Thou shalt not kill — unless you’re an elderly church deacon and he’s homeless?

September 8, 2014

And likely not to be charged with any crime, according to police:

Eighty-year-old Lillian McTodd, dressed head to toe in white, struck the man as he pushed a shopping cart containing bottles on Gates Avenue in Bedford-Stuyvesant at around 10:30 a.m., witnesses said.
He was in the crosswalk, and McTodd had a green light as she made a left turn in her gold Chrysler 300C from Bedford Avenue onto Gates, police said.

“I didn’t know him, never saw him before,’’ the stunned woman told The Post after the accident, with the man’s body lying in the street about 15 feet away.

She was headed to 11 am mass at her church at the time, her bible was open on the dashboard and she also had a plaque on the windshield: “God is my co-pilot.”

My assumption is that her head was filled with church mission thoughts and not actually on her driving which, at that moment, really should have been the priority in her life.

Unfortunate. Maybe she needs to be banned from driving at least.



Churches would love all youth to see Soul Surfer

April 15, 2011

Not just because Bethany Hamilton’s story of triumph over adversity is admirable, but because the makers of the film (and her parents themselves) made sure the audience would know just how wonderfully Christian she is, thus should use the movie (and the inspirational literature tie-in) to help themselves, and likely convert others. From the Christian Post:

Global Media Outreach, formerly the media arm of Campus Crusade for Christ, announced Tuesday that it has partnered with several national youth ministries to develop a website to share the spiritual story behind Bethany Hamilton’s inspiring life. The online ministry hopes that Hamilton’s story and personal testimony will engage youths into thinking about their own faith life.

Since I never did have any plan to see this movie, I checked reviews and many of them are panning the film, or at least giving it average scores. As far as the production team goes, there might have been too many cooks in the proverbial kitchen. The Globe and Mail notes clichés in the script and plot lines. A.V. Club elaborates on that:

the film’s bubbly narration, relentless pop soundtrack, wearying MTV editing, and desperately intense positivity wash away most of her story’s drama, as well as any sense of reality. … there’s a sense that they’re trying to map Hamilton’s actual life over the conventional beats of a sports-underdog film. But the conventions mostly win, often in saccharine ways.

They aren’t entirely kind to the acting, either, but that often has a lot to do with how skilled the writers and directors are and how important they think it is to create a well-rounded supporting cast. Judging by the reviews, it wasn’t a priority. By the look of things, it was barely a priority to make AnnaSophia Robb’s portrayal as realistic as possible. Roger Ebert mentions the actress coming across as “eerie in her optimism” and likens the film to a parable rather than a true telling of this girl’s “harrowing” experience.

Using his own experiences in hospitals as a jumping off point, Ebert then wonders how those less capable than Hamilton might view her experience based on this film. I wonder how they view her unwavering devotion to a god who’s made it clear he’ll never heal amputees. Adding to that, do churches want all youth to take a leaf from this character’s good book and never complain (much) or falter in any way? Stop them from turning away from god-loving attempts to claim it’s all part of some master plan?

Quoting the Christian Post again:

The power of family, the importance of faith, and seeking God’s direction in life have proven to be important lessons for churches to teach. Outreach Inc., a church marketing and publishing company, has produced resources based on the movie’s positive, family-friendly themes for churches to utilize.

“Amid the difficult times we are all facing, Outreach’s ‘Soul Surfer’ resources equip congregations with the materials essential to walk through challenges, deepen their faith and strengthen their relationship with God,” remarked Eric Abel, vice president of marketing for Outreach, in a statement Tuesday.

Marketing aside, I think it can be good advice, and a good lesson, to show kids that if they’re able to face their problems with a positive frame of mind, a tragedy can be turned around. A setback shouldn’t be treated as an excuse to quit trying all together. Might have to rethink the method to achieve the goal, but if they want it bad enough, they’ll figure out a way to make it happen.

