“Whoever welcomes you welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes the one who sent me. Whoever welcomes a prophet in the name of a prophet will receive a prophet’s reward; and whoever welcomes a righteous person in the name of a righteous person will receive the reward of the righteous; and whoever gives even a cup of cold water to one of these little ones in the name of a disciple—truly I tell you, none of these will lose their reward.”
A Cup of Cold Water
A monastery had fallen on very hard times. Its many buildings were once filled with young monks, and chapel resounded with the singing of the choir. But now it was deserted. People no longer came there to be nourished by prayer. Only a handful of old monks remained.
On the edge of the monastery woods, an old Jewish rabbi had built a tiny hut. He came there from time to time to fast and pray. No one ever spoke with him, but whenever he appeared, the word would be passed from monk to monk: "The rabbi walks in the woods.”
One day the abbot decided to visit the rabbi and bear his heart to him. As he approached the hut, the abbot saw the rabbi standing in the doorway, his arms outstretched in welcome. It was as though he had been waiting there for some time. The two embraced. As the rabbi entered the hut, he saw in the middle of the room a wooden table with the scriptures open. The two men sat there for a moment, in the presence of the Book. Then the rabbi began to cry. The abbot could not contain himself. He covered his face with his hands and broke down.
After the tears and all was quiet again, the rabbi lifted his head. "You and your brothers are serving God with heavy hearts," he said. "You have come to ask a teaching of me. I will give you a teaching, but you can only repeat it once. After that, no one must ever say it aloud again." The rabbi looked straight at the abbot and said, "The Messiah is among you." The abbot stood in stunned silence. Then the rabbi said, "Now you must go." The abbot left without ever looking back.
The next morning, the abbot called his monks together in the chapter room. He told them that he had received a teaching from the rabbi who walks in the woods, and that this teaching was never again to be spoken aloud. Then he looked at each of his brothers and said, "The rabbi said that one of us is the Messiah." The monks were startled and thought to themselves: "What could it mean? Is brother John the Messiah? No, he's too old and crotchety. Is brother Thomas? No, he's too stubborn and set in his ways. Am I the Messiah? What could this possibly mean?" They were all deeply puzzled by the rabbi's teaching. But no one ever mentioned it again.
As time went by, though, something began to happen at the monastery. The monks began to treat one another with a reverence. They were gentle with one another. They lived with one another as brothers once again. Visitors found themselves deeply moved by the genuine caring and sharing that went on among them. Before long, people were again coming from great distances to be nourished by the prayer life of these monks. And young men were asking, once again, to become part of the community.
This week we celebrate what I believe is the greatest country in the world – Canada!. And although our celebrations will look somewhat differently this year due to COVID-19, I say “Happy Canada Day, eh”. Canada has so many things that are good about it, but perhaps one of the very best is that it has always, and continues to, welcome people. People with different languages and different cultures and different religions. Canada is the greatest melting pot in the world and, therefore, can show the very best of the world to those outside. Cheers to Canada!
However, Canada and Canadians are not perfect. We have problems and those problems are not always blatantly visible – until they are. Some lurk beneath the surface. Some are entrenched in the thoughts of individuals and organizations. Some have existed so long, the “majority” don’t even realize they are problems. But there are groups of Canadians who are greatly impacted by the problems.
I am speaking of a problem that has overtaken the news lately. It is a problem represented by an ugly word –racism. Many white Canadians will deny we have a problem with racism, but those of races other than eastern European descent can too often relate stories that have occurred in their lives and the lives of those they know, where the colour of their skin became an issue of hate. Hate is also an ugly word, and too often presents itself where race is concerned.
Any of you who have followed the Olympic Games for years, may remember Canadian two time gold medal winner Donovan Bailey. At the height of his career, Bailey made headlines with a quote that appeared in an interview in Sports Illustrated in 1996, shortly before his record-breaking run in that year’s summer Olympics. “Canada is as blatantly racist as the United States. We know it exists,” Bailey was quoted as saying. “People who don’t appear to be Canadian -- people of colour -- don’t get the same treatment.” He told CTV News on Sunday that the “systemic racism -- that’s certainly in Canada -- has got to be dealt with.”
