All children think their families are normal until a special turning point in their lives. It could be that you as a family only eat peeled blueberries. Maybe your family sings Oklahoma every Saturday night. When it comes to my family, no one told me for years that the majority of child-friendly vacations do not include a trip to an old military fort.Fort Henry, Fort York For Edmonton, from coast to coast, my summer vacations consisted of a long road trip to an 19th century fort. We would see the restored barracks, pet the fort mascot (Fort Henry’s David the Goat is the cutest), and learn a rather sanitized version of history.
My parents neatly steered us away from any bullet holes, the plaques conveniently forgot about First Nations communities that were affected by military presence. But overall, the forts that pepper my childhood conveyed strength and security.
To talk of God as a fortress feels like an odd metaphor, especially on a day like Mother’s Day. We have talked of God as a parent, offering us love and support. God as the Sun, a mountain, a dove, cleansing water and moving flame. A fortress seems kind of, militaristic? Do we want to associate God with cannons?On the one hand, I get it. Written in a time where the writer was part of an oppressed group, again, the Psalms are the perfect chance for us to see in the Bible a bunch of people shaking their fists and saying “God, this is horrible, the enemies are at the gate, my friends are not available, there is hatred and disaster everywhere, and I feel so small. And hopeless. And lost.”
Psalm 31 is no different. It is from a people that want, and need, and demand, a God that will make it all stop.There, a fortress makes sense. Of course I want the God that is going to be a pinnacle of military strength when I am going to be flattened and oppressed by a larger force. Who wouldn’t?On the other hand, we get to the other parts of the fort. Every fort tour shows a few places that seem a bit odd for a military setting. Amongst the canons and medicine rooms, are bakeries. Market squares where people could sell goods in safety. Gardens to grow food and stables to house animals. There were breweries and tanneries. There were structures that created things, and tended to things.
We are seeing fractures in our world today. We are seeing way too many people that are thinking an appropriate response to a pandemic is a show of violence. We are -encountering systemic racism and white supremacy on a monthly, weekly, daily, hourly basis. We are seeing what God is trying to keep out and keep in.
The whole point of a fortress is to protect those inside. Who is inside God? Who is protected by God? Well, all of us. No one is outside the fortress of God’s love, you are not required to storm the gates. It is hatred that God is doing all she can to protect us from. From violence, from racism and bigotry. If we are all in this fortress of God’s love together, than we are called to protect each other from the forces outside of God’s grace. Forces of white supremacy and state-sanctioned violence. And in the end, we realize, that we also need that God-as-fortress picture. It isn’t as archaic as we thought.
And so, we dismantle weapons in our fortress, and build veggie patches. Scrap the cannons and make schools. Break up the guns and build more tables, call for the end of sin, and be a part of God’s love.