Friday, May 15, 2009

Star Trek - No Spoilers

J.J. Abrams is a consummate artist and a certified film genius. Everyone on this project should be extremely proud of their work - it was to a man and a woman - outstanding in every respect. They have collectively achieved the nearly impossible.

You should have seen the faces on the folks leaving the theatre with me - all smiles - every single one of them and a few tears, too. If that ain't the result of great movie making then I don't know what is!

'Nuff Said!

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Back to School?

I was one of those students for whom High school was a breeze. It made me unpopular with my peers so I tried flunking for a while. That made me unpopular with the teachers and my parents, and they had the power to detain and discipline me. That didn't compare with the power my peers had to torture me emotionally.

My solution - I dropped out. Intelligence has nothing to do with wisdom.

Twenty-one years later I went back to school as a "mature" student. The criteria for determining "mature" status was my age - 38 - and my financial ability to pay the tuition. My academic prowess was assessed and it was discovered I still had "it" - whatever "it" was that made me a good student before was still there and largely functional, plus I had a new asset - motivation. Peer pressure - no longer a factor. The only threat of discipline was the possibility of watching $20,000 go "bye-bye" with nothing to show for it - oh, and the resulting response that my wife would no doubt share with me. "The fear of the Lord (or your spouse) is the beginning of all wisdom."

With my shiny new Master's degree under my arm I entered the ministry. Later I discovered the darn thing did not inflate like a "Mae West" life jacket, nor did it contain a parachute, soft pillow to fall on or even a tiny pink umbrella I could hold over my head to deflect the boulders falling on me. Instead, I discovered the "better questions" I had acquired as I pursued the degree were the new tools I was using to seek better answers. And all that stuff every single prof, instructor, sessional lecturer and staff member at the seminary had told me about trusting Jesus - all of that was Gospel Truth.

I'm seven years down the road in ministry and I'll be 49 this July. I should be taking a sabbatical (I'll wait for the apoplectic laughter to die down out there), but instead I'm considering what feels like another call from God to go back to school. It feels like what I followed eleven years ago - but different, too.

The school I attended has been/is in turmoil lately. Big changes. Unsure future. Huge decisions to be made. Financial stuff, too. But the seminary portion is (should be) largely unaffected by all of this. And they have or are in the process of creating a Doctor of Ministry programme. The president of the school and the person in charge of church and alumni relations have assured me this is so - and I trust them.

My why reason to go back is because I am feeling prompted in this direction by God. I have no illusions about the amount of work and effort this will take (OK maybe I do, but the thought of school does scare me pretty much so I figure I'm being at least a little rational here). My goal is to become more useful to God and His church in any way I can. My hope is to teach a little bit one day in a seminary or other more formal setting than the local church (Yeah I'm weird that way - I like school).

But there is a lot of uncertainty - not the least of which is how in the heck I would pay for something like this (which was one of the big questions eleven years ago, too). So I'm praying - you could pray with me, too (It couldn't hurt.) I have given myself until my birthday next year to either enroll or set it aside. Of course quite a few other things will have to be in place before then if I am to go this way.

It's probably too soon to start sharpening pencils and buying loose-leaf paper, but I do have a nearly brand-new lap-top so maybe I'm more functionally ready than I think I am.

I guess I'm waiting to hear the school bell.


Saturday, May 09, 2009


Shadoe - our 14-year-old black cat is in my arm, purring up a storm. She has been extra affectionate recently - probably because our son, Steven, is back at school all week and she is feeling neglected. She's making it hard to type this post because I'm using one hand - and one finger on that hand for that matter. OK - she just left so I can get down to it now.

We took her and her sister, Sweet Pea, to the vet yet again today. Steven (home for the weekend) had to pull Sweet Pea out from under our bed to put her in her carrier. She didn't fight, but she didn't want to go either. I say "again" because we've had problems with the girls (yes they are spayed) lately and we've been to the vet quite a bit - over $2500 worth - lately getting tests and such like.

The practical reality is that they are getting old and are starting to suffer common cat health problems that come with being the equivalent of around 80 human years old. As such they are both remarkably fit. They need a special reduced protein diet and Shadoe may need some medication for hyperthyroidism but other than being a bit set in their ways they are still active and affectionate.

So we are facing their age and mortality. When they joined us Steven was 7, Matt 9 & Duncan 11. They have been the only real pets (fish don't count) our boys have known. Susie always had cats. I grew up with dogs until my last one left me for someone else (a story for another day and place). Susie and I had another pair when we were first married, but we had to let them go. (Ouch! A very painful memory.) So these two have been the pets for most of our lives together. If they hold out two more years they will officially have been in our lives for over half of our marriage.

But we will lose them one day. The costs are a bit of a concern. We can't put out money indefinitely. Our commitment is that they should not suffer or be forced to endure a severely reduced quality of life. Don't ask me to define that yet. Susie and I both hope we will recognize that when we see it. It does mean that we will have to take responsibility for their lives (as we have all along) and ultimately their deaths. We won't replace them. When they are gone our pet owner days will have come to an end. It will be sooner that later. But not too soon we hope.

Friday, May 08, 2009

Take Me Out To The Ball Game

I used to love baseball.

My dad loved baseball. We watched it together. Played "catch". Dad sent me to ball camp (twice). He taught me to appreciate the game. I was never a "hockey" kid. I played for 2-3 seasons in the really early years. It was curling in winter and baseball in summer at our house - oh and we both loved to watch the CFL (for that matter I still do).

One of my best memories was spending an afternoon with my three boys and my dad at Telus Field in Edmonton watching the Trappers. It was a beautiful summer afternoon and we watched, ate, talked, ate, cheered, ate, sang "Take Me Out To The Ballgame" in the 7th inning stretch, ate and just loved each other.

