When God laughs at us: A look at our political systems in light of Psalm 2

Basahin mo sa wikang Tagalog.

It’s perhaps my greatest fear. I do a lot of public things — preaching, praying, leading, teaching — but before I stand up in front of a group I have this fear that they will just laugh at me, that they will mock me, or that they will make fun of me. So imagine my surprise when I find out that God laughs at me at times. What is it about the things that I do that is funny to God? Could it be where I am placing my trust? The context of the laughter is pretty specific, however. God doesn’t laugh at me when I screw up. He doesn’t laugh at my mistakes. His laughter is pretty specifically focussed. Let’s find out more by taking a look at Psalm 2.

“Why do the nations gather together? Why do their people devise useless plots? Kings take their stands. Rulers make plans together against the Lord and against his Messiah  by saying, ‘Let’s break apart their chains and shake off their ropes.’”

Nations love to solve problems. The form associations, develop allies, unite with others. The come up with plans, with goals, with dreams. They create platforms that outline how they will achieve success. Sometimes they even plot and plan. Sometimes they adopt ideologies that necessarily push some people to the fringes. Sometimes they manipulate social structures for their own ends.

All of this plotting, planning, and standing appears to be to one end — opposition to the rule of God. We see this a lot in scripture, including at the Tower of Babel and the events that happened when Saul was chosen king of Israel. It seems like we as people want to do things our own way — so much so that we can’t even imagine what it would look like for our various nations to be entirely submitted to God’s leadership! Perhaps this is what leads to the next verse:

“The one enthroned in heaven laughs. The Lord makes fun of them.”

What specifically is God laughing at here? He is laughing at the “useless plots,” “stands,” and “plans together against the Lord/Messiah.” Why is he laughing? Because we really don’t know what we are doing! Sometimes we laugh too don’t we? Once, years ago, when I was leading a tree planting crew in Northwestern Ontario, a colleague (George) and I went looking for a spring in the bush. One of our treeplanters heard something about it and decided to help. So he spent some time shovelling out the spring, making everything clean, etc. But when George and I saw what he had done we laughed because rather than fixing things he actually made things worse.

Does God only respond with laughter? Nope. It appears it also makes him (understandably) angry.

“Then he speaks to them in his anger. In his burning anger he terrifies them by saying, ‘I have installed my own king on Zion, my holy mountain.’”

And I guess we shouldn’t be surprised that God would be angry, seeing as people are plotting against him. But it does lead me to ask the question of how nations today plot against God? Certainly certain governments still exist that restrict religious freedoms for their peoples — but these countries seem fewer and far between nowadays.

As I have written here and here the mark of the beast/animal is putting trust in government rather than God. It’s saying that of all the problems that exist in the world — poverty, corruption, lack of peace and order, war, human rights violations, etc. — can only ever be solved by having the right government. There is never any room for God to act.

This is a very timely discussion worldwide. As elections are announced and campaign periods progress, the narrative quickly turns to who is the best candidate? Who can do the best job at taking care of the country? And quite often these conversations turn along religious lines, couched in phrases asking which of the parties/candidates is God’s choice? And once the elections are over, those who support the losing side sometimes get angry. We have seen that recently in Canada, the USA, and elsewhere.

God gives his answer to this — he says that he has installed his own king, not on any earthly throne but, on Mount Zion, the very seat of the universe. God then announces a decree that describes this King a little more fully (vv 7-9):

“You are my Son. Today I have become your Father. Ask me, and I will give you the nations as your inheritance and the ends of the earth as your own possession. You will break them with an iron scepter. You will smash them to pieces like pottery.”

It seems a bit harsh. After all, we love our countries (or hate them I suppose — there doesn’t ever seem to be an in between does there?) so when we hear of them being broken and smashed we worry. What is really happening here is that it’s the opposition to the rule of Jesus that is crushed. We know this because the crushing isn’t the last word in this Psalm.

One good thing about God’s word is that there is always hope. There is always some way that we can repent of our sins and enter into a restored relationship with God. Psalm 2 continues:

“Now, you kings, act wisely. Be warned, you rulers of the earth! Serve the Lord with fear, and rejoice with trembling. Kiss the Son, or he will become angry and you will die on your way because his anger will burst into flames. Blessed is everyone who takes refuge in him.”

This is the hope that is presented to us. We are called to act wisely. We are warned. We are challenged to serve the Lord, to submit to him — to kiss the son, as it were — so that in the end we will be blessed. I think it’s significant that the words “refuge” and “blessed” are used together here because that it one thing that nations promise isn’t it? They promise blessing. The great musical Hamilton, in its recounting of the early history of the USA, cites Micah 4:4 when it says, “then everyone will sit under his own vine and his fig tree.” This is a clear connecting of the nation state with the blessings of God. But one thing we perhaps don’t realise until it’s too late is that the blessings associated with identification with a nation state don’t ever end up lasting. Societal issues addressed through movements such as BLM, CRT, #metoo, MMIWG, Truth & Reconciliation, Orange Shirt Day, racially-motivated shootings, and others show us that the blessings, when they exist, only apparently exist for a chosen few people. God is telling us in Psalm 2 that if we truly want blessing then we should take refuge in him.

