- The Empire Club of Canada Addresses (Toronto, Canada), 20 Oct 1994, p. 35-44
- Bishop of The Anglican Church of Canada, Speaker
- Media Type
- Item Type
- Pondering Canada's soul. What makes this topic both "incredibly trendy and forbidden." The question and topic of Canada: "a nation in search of her soul, from the perspective of three words. … definition, discipline and self sacrifice." A discussion of each of these words. Speaking from the perspective of a Christian. The phrase "God keep our land." in the Canadian national anthem and that means. The definition of faith and religious freedom. Recommending the much-maligned word "discipline." The call to sacrifice, self-sacrifice. The cross of Jesus Christ as absolutely central to the Christian Gospel. The care of neighbour as important to Christians. Three words, three concepts, one country. Other religions in Canada. No faith or religion in Canada being well served by "a pretence of the lowest common denominator within religion." A call for a public recognition of the sacred dimension in our corporate life as threatening to Canadians who are very private people. The belief that it can also be liberating. Sharing a dimension of our common life as Canadians. Motivation and modelling as a moral vision. Definition, discipline and self-sacrifice spoken as a committed Christian by the speaker.
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- 20 Oct 1994
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- Full Text
- The Rt. Rev. Victoria Matthews Bishop of The Anglican Church of Canada
SEARCHING FOR CANADA'S SOUL
Chairman: John A. Campion, President, The Empire Club of Canada
Head Table Guests
David Edmison, Investment Counsellor, Martin Lucas & Seagram and 2nd Vice-President, The Empire Club of Canada; James Evans, grade 13 student, Danforth Collegiate and Technical Institute; Professor Mary Jo Leddy, Director, Romero House; Gail MacNaughton; Alan Tonks, Chairman, Municipality of Metropolitan Toronto and Honorary Secretary, The Empire Club of Canada; The Most Rev. Isadore Borecky, Bishop of the Eparch of Toronto and Eastern Canada for Ukrainian Catholics; Tom Wells, President, TLW Consulting and a Director, The Empire Club of Canada; Elizabeth Loweth, Executive Director, Canadian Centre for Ethics and Corporate Policy; John W. Graham, Partner, Cassels Brock & Blackwell; and Dr. Jane Poulson, Department of Medicine, Mount Sinai Hospital.
Introduction by John Campion
St. Teresa of Avila Meets Egerton Ryerson
Egerton Ryerson, the saddleback Methodist preacher of the 1820s, Herbert O'Driscoll, the now itinerant Anglican preacher, Dr. Maurice Boyd, formerly of the United Church of Canada and one of the great preachers of modern times, and the Bishops of the Anglican Church, such as our guest speaker, have an occupational hazard in common: namely, how to answer the question that they may hear after any service where they are guest preaching, "I'll bet you don't remember me?" Dr. Boyd illustrates this hazard when he recounts an experience which he had upon the occasion of his return to his first Canadian congregation after a lengthy absence. A hauntingly angelic woman came up to Dr. Boyd after the sermon and said, "I'll bet you don't remember me?" Apparently, he indeed did not remember her and searched for a sensitive and inclusive reply. He said, with his Irish lilt:
"I must confess, sadly, I do not remember you. You see my dear, I had to forget you in order to get on with my work."
That woman parishioner represents, at a slightly exaggerated level, matters of the spirit and Dr. Boyd's work represents the material universe that surrounds us. The first is a symbol which attaches to every religious minister; the second to high appointed religious officials.
We inhabiting the Western industrial society in the last half decade of the 20th century are in deep psychic pain. This century has been the world's most violent. The Apocalypse seems to jump from our very television sets as we watch Bosnians and Rwandans slaughter themselves in an ever-increasing round of violence. We have an embarrassment of material wealth and a need for instant gratification for all of our senses.
