Friday, 29 October 2010

But for the Grace of God...

"He's an evil man." Recently I've been hearing this sentence pop up more and more. Everyone says it. I say it, but I'm not so sure I should.

I didn't hear it much growing up. As a kid it was "bad guys" out to kidnap me, and as a teen, it was more just really "messed up people, making evil choices".

But now they're evil people. Maybe we've just gotten fed up and tired of being magnanimous. Maybe we're seeing more evil now than we did before. Maybe it's an allergic reaction to too much political correctness. But whatever the reason, we're definitely slotting people into the "evil" category.

Normally, the word "evil" in my mind elicits thoughts of Disney villains, or movie antagonists cackling malevolently as they pet their black cat and lay out plans for world domination. They're completely one-dimensional characters without anything else to them. Sure, they're evil. But real people aren't like quite like Disney villains. Real people have "layers", as Shrek would say.

Take Heinrich Himmler, for example. Sure, Adolf Hitler was the CEO of the Nazis, but Himmler was the one that worked out how to actually kill everyone, and oversaw the operations. Extremely, horrifically evil operations. If ever we can apply the label "evil" to someone and be justified in doing so, surely we can apply it to him.


But he also had a daughter named Gudrun, that he called "Dolly". He'd fly her all over the place so they could spend time together. That's her in the picture, touring a concentration camp with her father. He loved that kid. She loved him. I don't think that means he was a good person, but it does make him seem a little less uni-dimensional. A little more human, perhaps, and a little more relatable. I wonder if he thought of his daughter just before he killed himself.

So maybe he wasn't pure Disney-like evil, even if he was bent on world-domination. He still qualifies for the term "evil", right?

How am I different from him? Well, I haven't arranged for any mass genocides, nor do I plan to. Our life stories and goals are completely different. Yet, aren't our selfish sin natures the same? The only good thing in me is the light of Christ. Without him, I would be as depraved as Himmler. Maybe I wouldn't be quite so hardened as him, or quite so successful as him, but I'd still be an ugly, evil sight. And since I certainly didn't do anything to earn Christ, to claim my goodness as my own would be ridiculous.

Even now, having received Christ, I still do evil things. Of course Himmler was evil. That's a given. Either we're stating the obvious, or we're forgetting that we're all in the same boat, that really, but for the grace of God, that would be us. Can we really condemn him as "evil" without condemning ourselves? Maybe it's better to go back to thinking of people as "unsaved" and "doing evil things". We can call a spade a spade, sure. We don't need to tolerate evil, and we certainly don't want to be blind to it. Let's call out evil when we see it. But perhaps it's better that we let God be the judge of people, lest we call down judgment upon ourselves. And to pray for their redemption as we thank God for ours.

"If people can be taught to hate, they can be taught to love." Betsie ten Boom

Tuesday, 28 September 2010

The Necessity of Change

A lack of climate change could kill us. Or at least keep our descendants from evolving. Seriously.

I was in class at the uni today, and a random TA showed up to play us a video in lieu of the professor giving a lecture. There were three possible videos to watch, and the professor had neglected to tell the TA which we were supposed to see, so he asked the class. While most of my compatriots voted to watch "First Steps", the first listed title, I wanted to watch the last of the videos, entitled "Last Human Standing". Which documentary sounds more entertaining to you?

"First Steps" was about the earliest possible ancestors of the human species. One of the claims put forth by the video was that although apes were already walking upright 6 million years ago, their chimp-sized brains flat-lined for about 4 million years and never grew any bigger. That it, they didn't grow any bigger (or presumably more complex), and really didn't become more human-like until the climate in Africa grew incredibly unstable. Huge lakes developed, then dried, then developed and dried, then developed and dried again for about 200,000 years. And that was the catalyst that caused the monkey-men to start adapting and making stone tools and begin becoming more like normal people. Climate change did that. Climate change was responsible for the evolution of the human race. Without it, we'd still be swinging in the trees (albeit, standing upright) and eating ear wax. A steady climate can inhibit your evolutionary growth for four million years.

So I ask you now - does it really make sense to artificially make the climate more steady and thereby stunt our own evolutionary growth? No, I think not.

;-P

“Man is more ape than many of the apes." Friedrich Nietzsche

Tuesday, 21 September 2010

Out of the Starting Gate

School has started, and with that my good friend Emily kindly published something I wrote in the Gauntlet's Frosh Supplement... or the Imperial Frosh Compendium, as it was known this year. You can link to it here. My article is on page 18. And I just think I'll point out that the comment under the article's title is so an Emily thing to say. Seriously.

It's going to shape up to be a busy semester, but so far things are interesting, at least. For the first time in many years I have been forced to purchase a day timer. There's not much else for me to say at the moment besides KATE is married! And so is Kim, but that happened in August and so is already fairly late as far as news goes. Oh, and I was part of a "Thriller" performance at Kate's reception. I could seriously plan a wedding just for the dance. That would be an interesting movie plot. A young woman plans her wedding, only for the guests to eventually learn that there is no groom and it is merely a giant dance party...

But I digress. I must now go and read. And read. And read.

An awesome quote from the pastor that married Kim and Jarvis, on why love is greater than faith and hope:

"Faith will become sight, hope will be realized, but love will never end."

Tuesday, 31 August 2010

Ruling the Rules

I am dead set on posting three times this month, but since summer, for me, means partial brain atrophy, I am using some musings I jotted out before the summer hit. The question being debated here was whether God follows the rules or makes the rules. Rules, in this case, pertains to the rules and laws of logic, math, and morality.

I actually kinda like the concise, if choppy, format of this, so I think I'll just leave it mostly be.

1. If "rules" exist outside of God, then:
a) Something exists that is outside of God's control (therefore, God is not omnipotent?)
b) Something exists that God did not create (therefore God is not the sole creator?)
c) Something is higher and more fundamental than God (something is more foundational than God?)

How can rules exist without something to govern? Can there be "good" or "bad" if there is nothing to define? This seems nonsensical to me. Rules cannot exist solely as concepts. There must be something they affect in order for them to really exist. If rules exist outside of God, they exist in conjunction with God, and cannot be separated from Him. They did not exist "before" Him or in any way without Him.

What about logic and mathematics? God does [appear to] break the rules of math on several occasions, such as with the two fish and the five loaves of bread. Either the multiplication of the food was not quite so supernatural as is often interpreted, or God was able to break these rules. Could God break rules He did not create and has no power over? God can manipulate His creation, but it seems doubtful that He could change or ignore something He is bound by.

It seems that the rules cannot exist above and beyond God.

But...

2. If God created the "rules", then God could have hypothetically decided that murder was good. This is not a concept my brain can handle. Admittedly, this is not an airtight argument.

Perhaps God created math and logic rules, but is subject to moral rules. God CANNOT break moral rules or else sin would be a moot point. Yet if God is not subject to logic or math, then sin is still a moot point because God is not bound by the concepts of "if...then" or "B therefore C", rendering justice arbitrary.

Can a naturally all-good God create a "Bad"? How can He create something that is completely foreign to His nature? Why would an all-powerful God bind Himself by His own rules? If God created the good and the bad before choosing to embrace only the good, then God is not unchanging and was not always completely good.

General conclusion: God neither created the rules nor obeys rules that exist beyond Him. The rules exist with Him, perhaps as a part of Him, since existing only side-by-side but apart from God still entails that someone or something else is setting the standard. If the rules are a part of God's personality, then God Himself is the source of Logic and the Good, etc., in a fashion after Plato's Forms. God quite literally is Good and is Logic, though Logic and Good are not God. God would be essentially the living form of these concepts, from which everything else is taken and which holds all else together.

I'm not totally happy with this conclusion because it doesn't quite shut down the possibilities of evil being good or pi equaling 7. Suppose that these had randomly been the nature of God's personality. But then again, if God had said that evil was good, would we know any different? I suppose at some point there has to be a self-causing cause, and I don't know what that would be if not God Himself. It might be a little easier to cause yourself if you exist outside of time.

