Doubting the benefits

A feminist reading of theology and faith traditions requires the usage of what is called the hermeneutic of suspicion (first described by Paul Ricouer).  This means that what people say and do and suggest, whether written or aloud, be read through lenses that notice what is not said and what is contradictory. This includes how people interpret Scripture. When we study the Bible we "listen" for other voices, look for the nuances in accounts (for example, see the June 26th posting about Goliath being a child soldier). According to literary theorist Rita Felski, the hermeneutic of suspicion is "a distinctively modern style of interpretation that circumvents obvious or self-evident meanings in order to draw out less visible and less flattering truths..."

Last week I noted a willingness to give a new leader, in this case our newly-minted Premiere, the benefit of the doubt. Here's my take on the past few days.

The move to have people leading Hydro1 at a substantial cost reduction to those formerly in those positions may be a move to reducing electrical rates for all of us, and over time may be applauded.

However, so far his leadership has, in the name of efficiencies, aka saving money, already started to push back at people who are or could be marginalised. This is a less visible truth.

The Provincial School Curriculum has been affected.  Nothing will be written this year that helps children better understand our history as a complete people, including the indigenous citizens of our province.  The Sexual Education curriculum will revert to one that does not teach that non-heterosexual marriage is normal, and does not teach young women how to say "no" when they are asked for/pressured into a sexual encounter. 

Related to the above, $100 million has been removed from the budget that would have funded necessary repairs to schools in the Province.

The Provincial Anti-Racism Directorate is no longer a stand-alone entity.  It is now part of the Ministry of Community Safety and Correctional Services. This beggars comprehension.

Our environment is about to warm up as the Premier looks for ways to take the Province out of both the Carbon Tax and Cap and Trade agreements (the legal bills for the latter change could end up costing the Province even more and it is going to be the People of Ontario who foot that bill).

I fear that this will be a recurring post, Doubting the Benefits II, III, etc.

And then there's this,

I am the co-chair of Faith in the City.  A group of 4 women from the Anglican and United Churches penned a letter to the Mayor regarding his statement that Toronto could not afford any more refugees. Here is the prelude written by my co-Chair, John Ryerson, and the letter itself.

Language matters especially in these days of fear and hate being generated against some of the most vulnerable people in the world. Faith in the City is encouraging Mayor Tory to ensure the language "remains welcoming and inclusive of all ethnicities." Please share the letter and also respond to the Mayor at mayor_tory@toronto.ca. Thank you.

Dear Mayor Tory,

The undersigned members of the Faith in the City coalition would like to express our support for your efforts to seek partnership with the federal and provincial governments in order to address the housing and shelter crisis in the city. The lack of affordable housing and the need for more shelter beds have been serious issues for some time and require immediate attention from all levels of government.

We recognize that the unprecedented influx of refugees has increased pressure on a chronically overburdened system, and that it creates a situation which calls for collaboration and creative solutions. We are deeply concerned, however, that the language we all use in drawing attention to this crisis should remain welcoming to refugees and inclusive of all ethnic, religious, and social groups, in line with Toronto's decision to identify as a sanctuary city, and avoid creating openings for those already hostile to migration to make refugees a scapegoat for Toronto's problems. This is of particular concern given the recent statements by Ontario's new premier. As representatives of faith groups working to alleviate homelessness and welcome refugees, we would appreciate the opportunity to work with the city - with all levels of government - to help shape this discourse, and to collaborate in developing creative responses both to the influx of refugees, and to the ongoing need for a full spectrum of shelter and housing services.

The Benefit of the Doubt

Our Province has a new Premiere.  He made many promises about making people's lives easier by lowering the cost of the things that cut into their earnings.  He is committed to efficiencies.

The concern is that word, "efficiencies".  It conjures the picture of a small kitchen in a bachelor apartment.  You can cook basic meals but it's hard to be creative and a challenge to cook for company. If you take away even the small kitchen you have to rely on take-out.  Which puts money in other people's pockets.  And isn't necessarily nutritious.

The new Premiere says he will give the money from being efficient back to the people of Ontario. All of them, in his words.

People in faith communities hope that he will find ways to distribute cost savings to those most in need. Although we fear he has started to empty the cupboards (support for refugees, support for initiatives that deal with climate change) the hope is that the things we need as a society we won't be sacrificed to efficiency.  That we will keep what we do need (teachers, nurses). For a time we will ask ourselves to give him the benefit of the doubt. We tend to be people of hope until reality suggests otherwise.

