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between-our-steps-06-06-18-doubleIn an ancient Hebraic story, a boy named Samuel gives us a model of engagement. Samuel has lived at a shrine since he was a young child. The priest, Eli, is growing old and going blind, so the boy does most of the physical work. On this night, when he lays down to sleep in the shrine, he hears a voice call him by name. "Here I am," he says and goes to Eli, thinking the priest called him.

Eli tells the boy he did not call and sends him back to sleep. This happens again, and for a third time. Now Eli wakes up to the fact that it is God calling and instructs Samuel to stay in the shrine and listen.

Samuel is the model servant. He is called and says, "Here I am."

The summons in the night is something we understand. When the phone rings at two am, we jump out of bed and run to catch the call, though we hope it is a wrong number. A child calls out in the middle of the night, and we go to comfort them if it is a bad dream, to help them if they are sick. Our partner is awake in the night. We do what we can to help them deal with what is keeping them up.

But Samuel's story goes on. The message from God is not a pleasant one. Eli's sons have been stealing from the shrine and the priest has done nothing to stop them. As a result, God's blessing will be withdrawn from the man Samuel honours and given to the boy.

In the morning, Eli asks what God's message had been, and Samuel does not want to say. He is told that he has no choice: when God speaks, the message must be shared.

It is important that we go on past the moment when Samuel says "Here I am," because it is not always easy to engage the summons.

Black Lives Matter has asked Canada to examine the way police use racial profiling. This has not been an easy conversation. People who have not experienced this kind of racism can become uncomfortable. But listening to the stories and pushing for change is important. Hearing how African-Canadians get targeted by police matters. This is something we can change and should change. To do so requires stepping up and saying "Here I am. I will be part of this conversation."

When the #metoo hashtag started, many women joined the conversation. Some men, on the other hand, became uncomfortable and defensive. The conversation about assault and harassment asks the whole society to look at how power, or even the perception of power, is used to cross intimacy boundaries.

Last week, I saw the movie Spotlight, an account of the reporters in Boston who broke open the extent of the abuse of children by Roman Catholic priests and the way the hierarchy of the church had buried the abuse. That church is still trying to learn how to have the conversation about appropriate boundaries, how to move away from a culture that allows this to happen and hides it when it does.

Some parts of the United Church make training about healthy boundaries mandatory for ministers. The training must be repeated every few years. Abuse still happens, but we are required to engage in the conversation about what makes for healthy, respectful relationships. I have been in these circles when someone suddenly begins to see their own actions in a new light. Their discomfort is palpable, but I have also heard them affirm the opportunity to shift.

Aboriginal people have asked the churches and the country to listen to the stories of loss and abuse that took place through the system of residential schools. Although the white community has tried to respond with "but people got a good education," those who still live with the consequences ask us all to sit and listen and understand what was lost.

These are not easy conversations. They demand an acknowledgement of wrong and a commitment to change. But when we say "Here I am," when we step up and engage in the conversation, transformation is possible.
Cathy Hird lives near Walters Falls.


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