Wednesday, July 27, 2011

The Last Week Of A Decade

     This last week of July is quite significant for me - at the end of the month is my birthday. If by the grace and will of God I'm still alive by then, I will have come to the close of a major decade of my life and embark on the chapter that marks the beginning of the next. There were so many thoughts going through my mind as I wrote this during my lunch break, sitting by the trail and river that runs near my place of work. I've been coming here almost every other day or so over the last month, to find quiet time during the day to look back at the last 10 years, and think ahead to the future.

    A decade! Ten years seem to have gone by at high speed, even as the memories of 20 seem to be so fresh and vivid. So much has happened in this time that I will have to keep for a later post of reflecting on the years gone past. So much is yet to come, and I shall similarly keep my thoughts of the future for another post about my hopes as well as my concerns. But that is not what I wish to focus on now.

    I don't know what it's like to turn 30; I suppose I will find out in a few days, or possibly in the weeks to come. But I am experiencing what it is like to approach the final days of my 29th year. A change is definitely coming over me, having begun towards the middle of January this year and slowly but relentlessly picking up pace. There is a quiet seriousness, a feeling of gravity as I find myself contemplating the issues of life. There is also a slow but gathering sense of sure purpose, as I find myself increasingly moving in a direction in which I feel that I am being called by God for a burden that He wishes to entrust me with. Even as these continue to grow, I also find a silent commitment and determination that builds alongside them, both to the worldview and convictions that I currently hold and to become the man that God would wish to shape me into. And in the midst of this transition, there is both hope and happiness in the growing communion and closeness with the God who has known me before my existence and I am coming to know in return.

    I'm also endeavouring to fast and pray this last week, seeking God's wisdom and direction of what He would have me  do. I am in dire need of God's grace and mercy as this next stage begins. With all that is happening around me, life only seems to be accelerating in pace, not slowing down. And I am sure that the challenges that I will face will only become harder, not easier. I would be lying if I claimed that these things do not cause me some degree of anxiety or worry; the truth is that I often find myself wondering about the road ahead and what my legacy will be, both towards my God and those around me.
    But I must remind myself that 'tis not to the past that a child of God is called, but to the future; not to doubt, but faith and trust; not to weakness, but strength; not to cowardice, but courage; not to enslavement, but freedom; not to defeat, but victory; not to immaturity, but maturity; not to backsliding, but growth; not to ignorance, but knowledge; not to foolishness, but wisdom; not to damnation, but to salvation; not to debauchery, but to sanctification; not the downward call to Hell, but the upward call to Heaven in Christ; not to shame, but to glory.

    As much as I write these words from my heart, I know that I am more in need of reminding and encouragement than any who would read them. If there are others who come across this who are going through a similar time of transition and change in their life, I would be most interested in hearing what you have to say.

    See you in the next post.

- The Wisdom Seeker

Monday, July 25, 2011

Post-Riot: Sharing @ Chapters

     Yesterday, I had once again taken a trip downtown after church to share my faith with people once again. This time I was accompanied by my friend Sam, to visit the Chapters store at Robson and Howe streets that had been vandalized during the riots. This was an interesting case in particular, because there were patrons of the store that had formed a barricade in front of the store against rioters and fought them off as they attempted time and again to break in. They had prevented firebombs from being thrown into the store as well. In spite of their best efforts, the rioters had still managed to break a good number of windows by throwing horseshoes that were on display outside the store through them. I had the privilege of hearing these details of that night from two of the store managers who were kind enough to meet us and talk to us for a bit.

     Although the apology boards had been taken down from outside The Bay since I had visited it two weeks ago, the boards outside Chapters were still there. Some of the inscriptions on them were interesting to note, and I've attached photos that I'd taken on Canada Day in the area around London Drugs and Chapters.

