Thursday, December 1, 2016

First AID(S)

Dec 1 is a day set aside globally to recognise an ongoing fight in public health. This fight, unfortunately, is often overlooked in the US, despite a large number of sufferers - after all, there's a solution and it's well-managed, right?

Not quite.

True, antiretroviral therapy (ART) is available to combat HIV/AIDS, but it's no silver bullet. No these drugs, at best, keep the virus in stasis (provided the drugs are taken like clockwork) and bring a host of negative side effects to the patients.

Did I mention that these drugs meed to be taken for the rest of one's life and that they aren't always cheap? Right, fancy that.

To put that in more perspective, though, let me run you by some statistics:
  • In the US
    • > 1.2 million individuals are living with HIV
    • ~39 500 individuals were newly-diagnosed in 2015
      • 67% were gay & bisexual men
        • 82% of all male diagnoses
      • 24% attributed to heterosexual contact
      • 6% attributed to injection drug use
    • African-Americans are 13% of the population, but represented ~ 45% of new diagnoses
New HIV Diagnoses in the United States for the Most-Affected Subpopulations, 2015
    • ~ 13 000 passed away from AIDS-related complications
    • Approximately 37% are on ARTs
  • In Sub-Saharan Africa
    • Approximately 24.7 million people are living with HIV
    • In 2014, there were 1.5 million new infections
    • Roughly 1.1 million individuals died from HIV/AIDS complications in 2014
    • Only 39% of individuals are on ARTs
    • South Africa, where I grew up, has a 19.2% prevalence of HIV in the adult population
      • Only 48% of those are currently receiving ARTs
      • South Africa has the biggest HIV epidemic of any country in the world
  • In Asia and the Pacific
    • Roughly 5.1 million are living with HIV
    • 300 000 were newly diagnosed in 2014
    • 180 000 passed away in 2014
    • 41% are on ARTs
  • In the Middle East and North Africa
    • 230 000 people are living with HIV
    • There were 21 000 new infections in 2014
    • There were 12 000 new deaths in 2014
    • Only 17% are on ARTs

  • In Latin America
    • 1.6 million are living with HIV
    • 94 000 are newly-infected as of 2014
    • 47 000 have passed away in 2014
    • 44% are on ARTs
  • In the Caribbean
    • 250 000 are living with HIV
    • 12 000 were newly-infected as of 2014
    • 11 000 had passed away
    • 42% are on ARTs
  • In Eastern Europe and Central Asia
    • 1.5 million were living with HIV in 2014
    • There were 190 000 new infections
    • 47 000 passed away from HIV/AIDS complications
    • 21% were on ARTs
  • In Western and Central Europe
    • Approximately 1.2 million are living with HIV
    • Approximately 50 000 were new infections
    • Approximately 9000 passed away
    • 59% are on ARTs

So, now that you're just a slight bit more aware of the global AIDS crisis, please, get involved. There are a myriad of organisations committed to HIV/AIDS research and awareness, including the NIH, amfAR, UNAIDS, (Red) campaign, One, and more.

Maybe supporting an AIDS orphanage is more up your alley. If so, Beautiful Gate is one I know of personally, but there are many similar organisations around the world.

The point is, please, speak up, get tested, fight the stigma, and, most importantly, campaign for a cure.


Friday, November 11, 2016


Today is of twofold value to me. In the US, it's Veterans' Day. Overseas, it's Remembrance Day or Armistice Day.

(Memorial Day, in the US, is on the anniversary of the end of the Civil War and has been a holiday here, obviously, longer than Remembrance/Armistice Day has been in the rest of the world)

To my friends, family, and colleagues in the US:

For those of you who have served, thank you. Whether in the Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines, or Coast Guard, whether based abroad or at home, whether in combat or out of combat, you have risked and given much in the defense of this country and the ideals it holds dear.

For that, you will always have my thanks and appreciation.

To my friends and former colleagues overseas:

Today, we remember those who paid the ultimate price. WWI and WWII exacted an extreme toll on many countries and many communities around the world. Of course, these are not the only wars waged on a global scale. Immediately coming to mind are the Vietnam war and Korean conflict. These men and women gave their lives to pursue and protect the ideals we hold dear in our modern, Western age.

From the rising of the sun to the setting of the same, we will remember.

Thursday, November 10, 2016

On Electoral College

All right. So, I want to tackle something that it appears many individuals in my generation don't quite get (and, frankly, I didn't fully understand until the night of the election, thanks to a couple friends of mine): Why the heck do we have an electoral college and what is its purpose?

Something that was a big help to me was the following video:

The way I understand it, when we vote in Nov, we're not actually voting for our president. We're voting for our states' representatives to the electoral college. 

To make a comparison to another branch of government: we don't vote as an entire populace on legislative matters. Instead, we elect individuals to vote on our behalf, trusting them to make their decisions on the behalf of their constituents.

Here's the deal, from what I understand, when a party puts itself on a state's ballot (or as a write-in), they must provide a list of individuals who will serve, basically as the electors, or, if you want to think of it this way, the potential ambassadors from that state to the electoral college, should that party win.

So, if I understand properly and if electoral college is done well, we are, in essence, electing our electoral committee who will then elect the president. The reason we tend to think of the Nov election as basically the presidential election is because it's very rare, and in certain states, illegal, for electoral college members to vote for a party candidate not from their own party.

Why do some sparsely-populated states, like Wyoming, have a stronger proportional representation per capita than more populous states, like California?

From what I understand, this was done to prevent the interests of the populous states, and especially the interests of densely-populated urban areas from overshadowing the interests of other, less densely-populated parts of the country. This helps to ensure that the presidential candidates make some kind of effort to reach out to these states.

To put it in a kind of perspective, the system has a measure of short-term unfairness of voter representation in it to prevent a more severe long-term unfairness of votee representation.

Why do a majority of states have a winner-takes-all approach to assigning their electoral college members?

I have no bloody idea. Frankly, that frustrates me, too. If part of the purpose of electoral college is to induce coalition-forming across political lines, then surely a proportional representation would be better for the country overall, right?

As a proponent of third parties, first-past-the-post, winner-takes-all approaches merely secure a duality of dominant parties, because the states then become the filtering ground to snuff out any third party opposition. Would it not be in the interest of the greater populace if, because of third parties, neither major party would alone be able to reach the 270 of 538 electoral college votes necessary to appoint the president? 

My question/proposal is this: 
  • Currently, the wining party being awarded the entire gamut of elector slots for a particular state, gaining disproportionate representation of the state's populace.
  • If the elector slots are distributed proportionally as represented by the state's vote, would third parties be able to gain traction as swing parties, comparable to how certain states are swing states, being able to be the determining factor in which party's nominee?
  • This would necessitate that electors not be under compulsion to vote their party, but be given the freedom to be swayed by argument and debate.
I know that, initially, the electoral college would become a reflection of the popular vote, becoming subject to its "tyranny", but my hopeful vision is of a 40%-40% split in electoral college, with the remaining 20% being a scattering of third-party representatives.

How are a party's potential electors for each state chosen?

Frankly, I don't know. I wouldn't be surprised if they're appointed by the state chapter prior to or as a requirement for obtaining ballot or write-in access. Personally, I think it would be beneficial to have greater transparency, for registered members of a party to be able to vote for the electors in their state's conventions. Of course, this is just a speculative example.

In closing, clearly, I am a fan of the electoral college system. I think there are tweaks that could be made to improve it. I also think that we need to stop portraying the Nov election as the presidential election. The Nov election, while currently the de facto presidential election, is actually the election of our electoral college representatives. This false portrayal of the Nov elections needs to stop. We, as a populace, need to educate ourselves into the workings of our representative democracy, to be better informed about the effects and implications of what we are truly voting for. Only then will we be able to petition for reform, if we still deem it necessary.

