Thursday, August 30, 2012

Seen On The Morning Run

Some of St. John's famous jellybean houses, Gower Street, near our bed and breakfast.
- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

Location:Gower St,St John's,Canada

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Seen On The Morning Run

The harbour at St. John's, Newfoundland, seen while climbing Signal Hill, at about 07:00. The run down signal hill was much more pleasant, even despite the rain.

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

Location:Gower St,St John's,Canada

Sunday, August 26, 2012

Where's Your Armour? A Sermon

A Sermon preached Sunday, 26 August, 2012, Christ the King Chapel, CFB Suffield, Ralston, AB
Readings for the Thirteenth After Pentecost, Year B:
Joshua 24:1-2a, 14-18, Psalm 34:15-22, Ephesians 6:10-20, John 6:56-69
Simon Peter answered him, "Lord, to whom can we go? You have the words of eternal life. 69 We have come to believe and know that you are the Holy One of God." (Jn 6:68-69)
This week I was in the training area to watch an exercise. My host, a British Army padre, looked me up and down with an appraising eye.
“Have you got your armour?”
He was referring to body armour or a flak vest as it was sometimes called. Because we were going into an area where hot bits of steel would be flying around at the speed of sound, it suddenly made sense to be wearing body armour. But, since I work on a quiet base, mostly in an office, and have never been issued body armour, it didn’t occur to me.
“Umm, no, sorry. I don’t have any.”
It’s funny how life sometimes gives a preacher the right metaphor to make sense of Sunday’s readings. Today we hear Paul calling on us to “take up the whole armor of God” (Eph 6:11) in perhaps the most famous section of Ephesians. Christians have long been fascinated by Paul’s idea the Christian life as a military struggle against the forces of darkness. That idea is behind old hymns such as “Onward Christian Soldiers” (once the march of the Canadian Forces chaplaincy) though that language, now deemed triumphalist and misguided, has fallen out of favour of late.
For Paul, though, the struggle was real. It was a struggle against the “against the spiritual forces of evil” and in that struggle, he needed every piece of protection he could get. You and I may not think that we are in a struggle against “spiritual forces of evil” if we think of that struggle as something from a movie like The Exorcist, but think of what you face every day. Are you vulnerable to some angry or spiteful thought? Are you tempted to put yourself before others? Are you wounded by what others say or do to you, and find it hard to work it out with them or forgive them? Are you exposed to some tragedy or reversal that leaves you hopeless and despairing? If your answers are yes, then it sounds like real life, and real life has spiritual dangers as real as the hot bits of steel flying around the army training range.
So where do we get this armour from? In the climax of today’s second reading, Paul says that his whole purpose, his whole mission, is “to make known with boldness the mystery of the gospel” (Eph 6:19). Paul knows that everything he is speaking about – truth, faith, peace, righteousness – all come from the life and message of Jesus Christ. So if we want this armour, Paul is saying, if we want to be prepared for the spiritual dangers of life, we need to turn to the “mystery of the gospel” and we will find it in the mysterious message and person of Jesus Christ.
When we hear the word “mystery” we think of something that has to be figured out and solved, but I wonder if we have to think of Jesus this way? What Jesus has been saying all through John 6 is pretty mysterious, to be sure. Today we hear Jesus repeating the message we’ve heard all through August:
56 Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood abide in me, and I in them. 57 Just as the living Father sent me, and I live because of the Father, so whoever eats me will live because of me.
These words continue to be difficult to understand, and not just for us but for some who are in the gospel and who up until then called themselves disciples. These people, we are told, “say “tThis teaching is difficult; who can accept it?" (Jn 6:60). Those who remain don’t necessarily understand how Jesus can be one with God, how they have to eat his blood and drink his flesh so that he can abide in them, nor do they understand how he can give them eternal life. But they understand, simply and essentially, that Jesus is the one voice of truth they can be sure of. In what I think is one of the most poignant and wonderful verses in scripture, Peter says “Lord, to whom can we go? You have the words of eternal life” (Jn 6:68).
Earlier in John 6, Jesus had a very simple message for his disciples: “This is the work of God, that you believe in him whom he has sent.’” (Jn 6:29). Today, as we come to the end of John 6, we are reminded that we don’t have to figure out the mystery, nor are we called to mindlessly believe. The message is simply this: Jesus is who he says he is, he and the Father are one, and if we can get as close to us as we can, if we can live in and with him (the meaning of abide, as I understand it) then all will be well, and we will have that spiritual armour that we need to get through life.
When I was on the prairie, my padre host saw that I didn’t have my armour and he said “Right. Well, we’ll see if we can get you sorted.” He got me fixed up so I could be with the exercise. For me, this little exchange helps me understand what happens when we say to Jesus “Lord, where else can we go? You have what we need” Jesus looks at us, sees what we need, and says “Right, I’ll get you sorted”. And then, as Paul says, we have the armour we need to get through life.
Lord, you have the words of eternal life. Only you can kit us out so we can get through all the things that threaten us in this life. Please give us what we need so we can live as your people in this world, and share your mystery with others who need to hear the words of life. Amen.