Painted fabric apology and sympathy messages outside London Drugs
Apology Board at the front of Chapters
Apology Boards at the side of Chapters Bookstore
Close-up of a section of one of the Apology Boards
     After we had finished at Chapters, we went back to London Drugs where I had visited last week. I was trying to find the salesperson I had met and shared with last week. However, things took quite a surprising and interesting turn as God led us to a different salesperson, whom we had a most interested and lengthy conversation with. He had been in the store during the night of the riots, and described how the staff had been taken to a secure room and waited there while the rioters broke in and systematically looted the cosmetics, photography and computer departments. There was still an iPad and other devices missing and waiting to be replaced. We talked for an extended conversation about his opinion on whether what had been done was evil, and what he thought justice exercised on the perpetrators would look like.

     From London Drugs, we crossed the street and went back to The Bay where I had first started my foray into street evangelism two weeks ago. I was looking for the salesperson that I had first met when I visited there. I wanted to try reconnecting with him, and talk about his ideas on evil, justice and forgiveness, just as I had at London Drugs. I was really happy to see him once again at the same section where I had first encountered him. Although we had to wait for a bit while he finished serving other customers, I was really happy that God allowed us to have a wonderful conversation with him about his thoughts on evil, justice and whether it would be possible for the store management and staff to forgive the people who had vandalized their store.

     I found it really interesting that on both cases (at London Drugs and The Bay), the salespeople in question did not think that what had been done was "evil"; they preferred to describe it as merely "stupid" and "reckless", because of the fallout that the perpetrators were currently experiencing as they had been caught on camera and were being sought by the police. When I asked one of them what the difference between "stupid" and "evil" looked like on that night and where one stopped and the other began, his opinion was that the evil began when the rioters started burning cars and other items of property. However, it was equally interesting that when I raised the question of justice and forgiveness with both people, they were strongly opinionated in favour of teaching those who would be caught the seriousness of what they had done. Both men were firm in their belief that sending the offenders to prison was not the solution; they wanted them to make restitution by returning to the store what they had taken, or compensating it monetarily or through community service. They also felt that they would forgive the offenders only if they made restitution in that kind of form.

     As we walked away, I had much to think about what they had said. There were some thoughts that made sense in what they said, but many other aspects of their worldview and response that I felt were at times self-contradictory. I need to do some more thinking before I post my own thoughts on the matter.

    This last week of July is a very significant and will be a very interesting week for me. I will be writing more about this in the next few days. See you when the next one gets uploaded.

- The Wisdom Seeker

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Post-Riot: Sharing @ London Drugs

The London Drugs store at West Georgia & Granville street
     Last Sunday, I had gone on my first solo venture in attempting to sharing my faith in downtown Vancouver. I had visited The Hudson's Bay store that had been broken into during the Stanley Cup riot in June, and had the opportunity to share my faith with one of the managers and staff in the store, through a card that I had written for them. Today, I went on my second little expedition, this time to the London Drugs store, situated right across the road from The Bay. London Drugs had experienced major vandalism during the night of the riots, with its doors hammered at repeatedly until they gave way. The rioters had then proceeded to systematically pillage the store.

    Arriving there in the early afternoon, I wondered what to expect. I had only been in this store for a few moments almost two years ago, and had very little recollection of it. While wandering through the watch section at The Bay last week, broken display cabinets were still clearly visible, although wrapped with plenty of plastic wrapping while awaiting repair. London Drugs did not seem to have visible remnants of that night; there was only a sign at the front entrance, stating that major renovations would be coming soon. Wandering around in the Computer section downstairs, I came across a salesperson who asked if I needed help. When I explained why I was there and showed him the card I had made for them, He looked a little taken aback at first and then broke into a huge grin.  

    It's such an overpowering experience, opening one's heart to share God's love with someone and watching the smile that lights up their face in the process!

    I got to chat with him for a little while, and share the previous realizations that I had come to about the evil that is perpetrated upon businesses when their trust is violated, and premises and property vandalized. He was very appreciative, and told me where I could find the store supervisor. The lady at the Customer Service desk had the same reaction as the salesperson downstairs - first surprise, then huge smile. I wondered if it was that unusual for someone to show up in the store with a card of appreciation and sympathy for everyone. Like the card that I made for the management and staff of The Bay, this one tried to express my sentiments as best as I could. I wanted to tell them that their business mattered, but more importantly that their lives mattered, that Jesus loved them, and that the violation of their store and trust was not right. And as much as justice was needed upon those deserving of it, that the people of London Drugs would experience healing in their hearts and grace to forgive those who had perpetrated this upon them.