Wednesday, November 9, 2016

As the Dust Settles

So, another arguably successful election season has passed. Someone has won. Many have lost. Some feel vindicated, some disappointed, and some like they've sold their souls (yet justified that they did what was necessary).

All of these sentiments I agree with and understand. Me, I voted for a third party. I was under no illusions that they would win, but I was at least hoping for a major spoiler effect due to the sum total of third party votes. (Props to Utahland for a 20% McMullin spoiler).

For those a little out of touch with the American political race, this was a hugely heated race. As a fan of neither dominant party candidate, I saw, on the one hand, a hardened career politician with pending criminal cases and, on the other hand, a bragadocious demagogue spouting populist rhetoric. These caricatures were and are just that - caricatures. Hillary and Trump are both more and less than their media portrayals, as are every other candidate who ran.

As I wrote I the aftermath of the last election and the one before it, we, as citizens, and we, as Christians, have a responsibility to respect and honour our leadership. I know that sounds archaic and dated in our advancingly progressive society. After all, that's the beauty of Liberalism, right? I am beholden to no one and am completely free to speak my mind and take my own action as best befits what I deem best for myself. And yet, I admonish you to set a small measure of individual liberty aside for the benefit of the community. If we all set aside a measure of "I"-ness, of "Me first"-ness, of "Validate my ideas"-ness, or any other breed of self-seeking and instead seek the benefit of our local and national communities, then we can and will see our nation grow closer in understanding.

How do we do this?

Well, for starters, we can:

I know it seems like a lot, but, please, join with me as I seek to make the best I can of the new, upcoming political and social environment of this country for the benefit of my local community. If enough people from diverse backgrounds and regions begin to carry and act upon these type of ideals, perhaps we will see healing happen within our generation

** For my non Christian readers: I do not and will not apologise for my faith. Active evangelism and discipleship are integral components of Christianity. 

Thursday, October 13, 2016

Option C

I've not been a fan of Trump or Hillary from the beginning. With Hillary, it's been the pending trial - I already have one president with "postponed" investigations (approx 783 of them, to be specific) and I don't want a second. With Trump, it's been his character and demeanour - from the get-go, he's struck me as a populist and demagogue, the likes of which I used to see every election in South Africa or a neighbouring country.

Now, courtesy of my South African upbringing, I am not overly close-minded to minor political parties. After all, at least one new party is formed every election back home. In previous years, I had dismissed third parties as a trivial waste of a vote, especially when there was a candidate I didn't mind voting for.

I watched in horror as Dr Carson, Rubio, and Kasich, the three Republican candidates that I, as a conservative-leaning moderate felt able to vote for, fell before the steamroller that was Trump. I admire Kasich for his conviction and unwillingness to step down - his tenacity spoke volumes about his character and, as more came out about him, I continued to be impressed, but I digress.

Seeing the Trump/Hillary split, I began researching third party options. I was only familiar with the Libertarian and Green parties and so, settled on Johnson as my choice for president. Now, yes, I've heard the arguments from Trump/Hillary supporters that "A vote for a third party is a vote for Hillary/Trump," and I happen to disagree wholeheartedly. Yes, electoral college muddies things up, but a third party vote is not a vote in favour of "The Opposition"; it is a vote in favour of that specific third party. Consider the following opinion:

Like the Redditor I've quoted above, I'm of the mindset that too many people vote Republican or Democrat over their personal convictions because they're afraid that everyone else is going to do the same. If everyone who was considering voting for a third party did so, there would be a massive disruption. Would the GOP or Dems probably still win? Perhaps, but it wouldn't be a clean, near 50-50 division. Instead, I wouldn't expect either party to get above 40%, let alone reach 40%. Can you imagine the effect on the political climate if neither Republicans nor Democrats obtained higher than 35%?

Back to my story.

In the last month or so, I became personally convicted over my view towards presidential candidates. My old view was very pragmatic - I didn't care if they were pro-choice, pro-gay, pro-anything-opposing-Christianity. None of that I deemed necessary to run a country, so I simply voted on policy and capability. I looked down sometimes on Christians who would rather vote for a pro-lifer whom I thought was a poorer choice for the country as opposed to a better-qualified pro-choicer. Gary Johnson, in my opinion, was one such choice. I disagreed with his platform on many areas, but I was willing to vote for him as the best of three options.

Then my perspective was changed.

I don't remember what prompted the change, but I had a priority shift. Part of my realisation, you see, was that it was of greater importance to honour God than to pick my choice of what's best for the country. After all, Ahab was an excellent king by the world's standards. He conquered territory, forged treaties, and maintained Israel as a prosperous nation, but because he would not honour God, he is considered a terrible king. Conversely, David was nobody's pick to be king. He was the youngest son of a small shepherding family, but he sought to honour god to the best of his abilities and God gave him what he needed to rule effectively.

That realisation coincided with a post from The Gospel Coalition. The fact that there is a Christian Democratic party in the US that seeks to honour God through the planks in their platform blew my mind. I thought most Christians, like myself, just tried to make do with unpalatable options, but we don't need to. Someone else, fed up with the lack of God-honouring options, decided to make their own party in the mid-late 2000's. Now, do I agree with all aspects of the ASP's platform? I wouldn't say so - I tend to lean a little more fiscally conservative than they do - but I do agree with their overarching goal, vision, and motivation enough that I am willing to throw my lot with a young, small party. I can vote for a candidate whom I trust will seek to honour God and have faith that God will give what is needed to run this country.

This is my Option C. What's yours?

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

Forest and Trees

Today, I want to speak to my fellow white people, particularly my fellow Christian white people.

Many of us are missing the point

Yesterday, an innocent man, Terence Crutcher, was shot. He was an innocent man inspecting his own car. He was tazed and shot because he did not immediately follow instructions. He was unarmed. He had his hands up and visible. Now, investigations are ongoing and this article has a fairly good summary of the due process that needs to be followed and the confounding legal questions, but the shooting is not what I want to highlight.

I want to highlight our response.

You see, Mr Crutcher is a black man and, unfortunately, he is now the newest name in a growing list of black men killed by police. He is now the next name on a list in the argument against police brutality and social injustice. You would think that, after such a tragedy, there would be mourning as a community in response. No, no. I only heard about the shooting via my wife. I saw nothing from any of my white friends except a post which showed how there are good relationships between black men and police.

Yesterday, in Langa, a peri-urban settlement (lit. a shack town) in Cape Town, South Africa, inhabited almost completely by poor black individuals, was in the midst of a protest against poor services delivery. The only word I heard from any of my SA friends was from one person who had to drive through the protest, recounting the shock of riot police, guns, and the smoke of burning tires, praising God and thanking the police that she made it through safely. My fellow white people, I am ashamed. You are focusing on the minutiae, the trees, when the problem is with the forest.

The protest of police vs black violence is not about shaming the police. It doesn't require you to defend the police or discredit the victim and find opposing evidence - there will always be evidence to oppose anything, provided the inclination is there. The issue is about respect and fair treatment under the law, something assumed by many of us white people, but still being fought for by many of our fellow black men and women.

Service delivery protests/riots, while terrifying, are happening because of a real problem. While we recount the horrors and fears experienced as an outsider passing through, let us remember that what many white people have and take for granted, our black brothers and sisters are fighting to obtain - and not because they cannot afford it, but because it has yet to be delivered.

Just because we, as white people, are not immediately impacted is not a sufficient excuse to dismiss the injustice surrounding us in society. When Christ gave the parable of the good Samaritan, he did not say that our neighbour extended only to those who looked/spoke/thought like us. No, the whole point of the parable is that loving our neighbour means seeing the hurt, the maligned, the needy, and doing what we can to help.

And that help? I'm not advocating at all for the White Messiah complex. For help to be actual help, it must be the right type of assistance/aid/support, given in the right manner, at the right time. To make a comparison, if someone drops on the floor, having a heart attack, you don't begin scolding the individual for any habit he/she might have that contributed to his heart attack; you administer CPR or find someone who can. When social injustice is shown, you don't tell the victims they're imagining things or that they've contributed to their own issues; you stop and listen, giving a willing ear and a heart willing to understand, and, should the opportunity present, take some measure of appropriate action.

