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Hollywood Meets Easter: An Academy Award-winning Film Exposes Our Desperate Need for God

Apr 27, 2006

The (2006 Academy) Award (nominated) winning film, Crash, is one of the most profound and powerful films I’ve ever experienced. Its insight into the human condition is piercing; a brutal commentary on our desperate need for God. Unearthing. Disturbing. It wakes you up.

If you’ve ever wondered why we need the Christian story of Easter - its Good Friday darkness and its Sunday morning hope - Crash will give you all the evidence you need. And not very politely, in fact it will side swipe you. “Nobody leaves this movie unscathed,” says Hollywood director Paul Haggis. He’s right. Culpability is assured, so is grace.

The primary vehicle used in preaching Crash’s message is racism. But not simply racism, it includes all kinds of relational brokenness: a Caucasian gun store owner toward a Persian man; that same Persian man towards an Hispanic locksmith; a corrupt white cop toward a black woman, another black woman toward that same white cop; the rich toward poor, the poor toward rich; a man toward a woman, a woman toward a man; a mother toward her son, a son toward his mother; and, last but certainly not least, we, the viewing audience toward our very selves. In engaging the film, we realize that we’re no different than the story’s characters; we’re just as broken, just as guilty as they are.
“The soldiers, having braided a crown from thorns, set it on his head, threw a purple robe over him, and approached him with, "Hail, King of the Jews!" Then they greeted him with slaps in the face.” John 19:2-3, The Message
Crash slaps you in the face, strips you down, pulls the rug out from under your self denial. In a rather brilliant act of story telling, the film takes the human depravity spotlight, one that we so readily aim at others, and deftly turns it upon us.

There’s a scene where two clean cut young black men are walking along, talking about the unfairness of racism, the discrimination of stereotyping. As a viewer you find yourself walking alongside them, nodding in agreement with their assertions, sharing their incredulity at the injustice of it all. And then, in a shocking twist of plot, the two pull out their concealed weapons and ruthlessly car-jack a rich white couple. All of your broad minded, liberal sensitivities go out the window. The same thing happens when a very nice Korean man, an innocent pedestrian, run over by the fleeing carjackers, turns out to be a slave trader. It seems that even our stereotypes of relationally broken reality are not as clearly defined as we’d like to think. Good and evil are inextricably intertwined. Crash unpacks us.

A rich white woman, screams at her husband regarding her concerns that a tattooed Hispanic locksmith, currently working in the adjacent room, is a gang member. With him, we’re sickened as we overhear her prejudicial rant; with her, we’re sickened as we overhear ourselves.

And then, in the most disturbing subplot of all, we meet a savior, the only redeemable character in the film; a good white cop named Tommy. We seethe with him at his partner’s blatant bigotry. We stand with him when he’s challenged on his racial idealism. We celebrate human potential with him when he saves a black man, caught in an explosive confrontation with police. And then, we die with him when, later in the film, he ends up shooting a young black hitchhiker; all because of a meaningless prejudicial misunderstanding.

And then we despairingly cry out with the Apostle Paul, “There's nobody living right, not even one, nobody who knows the score, nobody alert for God. They've all taken the wrong turn; they've all wandered down blind alleys. No one's living right; I can't find a single one. Their throats are gaping graves, their tongues slick as mud slides. Every word they speak is tinged with poison. They open their mouths and pollute the air. They race for the honor of sinner-of-the-year, litter the land with heartbreak and ruin, Don't know the first thing about living with others. They never give God the time of day.” Romans 3:10-18, The Message

Everywhere we turn we’re faced with questions. Are we really like this? This perverted? This twisted? This filled with self-denial? Have all of us turned aside and become corrupt? Is there no one who does good, even one? Who’s going to save us from this mess?

“The soldiers brought Jesus to Golgotha, meaning "Skull Hill." They offered him a mild painkiller (wine mixed with myrrh), but he wouldn't take it. And they nailed him to the cross...” Mark 15:22-24, The Message

It seems to me that putting God on a cross is the ultimate manifestation of human relational brokenness. Depravity is most proudly displayed via our ability to stereotype, prejudice, and reject God. We choose to see what we want to see, we limit the truth; both in the person of Jesus Christ and in ourselves. Somehow we manage to get to the place where we see ourselves as right and God as wrong; it’s the pinnacle of self denial, of human pride. We become totally blind to who God really is. One could not conceive of a more tangible way to ‘not give God the time of day.’

