Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Green jobs and the confusion factor

An article in Tuesday's Vancouver Sun points out one of the side-effects of the hysteria/concern over environmental trauma: the danger of greenwashing the jobs created by a project. Beyond that, the article suggests that the very prospect of determining whether a job or an industry is "green" becomes an incredibly convoluted and confusing task. Is the output "green"? Is the process "green"? If one is and the other isn't, is it "net green"?

Sifting through the elements that make up an industry to measure their greenitude is worse than peeling an onion -- with the onion, at least your eyes get flushed clean -- as you look at all those pros and cons. It can leave you wondering, "what is truth?"

My book, A Very Convenient Truth (or, Jesus told us there'd be days like these, so stop worrying about the planet and get with His program!) looks at the confusion factor in the discussion over climate change (or environmental trauma). For example, James writes that confusion is the by-product of envy and self-seeking (James 3:16), the result of obfuscation for one's own advancement -- rather like the magician's mis-direct during a trick.

Confusion is one of the signs God is not being consulted on the question of the environment. As I write in AVCT:
For God is not the author of confusion, but of peace, as in all churches of the saints. (I Cor. 14:3)
With all of this, many people, including myself, have been left crying, “What is truth?”
And that’s actually good news, because when that happens, we're on the verge of an answer. 
You shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free. (John 8:32) 
Jesus said ... I am the way, the truth, and the life: no man comes to the Father, except through me. (John 14:6) 
Pilate said to him, “What is truth?” (John 18:37-38) 
Poor Pilate. There he was, asking “what is truth?”, and it was staring him right in the face. 
We should remember that. When we are confused and our worldly efforts to try to sort things out prove fruitless, we need to go back to the basics.
Jesus is “the way, the truth and the life” -- not half the time, nor three-quarters of the time, but 100% of the time. That means that the truth of environmental matters is found in His Word.  
Underlying all this is the inconvenient truth that there's not a whole lot of honesty going on when it comes to the environmental discussion and the god of this world has blinded people to the truth, when economics come into play. "We're warned about environmental destruction but hey - I've got to feed my family ... now, wait! Here's an industry that's providing 'green' jobs! Wonderful! We can have it both ways!" And people are so relieved at the prospect of being environmentally friendly and keeping a roof over their heads, they don't stop to consider the possibility that someone might be lying.

(Something else left out of that equation is the very real possibility that people in "dirty" industries who might be displaced as those industries fall out of favor may not have the skills to take the "green" jobs. Would new employers have the patience to re-train them when younger workers who might work for lower pay are already available?)

It's worth pointing out that the author of the Vancouver Sun piece was part of a research team at the University of Calgary that did this study on "green" jobs, and it also notes that some jobs in supposedly "dirty" industries like mining and oil and gas extraction are actually "greener" than the those that are generally accepted to be environmentally friendly. Ah, one might say, but this was done by a university in Alberta, where so much of the economy depends on resource extraction. So does that make the study's findings suspect?

And here we go again. I'd like to think that a university -- even one in Tulsa North -- would produce work that's beyond reproach, but then, the Climate Research Unit is also based at a university (East Anglia), and its research has been challenged (as, indeed, has been its method of responding to those who challenge it).

There's a chapter in my book called "Satan Stirs the Pot", where we look at the fact that the absence of the whole truth is an indication that God has not been part of the worldly discussion for a long time. The debate has descended into a struggle over "who's right" rather than "what's right". Lies, bullying, fear tactics, all overshadow the truth, and if truth is barred, so is God.

It's another good reason to take another good, long look at the situation of "climate change" and put it into the context of the Word of God. When we do that, we see that there are signs and warnings that He has given us through the ages -- a good 2,000 years ago, in fact: that climate change, along with earthquakes, wars, terrorism and other situations that don't quite fit the "global warming" paradigm ("global weirding", if you like) are part of a grander plan, and rather than fight against the signs, we need to come onside and learn how to seek His Will and live within that.

In other words, we need to admit that we don't know all the minutiae of "green" issues, and turn to the One who does know, because He made this whole thing.

He has a plan going down, and has had it since before the earth came into being. Sometimes, it doesn't look "good" to us, so our duty is to look beyond that and assume that if we stick to His program, we will come through.

John Lennon's "Life Is ..." -- revisited

There's a commercial for Bell that shows a guy walking along, blithely fiddling with his mobile device. All around him are images of fun things and entertainment -- games, TV shows, videos, etc. -- which are all available to him thanks to the wonders of Ma Bell. And when he's not playing with the device, he's busily texting, all while walking.

He's hip, he's cool, he's obviously blissed-out with his device; and I can't help thinking that what's missing is the car coming out of nowhere, slamming on the brakes and missing him by inches as he walks on, oblivious to the fact that he'd just stepped off the curb without checking the "Don't Walk" signal.

Or maybe, instead of the fun things and entertainment surrounding him, they could show images of war, terrorism, poverty, environmental destruction, etc.: things to which he is now oblivious because he's buried in his mobile device.

