Thursday, November 26, 2009

Toe Still in the Water on EBooks

As Christmas approaches I've been considering making an e-book reader my present to myself. However, there are too many questions for me to have firmed up a decision. I haven't heard yet whether Amazon's Kindle reader is going to be available in Canada any time soon. Sony's reader is another choice, but Sony's selection of titles is still limited to mass-market best-sellers for the most part, and the free stuff available from Google which might augment Sony's small library is, from what I can see, all public domain and therefore old. Not that old is bad, but I'm looking for a way to digitally read recent publications that interest me, and if I could put a digital subscription to a newspaper and/or magazine, like the New Yorker, on the same platform, that'd be bonus. David Pogue, techguy for the NYT, writes today that Amazon is moving to open up it's ebook store (380K titles thus far) for non-Kindle platforms, which is pretty smart of them I think since it doesn't look like any one ebook platform is going to be dominant any time soon.

Some sensible advice from Slate's tech guru Farhad Manjoo is to wait and see what Apple's entry into the market will be. I've got enough paper books on my bedside table to wait for them, and Advent is the season of waiting.

One thing Pogue said that stuck with me is what an amazing time we live in for literacy and communications.

"But two things are for sure: e-books are evolving at a screaming pace, and their appeal goes well beyond gadget freaks.

In short, 2009 was a year like any other year: filled with breakthroughs and breakdowns, progress and pushback. Still, we stand at an amazing point in high-tech history. Our airplanes offer wireless Internet, we can make free Skype calls to China and talk for hours, and our children edit video for homework."

Today's Running

Last night's meeting of the ZX Cycle and Running Club must have inspired me, because I turned in just a shade over 8k in 45 minutes on the treadmill, a half km better than my last effort in that time. :)

The club has several relay runs planned for the new year, including Rum Runner's (Halifax to Lunenburg, very scenic)and the Cabot Trail. I'm hoping to do these plus the Bluenose Half Marathon come the spring, so no time like the present to get serious. Not sure I have anything left in the tank for the spin class at 6 tonight. We'll see.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Notable Quotable - Mammon Was Given A Pasting

This quote by John Sentamu, the Uganadan-born Archbishop of York and #2 in the Church of England, on the aftermath of the crash of 2008 and the subsequent recession and credit crunch:

"Mammon was given a pasting. We may go back up to where we were, in the belief that now the markets are becoming more stable, but I'm not sure people really trust that any more. We've lived in this libertarian time where choice was seen as important and the free market was important, and as long as you did it within the law you could do whatever you wanted to. It's now beginning to dawn on people that choice isn't all there is about life. My neighbour matters."

See the rest of Sentamu's interview with Stephen Moss of the Guardian here.

Sentamu's quote chimed with "Eight Days", James B. Stewart's riveting account of the banking crisis on Wall Street in Sept. 2008, which appeared in the Sept 21, 2009 edition of the New Yorker Magazine, which reads with all the suspence of a page-turner, even if I didn't understand the financial jargon (who did? wasn't that the problem?). George W. Bush, a surprising hero in Stewart's account, asks this of his financial advisors:

"How have we come to the point where we can't let an institution fail without affecting the whole economy? Someday you guys are going to need to tell me how we ended up with a system like this. I know this is not the time to test them and puit them through failure, but we're not doing something right if we're stuck with these miserable choices."

Sounds to me like Bush and the Archbishop are both recognizing, in their own way, that the emperor has no clothes.

Unfortunately only a precis of that piece is still available online (unless you want to buy a digital subscription to the NYT, which would be an excellent Christmas present for yourself or for someone you like).

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

More on Canada and the Afghan Detainee Question

Driving home from Halifax tonight I caught this discussion on CBC's the Current featuring two professors of international law, including Payam Akhavan, a former prosecutor with the International Criminal Tribunals Court in the Hague.

So as I understand these two professors, here's what the questions viz our treatment of Afghan detainees boils down to:

1) The issue isn't what's happening in Afghan prisons now. The period in question is May 2006 and the eighteen months afterwards.

2) It doesn't matter if any torture of Afghan detainees actually took place. According to international law, what matters is whether there was a known risk of mistreatment. If Canadian officials had reasonable cause to fear the risk of mistreatment of detainees at the hands of Afghan authorities, then they shouldn't have handed over anyone.

3) The conduct of Canadian soldiers in the field is not at issue, as they had reason to believe that they were following lawful orders. The issue is higher up in the chain of command, up to the Minister of Defence, and if they can be accused of violating the Geneva Convention by knowing of the risk of mistreatment during this sixteen month period.

All of which raises the question - if we thought at the time that the risk of mistreatment existed, what were we supposed to do with detainees? Keep them ourselves? Give them to the Americans? Send them to the Hague? Also, at what point are we free of the risk of mistreatment of detainees by the government we're supposed to be helping? When the next round of Afghan elections is totally free of corruption and transparent? When the Afghan police stop extorting bribes from their own people?

Are we talking about moral and ethical absolutes, or about works in progress?

Druids and Pizza

A friend of mine in London noticed this poster at the University of Western Ontario.

OK, I'm sorry if these questions lack the appropriate spirit of respect due to interfaith matters, but they do come to mind.

How does one get to be an Archdruid? Seminary? Ordination?
Is that beard real?
How ancient is the druidic presence in America - did they come over with the Mayflower or earlier with Vikings?
Is pizza a traditonal druidic food?

