Monday, February 26, 2007

Holy Ground

During my Lenten devotions today, I stumbled across this. To understand why this is so cool, you must know what happened back in the early chapters of Exodus.

Baby Moses, as you know, was adopted by an Egyptian princess and thus spared from infanticide. He grew up as an Egyptian, but was still connected to his Hebrew roots. Ex. 2:11-14 (NAB):

On one occasion, after Moses had grown up, when he visited his kinsmen and witnessed their forced labor, he saw an Egyptian striking a Hebrew, one of his own kinsmen. Looking about and seeing no one, he slew the Egyptian and hid him in the sand. The next day he went out again, and now two Hebrews were fighting! So he asked the culprit, "Why are you striking your fellow Hebrew?" But he replied, "Who has appointed you ruler and judge over us? Are you thinking of killing me as you killed the Egyptian?" Then Moses became afraid and thought, "The affair must certainly be known."

Pharaoh gets wind of the incident and orders Moses killed, so Moses flees to Midian, marries a local girl, and settles down to raise sheep. But then God sets this bush on fire... Ex. 3:4-6:

When the Lord saw him coming over to look at it more closely, God called out to him from the bush, "Moses! Moses!" He answered, "Here I am." God said, "Come no nearer! Remove the sandals from your feet, for the place where you stand is holy ground. I am the God of your father," he continued, "the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, the God of Jacob." Moses hid his face, for he was afraid to look at God.

OK, so now we fast-forward a bit. Skip over the whole "Let my people go!", over the plagues, over the parting of the Red Sea, over the golden calf incident, over the wandering in the desert for 40 years to kill off the unfaithful generation... and we get to the book of Joshua, who was Moses' successor as the leader of the Hebrews.

This happened right before the siege and conquest of Jericho. Joshua 5: 13-16:

While Joshua was near Jericho, he raised his eyes and saw one who stood facing him, drawn sword in hand. Joshua went up to him and asked, "Are you one of us or of our enemies?" He replied, "Neither. I am the captain of the host of the Lord and I have just arrived." Then Joshua fell prostrate to the ground in worship, and said to him, "What has my lord to say to his servant?" The captain of the host of the Lord replied to Joshua, "Remove your sandals from your feet, for the place on which you are standing is holy." And Joshua obeyed.

There are a number of things that strike me about these two stories.

  1. God calls us. He may use signs, or he may use messengers, but he does whatever he can to get our attention. Have no doubt, dear reader: he is calling you, this very moment.
  2. God invites us to be intimate with him. Initially, the command to remove your sandals may seem counter-intuitive. When the holy God is encountered by unholy man, the natural response, we would think, would be to shield him from ourselves by wrapping ourselves in Glad Clingwrap. Yet God wants contact; he wants flesh to flesh interaction. "Here is my holiness," he is saying. "Have some." This is why we Catholics are so amazed by the Sacrament of the Eucharist. This is God's most amazing gift to us: his very flesh and blood, in defiance of all logic.
  3. The state of our conscience can hurt or help our ability to respond to him. Moses had murder on his conscience - think about how he checked if anybody was watching before dispatching the Egyptian. When God got his attention, he had to caution him to stay back. This is an act of mercy on God's part - Moses in his state of mortal sin would not be able to abide the full presence of God. Joshua, by contrast, does not hide his face but bows in full worship. The glory of God reveals all our hidden secrets, and when we are clean in his sight, that glory does not intimidate us - rather, it enthralls us. The conscious sinner, however, cannot stand it.
This is gonna be a good Lent. :)

Saturday, February 24, 2007

Temptation

What's the best solution for a tired 8-month pregnant wife who can't sleep well at night because her husband snores?

Why, ship her off to her parents' house, of course! That's what's going on in our family tonight.

No, there was no big blowout fight that drove her away. I seriously just wanted her to have a peaceful night's sleep, and it's my honest pleasure to give her that opportunity.

But now I'm home alone, the kids are tucked in bed, the Senators have already won their hockey game tonight, there's nothing good on TV, and it's Lent.

In other words, the situation is primed for temptation. Lust, my old nemesis, is as wily as ever, and perhaps moreso during Lent - the season of sacrifice and penance. Jesus was tempted during his 40 days; it stands to reason that I will be too. The internet is wide open, and there's no pesky wife peeking over my shoulder to make sure I'm not cybercheating.

