Thursday, July 26, 2012

Forget Alligators!

The first time I heard of Chick-fil-A, it was as a sportscaster in Victoria, BC. I had no idea what it was, but I was reading scores from a women's golf tournament it sponsored and I tossed out the remark that I wondered who the sponsor was. (I even pronounced it "Chick-fil-AH".)

A listener called in and told me -- and mentioned the amount of charity work Chick-fil-A did in the southern states, including the 11 foster care homes it funds in Georgia, Tennessee and Alabama. I was very impressed. I've since learned that Chick-fil-A provides four-year scholarships to Berry College. It's the sort of corporate social responsibility that should get a lot of attention.

Unfortunately, Chick-fil-A's current media attention has nothing to do with its CSR -- and in fact, nothing to do with reality. It's president, Dan Cathy, has been "quoted" as making anti-gay remarks and as a result has been pilloried in the media, by pro-gay-marriage organizations and those who promote "tolerance" and "equality".

Just one problem with all this. He didn't say it.

Being in media relations myself, I have a pretty good idea of what it's like to have remarks taken out of context. But as Sarah Pulliam Bailey points out in her blog, Mr Cathy's remarks weren't just taken out of context - his detractors provided their own.

I'll let Sarah's blog speaks for itself, because she seems to nail it. But there's another thing Christians have to be aware of.

Jesus warned us there'd be days like these.

He said we'd be hated for His sake.

Were Cathy's remarks to be a stream of hateful diatribe, filled with slurs and stereotypes, the public criticism would be justified. But there was none of that, according to Sarah's blog: he simply declared his belief, as it related to marriage.

Kinda makes you wonder who the real bigots are, doesn't it?

But there's an object lesson here. As Jesus warned us, if we declare His Word -- no matter what precautions we take to make sure it comes out in a positive way -- we can expect to get whacked in these latter days. It's going to happen. No time to whine or complain about how unfair people are or try to outshout them -- because a spirit of anti-Christ cannot be shouted down.

The attacks will come from the most unexpected of places and the most unexpected of circumstances. At times like this, it's important to remember a decidedly non-Scriptural saying: when you are up to your ass in alligators, it is difficult to remember that your initial objective was to drain the swamp.

That saying has often been used as an excuse -- "sorry I didn't get back to you, but I've been up to my ass in alligators ..." -- but it's really a reminder. The saying doesn't suggest that we abandon the job of draining the swamp: it merely suggests that when you're beating away alligators who are snapping at your hindquarters, it's easy to forget what you initially set out to do.

For Christians, our swamp-draining exercise is the Great Commission: heal the sick, bind the brokenhearted, minister to the poor and fatherless, make disciples of all nations. The alligators are those who attack for whatever reason, just to try to silence the Word of God. If we spend our time trying to fight off the alligators, the real work won't get done.

We have to keep focused on draining the swamp, and trust God to keep the alligators at bay. Remember that Jesus says for those who won't receive the Word, Sodom and Gomorrah will be a nicer place; and in the parable of the ten talents (Luke 19), the "master" calls for those who didn't want him to reign over them to be brought before him and killed.

So forget the alligators. Understand that, as we get that swamp drained, the alligators will die from exposure. There will be more alligators to come, but he who endures to the end shall be saved (Matt. 10:22).


Friday, July 13, 2012

Climate change, the fear factor and why should Christians be afraid?

In his daily message on The Catch, John Fischer muses about the way businesses use fear to sell their products and services and wonders what Christians should be afraid of. One of the key themes of my book, A Very Convenient Truth, is that fear is dominating all sides of the discussion over climate change (or global warming or environmental trauma or whatever you want to call it).

In fact, it's the fear of change that is driving the discussion. On one side, people are afraid that climate change will cause ocean levels to rise and animals to become extinct and the earth to become unbearably hot with violent storms. On the other side, people are afraid that if the environmentalists' prescriptions are followed, that will ruin the economy, people will lose their jobs and society will suffer. Throw in pride and personal agendas, which tend to make people magnify the fear factor, especially if they stand to make a buck off it, and you have confusion and the dishonesty that comes with worshipping Mammon.

One of the reasons why fear is a lousy motivator is because it always keeps us off-balance. There's always something to be afraid of: something waiting to rise up and just when you think you've got it licked, another one appears, followed by another and then the first one comes back again. Think of Whack-a-Mole in the real world.

As John points out, Christ is the antithesis of fear. We have a positive target to focus on -- a "mark" to press towards -- and in so doing, we don't waste time and energy fighting against an infinite number of things. Also, by turning to the Word of God as our guide, we start to see new realities -- such as the "very convenient truth" that the "scary" things we're seeing now were foretold thousands of years ago. What's more, those same predictions tell us that these are the forerunners of Jesus' return and God's moving to earth to live with His people.

His Word also gives us a couple of things to focus on. One is our duty to bring as many people into the Kingdom as we can, through love and faith in His Name. The other is to understand and live by the First Great Assignment -- be fruitful and multiply, replenish the earth and subdue it: in other words, return to being caretakers for His Creation. That doesn't mean trying to fight global warming: it means being as good as we can be at caretaking, but also understanding that some things in God's plan may look "bad" to us now, but as we remain faithful to Him, we will see His glory.

