Tuesday, October 6, 2015

Military Picture of the Week

This week's photo comes from the Canadian Armed Forces Combat Camera website and illustrates Canadian Army activities in eastern Europe.  Here's the official caption.  The Canadian is second from left, kneeling and facing right.  Note the differences between Canadian and Latvian camo patterns.

Lieutenant Francis Arseneault, Platoon Commander, Fus du St-Laurent, talks with Latvian military members during Exercise SILVER ARROW at Adazi Military Training Area in Kadaga, Latvia on September 26, 2015 during Operation REASSURANCE.

Photo: Corporal Nathan Moulton, Land Task Force Imagery, OP REASSURANCE

Friday, October 2, 2015

Notable Quotable: Tim O'Brien on War

I heard these word's being read yesterday by Garrison Keillor on his radio feature, Writer's Almanac, and GK's distinctive gravelly baritone seemed perfect for this passage. 

The author is Tim O'Brien, a Vietnam veteran whose book  The Things They Carried, is essential reading for trying to understand the experience of war.  I would put it in the same category as Crane's Red Badge of Courage, Raemaker's All Quiet on the Western Front, and a recent book, Phil Klay's Redeployment.

Tim O'Brien in Vietnam

How do you generalize?
War is hell, but that’s not the half of it, because war is mystery and terror and adventure and courage and discovery and holiness and pity and despair and longing and love. War is nasty; war is fun. War is thrilling; war is drudgery. War makes you a man; war makes you dead.
The truths are contradictory. It can be argued, for instance, that war is grotesque. But in truth war is also beauty. For all its horror, you can’t help but gape at the awful majesty of combat. You stare out at tracer rounds unwinding through the dark like brilliant red ribbons. You crouch in ambush as a cool, impassive moon rises over the nighttime paddies. You admire the fluid symmetries of troops on the move, the great sheets of metal-fire streaming down from a gunship, the illumination rounds, the white phosphorus, the purply orange glow of napalm, the rocket’s red glare. It’s not pretty, exactly. It’s astonishing. It fills the eye. It commands you. You hate it, yes, but your eyes do not. Like a killer forest fire, like cancer under a microscope, any battle or bombing raid or artillery barrage has the aesthetic purity of absolute moral indifference — a powerful, implacable beauty — and a true war story will tell the truth about this, though the truth is ugly.
To generalize about war is like generalizing about peace. Almost everything is true. Almost nothing is true. Though it’s odd, you’re never more alive than when you’re almost dead. You recognize what’s valuable. Freshly, as if for the first time, you love what’s best in yourself and in the world, all that might be lost. At the hour of dusk you sit at your foxhole and look out on a wide river turning pinkish red, and at the mountains beyond, and although in the morning you must cross the river and go into the mountains and do terrible things and maybe die, even so, you find yourself studying the fine colors on the river, you feel wonder and awe at the setting of the sun, and you are filled with a hard, aching love for how the world could be and always should be, but now is not.

Monday, September 28, 2015

Whither Canada's Military, and Who Will Pay For It?

Last week I offered some thoughts here about the burdensome costs that first world countries must contemplate to put soldiers in the field.

On the CBC website today, Brian Stewart offers some thoughtful comments on relationship between the cost of a standing military and the need to have a rationale for that cause.  Stewart notes some startling numbers as to what it will take to bring the Canadian Armed Forces to reequip the Canadian Armed Forces with ships, aircraft and ground equipment such as tricks.

"We're going to need to add on much more — between $33 billion and $42 billion across the coming decade — just to adequately modernize and maintain our military, warns Parliamentary Budget Officer Jean-Denis Frechette. 

 And even that wouldn't satisfy our allies. Leaders of the NATO alliance, especially the U.S. and U.K., nag that we should be spending twice what we're now doing, up from one per cent of GDP to the two per cent that NATO members have set as the common goal.

 The last time Canada hit that two per cent mark was (surprise) under Pierre Trudeau over 40 years ago, and we're not about to get even remotely close in the foreseeable future.

So we remain slumped near the bottom of NATO, 22 out of 28 in the percentage of GDP that we spend on a common defence."

