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Something Has Happened… Now Listen to Me!!

Here in Canada, the news of the week has been dominated by the tragic death of NDP leader Jack Layton.  It’s been remarkable to see the outpouring of grief, the pages of commentary, the rapturous eulogizing, and, regrettably, the vicious politicizing that has come in the wake of Mr. Layton’s passing.  National Post columnist Christie Blatchford’s ill-timed and rather insensitive article in Monday’s issue, and the stream of vitriolic commets that followed it, stand as a rather embarrassing indictment of our inability to behave and converse civilly and sensitively online, even in the face of death. 

What we can do, apparently—what we in fact do—when it comes to the death of a well-known public figure, or any other momentous occasion, is go online.  We “share” quotes or passages from Layton’s famous Letter to Canadians, we “like” what others have said, we tweet and Facebook and blog (!), and who knows what else, all as a way of… well, what?  Do we rush online because the internet has made grieving together on an broad scale possible in unprecedented ways?  Are we looking for support?  Are we seeking meaning and understanding?  Or, are we trying to stamp our own images across the events of our world, to favourably brand ourselves in a world where we so naturally and instinctively seek to identify ourselves with the right products, the right causes, the right people, places, and stories?

In the midst of the noisy din of social media and political sniping leading up to Layton’s state funeral in Ottawa tomorrow, it was refreshing to read Heather Cleland’s sober and sensible words on the Walrus Blog today.  She, too, wonders about the perceived need to plaster our “I wuz here” all over the internet when significant things happen, and urges a bit of restraint:

We don’t need to grieve alone or be untouched by the passing of strangers (albeit well-known ones), but we do need to take it easy with the tools we have at our fingertips, whether we’re Christie Blatchford or not. Few people don’t care, few people aren’t touched by Jack’s unfortunate passing — although that’s implied by virtue of the death of a man who may not have earned the votes of every Canadian, but certainly earned our collective respect. Rather than blurting out regurgitations of what’s already been said and noted for the sake of publicly declaring that you’ve been affected, slow down and let it make sense over time.

Take it easy with our tools.  Slow down.  Let it make sense over time.  Such wise words, for people who increasingly live, move, and have our being online—a people who increasingly have nothing to say but insist on saying it quickly and loudly.

19 Comments Post a comment
  1. I almost hesitate to say it, but I like this.

    August 26, 2011
  2. Tyler #

    Just a quick note, not on the computer so typing is hard. Maybe you are right that we have nothing to say, so one when someone dies, such as Layton, and they gave voice to many things we are deeply moved it. He was what most of us are not and his death gives us inspiration even if it dissipates rather quickly.

    August 26, 2011
    • Yes, inspiration dissipates quickly. Such is the fate of all things in the online world, I suppose….

      August 26, 2011
  3. Well said Ryan…Instant analysis, commentary, etc has its place but sometimes can almost feel a bit irreverent…

    August 26, 2011
  4. I had no idea who Jack Layton was until monday…..I was much more “moved” by the fact that Steve Jobs is not the CEO of apple anymore! 🙂

    “I’m kidding, I have nothing smart to say so I make jokes”

    August 26, 2011
    • Colin, I will pray for you. Here’s hoping Jobs’ resignation will not adversely affect your future technological enjoyment :).

      August 26, 2011
  5. Ernie #

    It was Jack Layton’s moment – I have little patience for those who steal other’s moment in the spotlight. Mr. Harper didn’t give Jack his moment.
    How often we do this to each other – how sad that we can’t validate those around us by recognizing that “rare and precious moment”
    May we be reflective..

    August 26, 2011
  6. Jack Layton was an ordinary man, as all men are ordinary. This humble truth makes his loss no less painful to friends and family who knew and loved him. Prayers for the repose of his soul and for a grieving family should be immediate and sincere as they should be for any other person or family suffering the same trauma.

    Aside from this truth I find the clamour surrounding our cultural response to the death of a “public figure” quite disturbing. In the time it will take me to write this post a child has died in a mothers arms, people are dying starved and abandoned, someone has been raped, someone has been murdered, someone has taken their own life…the list of tragedies is endless. The public response to these realities is mostly mute.

    Was Jack Layton’s life more important to His creator Father than any other dying person? Were they any less important? What do we think our Father in heaven thinks when a nation mourns the loss of one man and all the while thousands die every day destitute and abandoned? Dying as a consequence, not born of real poverty and lacking but by the conscious choices our societies make that impose poverty. The choices that choose not to feed all, when we all know there is enough food. Clothe all, when we all know there is enough clothing. House all, when we all know there is enough shelter.

    Even in it’s particular, what do I say of a national funeral that will talk about the transcendant power of love and charity as essential characteristics of a man who consciously denied the reality of Jesus Christ. Jack Layton was born into a Christian family, he was not ignorant of the person of Christ. He chose, for personal reasons to deny Christ. To exemplify a humanism as true love and true charity, apart from Christ. How as a Christian can I see this as anything other than sad? How can I see the dogma Mr. Layton embraced and advanced as anything other than false and dangerous?

    In the creed I affirm every Sunday we speak of a God who descends even unto the dead to proclaim His gospel. I hope this is true for Jack Layton. I pray that Jesus will still approach Mr. Layton, even after his physical and that Mr. Layton will repent and be made worthy of the promises of Christ.

    The hard truth, at least as I honestly believe it, is that if Mr. Layton and his followers do not repent, do not bend their knees to the glory that is Jesus Christ, risen Lord and Savior, this will again be just another tragic case of the dead burying the dead.

