Monday, July 07, 2008

Saying Sorry

On June 11, 2008 Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper said he was sorry. Unlike many other remorseful politicians, however, Harper was not confessing some adulterous escapade that had come to the attention of the masses who enjoy a little spice with their elected officials.

In fact, Harper wasn’t apologizing for his own misdeeds at all, he was apologizing on behalf of us all: on behalf of we white Europeans who thought people different than us could be abused, cajoled, and assimilated into church and colony through some proper education and retraining. Surely if the native populations learned like us they could be, indeed might even want to be, just like us. (It’s eerily ironic that this seems to be the similar tactic being unwittingly employed by the increasingly dominant secular-humanist perspective on those not sharing their “religious” convictions, but that’s a whole other column.)

The goal of the residential school program, run jointly by church and state through the 19th and mid-20th centuries, was to civilize the "savages". Instead, we are only now recognizing how savage the “civilized” world really was. While there are many whose experience of this policy was positive, the repeated tales of children ripped from their homes to be raised as “Christians” by priests and nuns, only to be maltreated and have their identities and century’s old traditions mocked and scorned is heartbreaking. The story is very similar in the United States. This chapter in our histories is not something to be proud of during this week when we celebrate both nations’ birthdays.

In May 2007 I attended Canada’s national prayer breakfast in Ottawa. Two of the featured speakers were Christian aboriginal leaders. Both men are godly and upstanding citizens who cherish their people’s unique identity and follow Jesus, and desperately desire that more natives and non-natives do the same. A year ago I also had the honour of meeting a young native woman whose love for Jesus fires in her a passion to serve her people and build healthy and strong community where currently so much pain and brokenness exists.

What boggles the mind is that these amazing people, so marked by the mistakes of colonial powers and the religion that piggy-backed its way into North America, follow Jesus at all. One Canadian Member of Parliament was, in fact, blown away that after all that has happened there are aboriginals who call themselves “Christians” at all. What is it about this Living Lord that makes him so beautiful even through ugliness?

When Stephen Harper stood in the House of Commons and said, “The government of Canada sincerely apologizes and asks the forgiveness of aboriginal peoples for failing them so badly,” he voiced what urgently needed to be said. Yet, at the same time, we should not lose sight of one thing: Jesus is drawing all nations to himself. Our temptation can be to assume that in the midst of the mistakes church people have made the problem is somehow with Jesus and that we must apologize for him, too. Let’s fess up where we are guilty, let’s walk in humility and honesty, but let’s not throw Jesus out, nor let him be thrown out, with our dirty bathwater. And to follow this analogy further, the problem for a dirty boy is not the soap, but the mud he keeps returning to.

All this necessary apologizing should remind us is that all people, of every tongue and continent, including aboriginals, have reason to be sorry; and should say so. And, as those of every tribe who follow Jesus seek to rebuild what has been destroyed, may we make it clear that we are apologizing not for Jesus, but because of him.

We are sorry we have not lived as the Spirit would have us. We are sorry we used his cross as a sword and did not take up our own cross instead. We are sorry we believed our own hype. We are sorry we couldn’t get beyond our modern prejudices and enlightened snobbery. We are sorry his word to love our neighbour had strings—and purse strings—attached. We are sorry the commission to make disciples was done with such wicked force. We were wrong; and that continues to prove that Jesus is right. Jesus never needs to say he’s sorry.

Thursday, July 03, 2008

Let the youths run wild.....

Most of us have at least one story we’d never want Mom and Dad to know about. Something we did that we think is best left between us, some co-conspirator and the fence post.

This cranial hiccup, combined with thoughtless experimentation, strange music and head-shaking fashion fads, causes our culture to assume that during adolescence the human being is borderline ape. Indoctrinated that we are mostly hairless super-primates justifies our belief in, and marketing of, a life stage that resembles a zoo.

Our culture paints adolescence so appealingly hedonistic that now even supposed grown-ups hardly want to leave the land of monkey-business and acne. Perpetual immaturity is the bedrock of goldmine industries: Witness the line-ups of twenty-somethings sleeping on sidewalks outside stores to buy the latest video game that they will take home to play in their parents’ basement. Now, that’s the life! Just think of the bright future for those able to jam on fake guitars or be consumed by vicarious car heists?

We have made teenage-dom just plain dumb. It’s a travesty—a great tragic adventure in shooting ourselves in the foot—because the youths and young adults I know are far from dumb. I wish the broader culture would stop insisting they be so. Even more so, I wish we would stop doing this in the church!

I recall a conversation among adults about baptism. They were wondering whether a young person, repentant of sin, confessing faith in Christ, evidencing the fruit of the Spirit, and seeking to be discipled and make disciples, could be considered a full member of the church before “adulthood.” What an absurd question. Not only does this reveal an unbiblical notion of the church, by leaving spiritual community defined by state classifications, but it disparages the Spirit’s work in a tender life as somehow second-rate. Does God think teens are dumb too? What happened to the faith of a child?

Further, many churches segregate youths from mature adults. We conclude they don’t want to be with the big, boring people. I wonder if this is just an excuse to keep their inquisitive minds from challenging our own shallow discipleship. Fear not, they notice it anyway. So we turn to a few “cool” adults to entertain and keep the “kids” busy, and present to them a hip Jesus who is Orlando Bloom with tattoos. No wonder Jesus’ call to radical, selfless discipleship goes over their heads!
This knee-jerk reaction to the drift of the wider culture is a ministry of fear. Rather than accept the young as co-sinners in need of redemption, as co-apprentices in the footsteps of Jesus, who need a community of believers to train them up, we insist that pizza and fun are the only things they respond to. The fruit of such ministry is, let’s be honest, not that bountiful. Many who came through such programs are happily absent from the church or are some of the most consumerist Christians in history.

Recently, Tom Roes, our pastor to youths and their families, surveyed both adults and youths at Zurich Mennonite. He learned that our teenagers overwhelmingly had a positive view of adults and the church, while the adults overwhelmingly assumed teens were negative about both. It seems adults believe the cultural lies, while youths are seeing through it. Who are the wise ones here? Perhaps it’s time to let the youths run wild so that the rest of us become less tame.