Wednesday, September 22, 2010

The Last Lesson of the Children's Zoo?

My dad has always been a photographer. He snapped off photos of practically everything as I was growing up, and -- being a TV producer -- he also acquired a 16mm movie camera and shot miles and miles of footage of things in our lives (as well as stock footage for his show, Klahanie).

One of the earliest pictures he has of me is as a 2-year-old, standing nose to nose with a fawn in Stanley Park. A little baby with a little baby. (I remember a couple of years later, my mother took me to a concert, when Leonard Bernstein brought the New York Philharmonic to Vancouver (did he really play at the Forum?) -- and they played Debussy's Afternoon of a Faun. I thought it was a nice piece about a baby deer.)

But back to Stanley Park. It was my first encounter with a wild animal. Later, when the "Children's Zoo" opened, we got to get up-close-and-personal with a lot of animals you wouldn't ordinarily see; and while staged shows in the Aquarium and caged -- or otherwise boundaried -- animals in the rest of the zoo were interesting, there's no substitute for that kind of contact with another species.

Amid all the hubris of the "saving" of the Bloedel Conservatory in Vancouver, there was the nemesis that the Stanley Park Children's Farmyard -- formerly called the Children's Zoo -- would be closed. Its last day will be January 2, 2011 -- the day after the annual Bright Nights Christmas festival closes. The reason? It lost a quarter-million dollars last year. Bloedel was also a money-loser, but that was blamed on construction of the Canada Line, which limited road access to Queen Elizabeth Park and the Conservatory for a couple of years. (How a viable business can go into the tank because of only two years of limited access is a question for smarter economic minds than mine, but to this unlearned and uneducated one, maybe there were problems before then? Here's one: I was born and raised in Vancouver, and have not set foot in the Bloedel Conservatory in well over 30 years. Hmm.)

But maybe it's easier to "sell" a Conservatory -- with a built-in spectacular view of Vancouver and the North Shore from the top of Little Mountain and a gourmet restaurant -- as a tourist attraction than it is to promote "another petting zoo". After all, bringing in the tourist dollars is a bigger deal than something that would entertain and educate young local children and deepen their appreciation of animals and, by extension, farming and the source of their food. (I had no problem with the knowledge that the little lamb I played with on one Sunday could well be the star of someone else's souvlaki the next Sunday -- after all, it wasn't the Stanley Park Children's Abbatoir ...)

(A loss in the neighbourhood of $250,000? The City of Vancouver is spending 100-times that much, setting up separated bike lanes.)

You want to know how to bore a young kid to tears? Take them to a flower and plant exhibit. That's probably why I haven't been to the Conservatory since the mid-70s: too many memories of wanting to be someplace else. But I could have spent hours at the zoo -- the "regular" zoo or the children's zoo -- no problem. But that little bit of joy for a kid -- some gentle education -- sadly takes a back seat to economics.

Kids are being required to grow up too fast these days. (There are "advocates" who want them to explore their sexuality while they're still children, which reminds me of Goldie Hawn's one-liner on Rowan and Martin's Laugh-In in the 1960s about petitioning Congress to lower the age of puberty); maybe this is just another sign of the times. You want to go to the Children's Farmyard kid? Sorry: it's closed, 'cause it wasn't making money. Why is it important to make money? Well, lemme tellya .....

The last lesson of the Children's Zoo? Sad, dontcha think?

Monday, September 13, 2010

The Florida pastor's legacy

"Aren't you glad that idiot in Florida cancelled his plan to burn the Koran?"

The lady at the bus stop didn't even know me, much less Terry Jones, yet this seemed a fitting conversation opener for a Sunday morning. Personally, I've been training my tongue not to call people names -- especially not a fellowservant -- no matter how much I disagree with them, so it was hard to set myself in agreement with her calling the pastor an idiot. Yet -- hey, let's be honest -- it was hard to disagree.

But while it's easy to dismiss Terry Jones' 9/11 stunt as simply someone getting his Warholian 15 minutes so he can now be differentiated from the guy in Monty Python's Flying Circus, it's also possible to look past it and see where God is involved. Has he not -- wittingly or unwittingly -- been used by God? The response from other Christian leaders has been pretty consistent: this is not the God we serve, and this is not the way to go about witnessing Christ. Even our Prime Minister, Stephen Harper, uncharacteristically spoke of his own faith, saying "my Jesus is a God of tolerance". In the process, I believe this is helping the Body of Christ get re-focused on what we're called to be, and that calling is not to go around hating people of other faiths -- no matter how holy or righteous the reason.

I dealt with this in a previous posting back when Pastor Jones' plan was first announced, and pointed out that declaring what we hate -- no matter how much we think God hates it -- is not what we are called to do. We could also consider this:

"Though I fervently declare my loathing for the things God hates and have not Love, I am become as sounding brass, or a tinkling cymbal.
"And though I know every word of God's Old Testament Law; and march in protests and rail against abortion, Muslims, homos and even my country's President if his agenda doesn't suit me; and have not Love, I am nothing.
"And though I dare police to cart me off to jail* because I ought to obey the laws of God rather than the laws of man, and have not Love, it profiteth me nothing."

It comes down to this: the moment we put on Christ -- to use another of Paul's expressions -- we're supposed to behave differently, think differently, live differently than we did BC. No matter how much darkness rises up in the world, our Light is supposed to overpower it -- and if we can't do it with our Light, then there's something wrong with the connection.