So I blog. I make my struggle public this night and invite all my readers to ask me a follow-up question the next time you comment, see me, or phone me.

Heh heh. That's a pretty neat idea. This internet thing can be used both ways.

Thursday, February 22, 2007

Civilization

My wife woke up early this morning, convinced she heard somebody trying to get in our back door. She shook me awake (I'm a much heavier sleeper than she) and asked me to check it out. So I found the closest thing I could to a weapon and went downstairs while my wife called 911.

Turns out nobody was in the house, much to our relief. Based on the footprints in the snow, the cops thought somebody might have tried the back door but gave up after seeing our alarm system signage.

So all's well: don't worry Mom.

But it got me to thinking: how cool is it that we can make a simple phone call and have police on the scene within minutes? Even a little as a century ago, such an idea was impossible.

Throughout the course of the history of the Western world there has a steady march towards what can only be called civilization. The term implies justice, order, social consciousness, and has to be grounded in an understanding of the full dignity of the human person. Therefore society should indeed send police when a citizen feels threatened.

What is on the mind of the petty criminal who ignores societal norms and is willing to violate another person's liberty? Drugs? Gambling debts? A driven, targeted hatred of his victim? The one thing we can say with certainty is that this person is not a new phenomenon in world history. He has always been there. It's only through the advances of Western law & order that we can deal with him effectively. Some might not always object to the more Eastern concept of cutting off his hand or imprisoning his family, but even in his crime the criminal retains his human dignity and should be treated fairly.

So where did Western civilization get this concept from? It's plainly obvious: Christianity; specifically the Christianity that spread through Europe when the Roman Empire ceased its persecution. The conversion of Emperor Constantine and subsequent state endorsement of Christianity allowed the faith to shape culture with unprecedented intensity. As the Church and the State evolved in tandem through the centuries, state officials and monarchs frequently used the influence of the Church over people's lives and consciences to shape their own careers, which
is what led the founding fathers of the United States to proclaim that there would be no officially sanctioned religion in the new country, and that all people could practice their faith without fear of persecution.

This has widely been referred to as "separation between Church and State," and many people today believe it was to prevent the Church from interfering in secular matters. In reality, however, the concept was conceived to keep the State out of religion, as I've pointed out before.

My point here is that the order and structure we know today in Canada and the rest of the Western hemisphere is ours thanks to the Church. The things we take for granted every day, such as the heroics of our law & safety personnel, came hard-won by our forefathers, and they have paid with their blood time and time again to defend our way of life.

Nowadays as a society we are completely oblivious to the historical anomaly that our civilization is. We have no idea just how easily it can vanish; tyranny is held at bay only by the momentum we still carry from our ancestors, but we are decelerating. I would even suggest that we're braking, in preparation for a turn.

Chesterton once said that progress without direction is no progress at all. If steer away from our goal - a society where our worship of God translates into loving concern for our fellow man, to bring about real harmony and peace - then what sort of society will we be left with? Look at the parts of the world where Christianity either never spread to, or where it was expunged in its infancy, and you'll see what the alternative is. China. Egypt. Iran. Korea. That could be us.

When the self-declared enemies of all things Western voice their dismay that the new Democratic in the U.S. Senate & House are not going to be able to change anything in Iraq or Afghanistan, does it not strike us as odd that they would care? Or more bluntly put, when the people who want to kill us root for one of our political parties, should that not raise a red flag?

Wake up, society. Learn a bit of history, and remember what you've forgotten before you wake up missing a hand one day.

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Lent

So here I am, fifty-five minutes before Ash Wednesday. Another season of Lent is upon us. Last Lent I blogged in purple and I believe I shall continue the tradition this year.

My wife just finished making some cinnamon buns for one last gorging before the fast, so I'll make this short.

Giving up: Coca Cola
Not giving up: HNIC, coffee, and blogging
Doing extra: Morning prayers and Scripture readings

For those of my readers unfamiliar with why we Catholics do this, check out this guy's explanation.

Happy fasting!

Monday, February 19, 2007

Riddle

I had a vision yesterday. It wasn't anything like an acid-induced trip, or an out-of-body experience, or a hazy semi-conscious apocalyptic encounter.

What I saw was in my mind's eye, or perhaps more accurately, in my spirit's eye. I saw a person become immeasurably holy and glorified. I witnessed the radiance of humanity's true nature suddenly revealed. Glory filled the room, angels rejoiced, and evil fled.

