I missed hearing it on the news. Mornings at our house—between cajoling kids out of bed and supervising piano practice and encouraging manners and/or self-service to be used when little people are issuing demands about what they want in their lunches and for breakfast – are loud. It was later in the morning, when I finally got around to checking in on facebook, that I got railroaded with the inconceivable news: Jian Ghomeshi fired from Q.
Friends who know me well know that I passionately love this CBC arts and culture radio show hosted by Jian, that he ranks second only to Leonard Cohen in the list of people I most admire, people who I don’t even want to meet because I would be too nervous to say anything coherent. So when I was looking at my wall, I clued in first that something terrible must have happened because of the messages of sympathy posted there. It took much longer for me to understand what that sympathy was for.
I spent the rest of the day processing my scattered thoughts. According to Jian, he has done nothing wrong, although he admits to liking bedroom play that others might find offensive. He’s been set up! It was the first thing I wanted to believe about the situation, and certainly lots of Jian’s supporters were on-line arguing this to be the case. Whether because of a bias against Jian’s liberal voice, budget cuts from on high, or just a Victorian prudishness at having one of the most popular faces of the CBC smeared with sex scandal, there seemed to be ample reason for believing that Jian had been let go unjustly.
I will no longer listen to the CBC! I resolved in response. Where I could possibly turn instead for thoughtful commercial-free radio representing a variety of voices, concerns, perspectives and cultural contributions, I had no idea. The thought of not starting my day with public broadcasting left me feeling lost. And more than for myself, I worried about what would be lost to Canada if others decided to take this course as well, if we collectively conceded that our source of trust-worthy, thought-provoking news journalism was gone.
Later news articles and links flipped my opinion again. What appeared to be total innocence from Jian’s perspective was now sounding anything but. Anonymous, but corroborated, reports of sexually abusive behaviour toward at least several women left me feeling more sympathetic toward the CBC . The CBC is going to suffer very much for having let Jian go. Maybe they did so as a brave and just choice. Maybe they are trustworthy and have done the right thing on behalf of all too-many people out there who have felt exploited or violated because of sexual abuse or assault.
Then there are the women. For whatever reason—probably because of how complicated it is to either stand up for claims that haven’t been brought into the full light of day or to dismiss them as inconsequential when, in fact, we are more aware than ever of just how hard it can be to admit to being a victim of unwanted sexual or abusive behaviour even in circumstances far outside the radar of national celebrity—it took me longer to consider them. I watched facebook ignite with heartfelt judgements. We have a process. We have law. Accusations need to be brought to bear in a court of law, not lobbied against an individual’s reputation in the realm of public opinion and so-called gossip. Who among us doesn’t know good and faithful men whose reputations have been attacked by feminist anger gone awry? And yet, who among us can’t also point to stories of women and men who have risked everything and lost much trying to honour the process and bring an abuser to justice? Four women, all unnamed. Even Jian’s supposed friends weighing in on-line to name him as a man who hits women. Sexual deviance is one thing. Assault is another. My responsibility is surely to uphold the voices of those who feel they can’t raise those voices, to speak into the fray the experiences that have been shared so often with me: of strong women silenced within a system that doesn’t quite yet work.
These later conclusions also left me feeling unsettled. Because of course I don’t know. I don’t actually know any of the people involved, nor the final validity of their claims. I don’t know what it felt like in the upper echelons of CBC to let their most popular radio personality go, a man who has changed the face of what is possible for publically-funded radio. I don’t know, but if I am honest and resist snap judgements, I would guess that those higher-ups are far less interesting than the evil non-persons I wanted at first to assume that they were and probably much closer to human beings like me who would struggle to make the right decisions when every step forward points to damage and scandal and loss.
I don’t know the stories of these anonymous women or what has led them to choose to share, or not share, their stories. I do know that they represent circumstances that are far from ideal because of course a court of law is the better place to air grievances of this sort, and of course we should live in a world where men and women can speak openly and pursue justice by means that allow for disclosure rather than furthering secrecy, scandal and the fuelling of that anger that becomes most intense in the face of all that we can’t control.
I don’t know if Jian is a victim or victimizer. And I don’t know, in the event that he’s in the wrong, what might have led him to make the choices that he may have made. I know that too much affirmation can be a toxic thing, that even the most well-positioned, respected, acclaimed and admired can feel impossibly small, that the ego’s appetite can become hungrier in the face of even vast quantities of adulation. I know that good people can get lost.
Last week’s Gospel centered on The Golden Rule, as stated by Jesus “Love the Lord your God with all your heart. And love your neighbour as yourself.” This past Sunday’s sermons, in all of our churches, no doubt invited us to wonder at how these words might apply in the face of the tragic events in the killing of two Canadian soldiers and the mid-week attack on Parliament Hill. Many of my conversations with friends and parishioners circled around questions of compassion: what must we understand about the causes that could lead to such horrific actions? About the power and appeal the violence and hatred of ISIS is having on young Canadians? What responsibility do we bear to our young people in our country? How can we avoid hateful stereotypes as a result of these actions? How can we nurture relationships that lead to understanding and justice, and therefore, peace?
Part of loving my neighbour as myself is about trying to understand my neighbour. But the other part of loving my neighbour is in admitting that I, in fact, understand precious little. Sometimes love’s capacity for the selflessness and the generosity of the Gospel grows when I can let go of needing to have the answers, when I can avoid drawing conclusions that are not within my authority to draw, when I can let my own need for certainty go just enough to live in the tension of conferring a basic level of respect and dignity on more than one voice, even as those voices lobby accusations against one another.
And the other part of loving my neighbour has something to do with me, with my choices and my responsibility. In Jesus’ teaching, God’s kingdom is here, and it starts with you. It starts with me. Jian’s firing might mean less than nothing to some of you reading my blog. And some of you will feel like I do. Like something terrible has happened to a dear friend. More than that, like something almost as vitally important has been lost to Canada with his departure as was lost in the murder of Corporal Nathan Cirillo. In the face of that hurt and that groundlessness, there are some things that I can’t choose and there are some things that I can. There are things I can’t know and things I can. The Gospel choice is to start with the “I know”s and the “I can”s.
I know there is a talented and famous man who has had his world crumble around him. I know that this man is deserving of prayer. I know that there are women who are probably equally talented who, as yet, have no name, who have also lost something of great value. And these women are in need of prayer too.
I can, in my own life and relationships, far outside the sphere of national headlines, be part of how communities are created where people commit to the struggle inherent in the growing of compassion, where stories can be shared in ways that build trust and honesty. I can foster opportunities for truth-telling and care of the vulnerable in the places I live and work.
And I can do something else, something small, something that interestingly brought me back to where I had begun. I turned CBC back on today. I had turned it off as a loyal fan and as an easy first reaction of anger against what can be mistaken as a faceless institution. Just as I remind disgruntled church members that their baptism precludes them from leaving the church because the church is them and it is us, so I have to acknowledge that our public broadcaster is me and it is us. Our country still needs to be built. And our national conversation—and therefore our public broadcaster—needs our participating voices and not our turned backs.