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Letter Writing

Activism 101: 4 tips on being heard

If you are waiting in-line at a grocery store you are guaranteed to be bombarded by flashy magazines. These magazines are often, if not always, an assault on the senses. They are visually disturbing with pictures of scantily clad women and men. Not only that, the headlines and featured articles promote gossip and obsession about sex, weight-loss, image and power (unfortunately those topics all seem to go hand in hand). It is interesting that these magazines are a temptation for women. On a first glance you would think that it would only be visually tempting for men (which they are). However I admit, and know many other females that would concur, that each time again I have to choose to refuse to look at or read the covers of these magazines. They are there for a reason. And it is not uncommon to see women spontaneously buy the latest glossy bit of smut. In fact, that is the very reason they are displayed there. To add to the problem, women who are grocery shopping are often accompanied by their small children. Enough is enough As a family living in Lethbridge (at that time) we witnessed this onslaught of images and ideas each time we shopped. It often bothered me that this was practiced by companies that received so much business from Christian families like ours, who did not want to see these magazines at all. One particular day my husband was shopping at the Lethbridge Save-On-Foods. He saw a young boy (maybe seven or eight years old) waiting in line with a parent. This child happened to be at eye-level with a Cosmopolitan magazine and out of sheer curiosity was staring at it. The cover featured a woman pulling her shirt wide open to reveal herself wearing only a white lacy bra. Now we all know the power of images and how hard they are to purge from your mind. And we all know the vulnerability of a young school-aged mind. And so when he told me about it I felt physically sick. I had had enough. The next time I was in the store I went from the checkout to the customer service counter and filled out a comment card. I briefly described what had been seen and suggested that they also would probably not care for their eight-year-old to see these images. I requested that the magazines be removed. If that was for some reason impossible I asked that they provide a family-friendly checkout that did not have the magazines. Quite a response It was very encouraging to receive a personal phone-call from the local store’s manager a few days later. He said that he agreed with me but then apologized that he could not change the store’s layout. Apparently every Save-On-Foods across Canada follows the same design and this layout is dictated from the head office. However he provided me with the email for the national customer service centre and offered to also contact them to add his support to my suggestions. Soon after, I sent an email to the head office with my concerns, suggestions and contact information. I then forwarded the email I had just sent to friends and family so that they could also send a similar email. After all, the more response that Save-On-Foods would receive the better. Right? A few weeks later a manager from the Overwaitea/Save-On-Foods head office phoned our home. He spoke with my husband and (at that time) agreed that something should be done. He offered to initially contact some of the magazine companies to see if the covers could be improved. If this wasn’t possible then he would look into cascading them or removing all or some of them from the checkouts. He let us know that it would likely be a few months before we would see any changes in the stores. It was once again a very encouraging response. We were looking forward to seeing what changes would take place. Quiet response Unfortunately, since then we have not noticed any significant change. The store in Lethbridge did provide one checkout aisle where they put a plastic cover in front of just one of the magazines (Cosmopolitan) so that only the cover was showing. However, this was the only change and on one’s first glance for a free checkout it was impossible to notice this. We waited for a few months like the manager had suggested but we did not see any other improvements. After that waiting period I sent a follow up email to see if anything was going to be done but I did not receive a response. My husband called again two months after that and was able to speak with the same manager. Unfortunately he was no longer so helpful. It was very disappointing to hear that they have no plans to standardize the idea of family friendly checkouts. According to him, the store is “not in the business of censoring.” They believe that most customers are not upset by the magazines being there and that they are serving their customers. He also reported that one of the stores in Abbotsford, B.C. does provide family friendly checkouts but he refused to provide any suggestions on how or if they could be implemented at other stores. Not the end? I suppose the reason is obvious. When it comes to consumerism, the almighty dollar writes the rules. The magazines are there because they rely on impulse buyers. The customer service team simply has not felt enough pressure to change. So the next logical step is for more customers to step forward. After all, how do you feel when you notice an innocent eight-year old staring at the cover of Cosmopolitan? If one comment card and one email could create a stir like this just think what could happen if more of us step up to the plate! Things we learned from this

1) Follow up, follow up, follow up. Keep the contact information of every person you spoke with in the issue so that you can speak to the same person again. Be sure to let them know in your email or phone call that you plan to contact them again.