Sunday, November 22, 2009

The Royal Visit - A Sermon for the Reign of Christ the King

The Royal Visit
A Sermon for the Reign of Christ the King, Lectionary Year B
2 Samuel 23:1-7, Psalm 132, Revelation 1:4b-8, John 18:33-37

“One who rules over people justly, ruling in the fear of God, is like the light of morning, like the sun rising on a cloudless morning, gleaming from the rain on the grassy land. Is not my house like this with God?” (2 Samuel 23:3-5)

Earlier this month, Canada had a brief royal visit from Prince Charles and his wife Camilla. The press had the usual discussions about whether the monarchy was still relevant, but it appeared that the royals were well received, especially at CFB Petawawa where they visited with the families of Canadian soldiers killed in Afghanistan. During the Remembrance Day ceremonies in Ottawa, however, the Prince was upstaged by the Governor General, who of course represents his mother the Queen in Canada.

I think that most of us would go at least some distance to see a royal visit if it was anywhere close to our homes. It seems to be human nature, I think, that we want to be close to those who hold power, even if they are, as is the case with the royals, figureheads. At their best, they embody the best of our heritage and values, especially service to country and to one another. At worst, well, the tabloid age of journalism has made the point that the royals are people too, with flaws that are all too common. Even though we know that the royals are human, I think we’d be happier going to see them than having them come and visit us. I wouldn’t want the Queen or Prince Charles sitting in our living room, trying to make polite small talk while they politely ignore the cat fur and the unfashionable upholstery. And yet today we are asked to prepare our hearts and our homes for the greatest royal visitor of all.

Our first reading today reminds us that our homes, like everything else in our lives, are part of God’s domain. We heard these verses from our first reading, from the Second Book of Samuel.

“One who rules over people justly, ruling in the fear of God, is like the light of morning, like the sun rising on a cloudless morning, gleaming from the rain on the grassy land. Is not my house like this with God?” (2 Samuel 23:3-5)

These lines, traditionally thought to be among the final words of King David, express the king’s satisfaction as he looks back on his life and on his reign as the King of Israel. David feels that he has been a good king, ruling over his people “justly” and as one who fears and obeys God. He compares his reign to a glorious sunrise, catching the morning dew of a fertile land, and he says “Is not my house like this with God?” Another way of translating it might be “Surely my house is like this with God”.

This last question is of course a rhetorical question, one you ask when you expect a certain answer, as in, “Am I a cool guy or what?” I suspect that David’s subjects would have said “Oh yes, your majesty, your house is indeed like a glorious sunrise in God’s eyes, truly you get a divine gold star and an A+ for being such a great and holy king”, when in fact, if they knew David’s real story, they might have thought something qute different. If you know anything of David’s story, as the biblical professor Ted Smith points out , you may remember that David’s house, like any royal house, has its share of sordid stories, including David and Bathsheeba, or David’s son Amnon’s rape of his sister Tamar, or David’s war with his son Absalom.

If you were alive in biblical times and you had half a brain, you knew that kings and emperors did not live up to the legends they promoted about themselves. I’m watching the HBO series Rome, about the rise to power of Julius Caesar and the cynical and manipulative moves between him and his rivals. The emperors who came after Caesar claimed to be divine and had their statues placed in temples, but people knew that they carved their way to the top over the bodies of their rivals. So, turning to our second lesson, when Christianity came along and claimed that Jesus was “the ruler of the kings of the earth”, that was a big deal. As Bishop Tom Wright is fond of saying, Christianity claimed for Jesus a power that no Caesar or Emperor could touch, because Jesus’ power came from his being the son of God, who raised him from the dead to be the judge of all and the saviour of those who believed in him. No David or Caesar could match that claim.

Today is known in the church calendar as the Reign of Christ the King. The designers of the lectionary have chosen readings which remind the church that Christ is our ruler. We think of Jesus in many ways – as a teacher, a friend, the one we confide our prayers to – but today we are called to say, as the church said in the days of Caesar, that Jesus is Lord. That’s a huge thing to say, and I wonder if we really understand what it means. Jesus is Lord of the universe because he was one with the Father at the dawn of creation. Jesus is Lord of Life because he rose from the dead. Jesus is Lord of the Earth because his authority is greater than all the flags, all the political causes, and all the consumer goods that compete for our attention. Jesus is the Lord of all races and all colours, because he died for all of us, without favouritism. In short, Jesus is Lord of our lives. Just as Jesus did his Father’s will in his life and in his ministry, he demands that we put him above all other things. Again and again in the gospels, Jesus asks his followers if they understand that he is Messiah, if he is Lord.

Notice that Lord doesn’t mean conqueror. Jesus doesn’t work the way that human lords and kings work. When King David was dying, he told his son Solomon to start his reign by killing his enemies, and that’s what happened. The opening chapters of 1 Kings, describing the start of Solomon’s reign, are quite bloody This bloody kingship is also what Pilate understands, which is why he has so much trouble understanding Jesus in today’s gospel reading from John. The Reign of Christ starts in a very different way. Through the four Sundays of Advent, starting next week, the Reign of Christ begins in quiet hope and expectation. We hear the familiar Advent messages of comfort and of deliverance. We hear from the prophet Isaiah of the one who comes, not to conquer and dominate, but to serve and suffer from our sake. We look for the coming of the Prince of Peace, and we make ourselves ready.

If you are a Canadian Forces member, the month of your birthday is the time of year when the military asks you about your readiness. Are all your forms up to date? Have you had all your shots? Are you missing any training? If you were called to deploy suddenly, would you be good to go? For the church, Advent is our Annual Readiness Verification. Next Sunday evening, if you are at the Hanging of the Greens service, we’ll sing an Advent hymn called “People Look East” which includes these words:

Make your house fair as you are able,
Trim the hearth and set the table.
People, look east and sing today:
Love, the guest, is on the way.

