Covenanting For Social Justice

  • Unknown Speaker
    The Margaret Laurence lecture, which is funded by a combination of a very generous private endowment and money from the Canadian Studies Directorate is intended to bring a distinguished speaker to Trent to address women's involvement in peace, ecology, literature and feminism, all concerns which were important to Margaret Laurence. Each year we put ads in the paper and in the Arthur and we ask for nominations from the community for speakers for the Margaret Laurence Lecture. This year's lecturer was nominated by a student, Sara Shepherd, a fourth year student here at Trent, and I've asked Sara to introduce the speaker this year.
  • Sara Shepherd
    I'd like to welcome our fifth annual Margaret Laurence lecturer tonight. Her name is Dr. Lois Wilson and we're very fortunate in having her. She is someone who Margaret Laurence knew well herself. Margaret Laurence described her as being both a pilgrim of faith and a pioneer. She's perhaps best known as being United Church of Canada's first woman moderator and being one of the first Canadians to be a president of the World Council of Churches, but she's done many, many other things as well. Her resume is just incredible, a lot of grass roots local activities such as involvement in the Elizabeth Fry Society, Amnesty International, as well as global activities such as World Council of Churches and so on. I nominated her because I first heard her speak a little over five years ago. My home church is a very small one in a very small village called Seagrave and our women's group was talking about who to ask on our sort of special women's church service and somebody as a joke said let's ask Lois Wilson. And somebody else, sort of as a joke, wrote her a letter and asked her, never thinking she'd actually come, but they got a letter back saying that she had a conference in Scandinavia and she had a conference in South America and she had a couple of days to kill in between so she'd come to Seagrave. And she did, it was wonderful. What really impressed me was her honesty, her integrity, her compassion to peace, justice, and her ability to make all of those issues relevant to people in Seagrave, not an easy thing to do. And those are qualities that everyone who has met her has admired, including Margaret Laurence herself. Her most recent book is called Telling Her Story. I just read it, it's a wonderful book, and I think the title – Telling Her Story – is one which summarizes what she's about. She's committed her life to making sure that women in particular who are poor and oppressed and disenfranchised have an opportunity to tell their stories, both within the church and within the wider community. And so I'm hoping she'll do that tonight. She has a lot of remarkable stories to tell us, both about herself and about the people she's met. So on behalf of the Trent community and the Peterborough community, I'd like to welcome Lois Wilson tonight.
  • Lois Wilson
    Thank you very much, Sara. When I received the letter of invitation to give this lecture, I felt the same way as Margaret Laurence felt when I was elected moderator. I received a letter from her and the letter was: Dear Lois, Hurrah, hurrah, hurrah, hurrah, hurrah, hurrah, hurrah, signed Margaret Laurence. I still have that and maybe I'll give it to the archives here some time. I'd just like to say a little about Margaret because we knew each other since we were seventeen when we entered what was then United College, now University of Winnipeg, in Manitoba. She from Neepawa and I from the city and therefore I'm not very interested in people from Neepawa, wherever that was. But it was an incredibly creative time for the university and for the city. Immense social and political and religious ferment with a very mixed group of people racially and I almost thought that's how the world was until I got out of Winnipeg and got to some homogeneous communities and I could hardly believe it, where either everybody was Anglo-Saxon or else they weren't. At that time, United College was a very small arts college, it was a collegiate that was the last year of highschool of the years of arts and science and theology, so it was all those departments together in some creative interaction. I think the total student body was 480 people and my own arts class was 47 people. The advantage of that, and as I look back it was an immense gift that I received, was that you were in constant interchange with each other and with the professors. I mean, you couldn't go to a class like this and go to sleep, there was no way. You simply had to be in exchange all the time. In my view, I received a very good education because of that.
  • Lois Wilson
    There's no way that either Margaret or I could have escaped the whole social justice orientation of that college. It was assumed that that was part of the ethos of university at that time. We also were very much aware, living in what was called the north end of Winnipeg, of the racial mix there but also we were the only ward in the city of Winnipeg who for years elected a communist to city council, Joe ???. And again, I thought that was normal and so long as I lived there, Stanley Knowles was my representative in parliament so I was kind of weaned on credit unions and cooperatives and learned from the culture itself with which I lived that responsibility for other people and their responsibility for me was a key value. Margaret exhibited her writing talents very early, of course, and even in second year by the time she was the ripe old age of eighteen, she was working for ??? which was the university campus magazine and I remember they used to put in tongue and cheek commentary on current events and she wrote one on the secret plans of the reds. This was an article on how workers demanded higher wages and shorter hours and it was a very creative thing to do because it was just in the McCarthy era in the States when there was a communist under every bush and under every seat. In latter years, our lives intersected around social issues, interestingly enough again. I met her on, in fact we were both members of both of these boards at one point in our lives, one was Project Ploughshares which is the inter-church coalition in Canada on disarmament and peace and is housed in Conrad Grebel College at the University of Waterloo. It does first-class research on arms suppliers, disarmament issues and so on and is now on consultative status with the UN. There she was and there was I. And the other one was, we were both board members of Energy Probe, looking for alternative sources of energy other than the ones we have. To our surprise, or maybe not to our surprise, we had in the intervening years become strong feminists, taking different routes to that, and we exchanged reading lists immediately. I asked her if she'd give me a reading list on all the feminist authors and literature I should be reading and I said well I will if I can give you a list of feminist theologians you should be reading and that was a fair exchange.
