Monday, August 25, 2008


I was catching up on my online banking tonight and noticed something odd about my mortgage:

I got all excited... but that date looked suspicious. Technically, it's accurate, as I didn't have a mortgage in 1999.

So I phoned them, and Natalie was very helpful. She told me that they bring their servers down for maintenance every night, and the first thing it takes offline is mortgages.

And here I thought I had won a contest. Oh well.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

The World On The Bus

I'm doing an experiment. I don't know for how long, or what it will create, but I feel bound to continue. In my travels on the city bus, I've noticed that if one is actually taking in the world as it passes by, there exist countless stories to be told.

So I've set up a new sister-blog to this one, called "The World On The Bus." Check it out from time to time; the link is in my sidebar.

Sunday, August 17, 2008

For My American Readers

If you haven't yet made up your mind between Obama and McCain, get over to Catholic Dads and watch the two short videos asking each candidate, "At what point does a baby get human rights?"

Their answers are enlightening. One is crystal clear; the other is muddled, noncommittal, and confusing. Care to guess who's is which?

Winnipeggers Project

Hey - all you who live in Winnipeg! Want to participate in a community project?

Amanda Gurney, a local artist, is painting 366 portraits, one for everybody with a birthday this year. She needs volunteers.

Visit her project's website to see if your birthday is still available and to volunteer.

Friday, August 15, 2008

The Beauty of Vulgarity

I chanced across an obscure quote from a 50 year-old book while at work, and I liked the quote so much I bought the book. Here's the quote:

The true biologist deals with life, with teeming boisterous life, and learns something from it, learns that the first rule of life is living.

It's from John Steinbeck's The Log from the Sea of Cortez, originally published in 1958. It's the narrative tale of a biological expedition he led to the gulf off the Baja Peninsula's east coast.

His style is that of a truth-lover, a scientist smitten with the whole of creation, and a crafty wordsmith rolled up into one. The following quote sounded to me like something Christopher West would say:

A man we know once long ago worked for a wealthy family in a country place. One morning one of the cows had a calf. The children of the house went down with him to watch her. It was a good normal birth, a perfect presentation, and the cow needed no help. The children asked questions and he answered them. And when the emerged head cleared through the sac, the little black muzzle appeared, and the first breath was drawn, the children were fascinated and awed. And this was the time for their mother to come screaming down on the vulgarity of the letting the children see the birth. This 'vulgarity' had given them a sense of wonder at the structure of life, while the mother's propriety and gentility supplanted that feeling with dirtiness. If the reader of this book is 'genteel', then this is a very vulgar book, because the animals in a tide pool have two major preoccupations: first, survival, and second, reproduction. They reproduce all over the place.

In many ways Steinbeck's comments ring true today, and resonate loudly, I feel, with John Paul II's teaching on sexuality: it's not something dirty or crude or a necessary evil. It's a glorious, beautiful gift God has given us, and for more than mere procreating - for proclaiming his analogical love for us through a physical expression of the deepest passion we can muster, and then by letting us know his love is deeper. There is no shame in sex when it's partaken of in the context of God's plan for our lives.

Facebook Was Worth It!

Oh, gee, everybody, learn a little culture - he's only my all-time favorite musician.

Dawn's party was cool too.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Fun At The Theatre

I just got back from The Dark Knight at the local film house and have some thoughts.

Not on the movie per se; better minds have discerned the grains of eternal truth shrouded in this film's cloak of allegory. My musings are on the movie-going experience.

The first bit of fun is always planning which movie I want to see, and when I want to see it. I enjoy action, comedy, and anything with Ben Stiller in it. Sadly, Tropic Thunder is not yet out. So Batman won out over the Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants 2 (by quite a large margin), as I do enjoy DC Comics and any good superhero story.

Next I look at when it plays. In my city, movies generally start at one of two times: 8:00 or 10:00. Naturally, 9:00 is for me the best time to see a movie, considering getting home from work, eating, tucking the kids in bed, and chillin' with the wife (who likes neither action, comedy, nor Ben Stiller). There is some leeway in these starting times; I can see it at 7:50 or 10:05, depending on where I go and how far I want to travel.

