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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.

Science - Creation/Evolution

"Inferior" design: a proof of evolution?

"Suboptimal" design in nature is supposed to be the result of, and evidence for, evolutionary trial and error

*****

Everybody loves to hear about wonderful living creatures with their amazing talents. It is certainly uplifting to learn about Monarch butterfly's continent-spanning migration, and the toe pads of the gecko that allow it to walk upside down, and the amazing strength of spider silk. Christians enjoy discussing the wonderful designs that we see in nature. And among scientists, these creatures have their fans too. Indeed, there is an entire field in science called biomimicry where scientists try to learn from living creatures in order to produce practical designs for modern application. But not everyone is equally enthusiastic about the implications of these amazing talents. Prominent evolutionist Stephen Jay Gould (1941-2002) in 1978 wrote:

"...ideal design is a lousy argument for evolution, for it mimics the postulated action of an omnipotent creator."

Dr. Gould thus said that everyone should ignore examples of wonderful design and concentrate on phenomena that are below par. He continued:

"Odd arrangements and funny solutions are the proof of evolution – paths that a sensible God would never tread but that a natural process, constrained by history, follows perforce."

Gould was telling us that he knew how God should act if, that is, God really existed. God, according to Gould, would make everything perfect. And since we know that everything is not perfect in nature then, said Gould, this proves there is no God. This kind of argument, based on assumptions of how God should act, continues to be common in science today. There is thus a lot of interest among scientists, in suboptimal (less than perfect) design. Let us look at some examples to see what the implications are. THE PANDA'S THUMB The example Gould discussed in 1978 was the thumb of the Giant Panda. These animals, native to China, eat almost nothing but bamboo shoots. They use their hands to strip off the leaves, leaving the nice tender shoots on which to munch. Their flexible hands are unusual – they have a thumb of sorts, an extra structure produced from an enlarged wrist bone, with associated muscles and nerves. Gould declares that this extra finger is a "somewhat clumsy, but quite workable solution…. A contraption, not a lovely contrivance." Here he was declaring that the panda's thumb was of suboptimal or inferior design, which thus constituted proof that the source of the thumb was evolutionary trial and error rather than from a "divine artificer" (supernatural designer). A major argument employed by many evolutionists, even today, is to point to suboptimal (inferior) design and to declare that this proves that evolution was the source rather than God. However, what makes something "suboptimal" is an open question. Sometimes a phenomenon that appears less than ideal actually displays superior and unexpectedly sophisticated design. Gould might not like the panda's thumb, but there is no denying how wonderfully this thumb gets the job done. INFERIOR EARS? Another example: the inner ear of humans includes a spirally coiled structure called the cochlea. Lining its interior are very fancy hair cells which, by their motion, amplify the sound. The whole cochlea functions as a remarkably sensitive and finely tuned sound detector. However, at the same time, it also distorts the sound. Might these distortions be considered inferior design? A study in 2008 (Nature, Nov 13) demonstrated that the distortions actually contribute to clarity of sound. The distortions come from a particular structure connecting the top of the various hair cells. Mice without this connector in their cochlea became progressively deaf. Who knew distortions were so useful? STABLE vs. MANEUVERABLE A recent article published in the online edition of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (November 4-8) discussed another counter-intuitive (contrary to our expectations) situation. The study was conducted by engineers trying to build efficient robots. This is a large field of research. The designers want systems that are not only stable but maneuverable. The problem is that these are opposite objectives. In general, the more maneuverable a robot is, the less stable it is. If your robot tips over, clearly it is not going anywhere. Alternatively, the more stable a robot is, the less one can fine-tune what it does – the harder it is to make sudden changes of direction. Thus your robot may be able to proceed briskly straight ahead, but what if you need it to turn a corner or climb over an obstruction? Will it be able to turn, or will it instead tip over? Animals obviously have no such problems. That's why engineers have turned their attention to animal locomotion. They ask themselves, how do animals achieve the "impossible" combination of stability and maneuverability? How indeed do actual insects like cockroaches manage their excellent locomotion skills? Biologists may have already observed the solution without recognizing its significance. Why, many biologists have wondered, do animals move in directions that are different from their desired