In the midst of the partisan politics of an election campaign it is easy to forget how good we have it in our country. Here are ten things I am thankful for about Canada:

  1. Voting. I have the privilege of casting a ballot to elect my local representative. Citizens of many countries in the world do not have this privilege so I do not want to take this for granted.
  2. Political stability. Sure we have regional differences, five political parties in parliament, two official languages, and threats of separation but we have never had a bloody civil war and our election campaigns are relatively tame when compared to those south of the border.
  3. First Nations. Before there was Canada there were many nations. They have been hospitable and humble hosts even though we brought some really bad gifts from Europe.
  4. Geography: coastal beaches, mountains, deserts, prairies, forests, muskeg, and the Canadian Shield—a unique collection of rock, lakes, and trees that covers almost half of Canada.
  5. The People. If the USA is a melting pot, Canada is a salad where every distinct people group is encouraged to embrace their uniqueness while still contributing to the whole.
  6. Winter. Although on the west coast we can hardly claim to have winter, to brave the harsh winter elements is a truly Canadian experience. Other than licking a metal pole at minus 30—which I would not recommend—that feeling of your nostrils and eyelids freezing together beats sunburn any day.
  7. Universal Health Care. Invented by Tommy Douglas who was voted the “Greatest Canadian” in a poll a few years ago. We complain about wait times but the fact that all sick people can go to a hospital for treatment without incurring massive debts is one of the best things about Canada.
  8. Canadian Broadcasting Corporation [CBC]. A state-owned radio and telecommunications network that is more critical of the government than any privately owned network. I like the irony of this.
  9. Hockey. World’s fastest game on ice and sometimes our national religion. The regular season has just begun. Now if only a Canadian team could win the Stanley Cup!
  10.  Self-deprecation. It seems to be our national psyche and why we have the best comedians. “Sorry for bragging.”

Speaking of political stability, this past spring I had the privilege of traveling to Prague and Poland to study Mennonite history. Poland has been one of the most volatile political regions in Europe. My spiritual ancestors, the Mennonites, lived there for 400 years, constantly negotiating how they might live out their faith in changing political realities. If you are interested in seeing pictures from my trip arranged in a political theme, please check out my new slide show “Prague, Poland & Politics” by clicking on the “slide show” tab above.

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Contrary to the USA, where it seems it is an unwritten expectation that the president has to be a Bible-carrying, church-going (at least publicly) Christian in order to run the country, in Canada it seems that the prime minister is expected to keep his or her religion a personal and private thing. All of the prime ministers in my lifetime have always publicly said that their faith is something private that does not affect or interfere in their public political life. Privately, most prime ministers in Canada have been at least nominal Christians. (Mackenzie King might be the only exception. He did keep his spirituality private as required but after his death Canadians learned about his bizarre spirituality that was not even nominally Christian. Mackenzie King communed with spirits, used séances with paid mediums, claimed to have communicated with Leonardo da Vinci, Wilfrid Laurier, his grandfather, several of his dead dogs, as well as the spirit of the late President Roosevelt! Yet he was the longest serving prime minister, leading Canada through a world war, economic depression, and nation-building.) But I’m curious and religious, and even though it goes contrary to what most Canadians expect and might hurt their chances to get elected, here are some things you might not have known about the religious life of our national party leaders:

