Wednesday, November 28, 2007

From My Workbench - Ruined WW2 House

Ruined house model in 20mm (roughly HO or 1/72nd scale) by Sentry Models (AT06 Detached Ruined House), ordered from RLBPS (Bob Bowling). The house is a single resin casting, except for the bit of flooring on the second level. Enjoyed good service from these folks, would order more from them.

The figure beside it is a British officer from AB Miniatures.

Here's another view:

Hmm, hope that Brit officer noticed the German machine gun on the other side of that building!

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

What I'm Reading: Fiasco: The American Military Adventure in Iraq.

Thomas E. Ricks’ Fiasco: The American Military Adventure in Iraq. New York: Penguin 2006.

Thomas Ricks is the Pentagon correspondent for The Washington Post (would that Canadian media allowed reporters to specialize in military affairs to develop similar expertise). Ricks’ choice of title betrays both his anger and his aim in writing this book. In his view and in the view of military men such as Marine General Anthony Zinni (p. 13), the US policy of containing Saddam Hussein was working. Iraq’s degraded economy and military posed no serious threat of developing weapons of mass destruction (WMD). Neo-conservatives such as Paul Wolfowitz, Donald Rumsfield and Douglas Feith disagreed with the containment strategy, and after 9/11 they could make the case for a pre-emptive war to deny Saddam Hussein the use of WMD. These Bush officials blithely ignored warnings that seem quite farsighted tpday. In October of 2002, for example, a conference of US government officials was told by a panel of experts how fraught with danger an Iraqi adventure would be. Alina Romanowski, a former Pentagon official, said prophetically, “I am not clear that we have a clear idea of where we want to be the morning after an invasion. The US military will be stepping into a morass. Iraq presents as unpromising a breeding ground for democracy as any in the world. It has never really known democracy or even legitimate, centralized rule for any great duration.” She added that “a small US force sufficient to bring about Saddam’s demise might not be sufficient to stop the subsequent bloodletting” (p. 65). Likewise, in February 2003, Anthony Zinni would tell the House Foreign Relations Committee that they were paying too little attention to the administration’s lack of an exit strategy for Iraq, and too little attention to the vagueness of their goals. He said, “is it truly this transformed Irq that we’ve heard about, or are we just going to get rid of Saddam Hussein and hope for the best” (p. 87). It’s surprising to read and to be reminded that such clear concerns were raised in the run up to war. What surprises and shocks even more is Ricks’ account of how, having committed to the invasion of Iraq, America appeared to have no understanding of what it would do the day after it reached Baghdad.

First was the failure to go in with enough force to stabilize the country once it was captured. Today the integration of military, policing, stability and security operations is called “three block war” or “full spectrum” war. For the guys who were first into Baghdad, that war doesn’t appear to have been envisioned. As one officer Ricks quotes memorably puts it, “I can remember quite clearly, I was on a street corner in Baghdad, smoking a cigar, watching some guys carry a sofa by – and it never occurred to me that I was going to be the guy to go get that sofa back” (p. 152). It would take several bloody years before the US could train and trust Iraqi soldiers and police to stabilize a broken country. In the meantime the US troops had to do everything themselves, and they made their task immeasurably more difficult.

As Ricks argues it, the Bush administration and misguided US military policies and doctrines could not have done a better job of creating an effective insurgency if they had tried. The decision to disarm the Iraqi military and create a huge pool of hostile and unemployed males, led by Baath party leaders and officers who were summarily tossed out of their jobs, is perhaps the greatest mistake. Others surprise, such as the ongoing search for WMD assets in Iraq after the invasion, which prevented limited American resources from seizing and destroying conventional weapons dumps, which were legion, and which effectively supplied the insurgents. Likewise the failure to secure the Syrian border in the first year allowed the insurgency time to mobilize and import weapons, cash and foreign fighters. If there was not a terrorist connection to Iraq before 2003, there certainly was a foreign and Al Qaeda presence there afterwards. Finally, the clumsy mass detentions of Iraqi males once the shape of the insurgency began to emerge (one army division detained ten thousand men in one year, “grabbing whole villages, because combat soldiers [were] unable to figure out who was of value and who was not” p. 195).

These mass detentions swamped the limited resources of US military prisons and police, and harsh interrogation practices, made scandals such as Abu Ghraib inevitable. The damage caused by Abu Ghraib and similar abuses, as well as unit-level beatings and executions (PUC fucking, meaning the beating up of a prisoner or PUC, PUC standing for Person Under Control, emerges as a new term in the history of war and abuse) in the field, while impossible to quantify, made the US task immeasurably harder. One Marine General in the spring of 2004 remembers seeing his soldiers glued to a TV just after the Abu Ghraib story broke. “A nineteen-year-old lance corporal glanced up from the television and told the general, “Some assholes have just lost the war for us” (p. 290). This teenage soldier certainly understood what was at stake in these abuses. The long life of these abuses in the media also underminded the morale and sense of purpose of the US troops. As a Marine Corps historian puts it, “We now spend ninety-five percent of ourmtime talking about the Abu Ghraib stuff, and one percent talking about the valour of our troops” (p. 380).