  • Lois Wilson
    Well tonight I want to talk about covenanting for social justice. I think that covenanting is somewhat different from contracting. Covenanting means that there is a commitment from which you don't back off. There will be no separation. It doesn't mean that the terms are not going to change because I think that all covenants need renegotiation from time to time. Certainly when one thinks of the marriage covenant, unless you renegotiate quite frequently, you're in deep trouble, soon, and you will end up if you do that as two quite different people and the fabric of the marriage of course is quite, quite different from when you started. So I want to talk about it in terms of covenants that people have made in different areas of our life together and how those need to be renegotiated and I'd like to do it, as Sara suggested, through telling some stories. It may seem simplistic to do that but I think not. I think that the stories we tell define who we are and through the stories we communicate meaning to other people, we say how we see reality and stories are very important for that reason. I'll tell you this story, its apocryphal and some of you may have heard me tell it before, but it's the only, I was at a feminist conference in Montreal a couple of years ago, on a section on women and religion, and it was the only story from that whole section that got quoted in the Devoir so I thought, gee that's a pretty good story.
  • Lois Wilson
    It's the story of a United Church congregation near Peterborough who were calling a woman minister for the first time and they were a little worried about this, like would she know how to bury people and would she know the marriage service and would she know anything. And the clerk of session, who is the key person in the congregation, said to his spouse – I'm going to treat her the same way I've treated all those male ministers and so I'm taking her fishing Monday morning. She thought that was a great idea, got her fishing gear together and away they went. She didn't catch anything although she tried desperately and then it got very rainy and the wind got up and it was most uncomfortable so she got out of the boat and walked on water to the shore and went home. That night the clerk of session was heard to say to his spouse – you know, these female ministers, they can't fish and they can't swim. Stories are important, they define who we think we are.
  • Lois Wilson
    There are two kinds of stories. Those of tradition which bolster tradition, which are not to be underestimated because we have not one human culture without long, long experience at struggle and is not to be discarded lightly. On the other hand, there are the stories of innovation, creativity, which help us define a future that is still unattainable and those somehow need to be brought together. In my view, the best stories are those that take a tradition which has been won so hard and revise it and create a new reality. So the old stories become new stories but they do not lose the oldness either. Women in particular, I think, understand the importance of stories because for thousands of years we have sung lullabys to babies, we have woven stories in tapestry, we have done the pottery and so on. It was mentioned that I've written this book, Telling Her Story. I also wrote a sequel to it which I called Miriam, Mary and Me, which is dealing with stories of women in the Hebrew scriptures, the Greek scriptures and the contemporary situation and I wrote it for my grandchildren because I didn't want them to wait until age 40 'till they figured some of this out. So I tried to take the current scholarship and express it for children. One of the reasons I told it is that I have a friend who teaches kindergarten who, when Good Friday came around, was asking the class, why do we have Good Friday, it's a holiday, you know. Well that's the day Jesus died. Yeah, but why did he die. Well because he ate the poisoned apple. So these kids don't even know basic stories, so the telling of stories is an honourable vocation and I think one that all of us need to recapture and practice.
  • Lois Wilson
    In our time, I think the stories which are most popular are the stories of maintenance, the stories of tradition, which is fine except that it very quickly slips over to the way things were or the way things are, are the way things will always be. And if one tells only the traditional stories of maintenance, then in fact one supports the status quo and undermines any hope of any radical social change. Slaves have known this, poor have known it, women have known it, racial minorities have known it, so there's a need to honour tradition but revise it into a new story. Well I think one of the terror of our times is that there's so many stories that need a retelling and they need it simultaneously, we have that sense of not much time in order to get at this. And tonight I'd like to talk about five areas that really do need a revised story which is one way of saying that we're needing some transformation of the culture in those areas.
