Thursday, December 20, 2012

All icing - where's the cake?

Every Christmas, my family would make carrot pudding -- similar to carrot cake and plum pudding -- and there would be hard sauce on the side. The carrot pudding is actually quite nutritious: carrots and raisins and flour and eggs and a bunch of other good stuff -- the hard sauce is a garnish. Quick recipe for hard sauce: butter, icing sugar and vanilla extract, all to taste. Method of eating the carrot pudding with hard sauce: a spoon of pudding, then slide the pudding through the sauce.

I would always leave some of the hard sauce for the end, to have some "straight" -- without the pudding. But there was always a rule that I set for myself: I had to finish the pudding before I could have the hard sauce straight.

Last night, I watched The Polar Express, the movie with a bizarre animation technology that looks almost human the same way you sometimes think your cat is speaking English when it meows a certain way. Anyway, TPE is a "nice" story, if rather predictable: cynical child has up-close-and-personal encounter with Santa Claus and has his life changed as a result. A bunch of have-not kids get presents on Christmas. Formerly friendless kids make friends. The main character is advised to "BELIEVE".

As I say, it's a nice story. So why did I come through it with a grieved spirit? Because it's a lot of hard sauce, and I haven't seen much real carrot pudding over the Christmas season. Let's see: earlier this week, Fox TV aired a triple-play of three shows I'd never heard of before, billed as "three Holiday Classics". The first two had something to do with Santa Claus and the third was a Peanuts special ... except it wasn't A Charlie Brown Christmas, but "Happiness is a Warm Blanket, Charlie Brown", which was little more than a bunch of comic strips knitted together and animated with no reference to the true meaning of Christmas and CERTAINLY no sign of Chris Shea's* halting but sincere rendition of Luke 2 as Linus in ACBC. ACBC did air during the Christmas season, but it usually has a "don't blink or you'll miss it" schedule, as if the network executives are eager to get this "Jesus" malarkey out of the way and get on with the real holiday.

Last night's TV offering included something described as "The two sons of Mother Nature argue over Christmas."

Unclear on the concept?

Don't get me wrong: I have nothing against Christmas specials like Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer and others that don't necessarily refer to the true meaning of Christmas, the same way that I enjoy hearing Bruce Springsteen's version of "Santa Claus is Comin' to Town" and Tom Petty's "Christmas All Over Again". But it feels, more and more, like we're getting force-fed a bowl of hard sauce without the carrot pudding -- with the same stomach-turning results.

(I actually have a personal issue with Rudolph. I like the story behind the recording of the song -- that Gene Autry's wife rather liked it, but he didn't think it would amount to much; but they had a few minutes left in a recording session, so they laid it down rather than send the musicians home early. But the more I think about the story line, the more I realize it's kinda cynical. I mean, look: here's someone with a physical aberration, who gets teased and bullied about it, and he only gains favor with the others because his "aberration" happens to be useful under certain circumstances. If it hadn't been foggy that one particular night, he would still have been teased and bullied. Moral of the story: if you can't prove your aberration is useful, suck it up, Prince Mishkin, 'cause they're still going to bully and tease you. At least the song doesn't take the tack the TV show does: that they'd have to "cancel Christmas" because Santa can't get fly in the fog. As if.)


*Sadly, I just learned through a Google search that Chris Shea passed away just over 2 years ago at the age of 52. Would have loved to have told him how much that little reading of his affected my life.

Sunday, November 11, 2012

If there is no hell

I've been contemplating this for the past few weeks, ever since an item appeared in The Province about a documentary by a professing Christian who claims there's no hell. Filmmaker Kevin Miller, whose doc is called "Hellbound?", is quoted as saying that the word "hell" isn't even in the Bible.

Well, on the principle that the way to disprove the statement that "all crows are black" is to find a white crow, the "white crow" in this case is in Matt. 5:22: "... whosoever shall say 'thou fool' shall be in danger of hell fire."

Now, in the Bible, some words that are rendered in English as "hell" do not actually refer to the place of eternal punishment -- "Thou wilt not leave my soul in hell", for example, actually refers to "Sheol", which Strong's Concordance defines as "the abode of the dead" rather than a place of eternal punishment (although that's listed as a definition, as well) -- but the "hell" Jesus refers to is, in fact, the fire-and-brimstone, abandon-all-hope, you're-not-getting-out "hell" that we've come to accept.

The Greek word is "Gehenna", which is basically a transliteration of the Hebrew "Hinnom". Strong's Concordance notes, "Hell is the place of the future punishment call "Gehenna" or "Gehenna of fire". This was originally the valley of Hinnom, south of Jerusalem, where the filth and dead animals of the city were cast out and burned; a fit symbol of the wicked and their future destruction."

(Remember, too, that when Jesus tells the parable of the beggar Lazarus, the rich man who rejected him in this world calls to Abraham from his vantage point in hell.)

So, the concept of hell as a place where the souls of people who are caught up in evil are sent to burn eternally is very much a part of Jesus' teaching, and since He is God in the flesh, we can be pretty sure this is the Word of God. With one deft stroke, we can see that this you is full of navel lint. Why bother any further?

There are a couple of reasons. One is that his idea seems to get some traction -- after all, it'd be oh-so-nice if the Bible was all about love thy neighbor and do under others as you would have them do unto you and everything is beautiful and don't worry about sin because God loves you so much He'll overlook it in the end. That's dangerous, because that's a lie.

Another reason is that this particular premise leads to the time-honored question, "How could a loving God ...?"

In this case, How could a loving God send sinners to hell? If He loves us (the thinking goes), why would He send some of us to hell? Ah, one can think, then the whole teaching of Christianity must be off-base. Miller says some Christian teaching is more about hell-avoidance than coming to Christ.

I couldn't agree more: I certainly didn't come to Christ because I wanted to avoid going to hell: I did so because I saw that was a better way than anything else I'd tried or heard of. But the concept of hell is very real to me, and avoiding it (or so I hope) is an added attraction, and particularly powerful when temptation starts prowling around, looking for an opening. After all, a truly loving human father still keeps the thought of punishment for disobedience in the background: just as there are rewards for doing good, the reminder of a punishment for doing bad is necessary.

Besides, the reason why hell is one of the foundations of Christianity is because, since God is a loving Father to us all, He needed to send Jesus to re-connect us with Him. If there were no hell, why would we need Jesus?

But let's get back to that idea that God sends people to hell. Here's an idea to put on the SkyTrain and see if it gets off at Metrotown: God does not send people to hell; He sends sin to hell. But if someone is clinging to that sin, they wind up going there, too. Jesus says, "every plant that My heavenly Father has not planted shall be rooted up." (Matt. 15:13) And what happens to anything that is still hanging onto that plant? God has given us choice (because He loves us and wants His people to love Him not by coercion but by choice) and if we choose to hang onto that plant, we'll get cast out of His garden and tossed into that fire along with it.

