An Open Letter to Ted Falk

Dear Ted,

I tried calling you yesterday.  I was told you were unavailable.  I left a message for you to call me back, but you didn’t.  This morning, I called one of your workers to get through to you.  You still didn’t call me back.  So I’m going to write it as an open letter instead, with the hope that you read this again and give me a call.

When I first read the transcript of your interview with the Carillon, I couldn’t believe you actually suggested that a then 16 year old gay kid may have organized people to drive by and yell gay slurs at him while on national television. 

But apparently you did.

I don’t think you truly understand what you did.

Ted, you marginalized an already marginalized kid, part of a demographic that is not getting a lot of love these days in Steinbach.  This fall, the furor over Bill 18 had subsided for the most part, and we were all moving on with our lives.  The news cameras were gone, the petitions were over, and Evan was trying to live a normal life, finishing grade 12.

And then you went and threw him under the bus.  You, a 53 year old married man who takes his grandkids on the campaign trail promoting family values, threw a high school student under the bus.  Unprovoked and out of the blue, no less.

Do you see what you did? 

I thought you’d realize your error.  Yesterday, before I called you, I told my friends:  “Ted made a mistake. All he has to do is apologize, admit that he was wrong, and move on.  We all make mistakes.  Admitting them publically can sometimes be considered a character strength.”

Evan publically denied organizing homophobic slurs to be yelled at him, and stated his shock and hurt at your suggestion, and was hoping for an apology.

And then I read your statement.

You simply said that you had no idea if it were staged or not and that you’re against bullying.

Ted, by you not apologizing, you are indirectly saying that Evan’s story might not be true.  And thus, you are saying that a then 16 year old of might have lied, deceived, and manipulated an entire community/province/country.   You are casting doubt on his words without a shred of evidence suggesting the contrary.

Do you see what you did here?  Now, a 17 year high school student, whom everyone recognizes, is accused of not telling the truth.  How do think he feels?  His family?  His friends?  His community?  Have you even talked to him in all of this?

He didn’t seek out the press this time.  They approached him.  He said yes in order to clear his name and show a bit what his life is like in Steinbach.  And when he’s being interviewed on TV today, guess what happens?  Someone drives by and yells another homophobic slur at him.  Do you think that he staged that one too?

My faith leads me to defend the cause of the weak and to seek justice.  This is not a question about orientation, lifestyle, agenda, faith, religious rights, or politics.  In my little way, I will not stand silent while are using your position of power and influence to marginalize a minor.  This is unacceptable.   

Ted, I expect more from you.  This goes beyond politics and the by-election happening on Monday.  This is about you and your words creating an unsafe environment for a vulnerable population, all the while hoping to represent them in Ottawa on Tuesday morning. 

I hoped you would apologize, or at least explain why you said what you said, but apparently that’s not going to happen.  But I continue to hold out hope that you will work to restore broken relationships. 

You have my phone number.  I’m looking forward to hearing from you.

Sincerely,

Kyle Penner

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The Canoe Turns 1

My blog is officially one year old.

Happy  Birthday little buddy!

Looking back, starting The Canoe was an experiment.  I had lots of reasons why I didn’t want to blog.  I’m busy enough as it is.  I didn’t want it to take away from real relationships.  I didn’t really know what content I would post.  I didn’t know if it was a personal or work blog, or if readers could tell the difference.  Would I post something stupid that would come back to haunt me?  There’s lots of other blogs out there, so what could I add?

But I started anyways, not sure what the result would be.  I guess I was thinking that if I like reading other people’s thoughts, maybe someone out there with an internet connection might like reading mine.  (Plus, I have this formative email I received from a friend 10 years ago (pre-Facebook, people!).   I wrote a quarterly update about my year in Zimbabwe with MCC’s SALT program, and she emailed me back saying, “If you wrote a book, I’d read it.”  That has stuck with me for all these years…) 

Here are some random thoughts about blogging at The Canoe for 12 months.

1)       The internet is a funny place.  You have no idea who reads your writing.  And you can see people you don’t know talking about you on their Facebook pages (*cough… change your privacy settings… cough*).  Weird.

2)      It’s interesting meeting new people and almost immediately having them tell you, “I read your blog.”  Which article?  Are we now going to have a conversation about it?  Will it be a healthy conversation?  It’s almost as if people have already decided if they are on your “side” or not, and that will dictate your conversation (and relationship).  Although, kudos to my dentist for thanking me for my blog while working in my mouth.  Seriously awesome.  And if you’re reading this, I’ll do my best to floss more.

3)      Comments.  This one I have mixed feelings about.

–          I only allowed pre-approved comments on for the first 10 months, so I saw all of them, but only approved a few. 

–          On one hand, I want to give people the chance to engage with me, ask questions, or leave their thoughts. 

–          But on other hand, how much energy should I invest in strangers?  I mean really… if people from 77 countries have read my blog (including Estonia, Kyrgyzstan, Maldives and the Cayman Islands), does it matter what strangers think?  Should I care if people, whom I have no mutual friends, agree or disagree with me?

–          Plus, I didn’t want to let my blog resort to online forum discussions (fights) that do little but polarize us as we seek to prove “us” right and “others” wrong.  

–          But, I’m not averse to people disagreeing with me, as I disagree with others.  And I also wanted to leave a space for affirmations as well.

–          After 10 months, I really got tired of strangers asking me if I believe the Bible is the word of God (if you’re still wondering, the answer is “yes”), and feeling like I had to respond to everyone who emailed me.  So I figured that making all the comments public would allow people to hopefully filter their own comments, or at least let others try to help elevate the conversation.  The jury is still out on the whole “comments” thing.

4)      An anonymous blog set up to disagree with me (really?!… you made an entire blog with only one post, and it’s about why I’m wrong?!) is a fascinating phenomenon.   

5)      My goal has never been to increase clicks or shares.  I share each post once on Facebook and once on Twitter, and don’t tag any of my posts.  If people want to read it, then fine.  If not, no worries.

6)      My posts have ranged from 25 views to just under 15,000 views.  

7)      People have found my blog by searching:   “Bilbo Baggins wheres you shoes at”, “i want to become a Mennonite but my mother doesn’t want me too”, and “peeing in front of youth pastor bathroom.”   The internet is a funny place.

8)       Conversations about faith, church, and how we do life together best happen in the context of meaningful relationships.  Always.  It’s my hope when people read my blog, they’re able to engage it within their context of relationships.  Real relationships. Not internet relationships.  How we live together as families, churches, and communities when we agree about some things and disagree about other things is where the rubber meets the road.

So, will The Canoe make it to year two?  We’ll see.  I’m not entirely sold on it.  However, I have received enough positive feedback from it (especially from people that I know, or people who are grateful for a different perspective on Christian spirituality than they’ve previously heard), that I plan to continue for now.  I also am discovering that I love to write, and so until I get enough of my ducks in a row that I will actually write (and finish) a book, blogging at The Canoe will have to do.

Grace and Peace,

Kyle