Saturday, April 18, 2015

Wars of the World

Spending a week in the museums of Washington, DC, one is continually confronted with the many wars that have been and continue to be fought on this planet. I have found myself asking many questions about war. When must a country go to war? Is there ever a good reason to defend ourselves or defend a weaker people? Was it necessary for countries to go to war in the Seven Years War of 1754–1763; the War of 1812; the American Civil War; World War I; World War II; the Korean War; the Vietnam Conflict; the Gulf War; the Iraq War; the War in Afghanistan; the Syrian Uprising; the fight against Boko Haram in Nigeria? Although I tend toward pacifism, I find that my answers to such questions are ever changing based on individual circumstances. I believe that J.R.R. Tolkien had more in mind than the wars of his fictional Middle Earth when he said,
War must be, while we defend our lives against a destroyer who would devour all; but I do not love the bright sword for its sharpness, nor the arrow for its swiftness, nor the warrior for his glory. I love only that which they defend.1
Perhaps that is all one can say. There are times when war must be, such as when a political or religious power threatens to destroy and devour all. Yet, we do not glorify war or the weapons of war; we rejoice in those things against which war can and has defended. We glory in people who have freedom to choose their politics, their religions, and their philosophies. We reluctantly go to war so that we might love peace.


1 J.R.R. Tolkien, The Two Towers

Friday, April 17, 2015

DC Talk: Colored People

It only takes a few days in the city of Washington, DC to realize that race relationships between blacks and whites are complicated. Relationships are complicated by history, by economic standing, by political perspective, by fear, by apathy, by pride, by . . . . One day, all will be made right and colour will be seen as “a thing of beauty” in the “the passion of an Artist's heart.” "Ignorance has wronged some races And vengeance is the Lord's If we aspire to share this space Repentance is the cure."

Colored People
(Performed by DC Talk – Listen Here)

1, 1, 1, 1
2, 2, 2, 2
3, 3, 3, 3
4, 4, 4, 4

Pardon me, your epidermis is showing, sir
I couldn't help but note your shade of melanin
I tip my hat to the colorful arrangement
'Cause I see the beauty in the tones of our skin
We've gotta come together
And thank the Maker of us all

We're colored people, and we live in a tainted place
We're colored people, and they call us the human race
We've got a history so full of mistakes
'Cause we are colored people who depend on a Holy Grace

1, 1, 1, 1
2, 2, 2, 2
3, 3, 3, 3
4, 4, 4, 4

A piece of canvas is only the beginning for
It takes on character with every loving stroke
This thing of beauty is the passion of an Artist's heart
By God's design, we are a skin kaleidoscope

We've gotta come together
Aren't we all human after all?
We're colored people, and we live in a tainted place
We're colored people, and they call us the human race
We've got a history so full of mistakes
'Cause we are colored people who depend on a holy grace

Ignorance has wronged some races
And vengeance is the Lord's
If we aspire to share this space
Repentance is the cure

1, 1, 1, 1
2, 2, 2, 2
3, 3, 3, 3
4, 4, 4, 4

Well, just a day in the shoes of a color blind man
Should make it easy for you to see
That these diverse tones do more than cover our bones
As a part of our anatomy

We're colored people, and we live in a tainted place
We're colored people, and they call us the human race
We've got a history so full of mistakes
'Cause we are colored people who depend on a holy grace

We're colored people, and they call us the human race
Oh, colored people
We're colored people, and we all gotta share this space
Yeah we've got to come together somehow

We're colored people, and we live in a tainted world
Red, yellow, black and white
We're colored people, every man, woman, boy, and girl
Colored people, colored people, colored people, colored people, yeah

Songwriters: Kevin Mc Keehan; George Cocchini; Published by UP IN THE MIX MUSIC

Thursday, April 16, 2015

Great Speeches



While vacationing in Washington, DC this week I have been struck by the power of a great speech. Abraham Lincoln, perhaps America’s favourite President, was considered a great orator and two of his most famous speeches are inscribed on the walls of the Lincoln Memorial: The Gettysburg Address and the Second Inaugural Address. (While here, we have witnessed somber remembrances of the 150th anniversary of the assassination of Abraham Lincoln.) The words on those walls have much to do with the freedom of enslaved people in the history of their nation and there has been more than 150 years of progress since the Emancipation Proclamation on January 1st, 1863 by that same 16th President of the United States of America. Yet, change has come slowly.