These words remind us that Advent is more than just preparing our church with candles and greenery. Advent is preparing ourselves for the coming of the royal visitor who comes to Bethlehem, heralded by angels, greeted by shepherds, born in a manger for all our sakes. Be warned that this royal visitor will not just come to public places like an earthly celebrity or VIP. This royal visitor will knock on the door of your heart and ask to be let in. Are you ready? Have you thought about what it means to follow Christ as your lord and king? What do you need to do make ready? For the King is coming.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Teddy Roosevelt's Ten Reasons to Go to Church

As noted on Ethics, some good arguments from one of America's favourite presidents. Makes me wonder if a similar document came from a Canadian prime minister. Anyone know? MP+

Teddy Roosevelt's 10 Reasons for Going to Church
Barry Howard
Posted: Wednesday, November 18, 2009 5:20 am

Some people go to church regularly, some go occasionally, and others seldom go at all. How important is church participation? Are there good reasons that I should go to church?

Actually, the Bible calls on believers to be the church, and not just go to church. But to effectively be the church, believers need to faithfully gather with the other members of the body of Christ for equipping and encouragement.

Theodore Roosevelt, the 26th president of the United States, believed in attending and participating in church. In 1917, in an interview with Ladies Home Journal, President Roosevelt offered at least 10 reasons for going to church:

Read them here.

American Muslims Respond to Fort Hood Inquiry

I was interested to read this piece in part because it shows a face of American Muslims in the military that needs to be remembered in the days ahead, and as well because I was not aware of the American Muslim Armed Forces and Veterans Affairs Council, whose duties include providing the ecclesial enforsements for Muslim chaplains serving in the US military. MP+

Muslim Leader Calls Fort Hood Review Critical to National Security
By Donna Miles
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, Nov. 19, 2009 – The director of a Muslim veterans organization said he welcomes Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates’ announcement today of a Pentagon probe into the attacks at Fort Hood, Texas, calling it a matter of national security.

Qaseem Ali Uqdah, executive director of the American Muslim Armed Forces and Veterans Affairs Council, and a retired Marine gunnery sergeant, credits military leaders with establishing a climate that’s prevented any backlash against Muslims servicemembers since the Nov. 5 shooting.

Gates announced a sweeping review today that will look into events leading up to the rampage that left 13 people dead, and whether military officials should have been more aggressive in raising a red flag about the accused shooter, Army Maj. Nidal M. Hasan.

“This is not about Muslim,” Uqdah said of the probe. “This is about national security. This is about an incident in which an individual committed a criminal act.”

Read the whole piece here.

Late US War Hero had Canadian Connection

Other than the fact that this guy led the last known bayonet charge in US military history, my favourite part of the obituary below is that Millett deserted the US Army Air Corps in 1940 to fight with the Canadian army, then turned himself in after America entered the war. Quite the character and a real infanteer, God rest him. MP+

Face of Defense: Soldier Who Led Last Bayonet Charge Dies
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, Nov. 20, 2009 – Retired Army Col. Lewis L. Millett, who earned the Medal of Honor during the Korean War for leading what reportedly was the last major American bayonet charge, died Nov 14.

Retired Army Col. Lewis L. Millet wears his Medal of Honor, Distinguished Service Cross, Silver Star and other medals earned in World War II, Korea and Vietnam. He served as honorary colonel of the 27th Infantry Regiment Association, and was active in veterans events almost to his death Nov. 14, 2009. U.S. Army photo

Millett, 88, died in Loma Linda, Calif., after serving for more than 15 years as the honorary colonel of the 27th Infantry Regiment Association.

Millet received the Medal of Honor for his actions Feb. 7, 1951. He led the 25th Infantry Division’s Company E, 27th Infantry, in a bayonet charge up Hill 180 near Soam-Ni, Korea. A captain at the time, Millet was leading his company in an attack against a strongly held position when he noticed that a platoon was pinned down by small-arms, automatic, and antitank fire.

Millett placed himself at the head of two other platoons, ordered fixed bayonets, and led an assault up the fire-swept hill. In the fierce charge, Millett bayoneted two enemy soldiers and continued on, throwing grenades, clubbing and bayoneting the enemy, while urging his men forward by shouting encouragement, according to his Medal of Honor citation.

"Despite vicious opposing fire, the whirlwind hand-to-hand assault carried to the crest of the hill," the citation states. "His dauntless leadership and personal courage so inspired his men that they stormed into the hostile position and used their bayonets with such lethal effect that the enemy fled in wild disorder."

Read the whole piece here.

Friday, November 20, 2009

Military Picture of the Week

It's Friday and with Remembrance Day now safely behind us for another year, I hope it's now not too irreverent to post this photo, courtesy of my brother the Mad Colonel, who seems to have a line on shots of major uniform malfunctions.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

View Interactive Map on

Last Friday did this in 41.31, did it today in 40.43. :)

Not a bad week so far. Ball hockey with the wing firefighters on Wednesday with accompanying scrapes and bruises, 7.5k in 45mins on the treadmill Tuesday, and a 45 minute spin class on Monday.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

"Do Not Be Alarmed" - This Sunday's Sermon

Preached this morning at St. Mary's, Auburn and Christ Church, Berwick, in the Diocese of Nova Scotia and Prince Edward Island, at the kind invitation of the Rev'd Charles Bull. Thanks to both congregations for a warm welcome and good worship. MP+

A Sermon for the Twenty-Fourth Sunday After Pentecost,
Preached at St. Mary’s Church, Auburn, and Christ Church, Berwick
Lectionary Year C: Samuel 1:4-20, Psalm 16, Hebrews 10:11-14 (15-18),19-25

“When you hear of wars and rumors of wars, do not be alarmed; this must take place, but the end is still to come (Mk 13:7)

It’s a great pleasure to be with you this morning, and a great honour to be allowed to share your rector’s pulpit. I bring you greetings from the people of St. Mark’s protestant chapel in Greenwood, some of whom I think some of you know, as they seemed well aware that I am in your parish this Sunday. I also bring you greetings from the Anglican clergy serving as chaplains with the Canadian Forces and from our Bishop Ordinary, the Right Reverend Peter Coffin. There are roughly a dozen of us serving in this Diocese, and we are grateful to you and to your bishops for your support of our ministry. When Charles and I were discussing my visit to this parish, we were first thinking that I would come on Remembrance Day, which would have been delightful but that is, as you can imagine, a busy time for a military chaplain. Had I been here then my sermon would no doubt have had a backwards looking quality, as is fitting for a day dedicated to historical memory. This Sunday however I want to look forward, as prompted by my text from today’s gospel reading: “When you hear of wars and rumors of wars, do not be alarmed; this must take place, but the end is still to come (Mk 13:7).