The essential problem is that since the Cold War, no party has been able to articulate a coherent rationale for why Canada needs a military or what sort of military it should be. Even during the height of the Cold War, there were disagreements within the military and civilian leadership as to whether Canada needed more than a trip-wire force in Europe when World War Three was likely to end in nuclear suicide.  Peter Kasurak’s book A National Force: The Evolution of Canada`s Army, 1950-2000 (UBC 2013) tells this story in detail, noting that Canadian Army planners were allowed to fantasize about building a standing army of corps strength, along the lines of the army of 1940-1945, while their political masters had no intention of ever authorizing such expenditures when the uses of such an army were unclear and difficult to justify.

History shows that we build up our military only once the shooting starts, which is why Canadians went to Afghanistan riding in obsolete Iltis jeeps and ended up in Chinook helicopters. That was ad hoc, not planned, spending. The reality is that other than Search and Rescue capabilities, and some vague conception of peacekeeping, the Canadian public can not agree on what sort of military it wants.  If you read the comments on the CBC website in response to the Stewart article, you will see that readers are all over the map, from build the army to cut the army to bring the troops home.   Taxpayers almost certainly won't pay for a large standing military until we get into a major war, in which case, taxpayers won't have a choice. 

Tonight I’m listening to the federal leaders’ debate on foreign policy, and I have yet to hear anything thoughtful on what Canada’s foreign policy should be and how that might drive our military commitments.



Saturday, September 26, 2015

Praying for the Sick: A Sermon for the 18th Sunday After Pentecost

Preached at St. George’s Anglican Church, Barrie, Ontario, 27 September 2015

Texts for this Sunday:   Esther 7:1-6,9-10,20-22; Psalm 19:7-14; James 5:13-20; Mark 9:38-50

Are any among you suffering? They should pray. Are any cheerful? They should sing songs of praise. Are any among you sick? They should call for the elders of the church and have them pray over them, anointing them with oil in the name of the Lord.  James 5:13-14


This year my wife and I started on a journey.   It started when my wife saw the doctor because of abdominal pains, and it ended up, months later, with a diagnosis of ovarian cancer. 


Now I don’t say this to talk about me or my family.  We’re not the first ones to take this journey, and it’s a busy path. Some of you, I am sure, have taken this journey before, and most of you have walked it with a loved one.  You know the stages on this uncertain and unwelcome path, starting with shock and fear, moving into uncertainty and unfamiliar medical places like the chemotherapy clinic.  After a while you find yourself well on your way and the path before you unfolds into a long slow grind, treatment by treatment - with hair loss, fatigue, changes in body weight as milestones along the way.


Throughout our journey, my wife’s faith has been an inspiration to me, and has kept me going as I walk with her.  She often says that she’s felt God’s hand in hers as she takes this unexpected journey, and she marvels at how we have been surrounded and supported by the prayers of others.


Brothers and sisters on both sides of our families are praying for my wife.  In churches where we have been members, a charismatic Anglican congregation in Medicine Hat and a more high church one in Waterloo, people are praying for my wife.  Chaplain colleagues of mine from across the Christian spectrum have been praying for my wife.  A friend of ours, an Orthodox priest, came to our house to anoint her.  He brought a gold cross, holy oil from a monastery in Greece, and long prayers, all very foreign to my wife’s tradition.   Afterwards, my wife said that she felt fabulous.


It should also be said that many of our non-believing friends have been very kind to us.  We have received a beautiful card and thoughtful gift from a sister who is atheist.  Many friends have used social media to say things like “sending healing thoughts and positive energy your way”.  Such expressions are encouraging and welcome.   It’s good to have company on the journey, 


However, one thing we’ve discovered in our journey is that prayers — the real, intentional prayers of faithful Christians -  do make a difference.  Having vague expressions of positive energy and happy thoughts sent our way is all well and good, but knowing that prayer warriors are with us, remembering us before the throne of grace and asking God to give us his strength and comfort and healing power - knowing this helps keep us going.  We feel supported and held up on our journey, as if some had volunteered to take a hand and help us over a patch of rocky ground, and others had offered to carry our pack or give us a sip of water.  


