Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Rolling the dice with people's lives

Stephen Hume hits it spot-on when he writes about the BC government's expansion -- explosion, really -- of online gambling. Like dealing drugs to addicts, he says. Indeed, it confirmed my own feelings about those poker websites advertised on TV that promise it's not a gambling site and it doesn't cost anything to play: it comes across like the pusher who tells a newbie, "the first one was free".

Of course, fuelling the gambling addiction has grown from the government's own addiction to revenue, and while Stephen doesn't come right out and say it, I will -- as I have before: gambling is sinful. It's a smorgasbord of things God warns us not to get into, like sloth (trying to get something for nothing), envy and greed. Gambling means we put more faith in the turn of a card, the roll of the dice or a random generation of numbers (assuming you're dealing with a square house that doesn't fiddle that number generation) than in the Creator of the Universe, Who has promised to provide for us.

And look at the fruits: why are the organizations that supposedly benefit from gambling revenue still crying poverty? Why do sports teams, arts organizations and health-care endeavours suddenly face being wiped out when their lottery-money grants are cut? Where is the blessing? Could it be that, when you throw in your lot with the world's way of doing things, God holds back? (Remember Jesus' words: "your Heavenly Father knows what you need before you ask Him." The unstated condition is that we have to ask. And if we're too busy chasing lottery revenue to ask Him to supply what we need, we won't get it.)

At least the government adverts for gambling have stopped using the lie that gaming revenue helps these organizations. (They've substituted it with something worse, I'm afraid: that insipid tag-line, "know your limit - play within it", which is like telling an alcoholic that "just a little taste won't hurt".) The percentage of revenue that's actually doled out is minuscule: as I've said before, if you really want to help such groups, take the money you'd spend on lottery tickets or at the casino and hike it straight over to them. Cut out the middleman. And watch the blessings come back on you, full measure, shaken together, pressed down and running over.

I'm surprised they haven't adopted that as a tag-line. If they ever did, I'd avoid government offices, the BCLC headquarters and the ad agency, because the forecast there would be for lightning with a strong probability of fire and brimstone.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

The cussin' mayor

Reams have been written about Vancouver Mayor Gregor Robertson's recent unguarded moment in front of a live microphone and reams more will likely come. For those who haven't heard, the mayor was caught on tape using profanities in describing some of the speakers at a public meeting on some city hall plans. We tend to be so cutesy about rude language: I've had just about enough of the expression "dropped the F-bomb" in the past couple of days.

Hizzoner is by no means alone in the league of leaders caught saying or doing rude things. There was Richard Nixon, caught on tape using male anatomical references to describe Pierre Trudeau; Trudeau, for that matter, raising his middle finger to protesters outside his train in Salmon Arm, BC; Ronald Reagan doing a mike check and saying “My fellow Americans, I’m pleased to tell you that I’ve signed legislation that will outlaw Russia forever. We begin bombing in five minutes.”

There are others (although I greatly doubt whether Queen Elizabeth would really say "buggah!" when her Land Rover broke down, as portrayed by Helen Mirren in "Queen").

But politics aside, what bothers me is the rush to justification for using profanity. One columnist in the Vancouver Sun came out with a "history" of the F-Bomb. Another cited a study that found profanity is a reaction to pain. It's as if people who are offended need to lighten up -- "everybody" does it now (in a follow-up story, Mayor Gregor talked frankly about his language on the rugby field in younger days) and we should be more tolerant. Translation: don't get outraged; just acquiesce and abase ourselves to accommodate the lowest common denominator -- even if we voted for him. (I didn't.)

Apparently, someone got paid for that study, which really could have been published in the journal Duh. I could have saved them a lot of money with my own experience -- or at least, cashed the check, myself. As a 22-year-old acting student in London, we were given an exercise to imagine that a heavy metal gate had slammed shut on our hand and then act out our reaction.

Being of a "progressive" mind at the time, my "acting" involved grimacing in pain and "dropping the f-bomb", and then adding la bombe "c*", in French, just to show off my bilingual gifts.

