Wednesday, April 30, 2008

A Note from a Canadian army padre in Afghanistan

This note was forwarded to me from my brother Al. It well describes a padre's sense of call and responsibility to the people he or she serves. I don't know Jim Short myself, wish I did.

Major Jim Short, a Padre with 39CBG, is on the current rotation to Afghanistan. He sends a report on what is happening there now.

Jim Short’s Update – Mid April 2008

I am taking a few minutes while visiting “out beyond the wire” to use a computer at one of our many Forward Operating Base to start this update. I have for the last number of days been visiting by air and convoy the various locations where our Canadian soldiers are stationed, primarily the ones from the Operational Mentoring and Liaison Teams who work teaching the Afghan National Army and Afghan National Police. Our soldiers doing this work are scattered about in small groups and my aim before the tour is over to have spent a few days in each location.

It’s a privilege to do this and share some of the life that our soldiers share. I am considered depending on which soldiers you speak with to be either stupid or brave because I do not carry a weapon. Chaplains are considered to be non-armed combatants under the rules of the Geneva Convention.

It takes a bit of planning and preparation for this visiting. I prefer to travel by convoy, than air, so as to share some of the risk our people do and to not be seen as someone with special privilege. I have to figure out what to bring – and then carry it – how many uniforms, toiletries, religious items etc – plus I am carrying a bottle of port for communion purposes and trying very hard for it not to break. I eat mostly boxed rations supplemented by that ever favourite Canadian Afghan ration – pop tarts – the thing my parents would not let me have when I was a child. Here I can eat them all I want – yippee!

I also have to carry water between points and ensure that I keep re-hydrated at all times. There are no guarantees of showers so I take lots of wipes and hand sanitizer. I cram in as many pens and pads of paper as I can for the Afghan children. My current stock I left with a small group of our soldiers who are quite out on the frontier and often visit an Imam and his wife who run a school in their mosque – she teaches the girls and he the boys. Both risk their lives attempting to educate the young of their community for a better future. Insurgents like to kill teachers and burn schools as a message to the local population to not have any dealings with ISAF. As the soldiers said, to the Imam and his wife, a box of pens and a few pads of paper are like gold. What respect and admiration I feel for such people willing to risk their lives – sure gives me pause to think.

I am often reminded during these days of the work of our war time chaplains and in particular a very good friend of mine and Cathy’s, long since deceased – the Reverend Doctor Russell Ross who carried his portable communion kit all across England to visit isolated groups of Canadian soldiers during World War 2. Before Russell died, he and his dear wife Jean gave me that communion set. Here I am, so many years’ later, following in the footsteps of such chaplains and ministers.

I know that the soldiers are always glad to see the Padre – religious or not – and there are many opportunities for conversation, reflection, venting and getting to know people. I am also learning what our people mean when they talk about being anxious, wanting to stay alive and longing more than anything else to get home safely in one piece. I feel all of those things as well especially when I am visiting in isolated places or traveling along roads that could have IED’s.

When we wait for a convoy to roll or are sitting under the beautiful Afghan sky on a night filled with stars and the crescent moon – there is often time and God’s space for conversations of meaning and purpose to take place – even if it is as simple as talking about our families – feeling those pains of homesickness covered by the joy of sharing and remembering.

I have been reflecting on some words from a devotional book I carry in my day pack (along with a few novels, a journal and a bible) from a favourite author Frederick Buechner:

”If I had to state in a few words the essence of everything I was trying to say both as a novelist and a preacher it would be something like: Listen to your life. See it for the fathomless mystery that it is. In the boredom and the pain of it not less that the excitement and gladness: touch, taste, smell our way to the holy and hidden heart of it because in the last analysis all moments are key moments and life itself is grace.”

Such moments come often – arriving in my present writing location yesterday, I came across our Psy Ops Team – 5 reservists – two of whom, a Sgt and a Captain are old friends from my days with the Canadian Scottish Regiment on Vancouver Island. They invited me for supper so we gathered around an old table in green modular tent with American Individual Meal packets, a gift from the Yanks next door and had both a holy meal and a good re-union. And as we said – who would have thought years ago that one day we would be in Afghanistan eating supper like this together. It was indeed a holy moment. I felt treated like an honored guest and that simple meal was better than all the really good meals I have at the cafeteria in KAF.

On my first trip out six weeks ago, this country was hot, barren and dusty. It’s still hot and dusty but now with great swaths of green. Ancient narled grape roots laying over curb like irrigation ditches, fruit trees, wheat and of course marijuana and opium. The harvesting season comes in Mid May. In the distance beyond the green belt are the mountains and the desert – where Bedouin tribesman still live in tents and travel as if time for them stands still.

From the many places I have visited, I see large flocks of mangy multi colored sheep grazing, led often by a Shepherd with a stick and his family. Out in fields, despite the odd tractor, the average Afghan farmer still does his work with a shovel and works from dawn, taking a high noon siesta and then working until early evening. It is as if the industrial revolution never happened. These people work very hard and they age fast. The other day a group of Afghan National Police officers and their interpreter could not believe I was 50 years old and as we shared a glass of chi tea, they kept saying that I was so old but yet looked so young and strong.

