Our Community Director, Zachary Grant, reflects on abundance, inclusion, and our current time.
For to everyone who has, will more be given, and he will have an abundance. But from the one who has not, even what he has will be taken away. And cast the worthless servant into the outer darkness. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.
I think of this as we are approaching the winter months. This idea of abundance. It’s something we talk about often at the church these days, how can we create a program that facilitates abundance for communities that it has been forbidden, for those who have been excluded. We live in a system that creates an artificial scarcity- this is common knowledge for our people, the trappings of wealth present all around, and yet completely out of reach. So we look to even that, through our privilege and position in society, we mediate these forces of wealth and poverty, redrawing the line of have and have not through acts of gathering and redistribution, not far off from the reading today as work lauded by our master.
Yet, our working meaning of abundance seems to be different than what Matthew is referring to in his telling of this parable of talents.There is a subtext to this notion of being given more– that as God sees it, this abundance does not bring our creator closer to us. That– according to Jesus– comes in our desolation, that it is derived from the self-emptying nature of suffering. Our riches come from our endurance of that suffering through the ages. In the Bhagavat-Gita, this is referred to Vishnu Maya, or the veil of maya- illusion. When Lord Vishnu casts a net of sleep over all of creation obscuring what is knowledge and what is ignorance. Through deep yogic practice, the practice of self emptying, we lift this veil of illusion and awaken to see the reality of the spirit, the eternal parts of us. Yes, agreed Matthew, we could all use to lift this veil, it is the greatest talent so to speak, to be blessed by suffering seemingly for no reason whatsoever, as a divine gift, to understand fully this curse of abundance.
There are traces of this all over Trinity Square- I would see them when I began my work at Holy Trinity, the little gathered elements, of colourful children’s blankets tied with electrical cord to make small shelters, the pilings of discarded clothing from high end stores taken carefully from their dumpsters, sorted, discarded and left to dissolve. The collections of soiled and used ephemera from h&m, and holts, club monaco and so on- the hoardings that resemble this division, unneeded, sanctioned for disposal, ready to be collected by those who cannot reach into our abundance. Reaching for any tiny semblance of the life the God has afforded us, and not them. They were all so beautiful to me at the time, and I guess I didn’t fully understand their symbolism. I would photograph them as though some magical person placed them there as a narrative of a life that I would not and could not know.
And then, shortly into my time here, I began receiving emails about these unique gleanings- the piles, the creations, the imitations of wealth. From the parks department, cc the Business improvement area, bcc the developers and the malls. “Excuse me but you have 24 hours to remove this from the area” “Excuse me but you are violating a permit” “excuse me but this does not belong here please forbid it.” Telling, not asking, that this intrusion, this line crossing must be removed from sight- you are breaking the illusion here..
And then came the banks, and the companies, and the stores, that dutifully bring their loose ends to the square, the leftovers of their lives gathered by group text: Hey, we are doing an office drive to help the needy, you in?- to offer ends of their catered lunches, the no longer needed jackets, the feel good volunteerism followed by a photoshoot. Now, i’m not trying to be cynical here, we are talking about charity, and its important- Its’ important they come, they should come, its important that this is provided, its important to their spirits- and its important to us, the mediators, intermediaries of wealth, benefiting through the brand awareness of a giving and generous heart.
But what for the others, destined only to receive, the last coordinate of the journey of capital production..
In abusive relationship cycles, there is what’s called the “giving flowers” moment, in which the abuser extends a token of remorse for what they have done to cause hurt, which is a manipulative act to change the perception of abuse. There is no choice but to take it, because if you are in an abusive relationship, the cost of not making nice is often far greater than accepting the fate of the abuse cycle. The giving act doesnt repair the harm, it doesnt even address it, it doesnt remedy the suffering- Its important for the abuser, because it is a recognition of their own woundedness and a plea to the victim for help, to return them to a state of mind in which they have done no wrong, return to that peace and pleasure. In turn the victim is asked to continue to empty themselves, of feelings of hurt, of needed safety and dignity. Take away the human, take away the self.
