On the shores of the Sea

Friday, April 25th – my 54th birthday – marked my last day with The Evangelical Fellowship of Canada’s Centre for Faith and Public Life after seven and a half years. At the conclusion of a great fictional adventure, J.R.R. Tolkien placed words in Gandalf’s mouth that speak my heart, “Well, here at last, dear friends, on the shores of the Sea comes the end of our fellowship in Middle-earth. Go in peace! I will not say: do not weep; for not all tears are an evil.” (The Return of the King)

Sea Shore

Somehow, I think the words in that final sentence were meant not just for the hobbits being left on the dock, but also for Gandalf himself.

While the fellowship of the ring was at an end, the friendships were not.

I fell in love with things political before I fell in love with a girl! I remember the day in a summer of my childhood, having just arrived in Puerto Rico to spend the summer with my father that he took me for a haircut. In response to the barber’s question I asked for a Bobby Kennedy cut (RFK was still alive). My father motioned a flattened palm over the top of his head and I ended up with a classic brush cut. I cried.

I was summering with my father because my parents had divorced just as I approached the age to start going to school. My Dad left Toronto to head for a warmer climate and I would spend my summers with him for the next decade. My Mum remained in “our” home with my two older sisters and me.

My hair grew back (although departing more permanently later in life than in that unwelcome summer cut); and, I acquired the benefit of family, older friends and neighbours who took a young boy under their wings. In time, I also gained stepmother and stepfather who loved me too.

My love of politics was more Canadian than my choice of haircut; and ran deep. I recall the particular teenage angst and sense of a crushed dream when Flora MacDonald lost the federal Progressive Conservative leadership to Joe Clark. Still, I stumbled upon Queen’s University at Kingston and decided to go to school there. Mr. Clark formed the government and I had the privilege of being taught and befriended by Pierre Elliot Trudeau’s principal secretary Tom Axworthy because, well, the PCs were in power and he needed a job. The friendship faded with Trudeau’s re-election and my graduation, then the subsequent self-inflicted death of my interest in politics when I accepted Jesus as my personal Saviour.

I was 21 years old, in first year law school and attending a little Salvation Army church 3 times a week when it dawned on me that I was a churchgoer, not a Christian. In response to my enquiry, my pastor loaned me a book that helped clarify my understanding. The Cost of Discipleship by Dietrich Bonhoeffer begins with the words, “When Christ calls a man, he bids him come and die.” The indelible message of the book is that committing one’s life to Jesus is not about a ticket to heaven but the beginning of a new life in which Jesus is Lord; not my co-pilot but my Pilot.

I completed my first year of law school, then left law and politics behind to enter into marriage and pastoral ministry. Gloria and I had the joy of serving for a few months shy of three years on an isolated First Nations reserve in Northern British Columbia before moving to Williams Lake. We weren’t there long because I was asked to complete my law degree and establish the legal department for The Salvation Army in Canada. In that role, I encountered the Christian Legal Fellowship and developed a particular interest in the law concerning religious freedom.

After fifteen years, my time with The Salvation Army came to an end. I tried to resign from the Law Society of Upper Canada – to “burn the plow and eat the oxen” as it were (1 Kings 19:21) – but was instead put on a hiatus by the Law Society.

During my time away from law, co-pastoring with Gloria a community oriented congregation, my interest in politics was re-kindled. In the municipal election of 2003, I finished in the silver medal position in Markham’s Ward 5. Of course, there are usually no rewards for a second place finish in politics but I was blessed to have made friendships both before and during the process that endured afterward. Those friendships helped further develop my interest and understanding of contemporary Canadian politics.

In the autumn of 2006, opportunity knocked. The position available with the EFC would require re-activation of my membership in the Law Society to engage on freedom of religion matters in Canada, expand my horizons to religious freedom internationally and get me more directly involved in the world of public policy development; all this from a foundation in biblical principles. As my pastor quoted Leonard Ravenhill on a recent Sunday morning, “The opportunity of a lifetime must be seized within the lifetime of the opportunity.”

Working on the issue of human trafficking, I found an ally in my old friend Tom Axworthy. Tom had returned to Queen’s after the second Trudeau era.

A surprising series of difficult separations had been transitioned into consulting on the development of Canada’s National Action Plan to Combat Human Trafficking, along with participation in other public policy initiatives and seven appearances before the Supreme Court of Canada.

Jesus is in the redemption business. Still, I find it amazing that God takes the twists, turns and tears of life and recycles them into something good (Romans 8:28).

In the world of fiction, Frodo has Gandalf to accompany him over land and sea. I am blessed to have two that have accompanied me through rough waters and calm, and are committed to do so in the future: one, ‘til death do us part; and the other, in His own word, “always.” (Matthew 28:20)

I wish Tolkien had provided more details of the adventure that lay across the Sea as Frodo departed that dock with Gandalf. (He shares a bit in Frodo’s Dreme.) Most certainly, I expect my next adventure, part of His great adventure, still lies ahead.

photo credit: OrangeCounty_Girl via photopin cc