2) Set a date. Write on your calendar when you are going to contact them again. Life is busy so it’s easy to forget how much time has gone by.

3) Get more people involved. A message is always stronger if it is spoken by more people. The decision makers need to know that they are serving more people by changing the status quo.

4) Offer your assistance. Ask how you can continue to help with this so that the decision makers don’t feel it’s all placed on their shoulders. They are also busy and they may feel more disposed to help you if you are also helping them.

Below is the email sent to the Customer Service Team:

To whom it may concern,

I am a resident of Lethbridge, Alberta after moving here from Langley, B.C. and I work as a physiotherapist in the local area. I have been a long time shopper at Save-On-Foods in Langley and now here in Lethbridge and I have been very happy with most of the service.

However I have always been disturbed by the magazine displays at the checkout aisles. There are always glossy magazines with full front cover stories that include pictures of very scantily clad women. If they are not in a very tiny bathing suit that shows most of the breast, they are in a dress that reveals almost as much. Recently there was even a full cover picture of a woman pulling her shirt open and holding it open to display her breasts barely covered by a lacy bra.

Now I have no need to see these, what I would consider pornographic, pictures. I realize that as an adult I can choose to turn my head away, which I do, but it becomes even more of a concern to me when I see a small child of 7-8 years old peering at the cover of Cosmopolitan which has been put right at his eye level. Would you want your child perusing the cover of Cosmopolitan? How confusing for our kids to be taught about people's privacy at home and then to be bombarded by these images at the local grocery store.

As a leading business group in Canada I would highly encourage you to rectify this situation, to make a moral stand and refuse to have those magazine covers take over your checkout aisles. Customers know where to find them in the magazine section. There is no reason to have them at every aisle. It is a disgrace to an upstanding business such as yours. Why sponsor this industry?

If somehow the increased magazine sales trumps that decision, I also have a few suggestions: You could opt to display the magazines in a cascading order so that only the title is visible as opposed to the entire cover. Alternatively, you could offer "family friendly" checkout aisles which do not have the magazine displays.

I can not express how grateful I would be to see the change occur. Please take the time to consider these suggestions. I appreciate hearing back from you regarding this email.

Sincerely, Jaclyn Penninga

This was first published as "One comment card and one email" in the October 2008 issue of Reformed Perspective.

Politics

5 ways God’s providence should impact how we approach politics

This is an edited version of a devotional given at an ARPA Canada “God and Government Conference,” May 4, 2019, in Aldergrove, BC.

*****

God is in control. It’s a simple enough truth, but if we understood it, really understood it, I think it would change the way we approach politics. So I want to look now at government through the lens of God's providence. God's providence means that He governs and upholds his creation, all of it, from little rocks to whole galaxies, and plants and animals too. His providence also encompasses the flow of history and the decisions of individual human hearts. In short, God’s providence means that God rules, and that because He rules nothing comes about by chance. Nothing happens apart from God's will. Nothing surprises God or ever presents God with an unsolvable problem. Nothing is ever beyond his control. At some level, everything happens because God wants it to happen in fulfillment of his good and perfect plan. That means when a nation is blessed with good government, we know this is by the will of God. Good governments don't arise by chance. They don't come from nowhere. Instead, they come to us a gift of God's goodness and mercy. They are from the hand of the Lord. At the same time, when a nation endures a period of poor government or when the Christian Church endures oppression at the hands of government, this, too, is from the hand of God. Also in such times, God is in charge. In all the adversity experienced by the Church, the Lord is still advancing his own good purpose to eventually unite all things under one Head, even Jesus Christ (Eph. 1:10). So let’s consider now how working with the doctrine of God's providence will have some blessed effects for those engaged as Christians in the work of politics. 1. Reflecting on God's providence would lighten our mood! When governments do foolish things or act in ways that diminish our freedom and make life more difficult for us, that can be very discouraging. However, when we remember that God is sovereign over everything and that even Satan can do nothing apart from the will of Christ, we get a different feeling about difficult political realities. The world is not spiraling out of control; God is still in control! What's happening is part of his plan and his plan involves working out everything for the glory of his Name and for the good of those who trust him. 2. God's providence should increase our patience. God's providence is connected to God's ultimate purpose and we know that this is a long-term project; our Father in heaven is playing the long-game. Knowing this enables us to continue in hope even as the going gets rough. 3. God's providence should increase our hope for change. We read in Proverbs 21 that the:

