Wednesday, August 29, 2012


Through the generosity of my parents, my family had the opportunity to my parents and my brother's family on a cruise to the eastern coast of Canada. The experience was a novel one on a number of levels: first, my wife and I had never gone on a cruise and second, we had never had the pleasure of visiting the eastern Canadian coast. We were going to break new ground and have the rare opportunity to do it with the broader family. Here are some musings and highlights:
  • I sought out and received a lot of tips and advice from folks around making a cruise a pleasant as possible. Two tips stood out in particular: First, take advantage of the kids' camp programs on the ship. I recognized that the kids (albeit with some initial hesitation and complaining) actually do pretty well with the children's programs, and God bless 'em, it's led to invaluable adult-only time for me and my wife. Second, an underrated but important tip was to take a power strip. In the cabin, we had a single 110V outlet, and being able to multiply that four-fold made it immensely easier to charge electronic devices.
  • The cabins were a heck of a lot nicer than I had anticipated. Early in our marriage, I stupidly convinced my wife to take the Amtrak to Florida on a sleeper car, which ended up being a nightmare in claustrophobia. The size of the cabin was barely 8 by 5 feet, with the toilet being one of the chairs with a flip open seat cushion and a communal shower to be shared with five other cabins. Having my view of in-transit lodging scarred by that experience, I was pleasantly surprised to see that our rooms were reasonably sized with a usable bathroom, all of which was attended to by a staff who housekept the cabin three times a day. Very nice.
  • One of the things that I was warned about was the likelihood of gluttony, and there was plenty of opportunity to stuff myself of the boat. It sort of lends itself to that sort of behavior, with food stations which are constantly open serving all-you-can-eat good, but not great quality food for which you've already prepaid. I sort of equate it with high-quality college dining hall food. That's not a backhand compliment, given how many people gain their freshman fifteen points after their first year of college. Deep fried chicken tenders, nachos with melted jalapeno cheese, fried oysters, big meats on cutting boards and dessert buffets which could give insulin shock on sight - it was a ridiculous amount of food. Beyond the gluttony, what was also alarming was how cavalier one gets around wasting food. If you sample something and don't like it? Leave it alone and go get something else. I joked with my sister-in-law that I hoped that they pulverized all of the leftover food into a slurry and pumped it into the ocean as a means of not letting all of it go to waste.
  • The land excursions weren't bad, but they were hardly the highlight of the trip. Saint John, New Brunswick is a nice, quaint little town that resembles Trenton, New Jersey... wait, maybe it wasn't all that nice, but it served as a good opportunity to stretch the legs walk on dry land. Halifax, Nova Scotia was a little more interesting, particularly Peggy Cove, a glacier-sculpted rock formation along the sea. It might not sound like much, but climbing on those rocks with the kids as the gentle sea breeze rolled across the landscape under blue skies and sun was a fantastic feeling.
  • As I told colleagues and friends about the cruise, I found that most people fell into one of two categories. You had the people who had gone on a cruise and loved it, and you had those who had absolutely no interest in going in one. For the latter group, which included me until recently, there's a negative knee-jerk reaction about "being stuck on a boat" for an extended period of time. That's the thing, it's not a boat as much as a floating resort. There are multiple pools, a giant waterslide, three or four restaurants, a couple of clubs, an auditorium and a casino. And my personal favorite was the giant movie screen on the deck, where I watched movies like Beauty and the Beast with the kids lying on a deck chair underneath a starry sky.
  • 254 e-mails. As soon as our ship departed New York Harbor on Monday morning and lost my cell signal, I promptly turned my iPhone on "Airplane Mode". While I had numerous opportunities to turn the phone back on when we made landfall in Canada, I made the decision to not break my mental vacation by getting a sneak preview of e-mails which I knew would eventually need to be addressed. I didn't turn it on until our ship returned to dock five days later and saw the e-mail indicator skyrocket. By the time it was done, the mail indicator stood at 254. Back to reality.
It was worth it. Good times.

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Chikin Lovers Out of the Closet

A couple of weeks ago, there was a tremendous hub-bub when Dan Cathy, president of Chick-Fil-A affirmed in an article with the Baptist Press what has been known by many since the founding of their first restaurant: the organization operates on Christian principles. Like all companies which hold to certain corporate values, this has impacted operating principles and its corporate giving. The company I work for gives a large amount of money to health organizations in the third world and has created a employment policy which made it a Top 100 company in Working Mothers Magazine and gave it the highest score in the Human Rights Campaign Foundation's LGBT Ranking. Those corporate values have also led to the sponsorship of special events for non-profits who are active in health and women's issues and certain pet philanthropic causes, through it's company foundation. Those corporate values also led the company I work for to give generous donations to fine art institutions in New York City.

For Chick-Fil-A, their organization principles manifest themselves in things such as its closure on Sunday (in respect of the Sabbath), treating every customer (regardless of race, gender, creed, belief or sexual orientation) with honor, dignity and respect, and through its foundation, college scholarships, foster care programs, an international ministry, and a conference and retreat center modeled after the Billy Graham Training Center at the Cove. Oh yeah, and they also support national marriage ministries, which support and educate people around biblical marriage: a Christ-centered marriage of fidelity and respect between a man and a woman.

