As I reflect on my own story, I realise that my growing up in Ottawa (during the 70s and 80s) was part of a larger story that I have come to call my Camelot years. A time in which the multicultural ideal, the entrenchment of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms and Canadian Blue Berets serving on Peacekeeping missions with the UN (as opposed to ‘peacemaking’), created a tale of more than simple tolerance of the Other. This wonderful and ideal laden tale was one in which all people were respected and accepted. One in which diversity was celebrated, as opposed to a culture that found security in a melting pot recipe that led to stability.
My telling of this story, however, was first challenged when I visited Montreal and Toronto at the age of 16. Though I had heard racial slurs – via pop culture – I do not think I registered their use in my Ottawa Camelot until walking the streets in the Old Quarter in Montreal or around the CN Tower in Toronto, when the racially charged word nigger was wielded violently. It was not until my service in the Canadian Armed Reserves that my own ethnic background (Syrian/Lebanese) was racialized with the derogatory sand nigger! And since those experiences, in particular influenced by feminist and liberation critiques of culture and history, I have done some intentional examining of my own story.
Even with that evolving awareness, I admit I hold onto those early ideals. That sense of hope has only increased as I have made choices to live into a faith that I know calls us into an egalitarian way of being. One in which, regardless of all the ‘isms that divide and separate, we are all Beloved of the Holy and that we make choices to embrace one another as a sibling of the Creator. Not always easy, but a worthy and noble calling. In these choices of vocation, I hold on earnestly to the ministry that Jesus modelled and which I believe echoes through the intention of those Camelot years.
Now, you may ask why I am taking you down this wee memory lane jaunt. And – I admit – I had not anticipated musing further about the Federal Election in which we now find ourselves, following the writing of Politic(al)s 02. I have shared previously the tension I know that people of faith confront in relationship to the mechanics of state. And – as with all tensions – sometimes they coexist in a state of paradox, defying resolution and that is not necessarily a bad thing.
The Cultural Iceberg Image: The United Church of Canada
What has led me to this musing – however – has been the unexpected racism that has been injected into the narrative of this election. The devolution of talking points from platforms that should be discussed – such as climate change, the economy, and democratic reform – to what feels like a single focus on the role of the Niqāb.
I do not feel the need to revisit who said what or wade into the politics of racism. I do, however, find myself raging from a faith perspective. I can hear and imagine Jesus standing at the tables of the moneychangers, when frustrated by an inappropriate use of power and authority, the only way to communicate how unsuitable that was by overthrowing those stands and stalls.
My secular upbringing and current faith context find commonality as we collectively engage in this democratic process. As The United Church of Canada (UCC) has moved from conversations about multiculturalism to interculturalism, I wonder whether civil society will revisit what it means to be tolerant? What does it mean to move beyond tolerance to embrace mutuality? What does it mean if our electoral system possesses the capacity to divide its citizens into us and them? What do communities of faith, in particular the Abrahamic traditions, that have clear mandates to welcome and protect the Stranger and the Others, do? How do we – as Christians – respond to secular developments that pit the majority against the minority?
As this musing pauses – for I do not think such conversations do or should end – Canada goes to the polls on Monday. I certainly pray after exercising my vote during the Advance Polls – that those ideals from 30 years ago find expression collectively that we choose to embrace one another with care and compassion. This Canadian experiment continues to evolve and address questions of racism and acceptance, though not always easily or effectively, it is in the struggling together that we fashion the social good: we are more resilient when we embrace one another than when we are divided from sharing our gifts mutually.