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 -----".

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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".

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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."