Later that afternoon, I went back to my squalid little garret in a B&B a few blocks away, and as I closed the door I was distracted by something: a gust of wind blew the door shut on my hand, thereby proving that my "performance" in class was amazingly true-to-life. But I digress ...

To me, profanity is a cop-out: it's the mark of a badly written play, an unfunny comedian or a punk who tries to project a tough-kid image. When I came to Christ, one of the changes that happened to me was that I became greatly offended at hearing the f-word and other profanity. I used to have a rather foul mouth, myself; profanity still slips out on occasion, I'm ashamed to say -- even ashamed if it happens when I'm alone and supposedly no one can hear me.

Swearing is a reaction to pain? That's the same as a wounded animal -- but aren't we actually higher beings than animals? The Bible also warns us against acting like the heathens: we are to follow the way God wants us to follow -- not the base reactions of animals.

But it seems that the world's agenda has always been to try to get us to accept that we're really no better than the animals -- and considering we're supposed to be caring for and protecting them and all of God's Creation, that's kind of a silly concept. We can't allow ourselves to be dragged down by excusing "animalistic" behaviour -- whether it's in our actions or our words.

The Commandments God gave us -- for our own protection, don't forget -- involve dealing with situations in ways that don't involve reacting like animals but responding like children of God: with circumspection, wisdom and, at the heart of it all, with prayer. As with everything else, though, following those commandments is a "learned behaviour" -- which is why we have to be commanded to do it, come to think of it. We can also do what David did, and call on God to set a watch over our mouths. I might point out that David was under a whole lot more pain and pressure than Mayor Gregor. We can do it: it just takes a sense of responsibility and a refusal to let ourselves and others excuse base behaviour.

Jesus, James and Paul all warn us to watch our tongues and not to give offence: Jesus says that if we so much as call someone a fool, we're in danger of hellfire. How much more do we risk by calling someone a " ******* hack"?

*That would be the French word for the wine cup Jesus passed around at The Last Supper -- it's apparently one of the vilest things you can say to a Quebecois, as I found out when I jokingly (I thought) said it to Rene Simard when I was his dialogue coach on his English-language TV show. He looked like I'd hit him with a halibut. When I realized the impact of what I'd done, the show was long out of production and contrition was a bit late.

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Doomspeak revisited

A blog post by Mike Klassen in CityCaucus.com looks at the latest exercise in Doomspeak -- a talk given by SFU Prof. Mark Jaccard, in which he says humans are kidding themselves when it comes to actions being taken to reduce or eliminate climate change. Prof. Jaccard says, in effect, that talk of "carbon neutrality" and reducing dependancy on fossil fuels takes our focus away from what he says is the real task at hand: eliminating the use of fossil fuels altogether.

Urban studies specialist Gordon Price reported on Prof. Jaccard's talk in its entirety.

I'm sorry to say that I think the headline on the CityCaucus item is misleading. It says that humans lack the capacity to prevent climate change, which is not what Prof. Jaccard said, at all, according to the body of the story. I actually agree with the premise in the headline: to use the Apostle Paul's description, we're beating against the air, accomplishing nothing, with this "fight" against climate change -- and, as I've said before, we're dangerously close to trying to fight against God's plan.

All that being said, it's interesting reading Mike's and Gordon's posts and some of the comments, because they all remind me of one of those goalmouth scrambles in a hockey game where the puck misses on one side of the net ... then the other ... then over the top ... goes everywhere, in fact, but into the net. Those commenting seem to be all around different points and arguments, except for the one that should be staring us in the face.

While Prof. Jaccard says the grand delusion is that the actions we're taking now can actually solve things, he doesn't say whether it's any less delusional to think that eliminating all human-produced greenhouse gases would stop or even make a dent in climate change. I posed that question to the eminent scientist Bill Rees in the spring of 2009 and did not get a real response then, either. (Not that I pushed for a response: it was at a dinner for some international-development environmentalist types where I was a guest (my wife is a former member) so I didn't want to spoil the party by pushing too hard with the notion that maybe the emperor had no clothes. Besides, someone else -- one of those cloyingly apologetic visitors from the US who seemed to be ashamed of being white, male and American (no, it wasn't Mike Moore) -- had made a remark that the "Bible-thumpers" had been holding up progress on climate change, so I had a feeling I wasn't in sympathetic company.)