And yet at the very moment that depravity reached its zenith, so too did the providential love of God. While we’re busy hammering in the last few nails, living out our denial based self righteousness, God tearfully looked down on us; at the mess we’d got ourselves into, at the suffering of his Son, and screamed out, “Enough!” And the whole time Jesus peered straight into our eyes; prayed for us, “Father forgive them.”

The moment we were at our worst, God was at his best. He died, we found life. We sinned, he saved. Our darkness made his light seem even brighter.

And what’s really intriguing about it all is this fact; the whole time this story is playing out, we have no idea what’s going on. We’re being saved behind our backs. While we’re still messed up, and messing up, Jesus died for us.

We can see this same reality playing out in the film Crash. Throughout the movie, we’re given visual clues every time the camera looks down from above on the city, or on a particular scene, offering us a ‘God’s eye’ view of things. This perspective cues us to the fact that someone is seeing all of this. The storyline goes even further; opening our eyes and hearts to the fact that someone is also mysteriously acting through all of this.

In a powerful scene of redemption, the most despicable character in the film, a bigoted white cop, providentially ends up being the officer on scene for a terrible car accident. The black woman, whose life is hanging in the balance, is the same woman who he’d physically assaulted the night before. Initially both are horrified at the situation, and then something else mysteriously takes over. A greater good rises up within that peace officer’s heart and he risks his life trying to free her from the burning wreck. She lets go of her anger and trusts him, having no choice but to let him save her. All the while the mystical musical of the movie’s soundtrack plays in the background. Arm in arm they run from the fiery scene, falling into a trembling, tearful embrace. Then the car explodes and the camera pulls up into the sky.

Redemption. Hope. God stepped in and saved them; despite themselves.

“God did it for us. Out of sheer generosity he put us in right standing with himself. A pure gift. He got us out of the mess we're in and restored us to where he always wanted us to be. And he did it by means of Jesus Christ... This is not only clear, but it's now--this is current history! God sets things right. He also makes it possible for us to live in his rightness... What we've learned is this: God does not respond to what we do; we respond to what God does. We've finally figured it out. Our lives get in step with God and all others by letting him set the pace, not by proudly or anxiously trying to run the parade.” Romans 3:24;26;27-28, The Message

The whole back half of the Crash story is filled with these kinds of serendipitous salvation scenes. Saving foisted upon undeserving souls. The whole back half of our life stories are filled with these kinds of serendipitous scenes. It’s what Easter is all about; God at work behind the scenes, resurrecting us in spite of ourselves, mysteriously, graciously, making all things new.

View PDF (149kb) of this story

Link to "The Banner" magazine


Coming Alive

Apr 24, 2006

I’m starting to come alive again. I can feel it. This morning I sent a draft editorial in to the local paper (“Why God loves a good Calgary Flames hockey game”), I’m more and more excited about preaching, my confidence is coming back, as is my health (I went for a nice 2 hour bike ride and accelerated up a nice little hill), and I even feel like blogging again.

Yesterday something hit me. As I was walking along the edge of the Glenmore Reservoir, soaking in the beauty of God’s creational truth, I wondered. I wondered if God “entering into” material reality for the first time (ie: when the universe came into being) was some kind of proto-incarnational typological event. Let me explain that.

According to Christian theology, God made it all, and before God made material reality (the Universe); God was. Eternality allows for the possibility of an immaterial God (take that the right way) existing before any of this did. So that means that God decided to ‘enter into’/’co-exist with’ material reality long before he decided to enter into/ co-exist with a human body via Christ. The incarnation had a precedent. God took on the universe before he took on human flesh. That’s a cool idea.

And it makes me wonder if both ‘entering into’s’; the first creation, God’s first word, and the second creation, God’s second Word via Christ, might have something to teach each other.

Would both involve God putting some of his Godness aside in order to allow the transaction to be completed? I’ve got to think about this some more.