Of course, that last part is what the media flashed in the sky in big lights and a number of liberal progressives went bonkers, along with their enablers.

Boycotts were called for, and a couple of mayors pledged to do what they could to eject Chick-Fil-A from their towns and revoke their licenses. The unsurprising (but still disturbing) chants of "ignorant bigots" and "hate-mongers" were thrown around like confetti. Careless comparisons with the Ku Klux Klan and Nazism were made. Why not? It was part of the radical LGBT public affairs and strategic communications playbook. Part of this playbook is also feeding to media outlets like CNN soundbites of the most heinous outliers (see the Westboro Baptist folk) who say things like "kill the homos" and "incinerate the fags". Why? It accomplishes two purposes: (1) People on the fence react rightfully in horror, and think, "I'm not one of those people. I'm going to support LGBT!" and (2) People who are principled to support biblical marriage wince and instead of articulating their convictions and principles, are too busy disassociating themselves with the Westboro Baptist people. This is their playbook and strategy, and it works really well.

What often happens is the company president apologizes and backtracks for his words that were "misconstrued" or "taken out of context". The company censures or fires the executive in question, and the tide shifts just a little more towards the end goal of "defense of heterosexual marriage = burning a cross and lynching black people" and "homosexual marriage = abolition of slavery".

But it didn't happen.

In a grassroots effort facilitated by a handful of people including former governor and presidential candidate Mike Huckabee, there was a massive Chick-Fil-A Appreciation Day which set sales records ... on a Wednesday. Lines wrapped around blocks and social media was flooded by people who supported Chick-Fil-A by liking its Facebook page.

And in what may be a reshaping of the conversation, people starting coming "out of closet" around their support not just for traditional marriage but for their own Christian faith and convictions. No longer willing to be marginalized and forced to cower under the pressure of the radical LGBT public affairs and strategic communications playbook, more and more people bought chicken sandwiches and said in spirit, "I neither hate nor fear homosexuals. My calling to love them does not mean that I agree with every aspect of their lifestyle. And I will not be pressured into thinking that I am either evil or alone in my convictions." At least for me, I saw a glimpse of something exciting: people of faith no longer being afraid to say that they love Jesus and the Bible and all that it stands for, even those things which others find unpalatable.

But this public affairs battle will continue. It didn't escape me that's coverage of the groundbreaking sales day was muted and perhaps made the middle of their news page. Guess what's headline that Friday morning was? "Homosexual Marriage Supporters Plan Kiss-In to Protest Chick-Fil-A". It was practically a casting call to get people to go. At the end of the day, hardly anyone showed up and the protest fizzled. Nice try, CNN.

At the end of the day, there needs to be a change in people's understanding on this issue and what disagreement really means and doesn't mean. Rick Warren said it perfectly on behalf of people of faith on this issue:
Our culture has accepted two huge lies: The first is that if you disagree with someone's lifestyle, you must fear them or hate them. The second is that to love someone means you agree with everything they believe or do. Both are nonsense. You don't have to be compromise convictions to be compassionate.
Wise words. If you think that Christians who believe in biblical marriage are ignorant and hateful bigots, please consider this. And if you, like me, are a Christian that believes in biblical marriage, let's make sure that we're taking seriously our responsibility to love those whom we disagree with.

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Magic Shows and Hidden Lessons

A key to surviving the summer as a parent is to be shrewd in terms of you plan activities for your children. It's important that you don't overschedule or underschedule and it's also important that you provide a healthy mix of activities which are physically stimulating (e.g. sports), intellectually stimulating (e.g. math camp) while also ensuring that your kid actually likes the activities to some degree. Finding a good Vacation Bible School program or two is always nice, and at the end of the day, it'd be nice if you didn't need to take out a second mortgage for the programs that require payment. Oh, a healthy dose of self-directed and neighborhood free play is good, too. I have no idea if we hit the mark in our "portfolio" but we tried.

One of the summer activities that my wife and I enrolled our son Daniel in was a Science & Technology Camp at a local college. Now before you start prejudging me as a helicopter parent, this wasn't one of those science and technology camps where he coded iPhone games or develop a solid fuel propulsion rocket. We're talking about things like fun with weather, math wizardry and the course which I thought was most cool, Magic Show.

Okay, I admit that since my wife is much more on top of this than I am, I was surprised when Daniel came hope with a bag of magic tricks and a magician's hat after his last day of class this past Friday. Laying down each trick on the table and placing the hat on his head, he gesticulated with great fanfare as we sat down and prepared for the show. He introduced each trick with flair and enthusiasm: "For my next trick, I will now..." and "I will now ask my assistant to..." while also showing an entrepreneurial spirit: "If you liked this trick, you may add dollar to the dish being passed around." Between his love for performing his act and realizing that it earned him some cash, Daniel ended up doing shows twice this weekend, once with some old friends who came over and once with his grandparents.