Paul writes, "in malice be ye children, but in understanding be men" (I Cor. 14:20). We are supposed to be totally unschooled and inexperienced in malicious behaviour: but when it comes to understanding of the Word of God and our commandments from Jesus (WDJTUTD?), we have to be mature, adept, perfect.

Jesus told us that in the last days, we'd be called on to defend our faith, and that's something we do every time we witness Christ to others (Matt. 10:19). If the Holy Spirit is to give us the words we need when we need them and the Holy Spirit is the spirit of Love, could He possibly instruct us to burn another faith's holy book or otherwise act hatefully towards them?

If we use the Terry Jones experience as a stone on which to whet our almost-blunted purpose, then we see God at work, after all. God has used people in much more loathsome ways to get His Will accomplished: Calvary comes to mind.

*Some years ago, a friend of mine and his wife were planning to take part in an anti-abortion rally, where the protesters planned to challenge a court order preventing them from getting within a certain distance of an abortion clinic. On the day of the rally, my friend and his wife were praying, and the Lord told them, "don't go". So they didn't. Turned out, some people were arrested and charged with criminal contempt of court. Not long after that, my friend and his wife were called overseas as missionaries -- and they couldn't have obtained their passports if they'd been arrested at that rally and come out of it with a criminal record. Their ministry work has touched countless lives over the past 20 years, but who knows if they would have done anything if they'd been disobedient that day?

Sunday, September 5, 2010

Hawking and one of the First Temptations

Stephen Hawking is back in the news, this time with a book that, according to press reports, provides scientific evidence that God did not create the Universe. It's likely to spark outrage among Christians -- or anyone else who believes in God (Muslims, Jews ...) -- and will cause many people to want to rise up and argue vociferously against the professor's points.

My advice: don't take the bait.

Don't succumb to what was, essentially, The First Temptation of Christ: to dispute the point that began, "if thou be the Son of God ....". For Jesus, even responding to the Devil's statement would be to admit that there was the slightest possibility that He wasn't the Son of God. Instead, Jesus simply said, "it is written ...." No debate. No discussion. Stand on the Word of God and do not waver.

For us, that's important, because that is the very weapon we have at our disposal as believers, and that's all we need.

So no matter how tempting it is to stew on the concept and think of a well-constructed, rational argument, all that does is play into the devil's hands and take the fight onto his turf. Rational thinking cannot withstand faith, and as the Apostle Paul says, anyone who believes in God has to begin by accepting that He exists, and since no one has seen God, that's a matter of faith.

A little while ago, I blogged about another statement of Hawking's, that mankind had to make plans to colonize other parts of the galaxy(ies), or else we'd become extinct. That might have been taken as a wake-up call to the situation on Earth, but his theory that the Universe could have come to be without God runs deeper than simply promoting science over religion.

If God did not create the Universe, then to whom are we accountable. The idea of our accountability is based in that fundamental statement in Genesis 1:1 - "In the beginning, God created the Heaven and the Earth". If for some reason we reject that, then what good is a God at all? Why should we be accountable to Him? Why should we follow commandments? Why should we love Jesus and love our neighbour as ourselves and lay down our lives for others, whatever the cost or level of inconvenience?

Take God out of the picture, and we're left alone with our own intellect to get us through life. What many think of as freedom of thought is really aimless direction. What is the foundation of any kind of morality? Laws by governments that can be changed the instant a party ticks off enough of the electorate? Being "nice" or "tolerant" towards someone? If my intellect is as good as it gets, I'm in big trouble. I need God, through His Holy Spirit, to show me what to do and how to do it, and if this God didn't even create the Heavens and the Earth, then He's really not much better than I am so why should I owe Him any obedience at all?

Worse -- take God out of the picture and you take Love out of the picture. God is Love, and Love cannot be explained by any kind of reason. Take Love out of the picture and the concept of laying down one's life for someone else can only happen if it's convenient for someone: if it makes them look good or saves someone's life because the person laying down his or her life would miss them. For that very reason, Man could never have conceived of unconditional Love.

But as Christians, we know that, and because we know it -- it's not a theory for scientists to debate, publish and peer-review -- there's absolutely no point in debating Hawking's theory or giving it the time of day; even if we think that we've come up with the perfect slam-dunk to shut it down.

Consider Eve. In her zeal to defend her right standing with God, she embellished on God's instructions regarding the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil -- saying God had said not even to touch it -- and, by essentially lying about God's word, giving the devil an opening.

Consider Hezekiah's troops (II Kings 18), faced with the Assyrian envoy not just trash-talking their military abilities but trash-talking the God of Israel Himself. Every soldier kept his mouth shut, having been being ordered not to respond to the envoy's increasingly blasphemous rantings. That's how we have to be.

Besides, to respond would be to judge Prof. Hawking, himself. It's possible to be "sincerely wrong" about something, and we are only called on to pray for those who are misguided. I believe God is using Hawking as a means of dragging the atheists to the brink of the abyss and then, in a glorious revelation of His own, showing Himself to Hawking in a way so brilliant, so glorious and so incontrovertible, that Hawking will have no choice but to repent and retract his statements ... and in the process, bring other atheists into the Kingdom with him.

That is, in effect, what happened to the Apostle Paul. He was by no means the last person to be knocked off his horse and become one of the Lord's greatest supporters, and I believe Stephen Hawking is a prime candidate for a shaft of light, himself.