Reflection: On a life path – chasing fairness

We asked Michael Furtado to tell us about his own experience after his reply to the recent post from Rev Dr Lorraine Parkinson. Here is his summary:


In my early career I was invited to apply for a tutorship at a minor college at Oxford. I had no idea why but my background as a clerical student may have appealed to someone on the panel, seeking amusement in an otherwise tedious selection process the result of which was probably pre-ordained.

Since the degree program I would be teaching was PPE (Politics, Philosophy & Economics) and my college Roman Catholic I was asked how I might approach the question of wealth creation and distribution. The Master of the College offered me a whiteboard on which to illustrate my response.

I drew an undulating line: up and down it meandered in the manner favoured by political economists to illustrate the upswings and downturns of the economic cycle and then, invoking Isaiah, I proposed: ‘Every Valley Shall be Exalted and All the Mountains & Hills Laid Low’.

I then naively proceeded to lop the tops off every mountain and fill the valleys with the ‘detritus’ of wealth that I had sliced from each summit. The result, needless to say, was an almost horizontal line.

Before I could finish, I was pounced upon by a don famous for his support for the ‘invisible hand of the market’ and who later became a prominent advisor to Margaret Thatcher. ‘Whose hand was this?’ I was sternly interrogated, followed by ‘The state?’, all of it orchestrated by a derisory snort asserting ‘Hardly invisible, I would think!’

It being a Catholic enclave I’d hoped to enter, I protested: ‘It’s the Hand of God and not necessarily that of the state’, to which his scathing riposte was ‘My kind of God would call that socialism.’

Still wet behind the ears and fresh from an upbringing in an impoverished former colony (India) it finally dawned that ‘caught I was, foully’.

Thus. in desperation I answered: ‘My kind of God encourages his people to rise and overthrow unfairness. There comes a time when things get so bad that people don’t wait for elections to do that. My kind of God is a Prophet who warns those who wait for the invisible hand of the market to work may sometimes be too late to see that happen.’

A hushed silence descended, the Master thanked me for my presentation and a scout (or servant) ushered me from the room. Thus was my career in tertiary education almost dashed by my lippy remark and I ended up becoming a teacher at several lower-grade Catholic schools and both second and third-rate universities.

It was just as well because my heroes were all, in a sense, failures and generally regarded as anti-heroes and sometimes villains by the People of God.

Among these were three particularly egregiously disagreeable characters, Amos, Hosea and Micah, most of whose imprecations and advice was offered to a recalcitrant lot, who invariably sneered at it.

Might it surprise then that we are that mob, that our God too is the God of Prophets and that God’s Son, Jesus, far from courting suffering in silence, is a Prophet?

Thus, the portrait of Jesus painted in Luke’s Gospel appears in stark contrast to other promises that Jesus would bring peace. However, if we read Luke in the context of the prophetic tradition — which Luke draws on throughout his gospel — we realize that Jesus is challenging his listeners just like the prophets of old did before him.

He denounces all manners of injustice and wrongdoing, calling for repentance and conversion. By calling his listeners to consciously and explicitly choose to walk in God’s ways and turn from injustice, he points out the human reality that the peace must be disturbed if others will not repent of their wrongdoing.

I remember my mother, a daily Mass-goer and very agreeable woman, once saying she had problems with Luke’s Gospel. Bored and in an attempt to change the discourse, I asked why. And Mum said: ‘Because I have no enemies.’ More out of devilment than irritation I provoked: ‘How can you love your enemies unless you have some?’ ‘You silly boy’, she chided and changed the topic ever so sweetly.

When prophets issue challenges, they always disturb the peace. The division is not created by the prophets or by Jesus, it is a natural outcome of listeners making different decisions about whether to follow Jesus or not. Accordingly, Jesus declares ‘Whoever is not with me is against me’ (Luke 11:23).

It follows, hence, that the Prophets have a Voice and that such a Voice is hardly intended to mollify but to arrest. Other prophets have throughout history used their prophetic voice to break into the smug dominant hypocrisies of the public narrative.

One of these was the French polemicist, Emile Zola. Zola it was who broke through the airy persiflage of French journalistic respectability to proclaim his famous ‘J’accuse’ in support of the unjustly punished and exiled Jewish military officer, Alfred Dreyfus.

Needless to say, Zola caused a sensation because he chose to challenge the dominant anti-semitic prejudices of the French establishment of the time. That he did so through the publication of a broadsheet is a huge compliment to his stamina, genius, courage and persistence.

Just imagine if you were to pick up a copy of the Courier-Mail or its more ‘perfumed’ broadsheet, the Australian and see a headline like that! It would certainly put you off your fourth stubby and the racing results at Flemington; now, wouldn’t it?

There have, of course, been other voices. Just think of Mohandas Gandhi, Martin Luther King, Nelson Mandela and other voices – of women and gender minorities – that have been crushed and stifled. And then try to imagine what an Australian Voice would sound like.

I think – unless you subscribe to the kind of voice that pours out of a vinegar cruet or blasts from a foghorn – that you already know the answer.

Dr Michael Furtado is a ‘back-pew’ parishioner at St Ignatius’ Toowong, Q.


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