Sunday 6 November 2005

On Mission

Mission is not a small word.

Don't get me wrong. Phonetically, it only has two syllables. In this sense, it is a much smaller word than, say, onomatopoetically, or pneumonoultramicroscopicsilicovolcanoconiosis, or even, syllable. These words, tounge-tying as they may be, express not horrifically exciting, or broad, or significant concepts [though you might disagree if you're a fictional coal miner afflicted with pneumonoult...]

Mission is not a small word. A mission can be a journey or a quest, sometimes military, of some significance. A mission statement is a statement of beliefs which one will follow, a credo, a motto, a set of guiding principles. Mission is the name of several places, including towns in British Columbia (in the Fraser Valley, near Abbotsford), South Dakota and Texas.

I live in an area of Kelowna called the Mission. It's an almost exclusively residential area, with reasonably sized (for a city) lots, green space, foliage, beautiful mountain views, schools and not a lot of traffic. The specific area I'm in seems to have been built in the 1970s, and not renovated for modernity's sake since then. As a result, my apartment is in a house with a stucco'd exterior, and the inside is covered with enough dark wood panelling to heat this place for an entire winter.

I've also noticed that, for a city of its size, Kelowna has an inordinate number of churches, a large number of them highly conservative theologically, and extremely evangelical in practice. A result is a truly amazing number of religious schools: Catholic, Lutheran, Pentecostal (the Kelowna "Christian" School, as though the rest of the church-run schools aren't, I suppose), and so on. I wonder if this trend of evangelism has a historical basis in Kelowna's founding. If Kelowna's early years saw developed focused in what is now the downtown, a particularly eager group of Christians, perhaps, set out to take God's message to the (then) more rural, unchurched areas, and thus started the Okanagan Mission. I don't know if that's true, but it seems plausible.

These observations were drawn together by my experience travelling to Kelowna from Nova Scotia; six days in a car travelling across New England, Ontario, the US Midwest, Saskatchewan and Alberta. I was struck by the pervasiveness of radio in the United States.

Let us consider, for example, a typical Canadian conurbation (one of my new favourite words). I'm going to use Pictou County, in Nova Scotia: New Glasgow, Stellarton, Trenton, Westville, and for kicks, the slightly distant Pictou town, total population around 35 000. I could just as easily use the cities of Vernon or Penticton here in British Columbia, which are similar in size. Pictou County has one local radio station, CKEC, and a CBC transmitter. Compare that with Minot, a city of 36 000 in northwestern North Dakota, which has ten radio stations, several of them locally originating, and six of them self-describing as "Christian radio".

This is not something isolated to small Minot. Driving on Interstate highways, far away (for the most part) from large cities, one is exposed to mainly AM radio, which propogates over greater distances. The majority of stations I was able to receive were either Christian radio or conservative talk radio. Sadly, I don't think I heard Air America Radio once. Several of the programs I listened to really disturbed me. One was a program extolling the virtues of (I swear I am not making this up) Christian financial planning.

In one call, the hosts advised a man to quit the part-time job which helped him to support his family. The reason: he was selling beer at the local stadium at sporting events, and this wasn't Christian. Sure, his family might not be able to eat. Sure, he wasn't having any himself. But God has a plan; he'll provide. What absolute "God has a plan for you; it's just not this, because you'll obviously be damned forever, because we think the Bible says so" Calvinist crap. I think. I really need to read more theology. Then I'd know whether it's Calvinist or not.

The other thing that really bothered me was a letter from the mother of a three-year old, who wrote (ostensibly for the three-year old — yes, really) about how she loved witnessing (that's a friendly word for evangelizing) people by handing out Christian-themed pamphlets to people while in a grocery store, because, seriously, who's going to be mean and turn down a three-year old girl? It bothers me because the girl can't possibly understand the Message (capitalized for the evangelicals who are reading) she's sharing. At best, she understands that Jesus was born in a church filled with hay and cows on Christmas Day, and that church is where she goes to play in the Nursery on Sunday.

Coming up next: pictures (I hope!), and a possible crisis of faith.


  1. I live next door to the Halifax "Christian" Church. I found out that they're considered "independent" from any and all denominations, but I don't really know what they're doing in their little brick building. Probably voo-doo.

  2. On Long Island, where Jenni lives, the first church you drive by is the Tiverton Christian Church. The sign reads: "Founded: 31 AD".

    Strange they decided on the year Jesus died, not the years he lived. Hmmm.