Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Who Cares? Our fascination with celebrity.

Today's blog is more of a rant. I guess I'm just tired of our culture's fascination with the rich and famous. I'm not one of those who waited breathlessly for the wedding photos from Tom Cruise and his new wife, Katie somebody. Isn't he the one who was recently vilified for his criticism of Brooke Shields taking medication for her post-partum depression? And then he invited her to the wedding. How nice.

Then we get the big debate over whether or not Kelly, the hostess of Good Morning America, is homophobic because she didn't like the fact that Clay Aiken put his hand over her mouth. By the way, Clay has never come out and said that he's gay. Rosie O'Donnell, however, has claimed him as a part of the homosexual community. Not sure yet what Clay thinks of that.

So - how exactly does Rosie end up on a talk show? Because a lot of people actually care what she thinks. I don't get it.

I really don't get it that all of this stuff makes the front page of the newspaper, over and over. Britney whats her name files for divorce from Kevin and everybody's supposed to be shocked? What's the average life span of a marriage in Hollywood anyway - six months? This is Tom Cruise's third already, isn't it?

Anyway. Pardon my rambling. But I think it speaks to the shallowness of our culture that these are the opinionmakers, the molders of minds, to many in our society. We live in a time of celebrity cults - witness the impact that Christopher Reeves and Michael J. Fox have had on recent elections. I think it's indicative of the fact that so few want to take the time and the energy and do the work necessary to actually inform themselves on things that matter.

I think I'm going to try my hand at a few movies and then take a run at the Governor's mansion in some warm state somewhere. After all, I wasn't born in the U.S. either. Maybe, eventually, they'll even change the rules and I can run for President. I'd better sign off for now. I think I'll go and look for a few celebrity endorsements. Hey! Geena Davis once made a movie here, I'm sure she must remember me. With her on my team, who knows...

Saturday, November 11, 2006

Remembrance Day

Today is November 11, Remembrance Day, a day set aside to honour those who paid the supreme sacrifice on behalf of our nation. As the child of a Dutch immigrant who was in Holland when Canadian troops liberated that thankful nation, this day has always meant something to me.

We very easily take for granted the freedoms that we enjoy. We do live in a different time and age, albeit with its own challenges. However, try to imagine, if you can, what the world could have been like had Canadian soldiers not willingly placed their lives on the line to try to stop a European tyrant named Hitler, or if all of Korea were ruled by the communists.

There have been other conflicts as well - including the current war in Afghanistan against the Taliban. I'm proud of our soldiers, many of whom are younger than my eldest son. More than forty of them have lost their lives on foreign soil in this current engagement. Each of them have left behind those who love them - spouses, children, siblings, parents and friends.

This Remembrance Day will surely be an especially poignant one, in light of the fact that, for some, the memories are only a few months old. So, take a couple of minutes, at 11:00AM, to remember. It's certainly the very least we can do as a grateful nation. We enjoy today what they sacrificed to provide.

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

Good News!

Over the last few weeks there have been a number of news reports and op-eds about the videos "Bum Wars" and "Ghetto Fights" and the like. If you look elsewhere on this blog you'll find a couple of articles as well as a response from one of the stores which sold the videos. The good news is that a reversal in policy was just announced. The stores have voluntarily pulled them from the shelves and the Ontario Film Review Board has also announced that they may slap a 'R' rating on the offensive DVD's.

If you recall, the videos included graphic images of thugs beating defenseless people half to death - all for profit. Some teens were actually going out and making their own violent videos in the hopes of cashing in on the new craze.

Brodie Fenlon, who originally broke the story in the Toronto Sun, announced the decision in an article today. Sometimes public outcry can make a difference. If you sent an e-mail or letter or made a phone call, thanks. Let's hope the review board does its job.