Today’s gospel comes from an episode in the last days of Jesus’ ministry as described by St. Mark. Some of his disciples, like the proverbial country mice in the city, are impressed by the size and grandeur of Jerusalem and of the Temple built by King Herod. Jesus is unimpressed with these buildings, and after predicting the destruction of the Temple, goes on to describe what the last days of humanity will look like. He describes wars and natural disasters and religious confusion, but in the midst of these grim predictions Jesus says, almost casually, “do not be alarmed”. It’s that simple phrase, “do not be alarmed”, that I wish to focus on because in it we hear one of the greatest and simplest of the messages of good news that we call the Christian gospel. “Do not be alarmed” is also the hardest advice to follow when we are faced with the possibility of things ending.

Yesterday I read a news story about how a NASA astronomer is being plagued with calls and emails from people who are convinced that the end is coming – in 2012, to be exact. This scientist has heard a few teenagers say that they want to commit suicide and has also heard from several mothers saying they are thinking about killing their young children in order to spare them from the end of the world. These folks appear to be spooked by a film soon to be released by Sony Pictures called “2012”, which takes an ancient Mayan calendar, a mystery planet, and other cosmic forces and cooks them into movie where pretty much everything in the world gets destroyed. The director, Roland Emmerich, has made several previous disaster films, including “Independence Day” when the world nearly gets destroyed by aliens, and “The Day After Tomorrow”, which climate change freezes half the Earth. When I watched the trailer of “2012” on the internet, it showed some powerful religious symbols being destroyed, such as the famous Christo Redemptor statue standing over Rio de Janiero and the dome of St. Peter’s in Rome, which we see crushing the Pope and a crowd of Christians praying for mercy. While these images don’t hold out much hope for God, the trailer suggests that there is hope and that a few humans, played by photogenic actors, who will survive the coming apocalypse. Besides this movie, there are apparently dozens of books on the market describing the coming apocalypse of 2012 and giving some helpful suggestions to survive it.
As a Christian I’m interested in what these sorts of films and other cultural products say about the fears of our society through the decades. Over the last three generations we have worried about fascism and communism and nuclear war and weapons of mass destruction. Today the weapons are still with us, and we fear that they will fall into the hands of religious radicals. We fear terrorism and drugs and pandemics and food shortages. We worry about financial collapse and the end of oil and we worry that we’ll have to give up our comfortable way of life. At the same time, we see signs of climate change, environmental collapse, dying oceans and vanishing species. Movies like 2012 exist, I think, because they feed off the tensions and fears that we carry within us as a society. But perhaps, as New York Times columnist Ross Douthat suggested this week, we need these fears because we don’t want our imperfect society to stumble along for ever. Rather, we need to imagine something bigger than ourselves which has the power to finish and judge us.

"Humankind fears judgment, of course. But we depend on it as well. The possibility of dissolution lends a moral shape to history: we want our empires to fall as well as rise, and we expect decadence to be rewarded with destruction. Not that we want to experience this destruction ourselves. But we want it to be at least a possibility — as a spur to virtue, and as a punishment for sin."

Now a sophisticated New York Times columnist won’t say it, even if he uses religious-sounding words like “judgment” and “sin” but as a priest speaking to you the faithful, I can say it. I can say that we as Christians have a story that begins with creation in the Book of Genesis and ends in Revelation with judgement. Even if we don’t read our bibles from cover to cover, we summarize this story every week in our creeds, including the statement that Christ “shall come again with glory to judge both the quick and the dead” (BCP p. 71). Not only does the Christian story go from the beginning to the end of time, it is bigger than time itself, because we believe God as Alpha and Omega created time and lives outside of time. He was there before the cosmos was created and he will be there after it ends. As Christians we have a saviour, Jesus Christ, who is coeternal with God and because of his work done once and for all on the cross, as we heard in Hebrews this morning, we need not fear the end of our days or the day of judgement. The essential thing is that our names are written in the Book of Life. The rest is details. So what are we as Christians to do with this story?

I would say that we are called to spend the time we have standing with God against the work of evil in the world. We know that sin and evil are real. Christ warned his disciples that there would be wars and false messages and chaos in the world. The Book of Revelation speaks of the reality of sin and the devil, and we name this reality every time we witness a baptism in church. One of the great temptations of our time, in the pluralistic and tolerant west, is that we trivialize or downplay the existence of evil. An event like the Fort Hood shootings comes along and we look for sociological or psychological reasons, while not fully admitting that this was an evil act. When I speak to young soldiers preparing to deploy, I tell them that they need to understand that good is real, and so is evil. They will see evil things overseas. They’ve seen it, whether in the poverty of Haiti or the killing of Rwanda and Bosnia or the violence and fanaticism of Afghanistan. We see the reality of evil in every act of terrorism abroad and social injustice at home, where the needs of banks and shareholders seem to take precedence over the needs of the legions of poor and unemployed. We see the reality of evil in the steady exhaustion and abuse of God’s world. We are called to fight evil, fear and chaos with the light and love of the gospel for as long as we are given on earth, but we are also called to remember that we are mortal. Our time will end. Our lives will end. Our world will end. We need not be afraid of these things, for scripture promises us that evil, darkness and death will be defeated (Rev 21-22).