One great source of blessing to me has been our Coalition Chaplains. There are here Chaplains from the US (Navy, Air force and Marine), the UK, Australia, Romania and Poland. I’ve attached our group photo from our every Thursday meeting (some health professionals join us as well) Mainly, we gather for support – a time for devotion and prayer and to get to know each other. We had fun the day that I asked everyone to introduce themselves by telling us what they wanted us to know about them, what story or scripture verse inspired them and what animal in the zoo they were. We occasionally meet at meals and for coffee.

One particularly difficult night while I was hastily downing down my supper to go meet a helicopter bringing in one of our soldiers who eventually died (our 4th Ramp Ceremony) I ended up sitting with two American chaplains and when I stood up to leave, Chaplain Curry stood up, grabbed by hand, put his other hand on my shoulder and shared God’s blessing with me for the night to come. I was deeply touched. Such seemingly small gestures mean a lot here.

Speaking of gestures – let me end by saying thank you for the cards and emails that have come my way. They are deeply appreciated and they keep me grounded and connected to home. My family sends me some awesome care packages and the folks in the building around me really like that because as they say – I share it with them. I have a table at my office door where I put candy and treats for people to grab as they go by – it creates a reason for them to stop and have a few words. The Postal Sgt says I am by far winning the race for most mail. Thanks also to those of you who have sent school supplies – I have distributed them and sent back to one of the groups some pictures of their distribution – I hope you have been able to see them. For now – God Bless and Take Care,

Love from JIM – somewhere in the Zhari Pangaway Area of Afghanistan, Kandahar Province

Is Afghanistan worth it? A brigadier general answers


Special to Globe and Mail Update

April 29, 2008 at 11:35 PM EDT

I was recently asked if Afghanistan was worth the death of a Canadian soldier. It is a question that goes to the root of our nation's involvement in this vitally important region, a question made all the more poignant by the losses here that our nation has endured.

Let me answer.

The terror of 9/11 was born and bred in the lawless vacuum that was Afghanistan, a shattered land of shattered lives left desperate after 30 years of war and corruption. Around this vacuum swirled the regional turbulence afflicting Iran, Pakistan, China, India and Russia. An Afghanistan left unstable and vulnerable to the inrush of these forces would prove an immense incubator for terrors beyond the compass of imagination.

Read the whole piece.

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

US Troop Surge in Southern Afghanistan

Interesting take by the G&M on the new US troop projection into Afghanistan. (I'm sure by the way the Marines are not literally "charging", though this being a piece by a Canadian journalist on the US military, there has to be some cowboy language thrown in to reinforce our own smugness. However, the idea that this surge will change the nature of how we do things on the ground is a real one.

U.S. brings Iraq-like surge to Afghan conflict

From Tuesday's Globe and Mail
April 29, 2008 at 4:32 AM EDT

LASH KARGAH, AFGHANISTAN — A force of 3,500 U.S. Marines charged into southern Afghanistan this morning in an effort to reduce the heavy casualties suffered by Canadian and British soldiers in the region, bringing with them new pressures on Canada and its allies to adapt to U.S. tactics and methods.

The planned marine attack on Taliban positions on the southern border, described as an Iraq-like "mini-thrust" by some U.S. officers, is a welcome development to Canadian and British NATO commanders who have seen ground lost to the insurgents and increasing deaths and terrorist attacks during the past year.

But this new U.S. contribution is accompanied by a push to "Americanize" the 40-nation NATO mission, especially in the British-Canadian Southern Command. General Dan McNeill, the U.S. Army officer who currently commands the 40-nation NATO coalition fighting in Afghanistan, said in an interview that he hopes Canada and other nations will adopt U.S.-style tactics and doctrines, including lengthier deployments for soldiers, harder-line opium-poppy-eradication strategies and the use of military forces in reconstruction and humanitarian work.

Read the whole article.

Jefferson Gets a Dinosaur Penpal

I came across this on a fellow's site, Joe Mathlete Will Draw Anything You Ask Him To On An Index Card - I dunno, I thought it was funny. Kind of renews my faith in the internet.

I wonder what I would say to my dinosaur penpal?
Maybe "Dear Dino ... what's it like being extinct? Any tips?"


Sunday, April 27, 2008

Gods Known and Unknown - A Sermon for the Sixth Sunday of Easter

This sermon was preached the day I announced my resignation to the dear people of my parish, effective May 31st. After a month off in June, I'll be moving to Canadian Forces Base Greenwood to begin my first posting as a full-time chaplain in the regular Canadian Forces. While I will continue to preach as part of the base chapel team ministry, it may not be the same as the privilege and burden of digging into the scripture and speaking about them to God's people Sunday by Sunday, one of the great joys of ordained ministry. MP

Preached at Grace Church, Ilderton and St. George’s, Middlesex Centre, 27 April, 2008

Acts 17:22-31, Psalm 66:7-18; 1 Peter 3:13-22; John 14:15-21

“What you therefore worship as unknown, I am going to proclaim to you.” (Acts 17:23)

I love the fact that we get to hear from the Book of Acts as our first lesson in these weeks after Easter. Acts is a quirky, powerful story of what God can do with ordinary people, and today’s story about Paul in Athens is one of my favourite bible stories. I like it because as I imagine Paul wandering around a foreign city, taking in the sights, I can’t resist seeing him as a tourist with a ball cap and a bright sports shirt. More importantly, I like it because in Paul’s challenge to the Athenians with its opening line -- “Athenians, I see how extremely religious you are in every way” (Acts 17:22) – and surely this is said with a twinkle in his eye – there is a challenge for us. Today’s lesson asks us, do we really know the God we worship?

