Monsters

5 Mar

Luke 9:28-36 (37-43)

In one of my favourite Disney animations, “Monsters Inc.”, “the city of Monstropolis in the monster world is powered by energy from the screams of human children. At the Monsters, Inc. factory, skilled monsters employed as “scarers” venture into the human world to scare children and harvest their screams, through doors that activate portals to children’s bedroom closets. It is considered dangerous work, as human children are believed to be toxic. Energy production is falling because children are becoming less easily scared….”

We seem to be infatuated with monsters and I am interested in how we turn people who do crimes that repel us into one?

This last week has been a difficult one for a lot of people especially those who have suffered abuse in the church and their families. and those who have have been abused by others who were not a part of any institution. The impact does not end, it increases with time. Does seeing the perpetrators of such acts as monsters remove our fear we could do something as monstrous? Does seeing these people as exceptions explain why we missed the signs, excusing us and society of complicity in the crime?

After monstrous crimes the system in which they occurred return to normal, perhaps with some new policies in place to protect the system from accusations they did nothing. The crimes continue because we haven’t changed the balance of power, provided the potential victims with agency and a voice and ourselves withe the capacity to listen, hear and reflect, letting go of our power and control. We are to stop treating the marginalised as non-agents incapable of making decisions, setting boundaries and managing their own lives. We do this with children, historically with women (some would say we still do), with the homeless, unemployed, addicted, the sick and aged and FNP. We set policies to dictate how and where they live, what they do, how they spend their money, allowing them no voice or the agency to decide for themselves.

Systemically,our society brutalises the marginalised. It is how the economy and the political structure works. It is why we go to work, the essence of footy tribalism, religious bigotry and persecution, racism and discrimination.

In today’s Gospel we hear God affirm Jesus, not because he was perfect but because he was available and teachable – open and responsive to the circumstances around him. In no way was this mountain top experience a positive experience for the disciples. It was the moment when Jesus turned his face towards the monsters loose in the world and impressed upon them that now was the real task began. After coming down the mountain Jesus is involved in a confrontation with the demonic and reaffirms that the monsters don’t win.

There were monsters afoot in his time, Roman soldiers, supporters of Herod’s household and a form of clericalism – pharisees, sadducees and scribes. Everything wrong was the fault of the monsters amongst the people. They were the others who acted badly, lied, cheated, robbed and brutalised.

Yet they weren’t the ones who chased Jesus to the edge of the cliff wanting to throw him off, who wanted him to leave their town, who yelled crucify him. Those were ordinary the people who lived ordinary lives with families, played with their children, went to the synagogue and acted fairly with their neighbours.

Is one of the reasons we seek to describe those responsible for reprehensible crimes as monsters because, as Jesus says elsewhere, we only see “the speck in their eye and not the log” in ours? Monstrous crimes are not specks.

What Jesus is saying is that each of us is capable of monstrous behaviour and the denial of that possibility is the log allowing such events to occur. It is interesting that in one confrontation with the woman at the well Jesus recognises and admits his blindness to the discrimination he seemed to be a part of.

When I was at Bathurst as a Salvo officer I visited the Bathurst maximum security prison and two prison farms. At Bathurst I visited the sexual offenders locked section. Prior to doing so I would brush up on the crimes committed, sometimes with photographic supporting evidence. The crimes ranged in severity, many were beyond words. Behind the gate I found ordinary people, not monsters, who under different circumstances you would pass in the street without any concern.

At one of the prison farms I had a distinguished looking grey haired gentleman running the projector at the movie nights. He was polite, gentlemanly and highly educated – a model citizen if dressed in a suit. Yet he raped and killed a 16 year girl as he went to the shops to get milk for his children’s cereal, returning home after the act to continue as normal. Monsters never look like monsters. They look like us.

Jesus says the reason people are able to act they way we do is because we do not see the potential for such acts in ourselves, we do not even see how we act similarly but on a smaller scale every day. The speck we see in others, their monstrous crimes and regular failings, are magnified to hide our own potential.

Because we fail to see the possibility in ourselves, we fail to see the signs in others and believe the victims of sexual, domestic, corporate and societal violence. We convince ourselves we have good reasons for denying others their rights, paying people unliveable wages, gossiping, refusing people scared to live in their own countries entry and more.

What are we to do:

Be mindful of our own faults and the potential for doing terrible things;

  • Be aware that “good” people do bad things and they do not do them without telegraphing their actions. There are always signs if we look.
  • Give agency to those who are marginalised. Allow their voices to be heard, listen and hear what they have to say as true.
  • Believe and trust. Believe the voice of those without a voice and trust your instincts and act.
  • Finally we are to look at how we structure our institutions from our schools up to change the power structures and to give potential victims agency and voice. It is one of the reasons the Statement from The Heart preferences a voice. If you are not heard you do not exist. Our schools, the first institutions of socialisation, are designed more for the embedding of management and control than for for hearing the voice of the child. The church is structured on a male patriarchal hierarchical model with the head cleric, usually male, and if female, embedded in a male structure, holding all the power. Both of these systems produce much of our problems with abuse and are managed by protocols and rules designed to protect the system.

Jesus calls for a revolution.

A revolution which begins with the question: why do you do what you do and think what you think?

Look at the log in your own eye and become aware of your own propensity to transfer responsibilities and guilt for crimes, great and small, to others. We are all implicated when terrible things happen if we turned a blind eye to the obvious. This is not about blaming people, parents, those who we say should have known; we are programmed not to see monsters.

For someone who has experienced child abuse, these are difficult times. Yet I hope it is a time when victims begin to get a voice and those who lead institutions devolve power to others, especially the vulnerable.

That’s what Jesus is calling for.

I was to go to a seminar on child safety this week. This is not a time for more fences or protocols or promises to do better.

We need a restructuring of power, of church structures, the revolution Jesus embarked on when he came down the mountain, so we the victims know we have agency.

Jesus asks us to revisit our perception of the issue of power and transference, honestly and openly, to recalibrate how we view our own responses and take a stand to give the vulnerable a voice to redesign the system. Not to be perfect but simply to be acceptable, teachable and open to redirection as Jesus, the Jesus with whom God was well pleased, the Jesus of the revolution, was.

Until that happens, these crimes will continue.

One Reply to “Monsters”

  1. Thank you Glenn, this is thought-provoking. As one who was a prison chaplain at a maximum security prison working in the protection section for high profile prisoners, never to be released prisoners, and sex offenders, the one thing that always struck me was how ‘ordinary’ these guys were. I was known to say if we met these guys walking down the street we would be most likely to say hi and think nothing of it. They look like our brothers, our fathers, our sons. As many people in the church, and society in general assume high and lofty perches, we distance ourselves and are not prone to look at the log in our eye. We refuse to acknowledge there is one!

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