My heart was pounding as I pedaled my bike away from the protest rally at Toronto City Hall on Saturday March 14th. If you have been following the media conversation about the Harper government’s proposed ‘anti-terror’ legislation, you know a much as I do about it. If not, it seeks to expand the ability of police agencies in Canada to intrude, without adequate oversight, into citizens’ privacy, and paves the way to criminalizing dissent. Much of what I knew was re-iterated by people I trust, including Elizabeth May, leader of the Green Party of Canada, who spoke against the bill. Another woman at the podium said, “We’re being told to be afraid. I’m not afraid, I’m angry.” My own pounding heart contained fear and anger. I have to sadly admit that, as a sixty something Caucasian woman born in Toronto, I have more fear of our police force now than I have had most of my life. Think back to the G-20 ‘police state’ we endured in Toronto only a short time ago. While not enough to keep me from the rally, a part of me isn’t sure it is even safe to protest in this city any longer, sign a petition, or write about it on a blog!
I left the rally to see a movie titled “Stop the Pounding Heart.” A documentary, the film chronicles the life of a teenage girl who lives and works with her large family on their rural Texas goat farm. The family is deeply ‘religious’, and the children’s home-schooling appears to consist of religion, i.e. a literal understanding of Christianity, the use of guns, and bull riding. The only role open to the young women (already pledged by purity-ring to their father) is to marry, have babies and be ‘helpmate’ to their future husband. The literal understanding of scripture was familiar to me, but so far from how I now understand the tradition.
Sunday morning I went to church. In the sermon the minister suggested that Jesus never understood himself as God and that our traditional understanding of Jesus being “the only way” is problematic in our current reality, and in respect to other world religions. This needs to be said loud and often. But then, the final hymn went right back to the theology that perpetuates Christian triumphalism: “Lift high the cross . . . till all the world adore his sacred name.”
Sometimes I wonder if as human beings on the planet, it is not time to move beyond what divides us, such as religion, and culture; to embrace what we have in common – the need for healthy environment, the need for love, support and community, the need for meaning and purpose.
In the Toronto Star today, Monday March 16th under the title “Atheist minister praises the glory of Good”, the article highlights Gretta Vosper, the charismatic, controversial leader of a Scarborough congregation. “Her services make no mention of a deity, and she certainly doesn’t read from the bible.” Vosper’s approach is one response to the evils perpetuated by certain understandings of Christianity.
I cannot go where she has gone, and here is why: In my twenties I was in the process of leaving Christianity behind. What I was reading in feminism and psychology made far more sense. I feel grateful now that I met a Christian leader (the late Dr. Han Burki of Switzerland) who gently accompanied me to a place of deep spiritual experience and healing. Much of this was accomplished through embracing biblical stories for their personal healing potential – for their value as myth, not history. Through years studying theology and continued reading, I also engaged in personal prayer/meditative practices that he encouraged, and spent time in silent retreat. These experiences along with my work with the dying, continually put me in the place of experiencing a presence within and beyond that I can only describe as loving and peaceful. Yes, it is fleeting. I prefer now to use the term Divine Mystery because I feel like St. Paul, I can only see through a glass darkly. In the words of the creed of the United Church of Canada, these are moments of knowing “We are not alone.”
So I encourage those of us who remain in the Christian, for that matter, any tradition, to go deeper into it to discover what is worth keeping; why it might be worth staying. An excellent book is Things Hidden: Scripture as Spirituality, by Richard Rohr. If you are looking for a biblical and theological primer with significant connection to spiritual relevance for our time, have a look. Another book I just picked up, which looks promising is: The Rebirthing of God: Christianity’s Struggle for New Beginnings, by John Philip Newell.
It is time to realize that it is only us – people who care about life, love, human rights and making the world a better, safer place –who can help heal the deep wounds, the pounding hearts of fear and anger created by sick religion and sick governments. I am committed. Now is the time. No one can do it for us. No one will do it for us. I don’t want my grandchildren to ask me in twenty years – why didn’t you do something?
 This is all my language. What he said which was far more extensive and elegant!