Wednesday, April 27, 2011

I Love Me!

I was having a conversation earlier today with my Youth Pastor and my Children’s Pastor about ministering to different generations, and how difficult that is. Then my cousin, Connie Denbok, another pastor, posted a link to an article that spoke to some of those differences. It was a New York Times article by John Tierney called “A Generation’s Vanity, Heard Through Lyrics.”

The article was not very flattering at all. It spoke of the trend of youth culture away from community and towards selfishness and narcissism. This quote gives the basic findings: “Dr. DeWall and other psychologists report finding what they were looking for: a statistically significant trend toward narcissism and hostility in popular music. As they hypothesized, the words “I” and “me” appear more frequently along with anger-related words, while there’s been a corresponding decline in “we” and “us” and the expression of positive emotions.”

So, according to these psychiatric professionals, there is a trend among our youth and young adults to think of the world through a very ego-centric lens. As John Maxwell would say, we’re all tuned into the same station – WII-FM (What’s In It For Me?) My question is twofold, is this true and why? Of course, I realise, as do the authors of this study, that we speak in general terms. There are exceptions to every rule.

There have been some interesting studies done over the years about generational differences. Every marketing firm uses the characterizations and preferences of the different generations to develop their marketing strategies. The most common generations we deal with are:
Traditionalists - Born between 1925 – 1945
Baby Boomers - Born between 1946 - 1964
Generation X - Born between 1965 – 1980
Generation Y / Millennials - Born between 1980 – 1995

Each of these generations have very different influences. Traditionalists, for example, lived through either or both of the Great Depression and World War 2. Because they've known real hard times, they have a tendency to prefer stability over risk and to shun debt in favour of living within their means. They also tend to trust authority and value loyalty.

Their children, the Boomers, experienced the surge in the worldwide economy after World War 2, the growing impact of television and inter-continental travel, as well as incredible technological advancement. They also saw the Vietnam War and the Civil Rights Movement lived out in their living rooms through TV. Because of all of these influences, Boomers tend to be optimistic, competitive and questioning of authority.

The next generation, Gen X grew up with MTV, Video Games, Personal Computers, and often alone. In their time the divorce rate tripled, both parents were often working and many were latch key children. This group is known for their skepticism. Because of continued advancements in communications, they are eclectic in their beliefs, blending different belief systems. They also tend to be resourceful, self-reliant and adaptive to change.

The generation spoken of in the article is largely made up of the Gen Y/ Millennials. These guys (North Americans) have grown up with a cell phone or blackberry in their hand. They've played every video game system out there. They've also witnessed the rise of terrorism and 9/11, and the increasing concern over the environment. They tend to be more of a realistic generation. They are globally concerned, value diversity and change, flexibility and recognition.

To speak now to the question(s) raised by the article. Is it true that they are narcissistic and selfish, and if so, why? Leaving behind the anecdotal evidence we all could use, what are the factors that could contribute to this? I think there are many. For one, there's the spotlight we've placed on the issue of self-esteem. As psychologist Lauren Slater writes, "Based on our beliefs, we have created self-esteem programs in schools in which the main objective is, as Jennifer Coon-Wallman, a psychotherapist based in Boston, says, 'to dole out huge heapings of praise, regardless of actual accomplishment.'"

We've also eliminated competition in many of our children's sports. There's even a push on now to stop keeping score in children's hockey games, because we may hurt the self-esteem of the losing team. According to Slater and others, there's a growing body of evidence that people with low self-esteem will not necessarily become the underachieving failures we thought. In fact, many with low self-esteem actually turn this to their advantage. They try harder. In fact, "the discrepancy between high self-esteem scores and poor social skills and academic acumen led researchers like Nicholas Emler of the London School of Economics and Roy Baumeister of Case Western Reserve University to consider the unexpected notion that self-esteem is overrated and to suggest that it may even be a culprit, not a cure."

Another factor to consider is an almost limitless exposure to media. They have grown up with the world at their disposal: music, movies, internet, information..., all on demand. When we get what we want, when we want it, and we're told we deserve it, doesn't it follow that we grow to believe the world does revolve around us? I think it certainly is true that many of today's musicians have bought into this and are promoting the "I Love Me" doctrine.

Yet, I've also seen another side to this generation. I've seen many with a very real desire to make a difference. Many of today's youth seem to be looking for a cause to believe in. I think that this is one of the greatest challenges of the church - to present the counter-cultural Gospel of Jesus Christ to a new generation and call them to rise above the trend towards selfishness and to truly make a difference.

