing happens primarily in a language foreign to us, and how to live when the recognised spiritual authorities are from somewhere else.
Part of our responsibility is to help facilitate this transition. How can we help the transition to become smoother? We need to be gracious and realize that the things are changing are important. We need to listen to the voices of those who were previously been a minority even as we now move into being a minority now. We need to be open to the challenge to our traditional ideas — that have up until now been standard in the church — the challenges that are brought to these traditional ideas from new perspectives. We need to prioritize the voices of those who are now at the centre and submit to their leadership, realizing that even as God may have placed us in a place a priority in the past we are moving out of that.
If indeed God is the one who oversees the shifting centre of the church, then that means the things that are happening today in the world are of God. We need to honour that. What will you do to honour your changing role in the church today? How will you give way to those who have previously been minorities as they take up the mantle of leadership in the church today?
I want to hear your voice on this issue. That’s why feedback is always welcome.
This is my second post on connected to the National Day for Truth and Reconciliation this week. You can read the first one here. It comes from my reflections on Mark 9 where Jesus is talking about the importance of children in his Kingdom. He says,
“These little ones believe in me. It would be best for the person who causes one of them to lose faith to be thrown into the sea with a large stone hung around his neck. So if your hand causes you to lose your faith, cut it off! It is better for you to enter life disabled than to have two hands and go to hell, to the fire that cannot be put out. If your foot causes you to lose your faith, cut it off! It is better for you to enter life lame than to have two feet and be thrown into hell. If your eye causes you to lose your faith, tear it out! It is better for you to enter God’s kingdom with one eye than to have two eyes and be thrown into hell. In hell worms that eat the body never die, and the fire is never put out. Everyone will be salted with fire. Salt is good. But if salt loses its taste, how will you restore its flavor? Have salt within you, and live in peace with one another.” Mark 9:42-50 GW
This verse has a new significance seeing as I’m reading it on the National Day for Truth and Reconciliation, formerly known as Orange Shirt Day. Orange Shirt Day was designed as a memorial for children with the slogan “Every Child Matters” and it relates to the terrible conditions of the Canadian Indian Residential School System that affected 150,000 First Nations and Metis people across the country up until as recently as 1996. Of course, even though the last residential school closed in 1996, the legacy of these residential schools lives on today.
I didn’t notice, until I read it this morning, the context of this verse and how this verse about protecting children’s faith is in the context of the verses that talk about dealing with sin our lives. If your hand cause you to sin cut it off. If your foot causes you to sin cut it off. If your eye causes you to sin pluck it out. I realize that the sins of the hand, the foot, and the eye are central to the legacy of the abuse suffered through Indian Residential Schools.
Could we interpret it this way? If our hand causes us to sin by removing children forcibly from their families for the purpose of eradicating their culture then we need to cut that hand off. If our foot causes us to sin by standing on the necks of God’s children then we need to cut that foot off. If our eye causes us to sin because we are looking at children with the sinful desires, then we need to pluck that eye out!
The same can be said for our society, whether that is culture, theology, doctrine, ideology or practice. If our systems seek the eradication of Others’ cultures, if they cause us to oppress the helpless, if they cause us to lust after them, then we need to cut off and pluck out those parts of our society, whether that is culture, theology, doctrine, ideology or practice.
What is the stated destination for people who act in this way? Quite simply it is hell. Hell isn’t something we talk about a lot but I would suspect that there’re very few people who wouldn’t see hell as a suitable destination for people involved in the abuse and mistreatment of children.
The passage also provides a way forward — to be salt. Saltiness is a positive biblical trait. Salt provides flavour. Salt acts as a preservative. Salt creates buoyancy in water. And salt brings peace to the world. But it seems as if our salt has lost its flavour. What will we do to restore that saltiness?
Today on the national day for truth and reconciliation remember that every child matters.