Prof. Jaccard says our desire for "good news" is blinding us to what he says is the problem. And maybe that's part of it: we're so focused on the problem, whether the perceived solution involves eliminating climate change (as if) or reducing our contribution to it, that we miss the real Good News.

I've written about that good news elsewhere, but it bears repeating: our treatment of God's Creation has been Original Ecological Sin. God instructed us in Genesis 1 to "be fruitful and multiply and replenish the earth and subdue it". We've had no problem with the "fruitful and multiply and subdue" part, but we've failed miserably at replenishing. But the sacrifice of Jesus on the Cross was not just to draw us closer to God, but to give us a chance to step away from our past sins (repent) and start with a clean slate. In environmentalist terms, that means to repent and move forward as proper stewards of Creation.

But stewardship of Creation is only a part of our walk with God, and we have to remember that. We cannot obsess on that one area at the expense of the rest of that Walk, which also involves loving one another, reaching out and helping those who need it, spreading the Gospel: things that, at times, may seem at cross-purposes with the environmental movement in the way they need to be accomplished.

Of course, Satan -- the god of this world -- wants to keep us from seeing that Big Picture, which is why he's snookered people into this raging debate and discussion and doomspeak over the most contentious element of environmental concern: climate change and the role of humans. Air quality? Water quality? Land use? Pretty much a slam-dunk when it comes to human involvement in those. But climate change? Still a lot of theories and a lot of questions and a lot of doubt, and that's just the way Satan likes it. After all, he's not interested in whether Creation survives: he just wants to keep us depressed and at one another's throats so that we don't turn our hearts and minds towards God.

If we ever did, we'd see that God promises that, if we turn away from our wicked ways, repent, and turn back to Him, He'll heal the land. Open-and-shut, if you ask me.

Environmentalism is about sustainability. Jesus is about abundant life.

Environmentalism is, at its heart, very inward-looking: how can I reduce my "carbon footprint". Jesus is about looking toward others and seeking God above all else. When He promises that "all these things will be added unto [us]" when we do that, He's talking about the things we need to survive -- including a healthy planet.

There's one more thing we need to understand. Nowhere in the Word of God does it say that earth is going to be around forever. One of the failings of the hard-core environmentalists is that they act and speak as if it's supposed to, and God clearly tells us that, sooner or later, there are goingto be big changes. He's told us what His plan is; we have to stop trying to fight it and find out instead what our role in it is.

That's Good News. One wonders why certain eminent scientists don't want us to look for it.

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Whiz Kids - on stage and on the field

Last week, we went to see the Arts Club's latest offering on Granville Island, The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee. It was a lovely romp: a burlesque on the whiz kids one meets in life, with the current popularity of spelling bees as the backdrop. And yet, through the sometimes over-the-top caricatures, there was a very poignant message about the way children can get screwed-up by self-indulgent parents: parents pre-occupied with "finding themselves" or validating their own lifestyle choices through the kids. (Interestingly, the tired old theme of the parent imposing their own failed ambitions on the child was not one of the "targets" of the story.)

(As well as being a lot of fun, it was wonderful to see Sarah-Jeanne Hosie on stage again. I knew her as a teenager in Victoria and her mother rescued a play I was directing by taking on the choreography. Now, Sarah-Jeanne is the Next Big Thing in Vancouver musical theatre as an actress, dancer and choreographer.)

But the play also got me to thinking about kids and competition and fun. The idea of a spelling bee is very much like the idea of Reach For The Top, the TV quiz show in which I played for two years in the 70s. I loved playing and I loved winning, which our teams did consistently -- except for the two times we were faced with the psychological game from our opponents. Somehow, that seed of doubt about our own game put us off just enough that we second-guessed ourselves -- and in a game that requires split-second decision-making, like whether one has the answer and whether to push the buzzer button, that's anethema -- and we lost those games.

