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coming out of the closet...kinda

I voted on Sunday. Montreal was having its municipal elections and we got to vote four times. Once for the mayor of Montreal, once for our local borough mayor (St-Laurent), once for the city councilor and once for the borough councilor. I am not all that up on municipal politics, so I decided to inform myself. In case you are not aware of the plethora of intricate and complex issues at stake when you vote in Montreal, here are a few of the things going on:

1. The current mayor and his party have been plagued by scandal. There have been numerous accusations about crooked contracts, bloated costs, Mafia connections, and political pay-offs. It seems to be the way we do business in this city.

2. The main opposition to the current mayor was from a woman who has spent 39 years working for the Parti Quebecois (the political party dedicated to promoting Quebec sovereignty and separation from Canada). She was one of the main forces behind the mega-city merger and wants to centralize power and take it out of the hands of the boroughs. She joined herself with a strong federalist and they promised to provide a broad and comprehensive basis of experience and viewpoints. Unfortunately, 2 weeks before the election, her right-hand man was implicated in a bribe and immediately resigned.

3. The third option was a man with little experience in city government. He promised more bike paths, a new tram system, and a greener downtown (less cars). He was squeaky clean in his finances, but he also believed that smoking was good for his health and that man never walked on the moon.

4. I will not even mention the communist or the gay pride candidates.

After some discussion with Dean and a few friends, I did not know what to do. I quite easily decided which councilors and borough mayoral candidate to vote for, but the city mayoral race left me dumbfounded. Each person had a major flaw and each person also had potential to do something good for the city, I believed, despite their patchy pasts. Do we not all have regrettable things in our past? All my research just convinced me all the more of these things. Dean was going to vote for the current mayor and he was very vocal about it. He will never vote for a separatist and he thought the other guy was a loose cannon.

All these questions were swirling around in my head the morning of the election. Who would do the best for the city? for my interests? Who would clean up the scandals? Who had the most experience? Who would stick to a budget and not raise taxes? Who would make things better instead of worse? My thoughts jumped from one to the other, alighting on no answer. So I asked God, "What is the question I should be asking? Can we just boil it down to one question instead of six?" And that morning I read John 18 where Jesus says to Pilate, the Roman governor: "Everyone who cares for truth, who has any feeling for the truth, recognizes my voice."

So the question I asked was, "Who will tell the truth?" Nothing else mattered right then. Not the past mistakes, not the future promises, not the affiliation or experience, nothing but their potential to embrace truth. I looked at all the candidates again and decided that I would definitely not vote for the current mayor. I did believe that # 3 was an honest man, but he seemed to have a skewed view of reality and a hard time recognizing truth at times. That left me with the woman. The separatist, as Dean called her. It was an uncomfortable choice. I have never supported anyone who was not a federalist. My western Canadian family and friends would have all shuddered that I was even considering the possibility, even though city politics are quite different from national politics.

Dean and I walked to the voting station Sunday afternoon and both cast our ballots. Afterwards, he asked me who I voted for and I coyly avoided the question. I did not want to see his reaction. I knew he would be disappointed and perhaps angry and embarrassed at my answer. I did tell him later on that night and we survived the conflict. A friend had jokingly warned me that if I voted for the PQ woman, our marriage would be over. I responded that everything would be fine, because we did not believe in separation. It was a funny moment. But I did take away a few things with me that Sunday afternoon.

1. God is often not concerned with the same things that we are concerned about in a political situation. He loves and cares for each candidate as much as he cares for us. They are real people with real families and if I invited them into my home for dinner, I would no doubt see what made them want to serve the city in the first place.

2. It is good to listen to the opinions and thoughts of others, but in the end, I must take responsibility for my own actions and stand by them with confidence. I bring a voice to this world that no one else does and even if I sing a wrong note on occasion, I still must sing to the best of my ability.

3. I live in Quebec where almost half of the population has voted for the Parti Quebecois at one point or another. It is good for me to try to understand what they are thinking and why. It is not a disgrace or a dishonor to the rest of Canada to put myself into the shoes of my neighbors and walk with them. We may disagree, but that does not make us any less part of the same family.

