Thursday, October 30, 2014

C.S. Lewis on the Reading of Many Books

"My father bought all the books he read and never got rid of any of them. There were books in the study, books in the drawing room, books in the cloakroom, books (two deep) in the great bookcase on the landing, books in a bedroom, books piled as high as my shoulder in the cistern attic, books of all kinds reflecting every transient stage of my parents' interest, books readable and unreadable, books suitable for a child and books most emphatically not. Nothing was forbidden me. In the seemingly endless rainy afternoons I took volume after volume from the shelves. I had always the same certainty of finding a book that was new to me as a man who walks into a field has of finding a new blade of grass.” ― C.S. Lewis, Surprised by Joy1

1. With thanks to Jennifer Neyhart ( for reminding me of this quote.

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Personal Autonomy and Society

[Thirty one years ago] I could make objective observations about my kids without parents getting offended. But now we handle parents a lot more delicately. We handle children a lot more delicately. They feel good about themselves for no reason. We've given them this cotton candy sense of self with no basis in reality. We don't emphasize what's best for the greater good of society or even the classroom.1
Up until the cultural revolution of the 1960s, the good of society trumped the good of the individual in the western world. A few examples will help to demonstrate this. In the United States, from 1940 to 1975, individuals could be drafted into military duty. Prior to the 1960s, most medical decisions were made by professional physicians; and, as shown in the previous quote, teachers were given the benefit of the doubt that they knew what was best for our children.

Then western culture began to emphasize the concept of personal autonomy to a much greater degree. The U.S. revoked the conscription act, the patient was given much more say in medical decisions, abortion became a matter of rights related to a woman's choice, and parents and the child were consulted to a greater degree in matters of education. Today, in Canadian Parliament, we see a debate regarding doctor assisted suicide that hinges upon the rights of the individual and, to some extent, the values of society. At this point in history it is clear that personal autonomy has a much larger impact on such decisions than ever before.

Canada's Supreme Court last debated this issue in 1993 when Sue Rodriquez argued that the laws that prevented her from receiving assistance in her death violated her charter rights. At that time, the court decided that "certain rights enshrined in the Charter of Rights and Freedoms are trumped by the principles of fundamental justice."2 At this time it is unclear whether the same argument will hold sway.

Is it perhaps time to say that the pendulum of public opinion in the Western World has swung too far toward personal autonomy and individual rights? Personal ". . . autonomy has been criticized as being a bad ideal, for promoting a pernicious model of human individuality that overlooks the importance of social relationships and dependency."3 Could it be that we have sacrificed too much of our community consciousness for the sake of personal flourishing? As early as 1969, Emmanuel LĂ©vinas saw "The emphasis on autonomy . . . as part of our selfish and close-minded desire to strive toward our own fulfillment and self-gratification rather than being open to the disruptive call of the other’s needs."4 He challenged his readers to consider the value of heteronomy: the value of "subjection to the law of another."

How far will our culture go in establishing personal autonomy as the final trump card? Is it not time to consider whether there might be some limits upon the concept of personal fulfillment?

1 Source: an unnamed Tennessee elementary school teacher in Time magazine, 2/21/05
2 "Doctor-Assisted Suicide Sparks Debate Amongst CBC Readers," October 14, 2014.
3 Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy, "Autonomy."
4 Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy, "Autonomy."

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Doing and Being

Everyone of us sets goals and hopes to achieve specific results. Yet, there is a danger in depending upon achieving results.
“Do not depend on the hope of results. You may have to face the fact that your work will be apparently worthless and even achieve no result at all, if not perhaps results opposite to what you expect. As you get used to this idea, you start more and more to concentrate not on the results, but on the value, the rightness, the truth of the work itself. You gradually struggle less and less for an idea and more and more for specific people. In the end, it is the reality of personal relationship that saves everything.” - Thomas Merton
We must spend time both "doing" and "being." Doing things, setting goals, and hoping for great results is natural and expected. Jesus told a parable about investing talents and using the abilities we have been given (Matthew 25). He also taught us how to spend time being in relationship with His Father (John 15). Our hope is not defined by our results; and we continue to hope for the fruit of our labours.