Who can guess what I saw?

Monday, February 12, 2007

Success In Iraq

I like war, when the war is worthy. In fact, I'd even say I love it. To quote my favourite columnist, David Warren, "When there is a war to fight, and no alternative to fighting it, you bet I am a war-monger. The sooner we have destroyed the enemy, the sooner we can get back to sucking our thumbs."

Now, I don't love war in the sense that I enjoy seeing mutilated soldiers or families crushed by the loss of a loved one or in the ever-present and always devastating friendly-fire or civilian casualties. These things are tragic, and basic human dignity demands that we must seek to end war if for no other reason than to reduce human suffering of this nature.

But then I think of the Unknown Soldier, lying in his cold, urine-soaked grave beneath the National War Memorial in Ottawa. This young man, killed at Vimy Ridge in World War I, likely suffered as he died. Perhaps he even had thoughts about the futility of violence, or regretted his decision to enlist. Or perhaps - and I'd wager this is more likely, given the higher moral fibre of that generation - he roused himself for one last push after the fatal wound, sealing his fate, and added his to the voices to the dead who had gone before him: "You must be stopped!"

Iraq gets a lot of bad press. But I heard bits of a good interview (listen to part 2) on CBC Radio's The Current this morning. Barry Lando, a Canadian writer and documentary maker, has written a book about Iraq's history with the West, and he explained how the various British, French, and American administrations have over the past several decades led Iraq straight into where it is right now.

A lot of people unfairly pin the problems in Iraq on George W. Bush. But he's caught in a difficult situation: cleaning up after not only the Clinton administration before him, but every Western powerhouse's government going back generations. This is the same irony that produced Osama bin Laden as a CIA-trained terrorist; at various points in time certain administrations thought it would be good to send Iraq in one direction through subtle political pressures, but with the election of a new government, the direction reverses. Suddenly you've got this madman Hussein in charge of the country - and yes, the Americans pretty much put him there - and you've got to do something about it.

So the problem with the Middle East is that everybody has a solution.

You know, monarchy has its downsides, but at least you'd end up with a fairly consistent foreign policy for decades or centuries at a time. None of this wobbling back and forth, causing your neighbour states to vomit all over you as if you have them on a circus ride.

I'm The Winner!

Well, actually, I wasn't the winner tonight, but I was four nights ago.

That's when I was the first person seated at the supper table to say, "Thank you for supper Mommy!" The thanks from our three girls came right after.

Tonight, it was the two-year-old, who uttered her gratitude with her traditional "hmmmmm!" sound, which any properly formed Kautz knows means, "Thank you for supper Mommy!"

Yes, one of us is always the winner. And the other three are not the winner, or more specifically, losers.

That's such a nasty word today. Nobody is willing to teach their kids about competition and the joys of good sportsmanship.

When we first started the Thanking Race, inevitably the second and/or third place child would be upset; often even crying. So what kind of parents encourage behaviour that makes one kid happy and two kids cry?

Britain's Telegraph has a fascinating read concerning the way our culture is conditioning the next generation of investors. It refers to a report from Heads, Teacher, and Industry which states the current play-it-safe methodology is "potentially fatal to our economics and social wellbeing." This is fueled by "fear of litigation, excessive regulation, distorted media reporting, parental paranoia and a confused understanding of risk within the teaching profession only serve to reinforce risk averse attitudes." In short, if kids are raised to avoid all risk, they'll not have the nerve to drive the economics of the next generation.

That's why I'm not afraid to have losers at my dinner table.

Saturday, February 10, 2007

From The Archives

In lieu of a burst of creative thought today, I would like to re-post a piece I put on my old MSN Communities site, circa March 2002.

Be Fruitless and Don't Multiply

There is an old computer game - Sid Meier's Civilization - in which the player has to manipulate a society into a major world power starting with nothing but a few settlers. It involves the foundation of cities, the discovery of technologies, and the conquering of other nations by military, economic, and diplomatic means. I used to play it for hours at a time, much to my parents' disapproval.

A sequel, Civilization II, was produced a few years after the original, and I broke down and bought it as well, and found it to be more graphically impressive and strategically immersive. But one thing really baffled me in that sequel.