Today’s reading from the Epistle of James reminds us that we who are the church, we as the body of Christ, are called to pray for one another.   We’re called to rejoice at good fortune, to “sing songs of praise”, but we’re also called to pray for the sick and suffering.  Amidst all the other things that we as church are called to do - worship, mission, outreach - we the church are called to be a caring community that ministers by our prayers as well as our actions.


I confess I didn’t really understand this until my first parish in a rural community.  We had a small prayer list, and it was always an event when someone’s name was added.  At the church door, people would ask my, “why are we praying for Frank?” or, “What’s wrong with Eva?”.  Fresh out of seminary, I would follow my training on confidentiality and say, “I can’t say”, or “I don’t have permission to share the details”.  Such statements didn’t really work at the church door.


What I realized over time wasn’t that my parishioners weren’t, as I first thought, being nosy.  I learned that they were teaching me about compassion.  They were teaching me about how God’s people are called to journey with one another, and that being part of the body of Christ is as much public as it is private.   Sometimes compassion and concern don’t always work well with confidentiality.


Before I close, I would like to reflect on what exactly we are asking God to do when we pray for the sick.  James tells us that “The prayer of faith will save the sick, and the Lord will raise them up; and anyone who has committed sins will be forgiven”.(5.15).   This verse raises several questions.   Will God only act to cure the sick if we pray to him?  When people get sick, are they being punished for their sins?  Should we expect God will heal the sick if we pray?  What if the sick get sicker?  What if they die?


I don’t have answers to all these questions, but I have some thoughts.  First, I don’t think we have to tell God what to do.  I don’t believe that God only helps the sick if we pray hard enough.   Jesus in the gospels does often heal others when he is asked to, and he often credits people’s faith for their curing.  Sometimes, however, as with the woman with the haemorrhage or the lame man at the pool of Siloam, Jesus is the one who steps in when no one else has faith or wants to help.  So prayer, I think, points us towards the Son of God, the one we call Saviour, who was sent to us only by the compassion of the Father.  Jesus came to be among us because of the Father’s love for us.  Prayer is calling on that love.


As for the relation between sin and sickness, we as Anglicans reject the idea of illness as punishment. We don’t believe that people get sick because they’re being punished for something.  Our liturgies, in the anointing of the sick, at the time of death, and during the funeral, remind us that the faithful can and do die, but that even as we go down to the grave our prayers and our alleluias are heard by God.  We know that the resurrection of Jesus foretells a time to come when sin and death will be no more.  In the new world foretold by Revelation, and mentioned in places such as Eucharistic Prayer Three of the BAS, there will be no place for the things that hurt and kill us, including cancer.  If there ever was a connection between sin and sickness, it is part of our fallen world.   Scripture only tells us that God did not intend creation to be this way, and God will fix creation in his own good time.  


As Anglicans, we believe in praying for the sick.   This parish still uses the Book of Common Prayer, and you will know the prayer from the service of Compline that uses these words:

“Tend the sick, Lord Christ; give rest to the weary, bless the dying, soothe the suffering, pity the afflicted, shield the joyous”.


These words comfort us with the promise that our God is the enemy of sickness, sin and suffering.   In our prayers for the sick, whether our prayers are couched in the noble words of the Prayer Book or whether they are own halting, uncertain words of prayer, we connect our love for the suffering with the love of God, and we commend the sick into God’s care.  For those who are sick, knowing that they are held in prayer is a great comfort, for it connects them with the Body of Christ, and it reminds them that their journey of sickness, however difficult and uncertain, will bring them to the love of God.


Thursday, September 24, 2015

Book Review, Kazuo Ishiguro's The Buried Giant

Kazuo Ishiguro, The Buried Giant (Alfred Knopf Canada 2015).

The Buried Giant is the seventh novel from Ishiguro and his first in a decade, since Never Let Me Go was published in 2005.  Whereas his last novel was about cloning in a dystopian near-future, the new one is set in a post-Arthurian fantasy Britain.  That choice of setting raised some eyebrows, and the novel has been badly roughed up by critics, including James Wood in The New Yorker and Michiko Kakutani in the New York Times.

