As I type this, I’m sitting on a plane flying back to BC’s west coast, headed home after a defining and memorable week in our nation’s capital. The window seat has provided me with an incredible view to watch the sunset light up the horizon over what is, per my best guess at this point, somewhere over the prairies. In many ways, the flight back over the geographic expanse of our country seems fitting as I try to process so much of what unfolded these past few days.
So many thoughts still swirling in my mind, certainly catalyzed and enforced by the conversations of the past week:“What does it mean to be faithful – truly faithful?”; ”What does it look like to live with a default to hospitality, inclusion, and justice?”; “How can I let my faith more fully inform and inspire every part of my work?”; and, “Why the heck was it raining so much in Ontario in the middle of the summer?”
For three days leading up to the sesquicentennial, I had the incredible honour of joining a group of millennial leaders of faith & a cabinet of influential Canadians at the Faith in Canada 150 Millennial Summit. We gathered to affirm the role of faith in our public lives and to dialogue around the role of authentic faith in the pursuit of the common good.
Canada Day this year marked the 150th anniversary of a constitutional document, but it certainly did not mark the birth of our nation, our people, our land, or the foundational ethos that has shaped and formed the notion and reality that is Canada. Our history is nuanced and unfolding: we’re certainly a work in process, aspiring to be the best versions of ourselves that we can be, yet stumbling our way through what that looks like when played out in the lived experience of the diverse 36 million+ who make their homes, lives, and livings within our three coastlines.
But, there’s something so unique about a shared celebration and the way that it invites us to look back and to look ahead in the same space: to own up to where we have failed, to celebrate where we have succeeded, and to resolve to move forward into even greater flourishing – for all – together.
And, honestly, I couldn’t have imagined a sweeter way to mark this milestone than an opportunity like this. It's hard to convey what unfolds in a space like this and harder too to quantify the impact and ripple effects of a space like this (especially at this stage), but after the conclusion of the summit, I ducked into a coffee-shop and typed this in a note on my computer, wanting to capture as much as I could the sentiment of those days:
These kinds of gatherings are both so entirely ordinary and incredibly unique. What we were invited into, however, was akin to an invitation to an incredible dinner party. Cardus/F150 set the table for us, invited a group that would not on our own find each other (at least not to this degree), and provided the space whereby we could converse and collaborate.
We ate together sat in beautiful rooms overlooking our capital and tried not to get soaked in the unusual June rain and told stories and talked about how our faith inspires and informs our work, study, family, & cultural traditions. We contemplated ideas and discussed hard questions together, and we dreamed together about how to engage with, serve, and lead our nation well: right now and in the next 150 years too.
There were so many moments I told myself to take a snapshot of this gathering in my mind. It's such a rare gift to have space around the table like this. This space was generous: a collection of passionate leaders whose hearts are bent toward seeing our neighbourhoods, cities, & nation flourish, not despite our diversity, but absolutely because of it.
We embrace plurality based on a shared commitment to human dignity. We affirm diversity as our strength: an invitation to live with charity in our shared humanity, even when that invitation poses distinct challenges.
I'm blown away by the resilience & kindness of these leaders - now my friends. They represent many of the diverse religious & cultural traditions that make up the mosaic of Canadian society. If anyone suggests that our generation is one that has fully embraced secularism, abandoned faith, or given up on community, this will be (one of) the stories I tell to emphatically suggest otherwise.
I'm encouraged by our commonality & even more so thankful for respectful dialogue. We're each deeply committed to our (often differing) faiths, but also deeply committed to the flourishing of our shared society, to compassion & hospitality, to combatting marginalization, and in all these things committed to the task of pursing the common good: together.
Canada, I have great hopes for your flourishing & that the next 150 years can be even more bent toward diversity, peace, & vibrant pluralism than the last.
One of the (many) highlights of the trip was the conversations that unfolded around the work we’re each engaged in – motivated by what we believe, but taking root in a hugely varying realm of workplaces, industries, and social sectors. Contrary to the (sadly often accurate) reputation given to many Millennials of being flighty and/or non-committal, we encouraged each other to live with a steady and rooted faithfulness. After all, the pursuit of the common good, while a large-scale idealistic notion, plays out and finds its true life in ordinary spaces and every-day faithfulness.
