Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Christian if necessary, but not ... ???

REPORTER (to Hall of Fame goalie Gump Worsley, when Gump was playing for the New York Rangers): Gump, which team gives you the most trouble?
WORSLEY: The Rangers.

That may not be as relevant in this context as it could be, I suppose, but that exchange flashed through my mind looking at an email thread involving a good friend of mine and a couple of friends of his.

I'm not sure how it developed, but by the time I got dropped into the mix, they were talking about this third person's use of the word "fool" in describing President Obama. "Prince of Fools", I think was the way he put it.

Then my friend suggested it was inappropriate to call someone a fool just because their ideology was foolish ... and that's about where I stepped in.

The edited version goes like this:

... it doesn't matter whether the person you are calling a fool is the President of the United States of America or the people who put him there -- you, a child of God, are still calling another child of God a "fool", and Jesus -- the One we follow, remember? -- tells us that's the same as murder. >

OR (here's an idea) ... if you want to attack those you disagree with by > name-calling and other ad hominems, don't profess to be Christian. That would make the evangelists' job a lot easier, because then they wouldn't have to go to pains to make the distinction between Christians and "religious people".

Then we can win more souls for the Kingdom, and more people would, as they draw closer to God, see the error of their ways: the folly of drug abuse, the evil of abortion and all the other things that we've been battling.

Paul, approaching Mars' Hill, was confronted with the evil that beset Athens and its people. He could have railed against it, ranted and pointed fingers of accusation at the people who promoted the various religions ... instead, he looked for ways to promote Jesus.

Nowhere in Scripture have I seen that he launched a personal attack on anyone at Mars' Hill -- he made the case for the Truth rather than against the lies.

And so it should be: if you disagree with someone or something, yes -- make your case; yes -- stand for your principles ... but to descend to the level of discourse that I've seen and heard non-stop since Obama first emerged as a possible candidate is to walk right away from the way we've been taught to live -- and only drives away people we should be trying to reach.

And pray for those in authority: Paul's exhortation does not come with conditions as to party affiliation or ideology. If the one in authority is misguided, it'll only be our prayers that will bring revelation from God as to what the proper way to go should be.

And as we pray, God might -- just might -- show us that we're the ones who are misguided. But at the end of the day, His will be done.

Well, that appeared to touch a nerve the size of Minnesota, because I got this response back a few hours later ...

Your point might have relevance if we were living in a monastery… but we are not. I am a faithful Christian who lives in this world and I feel comfortable that the quote that started this was not “out of bounds” or inappropriate in normal dialogue or conversation. If you wish to find a more appropriate word than “fools” to apply in this context, by all means go ahead… but spare me your suggestion that using the word “fool” to describe people who embraced a charlatan is the same as murder. What would we say about the Germans who acquiesced to Hitler’s rise to power. Were they na├»ve, foolish, or just cowards? I would say to you Drew or any Christian that we can learn more about avoiding failure in politics by reading Machiavelli than by reading the Bible. Similarly, we can also learn more about economics by reading Adam Smith than by reading the Bible. Scripture reveals the path to have the most personal relationship with the Lord.

Indeed? Hmm ... this is where the interview with Gump Worsley comes to mind: sometimes, the ones who give Christians the hardest time are other Christians.

I'm afraid I don't agree. The problem with our world stems from the fact that we do read more Macchiavelli and more Adam Smith than the Bible. Also more Che Guevara, Appolonius of Tyrana, the Dalai Lama and Oprah Winfrey ... and look where it's got us.

Do we put our complete faith in God, or is there a point at which we say, "sorry Big Sir - You're not capable of handling this"?

That doesn't mean inaction is an option: it means the only action that gets us anywhere is the action taken after we pray for direction and square up our actions with Scripture.

I don't live in a monastery, and I've been doing nothing but trust in the Lord for the past 8 years after 46 years of trying to do it my way. This included an incredibly dark period where I lost my job 3 times in just over 2 years (in broadcasting, that's actually not "bad luck" -- that's "job security") ... and He has prospered me far more in worldly terms, spiritual terms, relationships, my Ministry ... than I ever could have imagined.

The wisdom of man has let us down at every turn.

The wisdom of God never fails.