As Ricks describes it, a besieged American military forgot the lessons it had learned the hard way in previous counter-insurgency campaigns such as Vietnam and had to re-learn them. Living in huge bases with every conceivable amenity while Iraqis lived around them without electricity, driving through cities at high speed with itchy trigger fingers, relying on mercenaries and private contractors while remaining and ignorant of the local culture - all these US errors enabled the insurgents to portray themselves as patriots fighting an occupation force. As one Special Forces officer wrote home in 2003, “Police, [electric] power and political process ... will fix this place, and if we give them those three then we can get the heck out of here” (p. 241). Some US commanders found clever and non-violent ways to reduce their problems. One brigadier of the 101st Airborne Division, on learning of Iraqi rumours that US night-vision goggles could see through women’s clothing, put on a demonstration of the equipment for local leaders in the Tigris Valley. This and similar meetings developed into a commission which the US commanders in the area could use for dialogue and for solving regional issues (p. 231). By 2006, this population-based approach would be the doctrine that the entire US army was trying to use.

Amidst this story of folly and tragedy, some figures emerge as heroes. Ricks describes one Army military intelligence officer who early on in 2003 took issue with interrogation practices that included hitting with closed fists and “low-voltage electrocution”. This officer wrote in an e-mail exchange on interrogation techniques that “We are American soldiers, heirs of a long tradition of staying on the high ground. We need to stay there (p. 198).” Likewise, the heroism and professionalism of many US soldiers, such as the Marines who had to fight to capture the city of Fallujah in March 2004 and then do it all over in November that same year, testify to the tragedy and heroism of a military that can win battles but is put into a war that may never have served any real purpose. The grim conclusion of Ricks’ book is that years from now, if or when Iraq fractures and a regional war involving Kurds, Turks, Syrians and possibly others erupts, the US may have to send in its young men and women again, this time to face an even fiercer foe with (and Pakistan was still stable in 2006 when Ricks wrote this book) with even deadlier weapons.

A US Army Chaplain in Iraq

Military chaplains: a Presbyterian pastor patrols with his flock of soldiers in Iraq
Army Capt. Ron Eastes carries a big responsibility - but no weapon - in his 'ministry of presence' with the 82nd Airborne.

By Lee Lawrence | Correspondent of The Christian Science Monitor


Read the complete story from the Christian Science Monitor.

Monday, November 26, 2007

A Sermon for the Reign of Christ the King

Preached at Grace Church, Ilderton, and St. George’s, Middlesex Centre 25 November, 2007

“He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation; for in him all things in heaven and on earth were created, things visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or powers – all things have been created through him and for him.” (Colossians 1:15-16)

Today in the life of the church is called The Reign of Christ. It’s the last Sunday before we enter the season of Advent, and it invites us to consider an aspect of the identity of Christ that we don’t always consider. We can think of Jesus in many ways as the good shepherd, as the wise rabbi, the friend we eat with, the baby in the manger, the personal saviour, but today we think about Jesus as King and Lord. Today invites us to consider Jesus in light of the qualities we associate with kings, such as authority, majesty, power. In the mighty opening of his letter to the Colossian church this morning, there is no doubt in St. Paul’s mind that Jesus is king and lord of absolutely everything on heaven and on earth. So today is a day for asking ourselves – what is Jesus lord and king of in my life?

What is a lord and king for me? I’ve never met a king in my own life. Perhaps some of you have, but I never did. I did however meet a queen. Well, actually, I saw a queen, during one of Queen Elizabeth II’s visits to Canada in the 1980s. I suspect several of you can remember a royal visit as well, and have stories of your own experiences. In my case, it was Victoria in British Columbia, and with several of my student friends we went down to the inner harbour to see the Queen leave on the royal yacht Britannia. There was a large crowd, and the Queen’s ship was brilliantly lit up – the Britannia was a beautiful ship, painted in black and white with a sharp bow and a graceful superstructure and two elegant masts – a very appropriate ship for a monarch.

The Queen stood at the top of the gangplank and waved to us, and of course we all waved back, and we cheered, and I think we may even have sung God Save the Queen spontaneously. Finally the gangplank was withdrawn and the ship got under way, but my friends and I weren’t willing to let it end at that. We piled into a little car and drove along the waterfront, as far as we could, until finally we got out and watched Britannia, a brilliant point of light on the dark ocean, until finally she vanished into the night. The excitement of that night was quite surprising to me, because whereas my friends were English and quite the monarchists, I was rather lefty and rather rude about the Queen, up till then. But that night, when her ship finally was lost to our sight, the world seemed a little less magical, and we were left to go back to our ordinary lives.