The Athenians were the smart guys of the ancient world. The Romans had military strength and technology. The Jews had tradition and culture. The Athenians were the intellectuals. They had philosophy and democracy and culture. Earlier in Acts 17, we are told that the Athenians “spent their time doing nothing but talking about and listening to the latest ideas” (Acts 27:21). These are the guys you’d find at Western, staying up late in life debating the meaning of life (isn’t that what they do in frat houses?). Even so, these smart Athenians have a little shrine dedicated “to the unknown God”. It makes you wonder what they were thinking. Was this a spiritual insurance policy, a place to shoot off a quick prayer to whoever might be out there, to keep bad things from happening? And the ironic thing is that here’s Paul, a Jew from a culture that the Athenians would have seen as backwards and superstitious, challenging these smart guys with the question, “An unknown God? Do you guys have a clue what you’re worshipping?”

I have another vision of Paul, wondering around the city of London on a weekend. He sees the crowds pouring into the JLC for a sporting event on Saturday night. He sees the patios full of bodies and noise along Richmond Row. On Sunday he sees a lot of churches, but many of them are half-empty or worse. In the parks he sees people running and rollerblading and sunning themselves. He sees the big box stores full of people buying wide-screen TVs and clothes and barbecues. If he had a chance to gather all of us together, I wonder if he’d say something like this. “Londoners (and that includes Ildertonians), you folks seem pretty religious. It looks to me like you’re worshipping all sorts of things – sports, your bodies, your possessions. But do you really have a clue what you’re worshipping? Do you think that god is something that is made, or packaged, or watched on your big screen TV?”

My guess is that if Paul were with us today, he’d tell us the same thing that he told the Athenians. Paul would say that whenever we think we need to search for God, or for something that might give our lives meaning, then we run off in all directions and we end up not having a clue what we’re worshipping. He’d also tell us, as he told the Athenians, that God is real, God can be known, and in fact God is very close to us. If we let God close the gap and come to us and tell us who he is, then we will know the real God who creates us, who loves us, and who saves us.

Yesterday I finished teaching a theology course in the lay certificate program at Renison College in Waterloo. I’m very proud of my students because they’re not anyone special. They’re not super smart folks like the Athenians or the divinity students at Huron College. They’re just ordinary Christians who want to learn more about the God they love and serve, but I’m going to brag on them in just a minute. Like any theology course, we started with the basics. Can we see God? No. Can we prove the existence of God? No. Is God an object to be studied and mastered, like economics or agriculture? No.

Then we did what Christian theology courses always do. We asked, how can we know about God? Because God wants us to know him. God comes us to us just as he has come to his people throughout the ages. We know God because he is the God of Abraham and Isaac and Jacob. He is the God who rescued Israel from slavery in Egypt. He is the God who speaks through the words of scripture, through the prophets and through his Son, the Word made flesh, Jesus. Some of our talk about Jesus got a little abstract when we looked at the early church and its debates about how Jesus could be God and man at the same time. That kind of theology can make your eyes cross pretty quickly. But in their final project, when they I asked them to describe a time when theology had helped them understand their Christian lives, they had a razor-sharp idea of who the worshipped.

One student described her volunteer work in a community of people who are disabled, some quite severely. When she started there, she saw them as suffering, and wondered where God was in all this. God seemed very far away to her. Over six months, however, things changed for her. She stopped seeing these people as suffering. She begin to see “only a community of learners … caring … compassionate … eager and willing to learn”. She began to feel that these people were her community, her reason to get up each morning, and she found that she saw signs of God every day. God was much closer and much more real than she thought he was.

Another student wrote about being in a very dry business meeting, and discovering that the colleague beside him was writing something very intently in a little notepad, pausing to occasionally to erase and rewrite words. When he asked her what she was writing, she said it was a poem about her life and about her sadness. She was dealing with a husband who was fading away, an elderly mother who lived with them, and her own body as it began to go through menopause. She said “I am very sad and lonely and I feel that life is just passing me by” and that she was praying for guidance and support. The two let the meeting drone on around them and spoke about, as he put it, “faith, courage, commitment, ego, depression, loneliness and the fear of the night”. My student knows about these things first hand, because he is recovering from a severe stroke that still effects his mobility. After the meeting, he received an email from this woman who said “Thanks my friend. You are almost a stranger to me but God is in our hearts”. For this woman, God was much closer than she thought he was, in the form of this unlikely messenger of his presence.