Monday, November 06, 2006

What To Do When You Fail

I was deeply saddened upon hearing the news recently of the moral failing of Pastor Ted Haggard. Not all of the details have emerged, and I'm not sure I really care about them. The facts are simple. Ted Haggard admitted to sexual immorality and has resigned as Pastor of New Life Church in Colorado and as President of the National Association of Evangelicals (NAE). Aside from the obvious political motivations of the whistle-blower, there are some very important issues raised.
Te Haggard is the latest in a list of high-profile preachers who have had moral failings, including Jim Bakker and Jimmy Swaggart. The saddest part of the whole sordid affair is the damage that is done to the church, both local and general, not to mention his family. Trying to repair the damage that is done in one of these situations is like trying to unscramble eggs. The best that can be done is often to simply try to learn from the experience. So, what can we learn from this?
  • Don't put people on pedestals. Ted Haggard founded a church and nurtured it to a weekly attendance of 16,000. That is no mean feat. But it doesn't make him superman. He was a sinner saved by grace, just like any other Christian. He is subject to the same temptations and challenges that anyone else faces. That being said, the greater the leadership role, the greater the responsibility. A Christian leader must take care of his or her personal life, recognizing the impact that they have on those who look to them for leadership. I'm sure that Ted Haggard thought that dealing with his problems would be painful and embarassing, perhaps even career-threatening. However, I'm also sure that the pain he is going through now is much more severe.
  • Leaders need accountability. From all appearances, New Life Church did have a system in place to provide for just this type of a situation. However, there doesn't appear to have been anyone in his life in whom he could confide and who could have helped him to deal with his problem before it became a public mess. One of the greatest challenges for leaders is living up to the expectations of their followers. That can lead to being more concerned with our reputation than our character. Integrity means being, in fact, what we say we are. Maintaining integrity requires accountability relationships with people who know you well and who have permission to ask you the hard questions. While this is challenging, prevention is always better than the alternative.
  • Churches should avoid becoming a "personality cult." It looks as though this has not been a huge problem with New Life as another Pastor has stepped in and can hopefully lead the church through this dark time into better days. It was the problem with Jimmy Swaggart though. His was the face and the voice of Jimmy Swaggart Ministries and so he refused to receive the discipline of his superiors because he didn't think his organization could survive without him for three years. The Bible teaches us that, in the church, while all are important, none are irreplaceable. When we think that we can't be replaced, we should be.
  • Failure does not have to be final. While I'm sure that Ted Haggard and his family feel as though they're living a nightmare, life will go on. Back when Jim Bakker went through his disgrace and imprisonment he became the butt of many a comedian's jokes. But I was impressed with his sincerity in his confessional book, "I Was Wrong." People are generally forgiving if they sense real sincerity. While, quite obviously, things will never be the same for Ted, my hope for him and his family is that they are able to work their way through this and demonstrate the power of God to heal. Someone said that if you've fallen, you might as well pick something up while you're down there.

Life is hard sometimes. People do stupid things. When we've failed we must own up to it; take the consequences. It's not easy to do, but whoever said life would be easy? It's in days like these that I remember what Jesus said: "In this world you will have trouble. But be of good cheer! I have overcome the world." If you believe in prayer, remember to pray for the Haggard family and all of those affected by this.

Thursday, November 02, 2006

Stem Cell Research & The Media

You likely haven't read it in any of the major newspapers or seen it covered by the CBC, ABC, CBS, Global, CTV, etc..., but there's been a major breakthrough in stem cell research. According to an article by Gudrun Schultz, Scientists in Britain have grown a human liver from stem cells taken from blood from an umbilical cord. In other words, no embryo had to be destroyed; no ethical lines had to be crossed. It was simply good science.

You won't have heard this story likely because there seems to be a very real media bias as regards stem cell research in favor of the mantra that embryonic stem cells provide the "best hope" for scientific breakthroughs. You've likely seen video or heard audio clips of Michael J. Fox's impassioned plea for the passage of a bill that would allow for the expansion of this type of research in order to treat diseases like Parkinson's, from which he suffers. Michael's sincerity is obvious, which makes it all the more important to look at the facts.

Regardless of why those embryos were created - another debate entirely - how do you morally justify their destruction when other alternatives are available? Perhaps the question of the day would be this - why would the mainstream media ignore a scientific breakthrough of this magnitude? This "eureka" type of discovery was covered in London's Daily Mail. These scientists foresee a day when "cord blood from millions of babies born each year is banked, creating a world-wide donor register for liver transplant and dialysis."

Rush Limbaugh's crude accusation that Michael J. Fox was "acting" and exaggerating the effects of his illness are simply a distraction from the real issue: is it a good idea to open a door to questionable scientific practices? My answer is a firm no! Just because we can do something does not mean that we ought to; especially when there is a safe and non-destructive alternative.

According to Schultz: "Research using embryonic stem cells is highly controversial because it requires the destruction of embryos in order to 'harvest' the cells. Further, to this date there has been no success in using embryonic cells to treat any disease or disorder. In contrast, the use of adult stem cells or of cells harvested from umbilical cord blood shortly after the birth of a baby have already been used successfully to treat multiple conditions, including spinal injury and blindness."

The point is this: while Michael J. Fox's condition does tug on the heart strings, it is not a valid argument. Emotion should not - cannot - be allowed to override sound reasoning. One of society's main responsibilities is to defend those who cannot defend themselves. In order to do that we must preserve a healthy respect for human life. Embryos ought not to be created to be destroyed; the U.S. should not open that door, and Canada should not have.

During the reign of our previous Liberal government, Bill C-6 was passed, allowing research on frozen embryos created for in vitro fertilization (IVF) but no longer wanted by the donors. The language of the bill was clear that testing was limited to these embryos. However, already the line has blurred and IVF donors are now being asked to consent to allowing their embryos to be harvested for research - exactly the type of abuse that was feared in the first place. The argument that such legal changes are a "slippery slope" is not mere conjecture, it's history, as Rory Leishman argues in his recent article.

Our culture needs to move off of its trendy pragmatism, and look once again at a moral framework that protects those who are the most vulnerable. We need to stop being lazy intellectually and work through the implications of the decisions we make. The consequences of doing otherwise are frightening indeed.