Every so often, I get brought up short by the revelation that there are Christians who'll only trust God "so far" and then grab the wheel and insist on driving the bus. Former Vancouver mayor Sam Sullivan once described himself as a "practical Christian". What the heck is that? Christian if necessary, but not necessarily Christian? The trouble with that is, at the end of the day, we consider our wisdom to be far superior to God's, and I'll never buy that one. Our point of view is only relative: what seems to be "good" is only "good" according to what we can see at a particular point in time. When things are "not good" according to what we can see, we have a choice: we can assume that things are going "badly" and therefore have to be fixed in order to make them go "good" in our eyes; or we can assume that God is up to something.

I prefer the latter. Why? Because when I impose my own definition of "going good" on a situation -- or my own image of "success" in an endeavour, I'm setting myself up for major disappointment. But when I walk in God's ways no matter whether they're going well or not for me, I learn to see His hand and the end result is far greater and more satisfying than anything I could have defined with my own puny intellect.

As for my correspondent's comments about taking Macchiavelli over the Bible for political savvy and Adam Smith over the Bible when it comes to economics ... I don't think there's any substitute for "bring your tithes to the storehouse and prove Me withal, that I do not open the windows of heaven ...." (Malachi 3) ... or "... supplications, prayers, intercessions and giving of thanks be made ... for all that are in authority, that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and honesty" (I Tim 2:1-2).

Friday, March 19, 2010

A little bit of God

John Fischer's "In The Tank" article today (March 19, 2010) put me in mind of something my late mother (who passed away eight years ago this month) once said when I was a teenager.

Mom was not Religious: I believe that till the end, she knew that Jesus was the Way, the Truth and the Life, but she was so wounded by people with overt expressions of Religion that she despised anything that smacked of "churchianity". She also had a ring-side seat to the personal struggles of a lot of people who would have been judged for their behaviour and lifestyles, and she would have wanted nothing to do with those who would judge them. (I think that if she'd met someone like John Fischer, she would have heard a far different Gospel than what she'd grown up with.)

Anyway, mom said this one day, "I don't want a god who's so puny that he can fit inside my tiny mind".

At the time, I thought that was an endorsement for rejecting God altogether, but as the years went by and I found my own way to Christ, I started getting an idea of what she meant. And in a way, it melds with what John's getting at.

We tend to forget that God made us in His image -- not the other way around. And just as with David's tent, He's the one to provide us with the house: we need to stop thinking we can provide Him with creature comforts.

The other part is, if we try to cram God into our minds, our brains will explode. Even when God talked to Moses -- "as a man speaketh with his friend" -- He wouldn't let him see His face ("there shall no man see Me and live" -- Exodus 33:20). But He would let Moses see a bit of Him.

A bit of God's glory: that's about all a mortal man can handle. How can we begin to fathom how enormous God is?

But here's where mom didn't quite complete the circuit. Our minds are capable of fathoming that "bit" of God. The size of that bit depends on where we are in our walk with Him. I know the bit I had 20 years ago is far different from what it became 10 years later, and the bit I have now is light years beyond what it was then ... and nowhere near what it will be next year -- or next week, for that matter.

That being said, we have to bear in mind that there is a WHOLE LOT more to God than the little bit we can comprehend. As near as I can figure -- since God is not a man, that He would ever lie -- the "whole lot more" does not contradict anything we truly know about Him, but would build on what we do know, multiplying it infinitely.

Does our walk with God depend on how flawless or sin-free we are? Does it depend on the accumulation of holy "brownie points"? Or does it entail trying to increase the size of that bit? I believe it's that last one, praise God! Remember that Jesus did not tell us to "attain the Kingdom of God and His righteousness" but to seek it. We can't "attain" it, because that would involve looking at God face-to-face, and in these mortal bodies, we know that can't be done. But as God allowed Moses a glimpse of His glory, He allows the same to us when we ask Him ... and as we are ready for more, He gives us more.

That's why -- to return to John Fischer's point -- it's a mug's game to try to build a house for God. (We can build a house of God for people but that's not the same thing.) The best "structure" for anything to house God in our life is our life itself -- and so long as we keep that expandable and capable of moving anywhere God leads us (like a tent, right?), He will keep filling us with His presence.