Surely one reason that some of us want to have kings and queens is the sense of majesty and grace that they bring to an otherwise ordinary world. Even though Queen Elizabeth is an ordinary woman with a handbag and little dogs, she is set apart. If you saw last year’s film The Queen with Helen Mirren, you may remember the scene at the beginning after Tony Blair has just been elected as Prime Minister of the UK. He has to go to Buckingham Palace to receive the Queen’s permission to form a new government, and as he climbs the stairs to meet her, a royal aide instructs him how to behave when he enters the royal “presence”. Presence is exactly what it is, and Blair’s ensuing nervousness is something we can all relate to. Here is a woman born to power, with a sense of centuries of privilege and responsibility, whose ancestors had the power of life and death over others.

The point of the film The Queen, however, is that power and dignity in royals aren’t enough for us. As people, we also need to relate to royalty, to have a sense that despite their power and privilege they are still interested in us and sympathetic to us. That’s why the most popular part of any royal visit is the walkabout, when the royals meet perfect strangers and yet manage to appear friendly and gracious. We want to know that kings and queens stand with us rather than over us. Perhaps the best illustration of this from history if the blitz of 1940-41, when Londoners could see the royal flag over Buckingham Palace and know that the royal family was home, sharing the same dangers and the same rations as ordinary folks. That’s the contract with our royals, that we are prepared to put them above us if they are willing to serve their people and share their people’s lives.

Finally, and most importantly, we want royals to be role models, to exemplify character, dignity, and duty. It’s a pretty thankless job, to be sure, and these expectations may be unfair, but what drives the cheap tabloid journalism is a sense that the royals are held to a high standard. Last week the Archbishop of Canterbury spoke to the royals’ function as role models when he preached at a service celebrating the Diamond Wedding Anniversary of Queen Elizabeth and Prince Philip. The Archbishop spoke about the public nature of the married partnership of these two particular people, and of how they have kept the promises of their partnership to the commonwealth but more importantly, to one another. Even though our hopes for fidelity and commitment are frequently shattered, this marriage of Queen and Royal Consort says what any long marriage can say about us.

"Here is a relationship which proclaims something profound and exhilarating about our humanity: a human being is worth spending a lifetime on, a lifetime of loving attention; and also a human being is capable of giving a lifetime’s attention. Humanity is shown to be at once immeasurably worthwhile and also free to reflect the gift of God’s eternal love in its own relationships that shares the character of what happens when God through Jesus Christ establishes the lasting sign of his love that is the community of the church."

As with most of Rowan Williams’ statements, this one is dense but worth thinking about. What the Archbishop says about the quality of the royal marriage of Elizabeth and Philip and how it reflects “the gift of God’s eternal love” is true of the monarchy itself. At its best, we see in the monarchy something of the reign of Christ the King.

Think of the shapes that power in today’s world can take. A dictator arming himself with terrible weapons. A podium full of unsmiling and unelected men in suits or uniforms, protected by secret police. A man in a suit emerging from a helicopter, with an aide carrying a suitcase that can start the last and ultimate war. And then there is a small woman with a handbag and little dogs, seemingly immune to fatigue, who has spent her life being interested in the lives and dignity of her subjects. That is a different kind of power. As Rowan Williams suggests, it is a power that comes from relationship and from community, rather than a power that comes from the barrel of a gun.

Our Lord Jesus Christ did not come to earth to have power as the world understood it. Others thought he might want to be a king. Pilate looked at the whipped and isolated figure of Jesus and mockingly said “behold the man!”, and when the crucified him they Pilate put a message above him that said “Jesus Christ, King of the Jews”, just in case anyone else wanted to take away some of Rome’s power. But Jesus didn’t come to earth to be such a king.

Jesus came to earth and died on the cross because God in his infinite love believes that all of his creations, all of humanity, deserve dignity. God believes that all of us deserve his love and attention. Paul understands this perfectly in the reading from Colossians we heard this morning. Yes, says Paul, Jesus is the same as God. Yes, he carries all the “fullness of God”, yes he was present at creation, and yes, he is lord of “all things in heaven and on earth”. Yes, he is the king of kings and lord of lords, with more power and majesty than we could ever imagine.