In today’s gospel, Jesus says that we will know the Holy Spirit, because “because he abides with you, and he will be in you” (Jn 14:17). Much of theology, as my students have taught me, is really just opening ourselves to God’s presence within us and in the people around us. It’s only when we think that God is a mystery, a far off thing that we have to search for, that we get into trouble. In our first lesson, the Athenians felt that they had to search for God and grope to find him. Out of fear that they might not find this God, they worshipped an unknown God just to be sure. Many people today have given up on God altogether, and worship those things that give them pleasure or a sense of security. To the Athenians, and to our own time, Paul would say that God is much closer to us than we might think. I think given his escapade here last week, Ric would certainly attest to discovering God’s love all around him as God’s people ministered to him.

At the end of his first lesson, Paul says that God has given us “assurance … by raising [Christ] from the dead” (Acts 17:31). As I said at the beginning, in the weeks after Easter, we hear the book of Acts in place of our Old Testament lesson. We do this because the Book of Acts describes how the church was created by the resurrection of Jesus. Acts describes how a people who thought God died and went away learned that he was very much alive and with them. These people went out and brought hope to people who didn’t know the gods they worshipped. That story continues today. The church is where we meet Jesus as a real person and a real, knowable God. In church we here we hear his words, know him in the sacraments, and find strength in his community. The church is where we find freedom from sin and guilt through the forgiveness of God. While the world offers us many unknown Gods, the church reminds us that only the resurrection of Jesus gives us hope and love and freedom, and allows us to share these gifts with the people around us.

© Michael Peterson+ 2008

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Talking Veterans Down From Despair

I saw this article in today's New York Times and thought it worth sharing. According to the article, of America's 25 million veterans, 18 commit suicide every day. I have no idea what the statistic for Canada would be. It would be worth finding out. MP+

Talking Veterans Down From Despair


CANANDAIGUA, N.Y. — Nancy Nosewicz was busy fielding calls at the new national veterans hot line on a recent afternoon when someone from the Department of Veterans Affairs in Topeka, Kan., phoned. He had a 55-year-old Army veteran from the Northwest on the line who had called to complain about his benefits, but now the guy, drunk and crying, was talking about not wanting to live. Could Ms. Nosewicz pick up?

In a slurred voice, heavy from weeping, the veteran, named Robert, told her that he was homeless and wanted to “just lay down in the river and never get up.”

Ms. Nosewicz, a social worker, listened. Then in a voice firm and comforting like a big sister, she said: “We don’t want you to either. Today we’re not thinking about the alcohol or the housing, Robert. Today it’s about keeping you safe.”

Read the whole article

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

What I'm Reading - Two Books on Canada in Afghanistan

Fifteen Days: Stories of Bravery, Friendship, Life and Death From Inside the New Canadian Army. Christie Blatchford. Toronto: Doubleday Canada, 2007.

Outside the Wire: The War in Afghanistan In the Words of Its Participants. Ed. Kevin Patterson and Jane Warren. Toronto: Random House Canada, 2007.

It may be years from now before the definitive history (if indeed there is such a thing) of Canada’s war in Afghanistan is written. These two books go a long way towards filling the gap while we wait to see how the war will be decided and what it all meant.

Christie Blatchford’s book is about the war from the point of view of soldiers at war and their families at home. Well known as a gruff Toronto street and courtroom reporter, Blatchford was embedded with Task Force Orion, a battle group built around the Princess Patricia’s Canadian Light Infantry that served in theater 2006 and early 2007. I doubt she would object to being called an apologist for the Canadian army. In fact, her book begins with a quotation from Rudyard Kipling’s poem “Tommy”: “Yes, makin’ mock o’ uniforms that guard you while you sleep is cheaper than them uniforms, an’ they’re starvation cheap”.

The uniforms may not be that cheap anymore, and Canadian troops are infinitely better paid than they were in Kipling’s time, but Blatchford is unashamedly adoring of the men and women who wear those unforms. She has a clear-eyed view of them, of their language, their fondness for beer and cigarettes, their goofy humour. Reading her, another line from “Tommy” comes to mind, about how men in barracks don’t turn into plaster saints, but in Blatchford’s view they are saints of a sort. One line really sums up her view of them: “I love watching them returning from the field, the troops filthy and exhausted but always indomitable” (p. 236).

No one could say that Blatchford doesn’t know her subjects. She’s ridden with our soldiers, ate with them, tried to catch in the shelter of LAVs (Light Armoured Vehicles) and awoken itchy with sand fleas, and has been under fire with them. Her description of having to defecate in the middle of a firefight may be the grittiest account of combat that one could want. The strength of her writing is its personal quality, her willingness to allow her subjects to speak in their own words, and her obvious love of them. That love comes through strongly when she speaks with a logistics officer, John Conrad, who lost soldiers doing the Cinderella job of convoy resupply: “We’re spending human capital there, the very best this country has to offer, and thre’s no harm in pausing for reflection and grief when this is being spent. The cause is just. The Afghan people are deserving, but more important, the Canadian people are deserving of national security, and the cause is, I believe, just. But as we’re spending these diamonds, it’s okay to be human. In fact, it’s f***ing necessary” (p. 235).