All through scripture, one of the great refrains, one of its main drifts as the Anglican divine Richard Hooker called them, is the call of reassurance “Be not afraid”. Adam and Eve hide in the garden, ashamed of their nakedness and of their disobedience, and God calls them back into relationship with him. The angels tell the shepherds to “fear not” when “mighty dread had seized their troubled minds”. The disciples are “startled and terrified” to see the risen Christ, and Jesus says “Peace be with you” (Lk 24:37). When John sees “the one like the Son of Man” in Revelation he falls to the ground “as though dead” but he is raised up and told “Do not be afraid” (Rev 1:17). Again and again in scripture, God’s hand is extended, raising us up out of fear and darkness and death, drawing us into the light and love and light of his presence. The root of all our sin is found when we ignore that outstretched hand and try to cling to our old lives, hoping for a little more time, a little more security, a little more comfort. There are many ways the world can seem to end. An IED can explode in Afghanistan. A job can vanish. A marriage can end. A diagnosis can be delivered. We can be wiped out on the highway. Darkness and death may seem to surround us. In the midst of these things, the Christian message as described in our second lesson remains as true as ever. Encourage one another. Fight for good. Be confident in the work of Christ, whose sacrifice made once and for all has set us free. This is the Christian story, and it is a never-ending story. “When you hear of wars and rumors of wars, do not be alarmed.”


Friday, November 13, 2009

A Much Needed Debate on Canada's Future in Afghanistan

Start with this intelligent discussion between Macleans magazine columnists Andrew Coyne and Peter Wells, which includes this gem by Coyne:

"I know you’re not necessarily advocating withdrawal, but the implication—that we can leave Afghanistan to its fate and all will be well, or at least better—underestimates our adversary. We chafe because we have been in Afghanistan for eight years. Our enemy is bent on avenging the “tragedy of Andalusia,” i.e., the demise of Muslim rule in Spain, in 1492. We will be fighting them somewhere, I expect, for decades."

Also spot on is Peter Wells' comment that it's well past time for the government of the day to get its messaging straight on the future of the mission: The only thing worse than a tight-lipped and sullen government is one that babbles incoherently."

If you want more of this discussion, watch this CPAC special presentation between Wells, Coyne, Mercedes Stephenson (no idea who she was before watching this), Scott Taylor of Esprit de Corps magazine and former ambassador to Afghanistan Chris Alexander. About time we had a discussion like this.

Today's Run

View Interactive Map on

7.1 km today, 41m31s. Slow, but not too bad for someone about to turn 47 tomorrow. :)

Military Picture of the Week

It's Friday and that means another milpic of the week, courtesy of my brother the Mad Colonel. There are apparently Indian and Pakistani soldiers. Glad to see them competing at drill and not with H-bombs.

My Boss Looks Good in Green

As noticed in the Globe and Mail. Nice to see the GG wearing army green on Remembrance Day. She looks good even though the Prince is sporting more bling.

Canadian Soldiers Patrol With the Best

A small shout out to the Canadian Army and to members of 3RCR for their excellent results at the first International Patrols Competition in Chile's Atacama Desert this September. Maple Leaf coverage here.

Wasn't able to find any photos of the 3RCR team but this photo of the US Army team from the 75th Rangers gives a sense of what it was like.

Photo credit Capt. Manuel Menedez , 75th Army Rangers

Vietnam, Iraq Vets Join to Tell Stories

Veterans often say that sharing stories with sympathetic listeners who share a common bond is a key to mental recovery and spriitual resilience. I'm especially interested in the upcoming PBS documentary mentioned in this piece (see link below). MP+

Vietnam, Iraq Vets Recall War Experiences
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, Nov. 12, 2009 - Generations of American servicemembers braved and survived the din, destruction and uncertainty of war to return home to enjoy the freedoms they helped to preserve for their fellow citizens.

Yet, returning veterans also can experience troubling wartime memories after the shooting stops.

Robert H. Shumaker, a tall, erect 76-year-old retired Navy rear admiral with a shock of silver hair and bright blue eyes, is a famous U.S. military veteran who coined the term "Hanoi Hilton" when he was a prisoner of war in North Vietnam.

DoD photo by Gerry J. Gilmore

Shumaker was at George Washington University’s Marvin Center on Veterans Day yesterday, watching volunteers write letters to servicemembers and their families and assemble care packages for troops.

“It is really uplifting seeing the patriotism of people and the compassion of people to do this,” Shumaker said. The event was sponsored by military-support organization Blue Star Families and ServiceNation, a national campaign that encourages volunteer service, in partnership with Target and the Public Broadcasting Service.

Read the whole piece here.

Chaplains Play Role in Helping Fort Hood Return to Normal

Fort Hood Offers 24-Hour Grief Counseling
By U.S. Army Staff Sgt. Joy Pariante
Special to American Forces Press Service

FORT HOOD, Texas , Nov. 12, 2009 – In the aftermath of the Nov. 5 shootings here that left 13 dead and 38 wounded, soldiers, family members and civilians who work on post are looking for answers, and for help in grieving.

U.S. Army soldier buries his head in his printed program during a memorial service on Fort Hood, Texas, honoring the 13 who were fatally shot in a Nov. 5 shooting spree by a lone gunman on post, Nov. 10, 2009. U.S. Army photo by Grazyna Musick

Following any loss, individuals and communities go through a grieving process which can be complicated, unpredictable and long-term. Fort Hood leaders have set up a Grieving Center at the Spiritual Fitness Center within the Resiliency Campus that is being staffed 24 hours a day with chaplains and Military Family Life counselors to help anyone in need.

Since the massacre, the Spiritual Fitness Center has doubled the number of chaplains and Military Family Life counselors on duty to ensure there are enough to meet with all the people who need someone to talk to, , said Chaplain (Maj.) David Waweru, on-site coordinator of the Spiritual Fitness Center.