How do you counter a lie? Obviously, with the truth. Jesus Christ claims to be the truth, and calls us to join Him in changing the way the world operates. His Gospel, lived out, will turn the world on its ear. Do you want to be great in God's Kingdom? Serve. See Mother Teresa or Sandra Tineo if you want an example. Do you really love God? Fight injustice. Follow the lead of men like Martin Luther King, Jr. and William Wilberforce. Are you tired of dysfunctional families? Love your own. Jesus changed centuries of ingrained prejudice and respected the personhood of women and children. Follow his example.

The truth is, regardless of the generation in which we were born, all of us are deeply flawed, but God loves us anyway. Each of us must choose how we respond to the love of God extended to us. The proud reject God, believing that they don't need Him; but God is drawn to the humble (James 4:6). The Bible tells us that there's really nothing wrong with loving ourselves - as long as we love God first. His love enables us to love ourselves and others. When Jesus was asked about the greatest commandment, here is what He said: "'Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments." (Matthew 22:37-40)

The world is a messed up place. It's easy for us to turn inward. But, as John Andrew Holmes said, "It is well to remember that the entire universe, with one trifling exception, is composed of others."

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Saturday, April 23, 2011


I've had so many hits on my post about Akiane Kramarik that I thought I'd revisit the subject. I've been watching with interest some of the interviews posted with her and looking at some of her art again. It's a very interesting story, and part of the intrigue is the mystery surrounding her and her family's beliefs.

Akiane Kramarik is an incredibly talented young artist whose paintings can now sell for millions of dollars. She has been featured on Oprah, CNN, Good Morning America and many others. Part of the intense interest around Akiane is due to the spiritual nature of her art and her claims to have received her inspiration from visions and dreams, beginning at an early age. As a 3-4 year-old girl, she would try to explain to her mother what she was seeing. Finally she began to draw what she had experienced.

Her mother, seeing her obvious talent, began to provide her with the tools she needed to develop. By the age of 8, her work had begun to win her recognition. For samples of her work, listed by age, go here. What is really remarkable is that Akiane's parents were atheists, she was also home-schooled and her family didn't own a television. Yet Akiane continuously provided a stream of spiritually themed art. This plus her continued insistence on her encounters with God eventually lead the whole family to convert to Christianity, according to her mother.

This spiritual journey seems to have changed between this interview in 2006 and 2010. In a wide-ranging video interview in 2010 Akiane spoke of her family's spiritual journey, referring to her own beliefs as non-denominational, and stating that she has always believed in God, and still does. She has painted Jesus, angels and heaven. Much of her art is about people, and is often blended with her poems. She would probably not refer to herself as a Christian but as "spiritual." She writes of other dimensions which she has visited in her visions and dreams, and often puts these visions onto canvas; she says that she has been given glimpses of the future and of the past.

As a pastor, I'm often asked for my opinion about Akiane and people like her. Is she for real? Does God really show her visions of heaven and other dimensions? Has she seen Jesus? Is this what He really looked like? These last questions come from the mention of Akiane's painting in the book, "Heaven Is For Real." This is a book about a young boy who had a near death experience and began to share things with his parents which they hadn't shared with him. He also claimed to have visited heaven and seen Jesus. The painting of Jesus that he claimed was authentic was the one that Akiane had painted at age 8.

Setting that aside, here are some thoughts. Firstly, the modern church has had a hard time knowing what to do with the arts. Generally speaking, the church has tried to put people into molds and keep them there. If artists don't fit the mold, they're often treated very harshly. This seems to have happened with Akiane, as she has received very sharp criticism of her work, even when she was a little child. She refers to some who have told her that her artwork is "demonic" because it has dark shadows in it, and she should burn it. On almost every website you'll find sharp criticism from very outspoken "Christians." Seeing this, I'm not sure how I would react as a new Christian if people told me my creations were demonic. This may help explain her continued spiritual searching. She seems to be saying what Mahatma Gandhi said: "I like your Christ, I do not like your Christians. Your Christians are so unlike your Christ."

Secondly, I do believe that Akiane is gifted with natural talent, and the Bible teaches us that every good and perfect gift comes from God. What we do with that gift or talent is our responsibility. It seems that Akiane is a sincere young lady, trying to make the world a better place. I also believe that children seem to have a much keener sensitivity to God, and much of her earlier work reflects that innocence.