Are we not called to weep with those who weep and mourn with those who mourn? What would it hurt to take a moment to empathise - to place ourselves, our families in these repeated cycles of injustice? Would it hurt to turn to a black friend, relative, or colleague and simply say, "I heard about what happened. I'm so sorry."? Take the initiative. Put yourself out there in love, seeking to understand or support. Make that connection. If nothing else, it's a start.

Sunday, September 11, 2016

Chicken and Egg

So, my wife and I were getting food and, while we were eating/heading home, I had a revelatory moment. It hit me that many of us have the perception of the relationship between Diet and Exercise backwards.

Instead of dieting comparative to our daily level of exercise, we often seek to exercise comparative to our dietary intake.

The more I think about it, the more backwards it sounds. That's like saying "I put two extra gallons of gas in the car this week, so I need to drive it more."

As long as we use exercise as a means to try and undo our bad dietary habits, we're never going to make any serious effect on our health. As long as we keep the attitude of "I'll just do an extra couple of laps to make up for [those] doughnut[s]," we will always be stuck in a losing battle. As a society, we are far too sedentary to eat the way we do.

____________________________________Side Note_____________________________________
Now, I need to pause here. I must admit that I am exhibiting a clear example of "Do what I say; not what I do," because, remember the food I was eating in the car - it was Taco Bell (not to mention the regrettable number of doughnuts eaten at a conference this morning). So, keep in mind that I need to work on this myself.

So, instead of viewing exercise as a tool to undo bad eating habits, how should we be eating?

Well, we should be eating like professional athletes

That may sound odd, especially for those like myself who are mostly too busy to fit a regular workout in, but it's true. When we think about how athletes eat, it becomes very clear that athletes eat to fuel their bodies. They make sure to eat enough proteins, carbs, and fats to meet the demands of their sport. After all, they are using up a lot of energy that has to come from somewhere. Similarly, for those who rarely see the inside of a gym or who don't set apart time for physical activity, we need to eat enough proteins, carbs, and fats to meet our metabolic demands. The difference is, our demands are far less.

And, let's face it: eating less is far easier than exercising more.

So, let me ask the burning questions:

  • Do I really need that 12oz ribeye or would a 6oz cut be better?
  • Do I really need that one/two/four (cough cough guilty cough) doughnuts?
  • Do I really need to pack my plate that full this Thanksgiving?
  • Do I really need that mid-afternoon snack?
If you're anything like me (rugby 2-4 hrs/week; gym 0-4 hrs/week), the answer might just be, "No," and, you know what, it's okay.

So, come join me as I re-evaluate my own dietary intake and tune it to match my output

Thursday, September 8, 2016

The Role of Law

One question I've heard off and on, particularly when, in church/ministry circles, a teacher or a student is asking a thought-provoking question, is, in my own words, "Given Christ and the new covenant, what is now the role of the Law, the old covenant?"

I think many times, in my experience, we try to answer something along the lines of, "It serves to show us the standard and impossibility of perfection."

It's a good answer, but it also sells the old covenant somewhat short. After all, there are times when God had remarked to Israel that He would prefer the sincere worship of their hearts to the empty exactitude of lawfulness.

While doing some reading and spending time with God today, I came across a small little verse that really illuminated, to me, the role of the Law, especially in light of Christ:
"So then, the law was our guardian until Christ came, in order that we might be justified by faith." - Gal 3:24
The Law wasn't some cosmic quality metric to show us our imperfection. Neither was it a ball and chain, enslaving the Israelites. No, the Law served to illustrate to the Israelites the character of God, that they might grow in understanding, becoming ripe for the harvest of faith, that is, Christ. The original Greek word used for "guardian" is paidagogos, a word used for a servant whose role was (to train up a child by administering discipline, chastisement, and instruction." (HELPS Word-Studies, Helps Ministries Inc.)

Thursday, August 25, 2016

That Note about Generous Reassurance

So, 2 Corinthians 9 is Paul's appeal to the Corinthian church to follow up on a previous promise for donation to his work and ministry. The topic of money and giving is always a touchy one for most congregants, especially for those aware of all the prosperity gospel preachers, who then become acutely worried their pastor may be turning into one such individual. (Or, maybe it's just me, because I know I've had moments like that, being the cynic and skeptic I am)

That being said, It's not unheard-of for those in ministry to live off the donations of worshippers, after all, that was one of the reasons for the tithe back in Old Testament times - without it, the Levites would have had nothing to live on. Similarly, today, most pastors live off of either tithes alone or tithes plus a side job. To take an even more extreme example, missionaries rely almost completely on donations so as to not overly burden those they are ministering to (following the example of Paul himself).

So, giving is important, but, as Paul writes here, it is not compulsory:
"Each of you should give what you have decided in your heart to give, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver." 2 Cor 9:7
Yes, Paul writes the verse before that one reaps in proportion to what one sows, but it is the verses following that stand out to me:
"And God is able to bless you abundantly, so that in all things at all times, having all that you need, you will abound in every good work. ... Now he who supplies seed to the sower and bread for food will also supply and increase your store of seed and will enlarge the harvest of your righteousness." 2 Cor 9:8, 10
Paul is addressing what I often feel as someone looking to give, particularly outside of tithe. Basically, he's saying, "Don't be afraid to give; God will make sure you have what you need."

That's a pretty critical perspective. If we withhold charity out of fear of not being able to survive without what we'd give, the reassurance that God will give us what we need, in this case as a response to godly, charitable giving, is very, very freeing.

So, then, my question to you, the reader, is this:

What work or ministry are you missing out on because you are afraid to go without?

Tuesday, August 2, 2016

Aotearoa, A Cultural Heritage

One of the amazing things I am grateful for from my time in South Africa is the exposure to other cultures and ideas, different ways of celebrating facets of life. One amazing way I was able to see this was through the international rugby scene.

You see, the first time you watch rugby, it can be a little confusing, seeing all the scrums and lineouts that are called seemingly at random until some of the rules are learnt, but something that stands out for anyone, whether a tenderfoot or a veteran, is the All Blacks.

You see, New Zealand has this amazing national policy celebrating their Maori heritage, after all, they were there on Aotearoa before the very first Englishmen ever called it "New Zealand". The policy was made as part of an effort to help retain the Maori culture by making it a part of the national image.

Now, most people may look at the Haka as a war dance, or something done before sports games to intimidate opponents, but it has a far richer meaning that, as a foreigner, I do not even begin to have the right to express.

I remember a couple years ago, when the NZ national basketball team was playing in the US in the Spain Basketball World Cup, the majority of the US was dumbfounded, watching the New Zealanders shouting, stomping their feet, slapping their bodies, and making ferocious grimaces. I remember watching the replay, listening to the ESPN commentators, watching the confusion on the US teams' faces. To me, it was priceless.

Now, New Zealand's not the only nation to do some kind of war dance before sporting engagements. Samoa has the Siva Tau, Tonga has the Sipi Tau, and many other polynesian nations have a similar performance. Even the University of Hawai'i football team performs a haka before games, though the NCAA does not allow them to do it with the other team on the field as they are not allowed to "intimidate" the opponents.

But the Haka goes deeper. Like I said before, it's a celebration of a deeper heritage. Take, for example, Jonah Lomu's funeral. Arguably the greatest rugby player, he was a national icon for New Zealand.

Or take this haka performed by the family of the bride at her wedding.

What I enjoy seeing, though, is my American friends' interest and celebration of the Haka. That awareness of celebration of cultural diversity is an amazing catalyst to begin discussing the problems within our own country. America is supposedly the melting pot, but as I wrote a long time ago (albeit far more naively), we seem to be more like a really chunky stew, or, better yet, a potjie. We have a diversity of cultures here. we are not a homogeneity of whiteness. There is African-American culture, various Hispanic cultures, Asian cultures, African cultures, Native American cultures (unfortunately, many are mere remnants), even varying European cultures, and yet, the only ones we routinely celebrate and accept are the last.

