Wednesday, August 31, 2005

The Challenge Team

As mentioned before, I toured with The Challenge Team, promoting a chaste lifestyle among the youth of the world.

I went on a total of four tours, and each was 6 weeks long. The first one was in the spring of 1995, and second in spring of 1997, the third to Ireland in the winter of 1997, and the fourth and final one in spring of 1998.

Most of the tours were right here in Canada; in '95 I was in the 905 area code (SW Ontario). '97 and '98 I went to Western Canada (BC, Alberta, Saskatchewa, and Northwest Territories).

Those tours were a fabulous learning experience. Our presentation was largely the same each year, with only the skits we did changing.

We would start out with a sketch called "The Dating Nerd" - usually played by me (sigh). We had 3 characters; the nerd, the girl, and the narrator. The narrator would accounce, "How to get a date" and I would enter, all "nerded-up" with one pant leg tucked into my sock, my hair askew, my shirt not fully tucked in... you get the picture. He would then read off instructions "Identify subject of interest," "Approach subject of interest," "Sit down next to..." and I would follow through literally what the instructions were.

The funny parts were when the instruction was "Place hand on knee" and I'd put my hand on my own knee. The whole skit was just an ice-breaker; the students had usually been told what our topic was, and it was a good idea to get on their good side and break the tension right away by making them laugh.

Introductions would follow, and we'd jump into the purpose of sexuality - to unify, and to procreate. "Fun" is not considered a purpose, but rather a pleasant by-product. We'd then ask, that considering that sex is for unity and procreation, what's the best context? Answer: a committed, lifelong relationship open to children, AKA marriage.

We'd then get into some of the stuff that happens when sexuality is used outside of that context; unplanned pregnancies, STD's, broken hearts. We would back this up with personal stories (we had a healthy sampling of people from many different backgrounds who could often speak to many of these issues).

But we didn't leave it there; our object wasn't to scare people into chastity. We spent the last half of the presentation talking about the benefits & freedoms that chaste living brings. This too, was often filled with personal stories, and could be quite funny. Then we'd present tips on how to practice chastity; things like avoiding situations that make it difficult (too much time along together, pornography, etc) and making the commitment together with a friend and keeping each other accountable to it.

One thing that we didn't bring up in the presentation was religion or God. Most (but not all) of us that wanted to promote this message came from religious perspectives (of many different varieties), but we all agreed that to ensure the message had broad appeal and that we were denied access to no public schools, that we should present it from a secular, common sense approach. This was also useful when we did presentations in religious schools or to youth groups, as it enabled those young people to see the real, practical reasons behind the Sixth Commandment.

Obviously there's a lot more detail to the presentation than I'm doing justice to here. We would end off with the funnest part: Ways to Say No. This was done with us standing in a line with our backs to the crowd, and one at a time we'd turn around and say one. Some of them could only be delivered by the relevant gender. Included were:

I've decided not have sex on days of the week that end in the letter Y.
I'm saving myself for a stronger man.
(William Shatner impression) I'd rather not boldly go where every man has gone before.
(Leonard Nimoy impression) That would be illogical.
[nothing like quoting Star Trek to turn a girl off!]
Do I want to back to your place? Hmm... do you really think we'd both fit under a rock?

There were many others... it's been 7 years since I last did one of these tours, so my memory's a bit foggy.

Sadly, the Challenge Team is no longer touring in Canada. We did help set up some groups in England and Ireland to tour there, but we reached a point of saturation in Canadian schools, partly because we visited mostly the same schools from year to year, and partly because the message was largely unchanged each year. With successive tours, it got harder to book the number of presentations we needed to make it worthwhile.

As well, since the Team held no religious affiliation, we weren't eligible for charitable status. We tried obtaining it under educational grounds, and fought that battle with Revenue Canada all the way to the Federal Court of Appeals, but they held that since the message was essentially one-sided (we avoided entirely the concept of "safer sex"), the Team didn't qualify. After the decison, someone asked the judges if an educational program advocating healthy nutrition, and disregarding safe ways to eat unhealthy foods, would also be denied charitable status due to a one-sided bias. They reluctantly (probably with silly looks on their faces) agreed that it would.