It also connected in my mind with Jim (not his real name), who played little league with my son and who, I recently learned, is now in the majors. There was no question Jim was good: he'd remind anyone about that -- including other kids on the team -- any chance he got. He'd been well-schooled and taught by willing parents and coaches, but they left out that important x-factor: attitude and a measure of humility.

My son, who was still of the mindset that, at age 9, youth baseball was supposed to be a time to learn the game and have fun, was a frequent target for verbal abuse because his skill level was considerably lower than this Jim's. In a playoff game, Jim actually asked the coach, loudly, if he could pinch-hit for my son if his turn to bat came, even though he -- Jim -- had already batted. That game was the last straw, and I spoke to the coach about Jim's attitude and the effect it was having on my son. "Yes, kids are entitled to have fun when they play," he agreed. But I saw no change in his approach.

(My daughter, on the other hand, who's about five years younger than my son, was considerably more vocal, and would unleash a torrent of abuse on Jim from time to time. She was NOT putting up with anyone going after her brother.)

That experience more or less ruined baseball for my son. He hung in there for a couple more years, but I wasn't able to teach him the basics (I'm an horrendous teacher) and coaches didn't seem willing or able to work with individuals, and he left the game just before the bantam level.

For me, I find I have difficulty looking at other hot young prospects in the majors. The commentators rave about their skills and talent and I wonder how many other children had their experiences ruined because the resident little league phenom couldn't keep things in perspective.

In another posting about a year ago, I wrote about Al Jordan, who had just passed away. His son Randy was another kid phenom, but as much like "Jim" as I'm like Hercules. We played hockey together briefly in peewees -- until it was determined it wasn't fair to the other kids to play against someone that gifted and he was moved up to an older age group. Randy was brilliant, but he never talked about it. His play spoke for itself, and he also understood that, if you're that talented, you help others bring up their game.

"Let's skate and pass," he said to me at one practice. We just skated up and down the ice, passing the puck back and forth. He showed me how to "lead your man" -- passing the puck just ahead of your teammate so he could skate into it, maybe making him speed up a bit so he can be near top speed when it hits the stick. Randy's attitude wasn't "lead your man ... ya dummy!", but "lead your man ... teammate". And somehow, the fact that I was being taught by someone who otherwise was my peer made the lesson stick through all these years.

(Randy also imparted another insight that's stuck with me to this day. He knew I had a yearning to work in radio, and one day, when we were playing Junior-B baseball (or, more accurately, we were on the same team: Randy was a starter; I occasionally got into the late innings if the game was already pretty much decided), he passed on a helpful hint he'd learned from his dad. "Smile when you're announcing," he said. "It opens up your facial cavity and turns that into a resonating chamber." Even now, when that mic goes on, my cheeks rise just a little.)

It would be nice to think that the "Jim"s of this world are the exception and the "Randy"s are the rule. Maybe the young major leaguers I look at so cynically are actually the kind who would take a less-skilled teammate aside and give them a helpful hint or just a word of encouragement -- even hearing Randy shout from the dugout, "Come on, big 1-3! Base-hit, buddy!", was enough at times; maybe they were less-skilled, themselves, and benefitted from hearing from one of those phenoms. When we are gifted, God calls us to be giving. And that's an attitude that only comes from one place: parenting

I think Brian Lord's remembrance of Al Jordan in that blog entry gives an insight into Randy's upbringing. Indeed, there's a lot to be said about parenting and perspective: remind kids, for one thing, that we do not function independently of one another. Things we say and do, our behaviour and our attitude, affect others. Don't listen to the cop-out that we have to be responsible for the way we respond to something: we are called to speak and act in love, putting others well ahead of ourselves, asking God to keep a watch over our lips. That's one of the lessons the kids learned in Spelling Bee, and it's something in which we could all use a refresher course.

For when the One Great Scorer comes

To write against your name,

He marks - not that you won or lost -

But how you played the game.

-- Grantland Rice