Monday, March 8, 2010

Reality Check: post-party depression

Some of what follows is related to the company I work for, TransLink, but they're my personal thoughts, not offered in my official capacity as Public Information Officer.

In many respects, it already seems like a lot more than a week has gone by since the end of the 2010 Winter Olympics. The last of the house guests left a week ago yesterday, Sydney, Jarome and Dany are again sworn enemies and Roberto is yelling at his teammates to protect Henrik and Daniel, not take a two-hander to clear them out of the slot.

And the post-Olympic navel gazing is already underway. Professional pundits and the "man in the street" alike (if you've seen the movie, "Remains Of The Day", which I did yesterday, you'll have a completely different view of the "man in the street" concept) are talking about what a grand party it's been and the "lessons learned". How, people ask rhetorically, can we keep this momentum going and push towards the next generation of "Vancouverism"?

Folks, your reality check just bounced.

There are two common threads that I see in the discussion of the post-Olympic legacy. One is in the way of maintaining the wonderful atmosphere that took over the city -- using pedestrian malls, public "celebration" spaces and dismantling a key road network linking downtown with the east end.

We have to remember that there were disruptions to businesses and day-to-day life during that 17-day period. Many schools and public institutions shut down. Ordinary life had to work around the Games and the parties, and now that it's over, there's a bit of a sigh of relief that we could get back to a semblance of normalcy. The focus of the grand visions for our city is too much, I feel, on how to provide party space and play areas for people and not enough on how to marry this new way of thinking with day-to-day life.

It's interesting that much of the assessment of the "success" of the Games has to do with the "feel-good" sensation and the notion that the "legacy" is somehow tied to that. That's like using a drug high as a substitute for genuine happiness. Having more and better public spaces is a good way to temper the other aspects of urban life, but any development has to go slow and consider all the realities. Vancouver is still a very young city and its development tends to be driven by the hubris and a desire to prove it's just as big as the old-established places, rather than evolve over time of the celebration spirit.

OBSERVATION: the smartest thing anyone could have done was close the liquor stores early. Someone wrote a letter to a paper saying that would just promote the "Nofuncouver" image; but we've earned it because in the past, from showing absolutely no wisdom when it comes to partying and drinking. Remember that concerts by Elvis Presley (1957) and The Beatles (1964) had to be shut down early because the crowd was on the verge of rioting; then there were the Grey Cup Riots (pick a year) and the Gastown Riot (which, inexplicably, has been raised to worship status by a giant mural inside the atrium of the Woodward's project); not to mention the Stanley Cup Playoff riot of 1994 and the smash-up when Guns 'n' Roses cancelled its show. Remove alcohol from the equation, and it's amazing what you come up with.

The other unfortunate thread is in the assessment of how public transportation performed during the games. The years of preparation paid off with brilliant execution, and literally from Langley to Lions Bay, ordinary folk and experts are asking how that "momentum" will be maintained. Some demand more buses, more often; others look at the Olympic Line streetcar and say we need to use that mode throughout the transit system.

No one is talking about how to pay for it. I mean, really: the Olympic Line was operated free of charge - who wouldn't love to ride it? Transit operators had a vacation-time blackout during the Olympics, so they'd be available to drive the additional buses that were provided to handle the extra passenger loads. I've actually read a couple of letters to the editor, saying that they don't want to hear "TransLink doesn't have the money" as the reason. This, even though last fall, when the Mayors' Council approved a budget that only allowed for service to be maintained, it was made clear that the funding wasn't there to do anything more. It was in the media: surely, those who write letters to papers actually read those papers?

(In a posting on my other blog, "Rev. Downtown", I chide the anti-Olympics protesters for expecting someone else to pay for the things they demand in society. It's really the same thing with this situation.)

But that points to the biggest reality check of all: the fact that any quality-of-life improvements related to the Olympics -- the temporarily improved transit service, the party atmosphere, the "people places" created around the city -- came at a cost. There were, as many have noted, serious disruptions in day-to-day life, which forced people to change their thinking and their behaviour. They were able to do that for that 17-day period: has that been enough time to make them re-think how they live, work and play?

Thursday, March 4, 2010

Paradise Found

"I have found Paradise!"

