Monday, November 17, 2008

Civic elections: and the winner is ...

... the media!

The commentary in the Province suggested that the Vancouver civic election was a victory for emotion over substance. But, true to the media's public persona, it left out a key element in its analysis: how was the emotion generated?

Allow me to offer an answer: it was generated by the media. It's pretty much accepted that the $100 million load guarantee the City agreed to at an in camera session sank the Peter Ladner campaign. Even though Peter showed integrity by refusing to knuckle under and break that longstanding practice, it was the media's making a meal of the "closed doors" angle that turned the tide.

It's not as if the media didn't report the explanation of the necessity to keep negotiations involving real estate or personnel matters in camera. It's just that the commentators -- talk show hosts, editorialists, and even beat reporters in their choice of words and approach -- decided to vilify the process, regardless of the reasoning behind it.

In fact, it's a pretty good deal for the city. The city guarantees the loan -- doesn't pay it off. If the developer defaults, it loses the property, which is still worth some serious money for the city. Where's the problem? But the media has a "default" setting for anything that appears to be undemocratic, and with its desire to "hold government's feet to the fire" or "hold those responsible accountable", it was hard to find any commentators willing to give objective analysis. Why bother with that, when you can be seen to be shaping public opinion and (oooh!) influencing the outcome of an election? And since one commentator -- and possibly others -- has already said that the Vancouver civic election was threatening to be come a "snooze" until the Millennium Water deal came out, there are probably some in the media who figure they did us all a favor.

Prediction: we won't see the details of the city council discussions on the agreement after all. The upcoming meeting the new mayor has promised, to find out what can be released and what can't be released, will come to the conclusion that nothing more can be released and that it was perfectly appropriate to hold the meeting in camera; there will be the strong hint that anyone wanting to do business with the city of Vancouver in the future will be loath to do so if there's a chance that the negotiations and bargaining position will be made public.

Saturday, November 8, 2008

The Showers Saga - 31: One Year On ...

I just looked at the calendar and noticed that yesterday -- besides being the first Friday of the week -- marked one year since Barry approached Greg Bromley, the son of Jim Bromley, who's been our landlord for almost 60 years, and told him about the idea to install showers in the vacant ground-floor space at 327 Carrall Street. At that time, we had Zero dollars to put towards it, but we asked for two weeks in which to come up with a plan and the funding for it. Barry and I had agreed that if the money was there, we'd push forward.

Greg told us he had two expressions of interest in the site already, but he was willing to forego those to give us a chance. The first "worldly" sign that this was God's intention.

I say "worldly" sign, because there had been plenty of signs in the Spirit leading up to that, including the fact that Barry and I had had the idea put on our hearts independently of each other, and that there were two prophecies spoken, which related to expansion of the Mission's "footprint" and new ways of reaching people. Greg's willingness to give us a shot was the first confirmation.

And so here we are: it's been six months since we opened, and through the end of October, we had logged 311 showers, I don't know how many cans of coffee (not to mention the sugar: we got a call from some Manitoba farmers recently, saying they were running out of beets!), and many new people who've come in to chat and take a "break" from being "street people"; many of them have started coming to the services upstairs. Truly, the love of Christ in action, and we give God all the glory: it's His will for the area, because it's not His will that any of His little ones perish.

Consider, too, the uphill battle to get people to focus on Jesus when their brains are tuned to focusing on their next hit of drugs: society isn't helping, either, with the constant barrage of propaganda for InSite and its ilk. It's like opposite poles: at the one is the message that society has given up on people who are on drugs, and at the other is the message that God does NOT give up on His people!

One intriguing development of late is that The Lord's Rain is about to get an artistic component: some young artists -- one of them from Emily Carr University, and part of the Campus Ministry there -- have stepped up to paint murals on the inside walls. I'll send more details -- and pictures -- later, but this was a connection made by our beloved friend, Kathy Kinahan, through a group she's associated with, "Big Give Vancouver".

Today's opening was busy. We're into monsoon season in Vancouver, so lots of people came in for coffee, a chance to warm up and -- in six cases -- a shower.

Actually, make that five showers. One fellow came in who was so drunk he could hardly stand. He asked for two cups of coffee and had the shakes so badly I had to carry them for him while he went to sit down. Then he decided he wanted a shower, but was unable to get undressed, so I helped him with that and got the shower going and left him sitting on the chair in the stall. But when I checked on him about five minutes later, he was still sitting there in his underwear, complaining of a terrible pain in his stomach. Not being a doctor -- and not wanting to just write it off as "you've just had too much to drink", in case it was something really serious -- I called the ambulance.

They arrived quickly, and at first, he said he wanted to go to detox. The paramedics said they wouldn't take him there, but they'd take him to hospital to have him checked out. Finally, he agreed to that, and they bundled him up on the gurney and took him away.

I have to admit, I don't understand the detox system. I hear of some people waiting several days to get a space there, some who spend a couple of weeks in the place ... and now this paramedic tells me, many will go to detox and spend maybe half an hour in there, waiting until they dry out and can stand again ... and then they walk out. The paramedic said the ambulance won't be used as a taxi to detox; but they'll take someone to hospital. Fair enough.

Once again, The Lord's Rain finds itself in the right place at the right time. I can't count the number of people who've needed medical attention -- in various forms -- at times we've been open, and have come into our place to find the shelter and someone to make the call.

Sunday, October 26, 2008

The Showers Saga - 30: An Old Friend Comes to Call

One of the interesting things about Gospel Mission is the connection with Rainbow Mission. (No, I'm not about to burst into a rendition of "Rainbow Connection".) That mission, kitty-corner from Oppenheimer Park, started in the 40s and was run by Rev. Robert Brown and his wife, Joyce, for over 40 years before it closed in January 2007. In 2004, Pastor Bob took a "flyer" with this total newcomer, letting me do the Saturday night sermons before I eventually took on the Wednesday night services. Klasina van Weert, along with Don and Roberta Fraser, took charge of Thursdays. Many years before, Barry Babcook and Daniel Vallieres cut their ministerial teeth at Rainbow.

When Rainbow closed, Klasina, along with Sandy Benn, went over to Gospel Mission to do Tuesday nights. When she learned Saturdays were open, she called me, and so my little ministerial "team" -- John Sharp, Danilo Estrada and Amelia Shaw -- and I migrated to Pigeon Park. Klasina has moved on; Sandy is now part of our Saturday night team, along with Brad Bell, who had also helped out at Rainbow from time to time.

Now, there's one more "member" of the Rainbow crew at Gospel Mission -- and The Lord's Rain, in particular.

This painting -- on a slab of wood -- was a particular favorite of mine. There were a number of "home-made" paintings hung around Rainbow, but this one always struck home with me and I referred to it in a number of messages there. Last week, Brad mentioned that he had rescued it from Rainbow Mission when it was closed, and it had been sitting in his apartment ever since, so he decided it needed to be shared. He brought it down on Sunday and Barry nailed it to the wall.

You probably recognize the Scripture on which the painting is based "Behold, I stand at the door and knock: if any man hear My voice, and open the door, I will come in to him, and will sup with him, and he with Me." (Revelation 3:20 KJV)
Along with 2 Corinthians 5:17*, this was and remains a pivotal Scripture in my own "walk" and one of my favorite sermon topics. Imagine: Jesus, the Anointed One, the Son of God, actually knocking on my door, wanting to come in and share time with me -- not because I'm anything special, but because that's His will for everyone! The two-way street that "to sup" connotes ... and the fact that, if you look at the picture (hard to see in the photo), there's no doorknob visible. That's because the doorknob is on the inside: it's up to us to open it!

As we come close to finishing our sixth month of operation, we're about to log the 300th shower, which is pretty good attendance, considering our relatively limited opening times so far. But we now are also open from Noon till 5 on Mondays and Fridays, as well as Tuesdays 7-8:30 am, Friday Ladies' Night 7-9 pm and Saturdays, 7-10am. Also, thanks to the hard work by the volunteers from KMPG and Brad's agreeing to take on the job of overseeing it, we are now able to start our clothing exchange during the Tuesday and Saturday openings. We have a washer-dryer now, thanks to Bruce and Sharon Nelson (as mentioned before), but we don't provide a laundry service: any clothing left behind is considered donated (if it's still wearable).