  • Lois Wilson
    The first one I want to talk about is the faith community since that's, I think I'm legitimate in doing that since that's been my life work. And partly I'd like to talk about the new configurations within the Christian community and the Christian world but more broadly than the faith communities, much more broadly than only Christian. I think Margaret would be interested that I choose to do this. I discovered, I didn't really know, we never talked of it, but I discovered when I went out to Lakefield one Thanksgiving to really talk about her funeral and what she would like, I discovered that, uh, I said have you got a bible handy. Oh yeah, she had a bible, she pulled it out, and there was more of her commentary on the text than the text itself. She says I can never ??? because my comments are much more important you understand. It's written there. I said I thoroughly understand that. And I think that her profound religious commitment resulted in a keen sense of raw passion about social justice which came out so clearly in her books, through her characters.
  • Lois Wilson
    Well, the old story for a Christian community was that Christianity was the dominant religion in the west and the north and it was our duty to tell everybody else about it and so the whole missionary movement came into being, which got very much mixed up with cultural overlays so that in terms of the Native people in Canada we were instrumental in collapsing their spirituality and collapsing their language which they are now trying to recover. And it was a very paternalistic approach despite the best of intentions and yet some very good things came out of that effort as well, but generally it was somewhat negative. The new story is that there is now a shift in the Christian axis in the world so that the flow of personnel is not from the north to the south or from the west to the rest but it is all over the place. It's from country to country, as indigenous communities of Christians establish themselves and in fact reach out in some kind of mutuality partnership so that in fact one can trace it through the way the word has changed from missionary to overseas partner to companion, companion meaning you eat bread with, and that's the word that we use now. One of the phenomenas which I don't know what the result will be but I've been in the midst of it, in Eastern Europe and more laterally when I was in Cuba, the enormous influx into the Christian churches, and no one knows what that's about. I mean Moscow was really a riot. Two years ago, I was in an Orthodox church and they've got a very humane way of worshiping, it's very informal, so if you get bored at the chief liturgy, you can go back to the sub liturgies at the back. So soon I got bored, and I went back and they were having a baptism, there were 36 candidates, most of them children who get thoroughly immersed, and the other ones, and they were telling me that the priests had 40 baptisms per day in that church, that's not weekly or monthly or yearly, per day. But it occurred to me that all those priests do is baptise, baptise, baptise, go to sleep, baptise, baptise, baptise, and that's all they had time to do so there was nobody to do any instruction or any teaching which is a very dangerous kind of situation. So I don't know what the outcome of that is but I'm just aware that that is happening.
  • Lois Wilson
    The new story of course is that small pockets of people, which perhaps have always existed but it was not widely known because there was not global communication, have understood religion as being about the human condition and what's happening to human beings and about transformation, not change but transformation. And that the focus of their religious passion is in those two areas, what's happening to human beings and transformation, as opposed to many other things that could fill up your spare time. So I think of the enormously rich contribution that has been made by small communities of people, not exclusively Christian of course, but they were included, in the struggle against the dirty war in Argentina in the early eighties, Brazil, some of the countries of Latin America where the Christian community was certainly in the forefront in company with other people. The final thing I'd like to say here is that I think we're in the midst of a new reformation within the Christian community and the divisions are no longer by denominations. I mean who cares whether you're a Presbyterian or an Anglican, really. The divisions are now, I would say, between the fundamentalists which was shading over into the charismatic movement, and the liberation theologians which shades over to the ecumenical movement. And so within each of the historic institutions, one can find people who are parts of those movements and I wish it would speed up a bit so that we can have new configuration of the churches in Canada around those things.
  • Lois Wilson
    I'm reminded that Margaret here, I guess, did have her battle with fundamentalists around her book and one of the last stories she told me, which is also in her book, Dancing on the Earth, we were in Kingston at one point and I invited her down for a dialogue and she told the story there how she'd been invited to a lady's group and there was a plastic tablecloth on this table and, in the course of the evening, she had, was asked, "Margaret, why do you think it's necessary to have all your characters use four-letter words all the time?" and she said, well, uh, they don't all the time but some of my characters, that's the way they talk so I don't want to, you know, rob them of their integrity as characters, that's their, that's who they are. She was smoking at the time and apparently dropped some ash on the plastic tablecloth and it started to go up in smoke. And without thinking, she said "Christ, I set the bloody thing on fire!". Afterwards, she said well at least I didn't use four-letter words.