“Anything that happens happens, anything that in happening causes something else to happen causes something else to happen, and anything that in happening causes itself to happen again, happens again. Although not necessarily in chronological order." Douglas Adams

Friday, 13 August 2010

The Perils of Kids Ministry

This week was Performing Arts Camp at the church. I was the dance coach for the third year running. This afternoon, as I was socializing over tacos with some of the campers, one of the little girls, whom I shall refer to as E, suddenly bounced in her seat and swung an arm over to point at me.

"Aha!" she shouted, "You're in love with someone!"

"What?" I laughed.

She backtracked a bit. "Or something like that. You have a ring!"

At this point, little boy J joined the conversation. "Are you married?"

"No," I replied. "If I were married, my ring would be on my left hand. This was my grandma's wedding ring. I got it for my birthday." This is where the conversation really started to take on a life of its own.

"Is she dead?" inquired E.

"Yes,"
I said, "She died when my mom was small."

"Was it cancer?
" asked J.

"Yes,"
I said.

J looked down at his plate of taco mess. "I hope I don't get cancer. I don't want to die."

"I hope you don't, too,"
I agreed.

E shook her head. "You can't get cancer," she said to J. "You get cancer in your boobies."

"Um,"
I hemmed, "Actually, you can get cancer wherever..."

"You get it in your boobies,"
E reaffirmed.

J thought he'd clarify the situation. "Those are girls' private parts," he said.

"Ok,"
I said, "This isn't appropriate. New topic, guys."

"Boys have different private parts,"
E agreed with J.

"They're called 'nibbles',"
J informed her, "and they don't grow."

Ah, yes. The perils of trying to hold dinner conversation with seven-year-olds. Though it's interesting how J's first thought was dead = cancer, and E has clearly heard a lot about breast cancer. I guess cancer is so common now that a lot of kids are somehow affected by it...

On a happier note, I am now reigning champ of the PAC 2010 Air Hockey Tournament. :-D

Speaking of cute things kids say, here's Uncle Dale's daughter, Eden, when someone tried to give her cheddar cheese for her hot dog: "No! I want the plastic cheese!"

Friday, 6 August 2010

One of Those Days

I was at the Distress Centre on Thursday night, signing up for a shift over the weekend. I was rather surprised and a little confused to see that all of Saturday is split into just two shifts. One shift runs from 2:42 p.m. to 4:42 p.m. The other shift runs from 4:42 p.m. until 2:42 p.m the next day. I don't know about you, but a 22 hour shift, to me, seems to be a bit of an overkill.

While I was pondering the strange scheduling at the DC, a girl walked in. Apparently her boyfriend had signed her up for one of these 22 hour shifts, and she was not at all happy about it. She drew for him a picture of a tuxedo, which was somehow supposed to relay to him her emotions and expectations on the matter. I gave her a hug to help her feel better, but she found it awkward and stalked away.

It was probably better that she did, because my bed was in the room and it was past one in the morning. I really wanted to go to sleep because I work at 6:oo a.m. on Friday mornings, and have my bedside alarm clock set to go off at 4:45. When I had finally turned out the lights and brushed my teeth, I tucked myself into bed and gloried in the feeling of the cool sheets against my legs. I leaned down to put my head on the pillow and was just about to fall asleep when

BEEP! BEEP! BEEP!

Thus my alarm clock went off and I woke up. And I realized that I had just been dreaming of going to bed and sleeping. You know, there's nothing quite like dreaming about a long, monotonous day to sap you of your energy before you even start. I wasn't exactly full of pep come waking.

But now I want to know: if I HAD fallen asleep in my dream, would I have experienced a dream within a dream?

"Sometimes I've believed as many as six impossible things before breakfast." Lewis Carrol

Monday, 26 July 2010

Classical Conditioning

The first time I put on a headset at the Distress Centre, I knew my many hours at the Tim Horton's drive-thru were one day going to come back to haunt me. I didn't know when, and I didn't know how often, but I realized it was inevitable.

Today it happened.

My phone was ringing at the Distress Centre, startling me out of my reverie. Promptly, like a good volunteer, I picked up the call.

"Hey, there," I said, "Welcome to Ti- ah... I mean Distress Centre. What can I get for you? Uh, I mean do for you... uh, sorry about that... real sorry... uh, oh boy."

Luckily the caller appeared to just be waiting for a vocal cue to start speaking, and barely noticed my mangled greeting.

Now we wait to see when it is that I first start asking Timmy's customers how they feel today and if they're having any suicidal thoughts...

“Whatever you say, say it with conviction.” Mark Twain

Tuesday, 20 July 2010

Summer Pics

This summer hasn't been highly eventful, but I have collected a few good pictures. This first one is from Father's Day, when we all went out to Big Hill Springs provincial park.

I'm thinking of moving out, and Big Hill Springs has some nice stick hut thingies. Here I am contemplating purchasing one as my first apartment. The roof might be leaky, but with the current economic situation, I can't be too picky.


At least it has running water.


We went quadding at a small-group summer wrap-up barbeque. We didn't get muddy until we let the boys drive, but I guess mud is to quadding what scars are to battles...


This picture, ah... as an old friend once said, "Once it was suggested, it couldn't be avoided."

I took a girl from Switzerland to Stampede this year. We opted to watch the rodeo (a first for both of us) Here are the cowboys that made us swoon. Our favourite part of the rodeo was when, after completing their eight second ride, the cowboys had to get off their crazed animal. In order to do so, they would wait until another cowboy pulled his horse alongside, then they'd reach over and wrap their arms around his waist and let the other cowboy pull them to safety. There's something about rough and tough cowboys hugging each other that makes me feel happy inside.


Cowboys aren't the only performers at Stampede with an incredible amount of guts. The high divers were incredible.


This is Nadja, at what was probably the best interactive display ever at Stampede. She's feeling the "calf" inside the mommy cow, just like a vet would do. We liked this display more than the one that put a coop of cute, yellow baby chicks right next to a "From the Egg to the Plate" chart on chicken. There's just something wrong about that.

Speaking of the rodeo: "Nature gave us all something to fall back on, and sooner or later we all land flat on it." Anonymous

Sunday, 18 July 2010

Amor Nunca Falla

If God is love and lives in me, then why, when I hear about people being dishonest and corrupt, is my initial reaction to hate them?

Thank God for grace. I pray that He will give me the strength to extend that grace, and leave some for me in the meantime.

“Nothing that we despise in the other man is entirely absent from ourselves.” Dietrich Bonhoeffer

Monday, 28 June 2010

Oy Vey

I peeked into the sugar dispenser at work and found that it was about three coffees away from running empty. "Oy," I exclaimed and proceeded to refill it.

"Oy?" repeated my Filipino supervisor, Debbie. "You say 'oy'? We say 'oy' in the Philippines, too, but it means something different." She gave several examples of when a person speaking Tagalog may use 'oy'. To the best of my understanding, it's the approximate equivalent to the English "Oh!" during a light bulb moment.

At this point Soon broke into the conversation. "We use in Korea, too. In Korea, 'oy' mean 'cucumber'."

I found this fascinating. A Russian family friend has informed us that "oy" is the Russian way to say "ouch", and nearly 400 episodes of Naruto will tell you that the Japanese use "oy" to hail someone or catch their attention, as in "Oy, Naruto!"

My mom and I were also told by a Bible scholar that "oy" in Hebrew is a warning that you're going to be majorly punished if you don't smarten up. It's generally translated as "woe", as in "Woe to you, O Israel!" It's better than "hoy", though. "Hoy" in Hebrew is also translated as "woe", but actually means you're hosed, regardless of whether you smarten up or not. Essentially, "You're dead." As an aside, the freaky "Woe, woe, woe to the inhabitants of the earth," in Revelation 8:13 is "Hoy, hoy, hoy."

Hebrew and the Yiddish, "Oy vey," are pretty closely related. It translates to approximately, "Woe is me."

I wonder what "oy" means in other languages. If someone did a study on this, I'd read it.

There are really no good "oy" quotes of which I'm aware, so you get another taste of randomness today. Said my mother to me over lunch: "What?! How can anyone like the Bourne Identity but NOT like mangos?!"

Thursday, 24 June 2010

Bzap

I was the targeted victim of a cruel attack today. For the first time in my life, I was subjected to the inhumane violence of a thoughtless brute, still in his yellow-and-black-striped prison uniform. It was completely unforeseen and unprovoked.