Add to this the fact that we're seeing more people upstairs at Gospel Mission, whom we had originally met through The Lord's Rain, and you can see that the showers project is reaching people in ways we couldn't have thought of when we first started. Accomplishing this has truly been a partnership of all of us here: one of the great blessings has been the ways in which a wide variety of people have been involved in a wide variety of ways -- with their gifts, time, prayer and finances. Essentially, God has carried this project from the day it was conceived almost a year ago now, working through all of you to achieve His purpose. "Many members - one body." Ain't that the truth!

There's no graceful segue to this: we are facing financial need right now. The presentations I give to churches end with a "pitch", but not for money: rather, it's encouragement for people to seek the Lord as to what He wants them to do to serve Him and serve others. If I gave a heavy pitch for people to send us money, it might not be what God wants, and I won't get into that area. So we trust that the Lord will tap people on the shoulder -- as He has done for Gospel Mission since 1929 -- and work through them to provide.

That being said, would you please take some quiet time and seek the Lord about making a contribution to Gospel Mission and The Lord's Rain? Simply send a cheque or money order to Gospel Mission Society PO Box 57151 Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada V5K 1Z1. Or ... you could bring it around to 331 Carrall Street (1/2 block north of Hastings) when we're open in the evening (7pm Monday-Saturday, 1pm Sunday) or come to The Lord's Rain during the Tuesday or Saturday morning openings. The contributions are tax-deductible; last year a couple of friends gave donations in the name of a friend or relative as a Christmas gift.
*"Therefore, if any man be in Christ, he is a new creature: old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new."

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Election thought(s)

I think it was in 1972 that Zonker Harris, the character in Doonesbury, spent election day submerged in Walden Puddle with a thought balloon over his head: "go away. Politics gives me migraines". In the past five or six years, I've grown more and more to agree with him.

I used to be an intensely political animal: grabbed hold of all the left-wing political causes I could think of and promoted them as much as possible (while still maintaining a patina of balance, being a broadcast journalist at the same time) (THINKS: "balanced journalism" -- there's an oxymoron for you!) even as the still, small voice was screaming "IT'S WRONG!" Now, though, I just submerge myself in my own puddle -- prayer -- and ask God to have His way on the elections.

So we are currently in triple-migraine season in Metro Vancouver. We've just had the federal election, the US election is coming up and right after that, we get to vote for mayor and council and school board and probably park board too, if I remember correctly.

Federal election is behind us, and I'm bemused at the response from the boffins to the result. To a person, they seem to believe that Stephen Harper "blew it" by not getting a majority government. CBC had two experts on their election night coverage: one had advised Jean Chretien, and I believe the other was an advisor to Brian Mulroney. Cool. Certainly the people I'd turn to for sage political wisdom. They pontificated about the fact that it was an election that didn't really have an issue and that no one knew why it was called in the first place.

But here's where the boffins miss the point. Usually, if a government calls an election without an apparent reason, they get punished, big-time. They lose seats, lose their majority or lose the election. They don't come away with more seats than they had before.

Indeed, there was a purpose to the election: force the opposition parties to show their true colors. By and large, the Liberals, NDP and Greens come across as would-be social engineers, declaring they know better than anyone else what people should be doing and intending to bring in measures to ensure that and fund them from tax dollars. Canadians, by and large showed their true colors, too, and to a great degree, it ain't green. A lot of the Conservatives' success in this election -- gaining seats -- can be seen as a repudiation of the Green Frenzy. Much of the Green Frenzy is based in guilt and one group of people dictating what everybody should do. Neither of those is a correct motivator because neither of those is "of God". People get concerned when they hear about the environmental situation, but it's apparent that many are still looking for another way to deal with that situation.

There is another way, although it's very much the "elephant in the living room" that nobody wants to talk about.

If My people, which are called by My name, shall humble themselves and pray and seek My face and turn from their wicked ways; then will I hear from Heaven and will forgive their sins ...
and will heal their land.

-- 2 Chr. 7:14

Thursday, October 9, 2008

Shooting (up) the messenger

You can tell when someone is on shaky ground in a discussion. They'll take full aim at the messenger and shoot, rather than address the message. That's the case with the latest fuss over inSite, the "safe" injection site experiment on the Downtown East Side.

It's now come out that the RCMP paid for -- or contributed funding for -- a study that claims the site is not accomplishing even what its advocates say it will do, namely reduce the spread of blood-borne diseases like HIV and Hepatitis. And what's the story in the Vancouver Sun? Nothing to refute or confirm the findings of the study, but the fact that the RCMP paid for it while asking for their names to be kept out of it.

See, if the DTES were all nice and clean now, with people not swarming through alleys and doorways at all hours of the day or night, shooting their heroin or smoking their crack, I'd be right behind the concept. But I'm one of these people who says, "look at the fruits": what is the result? If the result is still a bad situation, then the proposed solution DOESN'T WORK!

Whatever the supporters -- even if they do include Mayor Sam Sullivan and Premier Gordon Campbell -- think, I walk past the stark evidence of inSite's total failure every day. People do stick needles in their arms in broad daylight, and do their deals out in the open and smoke their crack; they lurch, zombie-like, around Pigeon Park and across Hastings and Carrall Streets, totally oblivious to the oncoming motor vehicles, and probably calloused to the idea they might get killed doing that. Once beautiful women are now toothless and ravaged by the effects of the drugs; achingly pretty girls, still in or barely out of their teens, turn up in the area, headed for a similar fate.

I don't blame the police for wanting to discredit inSite: they're in a worse position than I am in having to clean up its mess. I hang about the Mission and preach the Gospel and pray over people and try to encourage them to turn to Jesus rather than the needle or the pipe. They have to break up the fights and keep the dealers off-balance and see courts cut loose the people they've just arrested and in the eyes of many -- especially in the media, witness the biased tone of the Vancouver Sun article (nice to include the Pivot Society brief, but where's the actual discussion of the issues?) -- are always in the wrong. They have to deal with the fact that, as I've written before in this space, the DTES has taken on a spirit of lawlessness, turning the place into Dodge City.

(Perhaps the inSite supporters could explain why one of my friends at the Mission told me, the day after another pro-inSite demonstration in the summer, that he'd missed going to the demonstration and "it cost me 35 bucks". He then explained that that was the going rate to get people to show up. A free ferry ride to Victoria and a box lunch were, he told me, the compensation for attending a "spontaneous" demonstration at the Legislature prior to that. He did get in on that one.)

The solution is not to give them a clean place to do their drugs (and I note a subtle alteration in language: "safe injection site" has now become "supervised injection site"; things that make you go "hmmm"). The solution is to get them off drugs. Reverse-engineering that, we need to give them a reason to get off drugs, because (a) so many people are disabled in the area that it's very hard for them to see that any kind of turnaround is possible, and (b) no amount of programs and rehab and detox will work unless the person him- or herself actually wants it to work. What makes a person want something to work? A renewing of the mind. And what brings a renewing of the mind?

Jesus Christ.

And be not conformed to this world: but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind, that ye may prove what [is] that good, and acceptable, and perfect, will of God. (Romans 12:2)

Of course, you can't get government funding for the Holy Spirit. Scientists spend so much time ignoring the elephant in the living room because the Holy Spirit is not for sale, but a good theory, well presented to health boffins in government and properly spun to the media, can be worth millions.

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Wall Street, Bay Street and Revelation

I'm neither a macroeconomist nor an alarmist. I wouldn't know a derivative if it walked up and shook my hand. I still believe Asset-Backed Commercial Paper is something you stick to the wall if you're too lazy to wash, prime and paint. I'm relieved that I was too fiscally irresponsible to have any money to invest because I'd be shirtless now. And I grieve for anyone who's losing in the current market collapse -- from the rich dudes with offshore accounts and homes in The Hamptons to the faces, bodies and families represented by that phrase tossed off so blithely by commentators: "mortgage foreclosures are up".