I don’t know if a church would even be the best place to get support in a situation like this. Something like the Amputee Coalition of Canada might be a better resource.

The Amputee Coalition of Canada was created to improve quality of life of persons with limb loss in their communities by providing education and opportunities to gain skills, lessons and coping techniques that increase confidence, connectedness, and sense of belonging. Through the ACC, persons with limb loss are educated on how to best engage in social and physical activities following amputation and how to incorporate these activities into their lives. The ACC relies on structured and validated programs, with the involvement of persons with amputation, to encourage a culture of support, networking, and active participation in life following limb loss.

By getting involved with groups like that, they can see for themselves how life goes on regardless of what’s been lost. They’re leading by example in a way a church cannot.

The dialogue about prayer, part 2

January 30, 2011

This is the second half of an article by Frank G. Sterle, Jr. regarding prayer and whether or not God’s capable of fulfilling any. We know where I stand on this, so I’m interjecting between paragraphs.

There very-likely are parents whose prayers were ‘answered’ because of, as a good example, the U.S.-initiated “Amber Alert”—a rare, positive result from something so tragically horrible as the abduction, rape and murder of a girl named Amber. Her distraught mother, who did not want her daughter’s brutal demise to be in vain, lobbied politicians to establish a nation-wide policing plan, in which the entire country—including all news-media outlets and amber-light highway signs—goes on an Amber Alert and looks out for children once they are reported to police as anomalously absent.

There was also a story recently about a Chinese man hunting for his lost child and how his 13 years doing that resulted in the discovery of seven other kids who’d been missing. He hasn’t found his son yet, though:

His stubbornness and courage has captured the Chinese media and resonated with families across the nation.

“The reason I do this is very simple: I felt so guilty I didn’t look after my child,” says Guo. “When I find the kids of other people, their happiness is like a miracle. But I also think, why can’t a miracle happen to me?”

Because now he’s getting selfish and whiny? It’s good what he’s doing, though. Too bad he’s still looking for his own kid, but I suppose believers could claim that’s why God hasn’t let them reunite yet, because his work reuniting others isn’t complete. And if he finds his own kid, will he quit finding others? That’s a very real possibility, so we could make a “needs of the many” argument here, too.

Back to Frank.

Perhaps, one might suggest, God allows such horrible losses, as that of Amber, for a cause of “the greater good.” However, what about the many other parents who lose their child(ren) basically in the same manner as Amber and nothing positive at all comes of it? Indeed, the reverse seems more likely to occur, in which a bereaved parent lingers in a mental institute until an untimely death (because of, say, stress-related heart failure) takes her or him ‘home to be with the Lord.’

Why, I wonder, do so many fortunate people believe that God would bless ‘us’ while neglecting ‘them’?

Because humans tend toward an “us versus them” mentality would be my guess. You see it in politics, in sport, in religious disputes and other causes of war. Maybe it stems from the fact that throughout history our societies/villages were fairly small and far enough apart to make travel between them difficult, or at least time consuming. The troubles of getting together meant everyone fended for themselves a bit more and kept their own counsel and ideologies separate from their neighbours. Be it out of necessity or because of geography, it wound up easy to sort people: those who think like we do, and those who don’t. Those who don’t probably deserve the neglect because of that. Elitism at its finest, I suppose. Even if the elite are supposed to feel sorrow for the neglected ones, there’s probably still some level of satisfaction in the knowledge that they’ve passed muster in their God’s eyes.

I once spotted a secular community newspaper photo, with accompanying caption and cut-line, consisting of a Christian school’s basketball team ensconced in group prayer, apparently asking God for a ‘good game’ (i.e., a win). Even if God could or would answer the players’ prayers in their favour, why in this world would or should He (I actually believe that God is genderless) care about the outcome of a fairly-trivial sporting event? As one (probably atheistic) letter-writer rhetorically asked, would not God, if He hears and responds, have greater tasks or concerns at hand, such as, if He can, aiding starving Africans?