There I was, lounging comfortably in a cushioned chair in the third floor office of my mentor at the DC. It was a cozy nook, with one wall comprised of windows to let the sunlight stream in. All the windows were entirely shut. The door to enter the office was also shut to allow for privacy during our interview. Naught was to be heard but our conversation.

I shifted in my seat and suddenly felt a tickling sensation on my right elbow. Believing that I had unwittingly brushed up against a frayed piece of fabric or something of the sort, I shifted position a second time. This only made the tickling become rather more painful. At this point in time, my sympathetic nervous system kicked in and I reflexively swung my left hand around to swipe away the problem from my elbow.

It sounded a little like a malfunctioning taser. Bzap. My attacker fell fluttering jerkily down to the ground between my seat and my mentor's. I twisted my arm around to see what damage he had inflicted to my elbow, not yet having processed the situation. What shock to face the unexpected termination of my oft-wondered-at 21 year streak of good fortune! Could it really be the case that after such a good record, this, perhaps my most important sensory organ, had finally been violated? Indeed, it was true.

He should have known - nobody smaller than my fist attacks Carla and lives. My mentor came valiantly to my rescue, grinding the assailant to the ground under her foot. Vengeance was served.

Unsure of whether or not I was allergic to the pollutants so kindly forced into my body by the executed criminal, my mentor found some ice and a tea towel with which for me to compress the wound, in hopes of slowing the spread of the poison. This I gladly took from her. She expressed her confusion over how on earth such a being could have resided in her office without her knowledge of his presence. After apologizing for the damage done to me on her watch, we settled back down and resumed our conversation.

And I did not go into anaphylactic shock.

"It's not the size of the dog in the fight, it's the size of the fight in the dog." Mark Twain

Tuesday, 22 June 2010

Good and Lucky

Today at Timmy's I announced that we would be playing a game of "Step on a crack; break your mother's back." Given that the floor there is tile, it seemed an amusing idea. What was even more particularly amusing was that the middle-aged women listened to me and even added a rule: if you step on a crack, you have to sing a song. Customers must have been rather confused.

But how does one go about playing a game like that when working in a fast-food restaurant? For one, you don't play during the rush hours. Second, you either have to be very lucky with where you step, or a very skilled stepper.

This relates to a question of some interest to the Heinrichs and Schroeder families, a question that has appeared in impromptu sermons and in oddly timed long-distance texting conversations. We ask you, "Is it better to be lucky or to be good?"

If you're good, you are better able to predict the outcome of whatever you are doing because you know what you are doing. You know you can do it. If you are lucky, then it's much more of a gamble. You don't know how anything is going to turn out. On the other hand, the uncertainty will spur you to plan for more eventualities and perhaps condition you to roll with the punches a little better. Then again, you might just be caught on your backside when the stats turn against you.

If you are good, you are more confident. You would have to be extremely lucky to be confident, and even then it's rather silly. Of course, that assumes there is such as thing as luck. Is saying you're confident in your own good luck really just a masked way of saying that you're confident you've been blessed? That you have faith God will get you through?

You certainly can't take credit for your own good luck, though you might be able to claim ownership of your skill level. Along the same track, if you run out of luck, that's not your fault, but if you claim to be good yet fail, then you have to shoulder the blame for that.

If you're good, just not quite good enough, then you're hosed, in which case you will still need to rely on luck. Does it make more sense to have a Plan A or a fallback? Can you become skilled without first being lucky enough to receive a high aptitude and the proper opportunities? Is it actually possible to make your own luck? Sun Tzu and Machiavelli think you can't, but if you're good enough, you can prepare yourself and survive through the bad luck. I guess that makes sense, but you can be as good as you stinkin' want - if you've got the worst luck, then you're only going to last so long against it before you burn out.

Luck is pretty well guaranteed to let you down from time to time, while being good is less capricious. Everyone has bad days, it seems, but perhaps then they're just not really as good as they thought? Yet it seems kinda of ridiculous to say you have to be perfect to be good. Talk about unreachable standards.

Naturally, it's best to be both good and lucky, but if forced to choose between the two... hmm...

I think I'd be lucky. There's so much less pressure that way. Plus, I think it's more honest to have faith in God than faith in yourself (not that luck is God, of course, but that somehow or other God controls luck). You can have luck without skill and make it out ok, but being skilled and unlucky won't get you anywhere. But however lucky I got, I'd hope I'd still be striving to get as good as I could...

Now here's another thought: which is more abundant? Skilled people or lucky people?

I wonder if Niccolo Machiavelli was married: "I conclude therefore that, fortune being changeful and mankind steadfast in their ways, so long as the two are in agreement men are successful, but unsuccessful when they fall out. For my part I consider that it is better to be adventurous than cautious, because fortune is a woman, and if you wish to keep her under it is necessary to beat and ill-use her; and it is seen that she allows herself to be mastered by the adventurous rather than by those who go to work more coldly. She is, therefore, always, woman-like, a lover of young men, because they are less cautious, more violent, and with more audacity command her."

"Most of the time, people who take credit for their own success are really just taking credit for their own good luck." Laura from the DC.

Thursday, 17 June 2010

All in a Name

I think I've been bitten by some kind of bug, because there's something about these characters that won't leave me alone. Therefore, I give you blurb number three.

Apparently Kieran and Austin have agreed on some form of action against the NeoSpartans that involves Kieran distracting a girl while Austin secretly does something. I actually feel a little bad for the girl in this scene, even if she is working for the bad guys. She can't be half bad herself...

*****

Kieran is about to raise his eyebrows at Austin, but discovers that Austin has already ducked out of sight. As casually as he can, Kieran slogs up to the desk, planting his hands firmly and lazily onto the counter.

I need a print-out of my records,” he tells the pretty blonde-haired girl behind the counter as he takes note of the exact time.

Ok,” she replies. “Do you have any ID with you?”

No, I left my wallet at home.”

At home?... Alright,” the girl replies, “but I'll have to get your password and ID number and signature to compare to the information on record. Although,” she glances at him, “with the bill revision next month, that option is being done away with. Starting on the first, we'll need to see three pieces of government issue picture ID before you can access any of your records.”

Oh.”

It'll improve personal security and privacy,” she explains. “Your name?”

Kieran Paupanekis,” he says, instantly regretting giving the girl that information. So much for Cree boys not leaving a trail.

How do you spell that?” she asks.

Kieran,” he says amicably. “Like a double E Keegan, but with an I instead of the first E, and an R instead of the G. So it's not really a double E, then, and none of the C-I-A-R-A-N stuff. I'm not Gaelic.”

K-E-I-R-A-N?” the girl double-checks.

I'm sorry?” he says.

Did you say K-E-I-R-A-N?”

No, no, no,” he tsks. “That's like the female Keira with an N on the end. I'm male. But even if I weren't, it's supposed to be I before E, except after C, remember?” He's quite proud of himself for remembering that rhyme, even if half the time it wasn't true. His mom taught it to him.

Oh,” the girl says, clearly a little flustered. “Then K-I-E-R-A-N?”

I think so,” he says. “Did you spell it like 'pier' with a K, then add A-N?”

'Pier' as in 'dock' or as in looking at something?”

As in a scrutinizing gaze,” Kieran says, staring into her eyes.

No,” the girl replies. “I spelled it with an I. So it's K-E-E-R-A-N?”

No, it is with an I.”

I said with an I.”

You spelled it with two E's.”

After you told me it was peer as in gaze!” The girl is obviously getting frustrated now.

No, peer as in gaze is wrong! It's pier as in dock, wharf, jetty. But with a K and without a P. Plus the A-N.”

Ok, so K as in kitten, I as in iguana, E as in envelope, N as in noon, R as in ridiculous, A as in -”

Anaphylactic fit?” Kieran offers.

A as in anaphylactic fit,” the girl repeats, “and N as in nincompoop.”

Hang on,” Kieran says. He pauses, looks up, and waves his finger around in the air a bit as if he's writing his name on an invisible canvas.

The girl raises her eyebrows.

Yes,” he finally states. “Yes, that is correct. K-I-E-R-A-N.” Wow. If the police ever ask this girl what his name is, there won't be any chance she'll get it wrong, now.

Awesome,” the girl says, trying to remain friendly. She's well trained and very patient. “And your last name?”

