As an antidote to media images of bearded guys playing bloodied Jesuses on the cross, I opt for the earth- friendly contemplative Good Friday walk hosted by an ecumenical group of Christians.
The trek begins with an environmental meditation in the Church of the Holy Trinity. It's a good place to start. Whenever I sit in this Anglican holy place, it feels like a shelter from the consumer storm, tucked as it is beside the city's grand shopping cathedral, the Eaton Centre. With its creaking floorboards and commitment to the local homeless, this church's very survival in the face of powerful developers and the conservative drift has defied the odds.And as the 200 lefty Christians file out of the church past the soulless Yonge-Dundas Square and then south, it strikes me that many of the faces, retirees in the main, are the same ones who started the annual trek in the late 70s. I was in high school then, and many of my teachers were there at its inception.
As we make our way to the steps of Metropolitan United Church and a presentation on destructive mining practices in the developing world, I begin to do an activist audit. This is roughly the same group that was at the forefront of 80s resistance to the nuclear arms race and led the successful boycott of South Africa during apartheid and the fight against the late-80s Free Trade Agreement with the U.S.
They were the elders among the wide spectrum of people who organized buses to Seattle, Washington, DC, and Quebec City to protest globalization. And they pioneered socially progressive investing and corporate responsibility. It's quite a record, and I wonder if I'm seeing the end of a stratum that rarely gets its due. Deeply influenced by the Great Depression their parents lived through, this group of elder activists grew up with the belief that governments are the keepers of the common good.
Coming of age before the influence of television, they looked askance at the medium and its glorification of violence. Consumer debt was anathema to them - they saved their money. That said, theirs was a gentler economic era, when homes were cheap and jobs were forever.
As they grew older, they witnessed a sweep of support for governments across North America that widened the gap between rich and poor and weakened the social safety net.
So here we are today with little job security, few pension plans, declining wages and long-term financial security a distant dream for most. At the same time, it costs a king's ransom to own or rent a home in Toronto. So there's less time to be engaged, and not a lot of room to be generous - of spirit or of pocketbook.
I'm thinking about this standing in the chilled air on the grounds of Osgoode Hall, where someone is reading the names of the 500-plus homeless people who have died on the streets.Sure, the question sounds like a cliché: how in this city of wealth can so many people die shelterless? But the answer may be just as mundane: those who do have shelter are so busy trying to pay for it they have little time for anything or anyone else.
Sometime during this part of the vigil, the clock at Old City Hall chimes 4 - it takes a while to read 500 names. I admit I start getting a bit bored, fidgety. Eventually, I settle in, letting the unfamiliar names float through me. It becomes overwhelming. An abomination.
A great failure of imagination, generosity and will that it has come to this.