Now, I'm not talking about heritage months, but I am talking about what heritage months are symptoms of. I'm sorry, but if we have to put in place heritage months for cultures to be celebrated and recognised, then we don't really celebrate and recognise them, do we?

So, to Aotearoa, New Zealand, I applaud you for recognising and seeking to celebrate your cultural heritage.

America, what would you look like were you to truly accept and celebrate the diverse members within yourself?

Thursday, July 28, 2016

The Little White Crystal

I'll be the first to admit, I have a sweet tooth. I'm notorious in my family as the cookie dough thief, a title earned after my early achievement of sneaking an entire double batch of chocolate chip cookie dough from the fridge when I was 6. That title was well-earned and reaffirmed many times over the years.

That being said, I want to talk for a second about sugar.

Sugar is everywhere.

It's in your cereal, your bread, your pizza sauce, your drinks, your snacks, your desserts... It's all over the place. What's more, majority of that sugar is what are called empty calories. To break that down (excuse the pun), a calorie is a unit of energy, defined as the amount of energy required to bring 1 ml of water from 14 to 15 degrees Celsius. Empty calories are sources of calories which provide no other nutrient benefit, think for example, bread made from refined, non-fortified flour versus bread made from home-ground flour from whole wheat grains. Refined, non-fortified flour us pure carbohydrates with no other nutrients, whereas the wheat germ from the whole grain provides many essential nutrients.

Now, our energy intake is often measured in Calories, not calories. What's the difference? Calories, with a capital "C" are actually kilocalories, kcal or 1000 calories. Our recommended daily allowances are often based on a 2000 Calorie (kcal) diet. This is calculated from a simple formula:

  • 1 gram of protein ~ 4 kcal
  • 1 gram of carbohydrates ~ 4 kcal
  • 1 gram of fat ~ 9 kcal
Now, seeing that energy difference, many of you are probably thinking, "Why are we talking about sugar then? Fat has far more Calories." You are not alone in your thinking. If you want to see the biochemistry behind the push against sugar, then check out The Fat-Sugar Metabolism Debate  (TFSMD).

Interestingly enough, we have a recommended daily amount for sugar: 24-36 grams[1]. That's not a lot; it's roughly 6-9 teaspoons per day. Two sugars in your coffee? you've already hit 1/3 of your daily allowance. 

Two sugars? Really?

Yeah, and it doesn't stop there. We've already discussed how excess sugar leads to obesity, diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and coronary artery disease in TFSMD. What's I'm trying to show you is that sugar, truly, is everywhere. The scary part of all of this is that you don't need to be eating a diet of candy for breakfast, lunch, and dinner to wind up with way more sugar than you need.
Sorry, Buddy
Next time you grab a can of coke, check the amount of sugar in it - 39 grams. Grabbing a pack of Pop-Tarts or a bowl of Frosted Flakes for breakfast? 34 and 25 grams respectively. Fruit juice isn't even safe, weighing in at around 24 grams per 8 oz of juice.[2]

All right, wise guy, what am I supposed to do, not eat anything?

No. You need to eat, but instead of buying pre-packaged, pre-made foods, why not make it yourself? Sure, it takes time and work has chewed you up and spat you out. I understand. I'm a med student and, for a while, my wife worked two jobs on top of that - we were never home and rarely had the time to cook. For the time being, we had to be content with that, but we still tried to make healthy choices when eating out (particularly after going through the GI/nutrition course). 

Don't kill yourself trying to avoid sugar, but do what you can to minimise it. That's why we have nutrition labels on foods. Find the sugars, see how much is in one serving and do the math to figure out how much sugar is in the whole bag (because we never eat just 3 oreos, right?).

Also, if you're really curious, you can look at the ingredients list to see where and what type of sugar is listed. If you didn't know, the ingredients are listed in order of amount, from most to least. So, if sugar is high on the list, you know there's a lot of it. That being said, producers have found alternative ways to get sugar in food without using literal sugar (table sugar), so you'll have to be extra canny, scanning for all of these other names for sugar (Not all of these are exactly the same as table sugar and sometimes have different structures, but they are still all empty calories and sweeteners)[3, 4]:

  • Agave nectar/syrup
  • Barbados sugar
  • Barley malt
  • Barley malt syrup
  • Beet sugar
  • Blackstrap molasses
  • Brown rice syrup
  • Brown sugar
  • Buttered sugar
  • Cane juice crystals
  • Cane juice
  • Cane sugar
  • Caramel
  • Carob syrup
  • Caster/Castor sugar
  • Coconut sugar/Coconut palm sugar
  • Corn sweetener
  • Corn syrup
  • Corn syrup solids
  • Crystalline fructose
  • Date sugar
  • Demerara sugar
  • Dextran/Dextrin
  • Dextrose
  • Diastatic malt
  • Diatase
  • Ethyl maltol
  • Evaporated cane juice
  • Fructose
  • Free-flowing brown sugars
  • Fruit juice concentrates
  • Galactose
  • Glucose
  • Glucose solids
  • Golden sugar
  • Golden syrup
  • Grape sugar
  • High fructose corn syrup
  • Honey
  • Invert/-ed sugar
  • Lactose
  • Malt syrup
  • Maltodextrin
  • Maltose
  • Mannose
  • Maple syrup
  • Molasses syrup
  • Muscovado sugar
  • Organic raw sugar
  • Oat syrup (avena sativa)
  • Panela
  • Panocha/Penuche
  • Powdered/Icing/Confectioner's sugar
  • Refiner's syrup
  • Rice bran syrup
  • Rice syrup
  • Saccharose
  • Sorghum
  • Sorghum syrup
  • Sucrose
  • Sugar
  • Syrup
  • Treacle
  • Tapioca syrup
  • Turbinado sugar
  • Yellow sugar

The Fat-Sugar Metabolism Debate

Back in the 50's when the heart health debates were raging, given clear connection between body fat and heart disease, scientists were divided between whether dietary fat or dietary sugar contributed to body fat. At the time, the dietary fat camp won. Today, however, thanks to modern biochemistry, we know that it's not quite that simple. To highlight this, let me give you a simplified summary of the biochemistry of metabolism when energy is needed (fasted state):

With permission from my biochemistry professor
Now that you've been thoroughly bewildered, I want to focus on two key aspects of metabolism: energy use and energy storage. (No, I won't share any more biochem slides).

Glucose, the most prevalent form of sugar used, is converted to pyruvate in all cells, which, in most cells is converted to Acetyl-CoA, which is sent through the Krebs cycle to generate more energy.

Other sugars are converted to glucose or a subsequent product on the glycolysis pathway

Fats are delivered as fatty acids directly to the muscles, which are converted to Acetyl-CoA and are slotted into the Krebs cycle. In the liver, they're converted to ketone bodies for use in the muscle and brain or packaged into VLDL for distribution as fatty acids.

So, when energy is needed, both forms are used, but I want to direct you to something in the bottom left corner entitled "Carb flame". A funny quirk about the Krebs cycle: with just the right amount of carbohydrate, the Krebs cycle skips a couple steps and becomes a super-efficient fat-burning powerhouse.

So, then, what happens when you have more energy than you need? It goes to storage. All sugars, except Fructose, are initially converted to glycogen for storage. When the glycogen stores are filled up, they are then converted to fat. Fructose, however, is not able to be converted to glycogen in the liver, which is the main processing centre, so it goes straight to fat. Yes, Fructose can be converted to glycogen in the muscle, and certain other tissues, but the volume processed is significantly less.

I want to note, quickly, that Fructose is the sweet sugar. It's found in high-fructose corn syrup and is also part of cane sugar (which includes white/table sugar, brown sugar, and molasses/treacle).