Paul's list of people who go to hell -- 1 Cor. 6:9-10 -- is a list of people who choose to cling to sin rather that to Jesus. (Paul doesn't actually say they go to hell: he says they do not inherit the Kingdom of God; but since there is no "door number 3", that leaves only one other option.) But the Apostle also adds a note of encouragement after listing all of that: "And such were some of you: but you are washed, but you are sanctified, but you are justified in the name of the Lord Jesus, and by the Spirit of our God."

In other words, we all have gone through periods of clinging to sin but we found our way out through Jesus Christ; and we need to remember that when we deal with others.

That leads to another point about the concept of hell. It keeps those of us who have come to Christ from getting smug and self-righteous. Note that I said, above, that I "hoped" I had avoided hell by coming to Christ. What I mean by that is that I hope I'm not missing something in my walk: I'm grateful for the Grace God has extended to me, and I don't ever want to take it for granted. I'm ever aware that I don't deserve the blessing God has poured onto my life, especially since I came to Him.

One of the sad things about all this is the way that people tend to embrace the "Grace without sin" doctrine. People want to feel better about themselves without actually tackling the stuff that's put them in that space. Maybe it's because they believe that their issues will be too big and complex for them to deal with. And they're right. But that's why we have Jesus. Just as there is no grace without sin and no healing without sickness, there can be no heaven without hell.

Sunday, October 21, 2012

If life means hope, what's wrong with Kaffeblubben Sø?

A few year ago, when I was working through one of the earlier iterations of A Very Convenient Truth, I read with disdain the words of a maritime lawyer, who opined that global warming would actually be good for commerce, since it would open up the Northwest Passage to shipping and allow for quicker routes between world markets.

Well, that was then - this is now; and while looking at the economic benefits of something that others are bemoaning doesn't quite seem right to me, I'm also less inclined to look at something like global warming/climate change as the "disasters" that many others say it is.

Recently, CBC Radio's science program, Quirks and Quarks, looked at the latest discoveries about the Kaffeblubben Sø -- the world's most northern lake (it's in Greenland). As New Scientist notes in its article about the same research, the lake, which has been pretty much frozen solid for thousands of years, is now showing signs of life. Algae are multiplying again, after being dormant for all that time. While algae bloom has generally been associated with pollution from human sources, the scientists looking at Kaf-etc. have determined that this change is solely to do with global warming.

Global warming, in other words, has brought life back to a place that was virtually barren for millennia.

This, of course, is bad news, according to Geology magazine.

Wait a sec'. How is the appearance of life bad news? I'm not talking about cases where an invasive species like zebra mussels or snakehead fish have been introduced artificially: I'm talking about a situation where conditions have changed to allow life forms to flourish where there had been nothing before.

The boffins with the Geological Society of America (publishers of Geology) point to this as a sign of how the Arctic is our "early warning system" about climate change, tipping us off about the "threat".

Why not look at this as another sign that God is in control, is working out His plan, and confirming that by restoring life where none had been before?

It's rather like the Pharisees saying, "What shall we do with this man, for He works many miracles?" or John the Baptist's disciples, asking Jesus if He was the Messiah. The signs were all there, but Jesus didn't fit in with their world view, so they refused (at least temporarily, in some cases) to recognize the signs.

The trouble with a lot of our climate change research is that it's mostly after-the-fact. When the researchers say the Arctic is our "early warning system", they're still not saying that these warnings will have been in time for us to do anything about it. Nor have they actually established that there's anything mankind can do to prevent these changes from happening.

God, on the other hand, has already told us this would all happen. He's told us what to expect next, too, and while we're not supposed to fight Him, He's given us explicit instructions: clean up our environmental act, seek Him first, and lead others into the Kingdom.

A Very Convenient Truth has gone through another revision, and I think it's the last now. It also has a new title: A Very Convenient Truth - or, Jesus told us there'd be days like these, so stop worrying about climate change and get with His program.

That version will replace the one that's currently online at Smashwords (or any online bookstore) in the first week of November.

Sunday, August 26, 2012

When zealotry takes hold

Nobody knows what we're for only what we're against when we judge the wounded
-- from "Jesus, Friend of Sinners" (Casting Crowns)
The verbal gaffe -- not gaffe: moronism -- by a candidate in the US elections this past week should be an example to Christians, to remember what our assignment from Jesus is.
I think I have it straight, here: the candidate was talking about abortion -- which he's against -- and stated that during a rape, a woman's body can "shut down", so that she does not get pregnant.
Evidently, he had been asked if abortion should be allowed if the woman had been raped and he was attempting to avoid what could have been a sticky question ...
oh, why am I making excuses for him?
(Are there not times when someone does something so phenomenally stupid, that you get hung up trying to figure out where in blazes he was coming from?)
One thing that's apparent: this fellow was so fixated on proclaiming what he was against that he stretched to find any point he could; and in so doing, cast all Christians as being judgmental, ill-informed and stupid.
That's sad. Jesus sent us to proclaim the Kingdom and the Good News that we can be reconciled to God through Him, but instead (as I pointed out in a posting two years ago) people get the impression that the way to declare one's faith is to express anger and outrage at things that offend God.
But throughout the Bible -- from "vengeance is Mine, saith the Lord" to "judge not, lest ye be judged" to "Thou ... shouldest destroy them which destroy the earth" to the parable of the talents, where the master calls for all those who hated him to be brought before him and executed -- the message is clear: we are to stick to our own jobs and let God handle the anger-and-outrage thing.
And let's not kid ourselves: there's going to be a lot more potential for anger and outrage in the not-too-distant future. There seems to be no end of Things That Offend God working their way into our culture these days, and people need to see the Truth and the Light. They won't see it if we keep pointing at darkness.

Friday, August 3, 2012

Climate change, hindsight and God's certain promise

A couple of weeks ago, the media reported on a large "ice island" that broke off from Greenland. One of the local papers in Vancouver placed a topper over the headline that read, "Climate Change" (even though the article from The Register here quotes an expert as being uncertain whether the break-off was caused by global warming); and that got me to thinking.

When there is a major environmental event like a devastating storm or a gigantic piece of ice breaking off from a polar ice cap, the knee-jerk response is to say, "aha! Global Warming!" But it's always after the fact. As I point out in my book, A Very Convenient Truth, the Word of God is filled with promises and prophecies that are shown to be true all the time. God doesn't hide anything from us: He may say it in prophecies and parables, but He does reveal it to His prophets, and anyone who has ears to hear will receive it.

So it's one thing to point to an event and say it was caused by something in the past, but quite another to prophesy and have it happen exactly in the way it was said. You may have noticed this already, but the pronouncements from the environmental movement do not actually say that the measures they demand will actually stop global warming or reverse its effects; they just leave an impression that they might. God's promises are direct and clear and have been proven out over and over again.

The Bible, by the way, contains countless passages that draw a direct connection between our walk with God and the state of the environment. "If My people, who are called by My Name, will humble themselves and pray and seek My face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from Heaven and will forgive their sins and will heal the land." (2 Chronicles 7:14)

Can't get much more direct than that, can one?

Consider this: it is written that Jesus' disciples went out, preaching the Gospel with signs following. The signs referred to there were "positive" signs like healings and other miracles; but are not negative signs -- like disease, war and problems with the land -- things that can also be expected to follow disobedience and straying from God?