Martin Luther King Jr., 100 years after the Emancipation Proclamation, gave one of the greatest speeches of all time on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial on August 28th, 1963. In it he pointed out that the Emancipation Proclamation “came as a great beacon light of hope to millions of Negro slaves who had been seared in the flames of withering injustice. It came as a joyous daybreak to end the long night of their captivity.” Yet, King also pointed out the great need for further progress, for he said:
One hundred years later, the life of the Negro is still sadly crippled by the manacles of segregation and the chains of discrimination. One hundred years later, the Negro lives on a lonely island of poverty in the midst of a vast ocean of material prosperity. One hundred years later, the Negro is still languished in the corners of American society and finds himself an exile in his own land.
More than 50 years after Martin Luther King Jr.’s passionate speech, we find that much has changed but there is still much that needs to change. In a powerful sermon preached at Shiloh Baptist Church in Washington DC on Sunday, April 12th, Dr. Harold Dean Trulear spoke of the distance yet to go. He pointed to the disproportionate number of young black men in prison. Although blacks make up only 13% of the US population, they represent 37% of prison populations in that country. African-American males are six times more likely to be incarcerated than white males and 2.5 times more likely than Hispanic males.1

Reverend Trulear, speaking to a mostly black congregation, began with the biblical text of 1 Samuel 30:1-8 and spoke of the need to rescue their families from captivity. He punctuated the message with a call to “Go get your stuff!”2 His words inspired the people to "not be ashamed of those who are in prison but rather to visit them and welcome them back into society when they return." The “altar call” invited those who had family members in prison to come forward for prayer; and a large crowd went forward.

As a white Canadian sitting in the Shiloh Baptist Church building that morning I knew that Canada has its own disproportions in prisons. Canada’s population is made up of approximately 4% aboriginal peoples; yet, 23% of our prison population is aboriginal.3 What sort of speech do we need that will begin to change these numbers in our own country? How might we dream of a better future? How can Canadians and Americans alike work to create a just world where all can say, “Free at last, free at last, thank God Almighty I’m free at last?”

1 U.S. Bureau of Justice Statistics, Prisoners in 2011, 8 tbl.8 (Dec. 2012); and http://sentencingproject.org/doc/publications/rd_ICCPR%20Race%20and%20Justice%20Shadow%20Report.pdf
2 https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Q3L41NjK5gY
3 http://ca.reuters.com/article/domesticNews/idCABRE92615X20130307

Monday, April 13, 2015

Your Mission, Should You Choose To Accept



We are in the midst of a mission. If we are attentive and listen to God, he has a mission for us. The Creator of the universe has made each of us unique and has gifted each one with a mix of talents, given to us at birth, and gifts, given to us at the point when we surrender to God’s plan for our life. So, what does that mission look like in each of our lives? Sometimes we live as if that mission was all about our own comfort and ease; but when we consider the nature of the universe, we really know that it must be about more than that. Certainly we can see that, while we live in relative comfort, there are many around us whose lives are anything but comfortable. So, are we ready for an adventure? Are we ready to take on whatever it is that God has placed before us to do? Tolkien’s words in The Lord of the Rings are instructive of the attitude required for taking on the mission of God.
We shouldn't be here at all, if we'd known more about it before we started. But I suppose it's often that way. The brave things in the old tales and songs, Mr. Frodo: adventures, as I used to call them. I used to think that they were things the wonderful folk of the stories went out and looked for, because they wanted them, because they were exciting and life was a bit dull, a kind of a sport, as you might say. But that's not the way of it with the tales that really mattered, or the ones that stay in the mind. Folk seem to have been just landed in them, usually — their paths were laid that way, as you put it. But I expect they had lots of chances, like us, of turning back, only they didn't. And if they had, we shouldn't know, because they'd have been forgotten. We hear about those as just went on — and not all to a good end, mind you; at least not to what folk inside a story and not outside it call a good end. You know, coming home, and finding things all right, though not quite the same — like old Mr Bilbo. But those aren't always the best tales to hear, though they may be the best tales to get landed in! I wonder what sort of a tale we've fallen into?1
In Ephesians 2:10 (NIV) we read that “we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.” That is the sort of tale into which we have fallen. It is a tale in which God has prepared a mission for each of us: a mission with good works to be accomplished by us. Will we turn back or will we go on? We are not assured a good end; at least not here on this earth; but we are part of a great tale that is unfolding. The only way to know the tale into which we have fallen is to go on. The road before us may be shrouded in mist or may seem as black as the heart of Mordor; but we have an inner light that will guide us to the end of the journey.

1 Tolkien 1971, p. 320, 321

Work Cited: 
Tolkien, J.R.R. The Two Towers: Being the Second Part of the Lord of The Rings. Agincourt: Methuen Publications, 1971.

Tuesday, April 7, 2015

I Have an Idea



I have an idea. It is an idea that could be developed into something great in the hands of an Elon Musk, Rod Canion, or Richard Branson. A great entrepreneur would take an idea like mine and pursue it until it became a great technological boon; or until the idea was found to be completely lacking in practical benefit. In my hands, it is only an idea. It will never see the light of day and I will never take the necessary risks to develop the idea into real technology. How many other grand ideas are floating in the human consciousness that will never see day-light? What makes one person pursue an idea and another person hesitate?