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Mark Zuckerburg and Giving

Recently, Mark Zuckerburg and his wife, Priscilla Chan, gave $25 million dollars to help with the healthcare crisis that is emerging with the continued spread of the Ebola virus. This is a terrific gift and will help many people as we all struggle to comprehend the horror and pace of this disease. With Zuckerberg's net worth pegged at 33.3 billion dollars, this means that he gave away approximately 0.075% of his net worth. If your net worth happened to be $500,000 and you gave away 0.075% of your net worth, you would give $375. That helps me put it in perspective. It makes me realize that every gift counts.

Jesus taught this principle to his disciples. He watched both the rich and the poor as they gave their gifts to the temple treasury in Jerusalem. Some gifts were large amounts of money but one gift was two small coins from a poor widow. Jesus praised the widow for her sacrificial gift and pointed out that she had given more than the rest. So, even when we know how much people have given, we may not know the value of their gift, and we may not know which person has given the most.

Currently, my wife and I own our home, two cars, a small amount of money set aside for retirement, an assortment of things, and only a few debts. I wonder what our net worth might be. Perhaps I could challenge you to consider your own net worth as I consider ours. What might it look like if we gave away 0.075% of that net worth?

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Consider the Birds of the Air

Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothes? Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? Can any one of you by worrying add a single hour to your life? Matthew 6:25-27 (NIV)
On Thanksgiving Monday I went for a run in the beautiful Parkland area of Central Alberta. The sky was large and clear as I ran down a gravel road past rolling hills and ponds that teemed with life. A small non-descript water-bird caught my eye as I ran and I thought of this passage in the Gospel of Matthew: "Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them." All around me there was evidence of men and women reaping the grain that had been sown in the spring. Combines hummed in the distance; grain was being loaded into bins as farmers raced to beat the winter weather. There was a sense of urgency in the air. Yet, the small duck swam placidly in the slough and only briefly noticed my form running past. She was content in this puddle; and had all she needed.

For a moment I was jealous of this bird; for her life seemed so peaceful and easy. She practically lived in her own salad-bowl with abundant plant and insect life available in the pond. Then I thought of the rest of the passage: "Are you not much more valuable than they?" Matthew reminds us that God has a special plan for humans on this earth. We are more important to Him than the birds of the air. He cares so much about us that He has given us the task of sowing and reaping. We know the adage: "Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day; teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime." God doesn't simply provide us with fish, He is teaching us to fish.

God knows that we would rather be given an abundance of food and the pleasures of life; but He has a better plan for us. He is building our souls and preparing us for a grateful life in a new heaven and a new earth where one day He will reign and we will rejoice in His will for our lives.

On the Tuesday following my run, the stock-market took a dive in North America and commentators were asked for explanations and advice. Another form of urgency was in the air. Experts asked each other about their "worry-meter," seeking to land on an appropriate level of concern for the markets. God's word goes on to say, "Can any one of you by worrying add a single hour to your life?" The obvious answer is "no!" In fact, evidence suggests that worry is much more likely to shorten your life! God tells us, "do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear." The needle of our "worry-meter" is to be buried at zero. How? By trusting that we are valuable in God's sight. By trusting in His plan for the world. By trusting in His training for a new earth beyond this one. God loves little ducks but He does not train their souls. He is training our souls for a greater life.

Saturday, October 11, 2014


Give Thanks - He is Worthy

(also posted at the website of Bow Valley Christian Church)
Give Thanks
Thanksgiving season is a time when we examine the gifts we have been given and remind ourselves that we are not "self-made." Douglas Wilson writes,                                                                                                 
The issue of thanksgiving is really central to the whole debate about the existence of God. On the one hand, if there is no God, there is no need to thank anyone. We are here as the result of a long chain of impersonal processes, grinding their way down to our brief moment in time. If there is a God, then every breath, every moment, every sight and sound, is a sheer unadulterated gift. And, as our mothers taught us, when someone gives you presents like this, the only appropriate response is to thank them.[1]
A God who exists and created the universe is a worthy recipient for our thanksgiving. To whom does the atheist turn to give thanks? If there is no God, there is no thanksgiving. Oh sure, you could thank your forefathers and foremothers for outrunning the predators so that they survived long enough to reproduce and ultimately brought you into this world. But that would be hollow thanks. When we give thanks, there is always someone to whom it is given and the receiver must be worthy of our thanks.

