Reflection: A Blessed Nation20 July 1, 2012
Psalm 72 (a paraphrase); 2 Corinthians 8:1-15
I love my nation. I love the varied landscapes, from the Far North to the American Border, from our own Vancouver Island to Newfoundland; I love the wildlife that fills those landscapes (though perhaps, not so much the bugs!). I love the variety of cultural customs and languages spoken and the welcome given to newcomers. I love the gift of our First Nations people and their history and culture, which we’ve only begun to learn about. I love that someone can get sick here without risking bankruptcy, and I love that every child can get a good education, regardless of family resources. I love that we believe in the rule of law, and I love that I live in a democracy.
I love my nation, and I want God’s blessing on this land and its people. But that doesn’t mean what you might think I mean. I don’t mean I want God to take Canada’s side, whether it’s in hockey games or international warfare. I don’t mean I want Canada to be wealthier than its neighbours, or more competitive on world markets, or the envy of other countries for its standard of living.
What I mean is, that I want Canada to be a blessing: I want Canada and Canadians to be a generous people; I want Canada and Canadians to continue to welcome refugees and immigrants regardless of their means; I want Canada and Canadians to care about what happens to their neighbour on the block and their neighbour on the other side of the world – and just care in a vague sort of way, but DO something about it; I want Canada to be on the forefront of a revolution in environmental responsibility; I want Canada to know a prosperity that ALL can share in, not just a few. I want Canada to know God’s blessing – and the best way to know God’s blessing, is to BE a blessing.
Did you know that the word for “Blessed” and “Happy” are the same in New Testament Greek? Did you know that studies show that generous people are happy, and happy people are generous? Did you know that the average Canadian only donates about $260 to charity a year, and that only about 24% of Canadians indicate on their tax returns that they donate anything at all? (Stats Canada 2010 figures) Did you know that in another report, 64% of Canadians are said to offer charitable aid, but that still puts us 14th in the world? Did you know that Canada has NEVER, EVER met its commitment under Lester B Pearson’s 1969 government to donate .7% of GNP to development work and humanitarian relief?
On the other hand, did you know that on the Gallop Reports’ World Giving Index (which includes not just financial contributions but volunteer contributionstoo, as well as simple acts like stopping to help a stranger) Canada is tied for 3rd place, behind Australia, New Zealand and Ireland? (2010) That’s slightly better news. But if that giving level is nearly as good as the world gets, then there’s an awful lot of people of faith who aren’t paying attention to their Scriptures. My mind can’t wrap myself around these figures. I’m flabbergasted – and appalled!
I turn for guidance to Paul’s letter to the Corinthians. Paul knows how to give a stewardship sermon! He says to them, “Hey you guys. You know about the Macedonian church, right? You know they’re going through really tough times now. But look –that collection we’ve been taking up for the church in Jerusalem? Even in their poverty, those Macedonians begged for the chance to help – and they gave even when it hurt them! I’d been bragging to them about your generosity, and they were inspired by your example. So don’t let me down now folks. Live up to what I said about you; live up to what you started! I know how faithful you are, and I know how blessed you feel you are. Those folk in Jerusalem – well, they’ve having a rough time. Think about all that you need, then think about all that you have, and then think about what THEY need, and think about what THEY have – and do the right thing. Not because I told you to, no, but because it’s the right thing, and that’s the kind of people you are. “
I’d like to write a letter like that to all Canadians, and to all Canadian governments, municipal, provincial, federal. I believe that as a people, we have a sense of the importance of the Commonweal – an old-fashioned way of saying the common good. However, we’re in a fiscally conservative time – not surprising, given the way markets have been behaving the last few years; and such times tend to bring with them a narrowing of interest, a hunkering down and focussing on our own wellbeing. With fiscal conservativism also comes a certain philosophy that says that government should only do what the private sector cannot. So our present government is following the British government in a move to download much of what has been government responsibility unto the business sector, the charitable sector, and onto you and I. (See the Globe and Mail series on the New Philanthropy http://www.theglobeandmail.com/life/giving/welcome-to-the-next-generation-of-philanthropy/article4184142/ )
The argument is that the government will lower both personal and business taxes, and provide tax incentives for charitable donations that sustain the best of those offloaded programs. One problem with this (there are others) is that charitable donations are not increasing at the rate that taxes are decreasing – and there’s no indication that they will. Generationally, charitable donations are dropping: a recent study found that Canadians born before 1945 give an average of $833 a year, and three-quarters of them donate regularly; among those born from 1965 to 1980, annual donations drop to $549 and only 60 per cent give. Among those born after 1981, only 55 per cent do, and the average falls to $325 (Globe and Mail). $325 – that’s less than a dollar a day! Even if you’re only working part-time at minimum wage, that’s still a pittance.
Depending on your political philosophy, the lack of support for those in need (both locally and globally) can be addressed in different ways. One is, of course, to keep taxes high, as in the Scandinavian nations, and care for the vulnerable and advocate for the needy through the accumulation of those taxes. Another is to lower taxes and rely on personal and corporate social responsibility to urge people to advocacy and compassionate acts. I leave it to you which you think is a better approach; perhaps many of us would like to see some combination of the two, since both approaches bring risks and benefits.
Whatever our political views, as Christian people, we can’t escape from the responsibility we hold for one another. According to not only the prophetic tradition of Scripture, but even the poetry of Scripture, the godly nation – the blessed nation – is the one where the poor can find justice alongside the rich, where the vulnerable are cared for and the oppressed are delivered from their oppression. According to the Apostle Paul and according to Jesus, we cannot see another in need, and fail to act – even when that other is in another province or even another country! Paul says we give, not so as to create hardship for ourselves, but so that both we and they have what we need. Jesus goes even farther – is even more radical. He says that the widow who gave all that she had to the temple is our example. He tells more than one wealthy person that they would have to give up everything they have to follow him. He says that we cannot love both Money and God – allegiance to one precludes allegiance to the other.
I want, like Paul, to be able to brag about my fellow Christians, and more than that, I’d like to brag about my nation. I want to be able to show the world what a blessing we are! I want to be able to proudly declare my part in this church, this community, this country. I want Canada and Canadians to be happy, to be blessed; I want us to know what it is to be a blessing to others. I could have talked about many other things that could change in order to increase that experience of blessing; but instead, I’ll finish with the words of a hymn by Carolyn Gillette – a wonderful hymn for a blessed nation:
For This Land in All Its Wonder CWM RHONDDA 126.96.36.199.8.7.7
For this land in all its wonder, for each city, farm and town,
For each mountain filled with splendor, for each place where love is found,
For the freedoms we enjoy here,
God, may thanks to you abound! God, may thanks to you abound!
For your peace and love unending, breaking barriers that divide;
For the joy of cultures blending as we live here side by side;
God, we thank you and we pray now:
May we all be unified! May we all be unified!
For your hand to lead and guide us, for your work in history,
For your vision born inside us of a just society,
God, we thank you and we pray now:
May this vision come to be! May this vision come to be!
May we be a nation seeking ways that are both wise and fair,
May our living and our speaking serve your purpose everywhere.
May we follow where you lead us;
God, this is our hope and prayer! God, this is our hope and prayer!
Biblical References: Psalm 147; Micah 6:8; Colossians 1:19-20. Tune: John Hughes, 1907. Text: Copyright © 1999 by Carolyn Winfrey Gillette. All rights reserved. Used with permission. Copied from Gifts of Love: New Hymns for Today’s Worship by Carolyn Winfrey Gillette (Geneva Press, 2000). Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
New Hymns: www.carolynshymns.com/