Most of three generations of people in the developed world are in danger of missing out on both hazards and beauty in the world around us because they're being duped into believing that escaping into a mobile device with its games and other diversions (not to mention other hi-tech toys from video games to computer-imbued glasses) is the be-all and end-all of existence.

Worse, as they miss out on life, they're also missing something else even more important. We're in a time when the signs Jesus told us about that would precede His return -- and before that, Armageddon -- are popping up all around us. Indeed, He says we need to be aware of what the signs mean, just as we know that the turning of the leaves means fall is approaching or gathering clouds means a storm. We're seeing more and more people who will not only miss the meaning of the signs, they'll miss the signs, themselves.

John Lennon famously defined "life" as "what happens while you're busy making other plans."

We could update that: "Life is what happens while you've got your nose stuck in your mobile device."


Friday, October 25, 2013

Problem Gambling: a Modest Proposal*

Vancouver Sun columnist Pete McMartin has written some very cogent pieces lately about problem gambling in British Columbia. The columns have coincided with a report from the provincial health officer, which indicates the provincial government doesn't do enough to deal with problem gambling, even as revenues from gambling continue to rise.

As people consider what to do about the problem, I have a modest proposal.

The province, in cooperation with the banking industry, should provide low-interest loans to people who identify themselves as "problem gamblers". They could start with the self-exclusion lists that problem gamblers are expected to put themselves on, so that casinos will turn them away at the door (read Pete's column on one particular problem gambler to see how well that idea works). The term of these loans would not be set by months or even years, but "until I get on my feet again" or "until I get this problem licked".

This is a win-win-win situation. Problem gamblers get their fix. More revenue flows into the provincial coffers. The scheme could be declared a "charity" and banks can get a tax write-off. The gamblers no longer steal, lie and cheat to get money to play; loan sharks are driven out of business, thereby lowering the incidence of crime; BC businesses no longer have to worry that self-excluded gamblers will just cross the border to the casinos at Tulalip or Muckleshoot. There will no longer be concerns about jobs for casino workers or for entertainers whose livelihoods often depend on casino gigs.

Harm reduction, in other words.

Of course, if you have winners, you must have losers, too. The addicted gambler will still be addicted, spending precious hours at the casino, cutting out of work in order to "pull a few handles", leaving their families wondering when or if dad or mom will be coming home. And there's no guarantee that they won't continue to spend the milk money, the kids' college fund, or the company cash float on top of the loan money. But those are minor considerations, compared to the benefits of a continued revenue stream to the province, charities and health care programs, not to mention the ability of an entire sector of society to have a good time. After all, money and good times: that's what life's about, isn't it?

The provincial health officer is an ardent supporter of harm reduction for drug addicts: why should gamblers be treated any differently?

*"A Modest Proposal" was originally an essay by Jonathan Swift, who proposed that the solution to overpopulation in Ireland would be to export Irish children as meat. No, he wasn't serious (either).

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Google's new Terms of Service - and an observation for our time

I must say, in this day of instant notoriety on social media, Google's new Terms of Service are comforting: it's good to know that it's possible to control who sees what I post (very helpful for people who might go off on a tirade that might considered ill-advised and that -- by Murphy's Law of Politics -- will inevitably surface during a future political campaign). It's also worth understanding that such control is possible, and taking care to make use of it.

But it's a sad commentary on our times, to see this notice as one of the three main points:  

Use your mobile devices safely

It’s just good common sense: Don’t use our services if you’re doing something that requires your full attention, like driving, and our services might distract you. And, of course, always follow the law while driving.

No kidding, Sherlock! What's sad about this is, years after the problem of driving while distracted by a mobile device was identified, and after the numerous cases since then that have caused death and serious injury, companies still have to remind people. I was intrigued when the owner's manual for my BlackBerry contained a similar warning, and included using it while walking as a potential hazard.
So true. Just yesterday, I had to do a Bobby Hull dipsy-doodle to get around a guy bearing down on me in a crosswalk, nose buried (figuratively) in his device. And how many times have we seen someone cross against a red light because they were engrossed in some badger-sputumly important text message or phone conversation? It`s funny in the opening sequence to the movie version of Guys and Dolls, when Frank Sinatra jaywalked while studying the Racing Form, cars screeching to a halt. But this is real life, and not everyone is a stunt driver, rehearsed and prepared to stop the car on the chalk marks when the star walks in front.
There's a deeper lesson here. This is real life, and we need our full attention to what's going on around us. We can't wander down the streets with our heads and minds diverted elsewhere. And if it's a text message or a phone call that's so important it can't wait another nanosecond, we need to give it our undivided attention, as well. But look at how many things are going on around us that we need to pay attention to -- like a 7.2 earthquake in the Philippines, bomb blasts at LAX, homelessness, drugs, corruption, or society spinning out of control like a border collie on a triple espresso. If we spend our lives escaping into the wonderful world of texts, games and phone calls, we're going to miss something big -- and then wonder why we didn't get the memo.