From the book:
Jesus told us there’d be days like these …

Another reason why Satan is taking such an interest in climate change is because he knows what time it is. Again, we go back to Matthew 24:5-7, where Jesus foretells the signs of His return. Famines and pestilences can both be seen as climate change symptoms. Jesus spoke in language people could understand, and while “global warming”, “melting polar ice cap” or “ozone depletion” would have gone over their heads, they would definitely have known about “famine and pestilence”.

We also have plenty of false christs today – self-help gurus who claim to show people how to feel good about themselves without repenting; others who presume to “simplify” things by reducing Christ to Just Another World View and looking for ways other belief systems “agree” (“many paths to the top of the mountain,” as some say), when God has already simplified things by reducing the number of paths to one; men called “holiness” with beatific smiles, pronouncing that we are each our own universe.

We have the wars and rumors of war -- terrorism. Incurable diseases are cropping up, the moral rule book has been thrown out the window, “tolerance” has replaced “love” and “rights” have replaced “what’s right”; governments try to legislate things that can remedied if we were all walking in agape love for one another – truly, “the love of many (is waxing) cold” (Matt. 24:12). 

With those signs becoming more numerous and intense, Satan knows that the best way to keep people from turning their eyes towards God is to have them chasing straw men – like arguing over climate change. Like a magician using a “mis-direct” so we don’t see him slip the coin up his sleeve, Satan is using the debate as a sleight of hand.

Consider how something that is not part of the “climate change” discussion is the earthquakes in diverse places – Japan, Haiti, Iran, the California coast, Chile; Southeast Asia, with the horrific tsunami that followed; not to mention the volcanic eruptions in Indonesia. Famine and pestilence fit in with the “climate change” paradigm, but do volcanoes and “earthquakes in diverse places”? A 2009 conference in England raised the possibility that climate change is a cause of earthquakes, but even the scientists studying the issue admit it’s a “stretch” to draw that conclusion. But here again, there is a “mis-direct”: if the enemy can somehow bring earthquakes under the heading of “symptoms of climate change”, that can keep people from considering that these are the signs Jesus foretold.

The more time we spend worrying about climate change and searching for worldly solutions, the less time we spend doing what we should be doing: getting right with God, helping the poor and homeless, healing the sick, spreading the Gospel. The more time we spend on personal attacks against people who don’t agree with us, the less time we spend loving the Unsaved to Christ.

This is a battle in the Heavenlies: it is not a battle to be fought and won with worldly weapons and tactics (II Cor. 10:3-6[i]). As we have seen in many cases, relying on science and technology for solutions has not been blessed with success. Getting into a worldly debate over the issue has been a disaster. 

[i] For though we walk in the flesh, we do not war after the flesh: (for the weapons of our warfare are not carnal, but mighty through God to the pulling down of strong holds); casting down imaginations and every high thing that exalteth itself against the knowledge of God, and bringing into captivity every thought to the obedience of Christ …. (2 Corinthians 10:3-5)

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Forget Alligators!

The first time I heard of Chick-fil-A, it was as a sportscaster in Victoria, BC. I had no idea what it was, but I was reading scores from a women's golf tournament it sponsored and I tossed out the remark that I wondered who the sponsor was. (I even pronounced it "Chick-fil-AH".)

A listener called in and told me -- and mentioned the amount of charity work Chick-fil-A did in the southern states, including the 11 foster care homes it funds in Georgia, Tennessee and Alabama. I was very impressed. I've since learned that Chick-fil-A provides four-year scholarships to Berry College. It's the sort of corporate social responsibility that should get a lot of attention.

Unfortunately, Chick-fil-A's current media attention has nothing to do with its CSR -- and in fact, nothing to do with reality. It's president, Dan Cathy, has been "quoted" as making anti-gay remarks and as a result has been pilloried in the media, by pro-gay-marriage organizations and those who promote "tolerance" and "equality".

Just one problem with all this. He didn't say it.

Being in media relations myself, I have a pretty good idea of what it's like to have remarks taken out of context. But as Sarah Pulliam Bailey points out in her blog, Mr Cathy's remarks weren't just taken out of context - his detractors provided their own.

I'll let Sarah's blog speaks for itself, because she seems to nail it. But there's another thing Christians have to be aware of.

Jesus warned us there'd be days like these.

He said we'd be hated for His sake.

Were Cathy's remarks to be a stream of hateful diatribe, filled with slurs and stereotypes, the public criticism would be justified. But there was none of that, according to Sarah's blog: he simply declared his belief, as it related to marriage.

Kinda makes you wonder who the real bigots are, doesn't it?

But there's an object lesson here. As Jesus warned us, if we declare His Word -- no matter what precautions we take to make sure it comes out in a positive way -- we can expect to get whacked in these latter days. It's going to happen. No time to whine or complain about how unfair people are or try to outshout them -- because a spirit of anti-Christ cannot be shouted down.

The attacks will come from the most unexpected of places and the most unexpected of circumstances. At times like this, it's important to remember a decidedly non-Scriptural saying: when you are up to your ass in alligators, it is difficult to remember that your initial objective was to drain the swamp.

That saying has often been used as an excuse -- "sorry I didn't get back to you, but I've been up to my ass in alligators ..." -- but it's really a reminder. The saying doesn't suggest that we abandon the job of draining the swamp: it merely suggests that when you're beating away alligators who are snapping at your hindquarters, it's easy to forget what you initially set out to do.

For Christians, our swamp-draining exercise is the Great Commission: heal the sick, bind the brokenhearted, minister to the poor and fatherless, make disciples of all nations. The alligators are those who attack for whatever reason, just to try to silence the Word of God. If we spend our time trying to fight off the alligators, the real work won't get done.

We have to keep focused on draining the swamp, and trust God to keep the alligators at bay. Remember that Jesus says for those who won't receive the Word, Sodom and Gomorrah will be a nicer place; and in the parable of the ten talents (Luke 19), the "master" calls for those who didn't want him to reign over them to be brought before him and killed.

So forget the alligators. Understand that, as we get that swamp drained, the alligators will die from exposure. There will be more alligators to come, but he who endures to the end shall be saved (Matt. 10:22).


Friday, July 13, 2012

Climate change, the fear factor and why should Christians be afraid?

In his daily message on The Catch, John Fischer muses about the way businesses use fear to sell their products and services and wonders what Christians should be afraid of. One of the key themes of my book, A Very Convenient Truth, is that fear is dominating all sides of the discussion over climate change (or global warming or environmental trauma or whatever you want to call it).

In fact, it's the fear of change that is driving the discussion. On one side, people are afraid that climate change will cause ocean levels to rise and animals to become extinct and the earth to become unbearably hot with violent storms. On the other side, people are afraid that if the environmentalists' prescriptions are followed, that will ruin the economy, people will lose their jobs and society will suffer. Throw in pride and personal agendas, which tend to make people magnify the fear factor, especially if they stand to make a buck off it, and you have confusion and the dishonesty that comes with worshipping Mammon.