Science has delivered to us new technologies and new truths about the universe. My son of 13 came home and announced recently that God could not exist because science did. Apparently, there was no need for a spiritual connection to find truth. The scientists and philosophers can explain or speculate about most things and what they do not understand about the universe, is too complex to understand or carries with it too many minor details that don't matter anyway. But in our modern psychic pain and material universe, any review of the popular media today indicates a powerful need for matters of the spirit. The trouble is that those of us who have been brought up in the 30-second sound bite and access to instant gratification for all needs, can hardly be attracted to a Christian church, a Moslem mosque or a Jewish synagogue, which, if it does touch the spirit at all, does so only after a deep personal commitment of time and effort. So in many places, institutional religion has suffered.
Tradition, authority and community are no longer tools of immense power with which to ask or demand obedience and conformity. Cults attract those in need of easy spiritual development and innocent people lacking in a sceptical capacity fall prey to their dual objectives. Institutional churches must find ways to recreate the passion of their beginnings, on the Christian side to tap the awesome spiritual legacy of Peter, Paul, Augustine and Aquinas, to make alive the possibilities of revelation in a sceptical, scientific age, and to help men and women truly know the power of a bridge between the human and the divine. It is for this fundamental task that society looks to its religious leaders--this is a heavy burden for any Bishop and one that Canada's first female Bishop has now assumed as leader and a symbol of that all-important struggle. The spiritual character of the next generations will depend upon the successful execution of this obligation.
Let me then turn to Bishop Victoria Matthews as a symbol of the feminist revolution. It cannot be lost on anyone that the intellectual legacy of the Western mind has been produced and canonized almost entirely by men and informed mainly by a male perspective. Richard Tarnass, in his excellent book, The Passion of the Western Mind, notes that an obvious generalization is that from start to finish, Western philosophy has been a masculine phenomenon. But Tarnass, in his epilogue, suggests that the crisis of modern man is indeed a masculine crisis. He is of the view that the resolution to that crisis is already now occurring, in part, in the tremendous emergence of the feminine in our culture. It is visible not only in the rise of feminism, the growing empowerment of women, the widespread opening up of feminine values by both men and women, the burgeoning of women's scholarship, but also in the gender-sensitive perspectives in virtually every intellectual discipline. It is to this powerhouse of a revolution that Victoria Matthews is a child, an heir, a leader and now, an important symbol.
In case all of this seems an impossible burden, let me remind you all of St. Teresa of Avila, one of the greatest Christian mystics. In addition to her spiritual reputation, she was the founder of the Reformed Carmelite Order, and in that capacity, had the highly practical task of institution building. As a mystic, she lived in a world of visions which she described with unforgettable eloquence. But as a builder of the Order, she was down-to-earth, shrewd, diplomatic and purposeful. She had a firm grasp of the political realities of the church and did not hesitate to use them to advance the building of her Order. It is then to these powerful forces that Victoria Matthews has been conjoined.
Bishop Matthews was consecrated in February of this year as Canada's first female Bishop. In her new post, she supervises 43 parishes in the Toronto Diocese. She was born in Toronto, went to school at Trinity College and Yale University, where she obtained respectively her B.A. degree and her Master of Divinity and her Master of Theology. She has been active in any number of appointments, committees and academic positions. In 1979 and in 1987, she worked in Haiti teaching and assisting with administration. It is with great respect and warmth that I welcome Bishop Matthews to speak to our Club.
It is indeed a pleasure to be invited to speak at today's meeting of The Empire Club. I could not help but note that despite its list of politicians, educators, corporate leaders and media personnel, along with the representation from the various professions and world of public relations, The Empire Club is not given to inviting many speakers from the faith communities of Canada and from around the world! This may be because it's easy to catch the clergy expounding their respective creeds on their respective soap-boxes on any given weekend, but I tend to think there are other reasons. Hence this afternoon, in these very attractive surroundings, I dare to ask you to ponder Canada's soul.