Outside the Wire (the term means being outside the relative safety of a camp or forward operating base) is a more nuanced book, because the voices are more diverse. Patterson and Warren are both Canadian writers, and Patterson is a former Army doctor who describes his own tour in the military hospital at Kandahar (KAF) with a perceptive and lightly cynical touch. If anyone were to update M*A*S*H* for the ipod generation, Patterson would be the go to guy. Several of the voices here are of the dead. Captain Nichola Goddard, lovingly evoked in Blatchford’s book, speaks in emails home that are full of idealism and a modest bravery. Mike Frastacky, a civilian freelance aid worker and carpenter, describes in a charmingly offbeat manner how dangerous and real it is to live outside of the NATO bubble of protection, among Afghan villagers. Frastacky was shot to death by the Taliban while helping build a school northeast of Kabul. His death offers much food for thought as to why the West should be in Afghanistan.

Among the soldiers, my friend Martin Anderson from 4 Battalion, The Royal Canadian Regiment, is one of several army reservists included. He describes his CIMIC (Civil Military Co-operation) work in Kabul early in the mission, before the security situation eroded so badly, and paints a picture of the human need we are trying to address. Ian Hope, TF Orion’s commander, describes an episode that deserves to become immortal in Canadian Army history, being sent to retake the villages of Nawa and Garmser in Hellmand province, but not having any maps to find them (they found and retook them). Hope’s description of working with US troops includes a comment – “I realized that, at some point in the past decade, we have had a fundamental shift in the culture of the Canadian infantry, making us identify most readily with American, not British, soldiers” (p. 154) – that sums up the theme of History of the Canadian Military. Another infantry officer, Casey Baldwin (2 PPCLI) sums up the estrangement soldiers feel when they come home to Canada, and offers some haunting war poetry.

Both these books offer real and honest accounts of what it is like for the Canadian soldiers and civilians in Afghanistan and at home. They are long on experience and short on geo-politics, but as voters and citizens who may be called to elect a government based on the future of the Afghan mission (whatever that may be after 2009), these are important books and worthy of our time. Perhaps Patterson and Warren say it best at the end of their introduction: “The right thing has to be done in Afghanistan. Whatever that is” (p. 5).

Monday, April 14, 2008

A Mom and a Citizen on the Cost of War

By chance, the post below from a thoughtful citizen and mum, Aileen Mory, intersected with something I heard on the Jim Lehrer News Hour last week about how the US military is being forced to make more and more exemptions to enlist people with significant criminal backgrounds in order to make its recruiting goals. The scenario of an overstretched and increasingly convict US military trying to cope in low-intensity, unconventional, and unending wars is a grim one, especially because our national interest as Canadians and as Westerners depends on a strong and healthy America. It's significant, I think, that while we are asking NATO for help in Afghanistan, the reinforcements coming to serve beside our soldiers in the Kandahar and Panjway areas are likely to be Americans. We need to care about the health of our military partners.

Aileen Mory writes:

I was against the war from the start, although my opposition never translated into a protest march in Washington or a letter to my congressman. It remained no more than a quietly held belief. Today, there's talk of leaving Iraq, but I don't know what to think. I want our soldiers to come home, but can we really abandon the Iraqi people to what is essentially a civil war of our own making?

I don't have a solution, but I think I may have figured out what's missing from my perspective on democracy: pain — universal, democratic pain. In terms of the Iraq war, this country's burden is being shouldered by a select few. Some families and communities have been devastated by the war. Others, like mine, have been far too insulated. We can't truly share the responsibility for our democracy until we all share in its suffering.

And so, in the name of shared pain, I support the reinstitution of the draft.

Read the whole article.

Thieves and Saviours - A Sermon for the Fourth Sunday of Easter

Preached at Grace Church, Ilderton, and St. George’s, Middlesex Centre, 13 April, 2008

Acts 2:42-47, Psalm 23, 1 Peter 2:19-25, John 10:1-10

The thief comes only to kill and destroy. I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly. (John 10:10)

In light of today’s gospel lesson, I’ve been thinking about thieves and robbers. By chance (or by design?), as I was driving up to church this morning, I heard a news story about how the Ontario Provincial Police is setting up a task force to investigate over one hundred recent church robberies in South West Ontario. The story profiled one inner-city Toronto church that has decided to install a lock and buzzer system on its front door to limit access from the street, even though this will limit their ministry. That decision must have been a difficult one for that church, as it weighs its call to do God’s work in the world against its responsibility to protect the church and its people. So today I want to reflect on Christ’s potential to work in a world that still feels the need to lock doors and be wary of threats.

Jesus uses some puzzling figures of speech in today’s gospel. In a long and complicated speech to his disciples and to his enemies, he speaks of himself both as a gate and a shepherd. The sheep are presumably his followers, and the thieves and robbers are those who are opposed to Jesus’ message. The language in John’s gospel refuses to allow us to tie things into neat packages of understanding, but it is consistent with Jesus’ role in the Fourth Gospel as the one who brings light and life to a world that is full of darkness and death.