Saturday, August 25, 2012

Military Picture Of The Week

In keeping with the tank theme from my last post, this week's milpic was taken by me this Wednesday, at about 06:30 somewhere out on the Canadian prairie. Four Challenger 2 tanks are outlined by the rising sun, promising another hot day for training. The Challies belong to British Army Training Unit Suffield, and the crews are from the Scots Dragoon Guards. Taken with my iphone 4.

Friday, August 24, 2012

With The British On The Prairie

It's always good to get out of the office, especially when you can escape to something as big as the Canadian prairie and watch some cool military kit in action. This Tuesday afternoon I hooked up with David, the Padre of the Scots Dragoon Guards, and made my way to the leaguer of one their squadrons engaged in training at BATUS.

Challenger 2 moves at speed in a cloud of prairie dust.

Relaxed looking crew coming into leaguer after a hard day of training and a quick resup. They'll he a few hours for a meal (scoff) and some rest before going out on a night range to shoot their tanks and small arms. Then a few hours sleep before rolling out at 07:00 for another day of training. And it's only Day 3 of a 14 day ex.

One of the dangers of training on the summer-dry grass of the prairie is the chance of starting a fire. Here a flare has started a fire on a night range, and four BATUS staff are beating it out before it spreads.

The best part of my trip was watching the Squadron go through its paces on a night range. Here you can see what it looks like when one of these beasts opens up at night. I was absolutely terrified the first time one of these beasts opened up nearby. I was following close behind in the hatch of one of the BATUS safety vehicles, and was quite thrilled to have such a great vantage for this rare sight.

Every time I go out into the BATUS training area I am amazed at the skill of the British Army and the dedication of the exercise staff who keep them safe and prepare them for the deployments to come. This was one of those work days at BATUS where I simply adore my job.

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Seen On The Morning Run

Here's a prank you have probably never seen before. While out runnning near my house this Tuesday morning, I was stopped in my tracks by the sight of a car entirely covered in post-it notes.

From what I could see, many of the post-its had friendly messages on them, so this was perhaps a birthday, or a birthday present? Whatever the reason, very cool and imaginative.

Hugging Missiles And Not Going Wibble

Stephen Moss of the UK's The Guardian spent a month aboard a Royal Navy submarine recently, and offers an engaging and well-written portrait of life on a modern submarine.

Monday, August 20, 2012

Religion May Be Linked To Generosity, Study Suggests

The Chronicle of Philanthrop, a US-based nonprofit organization, has just published a study suggesting that the more religious a society is, the more generous it is. The study examined charitable tax deductions from 2008, the most recent year information is available for, and broke those down the fifty states of the US. The findings seem to indicate that the highest charitable contributions were made by those in the southern states known as the Christian Bible belt and in Utah, which has a large Mormon population.

It wasn't clear to me from what I could find online if the study looked at particular religious groups, including Christian, Muslim, Jewish and Sikh donors.

While the study could to prove that conservative Republicans are more generous than liberal Democrats, the authors caution that philanthropy can be politically as well as religiously based.

The study quotes a professor of political science from Boston College as saying that people in less religious states “view the tax money they’re paying not as something that’s forced upon them, but as a recognition that they belong with everyone else, that they’re citizens in the common good. … I think people here believe that when they pay their taxes, they’re being altruistic.”

>Other findings of the study:

— People who earn $200,000 per year give a greater percentage to charity when they live in ZIP codes with fewer people who are as wealthy as they are.

— People who earn between $50,000 and $75,000 annually give a higher percentage of their income to charity (7.6 percent) than those who make $100,000 or more (4.2 percent).

A depressing thought to emerge from the study is that as poverty increases and givernment safety nets erode, societies will be increasingly dependent on philanthropy.

“There’s a storm coming,” says Bruce Katz, vice president at the Brookings Institution and an expert on the nation’s cities. “Which places are prepared?”

Mr. Katz says local governments should be thinking hard about how to encourage giving because “we don’t have the welfare programs that we have had in the past. The need for individual giving is greater than it has been in modern memory.”