  • Lois Wilson
    I'd like to say just a word about historic faith communities other than Christian because that whole configuration is changing too. I think the old story was, certainly we Christians gave it out, that we were certainly superior to the others, we couldn't quite remember why, but we were certainly superior. When I was in Peru I remember being shocked at the early Spaniards who'd come there and, again, were responsible for the collapse of the Peruvian culture and religion and had said to the Inca king – now, you know we're going to have to kill you, but we'll tie you to the stake, but if you don't want to be burned, if you allow yourself to be baptised, we'll strangle you, that's a much better way of doing it. That's history! And so that's what happened. There's been a selective reading, in my view, of the biblical texts, both the Hebrew and Greek scriptures, which has emerged in the king of the castle theology which Christians, by and large, are finally now abandoning, not without some struggle. Yet the danger in a new story is that people will say well all these religions are the same anyway so it doesn't really matter which you have. Which again I think is a simplistic way of looking at it and the new story is now being told through much struggle as we actually meet each other, not only around social justice issues which is fairly easy to do, but around profoundly religious questions. In my own life, that's one of the cutting edges and one of the richest areas in which I now participate.
  • Lois Wilson
    Pluralism in Canada is immense. One sees it when we're talking at the supper table. One sees it in elementary schools. One isn't always aware of it, for example tonight one may not be so much aware of it, but in the schools one sees it. People from every corner of the world are here, bringing with them their own language and their own religious community. On a given week in Toronto, there are now more worshiping Muslims than there are worshiping Presbyterians, maybe not too hard and that will continue but that is a shift, that is a shift in the last 30-40 years. And Native people as well are wedding, some are wedding their traditional spirituality with their adopted faith formulations and some very creative things are happening there.
  • Lois Wilson
    I guess just one simple story and then I'll read that one. I had to go to India to get catapulted into those understandings and when I was there, it's the first time in my life where I was a minority as a Christian and that was very good for me. After I'd been teaching for about three months in one of the community education centers, they gave me a trip all around India, you get this ticket for $200 or something. So I went to Kashmir and I knew I was going into a totally Muslim context and I knew that there would not be very many women on the streets. And on the plane, I met a woman who had been a German Christian but converted because she married a Pakistani Muslim. She was a little fearful because she didn't have English. I mean, I came up to her waist, she was huge, and so we kind of adopted each other. I thought she could protect me and she thought this woman's got the gift of the gab so she can talk for us. So this unlikely couple hit it off. One even decided to climb a mountain because we were there for a couple of days, one of the foothills in the Himalayas, and on the way on the bus, the young man sitting ahead of me I got into a conversation with, he turned out to be a Bachelor of Science, one of India's great unemployed, a Hindu. So I said, well, why don't you join us, we're nice people, we're going up for the day, so he did. So here this picture is the Hindu, the Muslim and the Christian climbing this mountain. Well we discovered, I discovered that my Muslim friend was not only huge, she was also very fat and half way up, I mean her breath gave out, she just couldn't do it any more. So she had to hire a man to haul her up a zig-zag path, you know, and pay him ten rubies, of which six rubies stayed with his boss at the bottom of the mountain. In any case, we got separated and when I went to her to find out how she was doing, she said, uh, rather I went to him first. And he said, you know that woman, she's a Muslim you know. I said, yeah I understand that. Well it's a very, uh, very inferior community to life. Oh, I said, tell me why. Well, I mean, they have no respect for our community and they do terrible things, they desecrate our temples and there's absolutely no, not even toleration, let alone understanding. So I thanked him very much and then I went to see how my friend on the tobaggan was getting on. And she said you know that young man you invited to come with us, he's Hindu, you know. I said, yeah I understand that. Well, I'm a recent convert to Islam so I really can tell you all about it. So I said, well I'm interested. Why, why? Well, she said, they're very inferior to mine and she said, for example, there are five things that Muslims must do, we are a very disciplined community. And so I said what are the five? She could only remember four, but she was still very sure that she was much superior. And at that point, you know, I began to think how many times have I thought or have been told or it has been said that Christians are very much superior to everybody else. Can't quite remember all the reasons but … And that launched me into some significant inter-faith encounters at a profoundly religious level when I came back to Canada. So I mean, what I'd like to say here is that that old story in the faith communities needs to be rewritten but it needs to be rewritten responsibly and not just in a kind of a liberal wash-out way by saying as though these communities have not got a long history and a lot of baggage. Some of it needs to be discarded, it's very hard work.
  • Lois Wilson
    Okay, the second area that I want to talk about briefly is all things ecological. The old story was that you shall have dominion over the earth and you in fact name the animals, although it was only the men who got to do that, and the mastery of the earth is really our vocation. In my view again, something out of Genesis which is not in context, but it has led to a pyramidic world view which, in so much of the world, has led to a way of seeing the world in human relationships as a pyramid, with some, mostly who happen to be male, in control on the top and underneath are the females, the children, the earth, the animals, what's below that. And that paradigm, I think, has legitimized the exploitation of earth's resources, land has been understood as a commodity or something for our use. It has not been affirmed for the integrity of itself. We're beginning to change that, beginning to change it, it's hard work. The Native people, I think, are helping us here. Jeannette Armstrong, who some of you may know in your literature studies – if you don't, you should – she's a Native woman who started a women's writing workshop in Penticton, B.C., addressed a conference I was at, and she talked about how we view a tree. It was a conference on racism and she was talking about different views of reality and how many people may view a tree and see it as toothpicks or skateboards or, you know, something that we really need, and she was saying that what we really need to do is start to think like a tree. Start to think like a tree. And she said, you know, we Native people are the only ones I think who apologize to a tree before we cut it down, thank it for giving of its life.
