This week’s blog is written by Cory Funk, advocacy research intern for January to April, 2015 in the Ottawa Office. Cory is a graduate in history and religion from the University of Winnipeg and an outdoor enthusiast.
When we read about issues in Canada and around the world it’s easy to just say “Meh” (a common expression of indifference or apathy). As a matter of fact, with the sheer volume of issues bombarding us, we have to exercise at least some degree of “disinterest” just to get through our days. Every once in a while, however, we hear about an issue that we find to be particularly disturbing or personally relevant that sparks something inside of us. “I should do something about this,” we think to ourselves. But it often stops there. We then return to our lives and the issue that made us feel so passionate for that one short moment quickly fades into the foggy mess of our daily thoughts.
Personally, I would much rather spend my free time Google-mapping how to bike from Winnipeg to Havana or thinking of clever Monty Python references for my blog posts than finding ways in which to advocate for social change. This is because advocacy is hard, it requires a lot of time and energy, and is often intimidating. Nevertheless, there are always issues that seem to strike a chord with us, that make us want to spend the time and energy to pursue a more equal and just world. It is these issues that we must pursue.
Everything has a context, and “Meh” is rooted in a 21st century western middle class context. In other words, if there was a recipe for “Meh” soup it would be a large handful of mass media, a few cups of high western living standards and a generous dose of individualism. These also happen to be the same ingredients that go into the making of 21st century Canadian soup, but in larger proportions of course. In light of this context, it is important to remember that much of Mennonite, Protestant, and Christian history in general can be written as a series of impassioned responses to social and political injustice. If we look at our own religious history through this lens, we see that it is one of people who, because of their desire to follow Jesus, look beyond themselves and make the often difficult leap from thought to action, apathy to empathy.
Martin Luther, for example, despite his flaws and idiosyncrasies, made such a leap, and it is this leap that has contributed to us being where we are today theologically and socially. This leap came with Luther’s disillusionment with the practice of indulgences in the Catholic Church. During Luther’s time, the Pope allowed for the practice of absolving people’s sins in exchange for material goods, which were known as indulgences. In Luther’s eyes this was exploitation on a massive level, not to mention a perversion of theological principles. It is also important to keep in mind that as a Catholic priest, Luther very well could have benefited from this (now obviously) unjust policy and just said “Meh.”
Instead, Luther’s theological understanding of repentance led him to affirm the concept of “faith alone,” denouncing works and material goods as a means of attaining salvation, and instead declaring that one’s salvation is between them and God and no one else. As you can imagine, this not only had major theological implications, but socio-political implications as well. Luther not only undermined the power of the church hierarchy, but discouraged a practice that was a major source of funding for the Vatican. Often our faith leads us to challenge the status quo or step out of our comfort zone, or even spend an “inconvenient” amount of time to pursue what is right. Luther’s actions are a good example of this.
Dirk Willems was a 16th century Dutch Anabaptist who also bridged that gap, and serves as an excellent example of why “Meh” is not a Mennonite (or even Christian) thing to say. Imprisoned for being Anabaptist, Willems escaped on a winter’s day and began to run across a frozen river. His pursuer, however, being much heavier than him, fell through the ice. Although Willems could have said “Meh” and kept running to freedom, he turned around to save his captor. That action led to his own capture and later execution.
Although Willems’ story goes from inspiring to sad incredibly quickly, there is much to be learned about the nature of Anabaptism from his selfless act. Anabaptism is more than simply the choice to be baptized as an adult, it is inherently a political and counter-cultural stance that acknowledges human agency as a means of sharing God’s love in Christ.
As Anabaptists and pacifists, whether we are directly affected by an issue or not, our history, our faith and our philosophy behoove us to challenge the culture of “Meh” that seems to be so common, by engaging with those who embrace it, and advocating with those who are oppressed by it.
As individuals we cannot do everything, but we can do something. Think about that issue that matters to you most, and get involved. There are many channels by which to enact meaningful change. Here at the MCC Ottawa Office part of our job is to make sure that you know of those channels. We will soon be partnering with the Canadian Foodgrains Bank to advocate for food security, economic growth, proper nutrition, and women’s empowerment around the world through a project called the “Good Soil Campaign.” Join us in advocating for change to strengthen smallholder farmers.
We all say “Meh.” It’s natural. But every once in a while, when a disheartening issue inspires you to take action, don’t run away. Turn around, extend your hand, get your hands cold. It’s what we’re called to do.