Tuesday, June 19, 2007

An Incomprehensible Event

While watching the news today, the commentator was reporting on a tragic event in the U.S. A fire had claimed the lives of 9 firefighters. These firemen had wives, children, siblings, parents and other loved ones. The loss and the grief that surrounds this event is immeasurable.

The news commentator said something interesting and telling. She referred to the event as something incomprehensible. My ears perked up. Incomprehensible? Why incomprehensible? The fire was sad, tragic, heart-rending, but it is totally comprehensible. It’s pure physics. Everything about the fire and the deaths of these men is indeed comprehensible.

“Ahh, but wait a minute,” you say. She is not talking about physics. She is talking about the ‘why’ question. Why did this have to happen? The assumption behind it is that there is some purpose to the lives of these men, the fulfillment of which lies in some transcendent being’s control.

We cannot escape it, can we? No matter how hard we purge our secular institutions of religion, we smuggle the terms in anyway. An event like this can ONLY be incomprehensible if there is a transcendent purpose to life. If life is nothing more than a long chain of genetic accidents and only the strong survive, and if that belief comes naturally, then the last thing you might say about this horrific accident is that it is incomprehensible.

It is very telling that it’s incomprehensibility is one of the first things that naturally occurs to us. Dawkins would say it’s the result of a meme; a kind of virus of the mind. I say that if it’s genetic, God created it. Who knows? Maybe atheism is the meme?

Sunday, June 17, 2007

My Vegetable Oil Days and My Flirt with Postmodern Journalism

My Flirt with Postmodernism

My experiment with a vegetable-oil powered diesel car was a one-year adventure. I had bought a VW Passat diesel, and installed the necessary equipment to enable it to actually run on used (but filtered) vegetable oil. I was getting my used oil from places like The Mandarin Restaraunt.

Interested people would stop and ask me questions about my renewable (and recycled) fuel. A friend of mine (a ministry colleague) heard about the vegetable oil process and actually used the filtration process as an illustration in a talk he was giving to his congregation. Before we take communion, he said, we need to ensure that “the dirt is filtered out”, and he used my process of filtering out used vegetable oil through a pair of denim blue jeans as an analogy.

One of the people listening to him that day was a student of journalism at Ryerson. The story piqued her interest and she got my contact information from him, and gave me a call.

“Do you mind if I come over and do an interview with you,” she asked?

“Not at all,” I responded. Before the week was out, she showed up with another classmate and professional camera equipment. It took a couple of hours, but I showed her how it was done, and she plied me with many questions. It was my 15 minutes of fame, I thought.

A few weeks later, I got a call from CBC Radio. They had heard of my greasy ways, and wanted to interview me for some Saturday morning entertainment program. Once again, I agreed to be interviewed, but this would not be a student who is learning to do interviews. This would now be the real thing. I was going to be heard by 500,000 people, she told me. “Wonderful,” I thought. Maybe I could even slip in the location of our church or something similarly surreptitious and get some free advertising.

“We’ll call you back,” she said. She did, within a week.

“We have it all ready,” She said. “The dialogue is written out. Now, you have to understand that we’ve spiced it up a little. And we have fictionalized it in order to make it more entertaining.”

“Wait a minute,” I was still trying to process the phrase ‘the dialogue is all written out’ and when she used the word ‘fictionalized’ I started getting dizzy. I saw my second 15 minutes of fame slipping through my grasping fingers.

“I don’t understand, you’ve scripted a dialogue? You’ve written out what I am going to say,” I ask incredulously?

Without skipping a beat, as if they do this every day, she said, “Yep.” (Implied, “Did this plebe actually think we were going to let him speak his own mind on national radio! How naïve!”)

Another question, because it finally occurred to me what she meant by ‘fictionalized’. “Umm, excuse me, but are you saying that I will have to say things that are actually not true about myself?”

“Yes.” She was on the phone, but I could hear her blank stare. And I am thinking to myself, “I can’t believe this. She knows I am a preacher, and she wants me to go on the airwaves to tell things about myself that are untrue.”

“I’m sorry, but I really don’t think I can do this. Thank you for thinking of me though.” I had to say something to bring closure to this embarrassing affair while I hung up the phone.

Being totally unnerved, I emailed a journalist acquaintance of mine, and explained what happened to me. “Is this normal operating procedure in your industry?”

He assured me that it was unethical and no, it was not normal.

My experience has left me doubtful though. Now, every time I turn on the radio, I wonder….. can I believe what I hear?