Finally, and here is the part that I hope is not misunderstood, anyone who makes truth claims will be called upon to defend those claims. As Akiane gets older, her belief system will, no doubt, be refined. It is one thing to say that you were inspired to paint a certain work of art; it's another entirely to say that God has revealed some new truth to you for the benefit of the world. When you make a truth claim you will inevitably bump up against others and that will cause friction.

The question is, does Akiane's art reflect God-revealed truth or is it the product of a fertile imagination. My guess is that it is a little bit of both. As a Christian, my frame of reference is Scripture. The same Jesus that Akiane painted as an 8 year old stated clearly, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me." (John 14:6) This is clearly a truth claim. It's also a large part of the reason that other religions have such a hard time with Christianity, it doesn't lend itself to compromise.

I, for one, will be watching Akiane's career with interest. She is a very gifted artist - who is doing very well for herself - and, no doubt, has a bright future. I do fear that her very narrow frame of reference (home-schooling, self-styled spirituality, and small management team) will keep her from having her beliefs tested. I believe in the spiritual principle that "iron sharpens iron," and that our experiences and beliefs need to be tested. I won't be rushing to judgment, however, it seems that there are enough people doing that.

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Friday, April 22, 2011

Canada's Shame

I've been following the Canadian election news waiting for this story to break. It happens every election, but usually it is driven by the left-of-centre Canadian parties. The gist of the story is that you can't elect the Conservatives because they have a "secret agenda" to end abortion in Canada. This time the story didn't come from a left-wing source, but rather from one of Harper's own MPs.

Brad Trost, while speaking to a gathering of pro-lifers, said that their petitions and lobbying had helped to bring about the de-funding of Planned Parenthood by the Canadian government. Planned Parenthood, while providing other services to women, is one of the largest abortion suppliers in the world. In the U.S. alone, they provided 332,278 abortions in 2009. Planned Parenthood claims that abortions represent only a small percentage of the services that they provide, however, those claims are misleading. In 2007, Charlotte Allen explained that Planned Parenthood (at least its U.S. branch) bundles services for the purpose of minimizing the role of abortions. For more on this go here.

All of that is besides the point. The problem with this story is that it is simply not true. Paul Bell, a spokesman for the International Planned Parenthood Federation, states that: "It's certainly what Brad Trost seems to think. It's certainly what some political parties seem to think, but that's not what we've been told." In fact, IPPF submitted a new application for funding but the election was called, interrupting the process. Stephen Harper has repeatedly gone out of his way, to my great frustration, to say that not only will his party not bring forward legislation to limit abortion, they will defeat any private members bill which attempts to do so.

This won't stop Igatieff, et al, of trying to make political hay out of the issue. The Liberal Leader responded by saying that "Everyone who cares about women's rights has to rise up to stop Mr. Harper." He says this in spite of the fact that there are pro-life Members of Parliament in other parties, including his own. (Szabo, McTeague and McKay to name three). Brian Lilley rightly states in a recent article that: "This isn't a religious or moral view - it's science. Thanks to new technologies, including 3D ultrasounds, we know much more now about how a child grows in the womb and the stages of development than when Canada's abortion laws were struck down in 1988... Life truly does begin at conception."

Simply put, this issue which many of us believe is of vital importance, is not on the agenda of any of the major political parties in Canada. That is because the issue would be poison to the Conservative party, who have decided that the lives of unborn children are not as important as forming a government. The other major parties would seem to fall on the side of preferring unrestricted, fully-funded, access to abortion for all Canadian women. I think all of them have stuck their heads in the sand.

As Lilley says, "Canada remains the only major industrialized nation without any restrictions on abortion." We're not moderate, we're anti-life to the extreme! When it is legal to kill a child who could easily survive outside of his/her mother's womb, we have a major problem as a civilized society. As I've said before, I believe it's schizophrenic to do surgery in utero to save a babies life on one floor of a hospital, yet to abort a child of the same gestation on the other. What makes a child human? The fact that his mother wants him? Is that really the position we want to hold on to?

It's my firm belief that the problem in Canada is not that people are that cold-hearted; I believe that many are simply ignorant of the facts. I speak with many who are surprised to find that there is no limit to abortion in Canada. I speak to others who are unaware of the scientific and technological advances like 3D ultrasounds, or advancements in medicine that have greatly advanced viability. I think (hope) that, presented with the facts, most Canadians would take a far more moderate position than that which is currently the status quo. According to a 2006 Environics poll, 64% of Canadians were in favour of some form of protection for the unborn.

