Monday, March 14, 2005

Why I support the Centre for Cultural Renewal

Any parent hopes that his or her most cherished beliefs and principles will somehow seep into the minds and hearts of his children before they are old enough to reject the ideas as just hogwash. That is why this past summer my wife and I took our young children on vacation from Vancouver to Ottawa. Now Ottawa can seem a strange place to reinforce the beliefs and principles one upholds. One can understand going to the cottage at a lake, a monastery, an art gallery, heck, just about anywhere else than Ottawa. But for me, Ottawa can represent the best of what a citizen should strive for, and what a Christian must pray for.

In our society where the Us/Them mentality pervades the politics we argue, the religion we practise, the newspaper we read, and the art we enjoy, Ottawa, perhaps unwittingly, reaffirms the need for and the benefit of engagement and respect. In Ottawa we can see that the divisions we put up in society can’t withstand the power of respect and reconciliation.

Many of you will be wondering what decade I stopped reading the newspapers or if I am still stuck in some horrible Grade Ten civic class paper writer’s block. Not so. I see many things that disturb, disappoint and disgust me in Ottawa. But it is one of the few places where our society has made the effort to bring together people of different regions and ideas and ask them to work out how we are going to live together as a society. Today, we don’t see that attempt made very often. Interest groups of every stripe simply complain about any perceived slight or injustice and demand cash or laws to make them happier, without regard for our fellow citizens. Even the one aspect of society I would assume understands the need to surrender the desires of the self for the betterment of all, religion, often fails to reflect the reconciling and healing teachings it proclaims. Many religious groups demand their “rights” and use the political process only with the desire to gain the power necessary to force upon the nation laws that will somehow “save” the society.

I’m tired of the childish behaviour surrounding our representative democracy. Don’t get me wrong: I love the debate and I love to win. I belong to a political party and had worked in Ottawa for that party in the 1980’s. But when our country’s founders set out to create a representative democracy, they expected debate, not demands, and participation, not whining. With the number of citizen’s voting declining as a percentage every election and leaders who undermine the democratic nature of our Parliament, I wonder why we as a citizenry don’t “grow up”. Our country was made for better, and the principles that built Ottawa can still be drawn upon to make this country what it ought to be.

As I took my children on a tour of the Parliament buildings, I made sure that they saw that those principles, which I hold dearly, were also the founding principles when Ottawa was established. I pointed above the Western portal to the Peace Tower of the Parliament Buildings, and had them read aloud the inscribed words of Proverbs 29:18: “Where there is no vision, the people perish”. I slowly walked them around the Peace Tower and had them read the other two inscriptions, from Psalm 72:8 “And He shall have dominion also from sea to sea” and from Psalm 72:1: “Give the King thy judgments O God and thy righteousness unto the King’s son”.

In the Parliament Buildings I showed them the Books of Remembrance of deceased soldiers of Canadian battles located in the Peace Tower (one ringed by the carved stone which I believe paraphrases Pilgrim’s Progress Part Two, Chapter 26-“be my Rewarder so he passed over and all the trumpets sounded”), to show them that sacrifice was a necessary part of being a citizen, and that there were principles worth dying for. I then took them to the Office of the leader of the Opposition and pointed out the carved words above the two doors to the large meeting room: “Fear God” and “Honour the King”. How many of us can claim to do both? How many are willing to do it to the death?

But perhaps most telling for me was the award given out to the leading citizens of our country, the Order of Canada. On display was a medal for the Order of Canada which has the motto “They desire a better country” taken from Hebrews 11:16. And it is that text (which starts with the principle “Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.”) which describes the great citizens of the Judeao-Christian faith and how “now they desire a better country, that is, an heavenly: wherefore God is not ashamed to be called their God: for he hath prepared for them a city.” Can we, like our spiritual forefathers, desire a better country rather than wish that it would all, literally, go to Hell? Can we believe that God wishes to prepare such a country for us, if only we would participate with Him and one another? All of those spiritual ancestors suffered, had long periods of disappointment, and many did not see the fruit of their labour. And yet we tire if we cannot get our political rights in a drive-thru.

Canadians are looking for that vision called for on the Peace Tower-not a delusion as is being offered by many interest groups, including several religious charities, but a vision that squares with the world they know and the religious faith they have. They want to have a vision that satisfies the two other scriptural quotes on the Peace Tower that proclaim God’s dominion and pray that God will give the King and his son judgments and righteousness. But how to do this without coercion? How to do this with the respect and freedom God gives each one of us who deny him continually?

This is why I support the Centre for Cultural Renewal. It is the one charity that takes both religion and society seriously and believes that there should be no cultural or political wall to divide the two. CCR fights to recover what has been lost and finds it again-often in the most unpropitious conditions, with shabby equipment of logic, dialogue and a sense of respect for the other. But CCR does this not to reign over those who think differently but rather to satisfy the need for a vision by which the people will not perish, the need for us to acknowledge God’s dominion from sea to sea, and with the hope that the King and his son will willingly receive God’s judgments and righteousness. And CCR does it not knowing if it will succeed, or what this success will look like. CCR does it because, as in the words of T.S. Eliot, “there is only the trying. The rest is not our business.” CCR does it because “in my end is my beginning”. There are faster, more obvious ways to push for religious rights in Canada-but in the end they are all self-defeating. Only CCR wishes to engage culture in a dialogue of renewal: it is difficult and the fruit may not be seen for generations. But as the writer of Hebrews wrote of the giants of the Jewish, Christian and Muslim faiths, they did all that they did because they desired a better country. May we also join them in that endeavour.

CCR is the only organization I know that instills a broad and deep vision of a society where religion matters, where it participates in and influences the daily lives of politicians, academics, professionals, trades people and artists, and where these people can in turn influence religion itself.

That’s why I give my support to CCR, and I expect that is why you might as well.

(The Centre would like you to know that should you also want to support its work donations may be made by using this downloadable donor card - click here - and mailed to:
The Centre for Cultural Renewal
503 - 39 Robertson Road
Ottawa, ON K2H 8R2)

David Jennings ©