  1. Elizabeth May is the most open about her faith among any of the national leaders. She is an active member of an Anglican church in her riding in Sidney and considers her politics to be an integral part of her faith. Her emphases on environmentalism (creation care), women’s rights, social justice, etc. all come out of her deeply rooted Christian faith. Before she became the leader of the Green Party she was actually studying to become a priest; thus, she is the only national leader with graduate theological education.
  2. Justin Trudeau was a self-confessed “lapsed Catholic” when his brother Michel died in a back country skiing accident. In his memoir he writes about how Michel’s death affected his faith in that he experienced the presence of God in a new way and how this tragedy brought him back to the core elements of his Christian faith.
  3. Andrew Scheer and Justin Trudeau do not publicize many things they have in common but they are both members of the same Christian denomination: Roman Catholic. While Trudeau is more “liberal” in his beliefs, Scheer could be described as a “conservative” Catholic who grew up with and still holds many traditional Christian beliefs and values; for example, his pro-life position on abortion which has just recently come to light.
  4. Jagmeet Singh is the first leader of a national party to belong to the Sikh religion. Although wearing a turban and carrying the symbolic dagger are part of the traditional outward marks of Sikhism, Singh is progressive in his social and political views, making him an appropriate candidate for the New Democratic Party. Note that all major religions have their liberal/progressive wings and their conservative/fundamentalist wings.
  5. Maxime Bernie’s religious views, if he has any, are so private that I could not find out anything in my research. By all appearances he is part of Quebec secularism that believes that special interest groups such as religions do not have a place or a contribution in public life.

And here’s one more interesting tidbit about religion and politics in Canada. All major parties now would claim to be secular but did you know that both ends of the political spectrum (Conservatives and New Democrats) have their roots in evangelical prairie populist spirituality? The present Conservative Party was formed out of the Reformed Party which has roots in the Social Credit Party which has its roots in “Bible Bill” Aberhart’s revival preaching in Alberta. The present New Democratic Party has its roots in the Cooperative Commonwealth Federation which has its roots in the social gospel movement and Tommy Douglas’ preaching in a Baptist church in Saskatchewan. Fascinating eh?

In Canada, voting is complicated because we have to consider a number of layers when going to the polls. Does the local candidate have personal integrity and the gifts and skills for office? What does the political party stand for and what is their platform for governing? Who is the national leader and what might they be like as a potential prime minister? How do all of the above address what I see as the most pressing issues facing our country and its citizens? Mennonite Central Committee has an excellent resource that has questions on a number of issues that Christians should care about that we can ask our candidates to help us decide who to vote for:

https://gallery.mailchimp.com/09391c74adef231bafe5f4a51/files/ac644497-eef4-46c2-b063-ab827c29c52d/mcccanada_election_primer_2019_digital_bulletin.pdf

Most of the election advertising (at least the positive kind) appeals to our basic sense of selfishness in order to get our vote. What are the issues that matter to me and will help me to get ahead? Which policies and parties will put more money in my pocket? But as Christians we should not be voting for our own interests but for those of others (Philippians 2:3-4), especially the most vulnerable of our society.

Vulnerable people include those who are refugees, immigrants, children, elderly, mentally ill, disabled, and those who have experienced tragedy or abuse. In Canada the most vulnerable people are our indigenous people because they have been victims of genocidal policies and practices of the government over the past century. Christians administrated the residential schools that were official government policy in order to “get the Indian out of the child.” Some corporate repentance is in order for us as a nation; Christians should lead the way.

We have only begun to address the resolutions of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of 2014. The apology by PM Harper in 2008 was a good beginning and some of PM Trudeau’s initiatives have been in the right direction but more is needed. We need to continue to understand the truth about what happened in our history. There are still dozens of First Nations communities who operate without clean drinking water and live in substandard housing. The number of missing or murdered indigenous women and girls continues to increase. On this Orange Shirt Day*, let’s ask our politicians what they will do to continue the work of reconciliation with our First Nations hosts.

*http://www.orangeshirtday.org/phyllis-story.html

 

 

I had a weekend of bliss at our church retreat: playing horseshoes on the grass, a slow walk through the lush temperate rainforest with majestic trees towering above me and humidity glistening on the leaves, balancing rocks on a sheltered sandy beach of the mighty Fraser River, listening to my granddaughter laughing with her friends on the playground, connecting deeply with a church member I had not connected with before. What made it a true retreat was that we had no cable connection or WIFI, and only spotty cell phone reception!