And in that, I walked away particularly encouraged. This was a group of committed and faithful people, endeavouring to live out an ethic of justice and hospitality and hope. Where we drew the motivation for this action differed, and sometimes significantly, but this mattered less than the action and external commitment itself. And, even in difference, there was a palpable respect for the differing sources of inspiration and sustenance.
It’s more and more evident to me that my generation – this one given the broad-stroked, most-negative label of “Millennial” – is hugely concerned with and holistic expression of being and living. We want to be authentic versions of ourselves and to provide spaces whereby everyone can do the same. We want our social fabric to reflect a lived-out commitment to pluralism.
And faith, unsurprisingly, only adds to this commitment and conviction.
Another huge concept that echoed throughout this week was the rejection of the notion that there is a differentiation between public or private faith. Certainly there are private and more public expressions of faith, but the true foundation and reality of faith is that it informs, inspires, and provides foundation to all of our lives. To suggest that there is a divide between public and private is to fundamentally misunderstand the fullness and call of faith. The practices I embrace in “private” influence every aspect of my public existence – from the kind of work I do, to the way I do that work, to the ways I spend my money, the places I invest my time, and even the ways I treat and interact with neighbours, colleagues, baristas, etc.
In short, we are what we believe: always.
And, despite the false suggestions of a society that espouses the notion of secularism as the pinnacle of human progress, this deep-rooted and all-encompassing reality of faith is, quite possibly, one of the greatest social assets that exists in civil society. Despite what secular humanists may suggest, a shared commitment to religious freedom and the expressions thereof may be one of the most positively influential forces for all citizens, regardless of their own faith or personal convictions (or indeed, even the lack thereof). And, this impact is not only limited to the more traditionally defined reaches of “faith” or “religion” but in the lived out expression of these beliefs – namely that people of faith are, at their best, people of conviction, community, and positive social action.
I can say with confidence that this experience underlined my commitment to both the ethos behind and practical outworking of my work. It, in an unexpected way really, breathed more robust life and meaning into what it means to live out my faith as a professional, as a citizen, and as a neighbour. A vibrant reminder that the best contribution I can make to my country and to the world is to pursue Jesus and remain faithful to the life He invites us to live in a Kingdom that's far beyond any one nation or people group.
Justice. Fairness. Dignity. Community. There are things we hold tightly to as citizens of a pluralistic and multicultural society committed to seeing our society flourish, but even more so as followers of Jesus committed to joining God in the renewal of all things.
As a close to the events of the week, Cardus hosted a public reception on Canada Day, with an opportunity to speak about the F150 initiative and present a bit of the history of the role of faith and faith communities in shaping the Canada we know today. As part of this, they asked three of the millennial delegates to speak on a panel about our experience at the summit, what we’re taking back to our communities from this experience, and our dreams for Canada in the next 50-150 years. I was honoured to have been asked to be one of these speakers, and as I sat next to a vivacious Muslim friend, who moved to Canada from Egypt nearly a decade before, and a bright and introspective Catholic friend, who transplanted to Canada from Brunei, I couldn’t help but be incredibly encouraged – by these leaders in my generation, but also by the history and the legacy of those before that have paved the way for us to get to this point.
I thought about first nations leaders and advocates who were bravely standing that very moment on Parliament Hill next to a teepee, aiming to include conversations about reconciliation and indigenous relations into the narrative of the Canada 150 events and protest against the places where those conversations had not been honoured as they should. I thought about the response of solidarity and community that emerged – across faith and cultural lines – after the shooting at the Quebec City Mosque earlier this year. I thought about the history of committed Mennonites who shaped Canada’s response to refugees in the aftermath of WWII and the ripple effects of that into our now wider-spread reputation and track-record of welcoming the foreigner into our midst. I thought about the group of Dutch Reformed immigrants – including my own grandparents – who, upon their arrival in Canada now decades ago, sought to proactively change the landscape of the nation they chose to call their home by addressing gaps in church planting, equitable labour, and quality education.
I thought about all those things and do so again as I write this – about to touch down at home in Vancouver – and I am overwhelmed with gratitude for how far we’ve come and with immense hope for where we’re going.
Canada, let's do this. Let's make the next 150+ even better than the years that shaped who we are today.
May God truly keep our land glorious and free.