Then comes the difficult task of choosing a movie-going companion. Since our kids aren't yet self-babysitters, we either need to hire help, call up one of our "Sure, I'll babysit for free at the last minute" people (that list keeps getting smaller and smaller), or one of us stays home. Tonight, it's her turn to stay home.

I enjoy solitude. My wife enjoys... well, not solitude, and she can't quite seem to grasp how I can see a movie by myself. When Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace came out several years ago, I went to see it on opening day (not at 12:01 AM like the hard-core nerds, but at 4:00 PM like an old post-nerd) and I went by myself. I've observed that people tend to have a one-space-away-from-me comfort zone, so that when two pairs of strangers sit in the same row in the theatre, they'll always leave one seat empty between them.

That's my spot. I got in to see The Phantom Menace in a premium seat about 5 minutes before the show started on opening day this way. That's one of the many benefits of solo excursions. If I had gone with my wife or a friend, we would have been standing around idly in the aisles, gazing dumbly into the audience, hoping that two empty seats would suddenly converge.

But still she tries to convince me to take a buddy along with me. That's one of the problems with the 10:00 show: while it's not too late for me, it's too late for the other members of my social circle. Plus, I really just want to go alone. Eventually she gives up and shoos me out the door.

One of the benefits to the 10:00 show is that the parking lot is usually much more empty at that hour. As I pull in to my spot only a quick jaunt from the main theatre doors, I observe the one sight I despise the most in a parking lot: a gaggle of young men, adorned in droopy garb and hats as crooked as Richard Nixon. They're sitting in Asia's interpretation of a sporty car, pumping loud house music. I've got a theory about this type of person: the rhythmic pounding of the bass, reverberating through his very being, reminds him on a deeply psychic level of the sound of his mother's heart beating while he was in the womb, and it is paradoxically comforting as it tears his eardrums apart. These poor guys really just want their mommies.

I ignore them and hasten through the falling rain into the movie complex. At my theatre of choice, two employees are staffing the ticket counter, and off to the side are half a dozen automated ticket kiosks. The ticket you get from either terminal is the same, and yet there's always a line twenty people deep at the ticket counter, while the machines sit unused to the side. I can't grasp why. If you're paying cash or with a gift certificate, you need to talk to a person, OK, I get that. But if you're putting it on your bank card or a credit card, it's much faster to use the kiosk. You can even pre-order your food there so you don't have to pay again at the concession line.

So I head straight for the machines and get my ticket and my food ticket with no wait. I elect for a dish of nachos and a Coke, and make my way towards the food counter.

I notice right away that there are two lines: one with about ten people waiting, and another with two people waiting. So I head for the shorter one. Then a second employee comes and opens up her till to speed things along. The long line doesn't notice her, so the person right in front of me jumps in first. Fine by me: now I only have to wait for one person, and she's almost done.

Soon Keri greets me and inaudibly asks me what I'll have. She's slouching, her shoulders are sagging, and her long stringy hair is falling out from beneath her uniform cap. I hand her my pre-printed order. Thankfully, I can see that there is just one tray of nachos left under the heating lamp behind her. The trays come with nachos in the middle and two empty sockets in opposite corners for condiments. "Do you want two salsas, two cheeses, or a salsa and a cheese?" she drones.

Easy answer. "Two cheeses please."

"How many jalepeno peppers do you want?"

"Zero." My blunt answer evokes no reaction from her.

At this point, I see that the lady beside me, the one who skipped out of my line for the new line, has also ordered nachos and her server is taking my tray of nachos out from under the heat lamp for her. Grrr. But wait... they've got more. Keri unenthusiastically plods out of sight, then a moment later emerges with a large aluminium tray with 5 more nacho mini-trays on it. She has a long way to maneuver to get back, and has to pass by at least four other people in the cramped quarters behind the counter. Somehow she manages not to spill, and sets the tray down on her confined workspace next to the heat lamp. She takes off two mini-trays and delicately slides them under the lamp, then two more, and finally the last one. "Why would she put it away?" I think to myself. "She has to get it ready for me, doesn't she?"