Kieran suppresses a smirk. “Paupanekis.” He could almost swear that the girl just paled.

Perhaps you should write it down for me,” the girl says with a smile.

Good idea,” he replies, taking the pen and paper the girl hands him. He writes in cursive, making each vowel indistinguishable, with the exception of the I, of course, which he does not dot. Sloppy writing is an art form, he decides. Even chickens couldn't scratch this mess.

She takes the paper and furrows her brow a little as she reads it. Taking her best guess, she plunks something into the computer.

Is that two A's there?” she asks about the A-U.

There are two A's, but not in a row,” says Kieran. “Do you know any English words that have two A's in a row?”

But your name isn't English, is it?” the girl retorts.

Yet it does use English letters.”

As do Kierkegaard and Haagen Dazs, and they both have double A's.”

Well, I'm not Scandinavian, either.”

I don't care what you are, just tell me how to spell your name!” the girl finally snaps. “P, then what?”

I wrote it for you!”

Well, I can't read it!”

Kieran begins to feel badly for her. He'll have to find some way to make it up to her later. “P,” he says.

P,” the girl repeats.

A,” he says.

A,” she repeats.

U.”

U.”

Yes, it sounds like Pieu from Pepe Le Pieu when you spell it out letter by letter.”

But it's not spelled like Pepe Le Pieu.”

No, just sounds like it.”

P-A-U, then what?” the girl prompts coldly.

Another P. It's like the Papua from Papua New Guinea if you added a P and spelled it back-”

Shut it,” the girl says. “P-A-U-P...”

Yes.”

She sighs. “Then what?”

Paupanekis. P-A-U, then P-A-N.”

As in pot.”

No, as in nincompoop, to use your word.”

Yes!” she exclaims. “You spell pan with an N at the end. But pan is also a word, like a shallow pot!”

Oh, that kind of pot,” says Kieran. “I didn't make the connection.”

Hardly surprising,” mutters the girl.

What's that supposed to mean?” Kieran says.

Nothing,” the girl chimes, eeking false friendliness. “P-A-U, P-A-N... sounds musical.”

Hey, yeah,” he agrees with her, “musical. I like musicals. Your voice is musical, too.”

The sound of me screeching is not.”

Kieran flashes her his most charming grin. “Ok, then. So we've got to the N. Next is an E.”

E.”

E.”

E.”

Then spell kiss, but subtract the last S.”

Ok.”

He smiles flirtatiously at her.

Pervert,” she mutters.

That's it,” he says.

P-A-U-P-A-N-E-E-K-I-S,” she repeats.

No,” he says, evoking a growl and a subdued spasm from the pretty secretary. “No,” he repeats, “there's only one E. Where'd you get the second one from?”

You said E twice.”

I was agreeing with you. You sounded like you needed reassurance that you were doing it right.”

I don't need reassurance, I need you to spell your name!”

Fine! Spell it again, and I'll tell you if it's right.”

P-A-U-P-A-N-E-K-I-S,” she spouts, almost faster than Kieran can himself. This will definitely not be good if the police are to be asking about him.

Yes,” he says. “That is correct. You see, I knew you could do it.”

You don't have any records to be printed,” she reports, giving him a glare so dark that he thinks it will surely bring a few noble bystanders to her aid.

I don't?” he says. “I'm sure I do. This is the NeoSpartan Alberta Registry, isn't it?”

Yes,” she says.

Maybe I'm still listed under my father's name,” he says. “Can you look up my father's name?”

You can't access your father's information unless he fills out the forms necessary to give you permission.”

Kieran shrugs. “I don't want to access my father's information. I want to access mine.”

You can't access your information if it's locked in with your father's.”

But everyone in the government and the military can look at my information. Why can't I? I have a right to my documentation.”

No,” the girl says.

'No', you're agreeing with me, or 'no', you're denying me?”

I'm denying you,” she says, all traces of patience gone.

Kieran glances at his watch... it's tight...

But,”

No,” she repeats.

If I get my dad on my cell, and he gives you his password, can I look at my information then?”

What does 'hasn't filled out the forms' mean to you? And how can I check his signature if all I've got is a telephone call?” Her voice is shrill.

We've got camera phones. We can send you a picture.”

Are you insane?” the girl says, pushing herself away from the computer. “The answer is no!”

You're saying no, I'm not insane, or no, we can't send you a picture?”

Goodbye!” she shrieks, standing up and waving her arms. “Next! Please!”

Austin has been quick and is standing across the room, so Kieran shrugs and walks away. He is seriously going to have to do something sweet for that girl. He feels positively nasty.

Well?” he says as he approaches Austin.

Very well,” says Austin. “Let's split.”

*****

I gotta say, Kieran is spelling trouble for himself later on...

“I don't care what you say about me. Just be sure to spell my name wrong.” Barbra Streisand

Monday, 14 June 2010

Pain and Pacifism

You may already know that I can be somewhat obsessive at times. My latest guilty pleasure has been the Japanese anime series, Naruto. The number of episodes is currently sitting at 384, plus 6 movies, all of which I viewed in less than four months. My Firefox persona is currently a dark and brooding drawing of Kakashi's eyes, sharingan uncovered. Oh, yes. Definitely a tad obsessive.

It took me longer to read through Shane Claiborne's The Irresistible Revolution. My sister just wrote a blog post on his book, but it's a potent enough piece of work that I feel the need to comment on it, as well. It's difficult to ignore what he has to say.

Claiborne is very anti-violence (or, as he prefers, very pro-love). I don't know if his pacifism is of the extreme type that would prohibit him from attacking a guy who is trying to rape a girl, but I feel fairly confident to say that he would at least exhaust every creative idea to distract and confuse the would-be rapist before he would resort to any sort of violence against the guy to help the girl. He visited Iraq in the heat of the war to spread God's love and and protest the war.

I don't feel, at least at this point, that I can label myself a pacifist and honestly mean it, but he makes strong points against war and capital punishment. At one point he talks a bit about Timothy McVeigh, who was responsible for the Oklahoma bombing incident. He claims that McVeigh had set out to kill those people because he wanted to show people in America what they were doing to people in Iraq. His hope was that everyone would come to understand the pain and grief that they were causing and that they would repent of it and become advocates of nonviolence. Whether or not this is entirely accurate hardly matters. It's a really interesting idea.

I found it particularly thought-provoking because the current story arc in Naruto (I'll admit to reading ahead a bit in the manga) deals with pretty much the same idea. The current antagonist is named Nagato, but goes by the alias of "Pain". I suspect the meaning of his alias is intentional, though probably a little more hidden to people who speak only Japanese and not English.

Naruto is a ninja in a town with an economy kept afloat almost entirely by the mercenary activity that Naruto and his comrades engage in. Just to be clear, Naruto is the protagonist. His only desire is to protect his friends and become the ninja leader. As far as we can tell, this ninja town accepts mainly "ethical" mercenary assignments, like being bodyguards and rescuing cats. I say "mainly" rather than "only" because there's also an ANBU black-ops division in the town that will sometimes perform assassinations and other, well, black-ops. Naruto's sensei, Kakashi, used to be a member of ANBU. But that's beside the point.

The point is that Nagato, aka Pain, has lost a lot due to violence and he blames the ninja villages for the considerable bloodshed and pain that he has had to undergo. He attacks Naruto's town and razes it to the ground, killing large numbers of ninjas and civilians both. Yet all the while, he claims that he is an advocate for peace. It turns out that Nagato believes that only if everybody comes to feel as much pain as he has will they come to understand and deplore violence. Only then will there be peace.

Naruto just gives him the raised eyebrow and screams "WHERE'S THE PEACE IN THIS??!!", referring, of course, to the massive body count, and then proceeds to attack Pain, intent on bringing his killing spree to an end.

Who would have thunk this show actually has a large comedic element to it?

I don't want to say that the situations surrounding Nagato and McVeigh are the same because Nagato is a cartoon and McVeigh and his victims were real people with real lives. The motives and ideologies, however, are spookily similar, though I suspect that Naruto is much more honest and well-intentioned than any government.

