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John 1:10-18

Recently we took the kids to a Victoria Royals hockey game vs. Prince George. The kids received free tickets at school. It was a game in between Christmas and New Year’s, a lower attendance game and good opportunity to invite elementary school kids who will bring their families. I was looking forward to the game more than anyone in my family. I remember the smell of the ice, the fumes from the Zamboni, the characteristic sound of the hockey buzzer. The game began similar to WHL games I had seen in my youth, except with a better light show at the start of the game and video replay on the scoreboard. The Royals came out to much fanfare, with smoke machine in high gear, and lights whirling.

            Because it was billed as a kids game, they invited kid hockey players to suit up and accompanied the older teens on the ice for the introductions. Later these kids had their own scrimmage in between periods. There was also a younger student singing the national anthem and a child colour commentator in the announcer booth.

            When the puck dropped we were treated to a high level of play and some fast hockey. However about 15 min. in another part of the game emerged which I had forgotten. There was a fight, gloves off, and soon there were bare knuckles punching a face pinned to the ice. I hadn’t remembered juniors hockey being this rough.

            Another few minutes later there was an all out brawl, this time with five players landing in the penalty box at the same time. And as the game went on there were more and more fights. Loads of dirty hits, cross checks, sticking, and any manner of inflicting violence on the other team. The refs called only the most egregious of the infractions. And all this was at a game called “Kids Take Over”, knowing there would be loads of elementary school kids and their parents in the stands.

            At some level I don’t blame the players for the violence as much as the adults who have encouraged this behaviour from an early age. They wouldn’t be behaving this way if the game didn’t encourage violent behaviour. Yet the crowd only cheered more loudly for the fights, for blood. They jeered and booed they refs for calling obvious penalties, sometimes leaving a player momentarily crumpled on the ice.

            At one point the kids went home early because games start late and are long. Nevertheless I stayed to the end. I bought a ticket to the game and I was going to watch the game. Surely this would all somehow make sense if I just stuck with it long enough.

            At one point the announcer said something that was disturbing. Turning to his junior colour commentator, he said “What do you think of the other team having two Russian players?” This was the oddest comment I had ever heard at a live sporting event. It called to mind the racist comments Don Cheery liked to make on Coaches Corner before he was let go for racist remarks. Mind you not without enormous outcry from fans who love Don Cherry’s racist banter for “telling it like it is.”

            Leaving the game it was difficult not to conclude that perhaps my memory had not served me well. Perhaps the game had always been this violent, out for blood, but I didn’t realize it at the time. I think these kinds of realizations happen to us all the time. Memories project ideals upon a grittier reality. Isn’t this often the case for so much of life, including today’s political landscape? On a related note, how we read scripture matters so much in terms of granting people comfort and grace in the midst of rude awakenings. Discerning how to live our lives as Christians in the midst of a violent world.

John 1: finding identity beyond nationalism

            Our gospel reading from John 1, the prologue to the gospel, helps us find a place to land, when memories and worldview no longer serve us well. We feel empathy for people who are suffering with dementia, and rightfully so. However, are the rest of us really sure we are remembering things correctly? And I don’t just mean forgetting names or dates. I mean basic facts about our own experiences. Imagining that we grew up in an age of innocence, that everything was better and simpler back then. This includes ways in which we place our trust in various identities. Ways in which national identity seeps into our way of understanding the world without even realizing it.

            The Gospel of John offers the following corrective: “But to all who received him, who believed in his name, he gave power to become children of God, who were born, not of blood or of the will of the flesh or of human will, but of God. And the Word became flesh and lived among us…”

            These are words we’ve often heard repeated. The prologue in the Gospel of John, like any familiar text, can wash over us without the words sinking in. However, John 1, is a gospel text offers us guidance on resisting fascism. So often nationalist and fascist movements rely upon dividing people based upon nationality and race, just as the hockey announcer asked the seemingly innocent question, “What do you think of the other team having two Russian players?”

            We ought to beware any attempts, especially within the church, to situate identity within nationalism and race. For example, in Charlottesville, Virginia, 2016, fascist protesters were reported chanting “blood and soil” bringing back a Nazi slogan. The emphasis is to make a clear division between insiders who bond together and outsiders who become defined as the enemy. Modern white supremacist and fascist groups draw upon imagery around Christianity and whiteness, often drawing upon Northern European roots, while casting fear upon people outside Germanic, Scandinavian, and Anglo traditions and origins.

             I think about Jewish neighbours in New York who received a barrage of anti-Semitic violence over Hanukkah, including multiple stabbings at a Rabbi’s home. We know hate-based violence doesn’t stay contained within borders. That what happens in the US spills over into Canada inspiring others to act upon their hate-filled views.