Dietary fat storage is much simpler. It's stored as fat.

Hmm... I seem to be losing my case aren't I. Well, let's consider the factors controlling whether your body is using or storing energy: your hormones.

Insulin and Glucagon are the two key players here. Now, as I promised not to inject any more biochem slides, you'll have to trust me, okay?

Glucagon triggers the body to release storage forms of energy because the body needs energy now. Remember, when Glucose is gone, you need Glucagon. Insulin triggers the body to store energy when there is excess. As such, Insulin is responsible for activating and increasing the number of proteins that convert sugars to glycogen and Fructose, fatty acids, and excess sugars to fat.

Here's the kicker: Glucose drives insulin secretion. What's more interesting, though, is that glucose taken orally (eaten) causes insulin to spike more than insulin taken by injection. Now, yes, free fatty acids also contribute to insulin production, but to a lower degree and I must note that majority of fatty acids in the body are not free-circulating.

So, what's the verdict? Both dietary fat and sugar are metabolised to produce energy when needed. Both dietary fat and sugar are stored when not needed. It would appear, then, that both are beneficial, in the right amounts. Too much dietary fat will contribute to body fat. Too much dietary sugar will also contribute to body fat. Unlike dietary fat, though, excess dietary sugar will contribute to elevated insulin levels.

Oh, if I had the space to begin discussing the effects of chronic high insulin, but, in short form, high insulin levels can lead to high blood pressure, type 2 diabetes mellitus, coronary artery disease, cardiovascular disease, obesity, polycystic ovarian syndrome, and a couple other chronic health conditions.

Again, sugar, like fat, is not bad in moderation, but, in excess, it is a cause of many of the health problems that plague us today in America.

Wednesday, July 27, 2016

Vanity, Vanity. All is Vanity

So, I was taking some time to read the Bible this morning, something I like to do, but sometimes fail to make time to enjoy, and one verse really hit me between the eyes. It stood out, because, to me, it highlighted something that is often taken for granted or even glossed over in today's Church, particularly the Western Church.

The verse, in context, read as follows:
"Now, brothers and sisters, I want to remind you of the gospel I preached to you, which you received and on which you have taken your stand. By this gospel you are saved, if you hold firmly to the word I preached to you. Otherwise, you have believed in vain." 
- 1 Cor. 15:1-2 (Emphasis added)
Paul is quick to make note here that receiving and standing upon the Gospel is not enough. You can listen to the Gospel as much as you want, but it doesn't make you a Christian, he is saying. You can choose to live your life by Christian principles and believe in the historicity of Christ, but that doesn't make you a Christian. You can identify with the church and push for the moral establishment that comes with it, but that doesn't make you a Christian.

All of that, Paul says, is vanity, emptiness, nothingness, a waste of breath. If that is all you believe about Christ, if that is all you consider to be Christianity, then you have believed in mere smoke.

What, then, does true belief that brings about salvation consist of?

I means listening to the Gospel and internalising it, making it a part of your everyday being. It means living your life at the footsteps of Christ, believing in the deity of Christ. It means identifying with the church, standing in solidarity with persecuted brothers and sisters, withstanding persecution yourself and, yet, with grace and forgiveness, loving the world whose morals are so far from Christ as the East is from the West.

A faith that saves is one that, as Paul writes, holds firmly to the Gospel, never wavering or compromising in belief, no matter what storms may come.

Friday, July 22, 2016

The Christian Race

With police violence protests, #blacklivesmatter protests, and counter protests flying everywhere throughout the U.S. and much of the world, I thought I'd share something I read today that might, hopefully, spur on those of us who claim to follow Christ:

For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ. For in one Spirit we were all baptized into one body—Jews or Greeks, slaves or free—and all were made to drink of one Spirit. For the body does not consist of one member but of many. If the foot should say, "Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body," that would not make it any less a part of the body. And if the ear should say, "Because I am not an eye, I do not belong to the body," that would not make it any less a part of the body. If the whole body were an eye, where would be the sense of hearing? If the whole body were an ear, where would be the sense of smell? But as it is, God arranged the members in the body, each one of them, as he chose. If all were a single member, where would the body be? As it is, there are many parts, yet one body. The eye cannot say to the hand, "I have no need of you," nor again the head to the feet, "I have no need of you." On the contrary, the parts of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable, and on those parts of the body that we think less honorable we bestow the greater honor, and our unpresentable parts are treated with greater modesty, which our more presentable parts do not require. But God has so composed the body, giving greater honor to the part that lacked it, that there may be no division in the body, but that the members may have the same care for one another. If one member suffers, all suffer together; if one member is honored, all rejoice together.
1 Corinthians 12:12‭-‬26 ESV

Tell me please, church, where it tells us to let our brothers and sisters struggle alone?

Paul is pretty clear here. As a white Christian, when Black Christians, Hispanic Christians, Asian Christians, Arabic Christians, Coptic Christians or other Christians suffer, I suffer. Why? We are one body.

Take a look at your body. When your toe jams into the doorway, it's not just your toe that is affected. When your tiny, seemingly purposeless appendix gets infected, your entire abdomen feels the pain.

We are all equal under Christ. There is no division by race, status, money, or language, but that doesn't mean we are all the same. Just as the body is composed of many parts, the church is a conglomeration of thousands of backgrounds, races, languages, social strata, and perspectives. If we are ever to achieve unity within the church, let alone the country, we need to begin by appreciating and supporting our brethren from different backgrounds. We need to apologise where necessary, lend a hand where needed, break bread together when able, and see each other's humanity and worth at all times.

Saturday, June 25, 2016

Brexit: The Triumph of Right over Left

So, I'm sure almost everyone is aware of the UK's decision to leave the EU. The incredulity of the "Leave" decision has been lobbied and debated ceaselessly for the last 24+ hrs.

I get it; the EU provides a large-scale market economy, economic sharing, open travel, and a common currency. In a sense, it is a liberal's dream and it has many benefits, especially in the short-term. It provides a glimpse of a future world peace and shared market, of everyone sacrificing something for the benefit of each other, etc, etc, etc.

What I have appreciated, though, is the singular explanation for why one individual voted "Leave". All of yesterday, the Left was smearing the "Leave" decision as poorly-educated, the fault of the older generation, out of touch with the times, foolish, short-sighted, and even calling it the "Rise of Nationalism."

I would note that all of these individuals are decently-educated and young, invested more in the global market. I think it says something that all those who voted to leave tend to be from the poorer parts of the country (that I can discern) and from lower education levels. Blue collar jobs tend to be very locally-dependent and would benefit by greater investment in local business. It's also no surprise that the older generation voted to leave, as my experience shows that, in the West, the older generations (at least here in the US) tend to value individual liberty and responsibility, that is, Libertarianism, over a social, collective ideal.

Without much ado, the post in question (Courtesy of Facebook, via a friend:

“It would be erroneous to compare the EU to the United States. The EU is only a couple decades old and it consists of countries that were completely autonomous and sovereign before entering into the Schengen agreement. Imagine if your country were suddenly linked in every way and without wiggle-room with 28 countries like Mexico, Uruguay, Canada, Iceland and Algeria. Now imagine if you had to give a minimum of 7 billion dollars to the EU in fees every year, forfeiting any control over your country’s trade, immigration, finances and law, and allowing a group of unelected individuals who meet in another country to decide how you will be allowed to proceed in any of those areas. Imagine if there were no longer ANY restrictions between the US, Mexico, Iceland, Canada and Algeria (in our case, a total of 28 countries!), and if anyone could move anywhere within those countries, being instantly eligible for all the entitlements and aid your country offers.
By joining the EU, Britain forfeited its autonomy, its sway over its own future, its ability to combat unemployment by hiring within its borders, and its control over commerce and the trade of its own goods. We have become the subjects of a “board of directors” that has no loyalty or obligation to our country. We have sacrificed our sovereignty to leadership who are not vested with making decisions in England’s best interest. Furthermore, we’ve been anchored to sinking ships like Greece, and those same authorities have decided which of us are expected to provide the majority of the funds needed to pay off the other countries’ debts, countries that have demonstrated little desire to put their own efforts behind fiscal responsibility and recovery. Imagine if the American people were no longer able to influence the decisions and laws that impact your country and your everyday life… That’s why so many of us are dead set against staying in the EU. I trust that helps you to understand our position.”
So, the "Leave" decision wasn't pushed by some right-wing nutjobs shouting "Rule Britannia!" It was advocated for by conservative individuals who were tired of a governing body in which they had no representation, a body which had no vested interest in the sovereignty, autonomy, and overall well-being of the UK except what pertained directly to that of the EU.

