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MACRAE'S MUSINGS: How now, the best-laid plans…?

By Peter MacRae

“Think poor!”

In New Brunswick’s 1960s, that plea might possibly have lacked the savvy and charisma needed to set its author up for three terms as premier.

Imagine, if you will, a vote-dependent legislator telling his constituents that they should espouse hardship, restraint, should embrace need, endure holes in their pants, rusted cars, empty ice boxes… A strategy not too swift, you might say.

Still, that was the man’s way, having emerged from the meager air of the Acadian east, thinking briefly of the priesthood before figuring it might be more fun to be a lawyer. That muse didn’t last long either as passion turned to the politics of public service and a mission he hoped would reduce, if not eliminate, the endemic social, linguistic and economic inequality prevalent between the province’s north and south.

Now this fellow had few classical saintly credentials. Yet his idea was largely to address his state’s neglected Francophones to whom he pledged to alter disparities in education, health and access to justice, essentially to redistribute scarce resources – money, power, opportunity. Of Anglophones he asked only that they care, share, and forebear, and give up hoarding what little luxury then existed in schools, hospitals and income support. There was, predictably, opposition that bellowed about cheap political finagling (one well-placed cleric ranted about “robbing Peter to pay Pierre”) but much of the citizenry seemed calmly willing to suspend judgment and to see if good might actually happen.

The guy’s disciples were sent out, with varying skills and temperaments, to establish a conceivably more equitable – if no more affluent – world and to map it out with as much dignified, rancourless kindness as they could muster. The jury’s probably still out on the program’s long-term success.

Somehow in that saga there’s a quiet echo of the Christian tale in which deputies of the church’s founding father were instructed to “travel light,” and with simple restraint: No luggage, no travelers’ cheques, not even a change of clothes, they were told. Talk with people. If somebody listens, great; if nobody does, bid the place a nice day. Still, somehow gently see if you can’t heal a busted system. That’s what the church’s founding architect is said to have said, sending a gang of rag-tags out to do what, indeed, they seem to work at and to get done for the next few hundred years. They and their descendants wandered about with optimism, courtesy, and good news pleading for hope, rejecting treacle and trappings, eating and wearing what they could scrounge, enduring heat and hate, sleeping under whatever roof would have them. The tone survived for 300 years.

Then along came Constantine, top Roman banana of the day, who got religion and then sold it out to his ilk… respectability, eminence, grandeur, property, exclusion, chic that came to have little to do with the kingdom of kindness and simplicity. Slowly, wheels started to come off, pomp and glory surged, and even the most modest of local assemblies began aspiring to the best seats in the house. Crossroads hamlets were boasting of their “little church that could.” Lots of stuff was rendered to Caesar.

Curiously, one now looks around at a millennium-and-a-half of mounting aggrandizement, with its mitres, its steeples, its haberdashery, its orphreys, its pension plans, and its clergy discounts; all of it seeming to mute the exercise, not to enhance it; clouded is its initial meaning; challenged is its ambiguous future. Irrelevancy and antipathy is aided and abetted.

It doesn’t feel as if the world’s been listening to Jesus.

New Brunswick hasn’t always listened to Louis Robichaud, either.

Peter MacRae is a retired Anglican cleric and erstwhile journalist. He lives in New Glasgow.

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