"king's heart is a stream of water in the hand of the LORD; He turns it wherever He wills."

The imagery here probably comes from agricultural practices of the ancient world. In parts of the ancient world, there was the practice of digging canals and smaller waterways that could be controlled by a series of large valves. If a farmer wanted to channel water to a particular part of his land, he would simply close one valve and open another. It wasn't difficult to do and the effects were quite dramatic. Just as easily as a farmer redirects water in a channel, so easily God redirects the heart of a king; He turns it wherever He wills. Even when the king imagines that he is acting with complete autonomy and sovereign power, it's actually God who is directing his decisions. Notice that God's sovereignty extends not just to the actions of the king but to his heart, that is, to his inner self, the place of his thoughts, desires and wishes. For God to influence a ruler in this deeply personal matter is not difficult. For this reason, even in the most trying of times, we can expect positive change. Even when the trajectory doesn't look good, God can make things happen. Walls can come down quickly. Closed doors can be opened when we no longer really expected it. Events can happen that totally change the political landscape – and we didn't see them coming! 4. God's providence should increase our courage I would say that this is true because knowing God's providence decreases the feelings of intimidation which we may experience. When government and the media seem large, overwhelming, and irresistible, we are not afraid. I'm reminded of what Jesus said to Pontius Pilate: "You would have no authority over me at all unless it had been given you from above" (John 19:11). The fear of the LORD who rules the world in his providence takes away the fear of people. Fear paralyzes us but living confidently in the light of God's all-encompassing providence motivates us and encourages us to speak and act according to our convictions. 5. God’s providence encourages us to engage in politics Saying this may seem counter-intuitive. Wouldn’t the confession that God sovereignly turns the hearts of kings wherever He wills make Christians passive? Wouldn't the doctrine of providence encourage us to simply wait for God's next move? I would say that the opposite is true. The more we reflect on God's sovereignty, the more we think about his providential control over the world, the more we will be motivated toward political engagement. God's work of providence encourages us to work in our sphere and responsibility. After all, in his providence, God uses the work of human beings. He uses our prayers, words and our political witness to accomplish his work of providence. Yes, of course, God can and frequently does act directly upon his world but in many cases, God works indirectly and through the actions of people. Ephesians 1 says that God has a plan for the fullness of time, to unite all things in Christ, things in heaven and things on earth.  By God’s providence, this plan is coming to fulfillment.  However, this fulfillment involves human prayer, human actions, words and witness. The fulfillment of God's plan involves each one of us working with our own gifts and opportunities for the glory of God. Imagine that you didn't know there was a plan. Imagine that you didn't believe God was firmly in control. Imagine that you didn't know that in the end God wins and his Kingdom is established in righteousness forever. Imagine that life was a crapshoot so that you just didn't know where it would end. Would that motivate you to action? I don't think so. But when you know that God wins and that everything is somehow part of the pathway to final victory, then you can feel a surge of energy. Something good is coming. God's victory is coming and you can be part of the process.

Rev. Schouten is a pastor for the Aldergrove Canadian Reformed Church.