Sunday, August 19, 2012

Changing For Dinner Vs Changed By Dinner

A Sermon Preached at Christ the King Chapel, CFB Suffield, Ralston, AB The Twelfth Sunday After Pentecost, 19 August, 2012 Lectionary Year B: Provers 9:1-6, Ps 34:9-14, Ephesians 5:15-58, John 6:51-

1 Wisdom has built her house, she has hewn her seven pillars. 2 She has slaughtered her animals, she has mixed her wine, she has also set her table. 3 She has sent out her servant-girls, she calls from the highest places in the town, 4 "You that are simple, turn in here!" To those without sense she says, 5 "Come, eat of my bread and drink of the wine I have mixed. 6 Lay aside immaturity, and live, and walk in the way of insight." Proverbs 9:1-6

Last night my wife and I were invited to a pig roast, hosted by two young managers from the base. These two guys quite generously paid for the pig, spent an afternoon preparing it, and shared it with a large number of friends and neighbours. Because there was an Hawaiian theme to the party, Kay and I changed beforehand. Kay chose a summer dress and a plastic garland of flowers she’s saved from some mess function, and I wore my loudest shirt. It was a great evening, with more delicious pork than we could eat, and a chance to get to know friends and coworkers better. So while we changed for dinner, were we changed by dinner? Well, not really, except that we returned home slightly distended and much in need of exercise.

In today’s first lesson from Proverbs, we hear another invitation to dinner. Wisdom, who in the Old Testment sometimes is associated with God in a manner that anticipates the Christian understanding of the Holy Spirit, also throws a big party. It’s probably not a pig roast, but there are no doubt some fatted calves and goats among the animals she slaughters, there are tables and wine, and even a brand new house to welcome the guests. This generosity is quite simply epic in its scale. To underscore this amazing generosity, we are told that Wisdom sends out her invitations via servants who shout it through the town. We get the sense that no one will be turned away from this feast, and we also realize that Wisdom has a particular kind of guest in mind, those “that are simple” and immature.

Now anyone who saw the Hawaiian shirt I wore last night might question my maturity, and rightly so, but there is something more profound going on here. Wisdom doesn’t want her guests to change for dinner. She wants her guests to be changed by dinner. Wisdom in the Hebrew scriptures, as the preacher Wil Gafney notes, is knowledge of God and of Torah, God’s law. This knowledge changes people by bringing them into relationship with God and allowing them to live as God wants them to live. As Gafney notes, the acquisition of Wisdom is often associated with eating in the Old Testament, as in the psalmist’s call to "taste and see that the Lord is good" (Psalm 34:8), or by comparing the sweetness of God's word(s) to honey, (Psalm 119:103; Ezekiel 3:3)”.

The challenge in this invitation is for us, the recipient, to admit that we are simple. That invitation wouldn’t go so well if we put it on a sign board (Come To Church All You Simple People). But if we get beyond the idea of simple as in simple-minded and see it as meaning that we need transformation, then it starts to become more attractive. In our second lesson from Ephesians, Paul may be thinking of Proverbs when he writes that coming to worship, pray and praise, will help us to live “not as unwise people but as wise”. Paul isn’t talking about wisdom vs foolishness in terms of IQ, but rather as the difference between wanting to know God and not wanting to know God. In fact, as Paul writes elsewhere, there are plenty of smart people in the world who find the Christian message to be “foolishness”, but the Apostle is consistent in his message that knowing God leads to true wisdom.

In today’s gospel there is another call to eat, which seems to build on the first reading from Proverbs. As we did last week, we come back to John 6, where Jesus is still talking about himself as food. In talking about himself as bread, Jesus says that “Whoever eats of this bread will live forever; and the bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh” . I think we need to give this verse a moment to sink in. My friends were generous with their pig roast in wanting to feed their coworkers and neighbours. Wisdom is incredibly generous in wanting to feed a whole city. Here Jesus says he is giving himself for the whole world. You can’t get more generous than that.

Like Wisdom, Jesus is offering food that will change us. Ginger Barfield breaks this reading down by listing what Jesus is offering: * To have life ongoing (verse 52) * To be raised on the last day (verse 52) * To abide in Jesus (verse 53) * To have Jesus abide in [me] (verse 53) * To live because of/for the sake of Jesus (verse 53) * To live forever (verse 58)

The message of Jesus here is consistent with the whole Fourth Gospel. If we want life, both abundant life on earth and eternal life, if we want to be in a profound and wonderful relationship with God’s Son so that we “abide” with Jesus and him with us, then we need the meal that Jesus offers. As I said last week, there are several ways that we can understand what Jesus means by “bread of life”, whether in a sacramental, Eucharistic sense or in a larger sense of living with/abiding with Jesus, but however we understand it, Christ is giving us an invitation.