All that being said, there is no real political home for pro-life Canadians among major political parties. Harper has made it clear that, as long as he leads the party, this issue will not be allowed to be raised. It has clearly been sacrificed on the altar of political expediency. The problem is that "it" is not just another issue like universal daycare or the HST, "it" represents hundreds of thousands of young Canadian lives. For all of the good things that could be said about this beautiful country, for this, we should be ashamed.

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Tuesday, April 19, 2011

The Truth About Easter

As many of you reading this would have ascertained by now, I am a Christian. I am not a Christian because I was raised in the church - I actually left the church as a teenager, returning after a search for the truth. No, I am a Christian because that is where the evidence lead me. As C.S. Lewis said, "I believe in Christianity as I believe that the Sun has risen, not only because I see it, but because by it I see everything else."

In a number of other articles I have presented some of the reasons why I believe my faith is reasonable. As it is the Easter season, though, I thought I would include a series of quotes about Easter and the Christian faith from a number of different people, most of whom you will recognize. Many of these started out as atheists, but after a search of their own, came to the same conclusion as I have - Jesus Christ is who He says He is. I hope this starts some conversations.

"Christianity, if false, is not important. If Christianity is true, however, it is infinitely important. What it cannot be is moderately important." - C.S. Lewis

"A man who was merely a man and said the sort of things Jesus said would not be a great moral teacher. He would either be a lunatic – on a level with the man who says he is a poached egg – or else he would be the Devil of Hell. You must make your choice. Either this man was, and is, the Son of God; or else a madman or something worse. You can shut Him up for a fool, you can spit at Him and kill him as a demon; or you can fall at His feet and call Him Lord and God. But let us not come with any patronizing nonsense about His being a great human teacher. He has not left that open to us. He did not intend to." - C.S. Lewis (Author, Professor, Former Atheist)

"Jesus of Nazareth, without money and arms, conquered more millions than Alexander the Great, Caesar, Mohammed, and Napoleon; without science and learning, he shed more light on things human and divine than all philosophers and scholars combined; without the eloquence of school, he spoke such words of life as were never spoken before or since, and produced effects which lie beyond the reach of orator or poet; without writing a single line, he set more pens in motion, and furnished themes for more sermons, orations, discussions, learned volumes, works of art, and songs of praise than the whole army of great men of ancient and modern times."Philip Schaff (Historian)

"I may, I suppose, regard myself, or pass for being, as a relatively successful man. People occasionally stare at me in the streets – that’s fame. I can fairly easily earn enough to qualify for admission to the higher slopes of the Internal Revenue – that’s success. Furnished with money and a little fame even the elderly, if they care to, may partake of trendy diversions – that’s pleasure. It might happen once in a while that something I said or wrote was sufficiently heeded for me to persuade myself that it represented a serious impact on our time – that’s fulfillment. Yet I say to you — and I beg you to believe me – multiply these tiny triumphs by a million, add them all together, and they are nothing – less than nothing, a positive impediment – measured against one draught of that living water Christ offers to the spiritually thirsty, irrespective of who or what they are." - Malcolm Muggeridge (Journalist, Former Atheist)

"All heaven is interested in the cross of Christ, all hell terribly afraid of it, while men are the only beings who more or less ignore its meaning."
- Oswald Chambers (Author)

"If Jesus Christ is not risen from the dead, there is not one glimmer of hope for the human race. When I leave office, I'm going to spend the rest of my life studying and writing about the resurrection of Jesus Christ. It's the most important event in history." - Konrad Adenauer (former chancellor of West Germany)

"These three great facts--the resurrection appearances, the empty tomb, and the origin of the Christian faith--all point unavoidably to one conclusion: The resurrection of Jesus. Today the rational man can hardly be blamed if he believes that on that first Easter morning a divine miracle occurred." - Dr. William Lane Craig
(Author and University Professor)

"The Watergate cover-up reveals the true nature of humanity. Even political zealots at the pinnacle of power will, in the crunch, save their own necks, even at the expense of the ones they profess to serve so loyally. But the apostles could not deny Jesus because they had seen Him face to face, and they knew He had risen from the dead. No, you can take it from an expert in cover-ups -- I've lived through Watergate -- that nothing less than a resurrected Christ could have caused those men to maintain to their dying whispers that Jesus is alive and is Lord. Two thousand years later, nothing less than the power of the risen Christ could inspire Christians around the world to remain faithful -- despite prison, torture, and death." - Charles Colson
(Former advisor to President Nixon, imprisoned for his role in the Watergate scandal. Author. Former atheist.)