I remember there were some other kids in our section running over, under, around and through (we were in the bleachers and there was room to run over, under, around and through) and generally disrupting what was otherwise a great day. Their parents were yelling at them, occasionally corralling them only to have them break lose later to do more acting out. My boys were happy and content to sit watch and, of course, eat.

Steven was only 4 or 5 and when we came to dessert he ordered a cone that was a bit too big for him. He looked at me with plaintive eyes about a third of the way through it and said, "I can't finish this dad." I said it was OK and just found an empty food try to put it in. No muss. No fuss. No worries.

Later, as we were leaving a lady who had been sitting a few seats away came up to me and said, "I just wanted you to know how wonderful it was to see how gentle you were with your boys. It was nice to have you all here watching the game with us." I thanked her and caught my dad's eye. He was grinning with pride and joy. His son and grandsons did good! It remains to this day the best compliment I've ever received from someone outside our family regarding my parenting skills. It still makes me feel warm 15 years later and it happened through, around, in the context of baseball.

Now the sports press is hunting Manny Ramirez with self-righteous zeal and the commissioner has benched him for 50 games. No court. No hearing. No proven evidence. No process. No justice. No game.

Let me firmly state that I am appalled by the use of performance enhancing drugs in professional sports, but what really is appalling to me is the hypocrisy and evil manipulation the owners of teams, commissioners and governors of sport embrace for their own selfish gain at the expense of the lives, health and well-being of the athletes.

The truth is that illegal or banned substances are simply at the extreme end of the continuum that also includes cortisone shots for hurt knees, surgery for torn ligaments, pain killers, hydrotherapy, oxygen and a host of other medically accepted treatments employed to help the athletes keep performing. We live in a consumer society which offers us all a pill for whatever is bothering us or holding us back or making us sad, mad or glad. On top of this, the pro athletes are under pressures that few others have to face and the powers that be have conveniently ignored the problem of illegal drug use in sport and even been complicit in its use.

There are only two options that I can see that have a hope of working. The first is 100% drug testing of all athletes in a particular league or sport coupled with crippling sanctions for failure to comply or test clean. Don't even begin to suggest that cost or complexity would make this option unworkable. As long as the players and owners enjoy incomes and lifestyles that are in the top .0001% of all humanity on Earth that argument is only valid if you are a complete idiot or in collusion with those who earn their livelihoods off the breaking and broken bodies of abused athletes.

The unfortunate reality is that this scenario will always result in more scandal, ongoing investigations, controversy and escalating efforts to find ways to beat the tests, devise new drugs and keep cheating. The downside will always be out weighed by the upside as far as the athletes, coaches, owners and league bosses are concerned. A few busted cheaters, a few destroyed careers, a few wrecked legacies, a few records tainted will always be "acceptable losses" when compared with the rewards of winning - even if you cheat to do it.

The alternative is to open it up and manage the use of performance enhancing substances in the open. Again 100% testing will have to be used but the reasons will be different. Essentially, the teams as corporations and the owners must become responsible for the ongoing and long term health of their employees. Rather than benefit from the achievements of cheaters who risk their lives for money, fame and glory while having no obligations towards them for the consequences of the risks they have taken, the teams, owners and leagues would become legally responsible for the use of these substances and their effects on the players.

This would create a strong motivation for the teams to closely monitor their athletes use and health. The whole sport would have a vested interest in making sure that use was as safe as it can be made. We as fans would know exactly what was going on and players could choose whether or not to use substances based on their career objectives and personal moral codes instead of under the pressure of having to deal with these choices illicitly. Fans could actually decide if they preferred to idolize athletes who use performance enhancers vs. ones who don't. Corporations could choose athletic spokespersons based on their read of which type of athlete would best represent their brand to their clientele. We could do away with the witch hunts, shattering revelations, debates about asterisks in the record books and the host of other uncertainties this issue is creating.

Most importantly, tragic outcomes like the horrible end faced by Lyle Alzado for example could be largely avoided or at least the team, owners and leagues would be obliged and able to provide support and compensation to afflicted athletes and their families. Also, the risk to young, non-professional athletes would be greatly diminished as the whole issue would be dealt with in the open instead of the dark corners of the clubhouse and dressing room. We do not know even now how many young men and women have been damaged by succumbing to the pressure to use these substances and incur the consequences of their use before ever (if ever) entering the ranks of professional sports.

In the meantime as we debate the morals of the athletes who are suspected of using banned substances we ignore the obviously reprehensible morals of owners, coaches, league officials and corporations who have all turned a blind eye to the obvious use of these substances by their employees because they have enjoyed the obscenely huge profits these men and women have generated for them by sacrificing their bodies and long term health.

It's time that the people who get rich through professional sport, including the athletes, stand up, take responsibility and face this problem head on. Continued banning, testing and sanctioning will only continue the cat and mouse game and subject whatever sport is in view to ongoing suspicion, ridicule and fan disenfranchisement.

I believe if the choice to use or not use was able to me made in the open we would see that the very best athletes and best organizations would have little or no abuse. As it is there is now no one who can be trusted, no one who's hands are clean, no one who's motives are pure and no one who holds the high moral ground. This is because the default position we have all adopted is "it's OK as long as you don't get caught". The system rewards those who cheat well and it destroys those who cheat poorly. In that we probably shouldn't be surprised, it's just another game with it's own rules and it's own winners and losers. But for my money it's a lousy game.

For my part I want to love baseball and other sports again, but for that to happen they are all going to have to start being honest with themselves and with me as a fan.

When that starts to happen I'll be back in the bleachers.