We may not understand exactly what Jesus is getting at in today’s gospel, but one very clear message is his statement that “I come that they may have life, and have it abundantly" (John 10:10). The world “abundantly” makes such a difference, doesn’t it? Life isn’t just cowering within a protected space, hoping that we don’t get hurt. Rather, life is about flourishing, about having all the conditions that we need to thrive. And, as is always the case in the gospels when words like “abundantly” are used, it means having enough to share (think of the stories of Jesus feeding the multitudes, for example). On Friday I delivered two heaping baskets of your contributions to the Food Bank in Ailsa Craig - a wonderful example of our congregations living abundantly and sharing that life with others.

Having life abundantly suggests the opposite of the life chosen by thieves and robbers Jesus mentions. It means warmth and generosity and potential rather than killing and destruction. Now we all understand that fear of the thief in the night. We all want to keep ourselves and our loved ones safe, but sometimes we can be so fearful and suspicious and self-protective that we risk denying the full potential of God’s abundant life to ourselves and to those around us.

My older brother Chris told me a story that makes this point better than I can. He lives out west with his wife Linda, who runs a daycare out of their home. One night, Chris awoke to find a stranger standing at the foot of the bed. Someone had broken into their house and was now in their upstairs bedroom. As my brother described it, a tidal wave of rage rushed into his mind. He felt compelled to protect his wife and home, and to destroy this intruder. As Chris put it, he wanted to hold the stranger's still beating heart in his hands and squeeze it.

Now Chris is a big burly guy, with the heart of a Highland warrior, and with a roar he threw off the blanket and charged the intruder, who happened to be a slender teenage male. The stanger did the sensible thing and turned and fled down the staircase, but Chris vaulted the top rail and dropped onto him from the height of the stairwell, flattening the thief under him. They stayed in this position until Linda called the police, who arrived and took the intruder into custody. I’m not sure if Christ read John 10 to the thief while they waited, but it would have been a nice touch.

As it turned out, the youth was a petty thief with a modest string of break and enters, and was not judged to be dangerous. He did a brief sentence and returned to the community, got involved with a girl, and they had a kid. In a while they needed a daycare, and guess where they came? Linda agreed to give their kid a space, and there were times when my brother Chris would play with the child on his lap and talked to the father when he came to pick up his kid. When Chris told me the story, he said that if he had had the means that night, he likely would have killed the intruder, and that child would never have been born.

I found this story helpful in trying to understand what Jesus means when he says that he is the door that opens into full and abundant life. I believe that God was working in hearts and choices of my brother and sister in a manner that led to fuller and richer lives for all involved. A bad situation could have ended badly, but instead new doors were opened and better things could happen.

The door in today’s gospel is an important detail. A good shepherd can’t keep the sheep locked and penned up. He knows that the sheep need pasture, just as we need to go from our sheltering homes into the world. That’s what doors are for, half the time. All of us make choices as to which doors we will open in life. Some people open doors unwisely, making bad choices for themselves and others. Some people never open enough doors, and allow themselves to be limited and isolated. Some people lock themselves into suspicion and bitterness, seeking a protection that stunts and diminishes them. Today’s gospel tells us that if we choose Christ and his love as as our door and our way into the world, then we won’t go wrong, even if we go into dangerous places.

Peter Marty, a Lutheran pastor, tells a good story to end on. I’m sure our members who worked at the St. John’s meal program last night will relate to it. St. Anthony's Catholic Church in San Francisco ran a similar meal program to people in need. To get into the meal, you came in through a doorway over which was a sign with the inscription: “Caritate Dei” (For the Love of God). “One day a young mechanic, just released from jail and new to St. Anthony's, entered the door and sat down for a meal. A woman was busy cleaning the adjoining table. "When do we get on our knees and do the chores, lady?" he asked. "You don't," she replied. "Then when's the sermon comin'?" he inquired. "Aren't any," she said. "How `bout the lecture on life, huh?" "Not here," she said. The man was suspicious. "Then what's the gimmick?" The woman pointed to the inscription over the door. He squinted at the sign. "What's it mean, lady?" "Out of love for God," she said with a smile, and moved on to another table.”

Our service will end, as it does each Sunday, by pointing us to the door and telling us to “Go in peace, to love and serve the Lord”. As we go today, let’s ask ourselves what doors God would have us open. Let’s look for doors that lead to life, that make it possible for God to work in our lives and, through us, in the lives of others. Let’s trust the good shepherd to lead us to good places where the love of God can lead to abundant life. Amen.

©Michael Peterson+ 2008

Wednesday, April 9, 2008

Battle at the Crossroads - A Saturday Night Skirmish

A Saturday night pickup game this last weekend started comically as we waiting outside someone's condo, not knowing our supposed host was spending the day in Toronto. We finally got the game going in a church hall at 9pm. All the kit is from my collection, thrown quickly into boxes. The rules are Troops, Weapons and Tactics from my heroes Too Fat Lardies, and the scale is platoon level, 20mm/1/72nd. Setting is late war, NW Europe. A platoon of Briths infantry, with supporting armour (a Churchill, two Cromwells, and a Humber armoured car), are doing a reconaissance in force on a crossroads village. The village is held by two sections of veteran German infantry, with an 81mm mortar section (offboard), a PAK 40 75mm AT gun, and a Panther tank supporting. I was rather busy running the game as umpire, so the pictures I took are rather crappy. Remember to click on the pictures to see a larger image.