Thursday, October 3, 2013

Ahead of the curve

NB - since I initially posted this on Oct. 3, 2013, I delivered a sermon on the theme of God providing the solution before the problem had manifested. Moving ahead of the curve, in fact.

A brother from my church, Westpointe Christian Church, called me yesterday to discuss something I'd said during a sermon a couple of weeks ago. It had been a message about the "Ten Talents", in which a master leaves each of his servants in charge of a sum of money with the instructions, "occupy till I return." Two of the servants invest properly and get a large return: fivefold in one instance, tenfold in the other. The third servant simply buries the money and hands it back to the boss when he returns with no increase.

My friend was struck by the idea that the third servant was "wicked" because he had judged his boss for what he thought were unsavory dealings, while the other two simply followed the boss' example and did as they were told. "You've helped me more than you know," he said.

"Praise God," I replied -- and as I rang off, I realized just how much He was to be praised and not me; because I remembered how close I came to not preaching that message.

See, I only preach occasionally at Westpointe, so when sermon ideas come to me, I write them down and bank them for the times when I'm called on to speak. The week before, I had preached on Shadrach, Meschach and Abed-Nego, in which the theme was, "Stand!" I mentioned the full armor of God, and as I did that, I thought, "maybe I should preach on that next week, instead of the '10 Talents'."

In fact, as Friday approached, I had two other options in mind rather than the 10 Talents. But on praying about it, I heard, "go with the 10 Talents". And so I did.

This is another instance of what I've come to learn is God providing the solution and then saying, "now, stand by for the problem." As humans, we tend to get into a jam and try to figure out what to do about it. Alternatively, we'll have a problem, realize we have the solution nearby, and then say, "lucky thing I had that handy." Nope. Not "luck" at all, but God, subtly (and sometimes not so subtly) making sure we're ready to deal with it.

300 block Carrall Street
Take, for example, Gospel Mission. It was established on Vancouver's Downtown East Side in 1929. At the time, the DTES was the commercial and entertainment centre of Vancouver. But not long afterwards, the Great Depression hit, and a "rescue mission" became more and more of a necessity. Sometime in the 40s, the Mission moved to its current location, next to Pigeon Park. This came just before the end of World War II, when many newly-de-mobbed soldiers came home to find they couldn't cope with the return to civilian life. It was around that time that the area's descent into "Skid Road" became more pronounced.

Fast-forward to the fall of 2007, when the Lord put it on our hearts to build a facility to provide showers for people in the area. He moved in miraculous ways to bring together the people, supplies and finances to make it happen, and when He told senior pastor Barry Babcook that the place had to open by the end of April, 2008, we had no way of knowing just why there was a time crunch.

Pigeon Park - the blue partial oval on the right
is the corner of the Gospel Mission building
But there was: the world economic situation started coming unravelled not long after The Lord's Rain opened. People started holding onto their money; corporations and foundations started dialing back their charitable contributions. Had it not opened on April 30, 2008, The Lord's Rain might have remained some roughed-in shower stalled and bare-bones sinks -- and in danger of being evicted.

(In fact, The Lord's Rain actually benefited from the worldwide economic crisis. The W. Garfield Weston Foundation -- set up by the family that owns Loblaw's and Superstore -- set up a special fund to deliver one-time grants to organizations to help them get through the tighter times and to encourage other philanthropic institutions to loosen their purse strings. The Foundation remembered Gospel Mission and donated $15,000.00, practically unannounced. So not only did the Lord have the facility set up before the tough times hit, He ensured there would be funding that went against the trend.)

The Lord's Rain was built and up and running
just before the worldwide economic crisis caused
people to sit on their wallets
It's taken nearly six years, but The Lord's Rain not only has the showers going steadily during its opening times, but people are finding respite from the street, rest, encouragement, fellowship and quite often a place to turn in an emergency. I also foresee that it will play a role in helping people to keep a cool head in the face of the current bogeyman called "Gentrification," which is a source of great fear for many people around the neighborhood.

Here again, God has provided the solution long before the problems started to manifest.

Sometimes, it's not so spectacular as a donation coming in before it's needed or people we've met in the past proving to have gifts that are suddenly sorely needed. Sometimes, it's subtle things, like the time I found that someone had donated a one-piece set of full-body Stanfield's woolen winter under-alls. Two days later, a woman came in who had spent the night on the street and was cold and tired. She lay down on a bench but was shivering badly. I remembered the Stanfield's, got it and wrapped her in it. She was asleep within minutes -- and yes, she kept the woolies.
Open for showers, coffee, respite from "the street".
The TV shows the evening services from the Mission
upstairs, so people with disabilities can take part.

"Lucky we had those"? No - just God's timing.

It's something worth keeping in mind: when we run into difficulty, God has probably already placed the solution within our reach: we just have to seek Him for it. We don't have to re-invent the wheel or look for some new approach. Like the two good and faithful servants, we have to be obedient, diligent and vigilant.