Monday, September 26, 2011

Ontario Election

The provincial election is just around the corner. I’ve been thinking about how to vote. Naturally, my values and faith contribute to my decision. So I’ve come up with a list of Ten Commandments for voters. The focus is on Provincial issues, so you won’t find much here about Federal matters such as trade, defense, foreign aid, or pensions. But there is still a lot of ground to cover.

1. The Lord God brought the Israelites out of Egypt, and—within  memory—most of Ontario’s voters or their ancestors from some other far-away land. Which parties make embracing new immigrants and their unique challenges a high priority?

2. The Judeo-Christian God doesn’t want us to bow down to images. That’s because humans are his real image bearers. And what did God create his image bearers to do? The prophet Micah says humans must act justly, love mercy, and walk humbly with God. For that matter, they should so walk with their neighbors too. Which party's values best match that high, human calling to be like God?

3. The third command warns against misuse the name of the Lord. Language matters to God, and it should matter to politicians. Civility doesn’t have much of a role in question period anymore, judging by my last visit to Queen’s Park. Which candidates are committed to dialog rather than personal slurs and negative campaigning?

4. The fourth command mentions that God made the heavens and the earth, the sea, and all that is in them, including people. Then he told Adam and Eve to take care of it, nurture it, and keep it beautiful. When you vote, remember that according to the Creation Story God’s first command to humans, even before the ten, was to take care of the earth and its creatures. Which parties take this responsibility for creation care as seriously as God does?

5. Honor your father and mother. They are getting older and so, by the way, are you. A host of policies impact our elderly neighbors. Which party will best protect universal health care for all, regardless of wealth? Which party will do the best job making sure that retirement homes, nursing homes, and home care for the elderly are designed to allows the elderly to be as independent, engaged, and healthy as long as possible?

6. You shall not murder. In my tradition we like to restate this command positively, like this. To keep the sixth command is “to love our neighbors as ourselves; to be patient, peace-loving, gentle, merciful, and friendly to them; to protect them from harm as much as possible; and to do good even to our enemies.” Political parties seem to think that voting is about me, myself, and I. It isn’t. Spiritual voters have the best interests not merely of themselves, but especially of their neighbors in mind when they vote. It isn’t about my pocket book; it is about building a just and loving community.

7. You shall not commit adultery. Vote for the party that is willing to make a long-term commitment to the people of Ontario, rather than a short-term affair until the writ is next dropped. Vote for the party willing to speak the truth in love and strive for the ideal rather than the one that falls into bed with the tempting policy flavor of the day.

8. You shall not steal: The Bible has more to say about how Christians should handle wealth than any other moral issue. Steven Colbert—not usually noted for his religious commentary--put it this way on network TV. “If this is going to be a Christian nation that doesn’t help the poor, either we have to pretend that Jesus was just as selfish as we are, or we’ve got to acknowledge that he commanded us to love the poor and serve the needy without condition and then admit that we just don’t want to do it.” Vote for the party that puts the poor first, because most of us have way more than we really need.

9. Do not give false testimony. When you vote, don’t just consider a party’s promises about the changeable future; consider how they did—or did not—keep their promises in the unchangeable past

10. You shall not covet. Every party covets power. But when you vote, consider which party or candidate is nevertheless the most committed to serving those out of power: the least, the last, and the lost. For ultimately, these citizens have always been God’s favorites.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

The Strangers in Our Midst

I live a few blocks from Cobourg’s Victoria Park, right on Lake Ontario. Every weekend this park is full of new Canadian picnickers. I can’t be sure, of course, but as I walk through the park, I think I’m seeing immigrants from Pakistan, Jamaica, The Philippines, and beyond. I’m glad to see them. Partly, it is for purely selfish reasons. These new Canadians, most of whom are young, are the same Canadians who will be contributing to my Canada Pension Plan when I retire. If Canadians had relied only on Canadian-born to make those contributions, there wouldn’t be enough to go around!

But I’m especially glad to see them because they remind me of my own family history. Nearly sixty years ago, my parents immigrated to Canada too, from the Netherlands. On Saturday afternoons, my family and our Dutch-immigrant friends in the Niagara Peninsula used to take over huge swaths of parkland in Niagara-on-the-Lake. Now I wonder if the people who lived in that village complained about our barbecues, cars, noise, and garbage. 

Further back, my ancestors immigrated to the Netherlands from Germany, France, and Switzerland. I immigrated--for nearly twenty years--to the United States. It is the human way, I suppose. We’re all immigrants or the children of immigrants.

No nation or group has ever been able to claim any patch of the earth as their own, forever and ever. Roman legions retreated before the barbarian--European--tribes that swept into their empire fifteen hundred years ago. Europeans shoved America’s first citizens aside to take over the Americas. These days hungry Somalis trudge to Kenya, Mexicans try to scale the border fence into the United States, and people from all over the world look for a better life here in Canada, just as my grandparents did after war had ravaged their homeland.

In a way, all this moving back and forth across the face of the earth is perfectly understandable from a Christian point of view. Christians believe that ultimately, no land can really be said to be ours alone because it is all a trust from God. We’re just workers in the vineyard. “The earth is the Lord’s, and everything in it, the world, and all who live in it” (Psalm 24:1). According to the Bible, Christians, in particular, are strangers and aliens to the world (1 Peter 2:11) who are actually ambassadors of reconciliation sent here from the Kingdom of God (2 Cor 5:20).  

Unfortunately, most of us, including Christians, nevertheless struggle with prejudice. We forget where we’re from and what our lives are supposed to be all about. We’re unsure, perhaps even afraid, of those who look and sound different than us. We are impatient for newcomers to lose their distinctives and become just like us. We blame strangers for upsetting our apple carts. 

Borders may be a pragmatic way of regulating the flow of people back and forth over the earth for the benefit of all. But Christian hospitality, kindness to strangers, and forbearance in the face of what seems to us to be odd habits and dress--Christian love for neighbors--all these are God’s way for making sure that immigrants to Canada find a new home away from home.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Introduction to Not Sure by John Suk

                   The introduction to my book, Not Sure: A Pastor's Journey from Faith to Doubt, is available by clicking the title link. The introduction explains why I value doubt, and tells (in part) the story of how I arrived at that conclusion. Check it out!

          You can order the book from, or or .ca. You can also buy it at, or order through your local bookstore.