Critics found the novel's allegory to be unconvincing and the attempt at archaic dialogue to be "old timey" and even laughably "Monty Pythonesque".  Ishiguro's famously flat style and his interest in the banalities of human life were, they argued, curiously out of place for a setting that is usually chosen for heroic fantasy.  The Buried Giant is set just after the reign of King Arthur and a bitter war between Saxons and Britains, but no one can remember much of it because people have had their long-term and even much of their short-term memories stolen by something they refer to as "the mist".

The heroes of the novel are not warriors but an eldery couple, Axl and Beatrice, who set out on a journey to try and find their son, who they can only vaguely recall.   The journey becomes a larger quest about memory and launches an ethical discussion about whether a society (or a marriage, for that matter) can afford to forget wrongs committed in order to live at peace, or whether recalling those offences is necessary for justice (and perhaps reconciliation) even at the risk of rupture, hatred, and the renewing of cycles of violence.  The question, as Wood notes, is what Ishiguro is prompting us to think of "by literalizing historical amnesia in this way".

As Axl and Beatrice come to the end of their quest, they discover that "the mist" is an enforced truce, a wizard's solution to war that is, as James Wood calls it, "a kind of psychological Dayton Agreement".  This a clever quip on Wood's part, because it touches on the terrible reawakenings of national memory and grievance post-Tito that provoked the Balkan wars of the 1990s.  However, while the phrase "Never Forget" can become a national slogan (Israel and the Holocaust and the USA and 9/11 come to mind), it's hard to imagine a national process of reconciliation where the remembrance of past crimes is not a necessary precondition for reconciliation and forgiveness.  If Isihiguro is saying that to remember violence and crimes committed is to risk fresh crimes and new cycles of violence committed in the name of vengeance, he seems to suggest that such risks are worth the price of memory and the possibility of better futures.  Axl and Beatrice's kind farewell to a young Saxon, who is being groomed to hate Britons, seems to suggest that one can remember the past without falling victim to it.

Something not mentioned in the reviews I've read, but raised (to my mind) by the choice of two aged protagonists with memory problems, is the spectre of dementia and Alzheimer's Disease.  I wouldn't suggest that Ishiguro is setting this theme up as a minor allegory, but the affection between the two that persists after the loss of memory, and their inevitable forced parting, makes Axl and Beatrice poignant and (dare I say) contemporary characters, despite the archaic fantasy setting.  As they anticipate the return of their pasts, both characters wonder if their devotion to one another will withstand the recovered memories of damages inflicted.     Ishiguro thus raises the question of how memory and reconciliation work eenin the most intimate relationships.

Given Ishiguro's famously flat style, readers may be disappointed by two of the briefest and most laconic swordfights that have surely ever been described in a novel.   Likewise, while there are ogres, pixies, and even a dragon, they are, not surprisingly, presented in the most muted ways imaginable.   Readers will have to decide if these descriptions, like fragments of memory, are enough.

I found The Buried Giant a frustrating but strangely satisfying work, that left me with more questions than answers.  Perhaps, as an English prof of mine once said of King Lear, another work about an old man whose memory is in tatters, it is a book only suited to those at certain stages of life.


Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Military Taxdollars At Work

From today's New York Times, "David Petraeus Urges Stronger U.S. Military Effort in Syria":

"A Pentagon effort to train rebel forces to take on the Islamic State has produced only a handful of fighters. Officials with United States Central Command, which oversees American military operations in the Middle East, said Monday that only about 70 individuals who had been trained under a $500 million program to take on the extremists were currently in the field."

Leaving aside the fact that David Petaeus has apparently finished his moral timeout, and is now qualified to be a foreign policy advisor, I couldn't resist doing the math on this one.  Assuming that all $500 million was actually spent on 70 Syrian fighters, which is probably not the case, that works out to $7,142,857 per moderate Syrian rebel.  

While it's tempting to think that it would be cheaper, or at least only slightly more expensive, to develop sentient autonomous killer robots, it's worth noting that putting a soldier in the field in the contemporary battlespace, according to Western standards of warfighting, is expensive.