Christian education - Sports, Gender roles

Daughters in sports

Women and men are different, so they should play differently

****

I promised in a previous column that I would address the touchy subject of daughters playing in sports, and so I guess I can't get out of it now. It is all fine and good for sons to be subjected to the discipline and competition of sports, but what about our daughters? Is it healthy for them to be competing? Here is my decided take on it: it all depends. We are not raising our daughters to be "fighters" the same way we are with our sons. At the same time, self-discipline and godly determination are great qualities for women to have. Daughters can learn a lot from sports. They can benefit from learning to push themselves, to work hard, and to be part of a team. Besides, physical activity has benefits for everyone. Women can enjoy the thrill of the race or the game like anyone else. Still, we have to look at sports for our daughters a little differently than we do for our sons. Women shouldn't be men, and vice versa The goal we have in mind in raising sons is to inculcate masculinity. And we want our daughters to embrace a godly femininity, not a worldly feminism. So when parents consider sports for their daughters, they ought to be thinking about whether her participation will help develop or hinder her. Some sports are so completely masculine that young women shouldn't even think about participating. These certainly include football, boxing, baseball, and hockey. And it is just plain pitiful to see a woman force herself onto a male team just to cause a stink and force the boys to play with her. This is just a sad attempt for attention. Once when my son played football for a government high school (while he attended a local Christian school), the other team had a girl suited up and standing on the sidelines. My husband told my son, "If she gets out on the field, don't go near her, and don't tackle her. Just stand out of her way." Tackling is no way to treat a lady, even if she is refusing to act like one. But the next important thing to consider is what kind of program is available. For example, volleyball can be a great sport for girls. But if the program is bent on treating the girls like they are boys, and they are encouraging the girls to act like boys, then I wouldn’t want my daughters participating. But if the coaches are teaching girls to play well and to play like ladies, it can be a great experience. The same is true of basketball, softball, soccer, or track. If the girls are trying to act tough and masculine, it is deadly. But if they are enjoying the game and learning to work as a team, this can be working with the grain, teaching them to be feminine and beautiful as they handle the ball or hit it over the net. When our daughter played basketball for her Christian school, the team all wore blue ribbons in their hair as a feminine statement that they were not trying to act or look or play like boys. And they were good. They didn’t trash talk or play dirty. They were taught to play like Christian women. Positive character traits So if the sport itself is not masculine in nature, and if the program is deliberately striving to promote feminine virtue, then it can be a great blessing to young girls. But there are still pitfalls. Boys need to get hit and learn to take it, but girls need security and love. When insecure girls play sports, they are more susceptible to the temptations to try to become masculine. They may be looking for attention and affirmation from the sport when they really need it from their dads and their moms. They may “feel” unfeminine, so they gravitate to sports where they don’t have to be feminine. This means that wise parents will closely monitor their daughters while they participate in sports. And if they begin to show signs of becoming “macho” or unfeminine, they should consider pulling them out. I have seen the discipline of sports teach girls to be better stewards of their time, thus causing their studies to improve. Some exposure to sports can give our daughters confidence and make them “well-rounded” in their education. My daughter especially recommends volleyball for Christian girls because it is a team sport that can include lots of people, of all ages, and is a great activity for church picnics. And team sports are revealing when it comes to testing a daughter’s character. She has to think fast, look out for others, follow directions, and develop skill. This is all good, and none of this is contrary to a biblical femininity. Uniforms Of course I have to say something about uniforms and modesty. Christians ought to insist on dressing modestly. That means we shouldn’t be wearing tank tops with huge armholes and sports bras underneath. Neither should they be wearing what are called butt-huggers. It doesn’t matter if the other team is wearing skimpy outfits. Christians ought to refuse to participate in a sport where they will have to compromise in this area. A girls’ team can be dressed appropriately and modestly, even if it is no longer “cool” to do so. And this doesn’t mean wearing knee-length culottes,  (or any length culottes for that matter). Volleyball and track teams are now wearing virtual swimsuits as uniforms, and it just isn’t necessary. You can’t tell me that they really can play better or run faster in less clothing. It’s about making the slower women’s sports more interesting to watch. Male volleyball players don’t seem too hampered by actual shorts. Sports are not evil in themselves. But bad coaches can make for a miserable experience. If your daughter is in a sport, know the coaches, be at the games, and know how your daughter is doing. She certainly shouldn’t be forced into playing a sport if she isn’t inclined to do so. But if she wants to play, parents ought not hinder her for the wrong reasons. Questions for discussion Are there sports women shouldn’t play that men can play? Do you agree with the author's list of football, boxing, baseball, and hockey? Why or why not? What is the difference between "godly femininity" and "worldly feminism"? The author gives several examples of how women can be feminine in sports. What do you think of these examples? Can you think of other ways girls can be feminine while playing sports? What is the author’s main point? Do you agree? God has given men and women different roles, but are the genders' different roles something that has implications for the sports field? Do any of our Christian school sport programs encourage girls to act masculine? If so, how so, and what could be changed?

