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.

Monday, 12 April 2010

Fallback Plan

In some long, twisted way this is related to the blurb I wrote in the Farley Mowat post a while back. At least, the characters are the same, but I don't know how they got from there to here. Apparently there is now some concern that NeoSpartans will take over the Canadian government.

I suppose I shall entitle this What to Do if the Government is Out to Get You. This isn't my actual plan for the eventuality of a totalitarian shift, by the way. I'm just tossing around ideas.

***

The Cree boy smiles and leans back against the chair, placing his hands behind his head. “Ah, well, tell you what, then. If they take over, I’m going back up north. I’ll build myself an igloo and live on bear fat and various wild shrubberies. I don’t believe the NeoSpartan army will say, ‘Hey, let’s go comb the arctic to get Kieran Paupanekis away from his fire and igloo.’”

He kicks up his feet in a lazy way. “I’m mean, I could be wrong, but it seems like a lot of energy to spend for one guy in a parka.”

Smiling, he settles his gaze on Renee. “You’re welcome to come with me, if you want to, Renee. I’d be happy to have you along." He throws a sideways glance at Austin. "And you, Austin. You can come, too,” he adds as an afterthought.

“If you killed a polar bear, the environmentalist green freaks might just get you. You wouldn't have to worry about the NeoSpartans,” Austin says.

Kieran's smile grows even wider. "So it's just me and Renee then?" he says, voice full of hope.

"Since when do Cree people live in igloos?" Renee interrupts, glancing up from the maps. "It's some of the Inuit that made igloos. The Cree were rarely that far north."

Kieran waves his hand in the air. "Details."

"And you tell me I know nothing about the Cree," Renee says with a shake of her head.

"Personally," Austin pipes up, kicking his feet onto the couch, "I'm going to drop an infected USB stick outside the national NeoSpartan headquarters, hack the system, and erase myself from all their records. They won't even know I exist. It won't matter where I am."

Renee cocks her head. "But then, wouldn't that make you reliant on Kieran's bear meat if you can't get a ration card issued to you?"

Austin rolls his eyes dramatically and imitates his friend. "Details, my dear cousin. Details."

****

“Not only do I not know what's going on, I wouldn't know what to do about it if I did.” George Carlin

Wednesday, 7 April 2010

The Shame of Essays

I have come to the conclusion that in order to gain any position of authority in the academic realm, one must also have a fetish for incredibly boring, dull, and dry writing. Now, the need for concise, clear, and precise language is obvious, but what's with this desire for boring, dull, and dry language? Everyday terms and phrases that are well established in the culture can be just as easily understood as, if not more easily understood than formal academic speech.

Granted, perhaps I slip into slightly too casual a tone from time to time, and writing with slang can dampen the authoritative voice. But I don't see the problem with trying to spice up an otherwise mind-numbing onslaught of aloof but perfectly formatted paragraphs on a topic that very few people are likely to care about. Perhaps if academic papers were written using an interesting voice, a down to earth voice, people might actually care to read the stuff. But heaven forbid too many people enjoy reading academic work! That would totally sap the special elite status of scholarly write-ups.

At any rate, the next paper I write I shall endeavour to make the person marking it fall asleep. Maybe I'll get lucky. If the guy can't get through it for all his sudden urges to take a nap, he might just give up and give me the benefit of the doubt by means of a good grade.

Seriously - is it any wonder that people like to read blog posts, news articles, and brightly coloured books on the latest in academia rather than the actual journals from whence the information came?

Oy.

Ok, if I'm perfectly honest (as I always am), I know this is more of an only partially justified rant than a smooth and well-crafted argument for my case, but bear with me. I don't take a B- on my essays lightly.

“For in Calormen, story-telling (whether the stories are true or made up) is a thing you’re taught, just as English boys and girls are taught essay writing. The difference is that people want to hear the stories, whereas I never heard of anyone who wanted to read the essays.”
C. S. Lewis

Sunday, 4 April 2010

Muslim Missionaries

Recently it was Muslim Awareness week on campus. I went to check out their set up because their posters advertising the event were ticking me off. They read, "Jesus was a Muslim". Now, given that Islam as a religion wasn't even birthed until about 600 AD (the Muslim girls I talked to thought it was about 400 AD), I'm pretty sure that Jesus was not a Muslim. That kind of purposefully provocative statement is in very poor taste, to say the least.

My friend and I engaged two Muslim attendants of the display in a dialogue (We knew they were wanting to talk because they were both wearing "Jesus was a Muslim" t-shirts). Eventually I had to leave to go to class, but my friend stayed to talk to them longer. When I got out of class, I went back and found her still there talking to them. I have to hand it to those Muslim girls on one thing, at least. They sure were patient.

Anyway, they seemed to define "Muslim" differently dependent on the situation. First, Muslim meant someone who submitted themselves to God. Under this definition, Jesus certainly was a Muslim. But then, a Muslim was anyone who did "certain things" - the "certain things" weren't defined.

See, it was explained to me, upon my asking, that so-called Muslim terrorists are Muslim, because there are certain things you do that make you Muslim. These terrorists are, however, bad and evil Muslims. This, in and of itself, makes sense. However, it makes no sense at all if a Muslim is "someone who submits themselves to God". Under that definition, a Muslim cannot be bad or evil, unless God is also evil, in which case, Jesus was not a Muslim at all because Jesus was good. So, there is a quandary.

As it stands, I am no less confused as to the "real" nature of Islam. I have heard both sides many times. From what I have gathered, there are two kinds of Muslims: noble Muslims and scary Muslims. Both are interpretations of the Qu'ran and have a shared history. Noble Muslims are nice, while scary Muslims will cut off your head. I have yet to hear a noble Muslim say that scary Muslims aren't Muslim at all, so I can only assume that they haven't been entirely disowned.

There's a lot more I could write about Islam, but I don't think I will. In fact, it is not at all improbable that this will be the only thing on Islam I ever post to this blog. I'm not even sure this will make it to the press. If you see it, enjoy it.

I've got a whack of Bonhoeffer quotes I need to start unloading. This one seems to mildly relate in a fairly benign way:

“Anyone who misunderstands or questions the significance of outward appearance in the world is a traitor to humanity.” Dietrich Bonhoeffer

Thursday, 1 April 2010

The Wanderer Goes South

As of yesterday, I am of legal Las Vegas gambling age. Now, I have had several people ask me what I plan to do with the money I have saved up for the past year or so if I'm not going to spend it on fast food and clothes like most of the population.

The answer is cleverly hidden in the first sentence of this post. I have one more essay to write for school, a round of finals, and then it's OFF TO VEGAS, BABY! Anyone want to come with? I figure a five day stint should be enough to thoroughly exhaust my life's savings or shoot me into the world of the wealthy, depending on how it goes. Gamble all day, party all night. Sleep is for wusses. I plan to get a tattoo to commemorate the occasion - one of my first forays into the glitzy world of adults. I'm thinking a sleeve of flowers with a "Las Vegas 2010" in elegant cursive down my left arm would be cool (I'm too chicken to possibly gimp up my dominant right arm), but that's pretty expensive so we'll see how rich I get. Plus I'll need something to bite on because my pain tolerance level isn't sky high.

If things go well enough, I might just stay down there all summer. I hear there are a lot of job opportunities. Anyway, I'm super stoked. Can't wait for the end of the semester. Given that it's April 1st today, I have only 28 more days to count down...

“The policy of being too cautious is the greatest risk of all.” Jawaharlal Nehru