Apr 17, 2006

For the past few years our church has had this very strange relationship with a local rock station called CJAY. On many occasions they’ve been gracious enough to have me on the air to talk about upcoming Sunday services; Evanescence, Switchfoot, Metallica, etc... When the Metallica service played out, they ran a pitch for the sermon in their ‘upcoming concerts’ segment (hourly for a day and a half!). It was one of their DJ’s who tipped Metallica’s drummer off re: our church’s more positive take on the band. (Lars (the drummer) told the DJ, after reading a Calgary Sun article on the upcoming church service, “I think this is %^&* amazing!”) The band sent a Warner Music camera crew to church that Sunday to video/record the service for the touring musicians. Then the story went around the world. Anyways, CJAY has been berry berry good to us. So when we had a chance to return the favour, it was a no brainer.
Last spring an artist from New Hope created this amazing painting during a sermon series on seeing God in creation. This fall someone bought the piece and donated some money to the church. The church decided that any monies made would go to a charity of the donor’s choice. The donor asked that $2,000. go to the CJAY children’s Special Wish Fund. Last Tuesday, during holy week, I delivered the cheque to the station (along with three coffees and a hot chocolat). Sitting in the radio studio with the three ‘on air’ morning DJ’s was pretty far out. Good to put faces to voices... and no, they didn’t all have radio faces at all! In the 10 minutes we spoke, we talked non-stop about God... about helping helpless people... about doing good in the world. It was great to see God’s work being done through these folks. I smiled all the way back to my car.

A ‘kinda’ lewd, crude and rough edged rock radio station, doing the compassionate work of God in our city; and a church giving money to their cause. You gotta love a God who makes a world like this.



Apr 10, 2006

I remember when I first made the decision to leave my job as a real estate developer in order to become a pastor/preacher. My biggest fear was my huge, narcissistic tendency toward pride. I was so worried that it would get me into a place where I would end up maligning God’s good name. I was afraid that my potential future screwup would wreck God’s reputation.

I prayed a prayer back then that I have often regretted (not really though). I prayed,
“God, if it means keeping me from messing up in this way; if it means keeping me appropriately humble before you, please allow this to occur; to what ever degree you see necessary.” The ‘it’ I was referring to was depression. I know of no more powerful humbling force. I’ve known it and I know it.

This past year has been one of the hardest I’ve ever faced. Man do I need God’s help. Where would I be without his Hope?

Authored by: Anonymous on Monday, April 10 2006 @ 01:53 PM PDT
Reading that this past year was the hardest you faced, just to let you know as an observor, it is also a year where I have seen you grow and mature in wisdom. Maybe (and I have also experienced this) it is God testing, and checking your character? Your Job year! love in Christ! gk
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75k - EFI

Apr 03, 2006

Boy did it feel good to get a long ride in again. I must have ridden in 6 provinces today; Alberta, as I gazed at the mountains on the way out on highway #8; BC, as I rode along side the Elbow River just past Bragg Creek; Northern Ontario, as the mid day light hit the pine trees on #22; you get the point...

It’s like that cross country ride has so impressed itself upon my conscience, my very being. What a wonderful feeling, knowing that you did something with that kind of sticking power. This summer my son and I plan on hiking the West Coast Trail together. Blame it on the adventure bug.
Took some pics while riding... not much colour this time of year (except for the beer cases, cans and crap filling the ditches). But there was still beauty there. I forced myself to stop 3 or 4 times... stop and see what I might see. These are a few of the images I caught.

75k - EFI
Authored by: Anonymous on Tuesday, April 04 2006 @ 06:56 AM PDT
I love your mind, P.J.! I like that you can still see beauty in "ugly" grey, drabby
looking things; somehow, they are still beautiful! It's been grey, gloomy, rainy,
misty here (Sweden) the past little while, but I still find it beautiful, in a
portentous sort of way. Spring is coming!
Miss you (all) tons,
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75k - EFI
Authored by: Anonymous on Tuesday, April 04 2006 @ 08:08 AM PDT
Great to hear you in high spirits Sarah. Hope the studies are going well. We all look forward to you (and Jackie's) safe return. See you at the wedding I guess. :)


Staying the Course

Apr 02, 2006

The past two weeks have been a bit of a strain. While I believe in the vision of our church, now more than ever, my confidence continues to vaccilate. It seems that every week involves digging deeper and deeper. It's enough to drive you nuts at times; makes you want to bolt. Slowly though, it seems, the ride is beginning to smoothen out. Bit by bit, I feel the confidence level building; steadying, strengthening. This gives me hope.