I am glad to know the God who deserves our thanks. He is the one who has given us the gifts we have in this life. It is to Him that we respond.
Rev. 4:11 'You are worthy, O Lord our God,to receive glory and honor and power.For you created everything,and it is for your pleasure that they exist and were created.'

Saturday, October 4, 2014

George Harrison and Copyright Law

There is a common misconception about copyright law. It is often said that one song-writer can sample three bars or less and not infringe the other song-writer's copyright; but this is not the case. As Alan Korn, an expert in copyright litigation says,
"in determining whether one song infringes on another, it is common for courts to look to whether the 'heart' of the song was taken. The heart of a song may be a memorable melody, or an identifiable 2-chord guitar riff or just a few words taken from the chorus. As a result, there is NO truth to the rumor that sampling less than 4 bars is OK."1
The courts may also rule that infringement has occurred without proving that the infringing writer had access to the original song.
"One of the more famous U.S. music infringement cases involved ex-Beatle George Harrison, who was found by a jury to have 'unconsciously' copied the . . . composition 'He's So Fine' in his 1971 hit 'My Sweet Lord.'"2
Take a listen to the two songs involved in this famous lawsuit. "My Sweet Lord" was deemed to be "strikingly similar" to "He's So Fine." What do you think? How similar are the two songs? All of this has become suddenly very interesting to a little known band named "Key of Zed" as we consider how similar our song is to "Angel in Blue Jeans?"

(Lyrics and Music by Mike Charko and Keith Shields - SOCAN 2013)
Written March 16, 2013
Published on Thirst Website ( on April 13, 2013.
Published on ReverbNation, Key of Zed ( on April 13, 2013.
Performed at the Heritage Grill in New Westminster on June 3, 2013.
Performed at the Rusty Gull in North Vancouver on June 20, 2013.

Angel in Blue Jeans 
(Lyrics and Music © 2014 Sunken Forest (ASCAP)/EMI April Music Inc. (ASCAP) Stellar Songs Ltd. and EMI Publishing UK Ltd. (PRS). Written by Pat Monahan, Espen Lind, and Amund Bjorkland.)


Friday, October 3, 2014

Homes and Angels

My friend and fellow song-writer, Mike Charko, was in a store the other day when a song came over the system. He heard the melody of the hook and thought to himself, "That sounds a lot like one of our songs!" He didn't hear the name of the band and so after a bit of searching he realized that it was the new single from the band Train: "Angel in Blue Jeans." The hook of their song matches eight bars/ten notes in the heart of our song: "Home."

On the one hand, it is kind of flattering that we (Key of Zed) came up with a melody in 2013 that the authors of "Angel in Blue Jeans" came up with in 2014 and now it is playing on the radio. On the other hand, it kind of feels like copyright infringement. I will post links to both songs and let you be the judge. How similar are these two melodies? Do we have a case for conscious or unconscious copyright infringement? Should we contact the band? Should we just have fun knowing that our song is a lot like their big hit?

Home Angel in Blue Jeans

(Lyrics and Music by Mike Charko and Keith Shields - SOCAN 2013)
Written March 16, 2013
Published on Thirst Website ( on April 13, 2013.
Published on ReverbNation, Key of Zed ( on April 13, 2013.
Performed at the Heritage Grill in New Westminster on June 3, 2013.
Performed at the Rusty Gull in North Vancouver on June 20, 2013.


Follow this lane to the clothes on the line
The garden, the trees, and the hills that we'd walk
The buzzing of summer, the ponds, and the hay
Blossom of thistle, and sweet evening stalks


Driving left hand roads to rivers and sheep
The heather, the wind, and the salt of the sea
Ruddy complexions and hair of light red
This lonely shore she is calling me


Turn up this way 'til I see your sweet face
Gardening gloves and your hair out of place
A smile, a kiss, I'm lost in your arms
Right here with you I have built this space.


(Click on thumbnail image for a larger picture.)