Monday, September 29, 2008

DTES and the culture of entitlement

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, September 25, 2008

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

What's the real issue?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

9/11: Thanks for taking the bullet

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, September 7, 2008

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

And now ...

Here it is ...

At long last ...

The long-awaited...

Often imitated ...

Never replicated ...

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

*That's Wordsworth.