"The foundation of our religion is a basis of fact - the fact of the birth, ministry, miracles, death, resurrection by the Evangelists as having actually occurred, within their own personal knowledge." - Simon Greenleaf (1783-1853), Harvard Law Professor & former skeptic.

“To me the evidence is conclusive, and over and over again in the High Court I have secured the verdict on evidence not nearly so convincing. As a lawyer I accept the gospel evidence unreservedly as the testimony of truthful men to facts that they were able to substantiate.”Sir Edward Clark, British High Court Judge

"The cross is that centre of the world's history where all men and nations stand revealed as both enemies of God and yet loved by God." - Dag Hammarskjold (Second Secretary-General of the United Nations)

"For the Christian, the resurrection of Christ from the dead is the tour de force of his apologetic and guarantees his destiny. It is the lynchpin of his argument as he defends the Christian faith. It deals with the most painful of all of life's struggles - the agony of death, which cuts us all down and taunts any hankering we have for omniscience." - Ravi Zacharias

"I have found myself dislodged from one position after another, hauled out of each sanctuary; chased down Fleet Street, through Broadcasting House and the Television Centre, past Great Turnstile and Bowerie Street, Madison Avenue - from such cosy and easily accessible niches I am remorselessly driven. Where? To this symbol of our Christian faith which is also a gallows or a scaffold - the Cross; to this foolishness of men which is also, we are told, the wisdom of God; to these two stark pieces of wood nailed together." - Malcolm Muggeridge

"That Jesus succeeded in changing a snuffling band of unreliable followers into fearless evangelists, that eleven men who had deserted Him at death now went to martyrs’ graves avowing their faith in a resurrected Christ, that these few witnesses managed to set loose a force that would overcome violent opposition first in Jerusalem and then in Rome — this remarkable sequence of transformation offers the most convincing evidence for the Resurrection. What else explains the whiplash change in men known for their cowardice and instability?... One need only read the Gospel's descriptions of disciples huddling behind locked doors and then proceed to the descriptions in Acts of the same men proclaiming Christ openly in the streets and in jail cells to perceive the seismic significance of what took place on Easter Sunday. The Resurrection is the epicenter of belief." - Philip Yancey (Author)

"This is the great choice every human being has to make: Is the resurrection true or only a myth? If the latter, it is an abomination, taking away any validity to the Christian claim. Believing that the resurrection was merely symbolic doesn't create liberal Christianity or a more enlightened version of our faith as many argue; it reduces Christianity to something utterly vain, a belief system like paganism. For if we were to believe Christ was not bodily raised, then Christianity would rest on the belief in human sacrifice - offering an innocent man to die for our sins. This is not enlightened thinking; it is barbaric. It is why so-called liberal Christianity is untenable, no better than paganism." - Charles Colson

Finally, let me conclude with this video of the testimony of Lee Strobel. Lee was an atheist and a cigar-chomping, crime editor for the Chicago Tribune when his wife became a Christian. Here is his story:

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Friday, April 08, 2011

Minding Our Manners

Here's a subject that I've been thinking about often. How is it that we can restore civility to our society? Those who know me well know that I'm not a prude. However, this is getting ridiculous. Everywhere I go I find my senses assaulted with a steady stream of vulgarity and downright rudeness.

I remember as a teenager that every once in a while you might run into someone who wasn't quite up to speed on the social graces, and of course you had some using profanity to act cool. Now it's everywhere, all the time. Does anyone else have a problem with this, or is it just me? I'm really trying to understand.

This subject reminds me of something I read a long time ago about William Wilberforce. If you recall, Wilberforce spent his life fighting the slave trade in Great Britain. It was abolished the year he died. But here's the part that struck me. Read this: “God Almighty has set before me two great objects, the suppression of the slave trade and the reformation of manners.” At first reading I have to admit, I found it somewhat amusing. But now I think I get it.

He lived in a horrible time in British history. Not only was the slave trade going strong, but in parts of London, every other house was a tavern, and prostitution was rampant. Many, if not most, of society's elite lived lives of debauchery and gloried in it. When Wilberforce became a Christian, he became convicted that his life needed to amount to something - that was when he declared his two-pointed vision. Many have had ideas and made bold declarations. What was impressive about Wilberforce was the way he set about changing things.