In 2012, CNN reported that it cost between $800,000 and $1.4 million to deploy a US soldier.  I haven't found any figures on what it costs to deploy a Canadian Forces member per year, in 2010 the Vancouver Sun reported that if you divided the 2010 cost of the Afghanistan mission by the number of soldiers deployed, that worked out to about $550,000 per military member in theatre.  That figure did not take into account the cost of the member's salaries, or the differences in equipping and training, say, a combat infantry soldier from a helicopter pilot.

These estimates don't take into account the long-term costs of pensions, post war retraining (e.g. GI Bills) and medical support and rehabilitation for seriously wounded soldiers, who are much more likely to survive than than were in previous wars.   These costs are not likely to be born by the US for proxy Syrian fighters, but they should be considered in the cost that a first-world country will bear in fielding a combat force.

As politicans talk about what sort of standing militaries their countries should have to protect national interests and project power abroad, and whether highly paid volunteer militaries are still viable (as opposed, say, to some form of national service), constituents need to reflect on what they are willing to pay for.  Furthermore, when a politican includes expensive military commitments among his or her campaign language (viz. Ms. Fiorina at the most recent Republican candidates' debate), it's worth asking what the actual cost of militar force in the 21st century actually might be.


Wednesday, September 16, 2015

Jeffrey Toobin on ''Cafeteria Government''

Whatever one thinks of Ms. Davis, Jeffrey Toobin's short essay on the New Yorker website  raises some interesting points about whether religious accomodation amounts to "cafeteria citizenship" and even to "cafeteria government". 

If citizens (and now in the US, small business and family-owned corporations thanks to the SCOTUS Hobby Lobby ruling) are free to decline some obligations (eg, to serve customers, to provide certain kinds of health care) on the basis of their religious beliefs, what degree of accomodation should be allowed to government employees?  Is it acceptable for a govrernment to accomodate the beliefs of its employees by allowing them to decline to perform certain tasks, such as issue marriage licenses to same-sex peole, provided that there are other government employees that are willing to perform those same tasks?  What are the limits to such accomodation?  Voluntary military service comes to mind as one government sector where all employees must be willing to perform, enable or at least sanction certain actions, specifically acts of violence at the behest of a lawful authority.  Are there comparable cases where accomodation is not possible in government service?

Thursday, July 2, 2015

The Christian Century on PTSD as Moral Injury


The June 2015 issue of Christianity Today features a cover story by Annalaura Montgomery Chuang entitled “War Torn: PTSD Is Not Just A Trauma Of The Mind But Trauma Of The Soul”.   The article follows a psychiatrist, Warren Kinghor, whose work in Veterans Administration hospitals led him to the conclusion that theology and spirituality offer deep insights into our understanding Post-Trauamtic Stress Disorder as a moral injury.  Kinghorn’s work led him to doctoral studies in theology and a faculty position at Duke Divinity School where he works with veterans of America’s recent wars.  Here’s an excerpt from the article.

 "Kinghorn’s training had taught him to focus on fear.  But his patients didn’t talk primarily about fear.  They talked about right and wrong.  He realized that the focus on fear had blinded him to veterans’ deepest struggles.  Those with severe, long-lasting PTSD, “the burner under the pot” was often “a combination of fear and guilt and shame”.  Those potent emotions came not only from what they had witnessed, but also from their own actions in the morally confusing situations of modern combat. 

Michael Yandell, a veteran, wrote for The Christian Century earlier this year.

“For me, moral injury describes my disillusionment, the erosion of my sense of place in the world.  The spiritual and emotional foundations of the world disappeared and made it impossible for me to sleep the sleep of the just.  Even though I was part of a war that was much bigger than me,  I still feel personally responsible for its consequences.  I have a feeling of intense betrayal, and the betrayer and the betrayed are  the same person: my very self."

Complete article is here.

Saturday, June 27, 2015

Generosity and Grace: A Sermon for the Fifth Sunday After Pentecost

A sermon preached Sunday, June 28th, at St. Columba’s Anglican Church, Waterloo, Ontario.  

Lections for the Fifth Sunday After Pentecost:  2 Samuel 1: 17-27; Psalm 130; 2 Corinthians 8:7-15, Mark 5: 21-43

 “For you know the generous act of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sakes he became poor, so that by his poverty you might become rich” (2 Corinthians 8:9)


Today’s second lesson from Second Corinthians is an appeal to charity.   In his letter to the church in Corinth, Paul calls on them to be be charitable with others, in the same way that “our Lord Jesus Christ” has been generous with us”.  Paul seems to be setting up Jesus as an example.   Just as Jesus was generous with you, he seems to be saying, so you should be generous with others.