So in these cases, who's the more peace loving? The government/military, or the terrorist? Who's the better role model? Maybe both are hopelessly deluded. Whatever other thoughts McVeigh and Nagato provoke, it drives home two points: First, people don't respond to violence with peace. They respond with more violence. Second, this is really, incredibly sad.

Shane Claiborne on McVeigh: "The government that had trained him to kill, killed him, to teach the rest of us that it is wrong to kill. Dear God, liberate us from the logic of redemptive violence."

Tuesday, 8 June 2010

She-Woman Chronicles

She-woman accidentally ripped the handle off the kitchen faucet this weekend.

She also made up clapping games with three international middle-aged women in her corner of the gas station. Two Koreans, a Nepali, and one young white chick were giggling like all get-out, pretending they were in a schoolyard somewhere while they were actually at work.

This is She-woman falling in love with Prince Arthur.

It seems that many of her friends are getting married shortly. They're all 21 or younger. Who said that the average age for a person's first marriage is getting higher?

She-woman's parents got home from their 25th wedding anniversary vacation. She's very happy that they've been married for 25 years and are still going strong. Except that means that they also got married very young. She-woman is certainly the odd one out. Oh, well. Good thing she likes that.

She-woman had her first high-risk call at the Distress Centre yesterday. And also got quite good at identifying inappropriate calls. Her spidey sense is well honed.

This is She-woman facing off against a dragon.

Street Church called out to She-woman, and so she attended for the first time this Sunday. It was very interesting. She is now preoccupied trying to think of ways to help new homeless friend Shylar get a job. She has experience with receptionist type work. Anybody need a new employee?

The final 4C was this Sunday. She-woman ate too many gummy bears with her ice-cream and then lost at the Foot Game. She will very much miss Shelly, one of her "peeps", but hopes that Shawn, at least, will be back next year.

She-woman is signing off until next time.

"Sometimes I've believed as many as six impossible things before breakfast." Lewis Carrol

Monday, 7 June 2010

Joyful Noise... I Hope

I can't help but wonder how Miles McPherson felt when the YC staffers told him that he wouldn't be able to deliver his final talk because they were running late. I mean, I can understand that the kids at YC, given an either/or choice between the two, would have picked to watch Skillet than listen to McPherson again, but did the organizers ever goof with the logistics planning. Not only were the security measures almost completely ineffective, but they were incredibly time-consuming. Whoever thought it was a good idea to have two doors open to feed over 16,000 people into a stadium on the final night should definitely be removed from the planning committee next year.

As for Skillet itself, they put on an awesome concert. To me, most groups in concert sound the same - "Crash crash squeal crash word crash squeal". Skillet was great because you could actually hear the tunes and each individual instrument instead of a cacophony. Plus, they had a violin and a cello, which is highly unusual, it would seem. But the little bit that their head musician said gave me the impression that he was somewhat arrogant, which made me sad. Apparently he and his wife were going to a Subway and a kid from YC recognized them.

Kid: Hey, are you Skillet?

Cooper: No, I'm TobyMac.

Maybe it actually was funny and just came across as arrogant in the retelling, but in any case it didn't give a good impression.

This leads to the question - is it possible to have a Christian music band that actually manages to stay focused on their purpose rather than their popularity?

I've never been on a popular band, so I really couldn't say, but it's definitely got to be really hard. A friend who has been part of a Christian music group said that the competitive comparison game surrounding the industry eventually made him feel so sick he had to leave. On the other hand, I know people from another group that is currently on tour, and they're all extremely nice and appear to be focused on the ministry, not the luster. Last I heard, they didn't mind sleeping all night on the floor of the recording studio to save a few bucks. Here's hoping they don't lose that to the razzle-dazzle of lights.

"I'm only here on Earth to serve God. I never had a career. I don't care about commercialism. I have a ministry and I'll fight for the ministry." Larry Norman

Monday, 31 May 2010

YC Weekend

This was certainly an interesting weekend. I went up as a leader with my church's youth group to YC in Edmonton and didn't shower or wash my hair the entire time (though the rain and snow did manage to make me feel a bit drowned rat like from time to time). I consider it a success, as my sister only noticed an intriguing "food-like" smell emanating from my brother and me when she came to pick us up upon our return.

There are many things I could tell you, but most of them you would probably not find interesting. I got lost only twice (on the first evening) and missed supper only once (not my fault). I learned to slice tomatoes on a moving bus, which actually wasn't too hard, but which I am inordinately proud of managing. Nothing too extraordinary happened, but it's blog worthy regardless.

Favourite moments:

1. Glancing around the group and seeing that almost everyone in our group, excepting my little brother and me, had purchased some sort of stadium concession item or band memorabilia. Then my brother caught my eye and pointed out that very same observation. I consider this evidence of the successful endowment of (wise) Mennonite frugality into my brother and me by our parents. It was an odd brother/sister moment that made me smile.

2. Being crushed in a mosh pit. Actually, moshing isn't allowed at YC, but the authorities didn't organize proper line-ups for people wanting to see the Panic Squad, which resulted in pretty much the same thing. One guy even went crowd surfing, though he was carried away from the doors rather than towards them, so he probably regretted doing it. Given the size of the crowd, I had figured there wasn't much chance we'd get in, but my brother spotted an empty space closer to the door, so we forged ahead, to eventually be joined by my brother's friend Caleb. Need I describe the experience once the doors finally opened? As it was, I was contemplating bracing my back against the people behind me and propelling Caleb forward with my feet, as Panic Squad was the only thing at YC that he was really wanting to see, but all three of us managed to make it in, and even to get pretty good spots. Well played, we congratulated ourselves, even though it left me pondering the insanity of fan behaviour and exactly what I had just been a part of.

video

There's actually a whole lot that was neat about the weekend. I enjoyed interacting with the members of the youth group and getting to better know my co-leaders. I also managed to meet up with a friend of mine from university, which was cool because I probably won't see her again all summer.

But now that I've dealt with some of the fun stuff, I still want to discuss the speakers. I think I'll discuss the musicians on a later date.

Not that I claim to be absolutely correct on everything, but I did not like the first speaker, Preston Centuolo. Well, that's not true. He struck me as quite funny and a genuinely nice guy, and I respect his testimony. It's just that I think what he was saying kinda... well... stank. It was misleading and misrepresented Christ.

His main theme was that, "Everybody has issues. God will deal with your issues." Now this is very true with a certain understanding of "issues". We are selfish. God helps us deal with our selfishness. Lonely? God is with us. Upset or grieving? God comforts us. However, as far as I can gather, this is not what the speaker meant by "issues". His text was the story of the bleeding woman who touched Jesus's cloak and was healed. That is: sick --> Jesus --> healed. Not sick --> Jesus --> content.

Christ can heal, there's nothing wrong with that. The second speaker Nick Vujicic brought this up. Despite having no arms and no legs, he has a pair of shoes in his closet just in case God decides to perform a miracle on him. But just because Christ can heal doesn't mean He will. And we can trust and serve God regardless, because, as the third speaker Miles McPherson said, the main thing is that in the end, we win. Maybe we never get our arms or legs. Maybe our families never get back together and people we love die. Maybe even something as insignificant as our acne doesn't suddenly clear up. But that's not the point. We can forgive members of a dysfunctional family. We can carry on despite the deaths and be confident even with an ugly face.

Perhaps what irked me most about Centuolo's message was the botched altar call. He basically asked for everyone who had never before asked God to deal with their issues to stand up. Some people had the courage to do so. He then said something along the lines of, "Welcome to the Kingdom, say this after me and your life will never be the same." I'm not sure how, "If you've never done this," and, "If you want to do this," mean the same thing, but even pretending it does fails to deal with the rather large "issue" that when the lives of these people don't quickly turn all hunky-dory, they're going to come away disenchanted with and more skeptical about this whole Jesus Christ thing. And even if they don't, it's hardly been a repentant conversion. It's all about wanting life to be easier and happier, and not at all about being repentant for evil and wanting to serve God.

Implying that Christ is the cure-all solution to make your problems go away is turning God into a cosmic vending machine. This is the health-and-wealth prosperity gospel. As attractive as it may be, it is utterly untrue. God promises suffering to His followers. There was a session I attended on the situation in Burundi, Africa. The suffering there is incredible, and so is the faith of the Christians. I doubt they would even recognize the health-and-wealth gospel as Christian.