It’s a valid question and I think the answer is found in the fact that people tend to believe in a personal, “He cares about me!” kind of god rather than one who’d care about everyone equally. I might believe he’d watch every sparrow that falls, but it’s only my basketball toss he’ll make sure hits the net… How egotistical an idea that is.

Hopefully, such prayer for a sporting-event outcome is naught but an anomaly, for, much more bewildering and concerning to me was a (local, main) news story about a night of brutal “ultimate fighting” at a South Surrey church’s community centre, which would presumably also be open to prayer.

The event in 2009 was raising money for a woman’s shelter. Kind of ironic when you think about how many women (and their children) likely needed the shelter because they were getting the shit beat out of them at home…

Whenever I say that I (admittedly, a ‘backslidden’ Christian) cannot help but feel perplexed at how so large a portion of the populace believes that prayer actually influences God’s plan for humanity, my sentiment more often than not will be misconstrued as a declaration that God, therefore, is apathetic towards His creation. On the contrary, I wish to emphasize that, I believe, God does indeed love and care very much for humanity, even though we too-often hurt and even kill/murder one another.

So what winds up being his answer for why bad things keep happening to good people regardless of how much they pray?

Rather, I find that if a theist objectively observes the surrounding world, the theist will conclude that God has allowed humanity what we, collectively, desire—choice through free will (figuratively or literally, Adam and Eve choosing to eat the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil, and thus, as warned by God, they lost the eternal bliss, perfect climate and full protection of Paradise); and we all, including too many truly innocent children, must bear the often-brutal brunt resulting from that collective free will and choice.

But can he say seriously that people consciously choose their diseases? That people choose to get hit by cars or lost or kidnapped? Sure, I guess to be fair there are some who bring disaster on themselves deliberately (the Darwin Awards come to mind) but for the great majority, it’s very much a “shit happens” kind of thing, regardless of how many opportunities we may have to make choices.

I’d never say we’re fated or destined to become or do anything. We have choices in every situation and the choice to make the right choice is not always going to be easy to sort out, or even desired maybe. There are many solutions to problems that we’ll automatically dismiss (or should at least) because they’ll break laws, or hurt people, or will make matters worse.

What compels me most to write on the controversial topic of prayer, however, is the emotional anguish that poor folk out there who have lost children must endure when hearing the words from relieved and grateful parents (on the news, etc.) whose young loved-one was spared torture and death: ‘Oh, thank God—He has truly blessed us!’ Yes, I, one with a sometimes-crippling guilt complex, realize that such ‘blessings’ may be comforting to countless believers; but is not publicly expressing such comfort thus at least somewhat inconsiderate?

I wonder the same thing after events like Haiti or Katrina where people are in the media hours and days after the tragedy praising God for saving their lives with no evidence of survivor guilt in the picture. I’m sure more than a few of them wonder why they were spared yet still come out of it thinking they’re extra special rather than just fucking lucky to be alive.

Nevertheless, I’m compelled to relate my past situation, which admittedly leaves me somewhat troubled: At this point in my life, the closest I come to believing in prayer-based divine intervention are the half-dozen-or-so times in my life in which I’ve escaped drug-overdose-based hospitalization or, perhaps, even death.

Was it all luck? Was it simply not enough toxicity? Or was it a ‘guardian angel’ free from the confines of God’s non-intervention?

I may never know; however, I do not believe that somewhere, someone’s prayer to God had something to do with my apparent escapes from the aforementioned ‘close calls.’

I like that he’s ended it this way, with the awareness that prayer was unlikely the reason he survived his ordeals. I also like that he still calls himself a backslider instead of a born-again. Most stories I come across about survival after personal problems, the answer for why they survived always amount to Jesus touching them directly somehow and how that welcoming of Jesus into their lives turned them completely around.

