Just as Carol Penner, in our lead article calling us to account on Remembrance Day, persuasively makes the case that killing is killing even though it is “once removed,” so does much of our engagement as “Ceasar’s citizens” keep us distanced from the grim realities of injustice in our world.
Other horrors of war are sanitized and removed from our personal experience, such as landmines or cluster bombs. We really don’t experience the suffering of family members losing limbs or even dying when children innocently play in schoolyards or the family garden, unaware of the violent instruments of war after the armed conflict has subsided.
Ours is a peaceful land where soil is productive with the growing of corn, wheat, barley, pasture grass and soybeans. Our gardens are not only flush with vegetables and flowers, but are places of solace and connecting with our Creator as we dig into the soil and indulge the joys of harvest. Never does it occur to us that an enemy has planted a landmine.
Never are we given a half-hour’s notice from the governing authorities that our house will be bulldozed to rubble because one of our sons has thrown a brick at the security police driving by, as happens regularly in the land of Palestine, where Israel is so preoccupied with security and in keeping an occupied people under control that the slightest provocation is considered treasonous and criminal.
It wasn’t until I heard the anguish of that family in Bethlehem during the 1988 Intifada that the consequences of that action became “personal” for me, my spouse and my Christian friends. The family’s home business was destroyed, suddenly depriving them of an income, as well as their comfortable living quarters wiped out in a matter of minutes.
Such daily terror is not a part of our lives here in Canada; we get annoyed when our taxes increase for services, or our privacy invaded by telemarketers calling at dinner time. Our freedoms are so entrenched that they are a matter of entitlement.
We do not “see” the degradation of indigenous communities and culture when Canadian mining companies exploit the minerals of developing countries like Colombia and the Congo while turning a blind eye to the needs of a poor and struggling population. Jobs are often short-lived, says Mennonite Central Committee, Ottawa, and the financial benefits to the economy are meager. Mines often displace people from their homes, destroy land, and contaminate water supplies. Frequently, the people who occupy the land are not adequately consulted. Sometimes, Canadian mining operations contribute to human rights violations, violence and armed conflict.
It is indeed shocking to know that 75 percent of all mining companies in the world are based in Canada. That, we can say, is injustice “once removed,” but all of us who benefit in a boost to our own economy can so easily and glibly separate ourselves from any complicity in the suffering.
As Canadian citizens enjoying the “good life,” we can so easily forget that our primary citizenship is not of this world. Our priorities and values are distinctly different from those of the political and economic forces that govern our lives, even though they seem inconsequential and “once removed.” My former pastor, Phil Kniss of Park View Mennonite Church in the U.S. put it best recently when talking to high school students about their involvement in the upcoming presidential election where the electorate is severely polarized. This is what he said, in part:
>Let’s first ask ourselves about who we believe we are.
We embody the presence of Jesus in the world.
We represent the character and values of Jesus, as a body.
So, what were the character and values of Jesus?
Jesus was political.
Jesus was sometimes an activist in his Jewish community.
His people were under occupation by a brutal empire.
And he engaged the political powers—both religious and Empire.
He confronted both, but not on their terms.
Jesus confronted the religious powers,
not by taking over their power positions in the temple,
but by touching lepers, eating with tax collectors,
hanging out with sinful people,
and otherwise living a different kind of righteousness.
And Jesus confronted the powers of the Empire, not by taking up arms and staging a takeover, but by simply refusing to bow to their absolute power.
That is who we are as Jesus followers.
That is how we live.