But the clouds I see are not the storm clouds of world economic turmoil. They're distant clouds, with Jesus mounting up, ready to ride in and claim His bride. And that means we need to be extra wary of how we respond to events, because a lot will happen in the mean time that will try our faith.

See, there are two factors we need to be aware of. First is that it may well be that the world financial system is about to come apart at the seams. That means anyone who steps up with The Answer To All Our Troubles will be given a lot of clout. Dare I say that he or she will be worshipped?

The second is that the current President of the United States, while being aligned closely with the "religious right", is the son of the man who, when he was President during the Persian Gulf Misunderstanding of 1990, kept talking about the "New World Order".

"New World Order" is a phrase that's closely associated with the Satanic forces predicted to rise up in the Last Days. And while I'm not one to blather on about shadowy conspiracies and the Illuminati and so forth (focusing on such things takes one's mind off God), we need to be sufficiently aware of the signs and the prophecies so that we're not sucked in.

The collapse of the financial system is a perfect door-opener to the events described in Rev. 13:16-18:

And [the beast] causeth all, both small and great, rich and poor, free and bond, to receive a mark in their right hand, or in their foreheads:
And that no man might buy or sell, save he that had the mark, or the name of the beast, or the number of his name.
Here is wisdom. Let him that hath understanding count the number of the beast: for it is the number of a man; and his number is Six hundred threescore and six.

Beware, in other words, of any "conditions" or requirements imposed by banks, governments or even innocuous-seeming agencies "all in the name of convenience". Look with extreme prejudice on any requirement to carry a certain kind of card or indelible identifier in order to do simple business transactions like buy groceries or withdraw money from a bank account.

Simply put, we're heading into a time when the temptation will become great to sell out, to abandon faith in God for the sake of putting food on the table or keeping a roof over one's head. Those who don't "take the mark" will be frozen out of the standard economic system, and will need to rely on Jehovah Jireh -- the Lord God Who provides -- to meet their needs. False Christs will arise, as Jesus predicted, appearing to have the Answer and to work miracles: but they're counterfeits and we need to be aware of that.

I write this not to scare anybody, but to remind people of what's in the Word of God. Read it and strengthen your faith (especially if you read the King James Version: there are many "faith-charged" passages in KJV, which are altered in versions published since around 1950 -- more on that in a later posting), and be prepared to change your whole way of thinking -- even if that means "doing without" and relying on God.

Here's something to remember: any demonic forces taking over the financial system are only shadows, wispy wimps, compared to the awesome power of Christ. They're like the soldiers who came to arrest Jesus. All it took was for Him to take a single step towards them and they fell over like tenpins. We can do that too. Remember: "greater is He that is in me than he that is in the world". This is nothing to fear if we're prayed-up, with our faith in God intact and strengthened. If we find ourselves confronted with a set of rules that prevents us from doing business as we've known it, fine: declare that The Lord Will Provide and resist the devil.

But for God's sake -- and the sake of your family and yourself -- do not lose sight of Jesus, the Cross and the Lord. He will be with you, until the end of time.

Thursday, October 2, 2008

The Showers Saga 29: Volunteer Day

No doubt about it: The Lord's Rain has provided countless opportunities for people to get involved. When we first started work on the project last December, we approached a rather wealthy Christian businessman to underwrite the whole thing. We were turned down flat. But as it's turned out, that was probably the best thing that could have happened to the project.

Why? Because it forced us to rely on God, and He brought together the various people and groups we have needed to make it happen, giving them an opportunity to share in the work -- and to share in the blessing.

There have been the churches, which have donated clothing, sent in money and -- in the case of The Oasis -- organized a work party to build the sub-floor and frames; individuals who have given small, one-off donations or regular contributions or the occasional major cash donation; people who live on the DTES, who have become reliable volunteers, helping oversee the operation, make coffee, clean up and spend time chatting with the people who come in (an important component of this ministry); reporters who have been touched by the effort and done stories, which have, in turn, touched their readers, viewers or listeners; and there are many other ways that God has brought these people and groups into the project, so they can all call it "their own". But the bottom line is, they may all have missed out on the blessing had that businessman whipped out his checkbook and covered the whole cost.

His organization did tell us that they were praying for us. As I've written before, prayer is the most effective weapon we have, so even in that regard, he and his organization own a piece of The Lord's Rain.

Yesterday -- Wednesday -- we welcomed the latest group to grab a piece of the action: a group of volunteers from the accounting firm of KPMG. Every year (if I understand this correctly), they hold a "Community Matters" week, where employees may sign up to volunteer in teams with community activities. I had already made contact with one of their number, Jim Bennett, who goes to First Baptist and had heard of us. Initially, he and a group of friends from the church were looking for a way to help and had been kicking around ideas, but nothing got started. He did, however, start gathering underwear and socks (always in great demand) and other items and then, contacted me to see if we could use some help during their volunteer week.

Let me think ...

Over the past several months, we have been blessed by many people and organizations with used clothing. We don't have a clothing program yet, but about two months ago, as I stuffed my car** with a second load of clothing from Garden Village Apostolic Church (the second-oldest ACOP church in Vancouver, after Gospel Mission!), I realized the Lord was dragging us, kicking and screaming, up to The Next Level. It was time to organize the clothes and start handing them out. By the end of September, donated clothing had taken over my living room (to the point where Peaches had a hard time getting to her tree), my home office and my office at the church.

Or, to have the correct attitude in this, I am GRATEFUL TO GOD for providing me with a second bedroom (home office), large-enough living room and an office at the church, where I could store these donations! When I took the apartment 2-1/2 years ago, I had no idea it would be needed for that, but He knew what was coming down the pike!*

Anyway, to make a long story short***, a team of KPMG volunteers descended on The Lord's Rain yesterday morning. Job One was to get the clothes organized. We got a lot of Rubbermaid-style storage bins -- some were donated by a friend of mine at work, others were purchased -- and a group of the volunteers, plus Sandy, Janet, Danilo and Brad from The Lord's Rain, went to work sorting the clothes and loading them up.
"There's some really good stuff here," Janet said at one point. Praise God! I've never understood the "Junk For Jesus - Crap For Christ" mentality, and neither has God:

Ye offer polluted bread upon mine altar; and ye say, Wherein have we polluted thee? In that ye say, The table of the Lord is contemptible.

And if ye offer the blind for sacrifice, is it not evil? And if ye offer the ame and sick, is it not evil? Offer it now unto thy governor; will he be pleased with thee, or accept thy person? saith the Lord of hosts.

-- Malachi 1:7-8

So receiving "really good stuff" is a blessing all around: for those who receive it, for those who give it, and for us, who are the distributors.

"Look, Drew," Sandy said just before lunch time. "You can see the floor in your office!"

Downstairs, another group of volunteers painted the place. Painting has been a bete noire with us. The job was started, with the primer applied and a first coat; but the first coat never really did get all the way up to the ceiling (the walls are a good 15' high) and for one reason or another, painting "dates" had to be postponed. By the time the day was over, there were three coats of paint and they'd laid down primer on the wooden steps to the showers area.

And the kitchen was cleaned! Personally, I wouldn't know a clean kitchen if someone pointed at it and said, "That is a clean kitchen!" So I let Janet instruct them. Her instructons were beautiful. "You're all women: you know what to do!"

Oh, yeah: there was also a bag lunch, provided by KPMG**** and brought in by A Catered Affair.

And so the Lord's Rain and Gospel Mission and the people we serve benefit from this very intense day. I can't see the floor in my office again, but this time, it's because it's covered by neatly organized plastic bins. It's another example of God's timing and His plan at work: the right people came in to do the job, right at a time when we needed the job to be done. Any earlier, and we wouldn't have had anything for them to do -- any later, and it would have been so deep into the cold and rainy season that passes for a Vancouver winter that we would have been telling people, "No -- sorry", when they asked for clothes; people probably would have given up asking.

