Solidarity at the margins

This is the fourth post in a five post series entitled Faith at the Margins.

What does it look like to go to the margin for someone else? To stick your head out of your own bubble of belonging and security? To go to the front-lines for someone else's well-being?

I don't know, but I feel I've been given a tiny taste of the margin in my own experience as the disenfranchised "alien", the anglophone "other", and the minority opinion within my own faith community to help me on this journey.

We have to experience what it's like as the outsider, the minority, the one without rights, to know what it feels like to be marginalized.

Three things happened this winter and early spring to bring this issue of marginalization to the front and center of my awareness.

All the way back in January, when the snow still lay thick on the ground, I gave up a day of skiing to attend a Kairos meeting here in Montreal. Upon arriving we were invited to sit in a circle and share what particular social justice issue was weighing on our individual hearts. When my turn came to share, I could barely speak for all the shame and pain in my heart about the racism in our country against Indigenous people, the ubiquitous racism of my childhood community, and the racism in my own heart. God forgive me.

Most pressing on my heart that day was the trauma of the residential school system and its terrible consequences on families, communities, and nations. I was an inarticulate blubbering mess. My homeschooling mothering heart has been ripped open in grief by the legacy of the mass incarceration of Indigenous children and the separation of families over decades in Canadian history. Often in the name of religion. God help us.

That meeting was my first public engagement about the issue of Indigenous rights in Canada. I started to acknowledge the ancestral sin and experiences of my past, allowed myself to taste the guilt and grief of cultural and familial loss, and choose to stay present to all of it.

I am continuing to stay present and aware to this struggle, this experience at the margin.

Last fall a new government was elected in Quebec and good God they're giving minorities and immigrants a rough time. And because of this I have become involved in two issues, one within my own community and another at the edge of my community.

Firstly, Bill 21 is a law that would ban the wearing of religious symbols by people in the public sector in positions of authority - police officers, judges and other officers within the judical system, and also teachers. I am all for a secular state, I believe secularism creates the best conditions for healthy societies in our pluralistic world. That is not where I take issue.

I take issue with the state dictating what people can and can't wear and becoming an arbitor of religious symbols. And I especially abhor the inherent discrimination in this bill against Muslim women wearing a hijab, along with observant Jewish men, Sikh men, and other religious practices that involve an outward expression of faith with an article of clothing or other symbol. Never mind all the legal, ethical, and philosophical considerations of banning the wearing of undefined "religious symbols". The whole thing is a minefield ripe for all manner of discrimination, fear-mongering, further isolating of minorities, and overall "othering" of one another.

In this province once dominated by Catholicism, faiths of all kinds are on the margins of society. And I am standing in solidarity with those who oppose restricting the rights of the minority, truly a small number of individuals within the whole, as necessary to protect and bolster the "comfort" of the majority.

I've also had to engage politically in another matter, right on my doorstep, affecting my own community's freedom.

Our new provincial government has tabled new regulations which restrict homeschoolers freedoms to determine their own curriculum and methods of assessments. This infringes on parent's rights to tailor home education to their children's needs. I couldn't have homeschooled the way I have for all these years under these new regulations.

Even though these new changes won't affect my family, they affect thousands of homeschooled children. So I'm part of this fight. In Quebec especially, homeschoolers are the minority of the minority. We are less than 1% of the public school enrolment. There are very few of us.

This spring I've been fighting and advocating for religious and education minorities within my society. I happen to belong to these minority groups so my participation is not noble or notable. This has been the most politically active season of my life with rallies, letter-writing, and visits with government representatives.

It's tiring, says the woman who hasn't spent her whole life fighting against injustice and discrimination; living in fear for her own family's safety and well-being. My self-pity at the minor costs and sacrifices of the last few months is kind of pathetic.

However, the fear and anger I feel in these fights is real. And so is the frustration and grief I've allowed myself to experience as I become more awake and aware to life at the margins for so many people.

Next post: Living in no-man's-land

Want to get the next post in this series delivered to your inbox? Subscribe here.

« Beyond margins
Worldschooling (and family travel), developing a growth mindset, and discovering your inner artist »
  • Jacinda Gilligan

    Jacinda Gilligan on May 2, 2019, 2:43 a.m.

    Thank you for beautifully illustrating the interconnectedness of the political and spiritual and the call we all must make on how we carry our faith out beyond our homes and into the world. Different seasons awaken different growth possibilities as well as my daughters being sources of inspiration and motivation to not shun the hard work of being present to the world. Blessings on you Renee and your family and those who feel daily the edge (sometimes razor edge) of life on the margin


You can subscribe to comments on this article using this form.

If you have already commented on this article, you do not need to do this, as you were automatically subscribed.