Remembered Wellness by Jim Sinclair
Spirited Reflection — Sunday, March 8, 2015
Jim Sinclair is a retired minister and former General Secretary of The United Church of Canada, a treaty person, a protector of the environment, and one inspired by all who seek justice and resist evil.
I remember the exchange vividly. American theologian Mary Hunt had been outlining her thoughts about social justice to 20 theological field educators. It was an engaging, inspiring and energizing session. But not for a more conservative participant who was offended by her liberal sentiments. Suddenly, he was on his feet, red in the face, loudly demanding, “Madam. What. Are. Your. Theological. Presuppositions?”
Immediately, Mary Hunt answered: “Forgiveness is possible. Hope is warranted, Justice is demanded.”
That moment is embedded in my memory, both the intrusive nature of the question or the clear response. All of us are at our best when the challenges of our daily lives can similarly be countered with an instinctive understanding of who(se) we are, and what we stand for.
As we move deeper into Lent scripture calls us back to what it means to be a faithful follower of the Christian way. The practical, spiritual ways of being handed down to Moses in the Ten Commandments (Exodus 20: 1 – 17) help us to define who we are. John’s account of Jesus in the temple (John 2: 14 – 17) prominently challenging behaviour that violates the integrity of that early covenant between God and God’s followers, shows us what strong public witness looks like.
The tension between having a clear sense of what it is to be faithful and having daring to act on that understanding remains a continuing human dilemma. Forgiveness may be harder than we think. Hope may seem like wishful thinking. Justice may only be approximate at best, if not entirely denied.
If expressing ourselves faithfully is too difficult, too threatening, we may opt simply to ignore our best intentions and to stand by silently – or to turn away.
First principles, whether they are the Ten Commandments themselves or modern expressions of them, may be totally ignored. In fact, it may be worse. It could be argued that what used to be known as the seven deadly sins have over recent generations actually become reversed. They have morphed instead into seven virtues which sociologist and historian Lewis Mumford once described as driving the machinery of a consumer society that puts private gain before communal welfare. Canada’s venerated physicist and Quaker, Ursula Franklin, reminded us in one of her speeches of a time when “a member of the Canadian Cabinet said to a group of Aboriginal people that they had to learn to become greedy, [at the same time as] they still believed greed was, in fact, one of those cardinal sins rather than one of the great virtues.”
I remember with thanks the times when redemptive things happen because believers are clear about who they are and what they profess. Years ago, when the federal government of the day was putting together what we now know as The Charter of Rights and Freedoms I found myself on a plane sitting beside Donna Philips, an Oneida elder in the First Nations’ delegation to those negotiations. We discussed the stressful machinations her people were being subjected to by that process. At one point I asked, “What keeps you going?” Her unhesitating response was, “I am Longhouse. And if you are Longhouse you are responsible for seven generations.” It was my initiation to that principle. Decades later I remain grateful for the strength of this woman’s character and her loyalty to her heritage.
Such moments of convictions clearly stated and identity strongly affirmed help me at any time, but particularly during the spiritual discernment days of Lent. There are days when I tremble thinking about whether or not I can be brave enough even to admit what is the right thing to do, let alone do it. What are my presuppositions, my commandments, the principles I believe in sufficiently enough to declare them boldly? How does one stand up to harmful social attitudes or damaging government policies and state in no uncertain terms, “Not in my name?”
Simply shaping the above questions helps me. It reminds me of the concept of “remembered wellness,” often used by family and friends who are caring for someone vulnerable. It means the recalling of times when others were strong, or when we were strong ourselves.
This Lent, we remember and thank God for a faith and a history that demands justice and inspires hope. We remember and are grateful to God for people who step forward and shout, “This is wrong.” We thank God for those who, out of their ability to forgive, remain committed to achieving a healthy nation by offering leadership and direction. We also remember and praise God for the awesome gift of creation where beauty extends well beyond human acts of heroic witness, tenderness and love.