Interesting how he doesn’t mention medical intervention on the part of doctors and nurses and all the technical wonders that would have been part of their work. It was luck, or he just didn’t try to kill himself properly, or an angel helped him. Why not give some credit to the field of medicine, here? I find it odd that he doesn’t, but it doesn’t really surprise me. Most people tend to want to thank their god before their doctor. It boggles the mind, but there you have it. Last time I was in a hospital on account of a health scare, gods and prayer never even entered my mind for an instant. The doctors knew their job, and they did it. End of story.

End of this post, too.

Gay Mormons have it rough

October 25, 2010 maybe I should rethink that title. That winds up sounding kinkier than I intended. But I’m sure it got your attention, which is a good thing because an article I read focused on the fact that gays are treated very unfairly by the Mormon belief system. Elder Boyd K. Packer, one of the top dogs, had said a lot of dismal things about homosexuality in a sermon on Oct. 3, near the time all those boys committed suicide on account of bullying.

Utah’s gay rights activists, some with roots in Mormonism, were quick to draw a connection to their own situation. They say the painful isolation that some gays and lesbian experience can lead to suicide. Anecdotes about the suicides of gay Mormons from Affirmation’s website, posts on the PrideinUtah blog and other sites seem to support the contention.

“It’s an enormous problem, especially in Utah,”said Eric Ethington, who runs the PrideinUtah blog.

Mormon church officials take issue with the characterizations made by gay rights activists.

“It is disappointing when some try to use an emotional issue such as suicide to misrepresent the role of the church in the lives of its members,” said Mormon church spokesperson Kim Farah, in response to Ethington.

But when you have leaders of your church vocally condemning the gay lifestyle, it’s hardly a misrepresentation of your faith to say your faith has problems accepting gays. If your faith can’t do it, then a lot of the followers aren’t going to do it. Even if they would never in their lifetimes physically assault or mentally abuse people they know (or suspect) are gay, they aren’t speaking up and supporting gay rights, either, are they?

In decades past, church leaders had preached that homosexual feelings were a sin and sometimes ordered up prescriptions of vigilant prayer, marriage or reparative therapy to resist or reverse those feelings.

The rhetoric has softened since the 1990s, although the church has remained politically active in campaigns to prevent legalizing gay marriage in California and elsewhere. The church now differentiates between feelings and actions, with disciplinary action or excommunication limited to those engaging in homosexual relationships.

Celibate gays can remain active in church callings and retain full membership, including performing sacred Mormon rites in church temples. Church leaders have counselled the faithful followers to reach out to gay Mormons with compassion and love.

“Their struggle is our struggle,” said Otterson.

But you only want them if they promise never to do anything gay. How is that even remotely considered to be compassionate and loving? It beats the hell out of me why gays would even want to remain with a church, let alone this one.

Quotable president (not that one)

September 25, 2010

In the wake of Hurricane Igor landing on (and decimating parts of) Newfoundland, Lana Payne, the president of the Newfoundland and Labrador Federation of Labour had this to share:

Poet William Wordsworth encouraged us to let nature be our teacher. What did nature teach us this past week? Perhaps it reminded us just our fragile life can be. Perhaps it taught us that in the midst of great difficulty humanity and compassion have a way of rising to the top.

It reminded me that in this global age where individualism is often touted over the benefits of the collective, just how wrong-headed that notion is. Because when times are tough, we need each other. We need strong leaders. We need kindness and generosity. We need to help each other and we need to rise to the occasion. That doesn’t happen if in good times we only think of ourselves.

Perhaps nature taught us this week not to take things for granted, not to take our humanity for granted, but to practice compassion each and every day so that it’s not so rusty when it’s really needed.

I notice there’s no mention of needing a god in order to make that work, either. That’s nice to see.

I think in each of us there is a great capacity for compassion and generosity. Maybe tapping into that reservoir isn’t everyone’s automatic response to tragedy but I think the majority of us do find small ways to show we care and give what we can of ourselves as we go about our daily lives. And we never know exactly how it’ll pay off in the end, but it’s worth doing all the same.

