The youth forum on Saturday 28th July was for the large part blessed with the attendance of the older interfaith community. It started with a number of interfaith (and international) prayers, including some by video from Afghanistan, Armenia, India and Tibet.
The keynote guest was Her Excellency Vuyiswa Tulelo, High Commissioner of South Africa, who set the tone for the forum in very subversive but affirming/fortifying way. She shared very intimately about her own reality, her undiplomatic approach to a career in diplomacy, and to single parenthood, within the context of which she trains both her daughter and her son as feminists. She shared the importance of faith in her own life, and the knowledge that she is cared for and provided for by God, through angels in the form of the people around her.
Joy Dunsheath then introduced us to the sustainable development goals, before we were guided through the He Tohu exhibition, with the whakahaere of Watene and Romany at the National Library.
After lunch we sat back to enjoy the show, with four impressive young women debating the motion, “That we support the rise of online petitioning”. Adjudicators Chris Lahatte and Lagi Tuimavave announced the affirmative as the winning team, and cited the argument “that online and in-person petitioning are not mutually exclusive” as the winning argument.
The juxtaposition of such an adversarial mode of engagement in the context of an interfaith forum was a very interesting, and also useful point of reference, and it reminded us of the nature and value of the dialogue by which we are called to communicate with each other across faith divides. It also cast light on some interesting ideas, around human goodness and the capacity to cause harm, and how best to deal with that. This came up again yesterday in terms of diversity and hate speech, and whether sunlight is the best disinfectant, or whether it is better not to give oxygen to that which is harmful.
In terms of two alternatives not being mutually exclusive, I am wary of this argument, which is a popular one used in support of bills proposed, against any opposition. It strikes me that we live in a finite world of limited time and resources, and an interconnected world of interpersonal relationships. Rights and freedoms do not exist within a vacuum, and the provision for something on the one hand inevitably carries a consequence for that on the other. This is reason, I think, to approach contemporary issues with awareness, patience, sensitivity and compassion.
In the afternoon session the youth gathered by themselves, and we looked more explicitly at some of these contemporary issues, in light of the three themes or aspirations of the forum: global citizenship, gender equality and sustainable development.
We looked at the famous and devastating photo of the starving child and vulture in Sudan, for which Kevin Carter received the Pulitzer Prize, as well as vitriolic criticism, before ultimately committing suicide. We considered the extent to which such unbearable and unbelievable realities of injustice and violence are manifestations of our very human need for meaning, belonging and fulfillment, and our capacity for compulsive, exclusive and destructive action on the basis of these needs.
Finally we broke up into three groups to consider the three ideals, and how we might move towards them. In terms of global citizenship, the feedback pointed to encounter, communication (as a two way exchange) and commitment.
In terms of gender equality, the feedback pointed to celebrating achievement but persisting with the further necessary progress and improvement; acknowledging the positive but calling out the negative for what it is; asserting the rights and dignity of women, but investing in forming men as feminists as well. It also pointed to a broadening of definitions and understanding of gender, in favour of acceptance and love.
In terms of sustainable development, the feedback pointed to starting small, and being conscious of the decisions that we make, the actions that we take, and their consequences; and learning – with sensitivity and compassion – from our mistakes. It also pointed to a reverence for the earth.
A famous moral story in the Christian tradition is that of the Good Samaritan, by which we are called to identify the other in need as our neighbour, and to so respond to their needs. The dialogue that came out of the youth forum makes me think that the call to be a Good Samaritan is actually a call to be a Good Global Citizen – a global, gender equal and sustainable citizen. And that is no easy task.
Now, I am pretty confident that if I were walking down an unsealed road, and came across a beaten traveller, I would have the wherewithal and conscience to respond accordingly. But the call of the Good Global Citizen – and perhaps this is the point of the Good Samaritan after all – is to respond to that person in need even when the constraints of our communities or the pressures of our practical realities tell us not to. The call is, also, not only to respond to the needs of the person who has been beaten, or labeled a loser or outsider, but to engage with and respond to the needs of those who have inflicted injury, and those who have ignored it. Finally, the call is also to transform the road or the environment, and do so lovingly, so as to prevent future harm and suffering.
My sense is that this is exactly what we were doing on Saturday, at the Youth Forum, and again yesterday. My sense is also that this call is not only in the interest of the other, but also of ourselves. It is good for us to do this work, and it is good for us to do so together. So I am deeply grateful for this encounter and experience, and grateful in the anticipation that it will continue.
– Daniel Kleinsman