    When the store supervisor showed up a few moments later, I was able to share those thoughts with her. She mentioned that she would place my card in the staff lunch room, along with the others that they had received. I think I need to show more appreciation to the retail and salespeople that I encounter when I visit their stores. I know I'm certainly culpable of this. How many times have I waltzed into a store, grabbed the stuff I needed and waltzed back out? It seems so often that I've just seen them as 'business' intends me to perceive them - means to help me attain my ends as quickly and efficiently as possible. Sure, I've said the customary 'Please' and 'Thank You' and had the occasional odd chat here and there, but although I've often wondered about the person behind the store uniform, I've hardly ever stopped to engage them and let them know about God's love for them. May God give me the presence of mind and boldness of tongue to do so in future.

    Thank You, Jesus, for another wonderful opportunity to share Your love with someone. I'm looking forward to greater steps of faith with You next week!

- The Wisdom Seeker

Monday, July 11, 2011

"I Was Too Stupid To See"

Thor (2011), copyright Marvel Studios
 "My son, do not despise the Lord's discipline or be weary of his reproof,
for the Lord reproves him whom he loves,  as a father the son in whom he delights." (Proverbs 3:11)

     I've wanted to write this post for some time now, though it will not be easy. The desire to do so had only intensified after my post on my Dad, fatherhood and manhood, as it has given me much to reflect on over the weeks since then. Indeed, there is much that I could write on the events and thoughts of the last week alone, but I shall reserve that for upcoming posts. As it is, the thoughts of this one will be quite challenging to express.

    My last post was peppered with the phrase "being a father is not easy". As hard as that undertaking may be, being a son is no cakewalk either; a son is called to undertake the difficult road from boy to man, child to adult, from being the son of his father to a father himself. And that road is fraught with difficulties. I was reminded of that stark reality recently by the movie "Thor" [1], directed by Kenneth Branagh [2]. I must profess at this point that I had written it off when it was hinted at towards the end of "Iron Man 2." I had never taken to Thor amongst the many other on or off-screen characters that captured my imagination during childhood, whom I wrote extensively about in my post "Adoration: Childhood Heroes." The very idea of incorporating a hammer-wielding deity from Norse mythology amongst the technologically sophisticated or superpowered personalities that dotted the heroic landscape seemed preposterous, at the very least. A "god of thunder" amongst the ranks! "Could there be anything sillier?", I remember thinking, when I first read about him in a Marvel Annual storybook that belonged to my mother. In addition, it did not help matters that having been immersed in the stories of the Bible from childhood, any superhero "god" was anathema in my little 8-year old universe, and continues to be so.

    Thus, it was with much surprise in May that I read the largely positive review [3] of "Thor" posted by Plugged In, the media review division of Focus On The Family. Although in all fairness the reviewer acknowledged some points of concern, he also had much to appreciate about the movie. And so it happened that with my curiosity aroused, I went on a solitary jaunt to the movie theater one day after work. I wished to see for myself if the story of the hero and his hammer was as interesting as it was made out to be. The answer turned out to be in the affirmative. Once I sat down and the story got underway, I found myself immersed in a most well-written and enacted tale accompanied by very fitting music that deeply resonated with me, and continues to do so. Since then, I have watched it two (!) more times, the third being with my friend Tommy last Saturday.

    Marvel's tale is built upon a very simple, yet fundamental and powerful act - the disciplining of a wayward son by his father. Aside from his walk with God, fewer relationships can inherently imprint a boy for better or worse as his relationship with his father. For, it is a well-attested truth that as much as the father possesses the power to validate his son, he also holds the power to invalidate him. And how the father chooses to exercise this power will say much about both what manner of man he is, as well as the man his son may turn out to be.

