There are many ways to get fired up again for the muscular reformed Christianity of my youth. I did not think that a scotch at the Toronto Sheraton bar would be one of them.
But here I am with court the next day and an hour to kill and I am sitting next to a rather loud Canadian Auto Workers union VP, making small talk. I play ignorant and ask if he has ever heard of the Christian Labour Union of Canada (CLAC). Has he ever, I am told, and he tells me how if CLAC had its way, unions would never look the same. I smile and find it easy to nod my agreement, thinking how Wayne Drost (my high school principal, former CLAC President and an intensely intelligent debater) would have had some fun with this guy.
There are moments, as one enters one’s fifties, when all that shaped you comes at you again, sideways and unpredictably. These are moments of gratitude.
Today it was this bar. Two years ago, it was the swearing in of an old friend of mine as a judge, with a ceremony which opened with a call for God’s help and which was infused both with the language of justice and a reminder to be humble while truth-finding. I could easily have been sitting in again on a Dordt philosophy class.
The enduring Refomational small ball
Certain of my kids don’t seem to have an ear for any of this reformational movement. I speak to them of the great initiatives of their grandparents’ generation in labour, education and the arts and the look is of utter bafflement. I may as well be an orthodox Jew wearing Head Tefillin. Not all things stick.
There was a time when I was just 17, I wish to tell them, when on hot, August long weekends kids drove to Niagara for something other than the Falls. There was a time when, as I got off the Netherby exit, I could not wait to sit in on lectures on normative aesthetics, the limits of political pluralism and the nature of understanding (there were also girls). I want to tell him that there was a moment at two in the morning when the philosopher Pete Steen approached our campfire at his hortatorical best, waved his arms around maniacally and decried those who slumbered in their campers – “There is a Reformation to finish!”
The cringeworthy triumphalism of those days has passed, likely for the better. But even if we only play small ball with its residual ideas, what a legacy that has been and continues to be. There are thousands who (thanks to Cal Seerveld) know what kitsch is and aim to have their walls graced with, well, something full of Grace, and not an empty sentimental print of an Amish girl holding a cat. There are many whose first positive thoughts on Roman Catholics were engendered by a Vandevelde lecture years ago on the imperative of dialogue with Rome. There are scores of others who, thanks to this movement, know that a teacher’s worldview does not stay behind on the school parking lot.
I stop short of full adulation. For my loonie, they have not published anything in recent years nearly as intelligent and popular as I Pledge You My Troth (Olthuis) or Rainbows for a Fallen World (Seerveld). At times, they cannot seem to get their organizational act together. The firing of the Institute for Christian Studies’ last presidents, a winsome couple who thoroughly charmed many (including those in our small Northern Ontario congregation) after less than a year of service, was avoidable and inexcusable. Its Perspective newsletter could spend less time on the esoterics of art theory and more time telling the average curious Christian why Colville’s retrospective at the Art Gallery of Ontario works (or doesn’t).
But for all of that, ours would be a far less interesting, far less compelling Christianity had that movement not roiled our churches so many years ago. Dorothy Sayers once defended the Christian faith as The Greatest Drama Ever Staged. My father is fading at Shalom Manor and I have had recent occasion to walk its hallways and lobbies and to contemplate the sacrificial faith of that generation and all that they have built. I think again of Sayer’s words and I think it can fairly be said that to this drama they have contributed a decent scene or two.