  • Lois Wilson
    Thomas Berger, whom I think of with great affection because he was here when you gave me an honorary degree, he was here at the same time. I got to know him through that process. Has just come off a study for the Sardar Sarovar Dam funded by the World Bank in India, in northwest India. If it comes off, it will be the largest dam in this huge canal going through three states in India, supposedly to provide irrigation to the surrounding countryside. And they invited him in with another person, a two-person commission, to really do an environmental ecological study and to the World Bank's credit, they did that. Well understandably enough, his report says "it is a flawed process, you're going to have to go back to the drawing boards" because what they'd done is take into account all the people whose land would be flooded but they hadn't taken into account all the people who are landless and if you didn't have land in the first place, then the thinking was, well you weren't being displaced because you never lost anything anyway, so we'll just move you somewhere else. And he talks about the human right to resettlement, the right to just settlement. I asked him if he could get himself invited to look at the three gorges thing in China and, if not, how about getting himself on the great whale environment review for Canada. I don't know if he will or not.
  • Lois Wilson
    But to retell the ecological story plummets us, I think, firmly into the struggle, spiritual struggle of the last part of the twentieth century. I mean, are we to be masters of the universe, and if not, let's not abdicate totally our responsibility. And how does one capture and recapture and retell a symbiotic relationship we should have with the earth. I'd like to say there is some very good theological work going on in that area, thank goodness at last, very late but it's happening. At the World Council of Churches Assembly which was held in '91 in Canberra, Australia which I attended, a Korean 32-year old female, Korean theologian, set the whole thing on its ears, wonderful. There were 5,000 people there from every nation under heaven and she stood up and challenged the old traditional theology which says that we are masters and we have dominion over the earth and said we better stop focussing so much on the human and the anthropocentric and really look at the non-human and what is the relationship between the created order creatures and the creator. She met with enormous opposition which I take it was a measure of her strength, particularly the black-robed orthodox from Serbia were much upset and I thought it was a wonderful thing. I think the Buddhist community is also helping the rest of us, in this area particularly, because their forte has been more of a symbiotic relationship than the rest of us have had.
  • Lois Wilson
    Okay, a third one. The widening gap between the rich and the poor. I think Margaret again would be happy that I want to talk about that a bit because in all of her writings it seems to me she talks about the marginal folk, the ones living outside, the ones down in the mud flats, the ones in the shacks. The old story I heard in Hong Kong, I travel a lot and spend a lot of time in airports and I was having particular culture shock this once and so I kind of looked around. I thought, if I could just find somebody that looks like me, maybe it would help. And I found a young couple and went over and I said, I introduced myself and they said "Oh yeah, we're from Dundas, Ontario" One of them actually had a Globe and Mail. So I said well how did you, what do you make of your first trip. "Well, it's been terrible. I mean there's so many people here and there isn't enough to eat and it's dirty and we just don't like it. I mean, they're gonna have to do something to control their population." And they said "We really buy the lifeboat theory and that's the theory", they said, "where you know, we in the West are in a lifeboat. We've got enough resources to sustain us into the foreseeable future but the rest of the world, like here in Hong Kong and in Asia, they're used to tornadoes and volcanoes and floods and monsoons and, I mean, they're all swimmin' around and many of them will drown but they're used to that, and besides if we took them into our lifeboat, then we would all sink." So then I had to go and find somebody else to talk to. That's the old story. It's been buttressed by the religious community, again with that misquote "the poor you have with you always" and not realizing it comes from your not erasing "the poor you have with you always" because you won't share your own wealth. That's been three times in the Globe and Mail this year … the poor you have with you always … therefore you can't change it, carry on folks, compete.