In short, the UK finally understands why we left back in 1776.

Friday, June 17, 2016

A Church Divided

So, I was reading through Paul's first recorded letter to the Corinthian church (In truth, if I recall correctly, it is the second of four, though we only have records for the two we call 1 and 2 Corinthians) and partway through the first chapter, Paul begins addressing some rivalries and divisions happening within the church.

He rebuked them, calling them to ponder three questions:

  • Is Christ divided?
  • Was it Paul who was crucified for you?
  • Were you baptised in Paul's name?
As I was looking over this passage, what came to mind first were some of the church splits I have seen, with individuals falling out between leaders or over minor details, thinking along the lines of "Did Pastor X die for you?" or "Were you baptised in the name of Deacon Y?"

The more I pondered it, though, the more I realised that the divisions within the church run far deeper than merely within an individual church. Many divisions today run along doctrinal or interpretational lines. Methodists vs Baptists, Orthodox vs Catholics (or Protestants/Anglicans vs Catholics for that matter). The church today is massively divided. Now, yes, there are some divisions along lines of preference. Those preferring a more ordered service may sit comfortably within a Presbyterian church than an Assembly of God. That being said, there are divisions along racial lines, political lines, policy lines. We have divided ourselves over minutiae.

In light of this passage, I am inclined to agree with Erasmus where he butted heads with Luther, wanting to bring about change within the Catholic church instead of fracturing and starting a separate church.

Yes, we are going to have differences of interpretation of scripture. For example, when it comes to the end times, my pastor ascribes more to the dispensational philosophy/theology whereas I fall into a post-tribulational premilennial standpoint. Does that mean I should leave my church? No.

Baptists, did the Anabaptists and early baptists die for your salvation? No.
Methodists, were you baptised in the name of John Wesley? No

Catholics, was Leo IX crucified for your salvation? No
Orthodox churchgoers, were you baptised in the name of Cerularius? No

We all were saved by the crucifixion and resurrection of Christ. We were all baptised in the name of Christ.

Let me ask you, is Christ divided?

Then why do we, the church, divide ourselves?

Should we not focus on Christ as the unifying goal? Should not our doctrines be subject to Christ and should we not be able to come together under the banner of a single, catholic (not Catholic; it means "universal") church?

I mean, that was the purpose of creating the Apostles' Creed and the Nicene Creed, to establish what is common doctrine to all Christians, that we may focus on the forest instead of getting lost amongst the trees.

These are my thoughts, though. I am no theologian. I do not know the intricacies of the dividing points in different denominations' doctrines and I do not profess to know. I merely am asking a pertinent question.

Tuesday, June 14, 2016

Taking a Bead

Okay, so I'm about to open a large can of worms. Unfortunately, I'm not the first one to do so and I have the feeling I will not be the last.

Something needs to be done about gun violence.

I understand the arguments in favour of owning guns - I am a prospective gun owner myself and I am very interested in the personal safety of my family. I also understand the cost-effective supplement that hunting provides to the family food budget. I even understand and appreciate the right to bear arms, both for personal security and as insurance against the government attempting to oppress its citizens through force and, to the latter effect, the opposition of many gun owners to a federal registry, making gun owners "targets" if "$#!+ hits the fan".

That being said, let's take a look at the statistics

In 2016 alone, so far, there have been:

  • 23 518 reported gun-related incidents in the US
    • 6 031 deaths; 12 359 injuries
      • 258 children (0-11) killed/injured
      • 1 289 teenagers (12-17) killed/injured
    • 138 were reported mass shootings
    • 519 were reported officer-involved incidents
      • 147 officers shot/killed
      • 372 perpetrators shot/killed
    • 988 were reported home invasions
    • 725 reported were of defensive use
    • 1 050 were reported accidental shootings
Unfortunately, I have no suicide data for 2016, but there were 21 334 gun-related suicides in 2014, with the numbers climbing from '99 to '14

Of course, the first, knee-jerk reaction is to declare all guns evil and protest for their complete and severe restriction. Before we do that, however, let's take a quick look at some of the current laws in the US

  • 18 to own shotguns and rifles
  • 21 to own all other gun types
  • May not own if there is a history or likelihood of family violence
    • May be denied sale or have guns seized
  • No civilian register/licensing records
  • Open and concealed carry laws vary by state
    • With or without a permit
  • Restrictions
    • Long guns (rifles/shotguns): regulated
    • Automatic: Subject to federal licensing, regulation
    • Handguns: permitted without a license
    • Semiautomatic: permitted without a license
    • Banned: sawn-off long guns, machine guns, silencers, armour-piercing rounds
      • Subject to appropriate registration
  • No set waiting period for lawful firearm purchase
  • Possession of a concealed carry waived background checks

  • Private sales are permitted
  • Private sellers need no background check
  • Dealers must carry a dealer's license
  • Dealers must pass a background check

  • Firearm dealers and manufacturers are required to keep records of gun and ammunition sales and manufacture
  • There are laws specifying safe storage of firearms
  • All firearms sold in the US are marked and can be traced/tracked
Unlawful possession
  • Punishable by 10 years in prison
So, looking at the laws shows that there is some control already in place. Honestly, I'm fairly satisfied with what is in paper. 

So, then, what needs to change?

Well, for one, enforcement needs to step up. If sales and background checks are better enforced, then we would see, in general, guns being more in the hands of responsible owners. That, unfortunately, is a bit of a wishful dream at this point.

That being said, I am a proponent of a basic gun license for owners. I hold that prospective gun owners should prove themselves capable of the responsible ownership of a gun (maintenance, storage, responsible use) and aware of state & federal gun laws. We have established such a process for driving a vehicle, so why not a similar vetting process for firearms? Such a license (let's call it the new open carry license), would ensure more responsible ownership and that, coupled with a background check with a moderate waiting period, can help ensure more responsible dealer sales. The incentive for private sales to be responsible is the threat of losing that right; having a license just makes it easier to establish rapport. Additionally, the presence of gun licenses allows for easier law enforcement. Are you carrying? Do you have your license on you? If your answers are "yes" and "no" respectively, then you are subject to the law.

So, I've taken a look at the current statistics and I've taken a peek at the law. I've given you my perspective. Let's all become well-informed citizens and arrive at a safer, yet still free, environment for ourselves and our children.


Friday, May 6, 2016

From Behind the Veil

I swear I'm not dead.

Med school is something else, though, let me tell you. It's super gratifying and definitely my calling, but it's driven me to the point of actually wanting coffee. You know, that liquid burnt toast stuff I can no longer say I loathe and abhor. Yeah. That stuff.

(Courtesy of
(Courtesy of
Anyways, yeah. It's the last module. I have 3 weeks, 5 tests, 1 anatomy practical, 1 OMM practical, 1 standardised patient, and 1 shadowing rotation to complete. 

(I also may have become mildly hooked on a medical TV show, something I'm sure happens to every med student at some time or another)

That being said, I am so glad I'm not facing it all alone. Being married while in med school is an amazing blessing. Yes, marriage, like any relationship, takes time and time is a valuable resource typically (over)invested in studying, but marriage also pushes you to plan your time well, to add margin into your schedule, and to prioritise "Us" time. It pushes you to seek balance in your life, pursuit of God, wisdom, and leadership, seeking time to rest and recharge, and encouraging you to invest in your spouse. I know for sure, that if I were facing this alone I would be a stressed out wreck, hyperfocused on grades, and not taking good care of myself. Sure, my grades would temporarily be higher, but I'd be a wreck, burnt out, and prone to fall apart at barely a whisper.