So without an easy way to raise funds and a declining interest from our increasingly liberal public school system, the Challenge Team folded a few years ago. Rumour has it, though, that something is stirring underneath those ashes...

Monday, August 29, 2005

Weekend Adventure

Yesterday, Sunday, I went for a walk with my wife and three young daughters. We went to a park and played on swings and slides and fun stuff like that.

On the walk home, around 8 PM, we happened across a cute little white dog who was limping down an alley we took a shortcut through. Upon closer inspection, we saw that one of his hind legs was broken - badly enough to dangle. We took the dog home (to my girls' delight and my wife's dismay) and noted that he had tags that identified him as being from a small town well outside of Winnipeg, so I hopped in the van and took him to a 24 hour animal hospital.

That drive was quite an experience. At first I put him on the floor in front of the passenger seat, but we hadn't been driving 2 minutes before it was clear he wanted a better view. I helped him onto the passenger seat, and to keep him from trying to jump up to look out the side window, I scratched him beside his ears for the whole trip to the vet.

That drive took me back 15 years, because this little dog reminded me so much of my beloved Tanny, a dog we obtained from a rejected litter (the result of an unauthorized purebred Shelty & Poodle rendezvous). He was so quiet & gentle, and this newfound white pooch was a real flashback for me.

We finally arrived at the clinic, and I carried him in. When I handed him to the vet, he trembled - I think he liked me too. I sensed an impending abrupt ending to my encounter with the dog, so in an effort to put a bit of closure on it I scratched his head one last time and said, "Bye little guy, and thanks for the adventure."

I've always been a dog person. Cats are so arrogant and cold, whereas dogs, regardless of their intelligence level, actually know you and care.

But since I married a girl with rather extreme pet allergies, my pet owning capacity has been limited to fish. Fish are fine, but all they do is look nice. I could get a Chia pet if that's what I really wanted in a pet. But a dog... well, I guess I'm just trying to say that my appetite has been whetted and cannot be fulfilled. Sigh. That's life. As Fr. Bill Hunt used to say, "Offer up your little daily inconveniences; unite them with the Eucharistic sacrifice being offered at that moment somewhere, and pray for the needs of the world."

So chalk up the sighs of a dogless dog lover for the souls in purgatory, Lord.

Thursday, August 25, 2005

Why I Read Science Magazines

I'm a big fan of Popular Science, Discover, and Scientific American. Science, in its true sense as the study of the way things work, has always fascinated me, plus I'm one of those guys who loves gadgets but can't afford them, so looking at pictures of neat stuff with lots of buttons is fun too.

Yet science mags are routinely houses of liberalism and at times an almost rabid anti-religion sentiment. I'm sure most would state they have no gripe with faith, but that they focus on what can be proven through scientific method.

And yet one can't but help wince at some of the cheap shots they fire across the bow of the good ship Catholic. I just picked up the Sept 05 issue of Discover, and on the cover they advsertise an article on "Sir Richard Dawkins: Darwin's Rottweiler."

[For extra credit, who else has been described as being somebody else's Rottweiler?]

He's described as "an unabashed athiest," having "taken on creationism" and ripping "the notion of intelligent design." Of course, there are the expected jabs at "the faith-based political philosphy of George W. Bush." He was solicited by the left-leaning British magazine The Guardian to write an open letter to Ohio voters for the last election, calling Bush an "idiot" as well as "sly, mendacious, and vindictive." When Ohio voters rejected his advice and voted for Bush in greater numbers than they had in 2000, he described their response as "the most vitriolic, vicious, obscene outpouting of sheer naked hatred that I've ever seen." Then Discover goes on to call Dawkins "one of the world's great voices of reason."

Sounds like a reasonable chap to me.