The table:

British enter on the bottom edge. The best thing about this table are the roads, used for the first time. They are sections of tea towel ironed flat, covered on one side with paintable acryllic mastic or caulking with sand/railroad ballast for texture, ironed again on the cloth side and painted. Still need flocking on the edges to show the grass at the side of the road, but they worked well. For more see Fonzie's Flexible Roads tutorial.

First English blind is spotted - a section and FOO follow closely behind a Churchill up the centre road. Germans preserving good fire discipline. Figures are a mix of Raventhorpe and Revell.

Another British blind is spotted. A Humber armoured car (plastic kit from Hasegawa) leads two Cromwell tanks (also plastic from Revell). The single figure is a British sniper (made by Raventhorpe) catching a ride on the back deck of the Humber.

The British troops tried to spot German defenders in the houses and chruch at the crossroads but saw nothing. They sent a section forward across the roads, and finally drew fire from a German MG42 stationed in a building further back from the crossroads. Two Tommies fell and the others were pinned flat on the road. The British infantry were also punished by fire missions from the 81mm mortars, called in by the German FOO on several preplotted locations, and so the Tommies took cover and played a limited role in the fighting (rather realistic for late war British ifantry).

Otherwise the Germans continued their excellent fire discipline. The two Cromwells and the Humber continued to advance past the crossroads on the left, and finally drew fire from very well-conceled German PAK 40 anti-tank gun. During the duel that followed, the PAK got off four shots, with excellent hit chances (4 or better on 2d6) and all of them missed. Finally the Cromwells started hitting the area with high explosive and had luck knocking out the crew. Peter, commanding the Germans here, said at this point that if the British hadn't killed the AT crew, he would have shot them himself! German PAK and crew are not really visible here - the models are Airfix, from the venerable AT gun and Opel Blitz set.

The Germans still had an unpleasant surprise or two to offer. Their only armoured asset, a Panther tank (Hasegawa), rolled forward from behind a copse on the German left and engaged the Churchill tank (Italieri) at crossroads.

"Bloody 'eck, Alf, that's a Panther!" Sgt. Chalky White frantically traverses his turret, but CLANG! The first Panther round hits and even the Churchill's thick armour barely holds (Germans missed penetration by one dice). Chalky and his crew are shaken and retire one turn. Being game lads, they returned for a rematch but the dice were with the Panther and the next shot penetrated and disabled the British crew.

Finally the German main line of infantry defenders opened up. They had been stationed well back behind the crossroads, and threw a wall of lead at the only British section to have pushed forward. German infantry by Revell.

At this point people were yawning and it was late. The players agreed they liked the Too Fat Lardies approach to rules and enjoyed the uncertainty of blinds and spotting. The game was still in question - the German PAK and MG were both out of action, but that Panther was still free to take on the two Cromwells. We called it a draw.

Sunday, April 6, 2008

“Create in Me A Clean Heart, O Lord” : A Sermon for the Third Sunday of Easter

This Sunday's gospel reading from Luke 24, the disciples' encounter with the risen Christ on the road to Emmaus, offers a feast of possibilities for the preacher. Perhaps the most obvious approach is to talk about the meaning of the Eucharist in light of how the disciples only recognize Christ when he shares a meal with them. For some reason, though, I couldn't get traction with that approach, and it was only when I started thinking of the significance of the word "heart" in this and the first reading from Acts that it started to come together for me.

“Create in Me A Clean Heart, O Lord” : A Sermon for the Third Sunday of Easter
Preached at Grace Church, Ilderton and St. George’s, Middlesex Centre, 6 April 2008

Acts 2:14a,36-41; Psalm 116:1-3,10-17; 1 Peter 1:17-23; Luke 24:13-35

“When he talked with us along the road and explained the Scriptures to us, didn’t it warm our hearts?” (Luke 24:32)

Hearts feature prominently in two of today’s readings. In Luke, after the disciples have recognised the risen Christ at table, they agree that it was a heart-warming experience to spend time with him. Also, in our first lesson, from Acts, the words of Peter “cut to the hearts” of those who hear his preaching (Acts 2:37-38). Peter’s audience goes on to experience a change of heart, because they repent and seek forgiveness for their part in the death of Jesus. So we can say that today’s readings are about God changing hearts and minds.

Medically speaking, of course, the heart has nothing to do with emotions or feelings. It is simply a complex and wonderful bundle of muscles, valves, and arteries that keeps blood circulating through our bodies. I saw this for myself when a professor of medicine from Western came to my running club this winter with several hearts that had been removed from cadavers and preserved in rubber. Runners are intensely interested in heart rates and increasing the body’s efficiency, so this was a fascinating talk, once we got over the creepy feeling of seeing a man holding someone’s heart in his hand. Here was the organ that not only powered our bodies, but also, by its appearance and the professor’s comments, could tell much about the life of its owner.