Is God telling us not to vote in elections? No he isn’t. Is he asking us to avoid addressing the problems of the world around us? No he isn’t. Is he asking us to withdraw from participation in social systems and structures? No he isn’t. What he is doing is asking us to place our trust and hope in the right place — firmly on Jesus. What this means is that regardless of who wins, as Jesus followers we still need to work and pray for the good of the city (as Jeremiah 29:7 so aptly states). Regardless of who we are, we need to be aware that structures and systems are still in need of renovation so that all can experience the refuge in Jesus. We can participate in making the world a better place but that participation needs to be under the supervision of the Holy Spirit.

It doesn’t make me feel good when people laugh at me. But when God laughs, he also gives us a chance to do things right.

What do you think of this? Do you find yourself trusting others where you should be trusting God? Let us know in the comment section below.

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Remember sharing is what friends do.

Image by Denis Agati on Unsplash.

Speaking into truth & reconciliation, how would you apply Jesus’ words, “If your hand causes you to sin, cut it off”??

Last week I posted some thoughts on truth and reconciliation on Canada’s National Day for Truth and Reconciliation. My thoughts centered around Mark‬ ‭9:42-50‬ ‭GW‬‬, and how these verses 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.

Krystal Wawrzyniak, one of my colleagues at BGC Canada and currently seconded to Indian Life Ministries, asked, “I’m curious about your thoughts surrounding the application of ‘if your hand causes you to sin, cut it off,’ or the foot or eye. Speaking into truth and reconciliation, how would you apply this??” I did respond to Krystal on Facebook but thought it might be a good idea to flesh out some of my ideas in another blog post.

First off I need to say that the best approach is to listen because it’s only through listening to Others’ stories that we can both understand them and see the things that need to be changed in ourselves.

It’s also important to examine ourselves to see if we can find areas that need change. This happens through reflection and through listening. I think that because few of us were directly involved in the Indian Residential School system (the last school closed in 1996) we can’t simply call for repentance on a personal level. The areas where change needs to happen (ie. the parts that need to get cut off) are the systems and structures that still exist in our society — including our churches and theology — that are a part of the framework that led to Indian Residential Schools. These need to be excised from our identity as both Christians and Canadians.

On the national level this might include how the doctrine of discovery and the Treaty of Tordesillas — which blended religious and commercial interests — continues to impact Canadian institutions such as the Indian act, unclean water on First Nations, and unequal access to health care. Other issues include how the Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls and the Overrepresentation of Indigenous People in the Canadian Criminal Justice System reveal problems with the justice system.

On the theological level we need to revisit our understanding of God’s prevenient grace, get rid of our theological superiority that prioritises theologies from the Global North over and above those of the Global South, and read the Bible through the eyes of the Other. Jose de Mesa’s hermeneutics of appreciation is a good starting point for this and will teach us how to listen.

Ka Jose de Mesa (1946-2021) was a Filipino lay theologian who worked for many years on issues surrounding contextualisation and theology. In his Mga aral sa daan: Dulog at paraang kultural sa Kristolohiya he develops a hermeneutics of appreciation as a way to correct errors he saw in how the church crossed cultures.

The “Hermeneutics of appreciation” is presented as a series of attitudes that serve as guides for those engaging in cross-cultural interactions. How can we apply them to the Indian Residential School issue?

Attitude #1: Presume the cultural element or aspect under consideration to be positive (at least in intent) until proven otherwise. Indian Residential Schools were designed to do the exact opposite of this — to remove all traces of “Indian” from the children who were forced to attend. There is certainly nothing positive about this. A better approach would be to recognise that the Kingdom of God consists of people from “every nation, tribe, people, and language” and that includes First Nations and Metis peoples.

Attitude #2: Be aware of your own cultural presuppositions and adopt the insider’s point of view. When we look back at some of the statements made by the proponents of the Indian Residential School system we can’t help but wonder what they were thinking? To people living and thriving in the postmodern world of 2021’s Canada, the ideas of our forefathers are more than odd — they are offensive. But did they know that? Did they realise the meaning of statements like “Kill the Indian, save the man” and that ideas of assimilation were actually cultural genocide? It’s hard to believe that they didn’t realise these things. Knowledge of de Mesa’s Attitude #2 would have gone a long ways towards developing a true understanding between the various cultures.

Attitude #3: Go beyond the cultural stereotypes. It is obvious that the use of terms such as “Indian problem” and “dirty Indian” that stereotypes were the only standard of practice in these schools. As Duncan Campbell Scott said when developing his policies, “I want to get rid of the Indian problem. I do not think as a matter of fact, that the country ought to continuously protect a class of people who are able to stand alone. . . . Our objective is to continue until there is not a single Indian in Canada that has not been absorbed into the body politic and there is no Indian question, and no Indian Department, that is the whole object of this Bill.”

Attitude #4: Use the vernacular as a key to understanding the culture in its own terms. Indian Residential Schools made a concerted effort to eliminate the various languages of the First Nations. A deeper understanding of language always leads to a deeper understanding of culture.