  • Lois Wilson
    Recently there was a seminar held in Geneva called Stress and Families and the North Americans went through their usual list of what causes stress in our families that we don't normally talk about. You know, my son is gay and my daughter's divorced and my uncle's an alcoholic and my aunt's in the psychiatric hospital…. those kinds of stresses. And the people from Latin America said we are not prepared to deal with your agenda until you deal with ours because ours is the land grab that most nationals and others have made of our land, forcing the peasants to non-productive fields, and so a peasant loses his little plot and he can't feed his family because of those policies, that causes stress in our families. So that's what we want to deal with before we talk about all your problems of stress in your affluent society. I think the whole bondage of foreign debt that Latin America finds itself in, and some Asian countries now, is just unbearable. The women particularly in Latin America said to me, you know food is so expensive now because we have to pay off interest on the foreign debt and we can't feed our kids. And when the World Bank comes in with their Structural Adjustment Program, it's widely known in Latin America as Sophisticated Arrangements for Poverty. And in Africa, it's widely known as Suffering African People. The trickle-down theory is not working. Some of you may have read Kenneth Galbraith's latest book, Culture and Contentment, in which he says the trickle-down theory is like when you feed oats to a horse and some of it lands on the pavement for the sparrows, but not very much. So that's being discredited.
  • Lois Wilson
    The new story, which is an old story re-worked, is that the world is connectional, that poverty and wealth are two sides of the same coin, that structural change is needed until that's recognized. If not, what's being predicted widely is a mass migration of people from the south to the north and no laws and no guns or anything will keep them out. I spoke briefly at noon about Cuba, whom I think are not all that anxious to migrate north although many are because they're in a very critical position in terms of lack of food and lack of medicine, due to the collapse of the Soviet law. They've had the U.S. embargo for thirty years and so they could cope with that but now their rations are, as one man said to me, like the minimum rations in the U.K. during World War II. Some of you are too young to know what that was like but it's subsistence rations, very difficult. They know, in fact, how we live. The whole world knows that because of communication, and migration will happen, not just refugees but migrants also. I can't understand why our country keeps saying we'll take refugees but no economic refugees. I mean, what do they, they don't really think these people come here to hope, do they? They come here to eat! And, I mean, you would do the same. So that whole policy needs to be looked at and a new story written.
  • Lois Wilson
    And despite some stunning advances on the situation of women in the world in this area, most women remain poorer than men and they're lagging further and further behind and are economically dependent on the man who happens to be the key person in their life at that time. One of the reasons, and certainly in the third world, is that the technology is transferred to the men. I saw, about two years ago, I saw a CIDA film, and they must have been proud of it or they wouldn't have circulated it, and it was about pumps in ??? I think, and it showed all the pumps being put in by CIDA which is a wonderful thing and then it showed the man being instructed in how to fix the pump and the next story was the woman came to the pump and it was broken and she didn't know how to fix it, because she hadn't been taught. So she had to race around until she got some man to put the ??? in. So that the technology is not being transferred adequately, I think, to users who, in this case, are women. A new story needs to be told there and it needs desperately to be told. The women's movement is well and flourishing in many countries but there remains much to be done.
  • Lois Wilson
    Okay, where am I now. Science and technology is another one, and we've married those. I find a great ambivalence on the part of people around science and technology. I'm a member of the Federal Task Force on the Concept of the Disposal of Nuclear Waste – got all that? – and there's no site proposed. We're just going to talk about a hypothesis. The concept of nuclear waste being disposed of. I mean, there's no safe way yet and technology is being applied to that but I found in our hearings that many people who have appeared before us said "we don't trust the scientists, and we don't trust the engineers, they don't know what they're doing. I mean, how do they know the stuff isn't gonna leak into our food chain and our water." On the other hand, they said "if these men work, and they're all men, if they work a little harder, maybe they'll discover something that will neutralize it and then we can have all these good things and not the negative effects." So a certain ambivalence about science. I find that the old story is that all of technology is good, and for those of us brought up in the pre-technological era, and we were speaking about this at supper too. I remember in 1950 my husband took his first airplane flight to Timmins. But we discovered that for every technological advance, there is usually a negative as well as a positive and we need to be aware of that. Technology can be used to make the rich richer and the poor poorer and it has little ethical accountability because it's so new and we're all bedazzled by it and I for one would not want to go backwards.
  • Lois Wilson
    One of the areas that I really worry about though, and a new story has not yet been told here, is in the area of reproductive technology, which is coming along very quickly. I have two close friends who now have babies through artificial insemination. I became aware, when I was in B.C. and more laterally in Toronto, of amniocentesis which is to determine the sex of a baby before birth. And the use that is made of that by some cultures in Canada to really favour the girls, or favour the boys and abort the girls. This whole thing of sex determination has been going on in India for a hundred years, the women over there tell me, and they have learned a few things from it. For one thing, because the culture strongly favours males, and I guess that's not the only culture that favours males I might say, they now, from the census, are 2,000 women short in India, so they're gonna have to do something about this fairly soon, I think, if they want to keep producing a baby. But there are private clinics, both in B.C. and Toronto, who are offering this service for a fee and one wonders what should be done about that one.
