Monday, June 22, 2009

Moving to Nunavut

At certain times of year, I find myself fixated with maps. I'll spend hours examining the backroads and no-name towns in parts of the country I've never been to, or I'll plot out an elaborate route on Canadian highways to get from here in Chicago to the mountains in Montana.

One night, I'm not sure how many months ago, I was paging through a road atlas when I discovered a territory I'd never before noticed: Nunavut.

Something about the far north, the untamed expanses of rock and water and snow, the hard-scrabble living–they attract me. Perhaps its just echoes of my youth lost in the Bridgers, the Tobaccor Roots, the Absarokas.

But sometimes I suspect that this yearning for the North and the wilderness grows much more directly from the uncomfortable inextricability of unjust systems that civilization (at least as much as I have seen of it in Chicago, Skopje, Detroit, Cedarville, and, yes, even Montana) brings with it. As la fleur épuisée posted last night, even beauty, the simplest of beauties in our lives here in this city, tangles us in systems and patterns of injustice, abuse, death. Try as we might, whether we boycott corporations with unjust labor practices, if we tear our TVs off the walls and drop them into alley dumpsters, if we turn off the Internet, if we cut up our credit cards, sew our own clothes, grow peppers on our fire escapes, give up coffee because it is an imported luxury--whatever we do, we the stink of oppression and unrighteousness sticks to us like our own sweat.

Wouldn't it be better to stack my books in cardboard boxes, hold a garage sale to sell my furniture, and drive north to a land unstained by years of human greed and trampled on sweat? I could till the ground (never mind the two-week long growing season), hunt caribou, teach my children to trace the constellations against the backdrop of the northern lights. Wouldn't Jesus move? Wouldn't he say, "Enough with this people and their religiously masked self-interest! Me and Pete are headed back to Galilee. Let this people lie down in the bed they've made to share with Rome! We'll see how long this last--I give them forty years at the most."

Some of the supersessionist rhetoric at home in our churches might suggest this picture: Israel failed to live by the terms of God's covenant, so God sent Jesus to start a new people who would live by his laws and statutes. Christians are God's new covenant people. But Jesus most certainly did not come to move God's temple from Jerusalem to Rome (or Byzantium or Grand Rapids or Seattle!), and he did not come to abolish God's promise to Abraham that was ratified in the Exodus and at Sinai. No, Jesus came to open God's family (the one reckoned through Abraham, the man of faith) to all nations, to graft a wild olive branch into the tree he'd been cultivating for two thousand years.

Any vision of a Jesus who leaves the damned to their damnation and chooses to start afresh, a Jesus who holds himself aloof from the complicated endless layers of greed, self-interest, privilege, and oppression, a Jesus who disdains the moral ambiguous work of redemption--any of these preach another gospel. Jesus takes the adulteress by the hand and lifts her up after chasing away her self-righteous accusers. Jesus sends the leper to the temple after cleansing his disease. Jesus eats with Simon the Pharisee, he talks with the Samaritan woman, he eats without washing his hands. Jesus does not move away from unjust systems; he chooses to work redemption while living among them.

So I'm not moving to Nunavut (much to my wife's relief). Jesus wouldn't move to Nunavut (at least not to my idealized Nunavut--the real territory probably needs more redemption than its tourism website and my road atlas belie). He would stay here in Chicago (or Skopje or Cedarvile or Bozeman) and work redemption.

He might grow peppers on his fire escape, he wouldn't watch TV. More importantly, I doubt he would concern himself quite so much with a list of do's and don'ts. From everything the Gospels and the New Testament says, Jesus wouldn't care so much about whether the hamburgers came from Whole Foods, the corner mercado, or a Super Walmart. He'd be more concerned with getting to know the people grilling out with him and calling them into the new life, the new world that he brings.


  1. Haven't been to Nunavat, but the Northwest Territories is pretty great. And by great, I mean cold. Damn cold.

  2. aww... for a moment there I got my hopes up that you might come to Canada. It's a great country, but Nunavut would be a bit extreme. You should try BC... ;)



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