Reprinted with permission from Credenda/Agenda, Volume 16/1 published by Canon Press (www.canonpress.com).

Human Rights

Should Christians be free to obey our conscience?

In recent years there’s been a worrying downward trend for religious freedom in both Canada and the United States. Examples abound of Christian T-shirt printers, bakers, photographers, print-shop owners, wedding dress makers, florists and caterers who are being forced – through human rights commissions, or through lawsuits – to participate in same-sex weddings in violation of these various business peoples' consciences. Each of these Christian business people said they would bake, cater, arrange flowers, print invitations, take photos, print T-shirts, etc. for a gay person's birthday or retirement party or any other celebration – they just wouldn’t do it for a same-sex wedding (the only exception was the wedding dress maker, for obvious reasons). This means the objection is not about discriminating against gay people. It never was. It's very specifically about endorsing a definition of marriage or a specific act that fundamentally violates God's design for marriage. Stand up for others I know of Christians who can, with a clean conscience, bake, photograph, etc. a gay wedding. And I know some who can't (see 1 Cor. 8). This is a legitimate discussion to have between Christians. The much bigger question is: should the State force the latter group to do as the former? If you are a Christian and you advocate that the State is justified in making Christians participate, in any way, in a gay marriage, I believe you've ripped the rug from under yourself – if it is fine for the State to violate other Christians’ consciences this time, what's to prevent them from violating yours next? If a Christian photographer has to shoot a gay wedding, does a church have to rent their hall for a gay wedding? (This happened in British Columbia in 2005). Or must an organist play for a gay marriage ceremony? Or will a Christian marriage commissioner be forced to officiate for such a celebration? (In Saskatchewan and Manitoba, this is the case). Negative implications of the bill for Christians Does this mean that I’m ready to let the State allow the same kind of discrimination against Christians? If an atheist decides he doesn't want to take photos of a Christian wedding, am I okay with that? Well, the State can't force all citizens to embrace, encourage and support the Christian faith, because that wouldn't be freedom of religion, would it? Freedom of religion is freedom from the State, and not from fellow citizens. Your Charter rights protect you from the busybody government interfering in your religious practices and beliefs. They are not meant to make the government interfere in your personal or professional relationships in order to promote, oppose or defend your religion. So, to be clear and consistent, I do expect and accept being shunned by others because of my Christian beliefs. (Christ predicted it, didn't he?) I would not expect the State to go to bat for me if a gay bookstore refused to sell my book on a Biblical understanding of gay-marriage, or if an Islamic school refused to hire me as a janitor. If I wanted to publish a Christian defense of capital punishment, I wouldn't expect the State to force a Mennonite printer to publish it for me. With liberty comes responsibility. That includes responsibility to go find another printer, or baker or candlestick maker.

André Schutten is the General Legal Counsel, and Director of Law & Policy for ARPA Canada.

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