In other words, since God told us this all was going to happen, "fighting" global warming actually puts us in opposition to Him. Do we really want that?

Perfect love casts out all fear. Stripping it down to its essence, the Word of God says that if we turn to Him and love others ahead of ourselves, He will heal the land (2 Chron. 7:13-14). In this world, that requires a whole lot of faith in order to believe, but without faith, you cannot please God; and really, what else has truly worked?

A Very Convenient Truth is an e-book, available (US $4.99) through online bookstores like Chapters, Barnes & Noble and Amazon, published through Smashwords.

Monday, July 9, 2012

Getting one's head around bike helmets

It was refreshing to read the letter to the editor in the Vancouver Province over the weekend, weighing in on the controversy over bicycle helmets. Bike helmet laws in BC (it's illegal to ride a bike without one in this province) have become a source of discussion, with the City of Vancouver planning to launch a public bike-share program, similar to the Bixis in Montreal (and elsewhere). The essential problem is that the bike helmet laws make it difficult to run a Bixi program, because of the various considerations -- hygiene, sizing, inter alia -- involved in putting helmets on people's heads.

During Velo-city 2012, which wrapped up the week before last in Vancouver (with the brilliant Charter to make sure cycling is fun for children -- huh?), one expert from overseas denounced bike helmet laws, saying separated bike lanes would prevent car-bike accidents and we shouldn't let a fear campaign get in the way of the Bixi program.

Tom Littlewood's letter does a great job of putting paid to that argument. I would add that, while there's no question fear plays too big a role in our society -- consider climate change hysteria, airport security and the latest health warning to get tested for HIV even if you don't shoot drugs or have sex with people you shouldn't -- in this case, the argument doesn't wash. As Tom points out, you can have a bad injury on a bike without the assistance of motor vehicles or your own carelessness.

When my wife first moved to Vancouver 7 years ago (before we were married), she went for a bike ride on the Stanley Park Seawall. Somehow, she lost control and fell, doing a head-plant against a rock. She was wearing a helmet, which was cracked by the impact. Aside from a few bumps and bruises, Amelia was OK, but there was no question that things would have been a lot different if she hadn't been wearing a helmet.

When I was a teenager living in West Vancouver, I rode my bike a lot, including to school, which was called Hillside for a very good reason: it was perched about a third of the way up Hollyburn Mountain. Riding down that very steep hill, I remember glancing down at the front wheel and seeing little shreds of rubber appear from my riding the brakes. I didn't wear a helmet -- none of us did -- but rather than rhapsodize now about the sense of freedom, the wind in my hair and the bugs in my teeth, I think back now in horror to what a damn fool I was not to be protected (I even rode home a couple of times from a job at Panorama Studios along the Upper Levels Highway, for the luvvaMike).

But maybe the answer isn't in having a law requiring helmet use. After all, it's near-impossible to enforce and frankly, police have better things to do (and in today's media climate, even if police did bust someone for not wearing a helmet, the person getting the ticket would be portrayed as a victim of police harassment). I have a modest proposal: make helmet use optional, except for children under the age of 12. But here's the key: people think they have a "right" to go helmetless and have that feeling of freedom. Fine. But as Abraham Lincoln (I think it was) once said, "my right to swing my fist ends when the other man's nose begins"*.

In other words, exercising your freedom is just fine, until you start affecting others; and the sad fact is, if you suffer a debilitating injury, you are now affecting taxpayers who have to pay for your care; you're also affecting anyone who's dependent on you for income, love and support.

Anyway, instead of making helmet use mandatory, write it into our laws governing public medical care that if you exercise your freedom to choose not to wear a helmet on a bike, you automatically forfeit your right to have your medical care paid by taxpayers if you suffer a head injury as a result. Some accidents are not preventable, but the head injury could be, so even if a car driver is 100% at fault, if that helmet could have prevented the injury, sorry, pal: you're on your own.

(Case in point: as I write this, sitting outside on my patio overlooking a traffic circle in the West End, a cyclist who was clearly already in the traffic circle and thus had the right-of-way had to hit the binders to avoid being hit by a car whose driver didn't know or care about the rules of the road. The cyclist was not wearing a helmet. Had there been a collision, it could have been extremely messy and regardless of who was at fault, he would have been the loser.)

To make things a bit more interesting, maybe require bike-sharing companies to post graphic warnings at their rental stations about the possible consequences of not wearing a helmet or else they're partially on the hook for medical costs, too. After all, they stand to benefit from repealing helmet laws; this would also level the playing field for the bike rental companies that make sure their customers are properly fitted with helmets.

There could be an avenue of appeal: a medical panel could give an opinion that a helmet would not have prevented the injury, anyway; and if there are severe multiple injuries, that would change the picture, as well.

Bringing the broader effects of exercising this "freedom" into the conversation is certainly something worth considering. After all, it only takes an eye-blink to go from having the wind in your hair to a feeding tube down your throat.

*It may not have been Lincoln, but usually, anyone who quotes Lincoln in a discussion of personal liberty is usually credited with winning the argument.