Youth need support, not criticism

This article first appeared in an August edition of the Marathon Mercury.

Recently there have been some instances of vandalism in our town likely committed by local youth. If you’re on social media I am sure you’ve seen the photos and complaints shared in Marathon groups rightly expressing dismay at broken playground equipment, litter, and tipped-over port-a-potties. I understand how residents are feeling. We love our town, and especially our parks, this behaviour is disheartening to see! However, there has been a non-too-subtle tone to this conversation that has me deeply worried.

I can be all-too easy to slide into the habit of villainizing young people whose behaviour is destructive. We seem them as hoodlums, bad seeds who need to be whipped into shape. The violent language some of our community members have used to express their dismay has honestly shocked me. A 14-year-old is not an adult, they are a child growing into their adulthood in awkward spurts and leaps. Their bodies are filled with the frustrating imbalance of burgeoning hormones, and their brains are very literally still in development. Suggesting that violence is the only method to respond to this stressful experience of youth is unacceptable to me. In my mind, neither will hyper-policing. It is a self-fulfilling prophecy. It says to our youth, “You can’t be trusted”, and then, as a response, they rise to the occasion.

Jesus held a special place for children and youth in his heart, I’m sure each of us could name a number of stories where we see that displayed. Further more, Jesus understood the experience of someone who felt isolated and unanchored. Right now our youth are just that. The pandemic has removed many of the few opportunities our town can offer young people to put their energy into, activities that build up themselves and their community. They are looking for connection, for a response from their peers, and to be a part of something bigger. When they are not able to channel all that wild and wonderful energy into something good, when their lives are shaky and unbalanced, we end up with the results we have today.

I don’t believe there are “bad kids”. I believe all of God’s children are beautifully and wonderfully made. But I also know that we don’t all get the same opportunities and support we need. I would like to see our community leaders taking on this issue by asking “Why are these young people acting out in this way? How can we help them?” Certainly, the solution can’t be older generations arguing about it on a social media platform none of these young people even use! (And, yes, as a millennial that makes me feel very old.)

So, next time you see a group of young people, or hear a story that fills your heart with dismay, I hope you’ll ask yourself: How can we do better for our youth. Since, indeed, just as the parks we love are our very own, these young people are too. How can we help them curb the destructive behaviours we see on the outside, knowing they are not left unmarked on the inside? How, dear neighbours, can we respond to them in love?

As people of faith we are called to cast our ballots

This article first appeared in the August 17th, 2021 edition of the Marathon Mercury.

It is official, as of Sunday, August 15th we are headed towards a federal election on September 20th. Some have already expressed feelings of ‘election exhaustion’ as predictions took over the media these past few weeks. Now we have merely a month to go before we cast our ballots.

It has been argued that as a religious figure ministers should stay out of politics. Some point to Jesus’ comment of “give unto Caesar what is Caesar’s” as a way of saying Christians should stay apolitical. But, to me, the Galilean tradesman and spiritual leader I follow was deeply political. He spoke for corporate responsibility, of care for the vulnerable, of the need for those with more to carry more responsibility. That said, I’m not writing this piece to tell you how to vote, but to encourage you to vote. That is to say, as people of faith we must carry out this basic civic responsibility.

An election during a pandemic is a critical time to make our voices heard, to speak for justice and the common good. We have an opportunity to tell our political leaders what’s important to us and what kind of a job we think they’re doing. We can do this not just by voting but by writing letters and emails, submitting questions at town halls and debates, by engaging in conversation with candidates and their supporters when they come to our doors.

We have an opportunity to continue to ask that our government reckon with the legacy of Residential Schools, that they provide equal access to good quality health care for all residents. In our riding, we can talk about affordable housing, transportation and environmental concerns. We can point out that far too many First Nations communities in Thunder Bay-Superior North still do not have access to clean drinking water despite promises to remedy this injustice.

For those who use the way of Jesus as their guide, this is another opportunity to dig deeper in our faith and find ways we can reflect his teachings in our living. We can also have wonderful conversations with our neighbours of different faiths, finding common ground between their principles and our own. Love of neighbour, hospitality to the outsider, care for the vulnerable, these principles are found in common across faiths. We also have the opportunity to choose whether they are the guiding principles of our government, of our elected leaders. This is a time for us to question, reflect with, and choose to support individuals we feel best represent these common principles.

I understand if you’re already feeling a little election weary. Since it has been a weary past year and a half. But I pray you can see the hope in our midst. That our small part, especially when multiplied by our neighbours, can be enough to change our community for the better.

In persistent hope, Pastor Selina.

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Who gets to call here “home”?

First published in the Marathon Mercury, June 15, 2021.

It has been a challenging few weeks in the news cycle. Recently 215 bodies were uncovered at the former Kamloops Indian Residential School in BC. These children died at the hands of a system whose entire purpose was to erase Indigenous people from the future of our country. Don’t believe me? Just ask Duncan Campbell Scott, a civil servant in the 1920’s who worked on residential school policies and said just that.

Following this tragedy was the horrific attack which took place in London, Ontario last week. A driver, now charged with 4 counts of murder and 1 count attempted murder, targeted a local Muslim family leaving a young boy as the sole survivor.

This week I am all too aware that the hatred directed at Muslim neighbours, neighbours of Asian and Middle Eastern descent, is the same hatred that established the residential school system.

There is a sense of entitlement many Canadians have which breeds this unspeakable violence. It is a sense that we are the only rightful residents of this country, an entitlement that dehumanizes all others. We do not see neighbours, coworkers, elders, or children when we look at Indigenous, Black, Asian or Muslim community members. We don’t even see them as members of our community. This disassociation allows us to treat them as if they weren’t human. It is a terrible form of tribalism, a cancerous attitude. One that can start so small but grow until it suffocates common sense and compassion. 

The Afzaal family were human beings. Originally from Pakistan, they made a home in London and were a vibrant part of their local community. They did not deserve to die. So too, the over 150,000 Indigenous children who were estimated to have passed through residential schools did not deserve the abused and mistreatment, sometimes leading to death, which they endured. All of these children of God, from the Afzaal family to children like Chanie Wenjack, have no less value or humanity than those of us of European descent.

It is not enough for us to simply be “not racist”. This insidious violence must be met with an equal and opposing force. We must fight tribalism and hate with love. When we humanize our neighbours, when we see them as a part of “us”, of our community, it is so much harder to let common sense and compassion slip out the door. By seeing ourselves as part of something bigger—whether it’s the human family, the web of creation, or a fellow child of God—we can actively fight against this tribalism that breeds violence.

So, as we watch the news this next few weeks, may we be carefully not to to assume we are so very different from our community members who have committed violent acts. If we are not pushing back against the tide of hatred and violence, if we are passive, we may be fostering a cancer within us unawares. Instead, let’s turn and extend our hands to our neighbours. Let’s listen to their stories and share are own with them—building bridges of understanding, celebrating our common humanity. Let us work as the peace-makers we have been so called to be.