Read the whole story here.

Running in Theatre

I'm always intrigued by stories of military personnel who meet their running goals while deployed in theatre. There are a lot of stories out there, and this one about a US Army officer is typical of the dedication and perseverance with which these folks meet their goals. If you have a running story from in theatre, leave a comment. MP+

Face of Defense: Captain Adapts Running Regimen
By Army Sgt. Matthew E. Jones
Special to American Forces Press Service

CONTINGENCY OPERATING BASE ADDER, Iraq, Nov. 12, 2009 - Many soldiers find it difficult and inconvenient to conduct physical training in a field environment. Temperatures in Iraq can top out near 150 degrees, and running in a dust storm is no picnic.

But Army Capt. Alex Quintanilla, an automation officer in the 28th Combat Aviation Brigade, doesn't seem to mind. In fact, he began training for his first marathon while deployed to Iraq in 2005, and he hasn't stopped running since.

Army Capt. Alexander Quintinilla races in the Peachtree 10K at Contingency Operating Base Adder, Iraq, July 4, 2009. U.S. Army photo by Sgt. Matthew E. Jones

Quintanilla, a resident of Burtonsville, Md., recently ran the Marine Corps Marathon at Asad, Iraq, as one of 309 runners. His brother, Edwin, was among more than 21,000 runners participating in the primary Marine Corps Marathon in Washington, D.C.

Running seems to run in the Quintanilla family. The captain's brothers -- Edwin, William and Wilbert -- ran with him last year in Washington, and they each finished the 26.2 mile race in less than four hours.

Quintanilla, a resident of Burtonsville, Md., recently ran the Marine Corps Marathon at Asad, Iraq, as one of 309 runners. His brother, Edwin, was among more than 21,000 runners participating in the primary Marine Corps Marathon in Washington, D.C.

Read the whole piece here.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

A Royal Navy Chaplain's Parish is an Aircraft Carrier

Excellent piece from the UK Ministry of Defence on te work of a chaplain on the Royal Navy's flagship. MP+

Navy chaplain's parish doubles overnight
A People In Defence news article
9 Nov 09

Remembrance week is a busy time for Armed Forces chaplains but, on a recent exercise, one Royal Navy reverend found his 'parish' doubling in size overnight.

Reverend James Tabor RN waves as the Naval Strike Wing Harriers launch from the flight deck of HMS Illustrious
[Picture: POA(Phot) Paul A'Barrow, Crown Copyright/MOD 2009]

Reverend James Tabor RN is chaplain to the Royal Navy's flagship, HMS Illustrious, the nation's strike aircraft carrier.

Overnight the 500 or so ship's company almost doubled to 970 as Naval Strike Wing, 814 and 854 Squadrons, and 212 Flight (Endurance) embarked for Exercise Joint Warrior.

'The Bish', as Reverend Tabor is known, has been kept busy whilst at sea in defence watches:

"Life goes on," he said. "Like any small village, we have church on Sunday, prayers in the church each day, and bible study once a week.

"Days are spent walking the 'patch' and occasionally lending a hand. The sick get a visit in sick bay, and the regulators are on the regular circuit. A real treat is an invitation to a mess deck and a chance to have a cup of tea and a chat, just like a parish on land."

Read the whole piece here.

Monday, November 9, 2009

20 Years After the Wall Falls, Do We Know We're Free?

"This could be why we don’t celebrate the anniversary of 1989 quite as intensely as we should. Maybe we miss living with the possibility of real defeat. Maybe we sense, as we hunt for the next great existential threat, that even the end of history needs to have an end."

Excellent essay in today's NYT by Ross Douthat on the enduring paranoias of a liberal society. Speaking of paranois, Paul Krugman's essay in the NYT on how paranoia may be making the USA ungovernable is also worth reading.

On Being Military and Muslim

In the wake of the Fort Hood shootings, questions are already being asked about whether Major Hassan's rampage is related to his religion. Today the New York Times published a thoughtful piece on the difficult role of Muslims in the US military.

November 9, 2009
Complications Grow for Muslims Serving Nation

Abdi Akgun joined the Marines in August of 2000, fresh out of high school and eager to serve his country. As a Muslim, the attacks of Sept. 11 only steeled his resolve to fight terrorism.

But two years later, when Mr. Akgun was deployed to Iraq with the 26th Marine Expeditionary Unit, the thought of confronting Muslims in battle gave him pause.

He was haunted by the possibility that he might end up killing innocent civilians.

“It’s kind of like the Civil War, where brothers fought each other across the Mason-Dixon line,” Mr. Akgun, 28, of Lindenhurst, N.Y., who returned from Iraq without ever pulling the trigger. “I don’t want to stain my faith, I don’t want to stain my fellow Muslims, and I also don’t want to stain my country’s flag.”

Read the whole piece here. Other NYT coverage of the Fort Hood shootings included this story about how Hasan may have been giving signals of tension and frustration, possibly linked to harrassment he experienced in the military, before the shooting.

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Giving Their All

Preached at St. Mark's Chapel, 14 Wing, Greenwood, 8 November, 2009.
23rd Sunday After Pentecost
Ruth 3:1-5; 4:13-17, Psalm 127, Hebrews 9:24-28, Mark 12:38-44

"Then he called his disciples and said to them, "Truly I tell you, this poor widow has put in more than all those who are contributing to the treasury. For all of them have contributed out of their abundance; but she out of her poverty has put in everything she had, all she had to live on." (Mk 12: 43-44)

The Field of Remembrance at Westminster Abbey. The Field of Remembrance is established each year by the Royal British Legion, turning the grounds of Westminster Abbey into a sea of remembrance crosses with scarlet poppies. This year, there is a special plot of crosses to remember those men and women who died in Iraq and Afghanistan. Each one bears a name, photograph and dedicated message. [Picture: Sergeant Ian Houlding, Crown Copyright/MOD 2009]

One of the phrases we like to use to describe those we remember today is that they “paid the supreme sacrifice”. The phrase sounds slightly pompous and stilted, one of those words a politician or a preacher likes to use in a speech– “they paid the supreme sacrifice”. If those words seem abstract and remote, try these words -“they gave everything they had”.