destination? Why, for example, do cockroaches and lizards tilt from side to side as they run forward? An engineer would most likely eliminate these motions, which seem to waste energy, as they do not obviously contribute to the forward motion. Lately, however, mechanical engineers have begun to research how unexpected, "inefficient" movements may benefit these animals. Insight into this mystery recently came from studies of a tiny fish from the Amazon basin. In order to avoid predators, this fish prefers to hide in various shelters such as tiny tubes. Scientists used slow-motion video to study fin movements of this fish as it finessed its way into its hiding places. At 100 frames per second, a strange situation became apparent. The fish was using one part of the lower body fin to push water forwards, and the other part to push it backwards. This was definitely against common sense since it was like two propellers fighting against each other. When scientists built a fishy robot, they found that the opposing forces actually improved the stability and maneuverability of their model. The assumption of the engineers that it is wasteful or useless to employ forces in directions other than the desired forward motion had now been proven wrong. Apparently, the same principle applies to the motion of many other creatures. The take-home lesson is that what, at first glance, appeared to be inferior design (opposing forces) actually turned out to be superior design! PENGUIN ROCKETS  Another recent robotic study which shows promise is one inspired by the talents of emperor penguins. While these creatures look pretty inept on land, in the water they can accelerate from 0 to 7 meters/second in less than a second (a veritable rocket). One student at Caltech's Aeronautics Department set out to create new propulsion technologies with high maneuverability and improved hydrodynamic efficiency. The new mechanical design is based on the penguin's shoulder and wing system and features a spherical joint with various other technical features. Concerning the promise of the study, the student declared that the manner in which penguins swim is still poorly understood. Nevertheless, by accurately reproducing an actual penguin wing movement, he and his collaborators hope to shed light on the swimming mysteries of these underwater rockets (ScienceDaily.com November 14, 2013). THE FLY EYE There are many other examples of unrecognized excellence in design. For example, the compound eye of insects and other invertebrates is often considered to be less ideal than our own camera eyes. However, a recent study that modeled the compound eye found that it does offer some advantages over the camera style eye (Young Min Song et al. Nature. May 2, 2013). Specifically the compound eye provides for an exceptionally wide field of view, and secondly such an eye has a nearly infinite depth of focus. As an object recedes away from the eye, the object becomes smaller, but it still remains in focus. It is apparent that in the case of eye design, there is no such thing as inferior design. There is instead good design that is more applicable to certain applications than to others. GOD TELLS US TO EXPECT "INFERIOR" DESIGN Obviously however there are many situations in nature that are less than ideal. This is a fallen world and there are many cases where we see distressing phenomena. The secular argument that a good God would never mandate inferior design is simply not valid. God cursed nature as a result of man's sin, so we have no reason to expect wholesale perfection, and the former "very good" creation now displays many inferior design choices. For example in Job 39:13-17 we read: The wings of the ostrich wave proudly,    but are they the pinions and plumage of love? For she leaves her eggs to the earth    and lets them be warmed on the ground, forgetting that a foot may crush them    and that the wild beasts may trample them. She deals cruelly with her young, as if they were not hers;    though her labor be in vain, yet she has no fear, because God has made her forget wisdom    and given her no share in understanding. Clearly, the breeding behavior of the ostrich is suboptimal but nevertheless designed by God. Yet "when she rouses herself to flee, she laughs at the horse and his rider" (Job 39:18). The strong legs of this bird and her running prowess also come from God. These gifts are a strong contrast to the behavioral deficits of the ostrich. The evolutionists think they have proven that God did not work in nature. However, since their argument depends upon a discussion (however faulty) of the nature of God, this is a religious argument. Since they claim to have ruled out all religious arguments, then how can they use arguments concerning what God would or would not do – arguments touching on the character of God – to prove evolution? They need to make up their minds. If they want to explore the character of God and why He'd allow brokenness in the world, then let's open our Bibles. As for Christians, despite the fallen condition of the world, we can still enjoy and benefit from, and give thanks for, the many wonders of creation as coming from God's divine wisdom.

This article first appeared in the January 2014 issue under the title " Upon further reflection..." Dr. Margaret Helder is the author of “No Christian Silence on Science.”