God works in amazing ways, bringing people and situations together. With the Olympics over, spring busting out in Vancouver and my life becoming all too sedentary again (transl.: the fine work the Lord had done in shaving 20 pounds off my frame was starting to reverse), I couldn't wait to get on my bike and ride to work again. The ban on bikes on SkyTrain was ending, so yesterday was The Day. (My ride to work is much too far to tackle by bike, so I ride to Waterfront Station, take SkyTrain to Patterson or Royal Oak and then ride the rest of the way to Metrotown, since bikes aren't allowed at Metrotown Station.)

Except I -- who had written the dang press release -- forgot that, when the rule said "no bikes on SkyTrain until March 3", that meant March 3 was the last day one could not have a bike on SkyTrain, not the first day that one could.

The nice SkyTrain Attendants decided to "use their discretion" (which TransLink policy allows) and let me ride, but lest I cause any grief on the return journey, I decided to hitch my bike to the front of the #19 bus and go home that way.

And here, as you'll see, is where God took over, because what followed could only be Him at work with what some might call a "chance encounter".

A group of people also got on the bus at Metrotown and sat next to me. They were black, and their accents told me they were from the US. One of them struck up a conversation with me, and it turned out he was from Mobile, Alabama, and had come up to drive the media buses for the Olympics. He would be working through the Paralympic Games, as well, making the runs to and from Whistler.

"It's so beautiful here, and the people are so nice and polite," Ed said (that was his name - Ed), "I called my wife a few days ago and said, 'Honey, I found Paradise!' Know what amazes me? So many cultures here -- and it don't matter! White, black, brown ... It don't matter! ... Man: you guys are 'bout a thousand years ahead of us!"

Ed looked about the same age as me, and I did a quick flashback to the headlines from my childhood -- the mid-1960s would have been a whole lot different for a black kid in Mobile, Alabama than they were for a white kid in Vancouver.

For all the negative carping about the Olympics, the inescapable fact is that this has been a defining moment for our country. I don't mean, as spelled out in any rhetoric from officials, but as shown in a kind of spontaneous, organic manifestation as the Games progressed. Sure, winning all those medals helped, but I get the feeling that even if Canadian athletes hadn't been as successful as they were, people visiting for the Games would have come away with a totally different view of Canada than they'd had before -- and seen Canadians as rabidly patriotic, multi-cultural (there's a guy who works in one of the Metrotown office buildings, a Sikh with huge beard and turban and who occasionally shows up in a vintage Oilers "Mark Messier" jersey: only in Canada, I say to myself) and, yes, unfailingly polite, courteous and welcoming.

It was a "defining moment" that none of us really expected, and I don't think it over-states the case to suggest that it's rather like the battle of Vimy Ridge, almost 100 years ago. We came together as a nation then, and in a totally different way, came together as a nation now.

(Warning: with exposure comes risk, and our swaggering patriotism -- while justified and DEFINITELY nothing to apologize for -- caught some commentators by surprise. Gil LeBreton in the Fort Worth Star-Telegram made no friends north of the 49th with his column, which likened the sea of red to the 1936 Olympics in Berlin. But whether he meant to or not, we have to realize that he gave us a taste of our own medicine. For decades, we have smugly defined ourselves as being Not American and have taken pride in putting down our neighbors for what we consider to be over-the-top jingoism. The 2010 Olympics proved we can be just as nationally prideful as any star-spangled Yank, Empire-yearning Brit or Kangaroo-toting Aussie, and while I'd be one of the first to say, "It's about bloody time!", we have to remember that we, too, can be called down for it by the very ones we criticize. Make sure the flag you wrap yourself in is made of sturdy fabric.)

But I digress. How would people like my newfound friend Ed have learned about Canada -- and learned about what's possible in a multicultural community -- if not for the Olympics? He'll go home to Mobile and will tell others about his experience in Paradise, and while that may not translate into a Crimson Tide of Alabamans surging into BC to buy up property, they'll have a new goal to shoot for in their own society.

A cynic, Oscar Wilde famously said, knows the price of everything and the value of nothing. We've had myriad assessments of the price of the Olympics, but such things as Ed's experience remind us that the value of the event can't be measured in gold -- medals or otherwise.