And now, just in God's time (which is always on time), let the clothing exchange begin!

*Another reason why the idea "think globally - act locally" is a non-starter: we can only see the impact of things we do at the time and within the filter of our current needs; God knows globally, so when we're obedient, it sometimes looks like we're doing something odd or illogical, but He reveals to us eventually what His plan is.

**The story of How I Got My Car is well chronicled in my book, A Very Convenient Truth - real hope in the face of environmental fears, as an illustration of what happens when you let the Lord determine, and then provide for, your needs according to His riches in glory.

***Too late!

****Intriguing side-story: KMPG is the accounting firm that audits TransLink, and some of the volunteers work seven floors above me at Metrotower II in Burnaby. The fellow who is in charge of TransLink's books is Archie Johnston, with whom I played basketball and football and road hockey (outside of high school) and against whom I played basketball in high school (I was at Hillside - he went to West Van). Archie also introduced me to The Alternative, which was a Saturday night youth group at West Van United. It was my first exposure to Christians of my age and social circle. One of the songs we sang was "I Been Redeemed (By The Blood O' The Lamb)" -- a song I now sing with the congregation at Gospel Mission on Saturday nights. What goes around - comes around.

Monday, September 29, 2008

DTES and the culture of entitlement

Bravo to the letter-writer in today's Sun, who takes a round out of the "culture of entitlement". If you take the issue beyond the immediate question -- how much should teens take responsibility for their own behaviour -- you get the seeds of what we deal with on the Downtown East Side. Much of the trouble there (not in all cases, but a significant number) occurs when people realize that they do bear responsibility for where they are and what they're doing. Our society has never been really big on promoting personal responsibility -- finding someone else to blame is a natural, fleshly approach. So when one comes to that realization, the shock leads people either to repentance -- or downfall, such as drugs or mental illness.

No Jesus - No Justice / Know Jesus - Know Justice
At least one BC school board is taking flak for not including an elective in the 12th grade curriculum: a course in "Social Justice". It was drawn up as part of a settlement between the BC Government and a couple of advocates for an alternative lifestyle, and it's basically a course in making people be nice to those who choose said lifestyle -- carefully cloaked, I understand, with lessons in being nice to people of other races and cultures.

The sad thing is, there is a readily available course in Social Justice already. It's called the Bible. "Love the Lord thy God with all your heart, mind, soul and strength ... love thy neighbour as thyself."

But that's not politically correct, because Jesus says that, "if you love Me, keep My commandments", and that tends to impinge on some people's lifestyles.

Pity, for a couple of reasons. For one thing, trying to reassure kids that a certain way of living is "basically OK" is a throwback to the 1970s "if it feels good - do it" and "it's your thing: do whatcha wanna do"; why should our schools teach a 1970s attitude in the 21st Century? For another thing, we're now 30 or 40 years down the road, and we've already seen the fruits. It's become clear that a particular lifestyle which advocates keep screaming is "really OK" and we should tolerate it happens to be a major risk factor for a disease for which there is no cure (and the search for which keeps sucking tens of millions of dollars out of the economy every year), and those who practice that lifestyle are some of the most miserable, self-centered and in many cases bigoted people I've ever met.

The other reason why it's a pity is because the beauty of the Love of Christ -- the joy of finding that turnaround in one's life when one chooses to walk in God's ways -- is something everyone needs to know about. The Victory at the Cross is one of the greatest experiences one could ever have, and denying it to anyone because it doesn't fit with someone's fleshly desires is not love ... and certainly is not just.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

The Showers Saga - 28: Axel's case and the spirit of lawlessness

The week began with your agent sitting in a courtroom, testifying against our friend Axel. His real name, it turns out, is Peter Thomas, and after the assault last month in the alley across from The Lord's Rain, he was charged with assault causing bodily harm and I was called as a Crown witness.

I testified to what I had seen* ... maybe thought I'd blown it under cross-examination ... but I guess between my testimony and that of the two cops who handled the case, something went right because Peter/Axel pleaded guilty.

He got six months, with a three-month credit for time already served. Yes, he'd only been in custody for just over a month, but that's the way our justice system works. Or maybe I should call it our legal system -- "justice", like "goodness" to Mae West, has nothin' to do with it! After all, as Pastor Barry pointed out, if Axel had been given two years or more, he would have gone to a federal penitentiary, where he could have gotten into programs that might have helped him (drug addiction, anger management, etc. etc.). As it is, he'll spend some time in the company of other small-time hoods, learn some new skills (like how not to get caught and/or leave witnesses) and be back on the streets in a couple of months.

Oh, and he'll be on probation for a year. Ooh ... I just get goose-bumps at the sight of our laws at work!

Actually, what it means is, I have a couple of months to get out to the jail and see him. Often. This guy has been in my life for a reason, and I know God wants him. He can help lead a lot of other bad-asses out of the miry clay they're stuck in (actually, if you've ever smelled the alley next to The Lord's Rain, you'd probably take the miry clay anytime!).

Axel's case is only a symptom of something that's manifested itself, big-time, on the Downtown East Side: a spirit of lawlessness. It does resemble Dodge City, where people look out for themselves, and very few true friendships are formed. One's existence is focused on scoring drugs: if you rip someone off, you pay the price; if you think someone else ripped you off, you make them pay the price. Chances are, that's what led to the beating for which Axel was convicted: somebody ripped off someone else, and Axel and the other two guys (who, to my knowledge, still haven't been fingered) were sent to sort him out.

Watch your back: watch your front; careful where you sleep, lest someone take your sleeping bag and leave you lying there.

The police exist for two reasons: to screw you, and to work for The Man in trying to make it as difficult as possible to live. That's the perception, anyway, fuelled by anti-poverty "activists" like the Rebels Without A Clue who used to inhabit the space that is now The Lord's Rain. Their current Straw Man is the Olympics -- a convenient whipping boy for everything that's wrong in society today.

But lest we think that the DTES is the only manifestation of this spirit of lawlessness, we need to realize that that same spirit is alive and well all over Metro Vancouver -- and everywhere, in fact. It just manifests in its most raw, Wild West form there. Look at what's going on in our own back yards. Some of it is very serious -- some of it subtle.
  • Assaults on bus drivers: while they've been declining in the last couple of years, thanks to new programs set up by Coast Mountain Bus Co. and the Canadian Auto Workers, the fact that anyone seems to think a bus driver is a ready target for spitting, punching or verbal threats is alarming.
  • Gang hits: need we say more? Oddly enough, one is safer from crossfires in the DTES than anywhere else in Metro Vancouver -- with the glaring exception of the hit this past winter across the street from where Barry and Brodie were working on The Lord's Rain. Ben Siegel's famous comment, "we only kill each other," gives no solace.
  • Arson: a 68-year-old woman died earlier this month in an arson fire in South Vancouver. I haven't seen whether anyone's been arrested, but the theory at the time is that a group of kids had been setting fires in the alley just for the heck of it. Where are their parents? Why were they out at that hour?
  • Any time police use any kind of force, it's assumed they misused their power and authority: it could be tasering a wanted criminal, detaining someone on suspicion of something, overseeing the city garbage collectors as they round up shopping carts (it may come as a surprise to many bleeding hearts out there, that the shopping carts street people push around are stolen property and that much of what they contain does not necessarily legitimately belong to them, either), or firing on a vehicle that's about to crash into a disabled police car; it is assumed that a cop is a psychotic in blue.
  • Fare evasion on transit: even though it's been shown to be negligible, it puts the public mind into a bit of a quandary. On the one hand, people feign outrage that people get on a bus or SkyTrain without paying, yet are indignant that Transit Police check people's tickets and clamp down on fare evasion. Hello?**
  • Rules of the road: I'm seeing more u-turns and other dangerous driving habits in the past couple of years. Cars cut off pedestrians in crosswalks; people jay-walk and teach their children, by example, that it's OK (witness the woman yesterday who blithely cut across Kingsway (all 6 lanes) with her small child: I braked for her, but what if someone behind me had been impatient and passed on the right? The "Do Not Enter (Except Bicycles)" signs in the West End might as well not be there at all. Cyclists act as if there are no rules, riding on the sidewalk, through crosswalks as if they're protected like pedestrians are (this just in: they're not), running red lights, riding in the wrong direction and riding between lanes of traffic. It's only a matter of time before someone walking on a sidewalk clotheslines one of them. In fact, motorcyclists and skateboarders -- the erstwhile Great Outlaws of the road -- seem to be the best at observing the rules.
  • White-collar crime: I don't know if it's any more prevalent now than before, but it's present, and there's a certain awe and reverence given to those who "beat the rap" and "stick it to The Man" -- even those who, when you get right down to it, are The Man. When corruption is uncovered in high places, or with long-respected businesspeople and lawyers, is the indignation because of what they did or because they got caught?