I did not have to listen to politicians bashing each other in hopes of making their opponent look so bad that we would choose the lesser of two evils. I did not have to listen to the incessant chatter of journalists analyzing every angle of every word spoken by our politicians. I did not have to hear about any ridiculous posts on my wife’s Facebook feed. It was pure bliss! Now don’t get me wrong, I am a keen observer of the nightly news and I plan to follow my own advice from the last column by heading to a polling station but for some reason so far in this campaign I have not caught election fever, I have caught election flu. The negative campaigning, especially by the two parties who have a chance of forming the next government, was starting to make me sick already and we still have four weeks to go! I would really appreciate it if journalists, potential prime ministers, and election team staffers would just treat each other with some basic human decency and dignity.

Obviously, Justin Trudeau did not do this 18 years ago when he dressed up for a party but the same forgiveness that Andrew Scheer passed on to his members who trespassed in similar ways should be passed on in this case. I am not a liberal party member or a Trudeau supporter but in my opinion every middle-aged white man in the country—and that includes me—is just as guilty of racism as he is. Systemic racism is still a problem in this country. We have a lot to learn about the privileges of having white skin that we are not even aware of. In fact, the biggest privilege is that we don’t have to think about it. Any politician or journalist with white skin has no right to be self-righteously critical. “Take the log out of your own eye before taking the speck out of another’s.” Yes, we must hold our public leaders to a high public standard but we can also treat them and talk about them like they are fellow human beings.

The following is based on an open letter by Jim Wallis, the author of The Great Awakening , editor-in-chief of Sojourners and blogger at www.godspolitics.com in which he responded to Shane Claiborne’s blog about why he does not vote in elections. It was written for the American election in 2008 so I have removed the paragraphs most directly related to US issues and have changed the wording in a few places to make it more applicable to the Canadian situation. I believe it speaks to Canadian Christians facing voting decisions on October 21.

I am so thankful for you and everybody who is asking the question of how to be faithful to Jesus during an election campaign.

We have a lot of common ground: our first commitment and ultimate loyalty is to the kingdom of God and the church as an alternative community of faith in the world. Elections always confront us with imperfect choices; how we live [before and after elections] is very important; and we agree that our responsibility to speak prophetically to the new administration, whoever wins, is key.

I especially like your advice to consult with poor people and First Nations people about what they think about this election, and ask them how they would counsel us to vote. Very few people, including Christians, would ever do that; but it makes real biblical sense if we are always supposed to listen more to people at the bottom than those at the top.

We both believe passionately in the church’s life as a “political” act, in and of itself, as a radical alternative to the values of the society and the behavior of the principalities and powers. But we also vote and have conversations about how the two kinds of engagement are vitally connected. In our sincere attempts to offer an alternative style of life, there are some mistakes we can make and, to be honest, self-conscious “radical Christians” like us often have.

One, is to say that there is no real difference between electoral choices. While the choices are often imperfect ones, deciding not to vote is still making a choice. Our non-participation is a form of participation that makes us complicit with the outcome. Sometimes there doesn’t seem to be a great deal of difference between the candidates, but, even then, it is usually worth the short time it takes to vote for the sake of the differences that are there, especially as the choices impact vulnerable people.

Second, you’re right to say that the role of a national leader stands in sharp contrast with our Jesus vocation of peacemakers. But again, history has shown that there are real differences between governmental leaders we have had. Some are more likely to use diplomacy to try and resolve the inevitable conflicts in the world, and others are more likely to go to war. I would prefer a prime minister and a local candidate who operates on a basis of compassion and hope rather than insecurity and fear. Voter choices have enormous impact on the lives of so many people besides ourselves.

Finally, there are biblical roles for both the church and the state, and both are necessary according to scripture and good Christian theology, even in the Anabaptist tradition which I am part of. Previous generations of Mennonites often did not vote based on their desire to be separate from the world. But the body of Christ must demonstrate what the kingdom of God looks like and offer a prophetic witness to the state. Churches and charitable organizations, by themselves, cannot provide for “the common good” as the government can, in conjunction with many other institutions in society–including churches.

I believe it is good to vote, no matter who you vote for, and then get busy in showing the nation how Christians are supposed to live and hold whoever wins accountable to the priorities of Jesus in advocating for the most vulnerable of our society.