What we do with this invitation is our business, I suppose. But with all its emphasis on “life” in today’s gospel, there is the strong sense that we are giving up something profound and essential if we pass on this invitation. I think of that old song I learned in camp, “I cannot come to the banquet”, which is based on the Parable of the Great Dinner (Matt 22:1-10, Luk 14:15-24), and I think of the urgency behind this invitation, and how, while the choice is left to us, there are consequences if we decline. Who would want to be on the outside of a great and wonderful feast, wishing that we had said “sure, I’ll come?” and hearing from our friends later of the great time they had. So don’t miss that invitation. The table is spread before us now. And the good news is, you don’t have to change for dinner (unless, of course, you have a Hawaiian shirt, those are always a good choice). You don’t have to change for dinner. Dinner will change you.

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Military Picture Of The Week

This gentleman is Frank Boyd, who on June 28th attended the dedication of the Bomber Command Memorial in London, England. Mr. Boyd served as an air gunner in a Lancaster bomber crew, and participated in 36 operational sorties. Photo: David Carpenter

Mr. Boyd as he looked in World War Two.

Monday, August 13, 2012

For The US Army, A Milestone

Brig. Gen. Tammy S. Smith and her wife, Tracey Hepner. General Smith is the first openly gay officer of flag rank in the American military.

With the posthumous revelation of the late Dr. Sally Ride's sexual orientation, a lot of media commentators suggested, rightly I think, that the time may have come for us to start talking about prominent people simply because they may be gay. However, today's mention in the NYT of the US military promoting its first openly gay general is noteworthy because it shows a military (always by necessity a conservative organization) adapting to changes and cultural shifts in society, and that, I would argue, is a good thing.

Remembering The War Of 1812

The last time I went to the movies, I entered the cinema just as the new Government of Canada video on the war of 1812 was on. I thought, "Holey moley, is that a new movie? That looks awesome!" Anyone who has cringed through a low-budget, low quality film featuring a few reenactors who, like me, are too old and too fat, will be impressed by this GovCan video.

But what's the point of the video, and how should we remember the War of 1812? Peter Jones in the Globe and Mail suggests that the story of Canada defending itself from rapacious Americans is not really true (thanks for defending us, Great Britain) and is not really what should be celebrated. Jones notes that if we celebrate anything about the war, it should be that it never happened again. What the War led to, Jones argues, is "The North American regional consensus".

"Whatever the reasons, the North American regional consensus is now so deeply ingrained on both sides of the border that anyone who tried to promote the idea of fighting a war over anything would rightly be regarded in both countries as insane. Social scientists refer to such regions as “security communities” – places in the world where the idea of conflict is so remote that societies and individuals have developed, as Karl Deutsch put it many years ago, “dependable expectations of peaceful change.”

So there you have it. The real legacy of the War of 1812 is that it helped set the stage for a regional security community. Hardly stirring stuff, but, if you look around the world today, you will quickly realize just how rare a thing ours is. And it is a thing very much worth celebrating."

Sunday, August 12, 2012

Jesus' Big Claim: A Sermon For Sunday 12 July 2012

Readings for the Eleventh Sunday After Pentecost, Year B: 2 Samuel 18:5-9, 15, 31-33, Psalm 34:1-8, Ephesians 4:25-5:2, John 6:35, 41-51

I once had a parishioner who took me aside just before the Communion Service started and asked me if, when I came to him at the altar rail, I could change the words of administration. (Anglican footnote: “Words of administration” are said by the priest or Eucharistic assistant when the wafer of bread is put into the recipient’s hand, and when the chalice is offered.) For the bread, the words are typically “The Body of Christ, given for you” or some variant thereon. My parishioner, however, asked me if, for the bread and wine, I could say “Food for the journey” instead.

I was curious about this, and asked why this person wanted the words changed. The answer was, “I don’t like the words you usually say, they make me uncomfortable, and I find ‘food for the journey’ more meaningful”. This was quite a pastoral challenge to receive just before the service! Did I say yes, or no, and if no, why not? I’ll come back to what I said later.

In John 6, Jesus makes the first of the big claims about himself that are typical of the Fourth Gospel. Biblical scholars call these the “I am” claims. These are claims having to do with his unique identity as the Son of God, and as the only source of salvation. These claims use different word pictures – elsewhere in John Jesus describes himself as a good shepherd, or as the only gate or way that leads to the kingdom of heaven. Here, in John 6, in the first of these claims, Jesus describes himself as living bread. Jesus says that he is different from other food, even the manna which fed the Jews in the Exodus, because that just staves off hunger for a time. Jesus says that “Whoever eats of this bread will live forever; and the bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh” (Jn 6:51).