Adult biographies

The question of God: C.S. Lewis and Sigmund Freud debate God, Love, Sex, and the Meaning of Life

by Armand M. Nicholi Jr. 2002 / 244 pages While C.S. Lewis was 40 years younger than Sigmund Freud, he was well acquainted with his ideas. Freud hated and feared God, and as a young man Lewis found Freud’s atheism attractive. But after his conversion, Lewis used his considerable skills to answer and rebut Freud’s arguments against God. What author Dr. Armand Nicholi has done is present a type of conversation between the two, with Freud usually presenting first, and Lewis them coming after to respond and correct. So what do these two “talk” about? As the subtitle shares, C.S. Lewis and Sigmund Freud debate God, Love, Sex, and the Meaning of Life. The two also discuss whether morality exists and why there is suffering. And they take a close look at death. It is a fascinating book, part conversation, but also part biography, giving us a good understanding of both men by sharing the similarities and differences in their histories. The only caution I would note is that when it comes to the problem of pain both Lewis’s and the author’s Arminian leanings come out. For an interesting Reformed perspective, see Joe Rigney’s “Confronting the Problem(s) of Evil.” But overall this is a very readable, very interesting account of two of the twentieth century’s pivotal figures and their ideas, which continue to impact us today. A 40-page preview can be viewed here.

News

Saturday Selections - Oct. 20, 2018

How our sun and atmosphere show evidence of being Intelligently-designed (3 minutes) A different take on pro-abortion bully Jordan Hunter When Jordan Hunter kicked pro-life protester Marie-Claire Bissonnette on a street in Toronto, video of his attack went viral. That viral video led to Hunter losing his job, and to the police pressing charges. Both results were unusual – though violence and destruction of property are regularly committed against pro-lifers, it's probably more common that pro-lifers are arrested by the police than the police arrest someone for attacking pro-lifers. It felt good to be on the winning side for once. But one commentator questioned whether the pro-life camp came out looking good. On a related note, even as this was all about the unborn – Hunter kicked Bissonnette for speaking up for the unborn and the unborn were the reason Bissonnette was out there protesting – what got lost in the news coverage was the unborn themselves. The press presented this as being about the principles of freedom of speech, and peaceful protest. Jordan Hunter was certainly attacking those principles, but those principles don't need defending like the unborn do. So, when attention comes our way, how can pro-lifers direct the media spotlight towards the unborn? Most importantly, we have to stick to our own talking points, about the humanity of the unborn, no matter where a reporter might want to take us. The media wants to do something on freedom of speech? We talk about how important it is that we be free to tell the country about the humanity of the unborn. They want to talk about peaceful protest? We talk about how it isn't our own peace we most want to ensure, but peace for the unborn. Of course, sticking to our message is no guarantee that the unborn's humanity will make it to the nightly news – we can't control reporters – but by ensuring all our answers are about the unborn (even as the media tries to take us in other directions) we can make it more likely the media will pass along at least some Truth about the unborn. A warning for parents: Instagram is full of porn Reformed commentator Jonathan Van Maren shares a secular magazine's warning about Instagram, and then shares a helpful resource – Social Media and Teens: The Ultimate Guide to Keeping Kids Safe Online – that parents may appreciate. The deadly Canadian M.A.I.D Three Canadians doctors are promoting the idea of euthanasia for children without their parents' permission. That's where you end up when life is no longer understood as intrinsically valuable. Man wins women's cycling race A man who says he is a woman just won a women's cycling race. How is that fair? The transgender winner argued that because he's lost to the women he was competing against more times than he's beat them, that makes it fair. That might make it competitive in much the same way that if a 40-something-year-old on foot raced his 8-year-old daughter on her bike, it might be close for the first 50 meters or so. But that doesn't make it any less a matter of apples competing against oranges. What was the sin of Sodom and Gomorrah? Some are arguing it wasn't homosexuality but was really about inhospitality or rape. Koukl shows how an honest look at the text says otherwise. (5 minutes)

Sexuality

FIGHT! A message from the most porn-riddled country in the world

In 2016, Google pronounced the country where I pastor, Papua New Guinea (PNG), the most porn-riddled country in the world. This “fact” was established by the number of times the word “porn” or “pornography” had been typed into their search engine. However, I know the Western world is not any better off; they merely search under more perverse words, which cover the full orb of sexual perversions known to mankind.