One of the reasons why fear is a lousy motivator is because it always keeps us off-balance. There's always something to be afraid of: something waiting to rise up and just when you think you've got it licked, another one appears, followed by another and then the first one comes back again. Think of Whack-a-Mole in the real world.

As John points out, Christ is the antithesis of fear. We have a positive target to focus on -- a "mark" to press towards -- and in so doing, we don't waste time and energy fighting against an infinite number of things. Also, by turning to the Word of God as our guide, we start to see new realities -- such as the "very convenient truth" that the "scary" things we're seeing now were foretold thousands of years ago. What's more, those same predictions tell us that these are the forerunners of Jesus' return and God's moving to earth to live with His people.

His Word also gives us a couple of things to focus on. One is our duty to bring as many people into the Kingdom as we can, through love and faith in His Name. The other is to understand and live by the First Great Assignment -- be fruitful and multiply, replenish the earth and subdue it: in other words, return to being caretakers for His Creation. That doesn't mean trying to fight global warming: it means being as good as we can be at caretaking, but also understanding that some things in God's plan may look "bad" to us now, but as we remain faithful to Him, we will see His glory.

In other words, since God told us this all was going to happen, "fighting" global warming actually puts us in opposition to Him. Do we really want that?

Perfect love casts out all fear. Stripping it down to its essence, the Word of God says that if we turn to Him and love others ahead of ourselves, He will heal the land (2 Chron. 7:13-14). In this world, that requires a whole lot of faith in order to believe, but without faith, you cannot please God; and really, what else has truly worked?

A Very Convenient Truth is an e-book, available (US $4.99) through online bookstores like Chapters, Barnes & Noble and Amazon, published through Smashwords.

Monday, July 9, 2012

Getting one's head around bike helmets

It was refreshing to read the letter to the editor in the Vancouver Province over the weekend, weighing in on the controversy over bicycle helmets. Bike helmet laws in BC (it's illegal to ride a bike without one in this province) have become a source of discussion, with the City of Vancouver planning to launch a public bike-share program, similar to the Bixis in Montreal (and elsewhere). The essential problem is that the bike helmet laws make it difficult to run a Bixi program, because of the various considerations -- hygiene, sizing, inter alia -- involved in putting helmets on people's heads.

During Velo-city 2012, which wrapped up the week before last in Vancouver (with the brilliant Charter to make sure cycling is fun for children -- huh?), one expert from overseas denounced bike helmet laws, saying separated bike lanes would prevent car-bike accidents and we shouldn't let a fear campaign get in the way of the Bixi program.

Tom Littlewood's letter does a great job of putting paid to that argument. I would add that, while there's no question fear plays too big a role in our society -- consider climate change hysteria, airport security and the latest health warning to get tested for HIV even if you don't shoot drugs or have sex with people you shouldn't -- in this case, the argument doesn't wash. As Tom points out, you can have a bad injury on a bike without the assistance of motor vehicles or your own carelessness.

When my wife first moved to Vancouver 7 years ago (before we were married), she went for a bike ride on the Stanley Park Seawall. Somehow, she lost control and fell, doing a head-plant against a rock. She was wearing a helmet, which was cracked by the impact. Aside from a few bumps and bruises, Amelia was OK, but there was no question that things would have been a lot different if she hadn't been wearing a helmet.

When I was a teenager living in West Vancouver, I rode my bike a lot, including to school, which was called Hillside for a very good reason: it was perched about a third of the way up Hollyburn Mountain. Riding down that very steep hill, I remember glancing down at the front wheel and seeing little shreds of rubber appear from my riding the brakes. I didn't wear a helmet -- none of us did -- but rather than rhapsodize now about the sense of freedom, the wind in my hair and the bugs in my teeth, I think back now in horror to what a damn fool I was not to be protected (I even rode home a couple of times from a job at Panorama Studios along the Upper Levels Highway, for the luvvaMike).

But maybe the answer isn't in having a law requiring helmet use. After all, it's near-impossible to enforce and frankly, police have better things to do (and in today's media climate, even if police did bust someone for not wearing a helmet, the person getting the ticket would be portrayed as a victim of police harassment). I have a modest proposal: make helmet use optional, except for children under the age of 12. But here's the key: people think they have a "right" to go helmetless and have that feeling of freedom. Fine. But as Abraham Lincoln (I think it was) once said, "my right to swing my fist ends when the other man's nose begins"*.

In other words, exercising your freedom is just fine, until you start affecting others; and the sad fact is, if you suffer a debilitating injury, you are now affecting taxpayers who have to pay for your care; you're also affecting anyone who's dependent on you for income, love and support.

Anyway, instead of making helmet use mandatory, write it into our laws governing public medical care that if you exercise your freedom to choose not to wear a helmet on a bike, you automatically forfeit your right to have your medical care paid by taxpayers if you suffer a head injury as a result. Some accidents are not preventable, but the head injury could be, so even if a car driver is 100% at fault, if that helmet could have prevented the injury, sorry, pal: you're on your own.

(Case in point: as I write this, sitting outside on my patio overlooking a traffic circle in the West End, a cyclist who was clearly already in the traffic circle and thus had the right-of-way had to hit the binders to avoid being hit by a car whose driver didn't know or care about the rules of the road. The cyclist was not wearing a helmet. Had there been a collision, it could have been extremely messy and regardless of who was at fault, he would have been the loser.)

To make things a bit more interesting, maybe require bike-sharing companies to post graphic warnings at their rental stations about the possible consequences of not wearing a helmet or else they're partially on the hook for medical costs, too. After all, they stand to benefit from repealing helmet laws; this would also level the playing field for the bike rental companies that make sure their customers are properly fitted with helmets.

There could be an avenue of appeal: a medical panel could give an opinion that a helmet would not have prevented the injury, anyway; and if there are severe multiple injuries, that would change the picture, as well.

Bringing the broader effects of exercising this "freedom" into the conversation is certainly something worth considering. After all, it only takes an eye-blink to go from having the wind in your hair to a feeding tube down your throat.

*It may not have been Lincoln, but usually, anyone who quotes Lincoln in a discussion of personal liberty is usually credited with winning the argument.

Friday, June 29, 2012

God keep our land glorious and free!

I have to confess, I've never really liked the term "Canada Day". Maybe it's because I was raised to call it "Dominion Day" or "Confederation Day": "Canada Day" feels like very ad hoc, like someone who thought we needed a holiday to go along with the Americans' Fourth of July plucked the date out of the air and said "and it'll be a day to celebrate ... um ... um ... Canada! Yeah! That's the ticket! We'll call it 'Canada Day'!"

Having gotten that off my chest, it's a very popular thing among Evangelicals to complain about Canada "falling away from God", through changing societal attitudes and various pieces of legislation that manage to ursurp God's authority. Indeed, when I first read Isaiah, I found myself saying at practically every other verse, "wow! He could be talking to Canada!" So it's worth pointing out a very convenient truth: Canada is one of the few countries that still officially declares God as sovereign.

There are other countries that try to claim Christianity as their preserve: I won't go into details, because comparisons are odorous, as Shakespeare wrote*, but God takes a prime location in our institutions.