    August 27, 2011
  7. Tyler #

    Paul,
    You shared your opinion so i’ll share mine. There appears to be more of Christ in Layton (i didn’t vote NDP) than many of the ‘Christian’ politicians in power.
    The greving is not because he died but because of what he stood for. Just as every year in spring there is celebration and mourning and reflection and conversation over a figure whose life represented much more than his indivdual contributions. All those problems you listed are something Layton worked on his whole life to end. Was he flawed? Yes, just like all of us. Did he do more than bown down on a Sunday and say a little prayer? You bet he did.

    August 27, 2011
  8. I wasn’t really anxious for this thread to turn into an evaluation of Jack Layton—his politics or his religion (although, I was interested to read this piece from the Vancouver Sun a few days ago), but I find myself nodding in affirmation as I read parts of both Paul and Tyler’s comments.

    With Paul, I agree that Jack Layton is no more or less worthy of our grief and prayers than the thousands of unknown people who die every day, with far less fanfare. I agree that the lengths to which we will go to celebrate and remember famous people while often mostly ignoring the plight of ordinary people who live, suffer, and die all around is, is worth critically examining.

    However, with Tyler, I agree that Mr. Layton devoted a good chunk of his political career to fighting against the very problems Paul identified. I think that Layton fairly consistently went to bat for those who didn’t have a voice, those who did not have access to power, resources, and influence. In that sense, he reflected values that every follower of Jesus should appreciate and emulate.

    August 27, 2011
  9. Ernie #

    Every once in a while we have a politician who is more statesman than politician – every decade or generation we find one. These persons of vision, like Trudeau, who brought us the BNA, our Charter of Rights ( the second one, which guarantees us our religious freedom) Peter Lougheed, Jack Layton. These folks inspire us and think beyond the doom and gloom inside the box.
    It didn’t matter that Jack’s political stripe didn’t agree with mine, it mattered that he had integrity, vision, and that he cared.

    August 28, 2011
    • It didn’t matter that Jack’s political stripe didn’t agree with mine, it mattered that he had integrity, vision, and that he cared.

      Well said, Ernie.

      August 28, 2011
  10. Jack Layton and Pierre Elliot Trudeau were, in the latters case the conscious architect of the Canadian abortion tragedy and the former the man who, in spite of the absence of any law regulating, defining or limiting the procedure in this country, was determined to make the procedure even more accessable. Abortion was a key platform plank for Mr. Layton in the last election.

    In this regard he cared little for the protection of the unborn, his vision was death and his moral integrity was decidedly anti Christian.

    …”It didn’t matter that Jack’s political stripe didn’t agree with mine,”…be careful with that one. At some point it might be all that matters.

    August 29, 2011
    • It is of course a fair comment to say that not every aspect of Jack Layton’s political/moral vision is palatable or ought to be embraced from a Christian perspective. Indeed, in some areas, Christians will have been in vigorous disagreement with him. This is the case for all political leaders, whatever their party. Some politicians who have the “right” stance on the hot button moral issues of the day also advocate economic policies that are harmful to the poor and vulnerable. This is just the nature of politics and of politicians.

      I think it is fair to say, from a Christian perspective, that Jack Layton was pushing in the right direction on some issues and not on others.

      August 29, 2011
      • Yes, I am very comfortable with your response here, Ryan. Moreover, our Lord Jesus will decide for Mr. Layton. May His mercy abound.

        Ironicly perhaps, I was once a local riding association volunteer for the NDP. Over time it became clear to me, particularly as faith replaced politics as the central ethos to my life, that I would have to choose between loyalties. Though founded on a populist, dare I say Chriatian ethic, the NDP of my generation (80’s early 90’s) had become decidely Marxist. It’s policies and direction were often at odds with Christian values. ]The NDP that I experienced towards the end of my involvement, had clearly become the home of a mostly secular/atheistic perview that I could no longer support. Abortion was the deal breaker for me.

        Frankly, I have always better understood strident ideologues who virulently oppose Christian values in the name of a feminist determination regarding the absolute right of a woman to abortion procedures, than a supposed Christian who relentlessly affirms that ethic.

        August 29, 2011
      • Interesting to hear about your journey with the NDP, Paul. It’s a trajectory that I very much understand.

        Incidentally, I came across this article today and thought of you—particularly in the juxtaposition of the first two comments.

        August 30, 2011
  11. Yes it cannot be questioned that Jack Layton was and The NDP are political advocates for the the poor. But what of that claim? Are the poor’s best interests served by political advocacy? What if, rather than forming a political party, all those who would advocate for social justice simply channelled their time money and energy into providing for the poor. Why not just open shelters, build affordable housing, provide tutoring and training, redistribute food etc..Do we need to wait until governments mandate resources or can we the people get busy and do what needs being done. If we prefer a more socially just society, we can have it. No democratically elected political party or business interest will prevent it. in fact they will likely become some of it’s biggest material contributors.

    The International food drive that you rightly highlight in your latest post serves as a prime example. Good people getting active to do what is right and just. From my limited experience and observation, political parties are mostly self serving. While they all subscribe to some form of social agenda or another, their positions are often malleable, not necessarily as a consequence of changes in need or a better response to the demands of justice but rather as a consequence of what position would best serve their political interests. Who needs who more? Do the poor need the NDP or do the NDP need the poor?

    Justice and compassion, dependant on legislation for it’s vitality, is thin gruel indeed….”but now we are released from the law, dead to what held us captive, so that we may serve in the newness of the spirit and not under the obsolete letter” (Rom 7:6)

    August 30, 2011
    • Yes, in an ideal world, we would not need legislation to help the poor… But of course we do not live in an ideal world, and we cannot count on people doing the right thing on their own (even Christians, alas). Justice and compassion that depend on legislation may be thin gruel, as you say, but thin gruel is better than starvation.

      August 31, 2011

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