For the young men and women who came back home along the Highway of Heroes, and for those legions buried abroad, “everything they had” was anything but abstract. Everything they had included the girl and the newborn waiting for them back in Edmonton Garrison. It included the fishing trip they would take with their buddies up in northern Quebec. Everything they had included the truck they’d buy with their tour money when they got back to the Rock. It was beers at the cottage and Saturday mornings at Timmies and maybe, one day, the chance to be like one of those old guys at the Legion with their medals and their stories, proud of their service and of their grandchildren.

No soldier I’ve ever met wants to give their all. They want to come home and enjoy the simple things I’ve just described. But most soldiers understand, at some basic level, the idea of unlimited liability, or the military’s expectation that the service they agreed to might lead them lawfully ordered “into harm’s way under conditions that could lead to the loss of their lives” . It may be a simple thing that leads them to put service before self, like Leonard Birchall placing himself between a comrade and a camp guard to take the beating on himself, or Smokey Smith, placing himself between his section and a forty-ton tank. It may be more complex, a vision of a better world worth fighting for, as Nichola Goddard saw when she wrote to her parents that “we have such a burden of responsibility to make the world a better place for those who were born into far worse circumstances”.

Today’s gospel reading introduces us to another person who gives all that she has. Jesus sees watches a poor widow offer her few pennies to the temple treasury. He praises her above all the other wealthy and holy people who give some and keep far more, and Jesus tells his disciples that “she out of her poverty has put in everything she had, all she had to live on” (Mk 1:44). For Jesus the widow becomes a symbol of a life given wholly to God, without any holding back, in stark contrast to the wealthy and self-important hypocrites who talk piously while looking out for number one.

When this reading comes up in church, preachers usually tell people to be like the widow and not like the scribes and hypocrites. It’s especially tempting to preach this way before the collection plate gets passed around. However tempting it may be, I think this approach to the text is dishonest. First, giving all we have doesn’t come naturally. It’s natural to want life and happiness and safety. Second, most of us are like the wealthy scribes and donors in the temple – we are willing to give up a little to feel good and look good, but we don’t want to give too much. And that, I think, is the point of the lesson. Jesus uses the contrast to ask if we are like the wealthy and pompous scribes, and asking us what systems of hypocrisy and self-interest we are caught up in.

This Sunday, close to Remembrance Day, the story of the widow who gives all she has seems uncomfortably close to the young men and women we remember who have given all they had. I don’t want the troops overseas now, and the ones preparing to go, to give all they have. I’m glad they are willing to give their all, but I want them to come home to all that’s waiting for them – the girl and the baby and the fishing trip and the Timmies and the ripe old age. I think instead that our gospel lesson challenges those of us who have much and give little, we who, in Jesus' words, are only giving a little out of our abundance. A lot of Canadians have yellow ribbon magnets on their cars and send little patriotic chain emails. They talk a lot about supporting their troops and about their love of country. They make jokes about Moslems and terrorists.

How many of us are like the scribes in Jesus’ story, doing a little for the sake of appearance while holding back more? How many Canadians have bothered to look at a map of Afghanistan or have tried to understand its complicated history, rather than just shrugging and saying "they're all crazy, let them kill each other"? While we try to help build a democracy there, how many Canadians lately have written to their MP or even not bothered to vote in the last election? How many would be willing to pay the increased taxes that will be required to make Nicholas Goddard's vision come true and help the people of Afghanistan? After Afghanistan, will we be willing to go to some other country we may be called to in the years to come? Will we willi pay the bills to help support our newest generation of veterans with the help and education that they will need, and be willing to listen to their stories?

This Sunday the faithful remember, as we do each Sunday, that God out of his abundance gave his all for us. As we heard in the first lesson from Hebrews, our Lord gave himself so that we may not fear sin and death: "But as it is, he has appeared once for all at the end of the age to remove sin by the sacrifice of himself" (Heb 9:26). That work is done once and for all, by the only one who ould do it. I think that when Jesus watched the widow in the temple, he was seeing in her a type, a foreshadowing, of the self-giving he was called to on the cross. For believers we are called to live in the light and life of that deed of cross and resurrection, to be worthy of Christ who "will appear a second time, not to deal with sin, but to save those who are eagerly waiting for him" (Heb 9:28).

This Sunday, so close to November 11, we are likewise challenged by the sacrifice of those we remember. Those who have given their all ask us a simple question. What will we, who have so much, give? We cannot redeem their sacrifice. Only He died for the sins of all can change and heal our broken and fallen world. But we can do more than just remember - we can live in a way that is worthy both of the many, and of the One, who gave their all for our sake.

Saturday, November 7, 2009

Search and Rescue Spotter Training

This morning I had the opportunity, along with some twenty other members of 14 Wing, to learn a little about the work of Search and Rescue (SAR) crews. We had signed up as volunteer spotters with CASARA (Civilian Air Search and Rescue Association) and this was the ground portion of our spotter training.

A spotter is the person or persons who go on a civilian or military SAR flight to search for a crash site andéor the persons to be rescued. It was impressed on us during our training that this is vital, life or death work, because the aircrew is too busy flying the aircraft to do a visual search. Visual searching is done from altitudes ranging from 1500 to 500 feet. It`s demanding and tiring work, and searchers usually work in 20 minute increments so they can rest their eyes once spelled off. Having flown with a SAR team on a training flight earlier this year, I have some idea of how demanding a visual search can be, especially over water.