The National Anthem -- O Canada! -- in both languages. In the original French, we sing, "Car ton bras sait porter l’épée, il sait porter la Croix ... " While your arm can carry the sword, it also carries the Cross; and later ... "Et ta valeur de Foi trempée protégera nos foyers et nos droits" -- and your valor steeped in faith will protect our homes and our rights.

In English, there's the line, "God keep our land glorious and free" -- and man, what a fight it was to get that line included in the official version! The forces of political correctness fought a pitched battle to protect the rights of non-Believers to not declare God as the One responsible for keeping our land glorious and free (much better to fall back on nuclear arms, I suppose**).

The very term, "Dominion Day", comes from "Dominion of Canada", which is a reference to Psalm 72:5, which says "[God] shall have dominion also from sea to sea, and from the river unto the ends of the earth." That's also reflected in our national motto, a mari usque ad mare -- from sea, even unto sea.

Another pitched battle was fought over the first line to the Canadian Constitution and the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, to wit: "Whereas Canada is founded upon principles that recognize the supremacy of God and the rule of law ..." Courts and scholars have tried to water that down, saying (I'm not making this up) that "God" doesn't really mean "God", as in The Big Sir, but, well, some other kind of concept, like personal conscience. (Can you say "foundation of sand," boys and girls?)

Personally, I have a bit of a problem with the implication that the rule of law is on a par with God, considering how many laws have been enacted in this country that directly contradict God's word. But the fact remains that God is written into the Constitution, and the best efforts of those who think they know better than He does have not prevailed. Those people -- like all of us -- will die or their thinking will change over time (which is why we have to pray constantly for our elected leaders). God is Eternal. He ain't goin' away.

How about the motto of the RCMP -- Dieu et mon droit -- God and my right hand (the Biblical symbol of strength)?

Truly: can you think of any other country that puts God in the forefront the way Canada does?
So for those who despair over our Home and Native Land not being a Christian Nation, fear not. God is still alive and well and entrenched in our fundamental institutions. Besides, the idea of a "Christian Nation" suggests "state religion" and a requirement to be of a particular persuasion, whereas God leaves everything up to our personal choice and welcomes those who "gladly" receive Him (Acts 2).

Ask yourself which is preferable: to be a Christian Nation ... or a Nation of Christians?

*Yes, I know that should be "comparisons are odious", but the line is given to Dogberry in Much Ado About Nothing, and he is one of the wondrous, "fools" Shakespeare injects into his plays, partly to appease the "penny idiots" in the and to slip some real wisdom our way, cloaked in buffoonery.
**It's tempting to make reference here to Tom Lehrer's song, "Who's Next?", which refers to Israel getting nuclear weapons: "The Lord's our Shepherd, says the Psalm/But just in case -- we're gonna get a bomb!"

Thursday, June 14, 2012

The relentless pursuit of perfection*

*with apologies to the folks at Lexus.

The Nuffield Council on Bioethics, a UK organization, has decided that three-parent in vitro fertilization is ethically OK. Simply put, it's a process to combine genes from two women with those from a man -- presumably, lest we get too ethically hung up, the husband of one of the women -- in order to eliminate faulty DNA that causes inherited incurable diseases.

There is vocal opposition from the Pro-Life movement in the UK, and rightly so; but here's my main objection: this un-natural selection is another misguided attempt by mankind to create a perfect world made up of perfect people.

Anybody for a re-read of Frankenstein?

We have become so afraid of pain and adversity that we will go to any lengths to avoid it and to deny that it's only through tribulation that we actually grow. We legislate against bullying, as if that will ever stop children from being mean to one another; instead, we should be teaching children to learn to forgive others and understand that they won't always have a teacher or a parent to run to.

We're so hung up on the fear of growing old and dying that we'll do everything possible to avoid looking at an old guy in the mirror (ahem) and some even determine they want to make the call as to when they die. By that, I don't mean people who commit suicide in a fit of depression; I mean things like my dad's living will, which included the sentence, "I do not fear death so much as I fear the indignity of pain and suffering ...." Who said pain was an indignity?

Now that I've mentioned depression and suicide, I wonder how many suicidal people do away with themselves simply because they don't want to let on to others that they're not OK? They don't want to be a burden on others, and yet how many of those left behind have stood at their graveside saying, "WHY WEREN'T YOU A BURDEN ON ME, DAMMIT?"

But I digress.

The idea of using genetic trickery to eliminate inherited diseases may seem laudable in creating someone who looks perfect, but I can't help thinking about the number of parents of children with disabilities who would take great offence at the idea their kids were not blessings and inspirations. Some friends of mine have a child with Down Syndrome: many might look at them and pity them for being burdened, but while the boy's mother does admit that it raising him can be tough at times, she also rhapsodizes at the progress he makes and the amazing abilities he shows. How many times have you heard parents talk about their children with heart defects or cancer or who have lost limbs in accidents with wonder at their courage, perseverance and indomitable spirit?

The fact is, we can only look perfect, anyway -- and that's always in the eye of the beholder, anyway. Need I remind you of the number of "perfect" babies who have grown up to be mass murderers, child molesters and white-collar criminals? We're fallen human beings: a guy could have the looks of Ryan Reynolds and the physique of Tim Horton, but if he has the mind of Idi Amin, so much for perfection.

But what does the Bible tell us about adversity? "We glory in tribulations, knowing that tribulation produces perseverance; and perseverance, character; and character, hope." (Romans 5:3-4 NKJV) In other words, by trying to avoid the struggle, we're denying ourselves -- and others -- hope.

And to my mind, that's the biggest argument of all against it.

Friday, May 25, 2012

A benefit event for Ratanak International

Westpointe Christian Church, where I fellowship and am one of the elders, has been getting involved in a fight against the child sex trade -- particularly that in Asia, where a shocking number of Canadian men go for the express purpose of sexual gratification with children. What follows is the media advisory for "Beauty Beyond", a fundraiser for Ratanak, an organization dedicated to rescuing children from this nightmare. For people in the Metro Vancouver area, this event would be of great interest.

... a fundraising event to benefit RATANAK INTERNATIONAL
Contact: Charrisse Mae 604-813-2726

Child sex abuse. Sex slavery. Sex tourism. For many people, these expressions conjure up an unreal world in a faraway place; but for countless numbers of young women and girls – some as young as 2 years old – they denote a dark, nightmarish reality that includes abuse, degradation and horrifying living conditions.

What’s even worse, for Canadians, is that this reality is not so far away. While the brothels and back alleys are in geographically distant places like Cambodia and Thailand, a shocking proportion of “sex tourists” – men who travel to these places for the express purpose of sexual gratification – are Canadians.

For several years now, Ratanak International has been working to rescue these children from this life and help them overcome its physical, psychological and emotional effects. Ratanak’s signature project, “New Song” home in Phnom Penh, gives girls a safe home with the love they need to leave that world behind.