As do the recent affirmations that have come our way. Over the past week or so the following has occurred;

1. Some young guy (relatively new to NH) donated 15k to our community.

2. CBC TV called, "out of the blue", right in the middle of our series on the theology of Oil and asked if I'd come on air and talk about Spirituality and Oil. No kidding!

3. Swerve magazine called and asked it I could comment on the spirituality of seven 'secular' songs. I just pulled out 7 old sermons.

4. This morning I preached on a Canadian film entitled, "St. Ralph." I'm not sure that I've seen as good a fit between a movie and the bible. Edifying.

Surely we must be doing the right thing.


Theology of Oil Links

Mar 18, 2006

Links to audio and video, from the Theology of Oil Series.

March 26 - John's message on "Oil & Accountability"

Audio and other links

March 19 - John's message on "Oil & You"

Audio and other links

March 17 - CBC Calgary News interview, "Future Perfect" - a story of oil and prosperity in Calgary.

March 12 - John's message on "Oil & God"

Audio and other links


Choosing life

Mar 13, 2006

Day off today. Normally I fill it with all kinds of work, but today I had to drive my 16 year old son to the hospital for a checkup. “Had to...” Why is it always ‘had to’ with me? What it is about a mundane, regular part of life, errand like activity that always makes me feel like I don’t have time; that someone else should be doing this (so that I can get on with my more important things)? Waking up this morning I decided that today would be different. Having watched a father on Law and Order last night weep over his dead son, “My beautiful boy... my beautiful boy,” I decided to fully engage and appreciate my beautiful boy today.
I patiently waited for him as we headed out a little late. I listened intently and let the conversation follow his agenda, his stories, on the drive in. I chose to pay for parking and walk in with him, instead of being cheap and waiting out in the car... I know, it’s pathetic, that I would dare to consider saving $5.00 at the cost of 90 minutes with my boy! I followed him from one waiting room to another and we talked. First we talked Sudoku, and I taught him how the game works; he’s better at it that me. Then we talked about girls for a while. Then, in waiting room number two, we noticed two guys in dark blue, official looking uniforms. “Corrections Canada,” were the words written on their jackets. And in between them was a shorter, clean cut man; obviously in the clinic for his check up.

My son and I couldn’t help but be intrigued. What was he in for? Was he dangerous? Were the hospital staff intimidated? “Corrections Canada... that meant a federal prison; probably Bowden,” I whispered. “Could be white collar,” I said, “Perhaps murder?” What a great mystery, right there in this ordinary clinic. Then the nurse came out and put some drops in the prisoner’s eyes (I guess you don’t unnecessarily risk taking him into the treatment room). We continued our attempts to solve the case. Then another nurse called out, “Michael, could you follow me?” Michael, and his two guards rose, and the entire posse headed off for treatment. He was wearing leg shackles!! Must be murder. And now we had his first name! Michael... Micheal from Bowden. Spying his empty chair we noticed the magazine he’d left. My son wondered if he’d come after us if we took it. I thought that maybe we could dust it for prints, run them through APHIS, and then solve the mystery. We both laughed. Then I paused and said, “We're probably the only two idiots who would try and solve the mysterious identity of a criminal who’s already in custody.” We laughed out loud. Then my son says, “Yeah, I think we might have the right guy!”

We were killing ourselves. I can’t recall the last time the two of us, in a peer like kind of way, shared a joke quite so richly. Good times. On the way home, I asked if he’s like to miss some more school and go for a Starbucks. Caramel Macchiatto’s all around. He carried his through the front door of the high school, and I smiled all the way home.

Authored by: Anonymous on Tuesday, March 14 2006 @ 11:24 AM PST
hope his teacher doesn't read this,

choosing Starbucks over Einstein, Newton, ethics, poetry and prose, ions, quadratic formula, and other such essential vitamins....

the shackles of education>?
[ Reply to This | Delete | ]
Choosing life
Authored by: Anonymous on Wednesday, March 15 2006 @ 07:27 PM PST

Rob W


In the world...