  • Lois Wilson
    In Singapore, this is not so much to do with technology but it's related, there is, for university female graduates, you get a higher bonus if you have children than if you're not a university graduate. So if you can't get a job, you might want to go to Singapore. And this is on the theory that you'll produce smarter kids and Singapore will rise to the top, and so on and so forth. It's risky, the reproductive technology, all sorts of questions about it which I haven't raised here but you'll probably know better than I, so that the new story is blurred, it's unclear, we don't know the results of the new technology and usually one doesn't know for a period of years. So that's risky but it has to be done.
  • Lois Wilson
    A fifth one, I think this is the last, yes, is the relationship between majorities and minorities has to be renegotiated. I'm speaking here both of race, where a majority race dominates a minority race, or men and women, where there is an imbalance. The old story is so deeply, deeply, deeply put into our culture, even by the things we teach our kids. Like, what are little boys made of …. snakes, snails, puppy dogs' tails, that's what little boys are made of, under no compulsion, you know, to be sweet to anybody. And the girls … they're made of sugar and spice and everything nice, that's what little girls are made of, isn't that wonderful. So I think it's undergirded by the Christian emphasis on Eve the seductress, and Mary the virgin, when we're not either of those, we're somewhere in between and there doesn't seem to be much alternative. Margaret used to, she said, in my prayers, when I'm praying to God, I always say Sir or Madam as the case may be. And we talked extensively about the feminine images for the holy which are certainly in the Hebrew and Greek scriptures but are not lifted up very much. The United Nations puts it succinct in this way; they say that women are 50% of the human race, we're two-thirds of the work force … one-third of the work force but we do two-thirds of the world's work … we earn one-tenth of what men earn and we own 1/100th of the property. Now that's world wide and that says to me structural injustice that needs to be inverted or corrected. The danger, I think, is that women, as they enter into more of the mainstream of the dominant culture, are likely to cut themselves a piece of the pie and settle in to the status quo. And it just sends shivers down my spine when I go to the airports and read these books about "What the Well-Dressed Business Woman Shall Wear", you know, so as to be acceptable or as to be general context.
  • Lois Wilson
    The new story is that men and women are beginning to affirm and understand how we're complimentary, so that we move from a dominant dependency position to more of mutuality and reciprocity. So that men are learning how to cry and women, contrary to the Barbie doll, don't find maths tough. There are also some interesting patterns in families now. My oldest girl, for example, she and her husband are both doctors and for ten years she had their children, so they have five children. She is now Medical Director at Queens and he is the caretaker; he stays home and looks after the children, keeps his hand in as she did for ten years by doing three clinics a week. But I noticed he was getting a little depressed and I said, "Ian, I don't think it's because of you, it's because of the role you have assumed and you talk to any woman and you'll understand why we got depressed when we were in that situation where you are made to feel that, you know, you never have an adult conversation for years" and that's the precise situation he was in.
  • Lois Wilson
    As a sequel to the telling of a story, I've actually written a book which are bible stories for children, formed by feminist theology, and I've called it Miriam (which is the Hebrew scriptures), Mary (from the Greek scriptures) and Me (the contemporary situation). And I've tried to lift up stories of unconventional women, stories of women who broke through taboos and stereotypes and I discovered that they're there, that strain is there, it's just hardly ever mentioned. And it's certainly not forefront for the children. And I was talking about this at another meeting I was at and one of the men said to me, "Oh", he said, "you're doing liberation theology". Matter of fact, yeah, guess I am. It's great fun and it's beginning to tell a new story in terms of the relationships of men and women where in fact we're able to appreciate each other, affirm each other and our gifts are complimentary. I mean, what can one say about racism, it's still with us and I think it's very much tied to that same pyramidic model of domination and dependency. I saw it in Sri Lanka where I was a year ago on a Canadian human rights mission, where we went with the full briefing and knowledge of both CIDA and External Affairs, to try and put some pressure on our government policy vis-à-vis Sri Lanka and also on our refugees. We took a, it was a church inspired group, but we took three parliamentarians with us, two of whom had just been booted out of China the previous week, Sven Robinson and Beryl Gaffney, so it was quite exciting. But one saw that at the roots of that conflict are land but also the ethnic make-up of that country, so you have 75% Sinhalese with a smaller minority of Tamils, both government and church racist policies for the last 200 years in terms of the residential schools which, again, were well intentioned but the effect was not positive, to say the least. And they're recovering their roots and their pride and their self-esteem.