At the end of the game you score points for every improvement your society has accrued over the millenia, like money in the treasury, number of technological advances discovered, and total population. Another factor in the score, which also affected game play, was construction of Wonders of the World. Only one civilization could possess a certain Wonder, so there was usually a rush to construct them once the relevant technologies had been uncovered. The original game had things like the Pyramids (which provided grain storage, and thus faster city growth for your empire) and the Great Wall (which provided extra combat points for the defenders of your cities). A few of the standard Seven Wonders of the Ancient World were carried over into the sequel, and there were also added wonders from different ages. For example, building the Gutenberg Press increased the overall science, and thus research, output of your society, and sped discovery of new technologies. Peculiarly, however, they added Contraception as a Wonder for the Modern Age.

The video clip (really just fancy animation) which played after you discovered Contraception featured a room of babies, bundled snugly into cribs crowded one after the other for as far as the eye could see. All you could hear was a cacophony of wailing infants, and the whole scene was cast over with a glaring red light. Then the light gradually began to change to blue, and the babies and cribs in the room all began to fade away, until all that was left was one in the very middle, which cooed softly to itself, suddenly not upset anymore. A lullaby quietly chimed in the background.

Then you saw the word "Contraception" fade onto the screen, billing itself as increasing the happiness in your society by two points, thus reducing the risk of riots in your cities.

Do you see the confusion here? One of the factors determining the final score in the game is total population. And yet you get extra points for having a Wonder which (if the math model in the game had been accurately engineered) would have subtracted from your overall score.

By now you've picked up on my theme. This is not a rant against the computer game industry for inconsistent themeology. (If it was, I could also mention an action game recently released in which a lesbian couple scour through archaeological sites fighting monsters and spirits and doing other things that two women should never do. It has been hailed by reviewers as an attempt to bring the computer game industry to a new level of tolerance, when really it's just a ploy to make teenage boys, the largest demographic of computer game players, buy the game.)

In pondering how to compile this column, I began to search the internet for relevant information on contraception and soon reached information overload, most of which made me quite mad. From the slick (and somewhat greasy) presentation of a Planned Parenthood teen website, to the blasphemous rantings of a bitter ex-priest who pinned all his woes on Pope Paul VI's Humanae Vitae, I was soon reminded that there are a lot of people who see nothing wrong with birth control.

So you'll allow me to (generally) disregard statistics and employ my favourite debating tool; Chestertonian logic.

For decades we've had it pounded into our heads that Evolution is how we came to be, and that it will dictate the further development of humanity as a species. Contraception throws a rather large wrench into the proverbial evolutionary machine. The Theory works on the basis of reproducible genetic advantages; ie, traits which, after appearing through random mutation, are deemed useful by Natural Selection and retained in the next generation of the species. It is a sort of trial and error system, where the useless, crippling, or dangerous traits are not passed on in the interest of propagation. It has taken billions of years for humanity to emerge in the form we now know. So now, after only a few thousand years of being self-aware enough to keep a recorded history (roughly one millionth of the time already elapsed in history, although certain parties insist it's closer to two millionths) Natural Selection has outgrown its usefulness, and we can determine on our own just who will be able to reproduce, thank you very much. This is, at the very least, the ultimate transgression of pride.

More recently, we're being told how the unknown monster of genetically engineered food is potentially killing people. One can hardly surf the documentary-type cable channels without clicking past some nature freak promoting organic horticulture and granola. Yet the same people who balk at a little fish in their tomato will not be heard opposing a little extra estrogen, or other less-natural chemicals, in their veins for the purpose of denying new life the opportunity to begin or grow. These new age farmers won't spray for locusts, but they have no problem tying off a tube or two to keep the pitter patter of little feet from interfering with their hand-picked harvest.

And when the baby boomer generation starts needing federal pensions and health care for their 80 year old bodies, there will be a much smaller group of people to pick up the tab with their sure-to-increase income tax. If you feel your taxes are too high and dread the slightest increase, then breed, for heaven's sake! In the interest of your own pocketbook, look at the big picture and realize that we're kinking the hose of our future by encouraging minimal offspring. You think we're seeing social spending cuts now; just you wait. Economists know that a small factor like a tenth of percentage point in one sector of the market can mean the difference between economic recession and economic growth. Well, in twenty years there will be four times as many people needing federal funding for their retirement. Meaning the governments of the day will either have to raise taxes to an unheard-of high level, or else cut their budgets like never before in the history of taxation.