Westpointe Christian Church is pleased to host “Beauty Beyond”, an evening for women with professional makeup artist Charrisse Mae. Charrisse will share tips and information to help women of all ages enhance their natural beauty. Admission is by a minimum $25 donation to Ratanak. There will also be a presentation on Ratanak’s work. By taking part, women in Vancouver can help restore a different kind of beauty to lives thousands of kilometres away.

“Beauty Beyond” will take place Thursday, May 31 at 7:00 pm at Westpointe Christian Church, 2715 West 12th Ave. (one block west of Macdonald). The event is open to all women, no matter what their religious or ethnic background may be: child sex slavery knows no religious definition, and all can play a part in fighting it.

For more information on Ratanak International, please visit

We are grateful to Waves Coffee for supplying coffee and tea for this event.

Thursday, May 24, 2012

The Picture of Healing - ours, or His?

On my other blog, I've just put up a post about a visit to Freedom's Door in Kelowna. There is a passage where I describe the nature of doing God's work with the urban poor in terms of different people rowing different boats towards the same goal. Let me expand on that in more general terms.

Anything that leads to distress -- poverty, broken relationships, things Just Plain Going Wrong -- is rooted in a falling-away from God. So -- as I explain in the other post -- any boat has to be moving not towards the worldly goal, but towards a deepening relationship with God through Jesus Christ. Christ, not the solution, has to be that goal.


Because as human beings, we can only see what we think the solution to any problem must look like. My favorite illustration relates to the gallstone attack I suffered just over three years ago. I prayed for healing, but I limited God by expecting that He would heal me by vaporizing the gallstones and I wouldn't have to have surgery. But I did have to have surgery, and in the process learned that the gall bladder was the "canary in the coal mine" for possible other ailments, like heart problems due to bad eating. I dropped 20 pounds during the peri-operative time and was forced to re-examine my unhealthy taste for fats and salt. The gall bladder, I could do without.

In other words, I was healed, alright, but in a different way from the way I was expecting. I may not be a poster boy for Mike Wendland's SuperHealthyMe, but God has laid the groundwork and defined true healing in this case. And in the mean time, my relationship with Him has deepened.

And so it is with anything else that requires healing. If we define the picture of healing, a number of things can happen, none of which is good:
  • we cut corners to achieve what we think we're supposed to get
  • we stop when we think we've arrived
  • we get frustrated and miss the healing when our picture doesn't match God's response
  • we think God doesn't hear our prayers
Take, for example, the situation on the Downtown East Side. What does "healing" for that area look like? If we define it as, say, ending homelessness, do we heal that by building more shelters? Requiring developers to include social housing in their chic projects? Sending a battalion of building and health inspectors to the Cockroach Condos euphemistically referred to as SROs*?

Do we define it as ridding the area of the drug and crime problem and (a) give out more needles to addicts, (b) legalize drugs and prostitution, (c) provide more "clean and safe" injection sites?

Or isn't it simpler to say that the solution is not to solve the problems but to re-focus people on Christ? If we set out to solve every problem we see using our own intellect, we're hooped. But if we shine the light of Christ everywhere we go, the darkness -- and the problems that come with it -- doesn't have a chance.

You can't snuff out darkness - all that does is bring more darkness; the Light of Christ trumps anything the enemy can bring.

As Jesus puts it, "Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works and glorify your Father in heaven." (Matt. 5:16).

Simple to say, perhaps, but not easy. Let's not kid ourselves: that approach may -- like the gallstone experience -- take longer, be more painful and lead to something totally different from what we think will happen; but it will be complete and exactly in line with what God wants.

And from there ... we can break free from the mire of the past and move into the future God wants for His people.


*SRO = Single Room Occupancy hotels.

Sunday, April 22, 2012

Earth Day 2012 and the chicken-and-egg question

It is now 42 years since the event that many figure was the start of the environmental movement - the North America-wide protest against nuclear testing on Amchitka Island in the Aleutians (I remember my high school joining the march en masse on the US Consulate in Vancouver). Greenpeace was born around that time and there was a variety of other efforts to try to un-do the damage humans had been doing to the environment.

Now, here we are in 2012, and to listen to environmental activists, you'd think nothing had been done. The situation continues to get worse, global warming is a worldwide obsession (at least, among those who aren't preoccupied with putting food on the table or even having a table to put it on), and finger-pointing is the order of the day.

Something else has happened in those ensuing years, though: the world, generally, has fallen away from God. Governments have gradually condoned through legislation things that clearly offend God and anyone who stands on a Biblical principle is ridiculed, if not pilloried.

Is there a connection? You betcha!

One of the foundation Scriptures for my book, A Very Convenient Truth (e-published on Smashwords - US$4.99), is a promise God made to Solomon in 2 Chronicles: "If My people, who are called by My Name, will 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 the land." (emphasis mine).

It's one of those "silver-platter" solutions we need to bear in mind: the state of "the land" -- namely, God's creation -- is directly tied to our walk with Him. The world tries to convince us that you can separate the two, but the unfortunate thing about that is, if you try to do that, you start acting in your own wisdom and from your own perspective. Once that happens, you look at events around you -- global warming, for example -- and assume that it is "bad" and therefore must be "fought".

But if that sort of thing is an "inconvenient truth", when you're walking with God, you realize a couple of convenient truths:
  1. God created us to be His "branch managers", taking care of the earth to prepare it for Him to move in (Genesis 2:15)
  2. God said this was going to happen (prophecies throughout the Bible, including those in Revelation and Jesus' description of the times before His return)
  3. If He declared it as part of His Plan (which He did), then the last thing you want to do is "fight" that plan
This does not mean total complacency, rolling over with our paws in the air and waiting for the Rapture: Jesus gave us explicit instructions as to what we should be doing while waiting for His Return. Stewardship of Creation is one of those instructions; but the over-arching assignment is to spread the Gospel, proclaim the good news, heal the sick and set people free - just as we were set free, ourselves. As we do that, God promises to heal the land. As we've seen from the results of the past 4+ decades, if we try to heal the land ourselves - and draw away from God in the process - the results are doomed.

(We also tend to become more judgmental towards others, condemning those who don't "do it" the way we think it should be done or who do things we disagree with. If you love God above all else and love your neighbour as yourself, judgment inevitably becomes a non-starter.)

In other words, some may think you can care for the planet without turning to God. We've seen what that's led to. But if you turn to God and really follow what He has set out for us, caring for the planet is part and parcel of the equation.

(And that's the chicken-and-egg question, except Biblically, there is an answer: the chicken came first. Selah.)

Thursday, March 8, 2012

The eminent scientist and the false premise

I was watching a science & nature show on TV the other day: a very interesting piece about efforts to return the black-footed ferret to Saskatchewan. Apparently, the species had been extirpated (personally, I think they all moved to Alberta to work in the oilsands) and now conservationists were trying to re-build the stocks.

As we watched night-vision footage of the ferrets hunting -- they do so at night, apparently, when their favorite food, prairie dogs, are asleep and less likely to fight back -- the host, an eminent scientist in his own right, blithely made a remark that made my eyes pop.

"The ferret has evolved eyes that admit more light than other animals do."

