On this Easter Saturday, the day between the death and the Resurrection of Jesus, The Christ
(Resurrected), one is prompted to ask how this day, and these events, whether or not one practices a faith tradition that celebrates their relationship to one's personal faith practice and belief, have a meaning in our interminable search for meaning, purpose, identity and any relationship with a deity.
We live, on the calendar time line in biological time, between our own birth and our own death. To us, those seem quite fixed realities that book-end our time here. We come here, given the belief and perception of many, with a clean slate, innocent, and yet extremely conscious of what we like and what we do not like, almost from the first day. And we are nurtured, depending on the approaches of our parents, into a perception of what matters and what does not matter. And, naturally those "approaches" have been engendered by the experiences, perceptions and 'approaches' of the parents of our parents and their parents, our grandparents and great grandparents. So what and whether all of those generations were "readers" or craftpersons, or caregivers, or engineers, or shop-keepers, or generous or 'tight-fisted' will be part of the tradition that we inherit, without needing a legal document to insure their passage through both the genes and the family stories, culture, practices and beliefs.
And in our part of the ocean of the human community, there will be a neighbourhood with people whom we associate with and others with whom we feel considerable distance. And there will be schools and churches and shops and doctors, lawyers, accountants, veterinarians and hospitals generally, which and who also support or deviate from the "traditions" laid out both formally and informally in our earliest memories. Clean or untidy yards, clipped or unclipped grass lawns, painted or peeling walls on the outside of our houses, new or relatively old cars will dot the driveways of our memories, and "jobs" or "what does your father and mother do?" questions will be among the benchmarks that are used, mostly unconsciously at first, to determine the kind of neighbourhood we live in, and the kind of people we are "close" to, in at least geographic terms.
As we grow, with the passage of both time and new experiences (including new associations) we learn about some of the main differences between our "street" and those other streets in different parts of our town, some of which we like and some of which we kind of turn away from, for whatever our reasons might be. For some, we would disdain the "snob hills" of our community, while at the same time trash the "unsavoury" part of town, usually where the people of less income and sometime less education lived, and where their kids went to school. For any who "moved" from one section to another, we learned first hand about the perceptions of our move, based on the direction and the tenor of both the old and the new neighbourhood. And, often, any move was destined for ridicule, by those who remained in their chosen place. Change, for too many of us, was one of the things that our town resisted. Liking things "the way they were" in spite of how many aspect of those 'things' we ourselves ridiculed, became a norm.
Liking or disliking the reputations of our teachers, most of whom had been 'there' for decades and had taught our older siblings and for some even our parents, also became fodder for our developing discernment of our world view. There was the very strict spinster who taught history, memorized history, with the rule and reputation of a tyrant, with a very pleasant smile. And there was the affable, yet hardly serious, Latin teacher who was more political than intellectual and the English teacher whose intellect and affability combined to generate such a positive public image that there was literal grieving when he and his 'buddy' left for greener pastures in the 'city'. And there were the other spinsters, one instructing in Latin and French, and another in Chemistry whose reputation for both competence and quiet diligence, while maintaining perfect control, were legendary.
And, of course, there were the young French and Physical Education instructors who were still looking for mates, and were both privately teased and publicly 'closer' to their students than most of the two or three earlier generations. (My first dance, when I was in grade nine, came from an invitation from the young female PhysEd teacher who was teaching the dance class at noon-hour, as an extra.)
And, of course, there were the 'friends' in our classes who represented various family occupations, lifestyles and world views, in our case, mostly 'conservative' and mostly 'employed' although with only modest formal educations. These men (mostly) had gone to work in the local factory or shops, in order to earn a living wage, start a family and enjoy a few leisure hours in one of their favourite hobbies like fishing, hunting, boating, golfing and watching and listening to hockey games. Most had a church affiliation, gentle or robust, two or three children, one or two parents still alive, and a few brothers and sisters who continued to live and work in the area.