According to McPherson, we need to turn pain into power. The way to deal with pain is to decide that you don't want anything but what God wants for you, to realize that those who are persecuted in His name are blessed. We need to understand that pain teaches us what to stay away from and propels us towards God. It's really true that nothing can snatch us away from God and we can recognize that when we are suffering, it's an awesome ministry opportunity.

McPherson and Vujicic both said a lot of great things. I could share quotes until you fall asleep, but the main idea behind what both of them were saying was that it's more important to be holy than happy, and that really, you can be content even when you're suffering. I guess it's good that they came after Centuolo and in a way countered most of what he said.

I've heard so much about how Christ is the answer to everything. The more I hear this, the less I think it's true. Maybe Christ isn't the answer. It seems a whole lot more accurate to say that Christ is the question, and how you respond to Him is the answer.

"God can use a man without arms and legs to be His hands and feet." Nick Vujicic

And because I'm thinking about the Distress Centre a fair bit:

[about when he was ten years old and trying to commit suicide because he felt he was a burden to his parents]

"The first two times I thought I was trying to do a good thing. The third time I realized that the only thing worse than having a son with no arms and no legs is having having a son with no arms and no legs who kills himself." Nick Vujicic

Saturday, 15 May 2010

The Crisis Worker

I feel like I'm finally starting something important. They just gave me my card key to the Distress Centre and I finished off the volunteer training this afternoon!! (Well, part A, at least) Yay! Now, on to the supervision shifts. This is pretty EXCITING! In short order I shall be conversing with lonely, suicidal, grieving, anxious, or otherwise crisis-stricken - but still perfectly capable - people. And also with inappropriate jerks that call with... other... intentions. We're told to just hang up on them.

I feel so professional. I have status in an office building downtown. (Did I mention I have a key?) My name is on the list of volunteers. I can park FOR FREE, but only after the supervision shifts have been completed. And I can even play a part in breaking confidentiality and notifying the police when something really serious comes up! Actually, this feeling of surging power is very satisfying, which is a good indicator that nobody should ever allow me unrestricted political authority over other people or else I will probably turn into a horrible, evil, cackling dictator of some sort.

But I am not a dictator. I am a volunteer worker at a crisis centre. And in training, the bosses told us something really special. Human suffering is sacred ground. As frustrating as the work may get, it is an incredible honour and a privilege to be allowed to enter into somebody else's suffering. For some callers, we may well be the only people they ever confide a problem to. And some callers with behavioural problems have no friends, are mostly abandoned by their families, and are barely tolerated by those who are paid to help them. We may be the only UNpaid people that will interact with them. We are the lifeline for some people and they call every day for seventeen years because we are the only ones that listen. What a place to be! A place for incredible gratitude and great respect.

Here's hoping I can do this role and these people justice. Please pray for me.

Let's go with some good old Dietrich Bonhoeffer:

“We must learn to regard people less in light of what they do or omit to do, and more in the light of what they suffer.”

Saturday, 8 May 2010

Deus ex Machina

Science does, in a sense, disprove God. At least, that is to say, it is fast on its way to disproving God as deus ex machina. I was sitting there, grumbling to myself that so many people are absolutely convinced that Evolution disproves God. Even if we make the assumption that Evolution is the case, it doesn't write God out of the picture. All it does is move Him a step backward, from Creator of life forms to Creator of the process that produces life forms. But that's the deal, I realized. That's the issue. It doesn't take God out of the the picture, but it takes God a bit further away from us.

Now, science has a way of opening up twenty new questions for every one question it answers (or so I've been told - I'm not a great scientist myself). I kinda scratch my head at the claim that science will soon solve all our problems because it seems that we keep running into more problems - it's just that they're a bit further removed from us. These unanswered questions are prime places to insert God as an answer. However, when any of these new questions are answered with anything other than God, it makes people skeptical that God is the right answer to the other unanswered questions, scientific or not. And it keeps God on the continual retreat, even if it will never actually extinguish God.

There was a "Does God Exist" debate at the university this last semester. One of the main arguments of the pro-God debater was that you need an initial Creator. The universe couldn't just spontaneously have begun to exist. We need a First Cause, because out of nothing, nothing comes. I agree with this (and because it's more of a philosophical statement than a scientific one, it seems that science is going to be a long time trying to counter it). But look at where it puts God! How much further can God get from the lives of people today? Is God still active? Is God still personal? Can God still intervene in the lives of people? Not necessarily, like it was necessary before science started God on the retreat.

But all this is God as deus ex machina, as an explanation for things we don't know. Isn't God more than that? God is our Saviour, our King, our Father. God is the alpha and the beginning, but the omega and the end, too! God is a whole lot more than a catch-all answer for what we don't know.

"He is before all things, and in Him all things hold together. He is also head of the body, the church; and He is the beginning, the first-born from the dead, so that He Himself will come to have first place in everything." Colossians 1:17-18, NASB

God is the head - the part that controls the rest. The Overseer. And God is probably a whole lot more interested in how we live now than in how we think the ape-men lived two million years ago, and in the place and role we give God now than in where we slot Him at the dawn of time. Whenever I'm on the C-train, I pass a sign that says "Christ is the Answer", and I'm always inclined to think "Answer to what?" Maybe it's time we start figuring out how to make God our Lord, rather than our Answer.

As a bit of a disclaimer, I know that science can be wrong about a lot of things. I'm not saying that it's not. However, whether science is or isn't correct most of the time is mostly a moot point. All that matters is that it is now it's more appropriate to explain that the sky is blue because air particles scatter more high frequency than low frequency electromagnetic radiation than it is to say that the sky is blue because God made it that way. What matters is the perception that God has been explained away.

So, when someone comes and implies that science is the new God, we can understand that they do not have an all-enveloping idea of God. If it bothers us that science has forced our deus ex machina to take another step back, it is because we have put God in a box. And we all know that putting God in a box is very bad idea...

“God is beyond in the midst of our life. The church stands not at the boundaries where human powers give out, but in the middle of the village.” Dietrich Bonhoeffer

Wednesday, 5 May 2010

Of Appellation

Name nerds generally end up disappointed, I presume, because even if they find themselves married with twenty kids, they're still going to have two hundred or so more names that they want to use. This is the boat I find myself in. So either each of my kids is going to have thirty-five middle names, or I'm going to have to adopt an orphanage.

In anticipation of this, I have decided to begin choosing names now and then let the children draw their name out of a hat during the renaming ceremony whenever the paperwork for the orphanage goes through. To start off:

Girls: Addison, Petra, Francesca, Ilona, Gardenia, Lucretia, Genesis, Angelika, Scout, Saxon, Aquinna, Bianca, Calista, Aspen, Bo, Cilla, Colette, Evangeline, Indigo, Lorelei, Lute, Moira, Ophelia, Lark, Leora, Phoenix, Salome, Ruthie, Seren, Emmanuelle, Sibylla, Lynette, Tiannin, Verity, Seraphina

Boys: Bronte, Everett, Chandler, Elijah, Nigel, Ephraim, Gideon, Flynn, Garrett, Ira, Faber, Jude, Landon, August, Rory, Ashton, Blaine, Leon, Malachi, Quaid, Troy, Cohen, Tristan, Glenn, Heron, Tommy, Zachary, Colby, Zephyrin, Manasseh, Shay, Corin, Griffin, Ezekiel, Morgan, Raphael

For those of you who are wondering, Enoch is not on this list because my child is already going to have that name, thereby rending it on the "already used" list. If anybody wants to be renamed, just drop me a line and I'll pick out something specially for you!


“Names are not always what they seem. The common Welsh name BZJXXLLWCP is pronounced Jackson." Mark Twain

P.S. I've always wanted to have an alias. Now that I'm volunteering at the Distress Centre, I do! The name is influenced by Arthurian legend, but I had to cut off the final "ette" so that it didn't seem out of place in an unimaginative society.

Monday, 3 May 2010

Christians and Christ-Followers

I was asked a question recently about whether a professed Christian who habitually acts very unChristian would be considered a Christian by other Christians. The answer to this question is not simple, because it can be interpreted in two ways. Are we asking whether habitually nasty people can be Christians, or whether habitually nasty people can be active disciples of Christ? The two questions are not equivalent, at least not in today's culture.