Mar 11, 2006

Just read a very interesting review of a book entitled, “What Jesus Meant,” by Gary Wills. The text’s intent is to try and get at what the real Jesus was like (not unlike the hundreds of books over the centuries that have preceded this one and tried to do the same!). I found myself deeply resonating with some of Wills’ ideas and quotes;

“Jesus was a radical. He was scandalous, and iconoclast ‘who ghosted in and out of people’s lives, blessing and cursing, curing and condemning... the last thing he can be considered is a gentle Jesus meek and mild.”

“He was a runaway kid imbued with a fierce desire to flout the rules and change the world.”

“No outcasts were cast out far enough in Jesus’s world to make him shun them -- not Roman collaborators, not lepers, not prostitutes, not the crazed, not the possessed... Despite all of Jesus’s efforts, his self professed followers keep on creating categories of the unclean.”

“Followers have the obligation that rests on all men and women to seek justice based in the dignity of every human being.”

Over the past few years I’ve been trying to figure out what it means to be a follower of Jesus’ teachings in terms of engaging his world. How deeply do you step into it? (As deeply as an Incarnation did?) How much do you love it? (As much as Jesus did?) How much abuse are you willing to take as you engage God’s world and his people?
Yesterday I was driving out to a meeting with a couple of guys from our church. Part of the dialogue centred around the concept of living “in the world but not of the world.” (Jesus’s teaching to his disciples in the Gospel of John 17:14-19) We talked a bit about where you draw the lines. I’ve noticed that most people try to answer this question in a very categorical, concrete kind of way. I don’t gamble; I won’t watch that kind of stuff; those people are the kind of people I would never hang around with. They create camps, judge them as either good or bad, then make their choices. That’s one way to interpret Jesus’ teaching. But what if he meant something else?

What if the line between ‘in the world’ and ‘of the world’ had less to do with specific activities or certain people and more to do with the forces of good and evil in behind all things? Paul Haggis, director of the Academy award winning film Crash, says in Time this week, “...not that there are good people or bad people... we are all capable of being both.” Hmmm... Could it be that we are all in the world even as we are of the world; at the same time? And then, are we not all called to side with the forces of good, to be part of God’s redemptive work in the world, regardless of where that is occurring? Just because Jesus was hanging with “sinners,” it didn’t mean he was giving tacit approval to their sin; or to the ‘of the world’ forces of evil at play in their lives. He was just going where the love of God needed to go. Love demanded that he draw near to people, wherever they were at. And there was something about him doing this that ignited the hearts of people; in a good way, for the ‘sinners’ who knew the good and evil that resided within, and in a bad way for the hypocrites who did not.

Authored by: Anonymous on Sunday, April 16 2006 @ 03:49 AM PDT
i didnt really want to post anonymously but it's taking ages to get my password so.....
ive never read the book but gees i was just thinking the same thing... and more..
I don’t think I’ll ever know the ebb and flow of the worlds holy scriptures, how they came to be, how they have changed over time.
Let’s say Jesus came to save us.
Some say Jesus died for our sins. So that we may live.
I say, Jesus lived so that we may understand the potentiality of our own existence.

All our prophets, sons and daughters of god, are examples to us of how we might be.
Who we might be.

So if Jesus came to provide an example and if we are then to emulate Jesus, let us remember what Jesus did.
Then we might get to who Jesus was.

He visited the places of institutionalised religious beliefs and economic regulations and challenged their paradigms of human interaction, human and god interaction and human division of wealth and status.

Buddha challenged human and animal interaction and relationship.
The Suffragettes challenged female and male interaction.

So should we then visit the places of institutionalised religious beliefs and economic regulations and challenge their paradigms of human interaction, human and god interaction and human division of wealth and status?

What would this mean?

Lifting the blanket of dumbdowness. Looking around, up, down, here, there, sequentially, laterally, internally, inside and then out. Understanding our thoughts, words, actions.
Forgetting those of others.
Controlling our thought, words, actions.
Not controlling other's thoughts, words, actions.
Letting thoughts, words, actions move, flow, grow, shrink, have quality.
Create, manufacture, bring forth quality, from nothing.
And from everything weld, potter, form, shape, enliven.