He gave away one-quarter of his annual income to the poor. He fought on behalf of chimney sweeps, single mothers, Sunday schools, orphans, and juvenile delinquents. He helped found parachurch groups like the Society for Bettering the Cause of the Poor, the Church Missionary Society, the British and Foreign Bible Society, and the Antislavery Society. He wrote books to appeal to the upper class to help them realize they had a responsibility as leaders to model responsible behaviour in a civilized society. He also helped to found the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (SPCA).

He understood that society is not changed overnight and that what people need are role models. I think the same is true today. As a Christian leader, one of the things that frustrates me the most is watching people of influence, especially parents, setting horrible examples for their kids. Do we really want everyone dropping 'f' bombs in everyday conversation?

And while I'm ranting, why do they have to put that same kind of language in every movie? - and then in Canada, rate it at PG? I don't know how many times I've brought home a movie rated PG or PG-13 for a night, only to find when it starts that the U.S. rating is 'R.' Five minutes in, and 10 'f' bombs later, I've had enough. I don't think that makes us more enlightened, I think it means we couldn't care less about the junk our kids are putting in their minds.

And then there's the music, dare I start on the music - all aimed at the kids. Topping the charts on i-tunes right now is E.T. by Katie Perry and Kanye West featuring sexual dialogue and profanity. Next in line is "S&M" by Rihanna, which is a song about... S&M - aimed at your 13 year old daughter. Here's a line: "Sticks and stones may break my bones But chains and whips excite me." Charming. The rest of the top ten are more of the same, including Jeremih and Fifty Cent and Britney Spears, et al, almost all with the same theme: "I want your body, whoa, whoa, whoa..."

In my line of work, I talk to a lot of people battling low self-esteem issues. Teenage girls are especially prone to this. We're not helping them at all, as a culture, by glorifying artists who are treating women as sex objects. Have you watched MTV lately? I couldn't take much more than a couple of minutes as some singer, dressed as a pimp, surrounded by scantily clad women he calls his b*****s, raps about what he wants to do with them. Wow! Isn't that what you want your daughter to grow up and do - star in a music video with a misogynist rapper? Then we've got the idiocy happening with Charlie Sheen. I think it's a little crazy that everyone's criticizing him for living his life in real life the way he was playing it on his show.

I know I'm ranting, but it bothers me. I was always taught the old computer principle GIGO - "Garbage in, garbage out." What's true about computers is also true about the mind. You fill it with junk, junk is what you get. Here's a challenge: try to live your life in such a way that, if your children knew everything about you, they'd still be proud. And for you Christians out there, live your life in such a way that you enhance God's reputation in the world. Finally, here's a verse from the Bible that I think is very appropriate for today:"Woe to those who call evil good and good evil, who put darkness for light and light for darkness, who put bitter for sweet and sweet for bitter." (Isaiah 5:20) That verse was written some 2,800 years ago. It could describe a lot of what's going on around us. I'm going to try to do a little better in my corner of the world in making it a safe place for everyone. Anyone in favour?

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Thursday, April 07, 2011

Election Rambling... Arggghhhh!

Here in Canada we're smack in the middle of yet another Federal election, and in the U.S. the war drums are beating for a Presidential election in November. (It falls on my birthday this year, yeah for me!) The bottom-line is that we have non-stop politics. Everywhere we look, everything we read, everything we hear. So I'll add to the noise.

I used to be what you'd call a political animal. I loved policy talk, voting strategy, candidates debates, etc... I've helped to organize "meet and greets" for candidates and, for a time, considered involvement myself. I have to admit I've grown quite cynical lately. There are a number of reasons for that.

The first of those is that I've grown up and realized that the government cannot (should not?) solve all of our problems. From my experience, the more the government gets involved, the more complicated it gets and the less effective it becomes. It's not that the issues we talk about aren't important - they usually are - it's that the nature of government does not lend itself to solutions, but rather bureaucracy. I agree with Charles Colson, who said: "A good society isn’t built by government dictates but by the shared values of what Edmund Burke called the “little platoons” of society-families, churches, civic groups, and other associations." I find his perspective interesting, having followed his fall in Watergate and his ministry since.

Rather than help, in my opinion big government often hinders community development through layers of bureaucracy and red tape. Many of our Federal and Provincial ministries seem to have forgotten why they were created and, therefore, exist only to perpetuate themselves. I recognize that there are many individuals within these departments for whom this is not true, but I believe that, by and large, the system has failed.

