I live in a small town on the Canadian prairies. It's not a perfect town, like all others it has its problems, some very serious. This week, our communal attention has been taken up by the tragic suicide of a local 13 year old girl, Aeramis, and the firestorm afterward that has erupted around the issue of bullying. There are a few issues here I'd like to address. In no particular order:
Bullying: If there is an upside to this horrible event, it is that a light has been cast on the often unspoken world of bullying. Much is currently being said and done to address this very serious problem in our community. I applaud this, but do so cautiously. Bullying needs to be addressed and stopped. By parents, by teachers, by peers of the ones who are bullies. We must take a stand. I have no problem with this. My problem is that as a community we've slipped somehow into a kind of vigilantism that itself borders on bullying. We've succumbed to the voracious appetite of the rumour mill, we've signed on with the thousands of others on the various facebook pages, but in the midst of all that, calls have been made for harsh penalties for those who may or may not have said or done things to Aeramis, and a feeling of hatred has started to grow. The pain in us has to have a place to go, but if we lower ourselves to a place of hatred and uncontrolled, faceless online venting at alleged perpetrators, we ourselves risk becoming cyber bullies. I can't think of a worse punishment than that already being experienced by anyone who ever said or did something stupid or mean to Aeramis. My fear is that by not offering a safe place for the CHILDREN involved to come and get things off their chest, to say what they've done or said, that the belief (as apparently supported by the community) that Aeramis died at their hands will lead to their own demise, be it though suicide, depression, addiction, continuation of violence, or any of the other plagues that currently find a happy home in our midst. After all, we believe in a God who is ultimately forgiving. I believe we must always work toward the same.
Sadness: So many of the online postings on the various facebook pages about Aeramis start out "I never knew you" or "I never talked to you". I don't want to discount the effect of bullying - I myself was bullied as a 13 year old and honestly, I considered the same end that Aeramis ultimately chose. However, there is a sadness when we only celebrate or get to know someone after their death. When we don't take the time to reach out, to embrace, to cherish, to give love to. Aeramis was very lonely and didn't feel herself to be valued or loveable. Each of us, in whatever context we're in or whatever job we do, have the chance to be the best suicide antidote - that is, to be love to each other; in giving kindness, in being accepting, in openly challenging all things that pull other people from living their lives knowing that they are loved and loveable. We do this by challenging bullying and bullies, but we also do it in coming alongside other people and making room for them in our lives.That, ultimately, is what saved my life.
Peace be with you this day, and may you know that God loves you and loves through you. Mike
This is powerful stuff, Mike. Thank you for your words. Prayers are with you, and your community.
Deep stuff, Mike. I agree with your insight. My prayers are with you and the entire community of Estevan.
I've recently read 3 books that have shattered me, inspired me, and made me want to live differently. I think everyone should read them. Without further ado, here they are:
A Long Way Gone: Memoirs of a Boy Soldier, by Ishmael Beah: Douglas and McIntyre, 2007.
This is an account of Ishmael, a former child soldier in the Sierra Leone of Western Africa. This is his gutwrenching and (warning) often graphic description of what it was like for him to be forced into soldiering at age 10 during his country's civil war. Not easy to read and digest, but opened my eyes to a world I had heard about but had no concept of - that of child soldiering. Child soldiering is an ongoing issue and is practiced in many places in the world, and in my opinion is one of the greatest evils of our time.
What Can One Person Do? Faith to Heal a Broken World, by Sabina Alkira and Edmund Newell: Church Publishing, 2005.
This book is about the Millenium Development Goals (see our Links section of this website) - the biggest problems in the world, as defined by the UN at the turn of the millenium, offering not only information about these problems, but giving insight into what each of us can and should be doing as fellow human beings and followers of Jesus to help the tens of millions of people in the world who are subject to daily hunger, lack of education, and nonexistent medical care. This book helped me to realize that nothing is ever hopeless, and that God is calling each of us into immediate action to (quoting Mahatma Ghandi) be the change we wish to see in the world.
Three Cups of Tea, by Greg Mortensen: Penguin, 2007.
By far the most inspirational book I've read in a long time, this is the true story of Greg Mortensen, an American mountain climber who, in a failed attempt to scale K2 in Pakistan, the world's 2nd highest peak, gets lost in the mountains and stumbles into a small village named Korphe. The people of Korphe take him in, feed him, tend his wounds, and nurse him back to health. As a thank you, he promises to return build them a school, as their children have no teachers, and gather outside, writing on the ground with sticks. The account of what follows over the next 15 years is mind blowing, and a true testament to what each of us are capable of doing to help other people. Truly a 'what is possible' kind of book.