4. I know that despite my limited knowledge and my weak choices, God is still in charge. Jesus said to Pilate: "You have not a shred of authority over me except what has been given you from heaven." (John 19) And that's the final word.

I am not a separatist, but I am not ashamed to stand with one. Perhaps that's the reason some people started talking about separation in the first place: they felt that people were not willing to stand beside them.

This is a photo I took on our walk back from the polling station on Sunday. Beautiful fall sky and tall grass.


Anonymous said…
Very interesting Matte. I love reading about Montreal, your experience, and your spiritual journey. This post evokes numerous comments & questions.

Montreal is the organized crime capital of North America and has been since the era of Donny Brasco. That movie featured the change of power from the New York families to "Vito et amis". It's a nice thing that organized crime can be quiet! That said, I had a minor encounter with mafioso in NDG. One accused me of being a fedral agent!

Many positions and contracts are ushered-in through crime syndicates. The French word for union is "syndicat". Irony? At McGill I'm pretty certain some of the high paying non-academic union jobs are "miraculously bestowed".

Regarding smoking. Smoking doesn't cause cancer. At least not in the scientific sense. Smoking greatly increases one's chance of getting cancer. There are many environmental and genetic factors that contribute to cancer. The implication of "smoking causes cancer" is "if you don't smoke, you won't get cancer". And that is certainly not true.

Does God really care how we vote?
Voting itself seems to be "giving to Ceasar's what is Ceasar's". But the actual pot the vote is thrown into is really one's choice. Isn't it? Is Dean not listening to God's voice because he chose a different pot?

Your choice to vote was brave. It was the right choice, an act of submission. But perhaps your choice of vote was completely irrelevant to God. Certainly, it was not irrelevant to you. Your beautiful post makes that clear.

If the above is true, I wonder if there are other things we fret about while God is indifferent.
-my cowboy boots are killin' me
Matte Downey said…
Thanks for all those thoughts, K. To clarify, candidate #3 was talking about smoking decreasing his lung capacity and thereby making him a safer, slower runner because he wouldn't injure himself, nothing about cancer. A bit odd, you have to admit.

Does God care how we vote? I would say, yes, because he cares about how we live. I would never presume that someone not doing (voting) the same as me is not listening to God. That is between them and God. Everyone choosing all the same paths all the time would be a very boring and uncreative world, and in turn, reflect a very boring and uncreative God. I am not talking about moral dilemmas here, but life's every day choices. So yes, making right choices sometimes has more to do with how we are responding to God and to life than perhaps the actual outcome of said choice.

I would probably not say that God is indifferent, because if something is affecting me, he does care. But, yes, the things I fret about are often a waste of time. Whenever I find myself doing that, if I ask him about it, he is always patient and good at redirecting my energy to the more valuable and vital things in life.

Good luck with those cowboy boots.
steven hamilton said…
hmmmm, your conversation with God resonates and provokes me to remember what n.t. wright and jacques ellul said about the politics of God and the politics of man, stating that rarely does scripture linger on how a person came to power, but what they actually did with the power once they have it.
Anonymous said…
Hi Matte,

Cowman Stan here.

I think we have the same point of view, to a certain degree.

You seem to be saying, in part, that as Christians we may support numerous political positions. I agree with you. Most instructions to believers in the new testament call for submission to corrupt political power (e.g. Romans 13). They don't call for revolution, protest, or matyrdom. To me this states that God is not interested in our politics, except for the believer to act as a good citizen. The irony then is that perhaps a secular humanist & Christian world view should be combined in a democratic state. That our choice of vote matters a lot, that God cares about our choice of vote in that it should be rooted in the good judgment of citizenship, but as you indicate He is indifferent to whether we are blue or red.
Matte Downey said…
For your information, after quite a close race, the incumbent mayor won another term in office (the man Dean voted for).
Anonymous said…
Cowman Stan says "Booo Hiss".
Shelley said…
a thoughtful process and post Matte. you have given me food for thought.

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