Another reason for my cynicism is that party politics and the role of the media have almost destroyed rational debate. Here's a "for instance." Somehow, in the '70's, it was decided that the abortion issue was settled, though there is no law on the books. I hear this all the time from our national media. Every time a candidate dares to express an opinion that the issue should be discussed (or even if their opinion becomes known) they are not only vilified in the press, but usually ostracized by their own party. It's not the only issue. I've watched in amazement as candidates have been demonized because they are evangelical Christians. In some parts of the country, regardless of qualifications, being a believer is enough for a person's candidacy to be a non-starter.

Because of these, and other reasons, many Conservatives, like myself, find ourselves without a political home. In order to be elected, Stephen Harper has seemingly abandoned his right-wing base and muzzled everyone in his party. It may have gotten him elected, but it leaves a sour taste in a lot of people's mouths. Remarkably, some in the media still accuse him of a hidden agenda - to foist his dreaded "right-wing" morality on an unsuspecting public. His agenda is simple, and it's not a secret - to get and hold power. That being said, I still believe his party is better than the electable alternatives. The Liberals, NDP, et al have demonstrated that they are far left of center on most things, certainly on moral issues, and the Conservatives now occupy the middle. I find it morally reprehensible to ever cast a vote for a party that believes it's a "right" to kill an unborn child. Where's Preston Manning when you need him?

Then you have the controversy in my own riding of Simcoe-Grey. Our current MP, Helena Guergis, was elected as a Conservative, but ran afoul of our Prime Minister when her and her husband were accused of wrong-doing. Though vindicated, she was not allowed back into the Conservative caucus. In fact, she was not even granted an opportunity to hear why she was ejected in the first place. She has sat as an Independent Conservative and is running as one. Her votes in parliament have gone with the Conservatives. Now she faces a worthy opponent, the newly nominated Dr. Kellie Leitch.

When I was called recently by the Conservative Party and asked how I would be voting, I replied that I was undecided. I told them they needed to have the Prime Minister clean up the mess he has made in this riding. I also predicted that the Conservative vote would be split between Leitch and Guergis and the Liberal candidate Alex Smardenka would likely waltz right between them to an election victory. the other candidates in Simcoe Grey, as of this writing, are Katy Austin for the NDP, Jace Metherall for the Green Party; and Peter Vander Zaag for the Christian Heritage Party.

Some would say to vote for a fringe party. That's okay for a protest vote, but these have very little chance of winning a seat, nil of forming a government. Personally, I've never been one to throw a protest vote, I try to be strategic. This year I find myself looking very carefully at the options out there and trying to decide where my vote could really make a difference.

It's sad. The issues we face are many, and serious; yet we don't often talk about the issues. Often, it seems, we studiously avoid them. We'd rather attack each other's character than look at why we agree or disagree with "Cap-and-trade," or take a serious look at our Health-care system. I have friends who are NDPers, and Liberals and Green Party members and more. I like them. We don't have to agree on everything to be friends. (Of course, they may not like me after reading this).

As you can tell, my frustration level is rising. However, I will still cast my vote. I'm just not sure for who this time. I will vote because I can, because in Canada I'm allowed to have a say in who makes decisions for me. I'm thankful for that. As Winston Churchill said, "It has been said that Democracy is the worst form of government except all those other forms that have been tried from time to time."

I long for a return to civil discourse, but I won't hold my breath. If you differ with my position, that's okay. Just don't call me names; tell me why you believe differently. I might even buy you coffee so we can talk about it. And remember, if you don't vote, you really shouldn't complain about who wins or loses. Have your say come election day, a lot of people paid a high price so that you could exercise that right.

Related Articles:
Unsung Heroes - Linda Gibbons
The "A" Word
Oh Canada!
Unborn Victims of Crime Act

Wednesday, April 06, 2011

Carly Fleischman - A Window Into Autism

I just watched a video posted on a friend's Facebook page. It was so impactful that I knew I had to do a blog about it. It was about a young lady from Toronto, Ontario, named Carly Fleischman who, at an early age, was diagnosed with autism and a severe learning disability. Carly was blessed to be born into a wonderful family whose love for her knows no bounds. Let me first begin with a confession.

I have a great deal of respect for those who work with special needs people. It takes very special people to be able to do that - my wife is one of them. It is an incredibly tasking and challenging role that demands great patience and self-control. I've often made the statement that "I could not do that job." After watching this video, I'm all the more appreciative. It has re-enforced my views on human dignity - that all of us are created in the image of God, and are worthy of respect. Here's a "thank you" to all of you who dedicate your lives to help those born with disabilities.