Then it would seem quite illogical for a society at all interested in self-preservation to promote the use of contraception, even considering the vast amounts of "unwanted" pregnancies and sexually transmitted diseases out there. But what's the solution, the socialists cry? The world can only support so many people. People can't be told not to be responsible.

I don't have a firm grasp on just how much food the dirt of the world can provide, and because it's such a vast topic, I don't think anybody else does either. But this I do know. Growing up in Saskatchewan and routinely seeing massive bins and elevators full of grain, I know that humanity can produce a heck of a lot more food than the experts give us credit for. This is but one sparsely populated, relatively dry province in a remote, infertile corner of the world, which has more grain than it can use itself and ends up exporting most of it. And there are areas of the world capable of easily lapping Saskatchewan by virtue of their climate alone. In fiscal 2000/2001, the continent of Africa exported 7,801,900 metric tons of wheat, whereas the whole Western Hemisphere accounted for much less at 5,305,500 metric tons exported (Source: United States Department of Agriculture, Foreign Agriculture Service). That's a lot of food produced by a continent rife with civil wars and oppressive dictatorships in which free markets are a luxury known to only a handful of countries. Don't tell me we can't afford to feed the extra babies if people have them; economies are wonderfully adaptive things, and they will find ways to get food to hungry people, especially if they are born in the wealthy West.

The ultimate problem with birth control, however, is that its usage is promoted to people who by their very actions display a lack of self control. Telling somebody who won't keep it zipped to unzip responsibly is like telling somebody who won't refrain from doing drugs to do drugs responsibly.

The sad thing is, we do that too. Will this world ever make sense?

Wednesday, February 07, 2007

Federal Fiscal Policy

I hope that title didn't scare away any of my less intelligent readers (I know I've got a lot of Leaf fans out there).

I'm currently reading Catholic Viewpoint on Overpopulation, written by a Fr. Anthony Zimmerman in 1961. It contains a pro-family perspective on the contraception movement - which was just picking up steam in his day. I'm only about halfway through, but so far he addresses several errors in logic when modern statesmen blame high population for poverty. He also debunks the claim that there is not enough food growing capacity to feed the planet's growing numbers.

He routes blame for poverty and hunger back on to the state. This paragraph blew me away:

Since national monetary and fiscal policy exercises extensive influence upon the direction of the economy's development, it also greatly affects family income and purchasing power. Taxes, credit, interest rates, and related priorities can be shifted from one sector of the economy to another; this can expand or contract the purchasing power for simple family staples, such as food, clothing, housing, heat, medical care, and education. By inducing a tight money situation for production of family staples, while expanding priorities for durable goods and foreign trade in industrial commodities, the government makes it harder to support a large family in frugal but healthy circumstances; at the same time it expands purchasing power for more gadgetry if the family is small. It is another subtle pressure for birth prevention, whether intended as such or not.


In other words, when government policy favours frivolous consumer spending, it is impossible for it to encourage large families.

When Prime Minister Harper promised to take money out of federally funded day-care and give it to parents to make their own child-care decisions (meaning our single-income stay-at-home-mom household also gets to benefit from the policy, instead of only families where both parents work and shuffle their kids off to the nearest state-approved babysitter), he is showing all Canadians that we finally have a chance to be equal. No more will one group of us - coincidentally the social conservatives - be marginalized and told our decisions are not appropriate in this day and age.

So a big thanks for the federal Conservatives from this sole breadwinner. Thanks for getting it.

Saturday, February 03, 2007

Blur

It was only recently that I discovered that the hated Toronto Maple Leafs' team logo is actually a maple leaf (which makes sense, in retrospect). For the longest time I thought it was a blur, as in the image I edited below.

I must confess, the act of blurring the supposed maple leaf on that jersey was a challenging task, as even as I applied the blurring tool in my photo editor, all I saw on the original was a blur. So I don't really know if I got it all:


It never really occurred to me that watching a Leafs' game revealed the same visual effect as an episode of Survivor when somebody's bikini slips off or when a streaker runs through a football field.

As an Ottawa Senators fan I am biologically predisposed to despise the Blue & White - it's not something I can control. So I sought medical help, and got a referral to a specialist. The ophthalmologist tells me that the condition - which is known as Ocular Foliacontemnosis (meaning leaf-hating eye) - isn't serious and shouldn't limit my ability to lead a normal life.

Unless Toronto's traffic lights are shaped like maple leaves too... that could cause some chaos should I ever feel a need to visit there.