Two weeks ago on Remembrance Day, I went up to the multiplex to pay my respects as a dutiful Canadian to remember those who made sacrifices on my behalf. In full honesty, I don’t have any personal connection to a veteran. In my family, the only one I know of that was involved was a great grandfather in England who my grandfather never talked about, so I have no idea what he did or where he served. My other grandfather, a farmer and coal miner who immigrated out in the 20’s to Canada might have served on the other side but was probably too young to be involved at the time. still I remember that the things we take pride in, our freedom of speech, our parliamentary system of checks and balances and our legal system that is in theory at least open and available to all, these are things to cherish, not to take for granted.
The sacrifice of brave men and women that served in the wars was not just their lives, for many did return home shell-shocked and broken. Mentally, emotionally and physically. The deeds they did scarred them for life. Killing human beings, no matter how justified, eats at your soul. My two grandfathers were on opposite sides of the first war and if it had continued, who knows, they may have even been in a situation where they had each other at the end of their guns. Teen agers filled with noble ideals and propaganda still were scared and traumatised by the reality of looking at each other and seeing someone not unlike them.
We promised never to forget. And yet I think we have. Just as Jesus realized his disciples had forgotten when he heard them oohing and ahhing over the beautiful temple. They looked at this symbol of their faith with pride and a sense that while it was standing, their place in the world was assured. That Isaiah’s message was a guarantee that God loved them and all was well. Jesus knew better. He knew that faith is not easy, that if we depend on outward trappings rather than inward convictions, if we depend on institutions instead of God, we are frail and open to soul-crushing destruction.
What is our modern Jerusalem temple today? Our false security? I wonder if maybe it is the United States. “As long as it stands, the Western World is safe”, we might say. Or could it be democracy? We don’t have to worry about terrorism, violence, racism, fill in the blank, because we have democracy. But that isn’t always the truth, is it.
Democracy is only as healthy as the people who vote in it and the candidates who run in it. As someone who was the aide of a female politician, I helped organize an educational workshop for Albertan women interested in politics. Back in the 90’s they had to face a system that was not aware that women might need extra support or mentoring to get involved. Men knew they would need mentors, a sparkling resume, a list of non-profits and organizations they had volunteered with, and deep financial pockets to run for office. Many women had no access to that. Sparkling resumes are hard to build if you are at home raising a family or only able to find a job as a waitress or day care worker. Volunteering at schools doesn’t have the same cache as a community league or service club, but they might not know that. Deep pockets are hard to build when you don’t have wage equality. And yes, there was sexism in the 90’s, to the point that some female candidates would say, “I’m not a feminist” to build credibility. The Legislative Assembly was not kind to women, but at least the harassment stayed in that building. Now with e-mails, Facebook and other technology, the hatred comes right into our homes.
One of my daughter’s friends, sharing her struggles with body image with her close friends got sexually harassed online. There was also a story on Facebook about a 10-year-old boy grabbing his female classmate by her privates and saying to her, “If the President can do it, I can too.” When the conservative candidates in the province of Emily Murphy, Henrietta Edwards, Nellie McClung, Louise McKinney and Irene Parlby decide to step down from running for leadership because of the sexual harassment they experience, how much progress have we made in 90 years?
Have we learned the lessons we need from the First and Second World Wars? One of the things we haven’t learned is that gushy sentimental propaganda is dangerous. It’s how Hitler seduced young people and ordinary citizens around the world that he had a great vision. Simple answers to complex problems. The complex problem of national identity shaken since 9/11 can be easily fixed by targeting and blaming minorities, discrimination based on gender, sexual orientation and religion. Another thing that we haven’t learned is that labelling people as the enemy is destructive whether we are labelling them as Americans, Canadians, Mexicans, whatever. Labels prevent empathy.
But the big lesson we have forgotten from Remembrance Day is that it takes sacrifice. Just as Jesus talked about sacrifice, so too we talk about it. But we see it as something that happened in the past, by other people. We don’t see it as being needed today.
When I hear a prominent pastor say a prayer that no one may be discriminated against based on religion and yet say nothing even though that same minister discriminated against me because I wasn’t Christian enough to join his organization, I have forgotten. When I hear that other members of my congregation have also been told that their brand of Christianity isn’t good enough and I say nothing, I have forgotten. When I hear a joke about gays and say nothing I have forgotten. When I worry about speaking out against discrimination, I have forgotten. When I have listened to a rant about how the economy is all the fault of the ruling governing parties and as soon as a real man gets into power to fix the price of oil regardless of how silly it is to think one man can tell OPEC to change their prices, then I have forgotten. When I have said nothing at the comment I heard that all Muslims are terrorists, I have forgotten.
The worst thing is that I haven’t just forgotten the veterans and the war dead. I have forgotten Jesus. His teaching wasn’t about being nice, or saying that we should just get along and not make waves. That our faith can be put solely on temples and democracies and let others think for us. No, he called us to be witnesses to love, truth, hope and that everyone we meet is a neighbor we must love no matter what label they come with. Love your neighbor. And by doing that with our words and our actions, by our sacrifice of complacency or reputation forniceness to stand up for truth and equality, Jesus said that is how we show ourselves as true followers. “You will be betrayed even by parents and brothers, by relatives and friends; and they will put some of you to death. You will be hated by all because of my name. But not a hair of your head will perish. By your endurance you will gain your souls.” Dear God, help us to face our suffering for your kingdom with endurance and bravery. Help us to speak up against injustice, racism, sexism, religious persecution, and homophobia as a sign we have not forgotten. Amen.