Our fear is that the story we will eventually tell will be akin to this one from Luke 16.19-31:

“There was a certain rich man who clothed himself in purple and fine linen, and who feasted luxuriously every day. At his gate lay a certain poor man named Lazarus who was covered with sores. Lazarus longed to eat the crumbs that fell from the rich man’s table. Instead, dogs would come and lick his sores.

“The poor man died and was carried by angels to Abraham’s side. The rich man also died and was buried. While being tormented in the place of the dead, he looked up and saw Abraham at a distance with Lazarus at his side. He shouted, ‘Father Abraham, have mercy on me. Send Lazarus to dip the tip of his finger in water and cool my tongue, because I’m suffering in this flame.’ But Abraham said, ‘Child, remember that during your lifetime you received good things, whereas Lazarus received terrible things. Now Lazarus is being comforted and you are in great pain. Moreover, a great crevasse has been fixed between us and you. Those who wish to cross over from here to you cannot. Neither can anyone cross from there to us.’

“The rich man said, ‘Then I beg you, Father, send Lazarus to my father’s house. I have five brothers. He needs to warn them so that they don’t come to this place of agony.’ Abraham replied, ‘They have Moses and the Prophets. They must listen to them.’ The rich man said, ‘No, Father Abraham! But if someone from the dead goes to them, they will change their hearts and lives.’ Abraham said, ‘If they don’t listen to Moses and the Prophets, then neither will they be persuaded if someone rises from the dead.’”

Lazarus died in poverty.  The rich man thought his actions were inconsequential, except to the extent they benefitted him.

If the Premiere keeps emptying the kitchen cupboards, we should doubt, and confront him on, his effiencies.

Bringing Down Goliath

This past week we read the story of David and Goliath in 1 Samuel 17. Here are some excerpts from the reflection.

In the Globe and Mail, Guillermo Del Toro, describing the exhibition of his memorabilia recently on display at the Art Gallery of Ontario, said the horror genre is inherently political: “Much like fairy tales, there are two facets of horror. One is pro-institution, which is the most reprehensible type of fairy tale: ‘Don’t wander into the woods, and always obey your parents’. The other type of fairy tale is completely anarchic and antiestablishment.”

One frightens us into submission by making monstrousities of others. The second questions those who want us to submit by showing the monstrousities they create. Do the right thing or the monsters will get you, as in stay in your  bed or else. People who try to do things they believe are right, if left unchecked, create Frankensteins. And then point to those monsters and say we all have to fear them.

For example if your policy is to destabilise Central American nations so they live with economic uncertainty and violence it’s no surprise that you will get refugees on your border. If you take away social supports in communities like education and health care it increases crime rates.

It’s absolutely necessary for us to understand monsters. We need to name, own and claim them: to identify the monsters within and without, take responsibility for creating them, and claim a different reality for them and ourselves.

Which brings us to Goliath, the monster. This is a familiar story with subtleties and depths we prefer to skip over. Israel’s relationships with its neighbours 3000 years ago in the time of David were no less complicated than now. They were trying to annex territory and places like Gath were fighting back. Gath had a giant, a monster, named Goliath. 

A champion named Goliath from Gath came out from the Philistine camp. He was more than nine feet tall. He had a bronze helmet on his head and wore bronze scale-armor weighing one hundred twenty-five pounds. He had bronze plates on his shins, and a bronze scimitar hung on his back. His spear shaft was as strong as the bar on a weaver’s loom, and its iron head weighed fifteen pounds. His shield-bearer walked in front of him.

Nowadays we would have told him he has to play basketball. Then, he was bound to be a military champion. 

“You can’t go out and fight this Philistine,” Saul answered, “You are still a boy. But he’s been a warrior since he was a boy!”

Goliath was a child soldier. A monster shaped by circumstances and expectations and reactions. He learned a rubric that kept him and his compatriots alive: Challenge them to a fight to the death. No comers? See you tomorrow. 

Until he was challenged, and brought down by, David. 

Name, own and claim. Name the circumstances that made a monster out of a child. Own the world that saw no other possibility. Claim a different world. Bring down the goliath of religious permission for violence. Bring down the goliath of making a monster out of an enemy, or making an enemy out of someone who disagrees with your worldview. Bring down the goliaths we create by raising them differently. See persons shaped by circumstances and find ways to raise them above what we easily relegate them to. See the freaks as human. Like you.