How we respond to this claim is going to be very individual. For some, the idea of eating flesh and drinking blood is too much like a horror movie to be a comfortable thought. For the parishioner who asked me to say “food for the journey”, I think that discomfort was behind the request. For those of us who may be uncomfortable with those words, I think it’s worth trying to hang in for a moment and think them through. Whatever Jesus was thinking when he said these words, I think he had in mind the self-sacrifice on the cross that waited at the end of his journey, when his body would be broken and his blood shed for the sins of the world.

My own thinking is Jesus was saying, “Look, I am giving everything, my very body, for you, and only in this way can I bring to the Father. If I am giving all for you, you need to accept all of me.” One way that Christians accept Jesus’ self-giving is through our shared meal, when we take bread and wine (or grape juice), consume them in his memory, and ask Jesus to enter into us, like food and drink, strengthen us, and make his one with him, as we are one with another at his table. Christians have historically differed as to what exactly we consume, whether it is a literal or symbolic presence, but I think we all agree that our shared meal is important, and that it is only meaningful because of Jesus giving his all for and to us.

Another response to Jesus “I am the bread of life” claim may be not repugnance but over familiarity. Just as, in the reading, those listening to Jesus think they know him too well to accept his claim ("Is not this Jesus, the son of Joseph, whose father and mother we know? How can he now say, "I have come down from heaven'?" (Jn 6:42), so we in parts of the church which celebrate communion frequently or as a norm of worship be too familiar with it to be really impressed by it. Instead of saying this is “Jesus, we know him”, we may say instead “this is communion, we know it, it’s what we do” and thus miss its significance.

If I have any one thing to leave you with today, it’s to ask you to be impressed by what happens. Remind yourself that what we do and what we receive at this altar only has significance because of Jesus. When Jesus says he is the bread of life, he is saying that he is the sole good in the world. He is life and light and love and forgiveness and joy and hope, all wrapped up in one. Without him, our world would be a dark place, where spiritual hunger is never far from us. If you want a vision of that world, just think back to our first lesson this morning, from 2 Samuel, where David realizes the bitter consequence of his sin, which spreads like blood throughout his story, in the loss of his son. I heard a preacher ask the question, “where is the good news in the first lesson?” because there isn’t any good news in it. I would say the good news about the first lesson is that it reminds us why we need a world with Jesus and all he stands for in it.

As we go back into the world after this service, we go fortified by the presence of Christ, knowing that we have tasted the bread of life and have been strengthened by it for the work that awaits us. So really, what we do receive is indeed “food for our journey”. On reflection, I think my parishioner may have said more than he knew when he asked me to say those words.

Thursday, August 9, 2012

Women And Children First? Not So Much

Hey, that's Kenneth More as Second Officer Lightoller in the 1958 film, A Night To Remember, making sure that (rich, from their clothes) women and children get into the Titanic's lifeboats first. That's a great image of the chivalry of the sea, but a recent study suggests that the image may not be typical of what happens in maritime disasters.

two researchers at Uppsala University in Sweden studied the survival rates for men, women, and children in 16 shipwrecks occurring between 1852 and 1911.The researchers found that in the majority of cases, women and children died "at significantly higher rates than male passengers and crew members". In the majority of cases, no "women and children first" order was given at the time of the wreck. Titanic is a somewhat mythic exception to the rule.

To quote from the New York Times review of the study,

"Despite the findings, an author of the study, Oscar Erixson, a doctoral student at Uppsala, was not prepared to condemn the behavior of men, British or otherwise.

“You could argue that men acted badly, but it’s hard to say how the women acted,” he said. “We haven’t studied individual behavior. Women could have acted just as badly but didn’t succeed against stronger competition.”

It may be, Mr. Erixson continued, that it is not men’s or women’s behavior that is at issue, but human behavior. “Survivors may feel bad if we accuse them of acting selfishly,” he said, “but wanting to take care of oneself rather than others — this may be normal behavior for all human beings.”

Read the whole NYT piece here.

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Military Goats In The News

Regular readers of Mad Padre (you know who you are) will agree that there is nothing that warms the heart more than that noblest of creatues, the military goat. For centuries goats have been faithful companions and mascots to regiments, and this blog will always pay this proud breed the homage it so richly deserves.

Today's military goat in the news is Taffy, the mascot of 2nd Battalion, The Royal Welsh, who was on hand to greet spectators at the London Olympics. This image courtesy of the UK MOD's website. Sadly, British Army Training Unit Suffield, where I currently work, does not have a goat.