Disturbances like divorce, death, especially by suicide, teen pregnancy, the occasional car crash, and the occasional alcohol disturbance on main street on a Saturday evening punctuated the community, through party-line phone conversations, restaurant lunches, and encounters with familiar faces while shopping, mostly in the business section of town. (Malls were a figment of some architects' imaginations when I was growing up!)
It was, in my case, a world of familiar expectations, activities limited to enjoyment of summer beaches, a few outboard boats and motors, three-season golfing at the local club, the occasional entry into a provincial competition for our local hockey team, and once the high school curling team went to the 'nationals' with the team members becoming instant celebrities. Sunday's were spent in both Sunday School classes and then a formal church service.
All of this 'brew' comprised my early perceptions of how the world worked. Most were people one could easily and comfortably converse with; never were subjects of contention like politics and religion raised in any public conversations; the weather was a constant topic of conversation, as well as the number and wealth of the visiting American tourists each summer, whose dollars kept the town alive, with the supplement of civil service jobs in natural resources, courts and schools and hospitals.
Criminals were usually from "outside of town" while the occasional break-in appeared in the local paper's columns, along with the stories of the several local organizations like the curling and hockey clubs, the golf club, and the various suppers, bazaars and Community Concert recitals.
Travel was limited by financial means and access to method, (buses, cars and trains). Once our school travelled to Toronto, in the early fifties, to see a different part of the world, eat at different restaurants, and visit the Royal Winter Fair and the Museum. It was a five-hour train trip one way, beginning around 2.a.m. and finishing the next day around 2.a.m. And some of us still carry memories of that trip, never again part of our formal education experience.
We lived, as you can easily see, in a very isolated, and self-satisfied 'little town' not unlike the one depicted by Paul Simon in "My Little Town".
Partly as a result of that early experience, some of us find it perplexing to learn of the wide range of human experiences like starvation, military oppression, terrorism, Wall Street greed-gone-amuk, and a naïve attempt to replicate our "little town" through some kind of return to a past governed by an exclusionary faith, an even more exclusionary vision of "need" that reduces that concept to fit what might be politically rewarding for those in government, and an even more exclusionary vision of what constitutes "success" bounded as it is by the size of one's income, bank account, investment portfolio, one's house, and the brand name of one's vehicles, wardrobe, preferred dining-rooms, hotels and preferred airline.
Exclusive, implies exclusionary....and every time one chooses "exclusive" one is engaging in a process of exclusion of others. And the more the advertising industry "trades up" to campaigns that generate "exclusive" in their message, the more we are witnessing and sharing the implications of those campaigns to exclude a larger portion of our society and culture. And, when applied to the global conditions, and the global capacity to provide, we witness a growing number of those "excluded" from the mainstream of supply. Consequently, their demand for more can and will only grow. And our social, political and cultural base on which to build an ethos of both equality and access to basic needs has been so eroded that it will be even more difficult to engender that ethos.
And yet, without an ethos of sharing, in the basic needs of all humans, justice, education, health care, clean water, air and food, our vain attempts to climb an ever-narrowing ladder to 'success' will turn on us and bite our attempts at collective and collaborative and shared survival.
It is not merely a religious and ethical imperative, but an immediate and pragmatic and contemporary need that we all turn our eyes outward from our little towns, our even 'littler' minds, and our even 'littler' definitions of success and achievements, to embrace a much wider range of opportunities, challenges and threats in a spirit, not so much of competition and winning but more of co-operation and sharing and caring.
And if our faith institutions cannot and will not provide the early exposure to our shared needs, and our shared dreams and our shared hopes, (focusing instead on preserving our "little traditions and narrow perceptions of what is right and normal in the name of God) then this Easter Saturday, sandwiched between the Crucifixion and the Resurrection, will have been reduced to a mere emotional and psychological "warm feeling" in liturgy without emboldening us to seek and to find life in its many fullnesses, for all.