During the last week of July, I had the amazing privilege of being a part of the Shake Youth Gathering at camp Shekinah in Saskatchewan. It was a highlight of my summer, as youth from Ontario to Alberta came together for worship, learning, fun, and adventure. I had forgotten how exciting these kinds of retreats were, and by the end of the week I think I was having more fun than the kids.
I was asked to lead the morning Bible times - something I was very nervous to do. Even more frightening than trying to hold the attention of 120 youth was the fear of being irrelevant and misunderstood. Yet at the same time, I felt honoured. It was difficult to decide what I should speak about, but after some deliberation I settled on the life and times of Jeremiah the prophet.
I had a blast leading those Bible times. I very quickly figured out that there was way more to be talked about than we had time for, so I decided to focus on some of the larger narrative. I wanted to show the youth how God used the prophet Jeremiah to reach the people of Judah before and during the Babylonian exile.
Judah was a nation that, after splitting away from Israel, had a mixed history in terms of their relationship with God. Some kings let them to seek justice and mercy, but the majority were evil. God called Jeremiah as a prophet to try to bring the heart of the people back to Him after they rejected Him and the covenant they made years ago. Over and over again, they gave up the commands of God to care for the poor and the oppressed, even sacrificing their own children to false idols - something God never wanted.
The problem with Jeremiah’s time was that the people of Judah wouldn’t listen. They kept on their own way, mocking Jeremiah and even trying to kill him. But God always protected Jeremiah, and in the end, it was Judah who faced the devastating consequence of being taken from their land into Babylon. However, God was with Judah in their exile and never stopped loving and caring for them. God spoke through Jeremiah to encourage through through that difficult time.
My last session on Jeremiah uncovered a significant part of his identity that I didn’t mention until then. By keeping it a secret, I hoped it would have a greater impact on the youth after already hearing the other stories. You see, Jeremiah was probably a teenager when he was called to be a prophet! He was young, and he didn’t think he was experienced or qualified enough for the job. And yet, God called him and used him in amazing ways.
I tried to encourage the youth in the ways God might be calling them. I wanted them to know that being young doesn’t disqualify anyone from finding their place in God’s kingdom. Our youth can be leaders, prophets, teachers, and influencers just like Jeremiah. Older generations don’t always have it right. Who says God can’t also use youth to bring our hearts back to Him?
And then, wouldn’t you know it, the youth came calling.
In the last couple of weeks, our youth from Winnipeg, around Canada, and all over the world have been calling us (older generations) to become allies with them as they confront our government leaders to do something about climate change. I was very quickly thrust from the position of encourager to the youth to a similar place of the people of Judah in Jeremiah’s day. And my response (and all of our responses for that matter) is going to say a lot about what I actually think of the potential that God has placed in our young people.
To be honest, I don’t think I’ve ever experienced the kind of generational anxiety that our youth are facing today. They are worried about what scientists are saying about climate change and don’t understand why the adults in their lives don’t seem to care about them enough to take this seriously. So many youth have been standing up through their own initiatives by protesting, organizing awareness events, and even walking out of schools to strike in order to get the people in power to listen.
What I hear our youth saying (both in and outside of our churches) is that we have set a poor example of Christian stewardship and creation care. We are being told that if we don’t do something to address our resource extraction and dependance on fossil fuels, we will be in huge trouble. For those who are above 50, it may not affect them directly, but young people are fearing a future that looks dimmer and dimmer for them and their children.
As I mentioned before, the problem with Judah, and king Zedekiah in particular, was that they wouldn’t listen to the voice of Jeremiah. He became a prophetic voice whom the people rejected for over thirty years. By doing so, they rejected the voice of God. And It eventually cost them everything.
What if our young people are speaking a prophetic word to us today in order to bring us back on track? I understand that many people don’t even believe the scientific evidence around climate change. I realize that it will be tremendously difficult to change our society’s dependence of fossil fuels. I know that it will take a long time to make our habits of consumption more sustainable. But just like the people of Judah, after being confronted by the voice of our young people calling us to repent, we have a decision to make.
We can either brush our young people off by seeing their protests as expressions of youthful passion that will eventually fade once they understand the “real world”. Or we can stop and listen to the millions of young people around the world calling us to climate justice, do a critical self-evaluation of our stewardship practices, and make the necessary changes.
Change is probably the hardest part, but there doesn’t seem to be a way around it anymore. If what the scientists are saying is true, that change needs to be drastic. And if we’re not in a place where we believe we have much influence to make that change, the next best thing is to add our voice in support of our young people as they take this challenge to our leaders head on.
How? When? Where, you ask?
On September 27 - join the Global General Strike for Climate Change. If you’re in Manitoba, come out to the legislative building at noon to add your voice to thousands of others. Just showing up makes a huge difference. If you are in a different location, research to see what events are taking place there. And if you’re unsure if you can personally support our young people with a clean conscience, read below for the actual demands from our youth.
May we listen with humility, act in love, and work for peace. See you on September 27!
Taken from the Manitoba Youth for Climate Action website:
CLIMATE STRIKE CANADA'S SEVEN DEMANDS:
1. Bold Emissions Reductions Targets:
Legislate greenhouse gas emission reductions of 65% by 2030, reaching net zero emissions by 2040.
2. Separation of Oil and State:
Reject all new fossil fuel extraction or transportation projects, eliminate fossil fuel subsidies, and price pollution.
3. A Just Transition:
Transition to renewable energy and sustainable transportation infrastructure while guaranteeing opportunity for fossil fuel workers in the new economy.
4. Environmental Rights:
Enshrine in law the fundamental right to a healthy environment. This would include, but is not limited to, the right to safe air, clean water, and healthy soil.
5. Indigenous Rights:
Commit to the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples in full.
6. Conservation of Biodiversity:
Maintain and protect old growth forests, restore cut blocks, reduce habitat fragmentation and strengthen the protection of at risk species.
7. Protection for Vulnerable Groups:
Recognize Canada’s disproportionate role in the climate crisis and subsequent responsibility for the protection of the most vulnerable. Include the addition of climate displacement as a basis for refugee status. Provide climate aid to lower and middle-income countries, as well as Arctic Canada, which disproportionately experience the impacts of the climate crisis.
While we are trying to be specific as we envision a fair transition off fossil fuels that protects us all, we also want to recognize that these demands are steps on the path, and not the final destination. We understand that Indigenous land stewardship has preserved the majority of the earth's biodiversity and to follow Indigenous leadership means respecting Indigenous nationhood and right to self-determination and that recognizing the rights of First Nations, Metis and Inuit people will do more to protect life on earth than any government measures.