  • Lois Wilson
    Yes, I'd better hasten on. How does one do this, then, because I think that all those five covenants need to be renegotiated: the faith communities, the rich and the poor, all things ecological, technology and science and the dominant groups with the minority groups. I'd like to say that my view is that transformation of any significance usually happens when those on the periphery who have put themselves together in a holistic way, who then put some pressure on the center. And by going to the center, normally nothing changes, although it's necessary to do that as well, and I suppose that's why I spent most of my life trying to work with people who are definitely on the periphery. Because what we're after is the redistribution of power and nobody gives up power willingly, it has to be taken, so there's a struggle. It's exactly what's going on with the constitutional talks right now and all the minority groups saying, you know, we're not represented and we get tired of it, but they're right. I mean it's a struggle for nationhood with those on the periphery screaming for their rights. It's not always a happy struggle. I remember landing in the Bombay airport and there was a big billboard with a popular male movie star and out of his mouth is a sign saying "in case of rape, lie back and enjoy it". And I was to meet with one of the feminist groups there and I never did get to talk with them because I got in on a strategy session and what they were doing. I mean, you know I always thought that these women were nice little demure women in saris and so on and so forth. Here are these women, they bought five cans of black paint and they lined up four friends each and the next morning they were gonna go out and they were gonna paint out the sign. I mean, they weren't gonna pass a resolution, they were gonna act! And I said, well aren't you gonna get arrested. "Oh, we certainly hope so", they said, "raise the consciousness". Two of them were journalists so they put it through the media. So it's a struggle but there are many at it.
  • Lois Wilson
    I think another thing that will happen is that we are able then to affirm diversity and respect the particularity of other people, which is a very difficult thing for all of us to do. You know, we raise our children to be independent, but boy, the minute they get independent, you say ... well, I didn't mean that independent! And I think it's the same in our relationships with other people. I think we're needing a profound alteration of values which can only come about as people see other people living out a lived-value system, which has not much to do with bigger is better and monster houses. And then the creation of small, alternate models, communities who are committed to social justice, which is the transformation of our culture as it is. And finally, I think to do this, we're needing a different kind of clothing than we ordinarily wear. We're needing fish eye lenses for our eyes so we can see the world in 180 degrees as it really is, because this part of the world is only a miniscule part and we live in a style that is not the usual style for most people in the world. So we need a 180 degree fish eye lens for our eyes. We need hearing aids so that when we meet people from other situations, hopefully, well if we had a clothes pin for the mouth it would be good too, because then we might actually listen to them. One of the things I've learned from Native people is, you know you must be familiar with it, is the talking stick in the circle. And if you have the stick, you can talk as long as you like until you're finished without interruption. I mean, the discipline is you have to listen! And normally we're so busy thinking of the rebuttal and wishing this person would stop, so there's something to be learned there too. Hearing aids and clothes pins.
  • Lois Wilson
    And finally I think flippers for our feet because my understanding is that to transform society, the dominant society as it is, and to achieve some measure of justice, we'll be going against the stream, definitely against the stream. We're all told now how capitalism has flourished, it's taken over the world and all we need to do is to make everybody capitalists and everything will be fine. If you happen to disagree with that and you happen to go against the stream, not only on that but on some other issues, you may need extra flippers for your feet to propel you against that stream. Well, it's easy to be radically committed to social justice at age 17 as Margaret and I were, it's a lot tougher at 65.
  • Rosemary Ganley
    Good evening, everyone. My name is Rosemary Ganley and, as a community woman, I was deeply thrilled to hear Lois Wilson would be with us as the town and the gown come together at evenings like this. I first remember hearing her at Mark Street United, perhaps ten years ago, when her new book at that time was called Like a Mighty River, and I had it out again yesterday and today. And as I was listening to her, I was thinking about what is this spirituality for the long haul. I think, as I listen to her, it must be authenticity, passion, knowledge always renewed, and a deep sense of humour. We're very grateful for your memories of Margaret Laurence which bring back our own. I know that in Neepawa, Manitoba, her home is now being made a memorial. I was reading that, I think it was in Michelle Landsberg's column, that contributions can be sent to the Margaret Laurence home in Neepawa. It was always sad for us that the Lakefield home was never made a national treasure. Speaking of national treasures, United College in the middle of this country, is a national treasure when we think of the women who have led us on and came from United College. This is Women's History Month, October. We're so grateful to you, Lois, for showing us the effort that has been made for bringing back for us strong women. I was also thinking about Robert Bellah's book, Good Society, as I listened to Lois, that what her work does is create truly broad religious concern in a moral universe and create education that enables us to live, always driven by a healthy sense of the common good. I'm very proud to have this opportunity to thank you, Lois, and to hope that Sophia, the Goddess of Wisdom, gives you everything you need to carry on.

Search Our Digital Collections