If you are interested in buying Three Cups of Tea, for yourself or as a gift, or for your local library to have a copy, please be aware that if you buy it through the website www.threecupsoftea.com, 7% of your purchase will go directly into the ongoing work of Greg Mortensen and the Central Asia Institute to keep building schools for impoverished kids.
I have each of these books, and am happy to lend them out. They are also available, usually cheaply if you don't mind used books, on Amazon.ca.
Yesterday, January 12, there was a massive (7.0) earthquake in the Caribbean nation of Haiti. The quake was centered on the impoverished national capital of Port-Au-Prince, home to nearly 2 million people. Initial reports are stating that very large areas of the city were completely destroyed, including hospitals, schools, government buildings, and the national headquarters of the UN. Tens of thousands of people are trapped, buried under the rubble of fallen buildings, and hundreds of thousands more have been left homeless, injured, and without the basic necessities of food, water, electricity, or infrastructure.
Please act now, and put prayer into action by contributing money to the huge international rescue and relief effort. The following website links are reputable agencies who are already either onsite in Haiti, or organizing supplies and workers to respond immediately.
It's a week before Christmas, and plans for the upcoming celebration are rolling ahead as usual. Decorations are up, presents bought and getting wrapped, services are getting planned. But sadly, tonight I conduct a funeral service for a 39 year-old husband father of 2 who died in a tragic accident earlier this week. It always raises questions in our minds and hearts when in the midst of what is traditionally supposed to be a time filled with ribbons and bows and gifts and carols and hams and families and joy, tragedy strikes and extreme sadness ensues. Or, more honestly, anytime tragedy strikes.
It may seem that these two things, Christmastime and tragedy are at odds with each other. I think that's because at this time, we truly do celebrate the most joyous thing, the birth of Jesus and a great gift of love for us by God. More than that, we're increasingly conditioned to celebrate Christmas as if every problem and difficulty in our lives can be put on hold. Bad things aren't supposed to happen, especially at Christmas. But they do. The truth is, God sent Jesus into the world exactly because bad things do happen. Exactly because of our tremendous hurts and losses, and crises. God sent Jesus as an eternal reminder to us that in the midst of all the garbage and pain that we go through, His love for us won't ever fail. That nothing, not death or life or anything else in all of creation, will ever separate us from that love. (Romans 8: 39) God's love doesn't keep the bad things from happening (the world is an imperfect place), but it does give us the chance to not be destroyed by those bad things that threaten at times to destroy us. The real joy of Christmas comes in knowing that God loves us enough to come as one of us and share every part of our human lives - the joy and laughter, hurt and tears, life and death, and that in all those different parts of our own lives, we will never be alone.
Barb 07:47 AM on December 22, 2009 by firstname.lastname@example.org
beautifully put Mike. Thank you.
We're about to jump into the first Sunday of Advent, which means, among other things, that Christmas is nearly upon us once again. If you're anything like me, the tendency is to hear the word 'Advent' and jump mentally, emotionally, and spiritually to Christmas. In doing so, we miss a great opportunity to focus our energies and attention on Advent itself, this beautiful season of preparation. To adequately prepare this year, I'm trying to prayerfully focus on the different ways that WE can embody Advent; how we can BE the places in the world where hope, joy, peace, and love flow into the places they are needed the most. Doing this has renewed in me a focus on those with whom we share this world who have nothing, The millions who live on less than a dollar a day. On the hungry. The broken. Those living with or orphaned by HIV/AIDS. The displaced. The war torn.
Seems like our preparations this year should include something more for these folks, "the least among us". Really, as followers of Christ, our lives outside of Advent should include something more for these folks, but maybe this is the place to start. Sponsor a child. Give the gift of medicine, school supplies, livestock, or food to someone in a developing nation. Help a mom struggling to provide food, education, and health to her family by supplying a micro-credit loan to her small business. Do something.
I'm a firm believer that it's great to pray for those in need, but we need to be aware that when we ask God if God will do something to improve lives, that often God is asking us the very same question. I think we miss the fact that God is asking us to, as Gandhi said "Be the change you to see in the world."
Go and boldly preach the gospel, and if you have to, use words. (St. Francis, loosely paraphrased)
Rev. Mike Sinclair, St. Giles
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