So, major thanks to God for my wife and how she encourages me to seek balance, spurring me on to be a good student, but also a good husband and Christian. 

Now, if you'll excuse me, I have 155 flashcards to crunch for Monday's Neuro test.

Monday, April 4, 2016

Child Abuse Prevention Month

April is National Child Abuse Prevention Month

This month, the talk gets real. People don't like to talk about it, exposing some of the deeper, hidden shames in our society, but let me be clear:

Child Abuse exists and it is far more prevalent than you may think.

In the 2014-2015 year, in the state of Virginia alone, almost 50 000 children were reported as possible cases of abuse or neglect, 6 500 of them having enough evidence to be considered a founded report. (CASA of Central VA Fact Sheet)

In one year, in a state of 8.5 million people, 6 500 children were reported, with enough evidence, of being abused.

Sure, that's less than 0.1% of the state population, but that's 6 500 children who will become adults. That's 6 500 children who were fortunate enough that someone realised that abuse was happening and was able to gather evidence thereof. For each one of those children there are unknown others who are being abused or neglected, many, majority, of them by family members.

In my small city of Lynchburg, and its surrounding area, there are currently over 500 children reported as being abused.

Child abuse has lasting ramifications - and I don't just mean on mental health (See a couple immediate examples) and the perpetuation of abuse to future generations. The CDC is currently conducting an ongoing study on Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs), an inventory of 10 indicators of childhood trauma, and their prevalence (~ 65% of the US population has a score of > 1) and health implications, showing a remarkable correlation between chronic diseases and an ACE score as low as 1 (ACEsTooHigh).

For those of you curious enough, ACEs comprise:

  • Abuse
    • Physical
    • Emotional
    • Sexual
  • Neglect
    • Physical
    • Emotional
  • Traumatic Household Experiences
    • Separated/Divorced parents
    • Witnessing violence against mother
    • Family member was a alcoholic/drug addict
    • Family member was a mental health patient
    • Family member was in jail/prison

Oddly enough, ACEs were discovered during an obesity study in which a patient who had been losing weight significantly suddenly regained all her lost weight. When the researchers investigated this, they found that the patient in question had been sexually abused as a child and turned to obesity as a protective mechanism. In the process of losing weight, she was catcalled, which triggered memories of her abuse and she put the weight back on as protection (ACEsTooHigh).

Our children, the generations of tomorrow deserve a life free of the effects of abuse and neglect. Those who are trapped deserve a way out and understanding arms to lean on.

Begin the discussion today and let's all take a stand against Child Abuse in Virginia, in the US, around the world.

Virginia Child Abuse and Neglect Hotline: 1-800-552-7096
National Child Abuse Hotline: 1-800-4-A-Child (422-4453)

Court Appointed Special Advocates (Of Central VA)
Prevent Child Abuse (VA)
 - Fact Sheet
US Dept of Health and Human Services
 - ACE Questionnaire
ChildTrends ACE Factsheet

Sunday, April 3, 2016


So, my wife and I went to watch Zootopia in part of an early birthday celebration and I was thoroughly pleased. In fact, in this current political climate, I would recommend the entire US watch it - and here's why: As a family movie, it very tactfully and directly deals with prejudicial tension and what can happen when it is allowed to go unchecked.

Spoilers (Highlight to read):
In this movie, a number of predators have gone missing and are found to have gone "savage". When uncovered, the protagonist, an eager, fresh, idealistic recruit to the police department unwittingly chalks it up in a media interview to the predator species, for some reason, reverting to their pre-civilised states, because "It's in their DNA." Of course, this causes widespread panic and discrimination against the predators and, depressed, our heroine quits her job.

While back at her family's farm, she realises that she had made a mistake - the reverted behaviour was due to a plant compound, not a freak reversion of nature. In the process of trying to mend her mistake, she uncovers a plot headed by a faction of prey (headed by the assistant mayor, a sheep) to smear predators via this extract and gain the power and recognition they deserve through harnessing the fear of the other prey.

What I, as a white man, saw is the stark reality of America today that I see on a regular basis.

  • We have a presidential candidate smearing other races by fear and mockery, rallying many to a prejudiced cause of racism and xenophobia. 
  • We have a population comprised largely of one racial group (White) who, actively or passively, are acting and reacting to other racial groups with a preconceived notion of criminality or mal-intent
    • African-Americans are perceived as criminals, illiterate, and thugs
    • Hispanics are perceived as illegal, drug lords, and job thieves
    • Arabic-appearing individuals and Muslims are perceived as terrorists and threats to the American way of life
    • You could even make a connection to many heterosexuals' fear and discomfort around homosexual individuals
  • You see whites and heterosexuals jumping to the immediate, easy conclusions, applying blanket discrimination along a stereotype instead of looking deeper for the/an actual cause
When talking to my wife, who is African-American, I discovered that one scene resonated with her in a way that took me a while to understand. In the attitude and monologue of the ringleader, she identified a deep-seated bitterness reminiscent to the attitude of many in the African-American population towards the white population as a result of racial labeling and prejudice over the years.

Through the film, it's very possible to see an exaggerated portrayal of prejudice being allowed freedom to act. We see the growth of prejudice within a population and a demonisation of another population. 

We also see two responses to prejudice. Either, (spoiler) like the assistant mayor, you can act upon prejudice, seeking vindication through vengeful action, leading to division, or, (spoiler) like the protagonist, you can react to prejudice, seeking its end through restitution, leading to unity. 

These actions can be either internal or external, responding to the prejudice within yourself or the prejudice of others. It's easy to see the external, lashing out in prejudice or seeking forgiveness for committed or implicit prejudices, but the internal is more important, being the seed from which actions develop - the fermenting of prejudice, often through resentment, bitterness, or fear, or the battle to overcome ingrained prejudices, often through forgiving those who have enacted injustice.

Of course, forgiveness is difficult, especially in the face of deep-rooted wrongs. 

Why should I forgive those who have wronged me in the first place?
Firstly, for those readers who are Christians, it's what Christ did for us - he forgave us and took our punishment while we were still his enemies (Rom 5:8-10). We are commanded to right any wrongs and grievances with others before coming to God in worship (Matt 5:24) and to not allow anger to ferment within ourselves (Eph 4:26).
Secondly, especially for those who aren't Christians, granting forgiveness tells the aggressor that you no longer subject yourself to the effect of his/her wrongdoing, that you no longer allow it to cripple, poison, or otherwise negatively affect you in any physical, mental, spiritual, or social capacity. It also tells the aggressor that you relieve yourself of any right to retaliation, seeking restitution through mutual peace instead of vengeance. (I'm not saying that recompense is not due, however, just that vengeance will not be sought)

What if I forgive someone only to have them repeat the same insult? 
Jesus answered this question to one of his disciples, telling him to forgive endlessly ("not just seven times, but seventy-times-seven times" - Matt 18:22).

What if someone takes advantage of my forgiveness to continue acting in prejudice or offense?
Christ tells us to love our enemies and to pray for our persecutors (Matt 5:44). He also tells us to love our neighbours as ourselves (Matt 22:39). 

What if I recognise my wrong and have sought to address it, but those I've hurt refuse to forgive me or those like me?
To be honest, this is a difficult question to answer and is something that is often very disheartening, especially as someone who desires to help open racial dialogue and bring about restoration in my immediate communities. The most I can say, though, is this: Paul writes to the Galatians, encouraging them to never cease in doing good, to continue doing so anywhere the opportunity presents (Gal 6:9-10). 