According to an ancient tradition of the church, St. Luke was a doctor. Paul in Colossians refers to a “Luke the beloved physician” (Col 4:14) and many believe that this person was the same St. Luke who wrote both the gospel that bears his name and the book of Acts. If this is true, then I am sure that Luke knew that the heart is simply an organ that pumps blood, with no special powers of emotion. However, like most of us, he was human enough to use the word “heart” (or kardia in Luke’s Greek) to denote our most deeply held feelings, our inner selves.

In the case of the disciples in today’s gospel, while Luke doesn’t say it as such, they are clearly broken-hearted. They aren’t star companions of Jesus like James and Peter – one is nameless and the other, Cleopas, is never named again in the whole Bible. These are just ordinary people, the quiet types who trudged the long roads with Jesus and tried, as best they could, to understand who he was and what he was talking about. Like the other twelve, they came to Jerusalem with high hopes, and saw the crowds and the palms. They sat at dinner with Jesus in the upper room, and saw him take, bless and give bread and wine, and heard him say that he would give himself. They were with him in the garden, and they abandoned him. As they say, they had hoped that Jesus would be the saviour, the redeemer, but he failed them, they failed him, and hope itself has failed. They are indeed broken-hearted. Luke tells us that these two are going to a village called Emmaus, but as the stranger joins them, they seem to stop moving all together: “They stood still, looking sad” (Lk 24:17).

They act like people after a tragedy, numb and overwhelmed, barely going anywhere at all. And so Jesus finds them, as he has found many others in the same condition. In many of the miracle stories, there is a wonderful phrase that Jesus uses. Just as he heals someone, he tells them “Take heart” (eg Matt 9:22). Likewise he gives these disciples heart. He gives them the energy to finish their journey, he gives them words from scripture that speak of God’s plan to save the world from sin and death, and he gives them his presence at a shared meal. At the end of their time with Christ, the disciples find their hearts warmed, and even these ordinary people will go on to do their part in bringing the good news of the resurrection to the world.

In our first lesson we see another kind of heart-mending, the kind that comes from repentance and new life. Peter and the disciples are standing before the people of Jerusalem, who only a few days ago were calling for Jesus’ death. It’s a risky spot to be in and a dangerous message that they preach, but God’s spirit has strengthened them. In the verses that are omitted by our lectionary, Peter quotes from Psalm 16 that “my heart was glad, and my tongue rejoiced; moreover my flesh will live in hope” (Ps 16:9). Peter, who wept bitter tears of despair when he realized that he had denied Jesus three times before the cock crow, is now a new man, with a brave and joyful heart. His preaching offers the same hope to others, for as Peter says, “everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved” (Acts 2:21). The crowd could have turned on Peter at this point, but we are told that “they were cut to the heart and said to Peter and to the other apostles, ‘Brothers, what should we do’? (Acts 2:37).

Well, brothers and sisters, what should we do? Our doctors urge us to take any complaint to our physical heart, but what about our spiritual heart, our inner self? Today’s readings challenge us to consider the spiritual health of our hearts. Are our hearts hard to the needs and sufferings of others? Are we willing to follow our Lord’s example and walk beside others who need help and companionship? Do we regard each chance to hear and read the scriptures as a hearwarming encounter with God’s word, or as a chore and a bore? Would our Lord complain, as he did with the disciples, that we are slow of heart to believe, reluctant to trust in the power of his love and in the promise of his resurrection? Do we come to the Eucharist believing that it is a chance to truly recognize Jesus in the breaking of bread and in the companionship of his table?

Each Sunday we begin our worship in the Anglican tradition of praying to “Almighty God, to whom “all hearts are open, all desires known, and from whom no secrets are hidden”. Just as the doctor knows much about a patient’s life from the state of their heart, so does God know our spiritual health from the state of our hearts. A patient shouldn’t be ashamed to see their doctor if they have a heart problem, although many are. When I was a student minister doing a placement in a hospital, I met patients, men especially, who were in deep denial after experiencing a heart attack. They couldn’t face this reminder they they weren’t invulnerable. As Christians, we can’t afford to be in denial about the state of our hearts. God knows our hearts need mending, warming, and purifying. Like a good physician, he wants to do heal our hearts. And so may our prayer always be that of the Psalmist, “Create in me a pure heart, O Lord” (Ps 51:10).

© Michael Peterson+ 2008

Thursday, April 3, 2008

Games at Hot Lead

One of the fringe benefits of Easter being early this year was that it allowed me some time to go to Hot Lead, Southern Ontario's gem among miniature gaming conventions. James Manto and his crew have been offering a fine venue, great games and good vendors for many years. I spent last Saturday at Hot Lead and was not disappointed.

Here's one shot of what it looked like (click on the image for a larger view).

A complete writeup can be found via this link.

Mad Padre

Mad Padre
Opinions expressed within are in no way the responsibility of anyone's employers or facilitating agencies and should by rights be taken as nothing more than one person's notional musings, attempted witticisms, and prayerful posturings.


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