Brian Stiller

Podcastor

Author

Global Ambassador @ WEA

Brian Stiller

Podcastor

Author

Global Ambassador @ WEA

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Being a Canadian

The “I am a Canadian” beer commercial is the latest stupid expression of the Canadian neurosis – national inferiority. We flog our stupefying sense of “not being as good as our neighbors to the south” and in the end define ourselves negatively: we can’t say who we are; we say who we aren’t. Ask a psychiatrist how healthy a person is who can only say what they aren’t!

Then “Joe” became the latest Canadian hero. Not only was it played live before hockey crowds and in school assemblies, it mutated into look-alikes: “Je m’apelle Guy and I am not a Canadien”, “My name is Baz, and I am a Nufie”, “My name is Fong! And I am Chinese! ”, “My name is Giuseppe! And I am Italian!”

Earlier I watched an American music show from the Kennedy Centre where a number of American singers (many seemed to be evangelical Christians) belted out their patriotism with good old American fervor and enthusiasm. When they came “American the Beautiful” and “God Save America” cameras zoomed in on both singers and the audience. Faces lifted heaven ward, tears unashamedly streaming down their faces, you could feel the heart-beat of nationalism mixed with Christian faith lifting them to patriotic zeal.

These two images clashed. Canadians often envy American who mix their faith with nationalistic passion. How well we live up to the morbid American joke – “Why do Canadians cross the road?” Answer. “To get to the middle.” I so wish we could rise up in unabashed enthusiasm and define Canadianism as something other than, “Being Canadian is having a government-managed health care system.”

However, maybe this may not all be so bad after all. As God uses the foibles of people, so he does with nations. As he employs various personalities for good, so too he can take the national insecurities of a nation and turn them into kingdom-life.

A Jewish singer living in exile was taunted by the loss of home and culture.
By the rivers of Babylon we sat and wept when we remembered Zion. There on the poplars we hung our harps, for there our captors asked us for songs, our tormentors demanded songs of joy; they said, “Sing us one of the songs of Zion!” How can we sing the songs of the LORD while in a foreign land? If I forget you, O Jerusalem, may my right hand forget its skill. Psalm 137.
Far from homeland, his captors asked for a song. Lonesome for the ways and people of his homeland he wonders if he can even sing.

And it here I saw how God can use this crazy Canadian phobia of national insecurity for his world-wide purposes. For if all you can sing while exiled and tortured in a foreign land are songs of one’s culture (Jerusalem) then there really is nothing you have to sing. But if you can sing the songs of the King (Zion) then you can sing anywhere. It’s the life of the King which is transportable, not the a mixing of God and culture.

A missiologist said that Canadians are successful in missions not only because we learn to live in the extremes of climate but because we aren’t defined by our nationalistic impulses. So when we travel to other cultures, the gospel we preach is less ladened with cultural icons and memories. In contrast to the British, Germans or Americans, so many of our Christian traditions are imported from the UK, France and the US. Add to this, the federal policy of a cultural mosaic in which newly arrived cultures are encouraged to foster their homeland memories. More and more there is less and less which defines us. While this means that we don’t have the emotional framework for a compelling national identity, it does create an environment in which our vision of Kingdom-life is less attached to whatever we feel it is to be Canadian.

Nationalism can be so easily counter-kingdom. For example, during the Boer War, The Canadian Baptist (I assume its writings reflected its church membership) in its editorials took for granted that British imperialism and Canadian nationalism were one and the same. So when the British won the war, the magazine headlined the article, “Peace, Liberty, Equality.” The war was successfully fought as the right side (the British) had won. (June 5, 1902). How unrestrained nationalism distorts the word of the Gospel.

That our nationalism hangs weak, seeming insipid in comparison to American love of country, that may not be that so bad. As much as I disdain “Joe” as he exposes that disturbing side of our convoluted national consciousness, I know that Canada has been a spiritual bread-basket which God has used to bless the world. (I just wish it had been something other than a beer commercial which got my attention!)

Brian C Stiller
ChristianWeek May 2000