Increasingly, particularly with my generation and younger, the response to this question has become, "Well, what do you mean by Christian?" which essentially translates into, "I won't argue with you one way or the other over whether you're a Christian, but whether or not you're a 'Christian' is a moot point where it concerns salvation."

When the term first originated in Acts 11:26, "Christian" pertained to disciples of Christ. Over the years, it's definition has been so pushed and pulled and reshaped and overextended, misapplied, flung in the mud and generally abused that it means either nothing or anything (take your pick). As a smattering of the different definitions, Christian can mean "Protestant", "someone with good morals", "someone who adheres exactly to the ____ creed", "fundamentalist bigot", "conservative", "official member of a church", "of white European descent", "influenced by Catholic missionaries at some point", etc. etc. Pretty much anyone in the world could claim to be a Christian and could honestly mean it.

This leads us to a fairly recent phenomenon that I have noticed, thanks to Facebook. Many people who are honestly striving to be disciples of Christ don't call themselves Christians anymore. Whether this is to avoid confusion and negative stereotypes or merely a rebellion against labels of any type, time will tell, but I suspect it is the former. Take a look at people's Facebook religious views. I see things like "Christ follower", "JESUS!!", "Christ is life... the rest are details", "How great is our God", and other similar things. That's not to say that every believer is disenvowing the term "Christian", but certainly a growing number of people are.

I have a friend who is a very strong, active believer who will not identify herself as a Christian even if asked about it point blank. This isn't because she's ashamed of what she believes, but because using the term Christian just begs for misinterpretation. In fact, just as I was writing this, I noticed how I fell back to the term "Believer" to describe her, because even in Christian circles "Christian" can mean so much or so little. Even I get skittish when asked whether I'm a Christian or not. It's much preferable to just describe what I believe.

So yes. A Christian can behave however they darn well want. Being Christian means whatever you want it to. If you say you're a Christian, who are we to say you're not?

However, if we reword the question to ask whether or not other disciples of Christ would affirm the salvation of a supposed but generally nasty "believer", well then that's a different question. Some people are more generous than others. The answer would largely depend on denomination (eternal security or no?), the severity of the crimes, and whether the unChristian shows remorse or not. Many people would say that Fred Phelps is not Christian at all, while the average druggie is just questionably saved. The most widely accepted response to such a situation runs something along the lines of "God is the judge of the state of their soul, not me, but I'm concerned and question his salvation." It is non-committal, neither approving of the person in question nor completely writing them off. It's a problem we're bound to run into with a system that propounds a relationship rather than regulations - how are we supposed to judge someone's relationship with God?

Now that I've written this all, I realize it's very similar to a post I wrote three years ago. Oh, well. Can't hurt to notice something more than once.

At any rate, I identify myself as a disciple of Christ (albeit not necessarily a very good one) and I really wish that Fred Phelps and his ilk would stop giving Christians a bad name. Though I suppose that before I go fling mud at him for staining "Christian", I should make sure I'm not ruining the phrase "disciple of Christ" myself...

“If Christ were here now there is one thing he would not be - a Christian.” Mark Twain

Monday, 26 April 2010

Location of Accountability

Enter N!xau, a member of the !Kung San bushmen of the Kalahari desert. He wears nothing at all but what might be termed a "mini-apron" around his waist and he speaks not a word of English. He was raised as a nomadic hunter-gatherer, but his tribe's way of life is changing because it's hard to be a hunter-gatherer in today's society, Kalahari desert or not.

He has never heard the Gospel and the only Christian influence on his culture was from a few missionaries decades ago. Thanks to them, a healing spirit named Jessu Kriste has joined the list of the many demi-gods, along with an evil devil-like figure.

Naturally, N!xau does not claim to be a Christian, by any definition. Let's ignore for a moment the debate on whether African bushmen can find salvation without knowledge of the Gospel and a relationship with Jesus Christ. That's not really what this post is about.

Now let's zoom halfway around the world and take a look at Jenny Smith who lives in a city somewhere in the prairie region of North America. During summer days, she doesn't wear much, but she still wears more than most San bushmen do. She speaks very good English and even understands some words and phrases from both Latin and Leet. She is still in school, living with her boyfriend, and intends to become a teacher when she graduates.

Jenny knows that her culture has a strong Christian heritage, but isn't really sure what the word "Christian" means. She's heard the song "Amazing Grace" many times and thinks it's very beautiful, especially when played by bagpipes. She's heard the story of Noah and the Ark and also of David and Goliath, but she couldn't tell you who Paul was or how many disciples Jesus had. She rides her bike past a United Church on her way to school and has even listened to her grandmother talk about the masses she attends at the Catholic chapel down the way. She's been inside several churches for weddings and funerals and once for a piano recital. She's seen televangelists a few times, and listened to people defend Creationism in a university debate. Once she was even stopped by a street preacher who shared with her the entire Gospel.

Jenny claims to be non-religious, though not necessarily atheistic. She believes that Christianity has done a lot of harm in some cases - just look at the Crusades and the intolerance - and some good in others - Mother Teresa was Christian, right? Jenny knows she's not perfect, but she's trying her best. The street preacher said some interesting things, but she's heard so many goofy ideas from Christians and seen so many hypocrites before that she's not exactly convinced of the man's reliability.

So here are the questions: Is Jenny truly in a different boat from N!xau? Can she be held any more accountable than N!xau for not converting to Christianity? Is there something magical about hearing the words of the Gospel that once exposed to them, they must be accepted, regardless of personal circumstance, or else? Is failing to understand the Gospel the same crime as rejecting the Gospel, or is it more akin to never hearing it to begin with? Is the presence of a church in her neighbourhood enough to make her responsible for not coming to Christ, especially when she has seen that churches make many mistakes and can be forces for manipulation?

Most people I know would say that N!xau's non-belief is not his own fault. But what about Jenny's? Could it be possible that she's actually in a situation quite similar to N!xau's, in that she has not really been shown good reason to accept Christ, even if she's one of the lucky ones that has run into an evangelistic preacher from time to time?

Basically, is Jenny just an urban bushman with white skin?

It's a question I've been pondering lately. I'm not entirely convinced that non-belief entails a rejection of Christ. Perhaps all it entails is a rejection of Western Christianity.

If this is the case, what does that mean, and what's to be done about it?

“The Pauline question whether circumcision is a condition of justification seems to me in present day terms to be whether religion is a condition of salvation.” Dietrich Bonhoeffer

"We do know that no man can be saved except through Christ; we do not know that only those who know Him can be saved through Him." C. S. Lewis

Tuesday, 20 April 2010

Six Links: Famous People

You have probably heard of this "Six Degrees of Separation" thing before - the idea that any person on the planet knows someone who knows someone who knows someone etc. who knows any given person on the planet. Not that there's someone who knows everyone, but the social network on planet earth today is so web-like that you should be connected to any particular person within about six degrees of separation. I have learned how seemingly true this actually is. Yours truly is linked to Orlando Bloom and Queen Elizabeth II in less than six links.

The Wanderer --> 1. Friend Julie --> 2. Friend of Julie's --> 3. Princesses Beatrice and Eugenie --> 4. Queen Elizabeth II

The Wanderer --> 1. Sister Brianna --> 2. Friend in youth group --> 3. Babysitter (Evangeline Lilly) --> 4. Boyfriend (Dominic Monaghan) --> 5. Orlando Bloom

Not that it matters, but I wonder who else I might be linked to. A full scale research effort, however, would first require a better definition of what it means to "know" someone. In the cases above, though, I'm pretty sure there wouldn't be any debate (at least for now - who knows, in ten years maybe some of these relationships will be dissolved and dubious). There's a man in my church that I suspect could link me to half of Calgary, and a professor that could link me to the Canadian political scene... hmm...

Just thought I'd post this because it makes me feel special and important - not that I greatly respect Hollywood or the institution of royalty, of course.

“Friendship is unnecessary, like philosophy, like art, like the universe itself (for God did not need to create). It has no survival value; rather it is one of those things which give value to survival.” C. S. Lewis

Friday, 16 April 2010

Rattle Bing Bang

I tried something new today. I called 911. The story follows:

Madeleine, a good friend of mine, called me up today, wanting to know if I was game to take a spin on our bicycles. "Sure," I said, "It's gorgeous outside."

