Stompin' Tom as the Advocate

In a sermon written and delivered by The Rev. Alisdair Smith of Christ Church Cathedral in Vancouver referencing the Gospel text John 14:15-21 Smith digs into the word “Advocate”. “It comes from the Greek Parakletos, meaning ‘one who consoles or comforts, one who encourages or uplifts, refreshes, and/or one who intercedes on our behalf as an advocate. Romeo Dallaire. The brilliant Canadian general who witnessed the genocide in Rwanda more than 20 years ago this past April. While he did all he could to save lives, he was forced by inactive governments and the UN to face this genocide with a small band of lightly armed soldiers. He was forced to stand by as 800,000 people were hacked to death. The population of Vancouver proper is about 600,000 people.

Now Senator Dallaire’s famous book is called “Shake Hands with the Devil” tells that story. He describes negotiating with one of the leaders of the genocide, interceding on behalf of about 30,000 people trying to cross a patch of land. Once given safe passage, Dallaire shook hands with this man, whose shirt was covered with human blood. He said that what he shook hands with was not really human. And he then told a story of standing in a dark office, lights out to hinder snipers. Extremists were about to attack and Dallaire and his men had enough ammunition for a 2 – 3 minute fire fight. He stood at the window, reflecting on his almost impossible position and a slight breeze blew by his nose, just as he breathed in. And breathing in that slight breeze, he found a shift in his thinking. He chose to be positive. His paradigm shifted. He had experienced the Presence of this creative , courage-inducing, comforting, refreshing activity. Now this is not a pollyannish kind of positive thinking. Dallaire is the first to describe his subsequent battles with depression and has attempted suicides. His mental and psychic wounds have scarred him deeply. Shaking hands with the devil will do that to you I’m sure. And even in the midst of that, he remains positive, working to free child soldiers, speaking out about Post Traumatic Stress among the men and women who returned home from Afghanistan, and Haiti, just to name two. He is out about mental illness generally and stands as an icon for those of us who have wounds that are incredibly painful and deep. And he stands as someone who has experienced, first-hand the Paraclete, the Advocate, the Spirit, the Breath of Life, the Refresher.”

I think this kind of Advocate comes to us when we are at our wits end, when we are lost, when the challenge seems too big, when we are at a loss to describe the kind of response that is needed. And then the Advocate arrives and we feel suddenly filled, filled with comfort, courage and a creative spirit.

Senator Roméo Dallaire remembers at a critical point in the struggle playing a recording of Stompin' Tom Connors' song 'The Blue Berets' to keep up troop morale during the Rwandan genocide.

That song, listened to by French Canadian troops who had no knowledge of Stompin’ Tom and Rwandans themselves, who certainly had never heard of the English Canadian icon, lifted the spirits of those under attack and gave them a fresh sense of comfort, courage and creativity. Music often reminds us of the Advocate. I wonder what song you play when you are in despair and reach out for the Advocate.