Not only should Christians vote; it is also good to do some careful discerning about who to vote for in this coming election. More to come on that!

I’ve been interested in Canadian geography and history for as long as I can remember. This appreciation has been enhanced by living in five Canadian provinces from Ontario to British Columbia and visiting all ten. I also was very excited to vote in my very first Canadian election when I turned 18. Since then I have voted for all four of the major political parties, and in one election as a cynical young adult I also voted for the Rhinoceros Party. Watching results come in on election night is almost as exciting for me as watching a sporting event!

To begin my series of blogs in preparation for the federal election on October 21 or earlier I want to begin with a wonderfully written description of the political jurisdiction known as Canada, written by Mark Starowicz as an afterword to the two volume, Canada: A People’s History based on the CBC television documentary of the same name. This series was unique in that it told human stories in addition to narrating the significant events of the country’s development. Here are some excerpts that introduce a few themes I want to pick up in subsequent blogs:

Modern Canada was founded by two unwanted peoples. The first: the French of two separate colonies—Acadia and Quebec—both occupied by the British and abandoned by the French, who didn’t even want Quebec back after the Seven Year’s War and traded it for the tiny sugar island of Guadeloupe. The second: their ancestral English enemies from the American colonies, driven from their homes in the years after 1776.

Thus, the experience of refuge is at the core of the Canadian identity. We are refugees, or descendants of refugees, who have come to our shores like the recurring tides: the Scots left landless by the Highland Clearances… the starving Irish families ousted by landlords and famine… Black people who were refugees from the American Revolution and the Civil War… the landless from eastern and northern Europe: Galicians, Mennonites, Poles, Jews, Russians, Scandinavians, Dutch—all fleeing war, persecution, economic devastation, or famine… Chinese [and Japanese] crossing the Pacific to escape poverty… British orphans were sent here in a systematic relocation of the abandoned… after WW2 came the people the war had displaced, and survivors of the Holocaust… Sikhs, Italians, Portuguese [came] in search of a better life… the boat people from Vietnam… [more recently] refugees from war still arrive—from the Sudan, Somalia, the Balkans… [and today, from Syria].

They were all the debris of history: the expelled, the persecuted, the landless, the marginalized, the victims of imperial wars, of economic and ideological upheavals. In a sense we are all boat people. We just got here at different times.

The major diverging current is the story of the [indigenous] people, the only ones who became refugees on Canadian soil. Even the most cursory reading of our history leads one to conclude that the peoples of the First Nations were systematically robbed and degraded in their own homelands. An equally cursory reading of Canadian history will show that there would be no Canada today without Donnacona, who saved Jacques Cartier’s expedition, without the Huron allies of the French, without Kondiaronk of the Great Peace, without Tecumseh’s warriors, who defended Canada’s territorial integrity, without Brant, without the Six Nations Confederacy, without Mi’kmaq, without the Plains Indians who saved the Selkirk Settlers, [without Louis Riel], and the nations of the Northwest who formed great trading empires. The Canadian idea of redemption and equality will never be realized, and the nation made whole, until this great wrong is righted.

This is my twentieth year as a college professor. It has not become “old” for me yet and this year with my youngest son and a nephew packing to move into the residence I see the newness and nervousness through their eyes. In Joyce Rupp’s book, Dear Heart Come Home, she describes a number of images of midlife generativity that can be applied uniquely to my role as a college professor who teaches primarily in the area of spiritual formation.

I want to be an apple with seeds in it reminding me of the potential of growth in all students.

I want my classroom to be a holy shrine where students can come and feel a sense of peace, wonder, and oneness.

I want my life to be a womb where I can provide a safe place for inquiry and help generate life for those who are searching for it.

I am convinced that if I can be honest and vulnerable with my own process of formation, others will draw courage and comfort from it because they will see some of their own life reflected in mine. This sharing is not easy for me to do. As an introvert I sometimes feel as if I am standing spiritually naked in front of gawking students. But I also believe I am called to do this and I want to honor this call and I feel privileged to walk with students on their journey of spiritual formation.