Canada had a national spiritual experience recently. Unusually, it was not centred on hockey—although hockey was in the songs.
The event, of course, was The Tragically Hip’s nationally televised homecoming concert in Kingston. It was even screened for the Canadian Olympic athletes in Rio.
Nearly 12 million people watched the concert—that’s one in three Canadians, making it the second-most-watched television event ever, after the men’s gold-medal hockey game at the 2010 Winter Olympics.
If hockey is our national religion, the Hip have been among our most revered preachers.
Rev. Don Hill, a Presbyterian minister in St. Andrew’s, Amherstburg, south of Windsor, Ont., shed some light on why this is in an interview on CBC radio a few days before the concert. Hill had announced that the church would open an hour and a half before screening the concert to people wanting to discuss death, dying and living with cancer.
Hill—who admitted he wasn’t even a Hip fan—observed that lead singer Gord Downie’s “openness about his situation and his willingness to reach out to his fan base in a loving and kind way and to be very courageously involved in an active way” struck a chord with many people.
“He has become a model for all of us to use our woundedness to become healers, to become people who care.”
And the Hip’s songs, “talk about life events, real places.” They help us to see parallels in our own lives in which we can find “love and hope.”
And that was the Hip concert: full of joy and anguish, Downie raging against the dying of the light. Emotions and relationships everyone can identify with. Plus all the defining themes of our nation expressed in their lyrics, including those little out-of-the-way towns.
I mean, who titles a song “Bobcaygeon”? Look it up on the map if you don’t know where it is. I was at a funeral in the Presbyterian church there recently.
And band members who appeared to remain otherwise ordinary Canucks despite 30 years in the limelight. Down-to-earth types.
There was a religious leader once who had a similar effect on people. Down-to-earth. Occasionally sneaking a bite to eat out of some farmer’s field. Went fishing with his friends.
His message was that religion was not about rules but relationships. It was OK to heal on the Sabbath. People were not unclean; all people were God’s children—and preciously loved by God.
And God? God, he said, is about love. God is about relationships—about drawing people into an intimate relationship where they can become fully who they were formed from the dust to be. That’s far more challenging than following rules, by the way.
Jesus was so focused on this message that eventually the politicians, fearing an uprising, and the you’re-going-to-burn-in-hell religious leaders, fearing the end of their organization, found an excuse to have him murdered by the state.
But he rose from the dead.
We in the church need to remember that when we engage with the world. Ultimately, Love and Hope win. They really do.
Photo by The Tragically Hip via Flickr, (Creative Commons)