Monday, June 29, 2009

... for kings and those in authority ...

Yesterday -- June 28, the Sunday closest to Canada Day -- was National Government Prayer Day in Canada. I'm not sure who actually declared that, but it's supported and promoted by the National House of Prayer in Ottawa.

To me, praying for our government and those in authority in general (and when I pray, I include our police, firefighters, ambulance paramedics and members of the armed forces -- all those who have stepped up to keep us in a peaceful society) is totally apolitical. I see some religious types call for us to pray for the Conservative Party to be elected so Stephen Harper can be prime minister, but I think there's something skewed about that. We may have our thoughts as to who we think should be in power, but those thoughts are temporal: we need to submit everything to God, and that begins with accepting that He does not have a political affiliation.

(I'm reminded of the story of the British Evangelist almost a century ago, who was getting heckled by a Communist during an open-air sermon. The Commie pointed at a homeless man and shouted, "Communism can put a new suit on that man!" ... and the Evangelist shot back, "Jesus Christ can put a new man in that suit!")

But I digress. The key Scripture in this is Paul's First Epistle to Timothy, where he writes, "I exhort, therefore, that first of all, supplications, prayers, intercessions and giving of thanks, be made for all men; for kings, and for all that are in authority; that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and honesty. For this is good and acceptable in the sight of God our Saviour ..." (I Tim. 2:1-3).

Now, back up a few verses -- I Tim 1:18 -- and look at the context: he's just finished talking about spiritual warfare and people who have "made faith (a) shipwreck". Calling for prayer for those in authority releases God's will over those people -- whether they are believers or not. Notice that Paul includes "intercessions" in the list. We'll come back to that.

I believe God puts whomever He will in power. He's done that ever since King Saul, and while we may not know exactly why God puts someone in power or authority, it's His call and if we look to Him, He'll show us what He's up to.

I believe God put George W. Bush into the presidency. Look at the bizarre way he won it in 2000 and the way the Democrats could not field a credible candidate for 2004. Look at the incomprehensible decision to pick Sarah Palin as John McCain's running mate in 2008: the sudden flaw in the campaign that helped Barack Obama steamroller to victory.

The Lord told me Paul Martin could have remained prime minister if he hadn't taken the stand he took on same-sex marriage. His priest advised him not to support it; the whole Catholic church advised him not to support it; but Martin declared that the Word of God was out of step with the times and the bill went through. And what happened? The sponsorship scandal, which was none of Martin's doing, stuck to him like he was made of velcro. The Lord told me He could have miraculously kept Martin from wearing that scandal if he had not gone against His Word. Instead, our whole country was denied what could have been a really good prime minister.

God anoints leaders. What they do with that anointing is up to them. The level of pride that comes with attaining a position of authority often drowns out the still, small Voice. That's why Paul writes about "intercessions". As Christians, we have the power to intercede on behalf of others where they either don't have strength of faith or don't believe. Theoretically, the person in authority could be a Jew, Muslim, Hindu or expatriated Martian, and it wouldn't matter if people are interceding for him/her in prayer. They need God-given wisdom to do the job -- something Solomon knew but I don't think any US president since Truman or Canadian prime minister since Diefenbaker actually asked for. But our prayers and intercessions for those in authority can fill in that gap and actually help those leaders to see that they owe their position not to their good looks, dynamic speaking or progressive policies, but to God Himself.

One more thing: if we move forward a few more verses in I Tim. 2, we come to verse 8, which says, "I will therefore that men pray everywhere, lifting up holy hands, without wrath and doubting." The level of hate and nastiness in politics today is abominable, and for centuries, the essence of politics has been less about what's right, and more about who wins the argument. But Paul says that our prayers must be without wrath and doubting. James writes, "the wrath of man worketh not the righteousness of God" (James 1:5); doubt is the enemy of faith. So prayers for our government and "those in authority" all point away from the contentiousness of politics and directly towards God and His will.

Friday, June 26, 2009

Who's being intimidated?

News items in the past couple of weeks have noted complaints from people protesting the Winter Olympics, claiming undercover police have been harrassing them: coming up to them in public places and making remarks that lead them to believe they're under surveillance.

The civil rights folks are claiming these protesters are feeling intimidated.

Poor darlings! Let's see: these people have burned flags, screamed obscenities at our Governor General, and put up posters with images of dark hooded/figures calling for anarchy and "Riot 2010". And now they're feeling intimidated?