Leave breadcrumbs and do not fear. You never stop being who you are. You change who you are. Or finally decide who you want to be.

An eagle’s eye.
A lions nose.
A bats ear.
A leeches skin.

Break it up, distribute, analyse, examine, believe.

Life taking or life giving?

Everything you do is one or the other. There really is no neutral. There’s no escaping your actions and inactions.
Everyday you decide where the universe it heading.

Many religions believe the world will end one day and that they are the chosen ones to be saved, inherit, angelise.
Now does thought create, or does creation create itself?
At this point I say, God is not angry, jealous, or punishing.
God is love.
We are love and anything else we want to be.
We create ourselves, molding, fashioning, fashioning the world and it’s truisms.
And there God is, always there to remind us.
Setting aside clay, metal, water, fire, air, tools, a canvas, adorned with life.

Only those who truly know god can be saved and only those who know themselves can decide their own pieces, outcomes, choosing their tools and materials as they choose who they are.

Even religions, schools of thought, belief structures, that have a peaceful premise to their practice think the world will end.
Do we want it to?
Will all those bodies believing this cause the end of the world?
Will all those who denigrate humans “I prefer animals to people”, “People are violent”, “People are selfish”, “People are the worst animals on the earth”, will they cause the violence, selfishness? How can we find a way out while facing this denigrative evaluation?
I don’t see that the human condition has worsened. It’s just more obvious.
And in all that increased technology and communication, we find like-minded bodies, whether their minds want to be life-taking or life-giving.
I have found many life-giving bodies in my travels, by foot, vehicle, virtual.

And we celebrate our likeness and then our differences.
I would like to be always around life-giving bodies, so my vibrations can always be life-giving. But there I find I already have a life-giving body and dig to bring out, like a light on my palm, my life-giving energy, my life-giving force, changeless life force, life-flow, life-creater, life-maker, life-mixer, life-taker.
Inherent words, thoughts, actions.

Where do you want to see our world, our universe, our lives going? What will you believe?

There is always change. Only the life-force does not. Changeless.
What change do we long for, what do you long for.

Brighten up, have fun, and remember, you have the baton.
P.S Don’t leave just because you cannot find any change.
As someone said (sorry don’t know who), “be the change you want to see in the world”.
To me, “BE” being the operative word.

Now if you walk into a store, take an item from the store to the counter and give the attendant a note and they say, “sorry, I haven’t got any change”, what do you do?

If you wish you weren’t somewhere, and wanted to be somewhere else, and got to that somewhere else, where do you think you will want to be?

If you missed the journey and arrived, would you forever look back?

If you looked and didn’t smile, if you looked and didn’t see, would you ever know?

If you looked and didn’t love, would you ever leave?

If you left would you ever care?

If you loved would you ever leave, and then leave again?

If you loved and left, would you return and if so when and how many times.

If you lived but did not love, would you give and then not shove……? Or is is the other way around?

May peace be with you and all you touch.
For that is what I long for, for one day, you might touch me, and my love may awaken.
Yet I think it awakens now, yes I hear it, yawning, stretching, smiling, “hello, good morning, where have you been my love, all my life?”
I cannot not see it yet, cannot feel it yet, and barely get a whiff, but I can definitely hear it, pulsating, tidal, listen… shhhh………


Academy Awards Crash

Mar 06, 2006

Did anyone pick up on the ideological collisions that were taking place at the Academy’s last night? Interesting stuff. Here you have the master of ceremonies Jon Stewart in one corner; post modern commentator and all round cynic, facing off against the Academy itself; the institution, with their more traditional, established, modern take on both film and life. You could see all the actor/ producer/ directors attending the ceremonies squirm as the two ideologies collided.
The academy prepares a ‘moving’ collage of film clips, depicting the various ways Hollywood has historically ventured into the controversy of major issues that have plagued humanity over the past decades; war, racism, intolerance, etc... And Stewart mockingly responds with, “And, of course, none of these things were ever a problem again!” Everyone nervously chuckles. Uneasy because part of us wanted to believe that Hollywood was making a difference, and part of us knew that Stewart was speaking prophetically. Immediately after his comments, an Academy Big Wig spoke and defended the difference that Hollywood had made over the years.