What saddens me more is that those who claim allegiance to Christ are not free from this perversion. A recent study from Barna Group revealed that in America:

  • 77% of self-attested Christian 18-30 year-old men (with a growing number of women) view porn at least monthly.
  • And 77% of men 31-49 view it at least every three months, while over 20% are addicted.

This is huge. If you view porn weekly, monthly or bi-monthly or whatever the interval of time between viewings might be, there are serious signs of addiction prevalent in your life. And you will feel the impact: viewing porn throws one’s faith into question, one’s life into a constant cycle of guilt and shame, and can throw the sacred institution of marriage into jeopardy.

Do your deeds match what you profess?

We can talk about being justified by faith. We can boldly proclaim that, “There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus” (Romans 8:1). We can say, “I am a sinner saved by grace”, and say it a thousand times a day, but if we are living to gratify the flesh then the fact is we are not pleasing God! Further, it may evidence that we may not even belong to Christ.

As we read Romans 8:7-8:

“…the mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God, for it does not submit to God’s law; indeed, it cannot. Those who are in the flesh cannot please God.”

The word hostile here in Romans 8:8 may be better translated as enmity.  That means you cannot look at porn websites, or read trashy, porn-riddled novels like Fifty Shades of Grey, or watch nudity in films or in online games or on apps (and etc. and etc.), and have peace with God. You are creating enmity between you and God.

But not only is there enmity between you and God, this also moves on a horizontal level.  Hostility grows, especially between spouses and family members, at the cost of this perversity.  The fact is, you cannot look at porn and be at peace with or be a blessing to your spouse – present or future – or your family, your friends, or anyone else.

One cannot do both. You cannot feed the flesh and feed the vertical or horizontal relationships with love and truth. To feed the one is to starve the other. And if we feed the flesh, satisfying its insatiable hunger for more, we leave those we love with all the pain of a relationship starved of the attributes that sustain its healthy growth. 

Hope

Is there hope?  Yes. The Gospel still rings with the clarion call of reconciliation between us and God, in Christ. And through that restored relationship, we can also find hope for reconciliation between us and those around us. There is hope because it is still true that “…there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus” (Romans 8:1). Amen.  There is grace for the wretched man or woman, like you and me, who daily confesses their sins and addiction and seeks God’s grace!  Grace upon grace.

However, this is the point of our salvation:  the new birth in Christ by God’s Spirit creates a radically new lifestyle! As we read in 2 Corinthians 5:17: “Therefore if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation, the old has gone, the new has come.” And if you are found in Christ you do not walk according to the flesh, but according to the Spirit.

“For those who live according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who living according to the Spirit set their minds on the things of the Spirit” (Romans 8:5).

There is another clarion call in this Gospel of grace and that is that we need to fight! Fight the flesh.  Make it our slave.  Make it obedient to Christ (cf 1 Corinthians 9:27).  In short, we need to take up spiritual arms.

Make war!

“No more murmuring about our imperfections,” as Pastor John Piper has said, rather: “make war.” Make war with all the artillery and armament of heaven: the sword of the Spirit; the belt of truth; the shield of faith; the helmet of salvation; the feet fitted with the Gospel of peace; the breastplate of righteousness and prayer. (Ephesians 6:13ff).

Fight with all the resources at your disposal:

  • accountability with spiritual friends or mentors
  • transparency with those close to you
  • seek counsel from your pastor or elder
  • filters on everything (eg. use Safe Eyes, or Covenant Eyes, or others)
  • if your smartphone enslaves you, throw it out
  • pray and meditate upon the Gospel promises daily as you trust in Christ’s righteousness

And do not surrender.  The cost of surrendering to the flesh is too high.

I live in a country where fights are sparked at the drop of a hat. But I assure you that the fight worth fighting is this one. And know that the blessed value of winning this fight daily, in the grace given us from above, is indescribable peace and a clear conscience! That is a precious gift! May this Gospel of grace and truth flow through this porn riddled land we call PNG, and no less every country in this world lost in deep sexual perversion.

Pastor Ian Wildeboer is a missionary from the Free Reformed Churches of Australia serving in Papua New Guinea. A version of this article first appeared in the June 2016 issue of Tulait Magazine and is reprinted here with permission. In that publication the article was paired with a very good article by John Piper on 6 strategies for fighting lust.


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