    And so, as the story of Thor opens, we see him as a child, as he and his brother Loki are told a story by their father Odin of a battle that he fought long ago. Even at that age, Thor's eyes sparke as his mind formulates a simple equation: war and battle equate to glory and power, and this comes through in his dreams of the future. His father uses this moment to instruct his sons of a sobering truth about the use of power: "A good king never seeks out war. But, he must always be ready for it." Though simply articulated, it is profound and pivotal to the rest of the story, because the seed fell on deaf ears and stony ground; the child did not take the lesson to heart, because he did not want to. His mind and heart had already decided the path he wanted to take. It was with much sorrow that I remembered moments like that from my own childhood, when my own father was trying to teach me something.

    As the story jumps forward to his proclamation by his father as the future king, the young man and warrior again faces reminders of this lesson from childhood. The hammer, Mjolnir, that has been entrusted to him has "no equal" in its power. "It is a weapon to destroy, or a tool to build", says Odin. And as Thor is asked to take an oath as the future king, to put aside all selfish ambition and vain glory, to rule wisely and protect his people, he firmly answers each question with a bold and confident "I swear!". But we are shown that the words come only from his mouth, not his heart; his eyes still shine only for battle and power.

    "How many times," I thought as I saw that scene, "have men taken an oath of office that entrusts them with power, with an absent mind and heart that is interested only in grandiose notions of how it will meet their own ends?"And then the Holy Spirit brought a sobering thought to mind: "And what about your heart? What will you do with power that is entrusted to you? Will you also do the same?"
     Eventually, this lip service leads to Thor's downfall, as outraged over his interrupted ceremony, he picks a fight that brings the threat of war upon his realm and people. Rescued by his father, Thor in his pride refuses to admit wrongdoing. "You've forgotten everything I've taught you!", shouts his father. "You are a vain, greedy, cruel boy!" To which his son reveals the true thoughts and intent of his heart: "And you are an old man and a fool!" In the midst of the anguish and sorrow that those words bring to him, Thor's father is still concerned for his son and loves him. He strips Thor of his power and title, and exiles him to Earth.

    "Whoever spares the rod hates his son, but he who loves him is diligent to discipline him." 
(Proverbs 13:24)

    As the story progressed, I was reminded that though disciplining can be harsh and painful, the son is not abandoned by his father. The father has purpose in inflicting punishment, though it does not appear so to Thor in the experiences that he goes through. He is alone, without his family and friends; he experiences weakness and vulnerability; he has no home or possessions, without a penny to his name; he attempts to wrongly reclaim his hammer, and throws a tantrum when he is denied its possession; he is brought low, mistreated and humiliated.

Thor, unable to lift his hammer (copyright Marvel Studios)
     It finally takes news of the death of his father to bring Thor to his senses. In a most unlikely setting, Thor sorrowfully voiced the words of regret and reminded me of moments when I had remorsefully come to the same conclusion:

    "My father was trying to teach me something, but I was too stupid to see it."       

    The words cut like a knife. I was reminded of the uncountable times I had sinned against both my earthy and heavenly Father, and brought to repentance only after much harsh chastisement. I thought of the most frequently and earnestly uttered words of appeal to a son in the first nine chapters of the book of Proverbs: "My son.."; "Hear, my son, your father's instruction..." (Prov. 1:8); "My son, if you receive my words and treasure up my commandments with you..." (Prov. 2:1); "My son, do not forget my teaching..." (Prov. 3:1); "My son, do not lose sight of these - keep sound wisdom and discretion" (Prov. 3:21); "Hear, O sons, a father's instruction" (Prov. 4:1); "Hear, my son, and accept my words..." (Prov. 4:10); "My son, be attentive to my words..." (Prov. 4:20); "My son, be attentive to my wisdom..." (Prov. 5:1); "And now, O sons, listen to me..." (Prov. 5:7); "My son, keep your father's commandment..." (Prov. 6:20); "My son, keep my words and treasure up my commandments with you..." (Prov. 7:20);

    It would be tragic if the story of Thor ended with words of regret. But the impetuous, selfish and spoiled son changes, and in the process, finds true power, and becomes the man that his father hopes his son will be. Plugged In's reviewer expressed it well:

"I could fill this whole review with the titles of movies that generally laud childlike, childish behavior in their heroes—pretty much every Adam Sandler movie ever made comes to mind—but Thor picks another path: It exposes the harsh reality of the consequences for never wanting to grow up...we know all along that Thor is incredibly strong—yet he finds his true power when he's at his weakest. We know him to be a hero, and yet he's at his most heroic when he bows his head in submission. He was born to be a king but proves his worth in exile. He was trained to be a warrior but makes his most impressive stand without weapons, without armor. He scores his greatest victory when he suffers a killing blow."