We were told that about 30% of spotter volunteers remove themselves after the discover that they are prone to airsickness. There`s no shame in using the airsickness bag, called a `boarding pass` by the aircrew, but if you decide to try a second time and get sick again, then spotting is not for you and you are removed. We were also told that a SAR callout could mean several unexpected days away from home, stuck in some faroff place like Iqualuat. Well, I`ve always wanted to see the Nrth. :)

Speaking of SAR, journalist and photographer Michael Yon has covered the work of US combat SAR teams, known by their call sign as Pedros, in Agfhanistan. You can find his work here.

In this photo of Yon`s a US Pedro team works on a British soldier being evacuated by heliicopter.

More to come soon, I hope.

More on Fort Hood

The CF Chaplain General's office told chaplains that if approached by the media about the Fort Hood shootings, we were to refer them to CF Public Affairs Officers, which is just as well, as I am, like everyone else, at a loss for words about this terrible event. I only hope that tomorrow some of my fellow Christians remember to pray for the shooter as well as for his victims.

The Austin Statesman newspaper has set up this Twitter feed which is providing ongoing news as more details become known. The profiles of the victims make for sad but inspiring reading.

Friday, November 6, 2009

Tragedy at Fort Hood

While I was on course last week I spent the last three weeks getting to know a very fine US Army chaplain who had come up to observe the CF Chaplains' School and Centre in Borden. My heart goes out to him and his colleagues as they cope with this terrible shooting incident in Fort Hood, Texas.

Here's some of the New York Times coverage here:

November 6, 2009
Army Doctor Held in Ft. Hood Rampage
An Army psychiatrist facing deployment to one of America’s war zones killed 13 people and wounded 30 others on Thursday in a shooting rampage with two handguns at the sprawling Fort Hood Army post in central Texas, military officials said.

It was one of the worst mass shootings ever at a military base in the United States.

The gunman, who was still alive after being shot four times, was identified by law enforcement authorities as Maj. Nidal Malik Hasan, 39, who had been in the service since 1995. Major Hasan was about to be deployed to Iraq or Afghanistan, said Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison, Republican of Texas.

Sgt. Fanuaee Vea embraced Pvt. Savannah Green while trying to call friends and family outside Fort Hood, Tex., after the shooting.

Clad in a military uniform and firing an automatic pistol and another weapon, Major Hasan, a balding, chubby-faced man with heavy eyebrows, sprayed bullets inside a crowded medical processing center for soldiers returning from or about to be sent overseas, military officials said.

The victims, nearly all military personnel but including two civilians, were cut down in clusters, the officials said. Witnesses told military investigators that medics working at the center tore open the clothing of the dead and wounded to get at the wounds and administer first aid.

Read the whole NYT article here.

The US Department of Defence News that reported there were three gunmen, but later issued a second report to say that Hasan was the sole shooter.

The Globe and Mail reported that Major Hassan, "American-born and of Middle Eastern descent, was fiercely opposed to the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, according to his cousin, Nader Hasan, who stated the military doctor said he had been harassed by other officers for his opinions".

Many reports today such as this one from Associated Press picked up on Yahoo News reported that Hassan had shouted "Allahu Akbar!", God is great, during the shooting.

Sunday, November 1, 2009

Women Warriors Also Fighting PTSD

An amazing piece in this weekend's New York Times on women warriors (there are more of them than we might think) who are dealing with PTSD. Well worth reading. MP+

November 1, 2009
Women at Arms
A Combat Role, and Anguish, Too

For Vivienne Pacquette, being a combat veteran with post-traumatic stress disorder means avoiding phone calls to her sons, dinner out with her husband and therapy sessions that make her talk about seeing the reds and whites of her friends’ insides after a mortar attack in 2004.

As with other women in her position, hiding seems to make sense. Post-traumatic stress disorder distorts personalities: some veterans who have it fight in their sleep; others feel paranoid around children. And as women return to a society unfamiliar with their wartime roles, they often choose isolation over embarrassment.

Many spend months or years as virtual shut-ins, missing the camaraderie of Iraq or Afghanistan, while racked with guilt over who they have become.

Ed Zurga for The New York Times
"Just admit that it happened. Then it's over," said Heather Paxton, Iraq veteran who received a diagnosis of post-traumatic stress, and whose disability claims were rejected three times.

“After all, I’m a soldier, I’m an NCO, I’m a problem solver,” said Mrs. Pacquette, 52, a retired noncommissioned officer who served two tours in Iraq and more than 20 years in the Army. “What’s it going to look like if I can’t get things straight in my head?”

Never before has this country seen so many women paralyzed by the psychological scars of combat. As of June 2008, 19,084 female veterans of Iraq or Afghanistan had received diagnoses of mental disorders from the Department of Veterans Affairs, including 8,454 women with a diagnosis of post-traumatic stress — and this number does not include troops still enlisted, or those who have never used the V.A. system.

Read the whole article here.

Busiest Month Yet for Mad Padre

If there's a fringe benefit to being stuck on course at CFB Borden without a car, it's that I had a lot of time to work on this blog. October 2009 was my most prolific month since I started Mad Padre in 2007. This blog began as a way tocommunicate with friends and family about work, military service, and hobby activities. The hobby activities have been spun off to my other blog,, and the focus of this blog has gotten a little more serious. I hope to continue the blog's main focus on military chaplaincy, spirituality, ethics, military news and to throw in some fun stuff on occasion.

A friend asked me if I track hits here. I don't. I know that people read it, and last month the few visitors who actually posted (I wish more of you would) were strangers from all over, including a Military Policeman from Brazil (he showed up just after I read Jon Lee Anderson's harrowing article "Gangs of Rio" in the New Yorker - MP dude, I hope you're safe).

So if you're reading this, my thanks for visiting my little labour of love. Cheers and blessings,


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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