Picture: Sergeant Alison Baskerville RLC, Crown Copyright/MOD 2012]

The Royal Welsh have been accompanied to battle by faithful goats since the Revolutionary War.

Lorna Dueck On The Religion Of Our Leaders

A lot of posts today, partly because I'm catching up from a few weeks away and partly because I've got a bit of my blogging mojo back.

I flagged a column in the 2 August Globe and Mail that was worth sharing. The author is Lorna Dueck, a journalist and Christian, writing about the ongoing media controversy about Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper's religious beliefs. Harper is a member of the Christian Missionary Alliance (CMA), a protestant evangelical denomination, and some have openly speculated that Harper's personal religious beliefs will drive his majority government's actions and legislation.

Dueck's response is to admit that there will always be some overlap between the Christian's personal beliefs and the world that Christian inhabits. She uses the theological (as opposed to it's, well, economic, meaning) word "economy", which means applying the bible's teachings to all areas of life, with Christ as the bible's cornerstone, subject to the Christian's interpretation of the Bible.

As Dueck notes, interpretation is a difficult and ongoing matter, and for most Christians is not as rigid as critics of fundamentalism might suppose. By way of example, Dueck gives the recent decision of the CMA to allow the ordination of women, despite isolated scriptural texts (eg, 1 Timothy 2:11-15) which appear to forbid the practice. The decision to not be guided by this text alone, as the CMA and many other churches have done, is set by a more complex process of interpretation that includes the wider picture of women's important role in the nascent church as seen in the New Testament, Jesus' refusal to discriminate against women in his teaching and conduct towards them, the role of the church in contemporary society, etc.

So a fear of Harper's evangelical hidden agenda may not recognize the difficulty that Christians, even conservative Christians like the CMA, can have in determing an "agenda". Christians will disagree amongst themselves on the application of scripture in the economy of their lives. So should people worry about the relgious beliefs of their leaders? Dueck says yes, but only so much (and the rest of this post is all from Dueck's piece).

"The worry comes when power is introduced and issues can be forced, rather than debated. Rightly so – when it comes to government, we fear being manipulated by any suggestion of such power applying a spiritual economy to issues that concern our private or public lives."

"It is true that Mr. Harper is quiet on the issue of his faith – even his denominational insiders will tell you that – and from my experience of travelling in the media, I think it’s a wise decision. Canadian literacy on faith application is low."

"It’s quite a different story in the United States. Last month, Michelle Obama was quoted in The New York Times on her interpretation of Christianity. “Our faith journey isn’t just about showing up on Sunday,” she said. “It’s about what we do Monday through Saturday as well … Jesus didn’t limit his ministry to the four walls of the church. He was out there fighting injustice and speaking truth to power every single day.”

"If Jesus is the cornerstone that Mrs. Obama, Mr. Harper or any other person of political influence have in their economy of how the system of life functions, it will affect the way they approach their job. History is full of good and bad examples of how Christian faith was applied by people of political power, but in the case of our current concerns, I would predict this means an endless array of applications, both in personal disciplines and public worldview."

"The story of Jesus Christ is essentially about the fact that God loves people deeply and for all of eternity. God has not ignored the need for our renewal and regeneration, and the fact that the divine name shows up in political life from time to time is simply evidence we are not dealing with a wisp of imaginative hope, but a persistent fact of human existence."

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Notable Quotable: Richard Polt On The Lifeworld

This Sunday's NYT had a great essay by Richard Polt, professor of philosophy at Xavier University in Cincinatti, challenging determinist and behavioural claims by scientist's such as Edmund O. Wilson that our huamnity is much less unique and exalted than has been traditionally supposed.

Polt's basic claim is that our actions are not simply driven by genetics or behaviour, but occur within the "lifeworld", the realm of meaning.

"So why have we been tempted for millenniums to explain humanity away? The culprit, I suggest, is our tendency to forget what Edmund Husserl called the “lifeworld” — the pre-scientific world of normal human experience, where science has its roots. In the lifeworld we are surrounded by valuable opportunities, good and bad choices, meaningful goals, and possibilities that we care about. Here, concepts such as virtue and vice make sense. Among our opportunities are the scientific study of ants or the construction of calculating machines. Once we’ve embraced such a possibility, it’s easy to get so absorbed in it that we try to interpret everything in terms of it — even if that approach leaves no room for value and meaning. Then we have forgotten the real-life roots of the very activity we’re pursuing. We try to explain the whole in terms of a part."