Blatant racists, he said, are “really easy to deal with,” because people who are loud about their bigotry have “already shown you their cards. So essentially, you can go around them, you can go over them, you can go under them or you can go through them,” he said. The danger of Canadian racism is that “in Canada, it’s racism with a smile,” he explained. “There’s gotta be a different game plan for each of [these types of racism].” He said black people and other people of colour in Canada are invited “into the room” or to apply for jobs, but that often this show of inclusion and diversity is only symbolic. “We know for sure that in many cases, [the] decision’s already been made,” he said. “I think that that’s a big part of the problem.”
Racism doesn’t just impact people of African descent. Canada’s history is full of racist actions by white culture and individuals. Chinese labour was used to build and maintain our national railroad. But racism towards the Chinese was widespread and the people were repeated portrayed in news articles and editorials in degrading ways. The Chinese culture was abhorrent to white Canadians who did not understand Chinese cultural practices in areas such as dress, living conditions and even funeral rites.
The forcible expulsion and confinement into internment camps of Japanese Canadians during the Second World War is another of the tragic sets of events in Canada's history due to racism. Some 21,000 Canadian citizens and residents were taken from their homes on Canada's West Coast, without any charge or due process. Canadian citizens became prisoners in their own country.
Of course the same thing happened to our First Nations people. Only then it was called “civilizing” them and rather than being forced into internment camps, children were taken from their homes and put into residential schools supported by religious denominations, including the United Church, while white government slowly took over their land through treaties, even breaking those same treaties when faced with a desire to obtain natural resources .
And in case we think that we are “not as bad” as our neighbours to the south because we accepted runaway slaves via the underground railroad, it may surprise you to know that Canada practiced slavery for 200 years. Slavery in what is now Canada predates the arrival of Europeans with some indigenous peoples enslaving prisoners taken in war. But whites brought a different kind of of slavery. Unlike First Nations people, whites saw enslaved people less as human beings and more as property that could be bought and sold. The wills of slaveowners often passed the ownership of enslaved people on as though they would furniture, cattle or land. Whiles also viewed slavery in racial terms, with indigenous and African people serving the white people who ruled them as masters.
That’s part of the history of how racism in Canada come to be, and unfortunately it is still perpetuated to this day. The United Church of Canada has this to say:
Although we believe that God is found in our common diversity, the sin of racism is present in our society and in our church. The United Church is committed to becoming an anti-racist church through a continuous struggle against racism. “Change is possible. We believe in forgiveness, reconciliation, and transformation and the potential to learn from stories and experiences.” (From That All May Be One, 2000)
The United Church of Canada’s anti-racism policy, That All May Be One, names four key areas of work:
Organize for the full participation of all peoples.
Organize for diversity by supporting anti-racism work and promoting positive relationships among diverse peoples.
Act justly within the church’s structures, courts, policies, and practice.
Speak to the world by supporting anti-racism work within broader society.
Our commitment to racial justice includes building right relationships with our neighbours. It means speaking out against violence and discrimination rooted in racial and religious bigotry. It finds expression in our intercultural vision. It means having the courage to talk about racism and white privilege in our church and in our society.
As former Moderator Jordan Cantwell put it in her March 2017 letter, “We need to name and examine our fears, prejudices, and assumptions. The privilege that many of us are born with may desensitize us to the injustice, exclusion, and hate that some in our community experience on a daily basis.” Only in that way can we build a church and society “where all are welcome, where all feel welcome, and where diversity is as natural as breathing.”
To break the bonds of racism may seem daunting to each of us as individuals, but as Jesus said, “Whoever give even a cup of cold water to one of these …I truly tell you, none of these will lose their reward”. (Matthew 10: 42) Each of us can start with the proverbial cup of cold water to someone and grow from there.
Speak out against racist comments or jokes. Extend your heart to those you have considered “other than” and watch the love of Christ grow and bloom in this country. Canada is an awesome country, and when racism is a thing of the past, we will be God’s (in whatever form we find the Divine) country again.