Thursday, June 28, 2012

Seen On The Afternoon Hike

It's been radio silence here for a few weeks, during which I've been either busy, unmotivated, on holidays and offline, or some combination of the three. However, I do have some photos taken during a four day trip through the SW corner of Alberta from last weekend.

A week ago today Mrs. Padre and I took our trusty Westfalia camper, which we finally decided to name Appa the Volksbison (if you're puzzled by the reference, click here) to Writing On Stone Provincial Park, near the US/Canada border. This region is a spectacular example of the strange rock formations called hoodoos which are typical of the Alberta Badlands. Because of the shelter of the fertile Milk River valley and these rock formations, it became a spiritual home to the Blackfoot people.

This shot, taken with my iphone camera, looks south across the Milk River. The blue hills in the distance are the Sweet Grass Hills in the state of Montana. This part of the prairie is so flat that they can be seen on the skyline from the Trans Canada Highway, about 100km north of where this photo was taken. These hills were a pilgrimage destination for young Blackfoot men on their vision quests.

Here's a view of some of the hoodoo formations, which are basically the rock that's left when all the soft soil around it has been eroded away by wind, rain and time. This trail winds its way through the hoodoo formations, dips down to follow the Milk River through lush vegetation, and then climbs again with some amazing lookout points. The mid June wildflowers were abundant, particularly gaillardia, asters, and cactus, and Mrs. Padre, the botanist, got some excellent photos. The area is full of birds, and it was hypnotic to stand above the river amidst the cliffs and watch swallows skimming by. I've never heard birdsong so loud.

Writing On Stone gets its name from the many images, some quite ancient, carved or painted on the rcck walls in the area by First Nations peoples. In the public access part of the Park, many of these images are sadly obliterated by graffiti, but the most famous, the Battle Scene, showing combat between two tribes and almost two centuries old, is mostly preserved. The original is hard to discern, but this sketch (not mine, I hasten to add) gives you a sense of its complexity.

Before out time in Alberta ends, we hope to return and do the archaeological tour of the restricted part of the park to see the better preserved petroglyphs. Some time canoeing this part of the Milk River would be welcome as well. If you are ever in Southern Alberta, this is a place well worth visiting. The campsite is pleasant and has all the amenities, but there is also back country hiking and camping.

Sunday, June 17, 2012

Grateful Seeds: A Sermon for Sunday, 17 June, 2012

Preached at Christ the King Chapel, CFB Suffield, Ralston, AB, 17 June 2012

Readings for the Third Sunday After Pentecost, Lectionary Year B: 1 Samuel 15:34-16:13,Psalm 92:1-4, 12-15, 2 Corinthians 5:6-10 [11-13] 14-17, Mark 4:26-34

It’s often said that Jesus used parables to connect with his listeners using everyday language and images that they could understand. That’s true to a point, but if you remember my sermon on the parable of the Sower and the Seed earlier in Mark 4, I suggested that it would have made no sense to the audience of Jesus’ day. A guy wanders around and throws handfuls of precious seeds everywhere, some on good ground, some on bad, and he doesn’t seem to care where it falls, except to be pleasantly surprised as to what grows. I suspect that Jesus’ audience, who lived on the razor’s edge of subsistence farming, would have listened and gone, “huh?”, and I suggested that the parable was more about the generosity of God’s love and grace, which is scattered everywhere for those who want it.

I think we have something similar here. Following close after the parable of the sower and the seed, Jesus tells the two parables that we hear in today’s gospel. First, Jesus compares the kingdom of God to “someone [who] would scatter seed on the groud” (Mk 4:26). Again there is the suggestion of a profligate randomness here, starting with the word “scatter”, which doesn’t suggest much thought. We don’t hear anything about cultivation, fertilizing, weeding, watering, all the hard work of gardening. All we hear about is the guy sleeping and getting up, day after day. Does he go to his garden to work? Does he go to the pub in the village? We don’t know, we aren’t told, and that suggests it doesn’t matter. The earth produces, the seed grows, the harvest comes and this is how the kingdom of God works.

So the kingdom of God, if we understand that to be God’s purpose for the people he wants to be in relationship with (as opposed to a place in heaven, the afterlife) has an unplanned, even profligate quality to it, but is productive nevertheless. That’s the good news that we need to hear this morning, because often when we hear about harvests in the bible, they are associated with judgement and judgement can be, well, scary. Remember how Mark’s parable of the Sower and the Seed contains that element of judgement, in that some of the seeds/people of the kingdom fail to produce because they are the ones who fall away from God, while the productive seeds/people are the ones who stay true to God and his word and who are gathered up? There is a seriousness about the biblical metaphor of the harvest. When God the harvester comes, we want to be the good wheat or the good fruit that is gathered up; we don’t want to be that ugly, binding weed that gets pulled out and cast aside.

The consequences of our choices in life, and God’s right to judge us for them, is part of scripture and should never be forgotten or downplayed. In our second lesson today, we hear St. Paul write in 2 Corinthians that “all of us must appear before the judgement seat of Christ, so that each may receive recompense for what has been done in the body, whether good or evil” (2 Cor 5:10). Paul doesn’t hide this reality, but he isn’t fazed by it, because throughout Paul is an unshakeable faith, and this is also part of the good news that we need to hear today, that God’s work in us through Christ will make us fit to stand before that judgement seat. As he says at the end of our second reading, “If anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation: everything old has passed away; see, everthing has become new” (2 Cor 5:17). A commentator I read on this passage this week noted that in Paul’s Greek, there is not a clear connection between the two clauses, nor is there much explanation. It is as if Paul simply says “in Christ …. BOOM! … new creation!”