In the spring, before COVID, we were grappling with this- two sides of a coin, unbalanced. Abundance and suffering. Abundance had been promoting a life of exclusivity and privilege as the pinnacle of being- raising their towers far into the sky, to reach the heavens in praise of the gifts the Master has bestowed. Suffering, to them, became a physical manifestation of the antithesis of a life of abundance– they pox the world with reminders of displeasure. Abundance worked to blot out suffering through hiding it away, under bridges, in alleyways, warehousing suffering in shelters and prisons. Abundance became an all possessing goal, with a strict social order that governed it, “gather and consume all things as if they are given just for you” and so abundance went forth reaping where they did not sow, and gathering where they scattered no seed.
We saw this as every inch, and every ounce, and every thing, was surrendered into abundance, until all that was left was the small plot beneath the feet of suffering, to which abundance said this too belongs to us, smearing those who refused as slothful and wicked in their way, garnered by consequence of their choices. They yelled it from the tops of their towers, that these despicable people know that we reap what we do not sow and yet they choose to do no different, if they do not produce for us, they should pay us interest for what they have been given.
And so, through all that was at their disposal, they took what was left away- close the doors of the needle exchange, provoke an overdose crisis, defund mental health services, shut the doors to the bathrooms, to the lobbies, to the waiting rooms, revitalize this corner, hostile architecture, bar the benches, bar the stairwell, ban them from the drop ins, the shelters, the parks, take away the parks, take away the park, until there was nothing left.
This is how it happened in Toronto, but all across this land it was happening too, the pipelines are going in, the oil is coming out, the subdivision is being built, the diamond mines flood the town, agri-business destroys the fields – each reaping 5 more talents for the Master- those in the way are slandered, harassed, imprisoned, murdered- the cost of abundance- and all that is returned to the earth.
We are in a time reckoning with this system- we can see its absurdity, its lack of humility, its indiscretions. Christ through Matthew speaks to its hypocrisy— but because of the conditioning we have all received under A LIFETIME OF CAPITALISM, our immediate interpretation conjures that Christ is describing the acts of god.
But christ finds god in the third slave, who accepts suffering in refusal to act foolishly with resources, to treasure them instead and to know their value. They are ripped out from under him and he is scourged, as Christ, with Christ. We are reckoning with this system, and Christ calls us to lift the veil of maya, to not just refuse a system which the master chooses which of his slaves receive benefit- who receives abundance, and who is excluded— but with the system that upholds the master at all.
No longer can we see god in the master—- and his choices of who to privilege and who to punish. No longer can we see god in the trappings of patriarchy, of capitalism, of the state. No longer can we see god when the rich get richer and the poor get poorer. No longer does this bring God closer to us and no longer should we accept this narrative. This is what Christ calls in us through Matthew, to see the story for what it is. Painful to our spirits, painful to the lands, painful to god.
The task of Self-emptying asks us to remove the conditioning of a system, in which the exclusion zones have grown so large and overwhelming that they can no longer hold the weight of our dreams and desires.
Dreams that we celebrate here at Holy Trinity. That we are known for
And this is what COVID has given us the opportunity to renew, a community that finds abundance through the wealth of our spirits, and self emptying of the things that are holding us back from truly living into who we are, and in relationship with one another. We are fostering a community that is based on participation and cooperation, we are looking to a future, that beginning with us, the divide is bridged, that we see the gifts in each person, and put them to use for the benefit of the whole.