My idea has to do with the security industry and would help in the identification of those who commit thefts or industrial espionage. The concept is that when an unauthorized intruder enters a home, office, or industrial complex, they would unknowingly be sprayed with a cloud of GPS traceable nano-particles. When police came to investige the robbery or invasion, they would be handed the "key" that would allow them to track the nano-particle cloud on the intruder. Police could then find and arrest the suspect knowing that they would have good "chain of custody" for the evidence that linked the suspect to the crime. I believe this to be a novel concept; and yet, I know I will not invest in the development of the idea. So, I write this idea here in the hope that an entrepreneur might be inspired by this concept. Maybe someone else will run with it or maybe someone else is already thinking about such things. One day this technology may be available.

Monday, April 6, 2015

Whiplash



You know you have seen an effective movie when you are still thinking about it three days later. Recently I watched the movie Whiplash, directed by Damien Chazelle; starring Miles Teller and J.K. Simmons (watch the trailer here). The movie is intense and at the end of it I commented to a friend that I felt like I had been assaulted. The movie is about how far one man will go to challenge members of his elite band to become great. The band leader, Terence Fletcher, played brilliantly by J.K. Simmons, has a philosophy about music and truly great musicians. He believes that the greats will only appear if they are driven to becoming great. He asks his young up-and-coming drummer if he understands "how Charlie Parker became Charlie Parker." The kid answers, "Jo Jones threw a cymbal at his head." The two of them agree with the concept that without the abusive actions of Jo Jones, the great jazz saxaphonist, Charlie "Bird" Parker would never have become an elite player.

So goes the movie, with scene after scene of Terence Fletcher verbally and physically abusing every member of the jazz band. He is convinced that he must do this if he is ever to see a "Charlie Parker" or "Buddy Rich" rise up within the ranks of his band.

The day after I watched this movie I found myself contemplating the concepts as I went for a morning run. I wondered about the truth of the ideas presented in the movie. What is it that drives some people to become truly great at something? Is it always an abusive coach? Might it sometimes be an incredibly strong internal drive? Could it ever be a supportive coach? Why did I care to find the answer? Is it important to create the conditions that might generate an elite athlete, a great musician, or a brilliant scientist?

I thought about my own life and how I have often considered that I am much more of a generalist. I dabble in a number of disciplines, but have never become "one of the greats" at any of them. I am attracted to, and have worked hard at learning science, philosophy, theology, leadership, music, triathlons, and writing. What would my life be like if I had desired to become the best in the world at just one of these disciplines?

It soon occurred to me that perhaps we do need both generalists and specialists in our world. The specialist, such as a jazz great, or a Nobel Prize winning scientist, is a vital part of how humanity moves forward in any given discipline. The generalist is one who appreciates the pioneering work of the elite professional and gives their ideas traction in the world. As a generalist who knows something about many of the elite leaders in a variety of fields, the generalist can communicate the joy of discovery and excellence in those fields, inspiring others to achieve greater heights in the varied disciplines. Could it ever be possible that the generalist could play a significant role in gently encouraging the internal motivation that results in a "Charlie Parker?" The "Terence Fletcher method" most assuredly must not be the only method of developing greatness.

Thursday, April 2, 2015

The Last Time I Saw Richard



Joni Mitchell has a gift for creating pictures of sad personalities. Here as she writes of Richard, she also paints a picture of the person speaking to Richard. This is one of my favourite Joni Mitchell songs.

The Last Time I Saw Richard(Words and music by Joni Mitchell; from the album Blue)
(Listen to the song here.
The last time I saw Richard was Detroit in '68,
And he told me all romantics meet the same fate someday
Cynical and drunk and boring someone in some dark cafe
You laugh, he said you think you're immune, go look at your eyes
They're full of moon
You like roses and kisses and pretty men to tell you
All those pretty lies, pretty lies
When you gonna realize they're only pretty lies
Only pretty lies, just pretty lies 
He put a quarter in the Wurlitzer, and he pushed
Three buttons and the thing began to whirr
And a bar maid came by in fishnet stockings and a bow tie
And she said drink up now it's gettin' on time to close
Richard, you haven't really changed, I said
It's just that now you're romanticizing some pain that's in your head
You got tombs in your eyes, but the songs
You punched are dreaming
Listen, they sing of love so sweet, love so sweet
When you gonna get yourself back on your feet?
Oh and love can be so sweet, love so sweet 
Richard got married to a figure skater
And he bought her a dishwasher and a Coffee percolator
And he drinks at home now most nights with the TV on
And all the house lights left up bright
I'm gonna blow this damn candle out
I don't want Nobody comin' over to my table
I got nothing to talk to anybody about
All good dreamers pass this way some day
Hidin' behind bottles in dark cafes
Dark cafes
Only a dark cocoon before I get my gorgeous wings
And fly away
Only a phase, these dark cafe days 
Songwriter: Joni Mitchell; Published by Lyrics © Sony/ATV Music Publishing LLC, Joni Mitchell/Crazy Crow Music/Siquomb Music