    "I have much to learn, I understand that now," says Thor to his father at the end of the movie. "I hope, one day, I can make you proud." To which the father turns to his son and says, "You've already made me proud." I hope I can be a good son and father one day. I have a lot of changing to do.

- The Wisdom Seeker
[1] Thor (2011) -
[2] Kenneth Branagh -
[3] Plugged In Review: Thor

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Post-Riot: Sharing @ The Bay

The Hudson's Bay Company, West Georgia and Granville Street

    Today afternoon, I ventured out to downtown Vancouver after church, wanting to visit the stores that had been broken into during the riot following the final game of the Stanley Cup playoffs last month. I had been planning to do this for some time, but had other commitments to attend to until today. It was also my first solo foray into street evangelism, and will hopefully not be the last.

    The riot occurred on the same day that I had attended my friend Angie's afternoon graduation ceremony at SFU. Although I had very much wanted to join her and her family for dinner, I eventually decided to go home because I was quite tired. It was from there that I watched the riots on TV several hours later. I had much ocassion to think in the days and weeks following it, particularly while reading the daily news articles, editorials and comments of various people's opinions of the events of that night. As I read their various comments and stories in the papers, I came to realize just how often we take retailers for granted. In our mad rush to acquire, cross the next item off the shopping list and worldview of "everlasting shopping", we often forget that there are ordinary people behind the stores, trying to make their living. I began to think about the stores and businesses that had their property vandalised, and wanted to do something to encourage them.

    In the process, it occurred to me just how deep the notion of trust between shopkeeper and shopper actually runs. In our culture that often resorts to avenues of escape from expectations, I think we forget that in the relationship of buyer and seller, each places serious and significant expectations on the other. As shoppers, we expect that the stores we buy from will provide reliable, timely and friendly service. We expect that they will charge us reasonable prices for their services and wares, without an attempt to extricate exorbitant profit. We expect that they will do so with an attempt towards quality, and that the goods we acquire will actually function as they are supposed to.

    But as much as this is true, the burden of trust also operates in the opposite direction. The staff of the store place expectations on the shoppers that visit them. They trust that they will respect both their people and property, for it is the means to their livelihood, their bread and butter. They trust that shoppers will not attempt to cheat them in their transactions. They trust that as they lock up their places of businesses each night, that they will be able to sleep with peace of mind, with the assurance that they will be able to return to work there the next morning. I was reminded of the Proverb that says:

    "Do not plan evil against your neighbor, who dwells trustingly beside you." (Proverbs 3:29)

    And so it happened that I decided to write a card for the management and staff of the major stores that I could remember being affected, expressing my sympathy for the violation of their trust and property. And I decided to start with The Bay on Granville Street. Looking around at broken display cabinets in the watch section on the ground floor, I met a salesperson and explained why I had come. I asked if there was a store manager or supervisor I could personally deliver the card to. He looked stunned at first, and then broke into a happy smile. While we waited for one of the managers on duty to arrive, I was able to explain my reasons for doing this, and share my faith with him. I hope to be able to see him again next week! The store manager was quite happy to take my card, after a brief introduction. Although he wasn't able to have much of a conversation about his perspectives on the incident due to PR restrictions, he was most kind and profuse in expressing his thanks.

    While on my way out, I took some photos of the boards that covered windows outside The Bay, on which people had written their various expressions of sympathy, sorrow and regret. I found them interesting reading.

Apology Board outside The Bay's main entrance

Apology Board on the way to Granville Skytrain station
     I was really happy that I was able to do this today and hope to engage people in conversation about them when I go downtown again next week! Thank You, Jesus, for a blessed day as I put my faith in You to help me share your love!

- The Wisdom Seeker