Canada Day is almost upon us, and I am drawn to certain stories as I, an immigrant, give thanks to God for this wonderful land. My mother and father felt called to come to Canada in the mid 50’s, and I arrived here by ocean liner at the age of two with my mother and sister, Joanne, while my father had preceded us to scout out the land. My dad taught at Atlantic Baptist College and had a three-point rural charge (that is three churches), known in my early memories from my dad’s stories as places that served a good chicken at Sunday lunch. For complicated reasons known to no one in particular, I attended nine schools and lived in over a dozen houses before the age of 15, and in the process have gotten to know many parts of this wonderful land and given thanks. Some stories that remind me of thankfulness:
- I am thankful for Christians who have served this country in public life, whether in the military or in politics, and am particularly thankful for Alexander MacKenzie, the second liberal Prime Minster of Canada; John Diefenbaker; and Tommy Douglas, the Premier of Saskatchewan and head of the NDP.
- I am still amused when I remember standing in my father’s office at First Baptist Church Calgary announcing with great bravado (I was prompted because he was the proud possessor of the new Canadian encyclopaedia) that “I was glad we chose to come to Canada”, to which my father replied, “You didn’t chose anything, your mom and I chose Canada.” He was right, and I immediately said, “Thank you”.
- I became a Canadian (some of you may remember this story from other contexts). These may seem like odd reasons for feeling I had finally become Canadian. Why did I not feel I was Canadian already? There were two reasons. I felt “not quite at home” in Canada because I was an immigrant and because I was a Christian. I credit these two people for welcoming me to this country: first, as a Christian, Ken MacKenzie, PhD, a British Columbia Appeals Court Judge, who in a ruling on the controversial Surrey School Board Book case wrote (to paraphrase) “no public discussion on matters of common interest can occur unless all parties including the faith community are present for those discussions.” Ken is a member of Fairview Baptist Church. I don’t know whether you can imagine a Christian, a Baptist, and a Judge saying so clearly that as a Christian I had a place in the community. No matter how much nonsense I had been fed in my secular school system, Christians belonged, too. The second seems banal. The Americans welcome immigrants but won’t allow someone who was not born in America to become President (I told you this is banal). Canada is not like that. John Turner was two years old when he came to Canada from the land of his birth. Regardless of where he was born he could become Prime Minister…and he did.
- The second to last piece is a sense of safety and integrity (good thing to be talking about when the mayors of Toronto and Montreal are in trouble, and when the Conservatives and Liberals are having Senate problems). It was a simple thing; I discovered the night before I was to go to Washington, D.C., that my passport had expired. I travelled on my British passport but felt homeless. The real story was getting a new one. I came in with my documents to an empty passport office, money in hand, documents in order and was processed and out in less than 10 minutes. Big deal. Yes, big deal. Safe, no bribes, no profiling and no hassles. I breezed out of the place thankful for such a country. If you think this foolish you haven’t been through some of the borders I’ve travelled – or just talk to Brian Stelck about his experiences in Kenya.
This last piece is a quote from Prime Minister Joe Clark, a devout Roman Catholic and at the graveside of John Diefenbaker, his mentor and friend, on the 22nd of August 1979 in Saskatoon. I love the second line of the first paragraph which says “born to a minority group”. A couple of years ago when I first read this I thought to myself that Clark was referring to Baptists. Ironically, the next day I bumped into Clark at an airport back East and told him how much I had appreciated his eulogy and he confirmed with me that “minority group” did indeed mean Baptists. Part of my sense of identity as a Canadian is found in these words that Clark said of Diefenbaker. The notions are clear enough and require no comment except to say that Diefenbaker, like myself (England), came from elsewhere (Ontario) and that he rooted himself in a new land with enthusiasm, commitment, and justice rooted as Clark says in his faith. Before I give you the quote, let me draw attention to one of the sentences in the second paragraph, Clark spoke of Diefenbaker that “his faith shaped and formed all his other beliefs”. I wish that were always true of all of us, may it be so on this Canada Day and might we, as it says in Hebrews 11 and is engraved on the back of the Order of Canada medal, may we “seek a better country”.
“We are not here to pass judgment on John Diefenbaker. We are here to celebrate the frontier strength and spirit of an indomitable man, born to a minority group, raised in a minority region, leader of a minority party, who went on to change the very nature of his country – and to change it permanently. When any man dies, after nearly eighty-four full years, there is a mixture of memories. With this man, there is the certain knowledge that he leaves his country better, broader, prouder then he found it.”
“His faith shaped and formed all his other beliefs. His belief in Canada as a land of equality for all its citizens is in his Bill of Rights. His awareness of the full breadth of this land is in the northern development he spurred and in the regional development he fostered. His abiding commitment to social justice and human dignity is in the health care system he initiated, and in the programs he sponsored to help the disadvantaged.”