We must never give up the fight for reconciliation, doing what little we can as often as possible, whether that be forgiveness or redress. Perhaps then we can to bring peace and unity to our own Homotopia.

Friday, April 1, 2016

A Psalm

Why does my head hang low, O God?
Why is my spirit quiet within?

My mind soars to greater heights
My thoughts search deeply after you

And yet, it's all for naught

Inside my heart lie white coals
Trapped within an empty shell,
my soul lies desolate

My knowledge fails, fueled by self and pride

My emptiness laid bare

Teach me, O Lord

Teach me how to trust,
to lean on you in faith

Teach my heart and make ignorant my mind

Let aught come of it

Put your spirit within me
Breathe life again into my lungs
Let me burn with your fire
and move with your strings

Let it be, Amen, cries my soul

Sunday, March 6, 2016

The Cost of Greatness

"But it shall not be so among you. But whoever would be great among you must be your servant,  and whoever would be first among you must be slave of all.  For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”Mark 10:43-45 ESV

In Christianity, the one who is greatest made the least of himself.

Jesus forsook his lofty throne, took on the form of a man, and, in insult to his perfect, holy nature, took upon himself the penalty for the sin of every man who ever lived.

God took upon himself that which he must definitely did not deserve.

The greatest made himself the least for the sake of the lost and lowly.

Why, then, do so many Christians seek their own fame and recognition?

In the words above, Jesus explicitly rebuked his disciples who were seeking position amongst themselves.

Jesus corrected the pride of his disciples. Not only that, however, his words serve to correct the pride of all who claim to follow him, myself included.

As I read these words, I recognize my own unwillingness to humble myself in servanthood to others. Sure, it's easy to serve those who agree with me or act and think like me, but surely God doesn't want me to serve those who hate me or want to kill me.

No, no. Jesus came to serve those who were so deep in sin that they were against him. Jesus saved Paul, who before then was persecuting Christians, capturing and killing them. Jesus saved tax collectors and zealots, that is, thieving Roman sympathisers and murderous anti-Roman extremists. Paul writes in Romans 5:10 that we were enemies of Christ when he died for us.

If the example of Christ is self-sacrifice and servanthood towards others, then we need to get down on our knees and serve.

"That's all well and good," you say, "but where exactly and how am I to serve others?"

The bible talks about that in a number of places. Some that come to mind are Matthew 25:31-46 and James 1:27, feeding the hungry and thirsty, clothing the naked, giving respite to strangers in need, tending to widows and orphans. In fact, to paraphrase James in his second chapter, just do something. Even the devils do something about their belief in God - at least they shudder in fear.

I'm preaching to myself as well, but church, do something. Offer to pray with the cashier at the Taco Bell drive-thru. Go serve at a food pantry. Give some money, food, or a food voucher to a homeless person.

Church, now is the harvest. We were not called to be the overseers, watching the harvest being taken in and collecting our sites. No, as Jesus said after his stay in Samaria, "the harvest is plentiful, but the workers are few."

Our role is to be the harvesters, toiling and sweating over the blades of grain, grassy stalls clinging to salty, perspiration-beaded, fly-bitten, sun-burnt skin.

Christianity was never intended to be pretty or comfortable - and I speak to myself. It's time to get dirty.

Saturday, February 27, 2016

Putting the Bern on Christian Charity

Bernie Sanders has taken the American populace like wildfire and many Christians and conservatives, while opposed to his ideals seem clueless as to the reason he has become popular. Bernie isn't popular because he's promising free stuff. He's popular because he sees some of the problems in America clearly and is actually trying to address them.

There is a vast amount of injustice present in the US, largely because of two factors: Finance and Race. Of the two, finance probably plays a larger role. I say this because, while white individuals are given more implicit credit in general, if a non-white gentleman dresses as though he has money and acts respectably, as we expect the wealthy or well-off to act, then he will be treated with greater respect than he would if he were wearing grubby jeans and an undershirt.

What is Bernie doing in his campaign? He is addressing the financial and justice gap between the haves and have-nots and, honestly, he is the only candidate to do so. Every other candidate is geared towards the middle class, upper class, or businesses. So, that makes sense, then, why many of Bernie's supporters are from the lower echelons of the socioeconomic status ladder. It also explains why many millennials have flocked to his cause.

I don't know if you've noticed, but almost every social justice movement in the past few years has been spearheaded by millennials. We have seen how pure Capitalism chews up and spits out those on the bottom rungs for the sake of those higher up. We see how difficult it is to escape cyclical patterns, like poverty, or even abuse and neglect. We also have seen how the church has done nothing.

Is it any wonder, then, that some of our youngest and brightest minds are campaigning for greater governmental oversight? They see that something needs to be done. They have grown jaded towards the church, seeing entrenched hierarchies and hypocrisy, turning away towards other philosophies in which adherents actually live out the ideals they espouse, and embracing ideals of humanism.

So, then, why would a cohort disillusioned with the church petition the church or God to act in the face of injustice? 

That society is turning instead towards the government, the highest establishment of man, to right these wrongs is the greatest indictment against the modern Western church.

Some Christians are realising this, using passages such as Acts 2:42-47 to support socialist policies, justifying society's leaning on the state and encouraging Christians to get behind this goal because that is how the early church acted.

I would argue this point. We say the early church engaged in socialist policies, because we are familiar with those words. I would use a different word, however, to describe the church's actions: Charity.

Charity, as defined by Webster is:

  1. Benevolent goodwill toward or love of humanity

    1. Generosity and helpfulness especially toward the needy or suffering; also, aid given to those in need
    2. An institution engaged in relief of the poor
    3. Public provision for the relief of the needy

    1. A gift for public benevolent purposes
    2. An institution (as a hospital) founded by such a gift
  2. Lenient judgment of others
Charity is derived from the Latin, Caritas, which, according to is a love identified with justice and goodwill.

Now, if charity and socialist policies have similar goals, why do I support one and not the other?

Charity is an outpouring of love. It is a response of obedience to the love of God for all man, a response of worship to God, and a response from the overflow of the love and kindness of God given to us.

Paul writes very clearly in Romans 2 that the kindness of God is for the leading of man to repentance. In John 13:12-17 Jesus gives the example of servanthood in washing his disciples' feet and shows them what obedience looks like. In Matthew 25, Jesus very explicitly indicates that those who follow him will care for the needy. Even James, the brother of Jesus, states that worship that God finds pure and unadulterated cares for the needy.

Socialist policies, on the other hand, substitute love for law. God is removed from the picture and the state becomes the provident entity. Where before, love addressed iniquity and spurred men and women to action in order to help lift those able to self-sufficiency and care for those unable, we now have the state implementing a state of stasis, in which all are seen to, but are not encouraged to do more, either through taking from the wealthy or merely giving to the poor. To give a medical analogy, where before we had curative treatment with some palliative care, we now have total palliative care. Where once we had antibiotics, now we have morphine.

So, that's my beef on social policies, but here's the thing, we brought this on ourselves.

When we, as the church, stopped loving others out of charity, we waived our rights to caring for the needy and standing up for the oppressed. When we started caring more about our wallets and our Sunday dresses, our houses and cars than our neighours, we passed the role of caring and tending for our neighbour to someone else.

Church, let me ask you some questions.

Who built the majority of hospitals around the world?
Who built the majority of homeless shelters?
Who started the majority of orphanages around the world?
Who advocated for the rights of natives to colonising powers?

Now, Church, let me ask you some more questions.

Who runs the majority of hospitals around the world today?
Who runs the majority of homeless shelters today?
Who runs the majority of orphanages around the world today?
Who advocates for the rights of indigines and the previously disadvantaged to the societal powers today?

Answer those questions both in context of the US and worldwide, because the difference in answers may surprise you.

To the church in America, I ask you, what is more important? Do we resist socialism because it infringes on our individual, social freedoms or do we give of ourselves to those in need, rendering socialism unnecessary?
"For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will save it." - Luke 9:24