For the first eleven years of her life Carly was almost completely unable to communicate. Her family spent thousands of dollars and thousands of hours on therapy, in an effort to get into her world. When she was, one day, introduced to a computer, her world - and theirs - was changed forever. This event opened up a new world for Carly, but also opened up a window into the mind of a severely autistic child. Carly now writes her own blog and is writing a novel. Her inspiring story has been featured on Ellen and Larry King Live.

I'm sure that many of you were familiar with Carly's story long before I was, but I'm writing this to try to help spread the word a little further. Autism Spectrum Disorder is often misunderstood. "Health care providers think of autism as a “spectrum” disorder, a group of disorders with similar features. One person may have mild symptoms, while another may have serious symptoms. But they both have an autism spectrum disorder." (From the National Institute of Child Development and Health) Carly has severe symptoms, so her ability to communicate about her experience is shedding great light on what goes on inside the mind of these wonderful people. For more information, please check out the Autism Canada website.

To all of you deal with autism or who are parents or caregivers of autistic children, God bless you. I trust that you will find this video encouraging and inspiring.

Articles of Interest:
Unsung Heroes - Linda Gibbons
If God Is Good, How Could This Happen?

Monday, April 04, 2011

Book-burning 101

Terry Jones, Pastor of the ironically named Dove Worldwide Outreach Center, has set off a firestorm of rioting worldwide after he burned a Qur'an on March 20. He threatened to do so last fall but was talked out of it and said it would "never" happen. Yet, here he was again. His church staged a mock trial and found the Qur'an guilty of "crimes against humanity", including the promotion of terrorism and "the death, rape and torture of people worldwide whose only crime is not being of the Islamic faith".

They then made a display of setting it on fire as the small congregation - and a crowd of media and curious on-lookers - gathered around and watched. (Video posted to You-tube of course).

There are so many directions to go with this story that it's hard to know where to start. First off, let's look at what Jones' used as his justification for this book-burning. According to a blog on the church's web-site, their Biblical basis for doing this was from the book of Acts 19:18-20. Does this passage teach us to burn offensive materials? No. What it does is give us an account of what some people did whose lives had been transformed by the Gospel. They brought their scrolls, and they burned their own scrolls, demonstrating that they recognized their sorcery was wrong. The public impact seemed to come from the public sacrifice of these monetarily valuable materials by the people who owned them! Huge difference.

The early church did not take someone else's sacred book and deliberately provoke a community, which is what Terry Jones did. This was a display for the media, pure and simple. If this was a church growth stunt, sadly, it will likely have some effect. There are enough fringe people out there who will flock to his church. It just goes to show that anyone can draw a crowd. I obviously don't agree with the Qur'an, but you don't change someone's mind by trying to enrage them. I think in carrying out this act, Smith and his congregation actually violated scripture. 1 Peter 3:15-16 says "But in your hearts revere Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect, keeping a clear conscience, so that those who speak maliciously against your good behavior in Christ may be ashamed of their slander."

There are a lot of people speaking out against their behaviour, but it's not their "good behaviour" and it's not slander. Terry Jones was wrong.

However, it does open up another discussion. Does it make any sense to answer Jones' claims that Islam is a violent religion by attacking innocent people? If Jones was wrong for burning a Qur'an, then those who attacked the UN compound and killed 12 people are certainly more wrong. They are unwittingly proving his point. That's not the end of it either. Riots have spread, and still continue, with the death toll rising to 20 at this writing. What is the justification for this? There can be none.

The apologists for Islam must continue to answer for this seeming propensity to violence. These protesters are likely some of the same people who danced in the streets when the Twin Towers fell on 9/11, claiming thousands of American lives. It's sad that the "Christians" in Florida are being hateful, and it's sad that adherents of the "religion of peace" felt it necessary to kill to prove their point. It's also sad that some will launch into the usual claim that "all religion leads to violence," and start singing "Imagine." What gets pushed to the side in times like these is truth.

We should be able to discuss and debate without resorting to the extremes apparent in this story. There is such a thing as truth, and it does matter. Whether you're a Christian, Muslim, Hindu, Atheist or Agnostic, stop being rude and let your argument stand on its own merits. As someone said, "If we throw mud at each other, we'll both get dirty and we'll both lose ground." I like Ravi Zacharias' approach to this, so I'm going to conclude with a video clip from him. These are some of the reasons that I'm still a Christian.

Related Posts:
Remember My Chains
Book Review: "What Good Is God?"
What Is A Christ-follower?