Tonight, our cathedral is holding a silent candlelight vigil as our first response to the impasse between the protesters and government here in Quebec. Negotiations broke down recently when the goverment walked out. This past weekend, Montreal hosted its annual Grand Prix Formula 1 race, and as a symbol of wealth, excess, and sexual exploitation, it became a focus of the latest protests; demonstrators against sexual exploitation of women joined the students.
Some of it was humorous -- I can't stand the Grand Prix, and appreciated the symbolism of naked andnear-naked students marching along streets thronged with the "beautiful people" who follow Grand Prix events -- but the riot police were right there too. Obviously the city and merchants don't like this economic disruption, especially as we head into the season of summer festivals. There were many arrests and a number of clashes with police, who continue to overreact, using tear gas and pepper spray and beating some protesters, and residents were kept awake into the early hours by the police helicopter; several of my choir frends said they'd been unable to sleep, which happened to us earlier when the helicopters were in our neighborhood.
It's a tense situation, and not getting better. A lot of older people have joined the protests because they're appalled and anger about the hastily-passed Law 78, which prohibits demonstrations or gatherings by more than 50 people without prior permission, ; the issue is no longer tuition hikes but mroe of a generalized, Occupy-Movement-related outrage about systemic problems and not being heard. Other people are getting really fed up with the protests and disruption. Everyone is tired and the groups seem increasingly polarized rather than moving toward a solution.
So here we are, holding a silent vigil. A friend of mine who's been very upset about police violence and Law 78, wrote to say that he doesn't think the vigil will do much good and that the church, as usual, lacks courage. The fact is that our cathedral community is divided, just like the rest of society, but we've issued a statement that came out of our group discussions, written by a small group I was part of, and now formally adopted:
We at Christ Church Cathedral [Montreal] are greatly concerned with the current social crisis. While this crisis began with the question of university fees, we are now faced with a larger question. What kind of society do we want and how can we build a future together based on equity and respect for all?
As a faith community and as citizens of Québec, we at Christ Church Cathedral call for a society:
· Where the dignity and equality of each person is respected,
· Where the voice of every human being is heard, and
· Where the principle of non-violence prevails and where power is not abused.
Therefore, we urge for negotiations to take place in a spirit of genuine cooperation and compromise, with the aim of finding a just and equitable solution to the present crisis that articulates a shared vision for the future.
Our Dean was on the CBC yesterday morning, talking to a respectful but questioning interviewer. I liked what he said.
And this is what I wrote back to my friend; not just a letter but a chance for me to try to conslidate my own thoughts:
I hear you. At the beginning of this conversation within our community, I had hoped we could make a stronger statement, such as, "Violence in any form is unacceptable, and this law is unacceptable and is leading to greater polarization of our society." When I saw how much division there was in our community, I realized we couldn't do that, certainly not right now. In fact, the statement we're making is closer to it than I had expected. We are saying that violence is unacceptable, we're saying that we must listen, hear and talk to one another, we're saying that we have a different vision of how society can and should be.
No, one candlelight vigil isn't going to change things very much, but as a witness in our city it is actually something people haven't seen. It's a space of silence in the midst of a great deal of noise and confusion, and that is powerful. I think it will actually get some attention and make some people think. And it also moves us forward as a community -- without doing violence to one another in the process. We have to see it as a first step for us, too.
I don't agree that we're living in a military society now. Syria is a militarized society, as are many totalitarian regimes around the world. We're far from that here, and even the U.S. -- which I've criticized for decades -- is far from being truly militarized. I do strongly agree that laws like Loi 78 are the first step toward the erosion of freedom and liberty, and they must be opposed right at the beginning, and removed like dangerous weeds. If the church isn't ready to say that, then people like you and I need to look for other places where we can express our opinion -- and there are plenty of those -- and still work within our church community with love and patience.
The church's initial position has been very frustrating to me at different times in my life -- it has often seemed timid and "behind" on important issues. But as I get older I realize that God's time is not like ours. During my lifetime the North American church has moved from opposition to strong support for civil rights, for women, and for gay people, finally embracing the role of blacks, women, and openly gay people in every sacrament and in every role within the church. That is huge, and it gives me hope.
The issues that young people are pointing out in the Occupy Movement -- economic disparity and lack of equal opportunity, environmental degradation, the role of extreme wealth and greed, and lack of true democracy, militarism and erosion of personal freedom and civil rights, and incessant global warfare over ideologies, religions, and resources, to name just a few -- are not new (as the Gospels tell us!) but are presenting themselves today with greater and greater urgency because now we can see that the whole planet is an interlocking web of systems in danger of collapse. The church is really only just beginning to grapple with how it can respond, and first it has to see and disentangle itself from its own complicity in the systems of power, oppression, and fearful maintenance of the status quo.
That's a long, difficult process. I think Jesus understood that very well. He had the fire of an angry young man, but his sadness tells me that he also understood human nature: how slow we are to "get it," how fearful we are of losing what we have, how quickly we judge and persecute. That's why, I think, in his most famous teachings he didn't leave us with a revolutionary message about fighting and overthrowing the powers, but with the words, "Love one another" and "Blessed are the peacemakers." He realized that the only way toward lasting change starts with love and must always be animated by love. It starts with God in the heart of one person and spreads outward. Non-violence is one expression of that love. Standing together tonight, in spite of our differences, is another.
Each of us has a different role in these processes. Part of what we need to pray about and work on now is discerning those roles, I think. I'm grateful to you for your honesty about how the protests have affected you and I know it's helped us get to this point. I'm absolutely confident that over time we will see movement and greater courage within the church on these issues, just as we have on others. Right now, this small step may feel like it's too little in the face of big problems, but I think if we remember, "Where love is, God is there also" a way will open.