As Polt writes, the idea of the lifeworld is not necessarily a justification for religion. One can have a meaningful life without religion. But the lifeworld is the realm where ethics, choice, morality, identity, and spirituality manifest themselves, and it is a realm, he notes, that cannot be simply explained by a reductionist science.

Should Generals Be In Politics?

h/t to my friend Padre "Gibby" who put me on to this opinion piece in Canada's Globe and Mail newspaper, arguing that society needs more ex military men in high elected office, because of the leadership and administrative skills they bring to the table.

Leaving aside the question of whether professional soldiers are suited for political office by their formation and temperament, there is the question of whether the voters want them. The one ex-soldier mentioned in this article, Lewis MacKenzie, retired from the army and then tried running in 1993 as a Conservative in Parry-Strathcona, a rdiing that the Tories had held since 1957, and lost. At the time he was the most well-known and respected soldiers alive in Canada.

Perhaps he lost for the simple reason that being in the military, which requires a scrupulous self-withdrawal from political affairs, precludes a career soldier from building the networks in a party and riding that are necessary for a successful candidate.

As for the author's contention that military service is almost a prerequisite for the US presidency, that's not quite true if we talk about career soldiers. If you look at Presidents who have been professional soldiers in the last two hundred years, only two come to mind, Grant and Eisenhower, and of those two, Grant was one of the worst presidents in US history. The rest all had a few years in their
youth, sometimes during war time. Clinton and Obama are recent exceptions, and Obama gets decent foreign policy ratings and has a good relationship w the Pentagon. If you look at big name generals of late that have either refused to get into presidential politics (Schwarzkopf, Powell) or tried and been defeated (Clark), that suggests that generals have no inside track to the presidency.

I think a separate and more interesting question is whether society has grown too distant from its military. When only a tiny fraction of our elites, here and in the US, have done even a few years in uniform, and when the military is seen as a culture of mediocrity for people who can't make it in the real world (that is to say, the business world), is that healthy for a democracy? I've seen some interesting arguments in the US press about that question of late, and I'll try to highlight them in the days to come.

However, that's a separate question from whether ex career military should go into politics. It was interesting to scan some of the responses on the Globe website to see a visceral response saying no, they shouldn't. Perhaps that goes to show what some General (perhaps Joffre?) said, that a government can function without an army, but an army cannot function without a government.

Monday, August 6, 2012

TocH: A Story Of The Great War

My friend Phil, a British Army padre, recently sent me a postcard bearing the photo of a chap I didn't recognize.

At first I thought it was a picture of Conrad Kinch. Actually I have no idea who he is, and the back of the card didn't say. What it did say was intriguingly cryptic: a reference to a Belgian address, Gasthuisstraat 43 B-8970 Poperinge, and a website for something called Talbot House. That website led to a delightful story about military chaplaincy in the Great War that was quite new and wonderful to me.

Briefly, Talbot House, or "TocH" (in Great War signaller's shorthand) as it came to be known was a place of refuge for soldiers of all ranks passing through Poperinge, or "Pop" as the troops called it, a supply and transport hub for Allied armies in Flanders. TocH was the creation of several British army chaplains who wanted to establish a refuge where soldiers could leave rank at the door and remind themselves that they were human beings. The spiritual heart of TocH was a chapel on the upper floor, and its soul came from the lively characters, especiallyTubby Clayton and Arthur Petifer, who ran it. A brief account of these men and their work can be found here. Several hundred thousands of Allied troops passed through TocH during the War.

The attic chapel at TocH, a reminder to thousands of soldiers that God had not abandoned them.

After the Armistice a TocH movement grew up as a fraternal organization for ex-soldiers struggling with the aftermath of the war and with post-war unemployment. There is a TocH house in London, and the one in "Pop" is still open to visitors looking for a place of retreat. My friend Padre Phil emailed me to say that he'd enjoyed four days there recently, and worshipped in the attic chapel each day. TocH will definitely be a stop on any Flanders pilgrimage I might make in future.

Clayton wrote an account of TocH just after the war. It and some other references can be found here.

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

Location:8 St SE,Medicine Hat,Canada

Sunday, August 5, 2012

The Difficult (And Necessary) Moment Of Confession

Preached at Christ the King Chapel, CFB Suffield, 5 August, 2012

Readings for the Tenth Sunday After Pentecost, Lectionary Year B: 2 Samuel 11:26-12:13a, Psalm 51:1-13, Ephesians 4:1-16, John 6:24-35

Last Sunday our guest preacher, Padre Kevin White, spoke to us about the parable of the Prodigal Son in Luke 15. The thing that really hit home for me about Padre Kevin's sermon was the fact that when the younger son asks for his share of the inheritance, he is basically saying "Father, I wish you were dead". For me, that turned it from being a story that is simply about a young person's folly to being a story about how the worst things imaginable can come out of our hearts and mouths. As Padre White told us, the forgiveness of the father (and I agree with Kevin that the parable is really about the father) is all the more remarkable, more grace-full if you wish, when we think about what the son really says to him at the beginning.

