Today I toured the Parliament buildings in Ottawa for the first time. It was a special experience seeing the arches, woodwork, paintings and poor wiring throughout the seat of political power in Canada.
I toured the buildings with a group of evangelical protestant pastors, who hardly constitute anything like a "Religious Right," but who came together in Ottawa to form a coalition of churches. A great concern for the group is the unimpeded culture of death in Canada that grows through doctor-assisted execution from womb to tomb.
In these days of increased marginalizing of so-called "socons" (see Faith Goldy’s recent op-ed), it would even be easy for pastors to be despairing. What could a few fringe figures like these pastors get out of a tour of Parliament beyond a few take-home trinkets from the boutique?
Yet as we made our way up the Peace Tower, we saw something remarkable. It was the altar piece commemorating Canada’s war dead. It looked like the Jewish ark of the covenant with golden angels on each corner. Even an atheist with aesthetic sense would be awed to see the picture of an open book with names of slain soldiers bared before the raised rotunda, resting upon the golden altar. It was a symbol of the lasting significance in death of life sacrificed for others.
Around the altar were inscribed in gold the words of terrorist-turned-evangelist, Paul the Apostle. They described soldier’s weaponry, not suited for natural warfare, but supernatural. And around the stone trim there were words from a book which Queen Elizabeth II also read from in her first televised Christmas broadcast, the Pilgrim’s Progress. The inscription comes from the character Valiant-for-Truth:
My marks and scars I carry with me,
to be a witness for me
that I have fought His battles,
who now will be my Rewarder;
...So he passed over,
and all the trumpets sounded for him on the other side.
Remembering the war dead, the aborted dead and the spiritually dead, we called out to God for mercy. We were glad that we could do this with freedom just as Sikhs or Buddhists could. We prayed and sang the doxology like a choir (Even MP Kent Hehr had called us that), and our voices echoed through the rotunda as Prime Minister Trudeau whisked off to Washington.
When a Mulroney-era politician wrote, “The House is not a home” there was more said than he may have known. Visiting the Peace Tower above and the political bloodsport below, there remain symbols of God and Country which beckon us all to consider the nature of sacrifice and choices in life that have significance beyond death.
And all of this at Canada’s Parliament, the most unlikely place for such a pilgrimage.