We get called on to be generous all the time.   Appeals to our charity come in the mail, in the Anglican Journal, and dozens of other requests to support worthy causes, from Nepal earthquake relief to the local school band program.  Sometimes its hard to be charitable.  We only have so much to give, and too many requests can cause compassion fatigue.   Its true of us as individuals, and its true of us as churches.  We know that charity and generosity are among the characteristics of the Christian life, but sometimes it can be hard to dig deep for them


If we ever wanted a lesson in what that generosity might look like, we have only to look to the people of Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, South Carolina.   On June 17th members of this historic black congregation welcomed a young white man into an evening bible study.  He sat with them for an hour while they prayed and spoke together, and then rose and shot nine of them to death.  It became clear that his motives were based on racial hatred.


Thrust into the media spotlight, the members of Emanuel mourned and buried their nine dead, but they also did something extraordinary.   During the shooter’s first court appearance, relatives of the nine victims spoke to the accused killer.   They spoke from their pain as they told him about their pain and grief, but they also spoke from their faith.   Nadine Collier, who lost her 70 year old mother Ethel Lance in the attack, said this.


“You took something very precious away from me.  I will never talk to [my mother] again.  I will never be able to hold her again.   But I forgive you.   And have mercy on your soul.”


Other members spoke similar words of grace.   The New York Times reported, with some amazement, that “It was if the Bible study had never ended as one after another, victims’ family members offered lessons in forgiveness, testaments to a faith that is not compromised by violence or grief.  They urged him to repent, confess his sins, and turn to God.”


Sadly, this is not the first time a Christian community has publicly forgiven a killer after a mass shooting.  In 2007 an Amish community in Pennsylvania made headlines for forgiving a man after he went into their school and shot ten young girls, killing five.   


However, such clear statements of forgiveness after a horrific crime are rare.  They are newsworthy evens because they are hard to fathom.  How could anyone who has been so wronged reach through their pain, anger, and desire for revenge to find something as pure as forgiveness?   


This Friday night, the US journalist Mark Shields noted that “we don’t have forgiveness much in our society. We don’t have it in Washington, D.C. We don’t have it on Wall Street. We don’t have it in faculty clubs of universities.”


“Forgiveness”, said Shields, “is a rare and - valued, but increasingly rare commodity.  These people showed - I think they set aside almost a political earthquake by their demonstration.”


I myself struggle to understand how some people can be so generous, in the midst of so much grief, that they can forgive those who have harmed them and their loved ones.  I can tell you honestly that I have trouble forgiving people for relatively minor offences against me.


Perhaps people on the edges of society find it easier to forgive because they know how much they are given.  African American Christians have lived on the edges of society since the days of slavery.  Mother Emanuel Church, as it is known in Charleston, was burned by slaveholders.   Black churches were illegal in the South until after the Civil War.  The oldest of the nine people shot there last week were born in the days of Jim Crow and lynchings.  They came up during the Civil Rights era and stood with Martin Luther King.   They were living stones in a church that had has survived because of its faithfulness.  Hence its name, “Emanuel”, or “God with us”.


Those first Christians in Corinth also lived on the edges of society.  Some of them may have been slaves.  Most of them were likely poor.   St. Paul reminds them that God gave them his Son, who took human form.  “For you know the generous act of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sakes he became poor, so that by his poverty you might become rich.”


So here are those ordinary people, slaves and the descendants of slaves, and Paul is saying to them, Jesus did all this for you.  He was born into a poor family in a world full of poverty.  He died a shameful death.  He did this for all humanity, for all people made in the image of God and loved by the Father.   He treated all with respect and impartiality.  As we heard in today’s gospel, he went to the home of Jairus, an important leader of the synagogue, but also stopped and healed the woman, considered unclean in her society, when she reached out to him.   Christ’s love is given generously, and without partiality, and it changes those who wish to receive it.  As Paul says, “by his poverty you might become rich”.