Last week, we also heard in our first lesson the story of King David seeing and lusting for Bathsheeba in 2 Samuel, raping her (not to put too fine a point on it) and getting her pregnant, and then arranging for her husband to be killed in battle so that he can have her. Today in our first lesson we hear the aftermath of that story, when the prophet Nathan speaks for God and confronts David with what he's done. Just as in last week's story of the Prodigal, when the younger son "came to himself" and realizes what he has done ("Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you" (Lk 15:18), so Nathan's parable of the rich man robbing the poor man brings King David to a difficult moment of self truth, and likewise he says "I have sinned against the Lord" (2 Sam 12:13)

So both stories are about people realizing what they have done, coming to a moment of admission and confession, and then turning back to God. The difference is that whereas the younger son in Luke 15 gets off scot free (to the annoyance of the older son), David in 2 Samuel is punished. Nathan tells the King that "the sword shall never depart from your house" (2 Sam 12:10), meaning that his reign will not be a happy one, for his family and his kingdom will be troubled by strife and war. Indeed we see what Nathan means about the sword in next week's lesson, when David has to go to war against his own son Absalom, who rebels against him.

I am not sure I have an explanation for this difference between the two stories, except to say that today's reading from 2 Samuel points to the reality of sin. When humans engage in acts of selfishness and cruelty, those acts always affect others. Sinful behaviour has consequences, and those consequences include innocent victims, or, if you like, collateral damage. The parable in Nathan's sermon, about the rich man stealing from the poor man, is really about David stealing from Uriah. The consequences of that moment of lust on David's rooftop include the death of Uriah (and presumably of the soldiers he was forced to lead into the worst of the fighting), the misery and disgrace of Bathsheeba, the death of the child she has with David, and a future of war within David's own family. Those are the consequences of sin, a willful tearing of the fabric of family and community, that we see played out all the time, as the news from the streets of Aleppo reminds us today. When human beings behave badly, innocents get hurt and killed.

Nevertheless, Nathan has words of mercy for David. "Now the Lord has put away your sin; you shall not die" (2 Sam 2:13). As I read it, "shall not die" has a spiritual meaning as well as a physical one. David's soul has been judged and found guilty ("You are the man!") but he will be forgiven. God will not abandon him. God's love and goodness can work with a flawed son such as David, just as the Father in Luke 15 does not abandon the younger son. Today's reading from Psalm 51 reinforces this lesson, reminding us that no matter how we bad we can be, and how disgusted we are when we realize what havoc our sins have caused with those around us, we can turn to God and be forgiven, and be changed by God's love and God's fresh start.

In the eucharistic liturgy of the Anglican tradition, our moment of confession is a formal, collective prayer, in which we are called to think on those offences we have made to God and to our neighbour. There is also provision for one on one confession with a priest if the person needs us, but usually we confess our sins together. If there is a temptation to rush through the moment, we should resist that moment, and think, like David, of the consequences of whatever we have done or failed to do. It's a moment to think of the cost of our sins on ourselves and on others, and to think of what it costs God, the uncorrupt and righteous judge, to set those sins aside and forgive us.

In John's gospel, Jesus says that he is the bread of life. In our eucharist, the feast of bread and wine (however symbolic that feast may be) follows our act of confession, just as in the story of the prodigal son the feast follows the son's return and confession to the father. The eucharist can be thought of as a reenactment of the story of the prodigal in Luke 15, as the as lost realize they are lost, return to the father, and are fed through the sheer generosity of the father. The story of Christ's self-offering to be that feast of bread and wine, as told in the eucharistic prayer, reminds us of the cost of the feast and of the forgiveness that awaits us. This is grace, and it does not come cheap, but it comes from a Father who does not begrudge the cost.

David's story, unfortunately, is set. David is forgiven by the same loving and merciful God, but he has to face the consequences of his action. We too may have to a price to pay for our actions, and ammends to make. That's part of our work as Christians. But God wouldn't set this feast before us if he didn't love us, and if he didn't see in us the potential to be what he had created. The bread of life forgives us, strengthens us, and carries us forward. Unlike David, our stories our not set. They start afresh, and thanks be to God, they can end happily. Amen.

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.


Blog Archive