Paul never refers to the seed parables of Jesus, and it is debateable whether he even knew them, butI think he would say that his “BOOM! New creation!” idea matches nicely with Mark when he says that the sower has no idea how the seed works. The sower just throws it on the ground and “BOOM! Grain comes up! New creation!” It’s God’s work in us that that makes us fit to be gathered up. Being part of the kingdom of God is partly about being found fit on the day of judgement, but it’s also about being raised up by God in the creative force that brings Christ up from the dead on Easter Sunday and which carries through to us in each day of our lives in him.

So this gorgeous Sunday, as we leave church and see the earth in leaf and flower, and perhaps go back to our assiduously planted and cultivated gardens, let us give thanks for all that life and for all that God has done in us. Yes, there is an art to living the Christian life, just as there is to gardening, and we need to cultivate that art. But the beginning of that art starts first in astonished gratitude, that God, the crazy generous sower, has given us life.

Monday, June 11, 2012

Military Picture of the Week

This photo is one of several on a Russian website that I learned about from a wargaming website I frequent. Thanks to Google Translate, this picture was taken at a Soviet era factory, the Kharkov Armoured Repair Plant, which "specialize[d] in the overhaul and modernization of the T-64, T 80, T-72 tank engines 5TDF and GTD-1250. Plant also produces a repair tank sights, laser range finders and a range of guided weapons. At the time of the collapse Soviet factory produced approximately 60 tanks, repairs and 55 engines per month."

Mixed feelings in viewing this and the other photos on the site include (a) gratitude that all these Cold War weapons were never used, (b)sorrow at what an incredible waste of money and resources they represent, and (c)melancholy at the wreck of glory. If I have to choose, I'll go with (a).

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Remembering A Murdered DDay Chaplain

Yesterday during the Eucharist of the Anglican Military Ordinariate of the Canadian Forces, our guest speaker, Fr. Bill Cliff, came from Huron College in London, Ontario, with this relic.

This chalice and stole are from the communion kit of Padre Walter Brown, a Huron College grad who served as padre with the Sherbrooke Fusiliers, an armored regiment that landed on Juno Beach 68 yeas ago today.

On the night of 6/7 June, Padre Brown and two other soldiers were moving up from the beach to a field hospital when they were captured by soldiers from the 12th SS Hitler Youth division. One soldier was killed, another was wounded and escaped. The wounded man described seeing Padre Brown, a non-combatant, approaching the SS soldiers with his hands raised. Brown's bayonetted body was recovered weeks later. Brown is buried at the Beny-sur-Mer Canadian War Cemetery near Reviers in Normandy. His communion kit was found with his body.

Padre Brown's communion kit was found in an antique store some years ago was returned to the Anglican seminary at Huron College, on the condition that it be used in worship and teaching. On the eve of the anniversary of DDay and of his martyrdom, it was a great blessing to take the Eucharist and to be in communion with this padre colleague and exemplar.

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Seen On The Afternoon Runs

There is something comforting about running alongside a river. The play of light along the water provides visual interest, while the sense of flow and movement of the river encourages my own sometimes flagging efforts.

This week I'm in Cornwall, in the far eastern corner of Ontario, attending a conference. I've had the chance to run the seaway trails along one of Canada's iconic rivers, the St. Lawrence.

When I got here on Sunday it was pretty grim and threatening weather, and I grabbed a window of rare sunshine, half expecting to get rained on. That's New York state in the distance.

Here's the river yesterday, on a gloriously clear day, with a barge moving even more slowly than me.

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Saturday, June 2, 2012

Seen On The Morning Run

Charming old house and early summer lilac in bloom, Medicine Hat, Friday morning this week.

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And It's Summer

The first pitch of the first game of the season for the Medicine Hat Mavericks was last night just after 7pm, on a warm evening under a clear sky. A home crowd of just under 1800, including, myself and Mrs. Padre, cheered on the home team.

The Mavericks play in the Western Major Baseball League, a wood bat, collegiate league, and from what I saw last night, it was a level of play equivalent to Single A ball. A few guys make it to the majors from this prairie league.

The Mavericks played host to the Okotoks Dawgs, a team from the Calgary area. Okotoks is famous for the Okotoks Erratic, a giant rock deposited near town during the glacier age, and I thought that the Erratics would have been a great name for a baseball team. In fact there is am Okotoks Erratic, but is is a lacrosse team. Oh well.

So how did the home team do? It was close. We had a 1 run lead in the 8th, but a two run homer in their eighth left a tall order for the Mavericks batters in the 9th. It was almost there. With two out, the Mavericks catcher came to bat under the lights with the bases loaded and a relief pitcher throwing heat. Crack! Deep to centre field, but caught 20 metres short of the track.

Oh well, it was summer baseball, timeless and graceful, and really that's all that counts. We'll be back for more.

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Friday, June 1, 2012

Seen On The Morning Run

Met this chap (or lady? I couldn't tell and it seemed rude to ask) this morning while passing a farm south of the base. I asked permission to post his/her likeness on the interwebs.

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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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