Here I think is the secret to understanding how some religious communities can be so extravagantly generous in their forgiveness.   When Paul is talking about generousity, he uses the Greek word “charis” from which we derive our English word “charity”.  But “charis” can also be translated as “grace”, a theological word referring to God’s gifts.   God’s gifts are given freely.  They are not rewards for good behaviour.   Grace is getting what we don’t deserve.


So when Paul tells the Corinthians that “by his poverty you might become rich”, he is telling them that they have become rich in God’s gifts because of God’s grace.  


Paul would say the same thing to St. Columba’s, and Paul would want to now, since we have received forgiveness, love, and new life because of God’s grace, what will we do with this gift?   Keeping it to ourselves is never an option with Jesus.   If we choose to follow Jesus, then his grace flows into our lives.   We are rich in love, rich in generosity, rich in grace.  We are changed by this gift, made rich by it, or as Paul puts it elsewhere, we mature, we grow into the mind of Christ.  Our calling as the church, as Christ’s representatives on earth, is to let that generosity flow through us, and into the world around us.


Sometimes generosity is about money, as you know if you’ve ever heard a stewardship sermon.  For the church in Corinth, the challenge Paul gave to them was about sharing the gifts of Christ.  Paul wanted these first Christians to share what they had, and it probably wasn’t that much, with the poor in Jerusalem.  We know from today’s reading that they had started this project a while ago, perhaps talked about it in the way churches do.   Now Paul tells them to get on with it.  “Now finish doing it”, Paul tells them, “so that your eagerness may be matched by completing it according to your means.”


Why would the members of a church share what wealth they have with others, with people whom they have probably never met?   Paul says it’s a matter of fairness, but it goes deeper than that.   It goes to the heart of who they are as people who have received the generosity of Christ.  If they have received this gift, how can they not share it?  If they have been made rich by the gift of Jesus, how can they not be generous to others?


Sometimes generosity isn’t just measured in money.   It’s easy to give a little money if you decide that you can live without it.  The people of Mother Emanuel gave something far more precious than money when the spoke to the man who killed nine of their own.  They gave their forgiveness and prayers.  I am sure that their own identities, as the sons and daughters of slaves, who have experienced hatred and persecution, had much to do with it.  They knew that because Jesus was their saviour, because his love crossed lines of race and class and wealth to be poured out on them, that they could not keep this to themselves.  They saw a young man who had been warped and twisted by hatred and bigotry, and they wanted to share God’s love with him, because they knew his great need for love.   


My wife’s sister lives in South Carolina, in a suburb not far from Charleston.  She is a Christian of deep faith and active prayer.   She told Kay last night that it is amazing to see how the people of her state, white and black, are reaching out to one another in the wake of the Emanuel shootings.   Perhaps a new spirit of love and generosity will come to a place that has known hatred and bigotry for so long.  If it does, it will be because the gift of God’s love and grace flowed into this black church, and just as irresistibly has flowed out of it, like water to a parched land.  That’s how grace works.


So what will we do with our gift of grace, poured out on the people of St. Columba’s?  “Now finish doing it, so that your eagerness may be matched by completing it according to your means.”  Paul tells us to get on with it.  Two weeks ago, Julia preached about our parish’s evolving relationship with Lincoln Heights school.  As Julia explained, there are many students there from families who do not have enough, and many opportunities for St. Columba’s to share God’s grace.   That sounds like one opportunity for grace and generosity.  There will be many opportunities for you to stand with Julia in this ministry that she had discerned for this parish, and to help finish the work that she has started.

Kay and I have to leave St. Columba’s, but we have every faith that God will pour his grace out on this parish, and that it will flow generously from here to those around you who need it.

Thursday, June 25, 2015

Military Picture of the Week

Today’s MilPic courtesy of Foreign Policy’s photos of the week feature.  The caption reads "German soldiers during NATO military exercises near Zagan, Poland, June 18.”  The beard is epic.  I wouldn’t be surprised to learn that this man is a senior NCO, he certainly has the expression of one.


 Coincidentally, the New York Times ran a piece two days ago with photos of US, British and Lithuanian forces training together in the Baltics which was quite interesting.

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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