Now this topic is both incredibly trendy and forbidden--trendy, because spirituality is part of our popularist culture; part of the return to individualism and the search for meaning in a land that is still suffering from the economic recession. Hard truths exist in the cash box and so we shouldn't be surprised when the media tell us that people from every walk of life are fleeing reality to find a personal guru, a transforming diet and a meaningful mantra. Spirituality or the quest for spiritual meaning is popular.
Yet religion as a topic still makes us nervous. We avoid talking about religion in polite society. It makes us nervous because, by its very nature, it asks ultimate questions. It makes us nervous because religion makes exclusive claims. And it makes us nervous because it changes lives. Religion offers us everything we want and fear most deeply.
Today The Empire Club has chosen to invite a Christian woman, who happens to be an Anglican bishop, to address them. In so doing, you encounter the scandal of particularity. The exclusive claims of Jesus Christ cause people to pause in an age dominated by relativism.
It is my intention to address the question and topic of Canada: a nation in search of her soul, from the perspective of three words. Preachers, as you no doubt are aware, always have, or at least claim to have, three points. The three words are definition, discipline and self sacrifice.
Clearly in each instance I speak from the perspective of a Christian to the situation found in Canada. Within that context, I am an Anglican bishop. As you can see, immediately certain doors are being shut. But that is the nature and necessity of the first word: "definition."
The Canadian national anthem contains the phrase "God keep our land." A noble thought but an imprecise one. Who is the God we thus address? From whom do we desire protection and preservation? For what purpose are we being kept? Again allow me to mention the scandal of particularity. I worship God in Christ and I will never define the God I worship. Nevertheless, the faith group to whom I belong can be clearly defined and the doctrine of the God we worship can certainly be articulated. There is nothing relativistic about God in Christ. Listen to the definition of faith and religious freedom:
"Religious freedom, far from being a necessary evil, is, I believe, a personal and political good. Genuine religious tolerance is achieved when people hold that their religion is so important, so absolute, that to depart from it is to die, and at the same time realise that another person's values and beliefs are just as important and as real. That is the moment of genuine tolerance because there is a cost involved in the act of tolerating another person's way of living and act of believing."
Surprisingly, Archbishop Carey likens such true religious freedom to pain tolerance, and finds it infinitely preferable to apathy. Pain tolerance acknowledges the presence of something important if not pleasant. Apathy neither acknowledges nor appreciates the existence of another.
Before moving away from my call for a definition of faith, both personal and corporate, let me add that it is absolutely essential here to know that this is an exercise in self-definition. It is morally repugnant for me to presume to define another's faith and impossible for any of us to define the infinite. Hence we can only move to state where we stand as persons of faith in a land of religious tolerance and a plurality of expressions of faith.
Second, let me recommend a much-maligned word: "discipline." Religion presupposes discipline; and Canada, I believe, cries out for a disciplined practice of what is professed. Religion changes lives. The Christian faith, with its exclusive claims about the person of Jesus Christ, invites people to become followers. The Gospel invites lives to undergo radical transformation by meeting the Incarnate Son of God and then re-aligning one's life to worship and follow God in Christ. Those who make that choice, and who remain faithful, find their lives changed. What does that do to Canada?
Nations are made up of individuals and communities and rely upon trust. I am convinced that individuals and faith communities that are oriented towards distinctive lifestyles that seek to give and not to take, worship and not absorb, cultivate and not control, will form superior citizens. By virtue of being highly focussed, they will be assets to the nation.
Lastly on this matter of discipline, let me mention something that seems at first glance to be at odds with definition. The purpose of religion is to encounter mystery. It evokes awe, wonder and the experience of transformation. The highly disciplined life leads then to an encounter with One who defies explanation. For Christians this enigma is best summed up in a well-known phrase--"Whose service is perfect freedom."
For Christians, and many other people of faith, the life of faith--discipleship--is lived out in community. I do not seek God in isolation. My lifestyle of prayer, study and service is undertaken in concert with countless others. This requires trust and consultation. A faithful nation is thus a disciplined nation.