Seems that after every single cheesy academy presentation, Stewart did a little de-construct. And then someone else would stand up and defend the academy’s worldview. The hip hop/rap group 36 Mafia receives an award, jumping up and down, hooting and hollering, and Stewart responds with, “Now that’s how you accept an academy award;” an obvious jibe and the emotionally stunted, somewhat predictable, aesthetically superficial acceptance speeches of others. In his cynical way Stewart was saying, “Get real folks.” To a bunch of actors... Many did not appreciate his humour... at times the camera didn’t know where to go to avoid the confused, thespians’ faces.

We don’t like facing our superficiality. Aesthetically or otherwise. We don’t like it when our feeble attempts to make the world better are seen for what they are; feeble. We don’t like it when we are faced the reality of Lauren Bacall’s little speech; barely able to walk to the podium, unable to see well enough to read her script, haltingly slow and unsteady on both fronts. She forced us to the edge of our emotional seats, she forced us to look at our own mortality, to honestly look the future in its face, all in the context of the beautiful, youthful, nice, superficial, unreal world of the Academy.

Part of us wants to hope so badly... another part of us cynically doesn’t dare.


Muslim Cartoon Controversy

Feb 28, 2006

What do you do when the local paper runs out of room for your editorial? You post it to the blog (a writer's last refuge!).

"Everyone has the following fundamental freedoms;
(a) freedom of conscience and religion,
(b) freedom of thought, belief, opinion, and
expression, including freedom of the press and other media of communication;
(c) freedom of peaceful assembly; and
(d) freedom of association.”

Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, Section 2

Those words from our charter are beautiful; something to be proud of as Canadians. They clearly and succinctly articulate the highest of human values, something that every person on this planet ultimately longs for; freedom. When the idea is done right, when it’s properly defined and appropriately lived out, the world is as is should be, and humanity is free.

But what do you do when things don’t work out, when, in particular, subsection (a) collides with subsection (b)? What do you do when Western Democratic freedoms of speech get into the face of Muslim freedoms of religion?

Well, I guess you go to the ‘enforcement’ section of the Charter.
"Anyone whose rights or freedoms, as guaranteed by this Charter, have been infringed or denied may apply to a court of competent jurisdiction to obtain such remedy as the court considers appropriate and just in the circumstances"

An enforcement section! In a charter that’s all about freedom! Laws encasing freedom; isn’t that kind of ironic? The idealist in you asks, “Why in the world would freedom ever have to be enforced?” The cynic responds, “Because human nature is what human nature is. We often abuse our freedom, inwardly and toward others. History has proven this fact over and over again; we're prone to take advantage, to ignore, to malign, to abuse, and sometimes to even decapitate others. We do it with our actions or with our words, by dropping a bomb or by drawing an explosive cartoon.”

People often act in selfish ways, putting their desires first, wanting what they want over and above the considerations of others. We seek to impose our beliefs, wave them in others' faces, think that we’re totally right, while they’re totally wrong. It's a fact.

Interestingly, this character flaw is one that we readily recognize in others (often our enemies), and are often reticent to acknowledge in ourselves; a deceptive and dangerous fallacy.

World famous Notre Dame philosopher and expert on the problem of evil, Dr. Alvin Plantinga, sees the realities of good and evil as being inextricably intertwined, like holding your hands together and interweaving your fingers.

Russian novelist and Nobel Prize Laureate, Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn agreed, "If only there were evil people somewhere insidiously committing evil deeds, and it were necessary only to separate them from the rest of us and destroy them. But the line dividing good and evil cuts through the heart of every human being. And who is willing to destroy a piece of his own heart?"

Piercingly and sadly true, if we’re honest about it. So, what do we do then? If our ability to properly define and apply the ideal of freedom is innately and intrinsically flawed, is there some kind of addendum, beyond brute enforcement, that we can add to our global human charter?

I'd say the one and only solution to this conundrum would be a broadening of freedom's definition; making it even bigger!

Imagine if every single, freedom loving, individual on this planet re-framed their view of freedom and decided to make it into a 'we' thing versus an 'I' thing. Imagine how the umbrella of freedom would be expanded and enlarged; enough to shelter and embrace all of humanity. Imagine everyone in our global village genuinely grasping the fact that we’ll never be a free human race unless every human is included. Imagine that.

