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By Aaron H. Emery
JESUS WEARS A HABS JERSEY
How do I do the "right" thing? When I feel the impulse to help a friend or neighbour in need, who should I speak with in order to cross-reference, peer-review , and certify my prospective course of action?
I certainly can't do it on my own. Can I?
Now that the NHL season is back on--let's flash forward to February 27th, when the Toronto Maple Leafs will face off against the Montreal Canadians, here, in Toronto. For the sake of this story--you (the reader) are a die-hard Leafs fan from Peterbourough, ON with premium tickets to the big game.
You go. Leafs win. You're on top of the world.
On your way home, the fancy sedan (with Je me souviens license plate) in front of you encounters an unexpected pothole that sends the car veering off the road and violently into the ditch. You stop to assist and find a man bloodied from the exchange between his face and the steering wheel. His attempt at communication is nonsense due to the bump to the head he just took--but that wouldn't have mattered anyway, because he doesn't speak a word of English.To top it all off...he's wearing a Habs sweater.
You have nothing in common with this guy and can't begin to understand the particulars of his situation (and under different circumstances you probably wouldn't even be drawn to like him). So what do you do? Perhaps a phone call to the Minister of Transport to discuss the pothole and its implications as part of a larger national infrastructure strategy? Or maybe you could organize a protest in an attempt to publicly shame the car manufacturer into improving wheel alignment standards...or brake timing...or whatever. Or perhaps this whole thing is better left to the Canadian Association of Road Safety Professionals-- because they actually work on these issues as a full-time job?
Of course not.
There is a disoriented Quebecker in front of you that needs help. So you do what you can (even if it means getting your favourite Leafs jersey dirty).You use what assets you have at your disposal to meet a need that sits, un-ignorably, before you. I don't know the particulars. But I know you would do something.
Which brings me to Toronto Chef Rodney Bowers--who has come under some criticism over the past week from both the professional do-good sector and academia for his plan to sell tokens at his restaurants ( Hey! & Hey Meatball! ) that can then be given away to homeless (or otherwise under-resourced) persons asking for money on sidewalks in the neighbourhoods near the two restaurants. Chef Mark Brand piloted the project out of his eatery in Vancouver's Downtown Eastside and has responded to his own slew of hunger/poverty critics by saying " I make sandwiches and they eat them.They feel better". Bowers adds that "Some critics are going to say its dehumanizing or degrading [distributing tokens] ... but what's dehumanizing and degrading is that those people are still hungry".
For me...the whole thing brings to mind the old story from the Christian tradition of "The Good Samaritan". If you aren't terribly familiar with the 2000 year-old tale..it basically boils down to this:
A guy gets hurt on the roadside. The professional do-gooders don't help. The rest of the "tribe" excuses itself from accountability. And eventually...an "enemy" graciously and generously helps the guy out.
It's my Leafs anecdote...with more sandals.
Or Bowers' sandwich plan...but kosher.
These men are on to something. It may not be perfect. But it's good. And yet the social-justice-left consistently cannibalizes its own interests just because someone is attempting to do good in their community without first obtaining a Masters Degree in development. Is this the "Band-Aid solution" that York University professor Ilan Kapoor calls it? Maybe. But Band-Aids and blood tests are not mutually exclusive options. Sandwiches do not publicly relieve the sitting government from its obligation to put forward sound social policy. And moreover, if the first public words from within the do-good sector were ever more encouraging and less caustic, perhaps more small projects would be ventured that might grow into larger movements-- bringing about real and lasting systemic change.
But as it is, all too often, when an amateur puts forward a new idea for social impact (see: Invisible Children, Me to We,Toms Shoes, et al) they are criticized and vilified by a handful of "professionals" and an avalanche of bloggers and bottom-of-the-page-commenters. So much so that Chef Mark Brand wouldn't encourage restaurants to follow in his footsteps because he doesn't "think anyone else wants to get their ass kicked like this, to be honest" (metronews.ca , Jessica Smith). Why can't we on the progressive end of the spectrum start with a posture of generosity and encouragement toward one another? These criticisms aren't coming from some prototypical "cold-hearted conservative ideologue".They come from self-righteous and self- assured progressives.
While I am certainly not rejecting the need for sound academic research and the guiding influence of traditional players in the social sector, I am terribly frustrated with the attitude of opposition that at times is so prevalent within the conversations of professional do-gooders.
While their work is critical to the long-term development of progressive causes, they could stand to be better, more encouraging neighbours with "outsiders" working toward a shared vision of societal well-being.
Sometimes, I think we may be over-thinking the simplicity of a good deed well done.At another point in the story that Christians (including myself) tell themselves (Matt 35-40), Jesus makes it clear that helping the overlooked and ignored in their time of need is paramount to what it means to live right.
Hungry. Thirsty. Shivering. Sick.
When we help these people--in whatever small way we are able--we are supposedly helping Jesus himself.Which is a pretty good thing.
So as much as I hate to admit it (because I'm pretty sure he's a fan of my Red Wings) there is some chance that Jesus may wear a Habs jersey sometimes.