Instead Keri picks up the empty aluminium tray and plods back around the corner to where it originated. I see them do this at Tim Horton's too, when they pour the last of the coffee from the pot into my cup - instead of giving you your coffee, they make you wait while they get another pot brewing. I guess it makes sense in a foresightful kind of way: if the theatre kept serving food with empty trays sitting up front, things would get awfully cluttered. And Tim Horton's would soon run out of brewed coffee altogether if they kept serving people when a pot got emptied.

She returns and picks up a tray of nachos from under the heat lamp. She ladles gooey melted processed cheese into one side, then the other, while merrily chatting with a coworker. Good - she remembered my order.

Then she lifts a ladle from another bucket, and before I know it there are jalepeno peppers - and the brine in which they were soaking - on my nachos. I almost protest but the movie's starting, and at her pace I'm not confident I'll get in before the halfway mark if she had to start over. So I bite my tongue. Then she scoops up more peppers, and more, and more... five scoops of them (and their brine) in total. Finally she hands it to me with my Coke and, grabbing a straw and some napkins, I rush to Door # 1 where The Dark Knight awaits.

As I round the corner and scope out the crowd, I see that the theatre's pretty full, even at this hour. Being a tallish guy I usually like to sit in the first row of the second section, where there is a wide landing separating the upper and lower decks of the seats - this way I can stretch out my legs. True to my plan, I find an empty seat with plenty of leg room and settle in to enjoy the show.

The nachoes are stale, unnaturally warm, and soggy from the jalepeno brine. The peppers themselves had been soaking so long that they had lost all flavour, so even when I accidentally scooped one up and injested it, I wouldn't have known had I not felt the texture of it with my tongue. And I highly suspect that not one cow was involved in the production of my cheese; in all probability several candle remnants were melted down and had some colour and salt added.

After the movie ends, I head outside for the virtually vacant parking lot. It's raining even harder than it was before, so I pull up the hood on my sweatshirt to shelter me as I walk to my van. It occurs to me that with my my hooded sweatshirt and jeans that don't go up as high as they should (but not for lack of trying), I could pass for a 20-something kid heading back to his souped-up Honda Civic, except that I don't have a gaggle of clones with me.

It's late, and I'm tired. I turn up the music in the van as I drive home, ostensibly to stay awake. But really, I just want my mommy.

Sunday, August 03, 2008

Nice Try

Picture this: some loser with a cable TV show dares a friend to fly a "Mohammed sucks" banner behind an airplane over a densely populated city just to see how offended people get.

Based on the reactions you've seen in the news to previous offensive actions against Islam, can you predict how many human rights complaints will be filed against the pilot, the cable show host, and the network on which it aired?

Too many to count, I'm sure.

OK, you've got me: this never happened (or if it did somewhere, I've yet to learn of it).

But this did happen:

So Vancouver resident and Christian believer Dean Skoryeko has filed a human rights complaint. It all started with TV shock-jocks Kenneth Hotz and Spencer Rice, of the idiotic "Kenny vs. Spenny" show. The show's format has them compete against each other in various stupid contests weekly, like who can endure the most electricity, or who can light the most blue angels. In this particular installment, the contest was to offend the most people.

Here's the funny part.

Originally, Hotz wanted to fly a banner saying "Heil Hitler," or more tamely, "Guys are stupid." But the airplane owners thought that was crossing a line and refused. "Jesus sucks" is, as you know, far less offensive. Especially when the airplane company buys the lie that he was actually talking about his Hispanic friend hay-ZOOS. And when asked how he would respond to a Christian actually taking offense, Hotz put on his theology professor's cap:

I think that Christians have been persecuted throughout history and they’re very good at defending themselves and a true Christian would turn the other cheek. I’ve studied the Bible a lot, I’ve done religious studies. So, I think for true Christians, it would only increase their faith.
But wait, wait... it gets funnier.