Lawlessness is not of God. The Bible is filled with exhortations -- from Jesus, Paul and Peter, among others -- to obey the laws of the land, even if they're at cross-purposes with God's laws or appear to go against what's convenient for oneself. God blesses obedience not just to Him but to those in authority on earth. Peter says that is the will of God for us to submit to "every ordinance of man for the Lord's sake ... that with well doing ye may put to silence the ignorance of foolish men ... For what glory is it, if, when ye be buffeted for your faults, ye shall take it patiently> but if, when ye do well, and suffer for it, ye take it patiently, this is acceptable with God." (I Peter 2:13, 15, 20).

Lawlessness is, in fact, the product of The Me Generation meets Fear. Look at those billboards for financial planning, which are focused on people's personal fears about not being able to retire in the lifestyle to which they've become accustomed (and for which they've likely mortgaged practically everything). We've forgotten that God is the Source for all things, whether they be financial security or the euphoria that comes with drugs. When people are confronted with the idea that they can't see their own future security or its means, that's when fear takes hold the idea of having to rely on God is either utterly terrifying or a non-starter.

Indeed, the current financial meltdown in the United States is an offshoot of the Me Generation: so many of us bought into the "have it all - have it now" ideal, the notion that the American Dream was not attainable by honest, hard work and faith in God to provide, but through sub-prime borrowing and zero-percent for the first three months credit cards, that we raced towards that shortcut from Satan, rather than let patience have her perfect work.

As we know, the Me Generation lost sight of Jesus: He started doing a slow fade-out in the 1960s, and as He did, so did His commandments to love God and love one another, with the promise that as we seek Him, He will take care of everything we need. But Jesus was declared uninclusive, politically incorrect, because, as He Himself said, the people of the world hate the light, because it exposes them (John 3:20), so that generation was denied the truth. Now we see the descendants of that generation walking in lawlessness today, whether it be in the British Properties, Davie Street, the universities or the Downtown East Side.

*It was interesting, when blogging about this in the earlier post, how I had to check myself: even though I had seen it with my own eyes, since Axel had been arrested and had not been convicted in court, I had to revert to "reporter" mode and separate his identity from the actual incident. This raises an interesting question about "citizen journalism": I was trained early not to convict someone before the trial. What if I'd written extensively about the assault, connecting Axel with the whole thing -- and possibly not separating truth from perception? Could that have caused a mistrial? I'm not aware of any instances in which a blog -- or a "citizen journalism" piece -- has caused a mistrial, but I'm sure that's only a matter of time.

** A couple of months ago -- just after PricewaterhouseCoopers had released its audit of TransLink's fare audit practices and concluded that the fare evasion rate was, indeed, as low as TransLink's own audits had been claiming (which is about one tenth of the level that most members of the public believe it is) -- I got into an exchange with a guy who was getting on the #3 through the back doors. I had mentioned to some people who were also trying to get on through the back doors that they have to get on at the front and make sure the driver sees their ticket. This other guy started ranting at me to mind my own business (it was lovely to tell him that it was my business, being an employee of the British Columbia Electric Railway Company) but I continued to point out the rule. The interesting part of this, is that there were about 20 other people within earshot, and none of them was sufficiently outraged at this obvious breach of the rules to back me up. Maybe, contrary to the commentators' opinions, people don't care about fare evasion.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

What's the real issue?

There are many things that give one cause for pause in the current environmental frenzy. One is the debate over whether global warming is actually happening and if it is, whether humans are responsible. Another is the rush by businesses and entrepreneurs to cash in by coming up with technologies that supposedly will help the environment -- living off the fad of the land, as it were. But a third is the total absence of an "exit strategy".

We've heard the phrase "exit strategy" in terms of war: how do we end it? The Bush Administration has been criticized for not having an exit strategy in Iraq -- planning a way out -- which is rather silly, because when you're talking about a war, the only true exit strategy is to win. War is not like exploring a cave, where you go in for a "safe" distance, but always know how to get back to the outside world: with war, as Yogi Berra would say, "it's never over 'til it's over".

But one element of an exit strategy is usually clear in a war: what does victory look like? We know a war is over when the other side surrenders (or is wiped out), and we even have an idea of what peacetime looks like at home -- the lights go on again, butter and gasoline are no longer rationed, we don't have to run into the basement when the sirens go off. But here's a question that's been nagging me about the environmental frenzy: what does victory look like in this case?

Does it mean that every body of water is clean? There are no more hurricanes? Every season follows the ideal, platonic definition of a season -- spring, summer, winter, fall? All endangered and threatened species go forth and multiply and cover the earth? Everybody rides a bicycle in neatly condensed communities of high-rises and communal playgrounds, living on tofu and veggie burgers (and considering the lack of pesticide, do you want flies with that?)?

I don't see that picture emerging from this. All I see is an obsession with rooting out all signs of environmental trauma and eliminating them, without a clear picture of the end goal.

Take a look at the paragraph before the last one: second sentence. "No more hurricanes". Every hurricane that's roared ashore in the last eight years has been blamed on global warming (and, by extension, the Bush Administration, for not doing anything about it; people seem to forget that Bubba had eight years in the White House, with Al Gore right next to him, to do something about it, and that didn't happen). It's become a mantra, without people stopping to question whether that really is the case.

This isn't to deny that there have been some wicked hurricanes in the past, and that they seem to be more intense and destructive and clustered one on top of the other. But could you ever imagine a world without hurricanes? How much would we have to monkey around with God's creation, that we could eliminate hurricanes? Might as well talk about eliminating earthquakes.

Famines and disease outbreaks have also been blamed on global warming. Interestingly enough, the many, varied and highly destructive earthquakes and tsunamis that we've seen in recent years have not been blamed on global warming. That might stretch credulity to the point where even some CBC reporters might say, "oh, yeah?".

Now, look at the fact that anything from the "me-generation" to "Pride" to the fact that Vancouver's Downtown East Side very closely resembles Dodge City, and you see that "the love of many (has waxed) cold". Add it all together, and what do you get? Signs that Jesus foretold of His return -- along with a lot of prophecies from Isaiah to Revelation.

So we have to ask ourselves: when we rush out in a panic to buy the latest "green" technology or contemplate selling our car and doing everything by bike, are we trying to save the planet, or are we trying to eliminate the signs of Jesus' return and thereby forestall that return?

Think about it. After all, if you have a cold, you can take Day-Quil and make it through the day without sniffling or sneezing, but you still have the cold (and are probably contagious). What if we eliminated greenhouse gas emissions altogether? Would that prevent the world from seeing Jesus?

Not a bit of it. But it might prevent the much of the world from seeing Jesus in time, and that's good enough for the enemy. That's why it's important for Christians to recognize what's going on and deal with the real issue, by spreading the Gospel, shining their light far and wide and leading as many people to Christ as possible.