"I know," Madeleine replied, "My husband wants me to take a nap, but I want to go for a bike ride."

"Huh?" I said.

"I'll meet you in 15 minutes," said Maddie.

"Ok," said I.

After fighting with the combination lock on the shed wherein our bikes are stored and deciding to use the bike that did not have a tire so flat I could squeeze it with two fingers, I threw on my runners. "When do you need to be back by?" I asked Madeleine.

"Let's go for an hour," she said.

"Do you have a watch or something to keep track of the time with?" I asked.

"No," she said.

"Then I'll grab my cell," I said, running up the stairs to grab my phone, and tracking mud on the carpet all the way there. Oh yeah - forgot that the last place I wore these shoes was the cousins' farm...

And so began our trek through the wild woods of Calgary. Everything started out fine. We chatted about nothing terribly important in the way that is so crucial for proper female bonding. I let Madeleine lead the way through the winding bike paths because my sense of direction and navigation is zip.

Eventually we came to a sign that said something along the lines of "Steep Hill: Cyclists Dismount" Not wishing to tempt fate or be those goofy people everyone laughs so hard at for ignoring signs and then getting seriously maimed for it, we obediently swung off our bikes and proceeded to walk them down the hill. A/N: Pay attention to this next part - it's foreshadowing.

"Boy," said Madeleine, "It's a good thing we're walking down this part. Had we tried to ride down here, I would have shot off the end of this cliff."

"Hmm," I said. "That would be exciting, with all the sharp rocks and trees at the bottom."

So we carried on our way. Eventually Madeleine said we should turn around (she was yawning at this point and ready for her nap), so turn around we did. Because there was only one path, I didn't fear getting lost and so took the lead for a while. But then I realized that Madeleine was not riding behind me.

I stopped and looked back. Madeleine was picking something off the ground. "Something broke off my bike," she said. It was a piece of plastic that had been connected to the spokes of her front wheel.

"I think it's probably just something you can attach reflectors to, if you want," I said.

"No, it has to do with the brakes," she said. "See, the front tire brake is locked on now."

Completely confused and not quite convinced this is possible, we spent some time attempting to analyze and fix the situation. Eventually Madeleine realized that the front tire had been twisted around a full 360 as she was trying to figure out what the plastic was. She twisted the wheel back. The brake worked again.

So off we went. Then her chain fell off. We fixed that (ok, Madeleine fixed it. I didn't want to get my hands unnecessarily dirty) and resumed our trip. Doubtlessly, the most strenuous part of the ride was when we were pushing our bikes back up the steep hill with the cliff face. But we managed, without incident, and eventually found ourselves back at Madeleine's house. A/N: Ok, so I lied. That foreshadowing thing was a red herring.

I mused to myself that we probably were out for a fair bit longer than she had wanted, because we only looked at my cell phone clock twice and then been waylaid by falling parts. Oh, well. Madeleine gave me very clear instructions on how to get home from her place and we parted ways, both having enjoyed ourselves, the weather, and the conversation. And I set off for home, riding along the sidewalk, feeling the wind whip across my shoulders, thinking "Wow, it's a lot windier traveling this direction and without any trees."

SMACK. I looked up just in time to see a car with a demolished rear end be sent careening into oncoming traffic. Incredibly, no one coming the other way hit the car. A few people stopped. Quickly surveying the damage, I saw that most of the damage was to that car's rear end. The front wasn't damaged. The car that hit it was still on the correct side of the road, and though it had some front end damage, healthy-looking people were getting out the front seats, leading me to believe that nobody was hurt. I debated riding by, not knowing how long the police would take to get there and knowing that there were already plenty of witnesses who had surely seen the crash and not just heard it.

But then there was a man on a crutch that walked over to the car that had been hit. He looked in the driver's window, and because the wind was whipping in my direction, I heard him say "Someone call 911." Suddenly feeling very guilty for contemplating riding by, I sped up and joined him at the car. I saw the girl in the driver's seat had handed the man with the crutch something that I assumed to be a cell phone, but it hadn't looked like he had dialed anything. I ditched the bike and peered in over the man's shoulder as he was talking to her. Her face was quite bloody and she was crying quietly, but the windshield was intact, though blood was splattered elsewhere. The person in the passenger seat looked fine, if a little stunned. At this point another man came up. I asked if anyone had phoned 911 already. No, but we need to, was the reply, so I dug out my phone and dialed, trying desperately to remember what road this was.

It didn't even ring once - just a half a ring - before the other end of the line clicked to life. "Whoa," I thought, "They've got this line covered very well."

"Emergency line," came a tinny female voice, "All of our operators are busy with other calls. Please stay on the line and your call will be -"

About now a real person picked up. "Mumble mumble," he said.

"Uh," I replied, "There's been a car collision."

I don't recall the order of the questions he asked me, but after I finally sorted out with the men on scene just what road this was (they didn't seem to be sure, either) he said that EMS was on the way. I think they were dispatched before they fully knew where they were headed. He then took my name and number and proceeded to rattle off in a bored voice a list of instructions, of which I made out "turn on the hazard lights". So one of the men turned on the hazard lights in the smashed up car and another trotted across the road to turn on the hazards of the other car. It gave me a strange sense to have grown men obeying me, even if the directions came from a higher authority and I was just the mouthpiece.

And then the 911 operator told me to call back if anything worse seemed to develop.

Meanwhile, quite the crowd had gathered. Luckily, the second man who had arrived on scene seemed to be a medic of some kind, so he knew not to move anyone and happened to have a lot of gauze in his car to help with the blood. They kept the girl talking about her classes at university until all the emergency vehicles arrived.

A fire truck blocked off the lane and set up traffic cones while the paramedics came to deal with the people. Apparently one of the men in the other car was rather shell-shocked, but luckily it doesn't seem that anyone was too seriously hurt, though they took the one girl into the ambulance. I don't know if they took her to the hospital, though.

I chatted with a few of the people who had stopped while looking at the looong line of backed up traffic. Apparently the girls had been stopped to turn left, when the other car came up from behind and just smacked them. I don't know if the girls were in the wrong lane, or if the other people just weren't paying attention, or both or what. The police asked that everyone who saw the accident to stay to write a statement, but since I hadn't actually seen it, I figured my role was done. Saying goodbye to the men who had stopped to help, I carried on and got home no problem.

But I'm taking this as a lesson. See, earlier today, one of my lecturers, right near the end of class, asked us to wait a moment and sat down. I assumed she was trying to think of the answer to a question that had just been asked. Then she apologized, and I thought she was trying to not cry because our class had been kind of unenthusiastic. But then someone asked her if she was ok, and she managed to say something about "health problem". Then I felt really bad because I had been a little angry with her for how she graded my midterm, and I suddenly realized that it didn't really matter. I can't be dour because of it.

The student asked if she needed us to go get help. No, just a moment, and let's see if she gets better. She managed to dismiss the class (great way to end a term). I hung back with some of the other students to make sure she was ok. Offered her water, food... eventually she smiled and said she was feeling better, thank you for understanding, but I was a little shaken. Judging by her posture, it was probably a fairly serious "health problem".

Anyway, I was kind of kicking myself for not being quick to make sure she was ok when I saw something wasn't quite right. And then I almost rode right by the collision. This is not good. I am a psychology student. I know about the bystander effect and the diffusion of responsibility. And I definitely know the example Jesus set - plus the examples of the people who jumped to help before I did. Yet I can think of a bunch of other examples where I have seen a need but did not bother to fill it. This is not the way I am supposed to live life, and I have been convicted of that today.

Here's to doing better in the future.

“Action springs not from thought, but from a readiness for responsibility.” Dietrich Bonhoeffer

***

This is a little story about four people named Everybody, Somebody, Anybody, and Nobody.

There was an important job to be done and Everybody was sure that Somebody would do it.
Anybody could have done it, but Nobody did it. Somebody got angry about that because it was Everybody's job. Everybody thought that Anybody could do it, but Nobody realized that Everybody wouldn't do it.

It ended up that Everybody blamed Somebody when Nobody did what Anybody could have done.