And then imagine coming up with a new way of applying this enlarged definition of freedom. Perhaps we could start by reversing freedom’s flow; by giving it a new locus. Instead of freedom beginning with me, let it begin with an ‘other’. Instead of demanding it for me, demand it for an ‘other’. Instead of doing freedom unto myself, do it unto others. Can you imagine how this might play out; everyone going at it backwards, loving their neighbours first, even as they then love themselves? Reversing the flow of freedom seems crazy, but it may be the only way of protecting ourselves from our natural human proclivities.

Can you envision a society that tried to do this? So free that they’d choose to not publish a cartoon, just in case it might offend the freedom of another; a neighbour. Can you picture a world where the most powerful, rich and free peoples, choose to exert their freedom in a way that, instead of boxing others in, instead of pressuring their consciences, creates space for them to be free as well? Economic space, political space, social space, so that these ‘others’ will know they are recognized, respected, included, wanted, and even needed? So that they will have the space to grow into their God given human identities, to become the civilization they are meant to be, to have dignity and to belong?

Can you imagine what that might do for all of those ‘others’ out there? How freedom might then have the best chance to grow; both in them and in us?

How would you judge a person who treated you this way? How would you judge their definition of freedom? Human beings seeing other human beings living a freedom that exemplifies itself in love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against these kinds of things we don't need any laws, charters, or enforcement.

Authored by: Anonymous on Tuesday, February 28 2006 @ 11:43 PM PST
Hi John,

I read your comments with interests and you've given me much to think
about. I found it interesting that shortly after I read what you wrote I tripped
across this Toronto Star article about to comments of 11 Canadian Muslim
academics and activists:

I'm not sure if it adds or takes away from your point but hopefully it brings
another perspective to rather confusing issue where confusion over what fact
or fiction is resulting in a major misunderstanding between different religious
cultures that don't put their trust in a loving, all-knowing God.

Keep on blogging Brother,
Fred Folkerts



Feb 27, 2006

I have this brilliant friend named Rob. He’s a very strong man in matters of faith and equally muscular when it comes to his mind. Rob is currently working as Vice- President of Sermon Research for Messages relating to the Oil Industry (V.P.S.R.M.O.I.) This morning he sent me a few thoughts that came to his mind while listening to a (unrelated, yet tangentially related, because it’s all related; right?) CBC radio program;
“Father Ron Rolheiser is a Catholic priest featured on CBC’s Tapestry. (You would have liked him because Henri Nouwen is his hero) As I listened (with oily ears) I could hear how the discussion about modernism/rationality and the lack of community have and have had a huge influence on society and the oil industry which is perhaps a microcosm of society.

He’s a really positive person and comes across well on radio. The host picked up on one of his less positive papers – A Shrinking Horizon: The Deeper Reasons Underlying our Struggles to Believe in God in Western Culture. In the paper he talks about the Triumph of the Therapeutic. Here’s a summary: (the paper is 25 pages – I know you already have a lot of reading)

In short, therapeutic consciousness, as described so brilliantly by Rieff, is the antithesis of contemplative awareness. Bottom-line, it strips human consciousness of the types of asceticism and symbols which the poets, mystics, philosophers, and theologians (not to mention classical common sense) used to say set us apart from animals. This has made us not only less contemplative, but also less interesting since, as William Auden puts it, "all of us know the few things that man, as a mammal, can do!" In Orwell's image, we are so concentrated on the jam, we have not even begun to realize that we have lost our capacity to fly!

And here is Orwell’s wasp story

"A cruel trick I once played on a wasp. He was sucking jam on my plate and cut him in half. He paid no attention, merely went on with his meal, while a tiny stream of jam trickled out of his severed oesophagus. Only when he tried to fly away did he grasp the dreadful thing that had happened to him. It is the same with modern man. The thing that has been cut away is his soul and there was a period ... during which he did not notice it." This quote from George Orwell, perhaps more than most other images, describes the narrowing that has befallen us today. We are so engrossed in "eating jam" that we do not even realize that our potential to fly is being cut away!”


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