Remember: even though he loses, the enemy has an "exit strategy" -- and that includes dragging as many people down with him when he goes.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

9/11: Thanks for taking the bullet

There are so many memories of Sept. 11, 2001, but the one that is firmly burned into my brain is from late September, 2007. I had always heard of and seen pictures of those giant hook-and-ladder fire trucks, with a steering wheel at the rear, but it wasn't until I went to New York for the first time (since 1960, so it might as well have been the first time) that I actually saw one. And yet, the fascination of seeing that was suddenly overwhelmed by what else I saw on the fire truck: decalled onto the side were eight names, and above the names, the date Sept. 11, 2001.

In case I need to close the gap there before going on, they were the names of the firefighters that company lost at the World Trade Center on that morning.

There are other poignant reminders of the attack. Interestingly, the least poignant (although still poignant) was Ground Zero itself -- still an excavation hole, and still controversial in its own right, as the daily papers reported continually on various scandals and allegations regarding management of the new structure to be built there. My friend Arlene, for instance, had an interesting reaction when I caught my first glimpse of the Empire State Building, shortly after she'd picked me up from Pennsylvania Station. I said, "wow!", and she replied, "we had an even bigger 'wow' right down there" -- gesturing south, towards where the WTC used to be.

Pastor Reggie told me how they watched the second building go down from the roof of the Bowery Mission and then provided shelter services.

In Canada, there is a fringe element (if you've ever read The Chrysalids, you'll catch the special nuance of the word "fringe") that wants to push the idea that "9/11 was an inside job". That shadowy figures with connections all the way to the Oval Office planned and executed the attacks in order to provide an excuse for attacking Iraq and protect the interests of the international oil illuminati. Something like that: sort of Watergate meets the burning of the Reichstag.

I haven't heard all their evidence for this (although a lengthy investigation pretty much skewered one part of their argument two weeks ago, when it was found that WTC 3 -- a smaller building which collapsed a couple of days after 9/11 -- was not destroyed by cunningly planted bombs but by fire started by the initial attacks) but I remember reading one of Mike Moore's reasons for believing President George W Bush knew about the attacks all along. He apparently looked "dumbfounded" when an aide told him as he was speaking to a school class in Florida.

Don't know about you, but I'm not sure how I'd react if someone had just told me that the two biggest office buildings in the world had just been reduced to a pile of smoking rubble; I would say, though, that "dumbfounded" might be one of the options.

Mind you, Canadians tend to be a smug and self-righteous lot. I was like that, myself, for much of my life. We look at the United States, and like the Pharisee standing next to the publican at prayer, say, "thank God that we're not like them!" We were so quick to condemn Americans during the race riots of the 50s and 60s, yet we seemed to forget about Japanese internment and the Head Tax and native residential schools and the turning away of the St-Louis and the Komagata Maru. *

And we take great delight in the general inferiority of our neighbours to the South. "They couldn't find Saskatchewan on a map!" we say, amid nudges and guffaws, without actually saying why anyone would want to. At the 2006 World Junior Hockey Championships, the crowd at Pacific Coliseum cheered Norway in its game against the USA -- not because we have a high percentage of Norwegians in the area, but because the crowd wanted to see the Americans lose. Isn't that a source of national pride?

Recently, at a general staff-and-management meeting at my company, a co-worker expressed concerns about a new benefits package we were being offered, and stated matter-of-factly that she was afraid it would be some "American-style" system. There was one of those pauses, while we all remembered that our newly arrived CEO is American.

It's a given that "American-style" = evil, not sensitive to people's needs, profit-oriented, serving The Man. It's as much a part of the Canadian Experience as winter and Hockey Night in Canada (with or without Dolores Claman's theme music).

(And let's not even start on the topic of electing someone who believes in the Word of God!)

But we forget something very important here. While we vilify, or at least hold in suspicion bordering on contempt, US military power and its attitude of being "the world's policeman", the freedoms we have enjoyed in this country have been largely due to the fact that we've had this cop on our street corner. While we were experimenting with anything from Medicare to state-run TV to minority rights and even sheltering draft dodgers, we were able to do so in the knowledge that Uncle Sam could and would come to our aid if anything happened. While some might argue that our best and brightest were getting killed in Europe while the US dithered over whether to join WW2 on that front, one could also argue that they provided the "fresh legs off the bench" that we needed to put an end to the Axis once and for all.

During the Cold War, what exactly prevented the USSR from reaching across the Arctic Ocean and helping itself to our resources, land and people? The fact that the USA has this PHENOMENAL "NIMBY" complex.

And when we want to sell our manufactured goods, where do we go?

But when a gang of terrorists wipes out almost 3000 people in one go -- affecting millions of people not just in NYC but even in Canada, we take the attitude that "they brought it on themselves", we rush to try to "understand" the terrorists, we fall all over ourselves trying to prove that the terrorists' culture was not responsible for it, and we even harbor the rock-dwelling lintbrains who claim that it was all a setup.

So while 9/11 is a date on which Americans will remember -- or contemplate -- what happened that day, it's a good time for us outside the country to remember that the US often takes the bullet - so we don't have to.

*Interestingly, there have been government apologies issued for those incidents except one: the St-Louis. The St-Louis was a ship, which wandered the world for several months in 1936, carrying a load of Jews, escaping Nazi Germany. It was turned away from numerous countries, and one of those countries was Canada, thanks to the lobbying by -- among others -- members of the Christian clergy. The St-Louis eventually returned to Germany, and most of the refugees on-board wound up in the Nazi death camps. In 2001, an apology was issued, but not by the government. A group of Protestant leaders from across the country got together in Ottawa with Jewish leaders and some of survivors, and they spent a weekend (or possibly longer, I'm not sure) in a time of prayer, forgiveness and reconciliation.

Sunday, September 7, 2008

The Showers Saga - 27: IT'S AUCTION TIME!

And now ...

Here it is ...

At long last ...

The long-awaited...

Often imitated ...

Never replicated ...

Sorry, once a PR guy, always a PR guy.

This is Part One of the Great Silent Auction to support The Lord's Rain. Subsequent parts will come up in the next few days, as we get photos taken of the other items. While the funds raised will go towards operations such as rent and utilities, they will first be used on some specific needs, namely finishing the back wall and building shelving and a large closet so we can organize and distribute the clothing donations that have been coming in.

Jim Bennett and his co-workers from KPMG in Vancouver are declaring a "volunteer day" in the next few weeks to assist with that job of organizing. (Brief testimony: I've kidded, almost to the point that it sounds like complaining, that my office at the church and much of my living room and office at home have been taken over by the donated clothing; but I praise God for providing the space where these donations are safe!)

Anyway ... auction time -- so here goes!

The first "lot" is two nights' stay at A Waterfront Cottage at Ucluelet:

This fully self-contained heritage cottage is a splendid getaway when the world is too much with us*, located on Ucluelet harbour with views of passing boats and wildlife right from the doorstep.

You're a 5-minute stroll from the Wild Pacific Trail on the very edge of Canada, and minutes by car from Long Beach, Wickanninish, Tofino and Clayoquot Sound. Rent (or bring) a kayak, and paddle from the front door to Barkley Sound and the Broken Islands; or let the locals do the navigating, and go whale- or bear-watching. Find out more at

This awesome experience is provided by my old high school friend (well, not that old, really), Marg Vedova. It's good for 12 months, subject to availability, with a blackout from November through April.

Please send your bids to me via return email. Bidding will close Sept. 30.

*That's Wordsworth.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Health and prejudice - 2

More musings about the mumps outbreak in the Fraser Valley and the innuendo about "fundamentalists" refusing to get vaccinated.

I know people who do not get sick and don't get vaccinations. I'm one of them. As I said in my previous post , I haven't had vaccinations since 1994, yet Iget the flu maybe once every 18 months or so, am laid out for a couple of days, and then I'm back on the job.

Then there are people who get their shots and still get sick. Huh?

And what about these "fundamentalists", who are getting the mumps?

Two points come to mind. One is that I'd love to hear from them as to the diseases they haven't been getting, in spite of not getting shots. I mean, if they didn't get shots for mumps, then presumably they haven't been getting shots for the other diseases for which there are shots, and yet we're not hearing about outbreaks of those diseases among that community. I wonder if any reporter is going to seek them out.