So when COVID hit we were able to deploy ourselves from this value statement, to be radical in our approach, to be brave, to be open minded, to bring together lots of different people across cultures and faiths, to do what was required of us as a community together. And to put our collective needs at the center. The need for safety, for care, for place, for meaning. These are essential to all of us. And from that first action, of centering our needs together, so much was able to flourish-
We were there, to be open, to take it seriously, to serve food, to give space, to push the city, to resist the evictions, to stand against the violence of policing, to offer testing, to supply outreach groups, to work with the doctors and the nurses, to hold the memorials,to lift up the youth, to help mothers give birth, to heal wounds, to bring forth art and life. And through this countless people have found safety, care, place and meaning.
Which is great, sounds great right, us living fully into who we are. But still there is more to the story.
I want to tell you about Dave Recollet,
Dave is the founder of the Native Wishing Well, one of our partners in outreach in Trinity Square. They provide 24/7 crisis mediation, first aid, overdose response, support with food, clothing, survival equipment, 24 hours a day. Which means that if you are someone in any kind of crisis and you find your way to Trinity Square, at any time of day or night, there will be someone there to support you in whatever situation you are going through– to calm you down and find you a place to be in this often dangerous world. This is a groundbreaking initiative, that brings needed services to people on their terms, in their context.
Daves’ background is in paramedicine, and he was a fly in first responder in northern and indigenous communities for many years, he is also a hereditary chief in his home community, who decided that although that was his calling, he was needed in Toronto to support his people here. So he created this program that is 100% Indigenous led, and as such they bring elements of traditional knowledge, bushcraft, and cultural support to those in need, in very practical ways.
I look at this as a monumental success of our work and our partnerships during this time that we have been able to work alongside one another, this is something that we should have supported a long time ago.
It’s not like Dave is even an unfamiliar face to us– he has lived in Trinity Square for almost 20 years, up until COVID hit, Dave slept wherever he could out of the way, with whatever he could.
His presence was easily overlooked, pushed out of this place or that, and he had to navigate the constant flux of being moved along. This impermanence is not an easy feat, and there are some complicating factors.He lives with brain cancer that causes memory loss and occasionally is debilitating. He does his chemo treatment in the back entrance of St. Michaels where he meets his doctor, then recovers where he can. This is one more challenge after he survived the violence of the Church and the state, he survived the intrusion of industry in northern communities, and he survived on the streets. I would be wrong to say this is something that I could bare, it sounds like a place of weeping and gnawing of teeth.
For the past 7 months he has lived in front of the Church in a tent, affording him a tiny bit of permanence and space of his own. Lets remember that only 7 months ago this would not have been possible, he would have been moved out and the tent and all his possessions destroyed. But COVID altered that narrative, our downtown was discarded, desolate, no longer able to be reaped for profit of the Master, all things closed and nowhere to go. So Dave pitched a tent and lived in Trinity Square, his home.
We got to know each other better after months of working to support a growing encampment community. He would help to clean up, tidy up the park, help with this or that to keep things running smoothly. He was an attentive host to guests in his house, making sure that people were getting what they need, occasionally advocating for this person or that person. Then one day he came to ask for a crate of water, letting me know that he wanted to help people who were thirsty on the street when we were not around- and so the wishing well began. Water, Coffee, Cigarettes, Smudge, a listening ear, a parental presence, a voice of reason and of care. Slowly more people joined him, offering what they could, sharing what they could, whatever they could do to help others feel stable, to come out of the tumult of street life for a minute, an hour, a day. People began to change, become more familiar, more cooperative. People began to take up their space, to plant their talents in the ground and treasure what they could offer as their gift to the world. As Dave puts it “people who never would talk to each other, are talking to each other, we are becoming a family together, a big family that cares about each other.”
And like that, it became a movement- all around us, abundance being created. The fibres of connection between us, the care for one another, the wealth of our spirits.
So i tell this story with Dave’s permission, to illustrate his success and ours. I asked him what would you like people to take away from this, and he said “tell them to not forget about us down here”
Thanks be to our creator who gives us the bounty of life, thanks be to the spirits that govern our world, thanks be to the earth and to the sky and to all things, for we are blessed.