Prayer concerns

September 11, 2010

I check Christian News Headlines once in a while to see if I can grab something interesting off their site and have now noticed a new heading for news stories called Prayer Concerns.

Top story under that heading recently was the fact that there’s a high level of out-of-wedlock births going on in EU nations.

What kind of prayers are being asked for here, healthy births? Healthy moms? That the kids are wanted? That the moms aren’t teenagers? That Dad is still in the picture and willing to do his part to raise the kid? That a roof is overhead and there’s enough food for everyone?

The second story involved soldiers in the Congo and accusations of rape. Gang rape, to be precise. The New York Times story states that six men attacked a seven year old girl, and she was only one of 21 victims. And the number of women attacked over the past few years far surpasses 15,000, which was the total population of my home town in 2006.

Both United Nations officials said that the organization must work harder to bring the perpetrators or their commanding officers to trial. They also said that the United Nations must be more active in trying to prevent rapes as soon as they hear that rebel fighters are on the move.

The first reports of clashes came in late July, but it took weeks for word of the large number of rapes to emerge.

United Nations peacekeepers are stationed about 20 miles away from where the rapes took place, but none visited until Aug. 2, when a patrol passed through one village. United Nations officials said no villagers had come forward initially about the rapes.

What’s the main religion of the Congo? Catholics and Protestants make up 90% of believers, but there’s no shortage of belief in witchcraft and sorcery either, some of which winds up mixing with the dominant faiths.

Christian students may employ sorcery with the objective of improving their individual exam scores or of helping their school’s soccer team win in competition against their opponents. Sophisticated urbanites, faced with disease in a family member, may patronize indigenous healers and diviners. And Congolese practicing traditional African religions may also go to both established Christian clergy and breakaway Christian sects in search of spiritual assistance. In the search for spiritual resources, the Congolese have frequently displayed a marked openness and pragmatism.

The third story involved Iranian companies covertly paying the Taliban to kill American soldiers and the fourth was another story out of the Congo, where fishermen ignored the plight of victims of a capsized boat, choosing to loot the burning vessel instead.

I guess my question ultimately winds up being, why these four stories? I can see praying for the souls of the dead soldiers and 20 boat passengers and praying for those poor abused girls and women, but why the first story? Compared to the absolute tragedies of the other three, the fact that Mom and Dad aren’t married should barely need mention.

So why is it the first story? Do they appear by order of publication or does someone somewhere decide which story needs to be the top story? I’m just curious about the first story’s inclusion here, I guess.

The Christchurch earthquake “miracle”

September 5, 2010

God gets a bit of credit for not killing anybody during that 7.1 quake but the Times article also mentions that it hit during the night while people were sleeping. God must love Kiwi’s more then, because the one in Haiti hit during the day, which is part of why there were so many deaths in that one.

The other part appears to have to do with wealth and the fact that New Zealand had the money to build better buildings in the first place that could withstand a good shaking up.

Eighty per cent of earthquake deaths are caused by collapsing buildings and so properly built ones save lives in even the fiercest shocks, while poorly constructed ones become killers. Eighty six per cent of the people of Haiti live in tightly packed slums, and – besides those killed – two million were made homeless when buildings collapsed.

It has long been so, even in richer countries. Most of the 100,000 people who perished in a 1988 earthquake in Armenia – then part of the Soviet Union – were in cheap concrete buildings. And even in Japan, most of the structures that collapsed in the 1995 Kobe earthquake, which killed 5,000, were substandard constructions rushed up after the Second World War.

So while it’s not quite “Three cheers for being rich!” it’s a near thing.

let’s be glad of the miracle in Christchurch – but recognise that world poverty is the greatest disaster of all.

Sad but true: there are always going to be poor people so there are always going to be natural disasters knocking the hell out of poor people. And when it’s not a natural disaster but a political or social disaster, they’re still going to be the ones hit the hardest.

I think we’d figure out how to stop the earth from shaking shit up before we’d figure out how to end poverty.