Monday, June 22, 2009

The racist bassist

About a month ago, my place of employment required all of us to spend two hours in a course on "the respectful workplace". It wasn't anything I didn't already know, and I must say I was more than a little insulted at having to sit through a lesson in be-nice-to-your-co-workers. In many respects, the sample scenarios were based on thinking that I thought we had left back in the 1980s. I remember hearing the late Richard Pryor talking about someone using the word "nigger" in an argument, and thinking to himself, "man! Are we back to that, now?" And that was in 1981 (his Live on Sunset Strip performance).

What was really insulting was that at least one of the scenarios was predicated on a statement that may have been true, but was not politically correct. Freedom of speech -- according to this teaching -- depends not on truth but on whether it's "nice".

Jesus would have been so busted!

In other words, the "respectful workplace policy" -- at least, when it comes to freedom of speech -- is largely predicated on individuals' being dishonest, and I have a very hard time with that. I'd rather someone state, honestly, what they think of me than internalize it and have it come out in other ways.

Anyway ... some time after that course, I was MC for an event that included a blues performer and his band. His road manager mentioned in her notes to me that he's from the Mohawk Nation, but in my exuberance when introducing him, I mentioned where he'd performed and that he'd be playing in August at the Kennedy Center in Washington DC, but forgot completely to mention the Mohawk Nation. I knew it as soon as I put the mic down and went straight to the manager and apologized. But before I could apologize, she told me it was a great intro, and when I did say, "but I forgot to mention he's Mohawk", she said, "oh, no problem! It was great!"

I was relieved. After all, a person's race shouldn't matter when it comes to the performing arts. Do we enjoy jazz musicians because they're black or white or because they're great? Where does ethnicity separate George Shearing, Oscar Peterson or Dave Brubeck? Sonny Rollins or Paul Desmond? Ray Brown or Niels Henning Orstad Petersen (who played bass for Oscar at one time or another)? Is Jonathan Cheechoo a great native hockey player or a great hockey player?

You get the picture. So after the band has played its set, I'm chatting with the bass player, and she's talking about her mother, who had just flown out from New Brunswick, having been miraculously cured of cancer -- just prior to scheduled surgery. "I had to rescue her from some honky doctor who wanted to cut her open."

Excuse me? What kind of doctor?

Of course, I didn't say anything, but there is some potential to dwell on that statement. There is a notion, for example, that the doctor's motivation would be racial: that somehow, a white doctor wouldn't perform surgery on a white patient, but would be willing at the drop of a hat to cut open a native Indian woman. Is surgery an inferior cancer treatment, or a "quick fix" that a doctor might palm off on one kind of patient but not on another? Does the bass player have some innate, racially-ingrained, sense of what the most appropriate cancer treatment might be that would be superior to that of a qualified MD?

You see where this can lead.

But the big question that came to my mind was, how can she get away with tossing off a racist remark like that and I couldn't? Not that I'd want to, but isn't educating people about racism a two-way street? She probably had no idea it was a racist remark: maybe she's used to saying things like that about white people and having them go unchallenged because it's generally accepted that she has a "right" to because of the injustices inflicted on natives by white people over the years.

So at what point do we break out of the cycle?

"Social Justice" is a wonderful catch-phrase, but too often it refers to a struggle fought in human terms. A friend of mine told me recently that the new lady in his life has adult children who are "really into social justice". There's an elective course in some school districts about "social justice", which, as far as I can figure, is really about political correctness. But Jesus is social justice. All complaints about hatred, poverty, sexism, homelessness, drug addiction, inequality in society, even environmental issues and the "respectful workplace" have ready solutions in the Word of God.

Maybe the reason why we haven't moved past that thinking is because our society refuses to look at that Truth. Martin Luther King knew it, and the seed he sowed have done more than anything else to bring equality between black and white people in the US. But those who came after cannot be said to have carried on that work: how much real progress has the "kill whitey" mindset achieved?

For native Indians like the bass player, forgiving whitey and letting it go is a necessary step to break out of that cycle. Take a look at the state of the aboriginal community and see how much they have benefited from walking in unforgiveness, demanding "land claims" and "aboriginal rights" and endless apologies and compensation. Jesus' Two Greatest Commandments -- love God and love your neighbour -- and "forgive your brother seven times seventy" apply. Land claims? "The earth is the Lord's and the fullness thereof," which is something brought to mind not by some misguided white apologist but by Clarence Vickers, a native Indian evangelist.

The Bible has been described as a sword, and that's absolutely true: it's the sword that cuts through the Gordian Knot that we've tied around our social issues over the generations; the seemingly endless cycle of hatred and mistrust and demands for "justice" on our own terms for past wrongs. Forgiving, letting go and starting from Square Zero with God in control may seem like an overly simplistic solution; but more and more it's appearing like it's the only way to move forward.