Third, let me say a word about the call to sacrifice, self-sacrifice. The Cross of Jesus Christ is absolutely central to the Christian Gospel. The other living faiths would be able to tell their own faith story and explain how they relate to the community at large. For Christians, the care of neighbour is extraordinarily important. Again, the phrase "Whose service is perfect freedom" and the many faith stories within the discipleship are not to be underestimated. In a moment I will dare to reflect on what that means or might mean for Canada as a nation.
Three words, three concepts, one country. In fairness to myself, and in fairness to the faith communities to which I do not belong, I have dared to speak openly from the Christian perspective. The other living faiths have their own stories and sense of call. I don't believe any would find my three words repugnant, although they might address the concepts differently. What I don't think, however, is that any one religious group in Canada, let alone all people of faith in Canada, can be well served by a pretence of the lowest common denominator within religion.
As Canadians we live in a nation that sings of God in the national anthem. We have a national motto "from sea to sea," taken from Psalm 72:8. We boast proudly of great aboriginal spiritual traditions, faith groups who came to Canada out of a sense of mission, and cultural giants who have understood this nation in light of their understanding of God. Listen to these words by Ron Graham in God's Dominion:
"No student of Canadian politics and history can ignore the extraordinary impact God has had on those who have come here. Spirituality governed the aboriginal tribes of America before the Europeans. Bishops dominated French Canada from Laval to Leger. Religion ruled the issues and parties of English Canada from the Quebec Act through the hanging of Louis Riel to the programmes of 'Bible Bill' Aberhart and the Reverend Tommy Douglas. Denominations shaped our education system, our social services, many of our laws, even the ethics of our business elites. An obsession with sacred themes has characterised our culture from the wood carvings of New France to Jean-Paul Lemieux and William Kurelek, from Sinclair Ross to Margaret Laurence and Denys Arcand, from St. Denys Garneau to E. J. Pratt and A. M. Klein, from Goldwin Smith to Marshall McLuhan and Northrop Frye."
Some of those names are contemporary, but the majority reflect an older understanding of integrating one's understanding of God with one's understanding of being Canadian. To mention something most personal, my consecration as Canada's first woman bishop was heralded around the world for being uncontested. Does that reflect Canada's incredible level of acceptance of woman spiritual leaders? Or does it reflect Canada's apathy? I can't help but repeat that the move towards self-definition, disciplined expression, and the nurturing of the call to sacrificial living is also a call to Canada to come of age.
In closing, I would like quickly to address one very obvious voice of opposition. As a nation we are a private people. We don't join large movements as quickly as our neighbours or our forebears, in most instances. To call for a public recognition of the sacred dimension in our corporate life will be threatening to many. I have to answer that it can also be liberating. Imagine the increased sense of trust in the people who lead in areas of morals and the shaping of society if there were popular permission to speak trustingly and openly about their relationship to, and appreciation of, the Divine. To name their faith, to talk about their discipleship, and to share what self-sacrifice means for them need not be an importation of American religiosity, but could be the sharing of a dimension of our common life as Canadians. I don't believe moral guidance can be effectively given unless there is permission to speak of the faith that is within. Motivation, as well as modelling, is a moral vision is to be caught.
Definition. Discipline. Self-sacrifice. I speak those three words as a committed Christian. I speak them as a religious leader, and I speak them as one who recognises the power of these words of Jean de Brebeuf, written in 1635 from Huronia:
"Truly, to come here, much strength and patience are needed, and he who thinks of coming here for any other than God, will have made a sad mistake."
May the Canada I love be well served by my faith under the God who shall ever have dominion from sea to sea.
The appreciation of the meeting was expressed by Alan Tonks, Chairman, Municipality of Metropolitan Toronto and Honorary Secretary, The Empire Club of Canada.