What's really cool - as my wife told me - is that the class really isn't about magic. It's mostly about confidence in public speaking and presentation. It's brilliant - the camp used a topic which captivates 7-year old boys and girls (magic tricks) and uses it as a platform on which to teach the children valuable lessons in topic they'd otherwise have no interest in. That makes sense. I can imagine my wife going through the camp catalog with Daniel and saying, "Ooooh, public speaking, presentation skills and forensics... doesn't that sound like a fun course, honey?"

I think this is that way that God teaches us, as well. Most of the things that I go through, joyful and painful has a hidden lesson which helps me further understand the greatness of Christ and my need for Him. In interactions with my children I understand more of His unconditional love and His grief over my own sin. In interactions with friend, I understand more about the synergistic nature of Christian community and service in the Kingdom of God. This is good because like my son, sometimes it takes alternative means to get me learn lessons I need to take in.

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Not My Fault, Blame the Other Guys

A couple of weeks ago on an early Friday morning in suburban Denver, a movie theater was buzzing with excitement around the premiere of the latest Batman movie, "The Dark Knight Rises". A young man named James Holmes walked in through an emergency exit and armed with a number of semi-automatic firearms and canisters of tear gas, began to fire into the theater. When the carnage ended, 12 people had died and and another 38 people were wounded.

Predictably, the next reaction after grief was a desire to find the root cause of this terrible tragedy. And just as predictably, every party which could be considered at least partially complicit in the equation put their head down and with great indignation, pointed the finger elsewhere.

The gun industry.will actually do even better than blaming everyone else. They'll actually use this as an opportunity to insist this is why we need to equip everyone with a gun. The argument will go something like this: "If James Holmes walked into a movie theater heavily armed and began to shoot people, he'd be dead after the first shot because twenty people would pull out their Glock semiautomatic pistols and put him in the ground." Really? I think what would be more likely is that Holmes would have gotten shot after the first killing, and then there would be an orgy of people tragically killing each other as a dark theater full of armed individuals without police or tactical training would gun each other down unsure of which person was the aggressor and which was acting in self-defense. Wouldn't our 2nd Amendment rights be honored without high-capacity magazines and high-powered assault rifles?

Hollywood and the media will blame the others, but mostly the gun industry and with a touch of "the guy was just nuts" (mental health system). It sort of reminds me of that old Simpsons episode when Marge Simpson tries to take on the violence of Itchy and Scratchy cartoons, and the Roger Meyers, the CEO of the cartoon goes on the a Nightline-like show to defend his show:

Roger Meyers: I did a little research and I discovered a startling thing...There was violence in the past, long before cartoons were invented.  
Reporter Kent Brockman:   I see.  Fascinating.  
Meyers: Yeah, and know something, Karl?  The Crusades, for instance. Tremendous violence, many people killed, the darned thing went on for thirty years.  
Kent:   And this was before cartoons were invented?  
Meyers: That's right, Kent.

Nobody doubts how visual media influences minds and shapes behavior, but Hollywood won't touch this one with a ten-foot pole. The argument goes that the vast, vast majority of people who view violent materials can separate fantasy from reality and will not duplicate or imitate the violence which is depicted within the artistic media. I agree, but the vast, vast majority of gun owners are law-abiding citizens, and they shouldn't get a pass in the same way, right? And using Roger Meyers' point, mass murders occurred before the days of high-capacity cartridges and automatic weapons. Does that mean that guns get off the hook?

The mental health system with blame others, but mostly the gun industry. Of course, this fails to acknowledge that we have a woeful support system for those who are mentally ill. If you walk in any major urban center and you encounter those who are willingly homeless and suffering from some sort of substance abuse, you'll also fine a alarming frequency where these people are actually mentally ill. The system is unable to accommodate them due to cracks in the system and unsustainable financial costs, so what happens? These individuals are released into the public, with the hope that they never have the opportunity to hurt someone or themselves. Even if this doesn't fit the mold of James Holmes, a doctoral candidates, isn't every violent offender who is ultimately found insane an indictment of the failure of a mental health system which should have institutionalized him or her in the first place?

An of course, we need to look in the mirror as a society, even though our own society will blame everyone else except ourselves. Why not? Everyone else is doing it. Could we be society where there is no glory or fame in the mass killing of innocent people, even as one pundit noted the irony is that the mass murderer gains fame, and the victims are quickly forgotten? What if we were a society where people like James Holmes could preemptively find more healthy outlets to vent his anger? What if we were a society which found no appeal in destruction and death, or the media depiction of such? What if we didn't engender a gladiator culture of violence, where hard hits in sports were considered manly, and our movie heroes are frequently those who tote guns and bandoliers?

What it comes down to is this: Each party can argue that if they did X, Y and Z in isolation, it would not prevent a similar tragedy from recurring. That's fair. But why wouldn't each party act independently to mitigate the risk and minimize the scale of such tragedies?

What if everybody took a portion of the responsibility and acknowledged that there was something that they could do to prevent tragedies such as these from recurring? What if each party raised their hand, even if maintaining "You can't blame this whole thing on us" and announced, "We're going to do what we can to reasonably reduce the probability of something like this happening again." Is seems to me that this is the only way that complex and multi-faceted societal problems gets solved.

That would be nice. But I'm not going to hold me breath.