Another point is a bit more esoteric. Presumably, they're standing on faith as their reason not to have shots. But what's the foundation of the faith? Are they standing on, say, Exodus 15:26, which promises that if we walk in God's ways, none of the diseases He's visited on our enemies (the Egyptians, in the case of the Israelites who were hearing that Word) would come on us? Are they praising the Lord God Who heals, or God our protector?

Or is there that un-Scriptural belief at work, that says, "if it's God's will for me to be sick ..." or "Lord, if it be Thy will for me to get better ..."

THIS JUST IN ... It's NOT God's Will for you to be sick, and it IS His will for you to get better. End of discussion. But those words, "if it be Thy will", are, as TL Osborn says, some of the greatest faith-killers ever to come out of someone's mouth. "Let him ask in faith, nothing wavering," James writes (Jas. 1:6), and if we say dumb things like "if it be Thy will", we've just wavered. If you know the Word of God, you know that health and healing are His Will.

That's a significant problem with our walk with God. Way back in Genesis 3, the serpent hisses at the woman, "Yea, hath God said ...?", and while he's talking specifically about eating that fruit, the general impact has colored our relationship with God ever since. "Hath God said ..." that whatsoever we ask in Jesus' name, we can have it if we believe that we receive it???? "Hath God said ..." that the wealth of the Gentiles shall come to us???? "Hath God said ..." that by Jesus' stripes we are healed????

Or do they believe, perhaps, that sickness is in some way a lesson God is teaching us? How could it be? If it's God's Will for us to be healed, then why would He go against His own Will by making us sick? In Him, there is no shadow of turning (James (again) 1:17). Any "lessons" we learn from being sick come when we turn our eyes towards God again and glorifying Him with our healing.

I say this not to judge any of these "fundamentalists" who are being obliquely (and unfairly) blamed for the mumps outbreak. I say this to help us all remember to check the sort of faith with which we declare our protection from disease. Faith in the Lord God Who Heals and that we are protected is one thing; but "faith ... unless", I believe, leaves one wide open to be whacked, because that's a crack in the armor that the enemy can exploit for all he's worth.

As I said in that other post, the real story is that health officials say the mumps vaccine "wanes" after 15 to 20 years (I wonder if they told people that as they were sticking in the needle), since 25% of the cases reported so far are people who had been vaccinated; another 25% had been "partially" immunized, whatever that means (how can you be "partially" immunized? You either are or you ain't -- it's like being a little bit pregnant), and the remainder hadn't had shots.

So wouldn't it be interesting to find out more about this "remnant" who haven't been immunized? Who are they? What diseases have they been spared? How many of them don't have mumps? This is getting very interesting, don't you agree?

Mind you, the health officials, citing privacy considerations, won't say who these people are, what denomination they belong to, or anything like that. They're willing to slag their alleged religious motivation for not having the shots, but then duck under the Maxwell Smart Cone of Silence to prevent us from hearing about their miracles. Somehow, we'll have to flush this story out ourselves.

And now, back to Psalm 91.

Health and prejudice

I'm not sure whom to be more annoyed with - Global TV or Dr Perry Kendall.

Global ran a story tonight about the mumps outbreak in the Fraser Valley and spreading westward, and as you'll note from Tony's "anchor lead", there's a hint that "fundamentalists" may be responsible because they don't get vaccinations for religious reasons.

That point was not developed in the story, except that Dr Kendall, the provincial health officer, made an oblique reference to "conscientious objectors" who don't get their shots.

Having been a reporter, it's possible that he made a stronger reference to "fundamentalists" off-camera, but toned it down for public consumption, but the reporter likely picked up on it and worked it into the story.

Well, you know the impact that's going to have: "blasted Christians! Bible thumpers! Believing that stuff about 'The Lord is my shepherd' and 'a thousand can fall on one side and ten thousand on the other ...'! Making the rest of us sick!"

Oh, really?

Then riddle me this: if those backward, mouth-breathing fundamentalists caught the mumps because they didn't get shots, then why is there a health warning? Why isn't the outbreak contained among those who didn't get shots? Shouldn't those people who have their shots be perfectly safe? Why the fear-mongering?

Or is there really a problem with those vaccinations? Could it be that the safety net broke down, but the medical industry doesn't want to admit that, so with a little sleight of hand, it drops the subliminal hint that "fundamentalists" are responsible?

One more thing: the story didn't actually say that any of the mumps patients are "fundamentalists".

So what's the game? Do we get mad at Dr Kendall for the prejudice-tinged innuendo?

Or do we get mad at Global, for letting it go unchallenged and unsupported?

Actually, we don't get mad at either: we suck it up and forgive, and then pull out Psalm 91 for a "booster shot".

A more complete story can be found on the Global BC website, which actually does pin some numbers on the percentage of the 190 cases that do affect people who weren't immunized "either for religious or philosophical grounds". About half, they say, with half of the rest being those who were "partially immunized".

So how did the other 25% get the mumps?

Well, the print article quotes Dr Kendall as saying that mumps vaccines tend to wane after 15 to 20 years.


Isn't that the real story? That not even full vaccinations are 100% effective in preventing mumps? Talk about burying the lead!

BTW, I haven't been inocculated against anything since 1994. I occasionally get the flu, usually because I've worked too hard and worn myself down: I'm out of action for a couple of days, and then I'm back in the game. I minister on the Downtown East Side, where disease is all around. There's HIV/AIDS, of course, but that's easy to avoid: don't shoot drugs and don't have sex with people you shouldn't. But there's also TB and bedbugs and Heaven knows what all else. But I pray Psalm 91 -- you can never overdose on that -- and I am protected.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

It's the light of Christ, baby!

Priscilla Lopes-Schliep has just won the bronze medal in the women's 110-metre hurdles, and CBC commentator Diana Swain told about the time she interviewed Priscilla at the trials in Windsor, ON. Swain said she found there was "something different" about her that set her apart from the other athletes: a level of confidence the others didn't seem to have.

Let me hazard an educated guess. The answer was hanging around Priscilla's neck -- and I don't mean the bronze medal. The Cross.

Indeed, when Elliotte Friedman interviewed her, one of the first things she did was to thank everyone "for their prayers".

In other words, what Diana Swain picked up -- although she may not have realized it at the time -- was the light of Christ; the knowledge that one possesses that "X-factor", which can push someone beyond their worldly limits. I believe we saw a young woman who was humble in her performance: delighted, proud, happy for all those who'd supported her.

Some people sniff at the idea of athletes praying before or after a game, the team prayer circle or the ballplayer who crosses himself stepping up to the plate or who points Heaven-ward during the home run trot (or even after getting a base hit, for that matter). "What? Is God supposed to take sides, or be a Canucks fan all of a sudden?"

(The way the Canucks tend to snatch defeat from the very jaws of victory, evidently not.)

God does take sides: He supports, blesses and saves all who call on His name. He supports them, by strengthening them where they are weak and protecting them from unexpected injury and attack. That doesn't necessarily mean He'll rig the outcome, because God is not a fixer. But He will help someone to the absolute best performance they can turn in, and if the opponent still wins, it's because he or she performed even better.

Put another way, I could take on, say, Michael Jordan at a game of one-on-one hoops. I could spend two weeks prior to the competition in a combination of devout prayer and working on my outside shot, layup and vertical leap, but unless God wanted to teach Mike a lesson in humility, he would still take me, 125-6.

BUT ... I would have played my best game ever!

More to the point, I would have gone into that mis-match knowing it would be my best game ever, and Mike would have wondered about this serene confidence coming off this middle-aged guy.

And that, I believe, is what Diana Swain was picking up off Priscilla Lopes-Schliep. It was the Spirit, which, combined with God-given gifts, led to a world-class performance that makes a whole country feel really good!

Sunday, August 17, 2008

Seven years on ...