Yes, I hold fast to Creation and in his documentary, "The Case for the Creator", Lee Strobel pretty much shreds evolution theory, but when I hear someone talk about Evolution, I usually shake my head and consider that the speaker has been misled through the secular education system.

But the remark by the program host was just plain illogical, and any eminent scientist should be ashamed.


Consider the implication of the statement. It suggests that, at some time back in the mists of prehistory, there were ferrets that could not see in the dark. Really? What fossil evidence exists to show what their eyes could or could not see? Did ferrets somehow make a conscious decision to train their eyes to admit more light? Was there a transition period when ferrets started being able to see on cloudy days, then twilight, then total darkness? Or was there one generation of ferrets where the baby woke up in the middle of the night and said, "look, ma! I can see!" "What, honey? Where are you?" "Over here, ma! And watch out for that ....... owl!"

Yet for all that implied silliness, the eminent scientist says the ferret "evolved" eyes that can see in the dark.

God forbid he would actually suggest that God made ferrets to be able to see in the dark so they can hunt better and perpetuate the species. A Creator, who's smarter than mankind? Say it ain't so, Shoeless!

A Creator, who may actually have planned everything, including the assumed effects of climate change (one of the eminent scientist's favorite topics)?

The most environmentally-friendly verse in the Bible is the first one: In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth. It's environmentally-friendly, because it establishes that Someone bigger and infinitely more powerful than we created everything and set it all in motion; and also because -- as we find out as we read further into the Word -- we are responsible to Him for the things we do with, for and to His Creation. It's one thing to do something and risk placard-waving protesters and the wrath of eminent scientists ... but the knowledge that we ultimately have to answer to The Big Sir for our actions should give us all cause for pause.

You can read more about the necessity to acknowledge God as the Creator and the One who gave us an assignment to take care of His Creation in my e-book, A Very Convenient Truth available online through most booksellers or from Smashwords.

Thursday, February 16, 2012

A Very Convenient Truth: another "commandment with promise"

In Ephesians 6:1-3, the Apostle Paul quotes the Fifth Commandment "honour your father and mother, that it may be well with you and you will live long," and refers to it as the first "Commandment with promise". In other words, God is saying, "if you do -----, I'll do -----".

Now available in all e-publishing modes
US $4.99 via Smashwords 
But that's not the only "commandment with promise". Another is the "tithing challenge" (Malachi 3), where God basically dares us to test Him by carving off at least 10% from our increase and giving it to Him and then see if He doesn't open the windows of Heaven and shower so much blessing on us that we couldn't count it.

And then there's this one, which forms the basis for my book, A Very Convenient Truth:

If I shut up Heaven that there be no rain, or if I command the locusts to devour the land, or if I send pestilence among my people; 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 sin, and will heal their land. (2 Chronicles 7:13-14)

The book identifies that passage as one of many -- although probably the most direct -- that ties the state of the environment (Creation, nature, "the land", whatever you want to call it) to the state of our walk with God. The land is polluted, damaged, no longer putting out for us? God says, "turn back to Me, and I will take care of it". It's a variation on Jesus' reminding us to seek first the Kingdom of God and He will provide everything worldly that we need and then some.

In the Covenant God made with us, He has made the first move in so many ways. When He called Abraham out of Ur, He had already prepared the Promised Land for him. When He led the Israelites out of Egypt and through the wilderness, He sent angels ahead to deal with the enemies. And more than anything else, He sacrificed His Son to atone for our sins and draw us back to Him. It was up to Abraham and later the Israelites to go in and claim the land. It's up to us to receive Jesus' sacrifice and claim our own "promised land" -- new life in Christ.

But in 2 Chr. 7:13-14, it's slightly different. God did not heal the land and then say, "right: now come back to Me." Instead, He says, "come back to Me, and I'll take care of the land".

That was about 3,000 years ago. He's still waiting.

A Very Convenient Truth is about encouraging people to take God at His word and re-think the way we've been approaching the current environmental trauma we see. It doesn't matter whether global warming/climate change is caused by humans -- at least, not in the way the world looks at it -- or whether the other catastrophic environmental events like earthquakes, volcanic activity, disease and pestilence have anything to do with global warming/climate change at all. The point the Bible raises is that the situation is connected to our walk with God; and rather than rushing off madly in all directions trying to fight global warming or fix the situation, we need to turn our attention back to God and give Him the chance to heal the land.

Mind: this is not about inaction. Turning to God and suppressing our human desire to Do Something is definitely an action and it certainly does not mean that we keep on going in the way we've been going. Pollution, overdevelopment, working our farmland until it's wrung-out, wantonly destroying animal habitat are all ways that we're responsible for environmental destruction in the broad picture. They're also things that would not have happened -- and would not continue to happen -- if we were to repent for past environmental sins and turn back to God.

Lurking in the background is the fact that the things we're seeing these days are also signs Jesus foretold of His return -- which is probably why Satan is using the global warming "debate" as a red herring to distract us -- and that we not only need to turn back to God but lead others to Him, as well. But since no one except God knows the day and hour of His Coming, we need to focus our attention on the assignment He has given us.

And to do that, we need to be aware of that "commandment with promise".

A Very Convenient Truth is now available in all e-publishing modes, via Smashwords, for US$4.99.

Monday, February 13, 2012

One More Lesson from the Children's Zoo

OK ... so the closing of the Stanley Park Children's Zoo still has some lessons for the kids.

When the Vancouver Park Board made the decision to close the longtime attraction as a cost-saving measure (while keeping the money-losing Queen Elizabeth Park Arboretum open because it had potential as a tourist draw), I blogged that the Children's Zoo's "last lesson" would be that profit, more often than not, trumps value.

Well, looks like I was wrong. The latest learning experience generated by the Children's Zoo has to do with integrity and keeping one's promise. The Vancouver Sun reports that it appears the pygmy goats that had been such a fun part of the Children's Zoo have been sold through a livestock auction house and may be, even as we speak, the featured attraction in stews, curries or any number of dishes.

Re-selling the goats, according to the article, would have been a violation of the agreement signed by the owner of the hobby farm where the goats had been sent.

The lesson? People sometimes aren't good to their word -- especially when money comes into the picture. Let's assume, too, that the owner of the hobby farm is not fundamentally a bad person -- you know, the kind who would stand there, washing his hands with humble soap as he expressed a desire to give a good home to these animals, all the while plotting to send them to market at the earliest opportunity.

After all, it's been a year since the animals were sent off to new homes: that's hardly the "earliest opportunity". Maybe the owner felt there were 1,001 reasons to justify selling the animals: a sudden economic downturn (who hasn't experienced that?) and a belief that there was no other option. But assuming there was no loophole which would have put the owner within his legal rights to sell the goats, that leaves the question, When and under what circumstances does your word -- regardless of whether it's on paper in a contract -- cease to be valid? The Bible has some pretty strong language about covenant-breakers.

It also has some pretty strong language about judging others, so let's take this to a higher level. This latest last lesson from the Children's Zoo is more a discussion topic: if you give your word and stand by it, will God not bless you more than if you break your word because you think you think you have no other choice?