Not that I subscribe to the 5000 year old Earth idea. I have heard the story of creation in Genesis described as a poem on creation, and it cannot be taken literally.

What I do believe is that God created Adam and Eve, and that he created them for perfect union with him. We don't know how long they were in the Garden of Eden (maybe a few billion years?) before rejecting him. Only through the redemptive work of Christ can we rediscover that perfect union with our creator. Only through eating his body and blood can we fully experience the redemptive work of Christ. Only through the Roman Catholic Church can we partake of that literal meal.

I don't know, and don't really care, if how God created us was by coaxing a random fish out of the pond, or if he literally pluncked a glob of clay on a wheel and spun it. If galaxies swirl because God stirred them, or because of overabundant dark matter throwing off their center of gravity, it doesn't really affect me. All I know is that God created me, loves me and redeemed me because he wanted me at his side. The rest is moot.

So why do I routinely read magazines whose core philosophies try to dissolve the rock on which I stand? Because they do have some gems of insight into real science which I truly appreciate. And I can ignore the ideology.

Wednesday, August 24, 2005

Chapters of Life

I recently turned 30. For some reason, it seems that anniversaries of events are more profound when they fall on multiples of 5. I think it has something to do with the digits on the hand; the number 5 has an elemental significance due to the hand's intrinsic importance in our daily functions.

When I was 19 (well there goes that theory!) I attended Aldersgate Bible College, with intent to receive a Bachelor of Theology and move on to enter pastoral ministry. That was radically changed when the college closed down after I had finished my first year.

I was aimless, drifting. The plan I had for my life had been cut off, like a lizard's tail.

Fortunately, like lizard's tails, God can cause new plans to grow. I happened to be flipping through a Focus on the Family magazine and read an article about a group called The Challenge Team. This was a group of young adults who volunteered their time to tour the country and talk in schools and youth groups about chastity, which they defined as a lifestyle of respect for sexuality.

As a Christian, I had always believed in saving the marriage act for, well, marriage, but this was something deeper: these young people had a fuller understanding that I hadn't even realized I was missing. I wrote them a letter inquiring about joining the tour, and they sent me back an application which I filled out and returned.

By that time I was 20 years old (theory back on!). This was in 1995. The closing ceremonies for Aldersgate College were planned for mid-April, and I attended that bittersweet event with plans to drive out east (from Saskatchewan to Ontario; for you Americans, think North Dakota to New York) with a friend from the college who lived near my destination.

That drive was like turning a page in my life; it was my first independent venture away from home, and the start of a whole new direction. At that point I latched on the idea of life containing chapters. There was an almost tangible sense of something ending, and something new beginning.

I'll save the details of the tours I did with the Challenge Team for future posts (including meeting my wife!), but I just wanted to note the concept that there are chapters, or segments, that life can be divided into. I think God designed life that way so it's be easier to digest. Even the ancient Hebrews had chapters; every 7 years things got reset, and every 49 years they celebrated a Jubilee year where the reset went totally wild. Read Leviticus 25 for more info on that.
Celebrity Opinion

One of the things that vexes me most about Hollywood is why the general public cares about their opinions on anything. You don't have to listen too long or hard to hear a liberal rant about rich white men in their ivory towers who have no connection with the common man and thus are unsuited to make decisions regarding public affairs.

Unless the rich white man happens to be George Clooney, Martin Sheen, or Ashton Kutcher. Somehow the rich white man's lack of credibility disappears with the injection of Hollywood fame.

I recall seeing an interview with Topher Grace, Ashton Kutcher's co-star on That 70's Show, during the 2004 American election. He was asked what he thought of the candidates, and he said something like, "I have some advice for people. Don't listen to celebrities! We don't know what we're talking about!"

This was aired shortly after a clip of Ashton bouncing around at a Democratic convention, yelling incoherent babble into a mic. John Kerry, in the background, had the gleeful look of a toddler who had stolen his brother's favorite toy and wasn't going to give it back.