CanWest newspapers today are running a story about a dire warning from the Taliban, that it will continue targeting Canadian non-military workers -- like the two women gunned down in cold blood the other day -- unless Canada pulls its troops out of Afghanistan. There's the usual "supporting the fascist American regime" rhetoric, with the underlying theme that the Taliban have done absolutely nothing to warrant such treatment.
Normally, "I told you so" is useless, but bear with me on this one.

In the days after 9/11, which was also in the days before the explosive expansion of the blogosphere, a friend of mine forwarded an email thread, where people literally around the world were writing out their feelings about what this meant and what the US should do.

I added a piece, which went somewhat against the grain. The item read that the most appropriate response would be to do ... nothing.

Why? Because this was obviously an attack that was driven not by the crazed ideology of a bunch of people following a false god, but by Satan himself. And the only way to fight such an attack is to take it out of the flesh-and-blood realm and into the spirit realm, where the real war is going on.

Need I cite Ephesians 6:12?
For we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high [places].

Christ calls on us to respond in ways that the world would not expect. Praying for the people who did it, vowing not to be shaken in one's faith, and NOT sacrificing thousands of young lives in a futile attempt at retaliation are responses Satan would not have expected. Just as Jesus forgave His tormentors on the Cross, we are called on to forgive those responsible. "Let's not let the epitaph for [the people who died in the 9/11 attacks] be World War III," was the way I finished the item.

The email drew an unexpectedly negative response from one corner. It was the brother of my friend, who (I didn't know this) is, in fact, a comedian of some note, a very funny man who has done a lot in the years that followed to maintain and enhance morale for our troops at home and overseas. But he levelled a 2-barrelled blast at the idea that we should just roll over and do nothing and demanded to be taken off the mailing list so he doesn't have to read this s**t anymore.

My friend consoled me accordingly, "don't worry about my brother. He's an idiot."

So here we are, nearly seven years after the 9/11 attacks, and where exactly are we? Young, promising lives are still getting blown away in the region, aid workers are being assassinated, and the Taliban, which for a time appeared to have been sharply reduced in power and presence, have gotten their second wind and are rattling their sabres as loudly as ever.

And I can't help wondering now, "what if?"

What if ... we had opted for prayer and forgiveness over shock and awe?
What if ... we had refused to get sucked into a military response?
What if ... we had listened to that British MP who warned that, even if "we" did "get" Osama bin Laden, 10,000 more would rise up in his place?
What if ... Christians had chosen to show how they are called to a higher level of thinking, and actually walked out the example and commandments of Jesus Christ?

Perhaps ... Muslims would have looked at that example and realized that Isalmist terrorism and aggression has NOTHING on Jesus. [The "let's all understand the Muslims" BS that filled the Canadian media after 9/11 was one of Satan's counterfeits: the first way to deal with evil is to recognize that it exists, then refuse to resist the evil but rather resist the Devil (James 4:7).]

Perhaps ... God would have blessed the effort to depose Saddam Hussein, first by delivering him switfly into the hands of the Coalition, and then by miraculously bringing stability to the country and reconciliation to the factions.*

Perhaps ... certain aid workers would be alive to help people in other areas, torn apart by war or natural disasters.

Perhaps ... tens of thousands of people would have their loved ones.

Perhaps ... there'd be something resembling peace -- not absence of war, necessarily, but the true peace, blessing and protection that come from doing it God's way, rather than our common practice of doing it our way and praying that He'll bless it.

Look at the fruits: can it really be said that God is blessing the way things are going now? The loss of innocent lives and the failure of the current approach tell me that He isn't.

Saying "I told you so" -- especially seven years after the fact -- is usually useless. But when we're dealing with Christ, we can still get back on the right track, simply by turning to Him. Praise God, when we're in Christ, we can screw up and step outside of God's ways, but still repent, get back in line, and call on Him to take care of healing the past.

*[It's my belief that God wanted Saddam dealt with -- the way He wanted the Amalekites, Canaanites and Philistines "dealt with" -- for a long time, but that Satan has been trying to muck things up. First, George HW Bush eased up on Iraq in the Gulf War and didn't finish the job; then George W took things too far, by trying to stay and "fix things" even after Saddam had been captured. I really believe the Coalition should have pulled out as soon as they had Saddam, and left Iraq to fix itself. I believe that's as far as God was going to bless the operation. Satan, of course, can color anyone's thinking by using business or political interests, and the pride factor of being The One Who Brought Stability To Iraq would have been a strong temptation for the younger Bush.]

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

How not to report on a suicide

It's an horrific story. A 40-year-old father, with his 3-year-old girl strapped safely in a car seat and some other adults in the SUV, is driving along the road near Rosedale, BC. Suddenly, another vehicle slams into the SUV, and the little girl's daddy is dead. The vehicle that hit them is driven by a suicidal, brain-damaged man who accomplishes what he was out to do -- kill himself.

So what does the Vancouver Sun focus on in the reporting? The background of the suicidal man. The fact that he'd suffered a brain injury a few years ago and hadn't been the same since. The fact that his sister had been murdered near the same spot as the crash happened. Nothing about the little girl whose daddy was snatched away.

I was a reporter/broadcaster for 25 years, and never did feel comfortable with the knee-jerk "we don't report suicides" mantra that newsrooms fall into whenever someone does him or herself in. The reasoning has always been "it's a terrible personal tragedy for the family involved" or "it might lead to copy-cats". But I believe that an examination of the factors leading to the suicide -- breakdown in the mental health system, discussion of warning signs parents and friends could look for, etc. -- is much more in the public interest than dissecting the latest gang murder or (now I step into the grounds of treason) the latest breathless pronouncement about the 2010 Olympics.

For example, a suicide back in the mid-90s in Victoria led to a coroner's inquest, which led to the exposure and repair of some serious flaws in the mental health system, helping save countless other lives. Problem was, as reporters, we had to begin by making reference to an incident, which had been noted by many people (as in, "Why are police cars and an ambulance outside the View Street Parkade -- and why is View Street blocked off?") but which we didn't report because of that "no suicide" mantra.

But I digress. The Sun's reportage makes for reading that could have inspired F. Scott Fitzgerald to write Gatsby II, but still doesn't go into the public-interest topics: boring stuff like, what kind of treatment was this guy getting? Why was he allowed behind the wheel of a motor vehicle? No, rehashing a 1977 murder (without, you'll notice, mentioning whether the killer is still doing time) is much more entertaining.

Katie Webb wrote an excellent piece for The Province about suicides, and if I can find the link, I'll add it. The four-page special report definitely was in the public interest. We talked about it, because she called me at TransLink to ask about suicide prevention barriers on any of the bridges under our aegis. The Golden Ears Bridge will have a barrier, required under its environmental assessment certificate ("environmental assessment" includes "social environment", in case you're wondering); the Pattullo does not, although its replacement may.

Now, I've questioned the "copy-cat" theory, and at one time, asked the then Regional Coroner for Southern Vancouver Island if she had ever returned a finding in a suicide which indicated that the subject had decided to end it all because he or she had been inspired by a media report. She said "no", but Katie's research has found that there does appear to be a "spike" in incidents of a certain nature when one particular incident is made public.

As it turned out, within days of the publication of Katie's report, a woman decided to sit on the Ironworkers Memorial Bridge, causing police to close the bridge in both directions for six hours while they talked her out of it (creating a gridlock situation that was not helped when a car crash closed Lions Gate Bridge during that time). Last week, a man climbed to the top of the Pattullo and sat there until police talked him down (having closed the bridge first), and yesterday (Tuesday), a man was arrested while walking down the middle of one of the lanes on the Pattullo with a rock in each hand. Maybe there's something to the "copy-cat" theory, after all.

But to return to the main point, The Sun did itself and us no favors with its angle on the Rosedale murder-suicide. Reporting should give the reader something to "take away" - something to make us think and examine our own lives and those of the ones around us. All we got was some brutal titillation, and a form of justification for someone who destroyed a number of innocent lives while ending his own.