The Old Men and the Kids

"You know the old guy who used to sit in the SUB all the time?" my young friend Elizabeth said to me just before the UBC basketball game the other day. "He died."

I had seen him often in the Student Union Building (SUB): reading a paper or having something to eat, always in one of the "comfy" chairs that had been part of the SUB since I frequented the place as a student 40 years ago. Students came and went, and I wasn't sure if they even noticed him. Turns out, they did.

Elizabeth sent me this photo of the shrine that had developed around the chair. Kids did come by and chat with him, although apparently, he rarely talked about his past.

Another friend, Justin, the editor of The Ubyssey,  did some digging and found out more about him. Clearly, there was something about the Travers Wimble's life, presence and demeanour that made some of the students want to reach out to him -- and something about being around young people that kept his own mind active. (I can relate.)

(Sad observation in the article: that Travers was convinced that God did not love him. I look at those flowers and the reaction from the kids, and I believe Travers is, even now, being proven otherwise.)

Coincidentally (for those of you who believe in coincidences), my friends Don Mowatt and Carolyn Finlay told me a story over the weekend about another youth-and-age encounter: this time, one of Carolyn's students and a fellow in a care home. The girl -- 16 years old -- had gone to the care home as part of a project she and some classmates took on for a Professional Development Day. Lots of kids tend to hit the malls on Pro-D Days, but these decided to take the time and do something in the community. Volunteer community service is a requirement in some high schools, and the kids decided to visit a care home in the east end.

As part of the visit, the students entertained the residents. Carolyn's student sat down at the piano and played some classical pieces. Then another student sat down and played some jazz. One of the selections was "What A Wonderful World" -- the Louis Armstrong song. "Suddenly," Carolyn said, "from the back there came this amazing bass voice - strong, clear - singing the song. He sang the whole thing - and you would have sworn it was Satchmo singing!"

Carolyn's student caught up with the man afterwards, and was shocked by what she heard. The students had already noted that the care home, located in a heritage house, was very sterile and cold on the inside. Staff made decisions for the residents, and there was a sense that the residents' lives were highly "organized". (I had noted something like that, to a lesser degree, in the care home where my dad spent the last six months of his life.) The girl found out that the man had played piano and sung in clubs his whole life. (Being black severely limited his prospects during the era he was growing up; yes, even in Canada - we have no right to be smug about our own civil rights record.)

"Do you play now?" she said. "Oh, no," he replied. "The inmates here are never allowed to play the piano. Just staff and visitors."

Yes - he said "inmates".

How much wisdom and joy do we miss out on because we write off our old people? How many people walked past Travers Wimble and wrote him off as some homeless guy who hung out at the SUB, without stopping to say, "hello in there"? How much more joy does the fellow in the care home have in him, to share with others? (How many lives can he help prolong and enrich, just by sitting down at the ivories once in a while and bringing that light to the people around him?)

And yet, looking at the flowers and candles -- and even the copy of the Globe and Mail someone put there for Travers -- it's clear that there is room and a desire to bridge the generation gap.

Friday, February 3, 2012

The Beached Shark - the part we didn't photograph

Amelia and I are camera demons -- no question.

She has literally hundreds of snapshots in various files on our computers (note plurals) taken from trips around the world.

I, on the other hand, appear to have inherited my father's penchant for taking videos. He shot miles and miles of 16mm film footage as I was growing up. Children's parties, vacations and special events were all subject to his mighty Paillard Bolex; he also shot a lot of stock footage for his KLAHANIE TV show.

Anyway ... one of my favorite vacation photos was taken on Coronado Island, and it's still grist for some great stories, especially among my friends at the BC Electric Railway Company. Can you figure out what I'm doing?

I am painstakingly scotch-taping together my San Diego Transit 3-day pass. We had taken the bus to Coronado and as I sat down, I slipped the pass into my pocket. The still, small voice said, "not a good idea" ... but I shrugged it off. What could go wrong, anyway?

We hit the beach and splashed about happily for about an hour, then decided it was time to stroll along the main drag and go for some kind of frozen coffee thing at one of the cafes. We found one and went in, and as I stood at the counter, I reached into the pocket of my bathing suit. My hand landed on a soggy mass of paper.

Yes, fans, the still, small voice had it right: those were my swimming trunks where I had put my 3-day pass and had left it there while we were swimming.

Admittedly, it was "only" $12, but it was worth a try. We got our drinks and went out to the sidewalk tables and I let the ticket dry. They had some scotch tape at the counter and let me have some. And then began the repair job.

And you know what? The SD bus drivers all accepted it! They could see it was a 3-day pass and the date was still visible.

But that's not the story.

We spent part of our vacation last year (2011) camping along the Washington-Oregon-California coast, taking loads of pictures and videos -- like the one of the whale that wandered up the Klamath River -- and eventually died there.

We also took copious photos of sunsets and beaches and harbors and redwoods and me trying to cook steak over an open fire and Amelia tucking into Smores ... but the one incident we did not photograph was our shark encounter.

We stayed a couple of days in Brookings, OR, and spent lots of time exploring beaches. One in particular was an amazing beach called Whaleshead. We must have walked two miles in each direction along the beach -- the return trip, into the teeth of a northwest gale that sandblasted my legs.

Being at the foot of mountains, the beach was scored by numerous channels, cut by runoff: little ad-hoc creeks that you had to splash through as you went from one end to the other. As we got back to the trail leading up to the parking lot, Amelia squinted at the last channel. "What's that in the water there?"

I squinted too. "Looks like a deceased seal," I said. Then I saw its fin. "Wait a minute: that's no seal - that's a shark. A deceased shark."

"You're sure it's deceased?"

"Oh, yeah. It's beached."

At that point, we started crossing the channel about 20' downstream from the shark, and were proven wrong. The shark started thrashing in the water and gnashing its teeth. It was about 5' long and black with a white underbelly, fitting the description of a baby great white shark, we found out later (the owner of the B&B where we were staying said there had been sightings of great whites in the area). Then it settled down again and slumped over to one side.

This much I know about sharks: they don't actually "breathe", but rely on having water pass over their gills in order to take it in and extract the oxygen they need. They swim constantly, and this one, only partly submerged, was not getting the right flow. The tide was coming in, so if the shark could just stay alive until the water got to it, it might have a fighting chance.

The channel was wide with a reasonably deep middle: it looked deep enough for the shark to be submerged. So I took a stout stick and pushed the shark towards it -- gingerly at first, then I realized the thing was heavier and thicker-skinned than I thought. The shark hit the middle portion just as a wave came in. The surge of water revived it, and it started swimming towards the ocean, but its balance was off and it angled back to the bank and stayed there. Again, we pushed it, again, it came to life ... and again, it drifted onto the bank.

Clearly, it was sick.

The seagulls started lining up for the buffet.

We pushed again. It drifted again - this time, to the other side. We yelled at it. It ignored us. I threw a rock at one of the seagulls, who looked at me as if I were nuts.

"We've done all we can," Amelia said. "It's up to God now."

"Should we take a picture?" I asked.

"No. Let's leave this one in peace."