Opportunity of Love

             This is where as Christians we are well situated to be part of building a world based upon peace. Not that we lord it over non-Christians, or restrict offers of solidarity to fellow Christians. But just the opposite. Given that we swear allegiance to no one above God and a gospel of love, we are set free to organize as church and do acts of love.

            We are empowered to love because the Word was made flesh and dwelt among us. God’s love becomes concrete, takes on a body. God becomes someone who empathizes with us and struggles as bodies not in an abstract way. God knows what it is like to suffer, to experience pain, to mourn the loss of loved ones, and even to die.

            Some of us might be thinking, “I don’t have the energy for this. I am hurting. I am sad. My body doesn’t do what I want it to.” Again we are reassured that God already accomplished salvation in Christ. We are not here to justify our worth or compete for who is a greater disciple. We are all lifted up by love and grace. As the body of Christ none of this is up to us. In fact if the church crumbled and dissolved tomorrow we would not lose Jesus or the love of God. These things are already promised and been granted to us. One thing that changes with our gathering together is the opportunity and privilege to listen to the Word of God and to act upon it. This is a great privilege, which I’ve seen you act out celebrating Advent, Christmas, and now as we enter the time after Epiphany.

            I think of the Holy Family, an unwed teenage mother, a newborn baby, and a step-father, huddling together, finding solace, conforming to no one’s expectations of a normal family unit. God continually surprises us and reminds us we are loved just the way we are. This good news liberates us to act and share love of neighbour.

Story: Mother Superior Alice-Elizabeth, Princess Andrew of Greece and Denmark

            A story from a new book titled “Priests de la Resistance!: The Loose Canons Who Fought Fascism in the Twentieth Century” From the Revd Ferguson Butler-Gallie. A friend gave this to me for Christmas and I’ve had a chance to read much of it. The book is divided into fifteen easy to read chapters, each one standing on its own, telling the story of priests, monks, and nuns who resisted fascism in some way. Most focus on clergy who resisted fascism in WWI and WWII. Given this is a popular work, the storytelling is fast-pased and filled with humorous details. It’s about as “fun” a book on fascism I’ve come across. It isn’t perfect but it’s pretty good and tells the stories of church leaders I had not learned of previously.

            Alice was inspired by her royal aunt Elizabeth who was martyred in revolutionary Russia, who was personally singled out by Lenin for execution. After converting to the Orthodox faith she began having intense divine dreams and visions. She was suspected for having mental illness by her family and sent to a sanitarium for treatment where she was treated in part by Sigmund Freud and other clinicians, at times exposed to horrific medical treatment. She was estranged from her husband and five children for years after leaving treatment. It was a plane crash involving her daughter’s family that finally brought the family back together. Her youngest son Philip was sent to boarding school in England and would later become Prince Philip, marrying the royal who became Queen Elizabeth II.

            During the Nazi occupation of Greece, Alice-Elizabeth and her sister-in-law held fast, and rather than accept the British evacuation of the royals, she stayed put. They volunteered with the Red Cross, looking after those in need, serving at a soup kitchen. They also helped to stow away a Jewish family in their home. Their privilege as royals gave them limited protections from Nazi searches. Although even the SS were onto Alice-Elizabeth and came to interrogate her. She leaned on her hearing disabilities from which she suffered at an early age. She was raised learning to read lips, but she didn’t let this stop her from pretending not to understand the officer’s questions, “Repeating I am deaf and I can’t hear what you are saying.”     

            Eventually she learned that her estranged husband died, freeing Alice to take vows as a nun. Her mother now in her 80’s exclaimed upon learning her daughter’s new vocation: ““Whoever heard of an Abbess who smokes and plays canasta!” – a reference to Princess Alice’s well-known love of both Woodbines and small-scale gambling, neither of which she felt it necessary to give up after taking the veil” (p. 179, Priests de la Resistance). She even attended the coronation of Queen Elizabeth II wearing her habit, refusing traditional royal dress.

            She led a complicated life, filled with both privilege and sacrifice. She died giving everything to the poor, while living out the rest of her days with her son and daughter-in-law in Buckingham Palace.  

Wrapping Up

            Wrapping up, as the gospel disrupts and brings up short our memories and assumptions, let us find identity in spaces not tied to nationality or race. As Christians we find identity as children of God and extend this grace to people regardless of faith.

            Receive and find comfort in the grace God is granting you today. Unconditional love that is for you no matter what. Together we are finding ways as the body of Christ to bind up the broken-hearted, to resist fascism, and build a world rooted in peace. Amen.