A recent Ipsos-Reid poll says that 44 percent of Canadians surveyed believe religion does more harm than good. Another poll question asked if people believed religious people have a higher moral ground – and most disagreed. About 13 percent said that they would lose respect for someone if they found out they were religious. Only 34 per cent believed that religion should have any impact on politics at all – in other words, religion is completely private and should have no bearing on how we actually function in the world. In fact, many believe we’re better off without it. This is the country we Canadians live in. (http://globalnews.ca/news/3522802/religion-is-increasingly-seen-as-doing-more-harm-than-good-in-canada)
So it was interesting to stumble across a website called Faith in Canada 150 that is collecting stories of how faith is integrated into the lives of thousands of Canadians in life-giving ways. Their stated objective is to show that “Faith is a good in our society.
“For more than 450 years, faith has shaped the human landscape of Canada. It has shaped how we live our lives, how we see our neighbours, how we fulfill our social responsibilities, how we imagine our life together.
Faith has given shape to a country that stands apart in a world deeply scarred by conflict, prejudice, and brutality. ….Faith in Canada 150 is a joyful force for celebrating faith in our past, present and future. “
It seemed the perfect place to find some stories as we celebrate Canada today, and sing hymns of faith created for us by Canadian hymn-writers and composers. So here are a few excerpts from the website: (http://www.faithincanada150.ca)
Many of you will know the name of David Lam, former Lieutenant-Governor of British Columbia.
After retiring from the lieutenant-governor’s role, David See-Chai Lam devoted time and resources to developing the David C. Lam Hymn Society. Through it, he organized choir tours and concerts which emphasized traditional gospel and inspirational hymn-singing. ….The strong four-part harmony present in Christian hymnody tended to match, in Lam’s mind, his …appreciation for reconciliation and harmony….
Vancouver Sun journalists Douglas Todd and Kelly Sinoski, writing Lam’s obituary following his November 22, 2010 death, noted:
Even when he was 80, he was energetically touring with a 60-person choir he’d put together. Singing hymns, Lam said, was a way “to communicate with each other through the heart.”
Then there’s Rabbi Laura Duhan Kaplan. “Before becoming a rabbi, [she] feared opening the door to the spiritual knocking she was hearing. She couldn’t stop wondering if it was Jesus asking to come in.
“I knew I’d have a pretty hard time explaining that to the family,” Duhan Kaplan says with amusement. “But I said to my husband that if it was Jesus, then it would be Jesus, and I would accept that.”
A tenured philosophy professor at the University of North Carolina in Charlotte at the time, and the product of a deeply attentive Jewish upbringing in New York City, Duhan Kaplan had given no thought to changing faiths. Nor had she felt any desire to become a spiritual leader of any kind.
But a Havurat Tikvah – or friendship group of hope – that she belonged to drew on her knowledge of Jewish history and traditions so much that she was regularly asked to provide it with direction.
“I got called to leadership [in the group] so I realized I had to learn even more than I already knew. And I started having spiritual experiences that I wasn’t really prepared for. There’s a famous verse in the Song of Solomon “My beloved is knocking at the door” and it’s an image that is so resonant because many seekers have the feeling someone is begging us to let them in.”
Eventually, Duhan Kaplan’s husband, a psychologist, told her not to worry about what or who might be on the other side of the door. He assured her religious experiences usually come in the metaphors, symbols and language we’re prepared for.
“He said ‘just go for it’ and I did. It was an experience of being filled with the ineffable G-d, the one that we call by that sacred name in Judaism, that we represent in English as Y-H-W-H. I began to have conversations with the Being.”
[In addition to being ordained as a rabbi in the Jewish Reform denomination, she] completed a graduate degree in spiritual direction at the Vancouver School of Theology.., and is now on the VST faculty teaching inter-religious studies courses on Biblical Wisdom literature and contemporary values, the theological journeys of Jews and Christians, and spiritual formation in communities. Last May, she led a day-long Faith Alliance gathering in Vancouver for Cardus’ Faith in Canada 150 program.
“I think it’s really crucial that people do interfaith outreach while at the same time being rooted in their own communities,” she says. …The alternative, Duhan Kaplan cautions, risks being immobilized by fear or overstretched to the point of fracture by the exuberance of novelty.
“When an individual is seeking without the support of their core faith community, it is much easier and more likely that they’re going to say ‘Hey, I love this newer community. Look how embracing they are of my seeking and uncertainty. Look how great their rituals are. Maybe I’ll adopt them instead of the ones of my own family and community.’ If communities do [inter-faith work] together, then the people who are seeking will still be held in the power and love of their original community.”….
“There is so much fear of Christianity among Jews from legitimate, historical events. Once you get outside the realm of daily life activities and start talking religion, theology, spirituality, there’s a really big divide. …For Duhan Kaplan, an antidote to the very real challenges of inter-faith exploration is music, not just for its power to soothe the savage breast but for its creation of a “common language” that allows G-d to be shared through direct experience.
“The common language aspect is very powerful for people who are making music or listening to music, especially if they have some knowledge of their own musical tradition. It’s a very high probability that if you listen to someone else’s music, you’re going to think “That reminds me of a similar motif we do for….” You won’t say: “Our belief is different and yours is corrupted.” My own theological view is that whatever G-d is, it’s beyond any particular representation. But the language of music, that’s the basis of commonality.”
And one more story: by Deani Van Pelt
[Deani tells the story of visiting her 16 year old son’s grave in the quiet cemetery of St John’s Anglican church, and finding that his gravestone had finally been installed.]
“Turns out it was done…. November 2. All Souls Day. The day the faithful departed are remembered by the majority of Christians around the world.
The sacred words on that stone would not be there without the love and care that others poured into our son. Those words became precious to Kenton through the guidance and experiences he had in school, church, and community, and with family and friends, teachers and mentors, whether at home or abroad.
Kenton’s musical loves—especially playing guitar and choral singing—wove many sacred texts into his very being, and gave voice to something within himself. Precisely why he asked his sisters and father to sing the haunting words of a song (especially the fourth verse) composed from Psalm 30 and Psalm 88 at his public profession of his faith a few months before his unanticipated and tragic death, remains a mystery to me. But I do know, if not for the wisdom of his choral conductor in teaching his choir this piece, Kenton would not have had those words to express his thoughts. And I know that I would not have had the quiet confidence after he died that his death was known to God.”
These are the words of the song her son chose:
I worship you, O LORD,
for you have raised me up;
I cried to you for help,
and you restored my life.
You brought me back from death
and saved me from the grave.
2 Sing praises to the LORD,
all those who know his name;
for while his wrath is brief,
his favor knows no end.
Though tears flow for a night,
the morning brings new joy.
3 I said, “I am so strong,
I never shall be moved”;
but you, LORD, shook my life
my heart was in distress.
I cried out for your help
and pleaded for your grace:
4 “What good am I when dead,
while lying in the grave?
Can dust recount your love,
the grave proclaim your praise?
O hear me, gracious LORD,
in mercy be my aid!”
5 My mourning you have turned
to dancing and to joy;
my sadness you dispelled
as gladness filled my soul.
And so I’ll sing your praise,
my God, through all my days.
These are but a few of a 1000 stories Faith in Canada 150 is gathering together. Faith matters. It matters personally, and it matters publically. God bless Canada, and may this country be a place where religion is respected and valued as a source for good. Amen.
(A note from Rev. Heidi should this be posted online: I am not in any way affiliated with Cardus or with Faith in Canada 150, but I support the work of helping our nation recognize the important role faith plays. Full bibliographical information for the stories can be found on the Faith in Canada 150 website, and I am grateful to them for sharing these stories.)