Unfortunately, nothing about the experience that First Nations and Metis peoples have had with either the government or the church in Canada seems to reflect these attitudes. Let’s hope that we can work towards changing some of these attitudes as we work towards truth, healing, and reconciliation.

Help is available. Call the 24-hour national Indian Residential Schools Crisis Line: 1-866-925-4419. 

Feedback is always welcome. 

Sharing is what friends do.

Image by Liviu Florescu on Unsplash.

Scripture is taken from GOD’S WORD®.
© 1995, 2003, 2013, 2014, 2019, 2020 by God’s Word to the Nations Mission Society. 
Used by permission.

Learning Jesus’ thoughts about Little children on Canada’s National Day for Truth and Reconciliation

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.

Help is available. Call the 24-hour national Indian Residential Schools Crisis Line: 1-866-925-4419.

Feedback is always welcome.

Sharing is what friends do.

Image by Neeta Lind on Flickr. Some rights reserved.

Thoughts on Truth and Reconciliation for Orange Shirt Day

Eva and I spent a couple of hours on Saturday looking for Orange t-shirts. We went to several stores in the area but were surprised that there weren’t any for sale. Eventually we ended up at the Wanuskewin Gift Shop on Broadway in Saskatoon where we found a few shirts in 3X and 4X sizes! We were extremely pleased that we found something even if they are far too large.

“What’s the big deal about orange t-shirts?,” you may ask. Phyllis Webstad tells the story of the orange shirt that inspired Orange Shirt day. As she says,

“I went to the Mission for one school year in 1973/1974. I had just turned 6 years old. I lived with my grandmother on the Dog Creek reserve. We never had very much money, but somehow my granny managed to buy me a new outfit to go to the Mission school. I remember going to Robinson’s store and picking out a shiny orange shirt. It had string laced up in front, and was so bright and exciting – just like I felt to be going to school! 

When I got to the Mission, they stripped me, and took away my clothes, including the orange shirt! I never wore it again. I didn’t understand why they wouldn’t give it back to me, it was mine! The color orange has always reminded me of that and how my feelings didn’t matter, how no one cared and how I felt like I was worth nothing. All of us little children were crying and no one cared.”

Today Orange Shirt Day has become the National Day for Truth and Reconciliation. I have already written on truth and reconciliation here, here, and here. Eva and I wanted to participate this year but I had a couple of questions, the most prominent of which is a logistical one: How can I be involved in Orange Shirt Day without also profiting from it? I would hate to be a participant in some kind of cultural appropriation and it would be an even greater shame for the oppressors to further profit from the day. For example, the Hudson’s Bay Company recently came under fire for selling Orange Shirts. This is especially poignant given the company’s history in Canada. Fortunately, the Company had followed the proper procedures, as outlined in the Orange Shirt Society’s guidelines. But that isn’t the case for every company doing this.

The next question I had was how do I go about the process of reconciliation particularly in a culturally appropriate way. I am working on a post about conflict resolutions in the Bible. Most Christians assume that Matthew 18 is the only way to do things. I happen to disagree with this but let’s agree with this for argument’s sake. What would that entail when it comes to truth and reconciliation in Canada? Since Mt 18 is all about bringing the offending sibling back into fellowship we need to recognise that that is us!

Us. I will say that my family history is full of discrimination and persecution. My father’s side has roots in the Mennonites who moved around the world trying to find places where their pacifism would be acceptable. They moved from the Netherlands to Prussia to the Ukraine and eventually ended up in Canada. My mother’s family has roots in the First Nations particularly in how the fur traders interacted with First Nations women that lead to a group of people known as country born. But in spite of this history of discrimination and persecution, I have grown up completely separated from those identities and live a life of privilege. So when I say that we are the offending sibling I am including myself in that. This is especially true for those involved in churches when talking about residential schools.

What can we do to foster truth and reconciliation? I can think of a couple of options that will lead toward reconciliation.

In reconciliation, the offenders don’t set the agenda. Rather, as the offending party we must place ourselves in a position of powerlessness. It’s not enough to apologise. Often when giving an apology I find myself frustrated that the offended party wants to talk more about how offensive I have been. All this shows is that I am not truly apologetic and I don’t want reconciliation. This is particularly hard when it comes to corporate evil. The Canada we know has been built in part on a flawed foundation that is in need of renovation. What does that renovation look like? Ask someone who is affected by the flaws to find out.

In reconciliation the offenders need to listen. We need to be humble and submissive and to listen to the stories of those we have offended because that is the only way for us to experience their pain. Let’s start this process by listening and watching as Phyllis Webstand tells us her story.

But as Phyllis says, her story is not unique. Another part of the reconciliation process is to find someone in our own community who we can share stories with. Only by sharing stories can we find truth and reconciliation!

Help is available. Call the 24-hour national Indian Residential School Crisis Line: 1-866-925-4419.

Feedback is always welcome.

Sharing is what friends do.

Image by Rod Long on Unsplash. Video by orangeshirtday.org.