Do these guys even realize that they are usually quite typecast? Would John Kerry willingly receive an endorsement from Michael Kelso, the kid that fell off the water tower every year?

There are many scientific terms for miniscule amounts, but none can quantify the amount of respect (specifically, the lack thereof) I have for celebrity opinions. Not only on politics, but on morality, economics, relationships, and fashion. With rare exceptions, the only talent these people have is pretending to be a regular schmoe. Which they don't even do well; a sizeable chunk of regular schmoes are conservatively minded, and I don't ever remember seeing George Clooney portray a Republican.

It's no secret that the vast majority of Hollywood and the media are social liberals. Why are they so disproportionate to mainstream society? I think their distance from real life gives them too many quick answers to society's complex problems.

People that bring in $30 with 3 zeros behind it know the grueling needs of life; mortgages, car payments, insurance, kids, and the countless other expenses we real folk have no choice but to worry over.

People that bring in $30 with 6 zeros behind it know nothing of any of that, whether they be conservative or liberal minded. All they know is how to make more money. They've left all the cares and ulcers of normality behind them.

I've got no beef with rich people. I would like to be one someday! But we regular income folk must realize that rich people have a whole different set of problems from ours, and they are thus quite unsuited to give us advice.

Take Topher's wisdom to heart: Don't listen to celebrities!

Tuesday, August 23, 2005

Hello internet!

My monliniker (= online + moniker) is Convert Man. No, I'm not into extra points in football. I am a Transformers fan, but that's not it either.

I am a convert to Roman Catholicism. I was raised a Free Methodist and went to a private Christian high school run by a non-denom charismatic church, then went to Bible college (at the now defunct Aldersgate College based in Moose Jaw, Saskatchewan, Canada).

I'm sure through my future bloggage I'll have a chance to delve into my reasons, but for now let me just state that I converted due to a discontent with the relativism within mainstream and fringe Protestantism, and a desire for absolute truth. It was only natural to go to the only place that claimed to have the fullness of that truth.

My newfound Catholic heritage, and its focal point in Christ, is the singular driving point in my life, and thus my monliniker.

If you've already read my opening sonnet, you may pick up on the concept of me returning to blogging. Years ago I had an MSN Communities site which I left adrift when I gave up the internet. That was on Jan 1, 2002, and I still don't have access at home - I'm posting this from work during some down time.

Why would anybody possible give up the internet? Shortly before I cut the access, I Googled the phrase "giving up the internet" and found only references to people saying that they never could! So I think I'm rather unique; possibly even a trailblazer. Especially because I work in tech support in a call center.

To be blunt, I gave it up because I found that I could not control my urges for the bad sites out there (I'm avoiding specific keywords to deter certain links to this blog) and it was hurting my marriage. I decided that I had to live out Matt. 5:29-30. Yes, I'm going to make you look it up.

Since I gave it up, I've discovered that a lot of Christian men struggle with the same stuff I do, and it breaks up a lot of marriages. So I issue the challenge to anybody out there who finds themselves ensnared in the lusts of the flesh: cut off the internet. This singularly anonymous, free, indifferent access to evil content only makes self-control more difficult. It's not worth it.

Incidentally, I've never had a problem exerting self-control with the access at work, because I have a work ethic that prevents me from wasting company time & money, and we have an open cubicle concept - no high walls. Accountability = good.

More later.
Ode to the Blogosphere

The MSM exudes a certain whiff
Which wafts upon a nostril unaware.
With all the grace of rotting corpses stiff,
Distracting me from all that's good and fair.

The smell of death is strong, but stronger yet,
A newer springtime sprouts from fertile soil.
(New life is hard to stop when all you get
Is fresh manure, fruit of fruitless toil.)

And so upon the grass I plant my feet,
My vow of online silence now fulfilled.
On my return, this field is now replete
With urban wisdom sprung from folly spilled.

And yet within the sod there are new weeds.
One cannot stop the spread of foul seeds.