From the altar to the gutter and back

We lost our cat on Monday, October 16. She’s an indoor pet, a skittish rescue from the SPCA. I went for a few daytime walks, hoping she’d turn up, before breaking the bad news to our kids when they piled off the bus. They sprang into action, scouring the neighbourhood, shaking a bag of cat treats encouragingly under every clump of trees. We spoke to neighbours and the boys playing street hockey. We made signs and taped them up as darkness swiftly fell, discussing at length which telephone poles had the most visibility. Our youngest laid a careful trail of cat treats up the hill from the ravine, down the sidewalk to our yard.

Two days went by. We kept searching.

Two more days. We kept searching but called her name less often.

It’s an unhappy job, mid-October – looking under the bushes of your neighbours. More than once I was startled by dismembered hands, leering heads: macabre Halloween décor that matched our slowly sinking spirits.  

During one of our searches at the park, a man walking his rangy German shepherd came over to where we were looking under and up every pine tree.

“Can’t find your cat?” he bellowed. “I lost a cat few years back. We looked everywhere. Never found her. Figure it was probably –” he leaned in closer so the kids wouldn’t hear, but didn’t adjust his massive volume enough – “coyotes.”

THANKS A LOT, mister. I was pretty successfully spinning a story about the nice family with friendly kids across town who had found our cat and were feeding her tuna right now, who tomorrow would see our signs and return her. Now, coyotes! That’s perfect.

I slowly realized, though, that my story didn’t cut it either. The kids were sad. They were especially sad at bedtime. You can’t reason with sadness. You can’t argue it away. You can’t distract it – well, you can try, but it comes back.

The best thing to say is simply, “I’m sad too.”

This won’t solve the problem, but it widens the path a bit. We’ll stand here a moment, being sad, and then look around together for the way forward.

Trends and trails
That same week, a small social media post turned into an online movement almost overnight.

On Oct. 15, actress Alyssa Milano tweeted “If all the women who have been sexually harassed or assaulted wrote ‘Me too’ as a status, we might give people a sense of the magnitude of the problem.” Within 24 hours, the #MeToo hashtag had been used on Twitter half a million times, then quickly caught fire on Facebook.

Social media activism can feel trite and flashy. In this case, however, the medium fit the brief message perfectly. Yes, the focus was still on victims rather than perpetrators. Worlds of pain simmered underneath each post, not addressed by these two bold words. Justice was not brought closer or even called for. And yet these tiny statements, unremarkable alone, coalesced into a powerful chorus: it’s not just you. It’s all of us, too. Even if nothing else happens, you are not alone in this particular pain. The magnitude of the problem, as Milano had hoped, is now terribly clear.

This issue of Christian Courier has a hard front page story. There are between 1,200- 4,000 unsolved cases of Canadian women missing or murdered since 1980, according to different sources, but because the women are Indigenous their disappearances and deaths have not been a priority for law enforcement or government. They are not here to post #MeToo in a brief 2017 internet trend, because these assaults ended in the worst ways possible. Kylie Waswa stated plainly in a July issue of CC that “this country is unsafe for First Nations people” and Boone’s page 1 article is further proof.

I’m ashamed that this double standard is happening in Canada. I’m angry at the injustice. There are times when all I can do is pray a kind of frustrated ramble: God, this is enough. There are too many tragic First Nations stories. Too many stories of suffering and abused women. We are completely heartbroken by this.

And he says, “I am heartbroken too.”

“Now go.”

Go, as a deacon named Irma Wyman once so lyrically said: “Go gather the gifts of the church and take them to the world.

“Gather the needs of the world and bring them to church.

“Until that’s a habit.

“Wear down the boundary lines that keep church and world separate.

“Until you’ve beaten a path between the altar and the gutter, so that everyone will see the link between the Blood in our Chalices and the blood in our streets.”

Jesus holds every wounded heart with great tenderness. He knows all the sad stories, every loss. Let’s take our bearings from him, and then travel so many times from the altar to the gutter and back that we trample down a path together – bringing our selves to hard places and giving every suffering soul to Jesus. 

  • Angela became Editor of CC in 2009, having learned English grammar in Moscow, research skills in grad school and everything else on the fly. Her vision is for CC to give body to a Reformed perspective by exploring what it means to follow Jesus today. She hopes that the shared stories of God at work in the world inspire each reader to participate in the ongoing task of renewing his creation. Angela lives in Newcastle, Ontario with her husband, Allan, and three children.

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