Hotz clearly states that the goal of this week's episode is to see "who can piss off the most people." But when the National Post blogger (ibid) started to turn up the heat, Hotz said, " I really hope nobody takes offense." That almost sounds like remorse.

But I'm not offended. Like Hotz says, Christians are used to this kind of stuff; Jesus himself promised us it would happen, and told us to rejoice in it. Pardon me while I have a flashback to junior high... OK, I'm done.

The point Skoryeko is making with his human rights complaint is that "that the human-rights system applies double standards, favouring only minority interests." Blogger Ezra Levant, no stranger to being pulled in front of the human rights commissions himself, theorizes:

...he wants his case to be thrown out, so that he can prove what we all know to be true. In Canada's human rights industry, only certain political and religious views are protected from hurt feelings -- and Christians aren't one of them.

It's not even like insulting Jesus is daring anymore. It's like trying to insult somebody by saying, "Your mother wears army boots." We Christians have become so desensitized to sacrilege in our society that we're rather numb to it, unless it's really creative.

And even then, I won't dispute the right of people to damn themselves to Hell if they so choose. It breaks my heart to see it though. When I see slogans like "My body, my choice" spray-painted on a memorial to the unborn outside a church, I feel saddened for the poor, hurt soul who was so out of touch with her pain that she lashed out in anger at the one place to which she could turn for genuine help. But I can't change how she feels; that's a job for the Holy Spirit.

The proper response of the Christian in the face of scorn or persecution is to pray for our tormentors. But that requires a heart filled with God's love. To receive his love, we must open ourselves up to his grace and drink him in (easy to say, hard to do).

So while I empathize with Mr. Skoryeko and fully understand why he'd want to make this point about Canada's human rights abuses, the better response would be to pray for Kenny and Spenny. Remember:

For our wrestling is not against flesh and blood; but against principalities and power, against the rulers of the world of this darkness, against the spirits of wickedness in the high places.

Saturday, August 02, 2008

Senselessness and Grace

By now the world is well aware of the horrible murder committed against Tim McLean by Vince Weiguang Li on a Greyhound bus, about an hour from where I live.

From all accounts, it was an unprovoked, random attack.

What baffles me is why it has become such a hot topic of conversation. Everywhere you go, every global news site you visit: everybody wants to talk about how horrific it is.

Why is that?

Gruesome crimes happen all the time. Perhaps this one stands out because it was so public, with so many stunned witnesses. But to me the most disturbing thing is that it was a completely passionless crime. The killer had no grievance against the victim that we know of. They were complete strangers. What can happen in a man's mind to cause him to lash out so randomly, so calmly, and with such horrific intensity?

A likely culprit is mental illness. I'm also sure that I'm not the only person of faith who wonders if the occult or some manifestation of the forces of darkness played a part. But whatever the cause, the most frightening part of the story for me is that the killer is human, just like me.

The ancient Roman playwright Terence observed, "I am a man: I hold that nothing human is alien to me." Or to put it another way: "There, but for the grace of God, go I."

For as insanely wicked as this murder was, if I am really honest with myself, I am forced to admit that I know I have the capacity for the same evil acts. I am a human being; I can fall into any sin, I can succumb to any temptation I face, I can horrify an entire world with my deeds.

But by the same token: I am a human being; I can rise above any sin, I can overcome any temptation I face, I can inspire an entire world with my deeds.

This profound truth applies to us all. This is how God has designed us - to be capable of incredible villainy, and to be capable of great acts of selfless love. This is why I have hope. No matter how far gone I think I am, I have it within myself to turn on a dime with a single act of will (multiple times, if necessary, which it is), and to surrender my life to the loving Creator who has a plan for sublime joy for each of us - even someone as deeply disturbed as Mr. Li.

The best part is that God himself gives me strength to make this turn, and to hold the course once I make it. And there is no limit on renewal; any time I fall, he will restore me to his presence, if I only seek him out with a sincere heart. All I have to do is echo the obedient words of Mary, the mother of Jesus: "Let is be done unto me according to your word."

Or more simply, "Yes."