What does Jesus do with this power? He loves. He heals. He teaches. He takes trembling hands and lifts them up. He forgives. He banishes shame and self-doubt. He brings the hungry in from the cold and feeds them. He stands with people rather than over them. As Paul says, “He has rescued us from the power of darkness and transferred us into the kingdom of his beloved Son, in who we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins” (Col 1:13-14). This is power that shares, that gives of itself to give life, that creates community. As Rowan Williams said of the marriage of Elizabeth and Philip, it is what happens when we pay attention to another person, declaring them to be worthwhile. This insight helps explain another Christian metaphor which sees Christ as the Church’s bridegroom – the two images, Christ as Lord and Christ as Bridegroom, thus complementing and reinforcing one another. In neither aspect does Christ seek to dominate and exploit, but rather, through the investment of his attention and faithfulness and love, he builds up, creates, renews.

Is Jesus King? You better believe it. He’s my boss and your boss, he’s in charge of wardens and priests and organists and bishops and archbishops. Is he to be feared? Yes, by those who seek to exploit and create fear in others. Is he to be welcomed? Yes, if we want to share in his light and love. Does he have expectations of us? Yes, and if you want to remind yourself of them, read the Baptismal Covenant in the BAS. Does the world need Jesus? Yes, because the world is spiritually hungry and the world has distorted and meager understandings of power.

So today is day for thinking about power and authority and majesty. It’s a day for us to think about how we understand and seek power, in the church, in our homes, in our workplaces, in our hearts. It’s a day to be thankful that we are subjects of a king who shares with us “in the inheritance of the saints in the light”. How will we share his love and power with those who are still in the darkness?

Sunday, November 18, 2007

From My Workbench - Ruined Factory Model

I am finding that I love modeling scenery as much as I love painting soldiers. I think miniature wargaming has the potential to combine the best of model railroading with toy soldiers to produce visually satisfying results. So that's the theory.

Here's a model in progress. It was originally a Walther model railroad kit, which I wanted to turn into a ruined factory in some war-torn town. The complete story of its creation can be seen here . When finished, the roof will be removable to place chaps (20mm or HO or 1/72nd scale) inside. The details inside are bricks that I chopped up out of foamboard (too big, I think) and the debris and green machine thingy are scraps that my friend James gave me from his auto-parts plant. Much work to do but it's coming along nicely.

Saturday, November 17, 2007

A Sermon for Sunday, November 18

A Sermon for the Twenty-Fifth Sunday After Pentecost
Grace and St. George’s, 18 November, 2007

Then he said to them, “Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom; there will be great earthquakes, and in various places famines and plagues; and there will be dreadful portents and great signs from heaven. “But before all this occurs, they will arrest you and persecute you; they will hand you over to synagogues and prisons, and you will be brought before kings and governors because of my name. This will give you an opportunity to testify. Luke 21:10-11

I haven’t yet seen the film An Inconvenient Truth . For those of you who haven’t heard about it, I’m talking about the 2006 film on global warming and climate change by Al Gore, the former Vice-President of the United States. I’ve certainly heard a lot about it. I can’t think of any other movie in recent years that’s gotten my friends and acquaintances so riled up. Friends have sent me emails urging me to go see it because it is a live changing experience. Friends have sent me emails saying that the message of the film’s message is totally distorted. Some say that Al Gore is a modern messiah, who richly deserved the 2007 Nobel Peace Prize. Others say that Gore is a cynical entrepreneur who makes millions off his speaking engagements while living the fossil-fuel dependent lifestyle that he condemns in his speeches. I don’t know which of these views is right. I just know that I haven’t seen the film yet because most days I’m afraid too.

As I write this, the UN panel of climate control experts is predicting that the world is warming faster than anyone has thought. Their report predicts that a rise in the global temperature of between 1.5 to 2.5 degrees could mean an increased chance of extinction for between 20 to 30 per cent of the world’s species, and increased poverty and misery for millions of people. Is the world changing? Is the world ending? Sometimes I’d rather not think about what sort of world our children and our grandchildren will inherit. Even when I try to tune out the news, the signs are still there. This fall we’ve seen some trees lose their leaves, some keep their leaves but change colour, and some have stayed green. This harvest we’ve seen days where, as one farmer told me the other day, the combine would hit patches in the field where it would just fall silent. Well-drilling companies are booked up for months. Water is on everyone’s mind. The days feel uncertain.

As we read today’s gospel, we see Jesus facing an uncertain future in a totally unflinching manner. One of the disciples has made an innocent comment about how wonderful the temple in Jerusalem is. Wow, Jesus! Look at this wonderful temple, how beautifully it’s made, and all the gifts in it that people have given to God. You can just imagine them, these country hicks and fishermen from Galilee, looking up at the walls and pillars. But Jesus isn’t impressed. “Don’t you be fooled”, he says. “Nothing lasts forever”. In language that is drawn from the prophets of Israel, Jesus predicts a grim future, when not one brick of the Temple would be left standing one on the other. Incidentally, he was right. Some forty years later, the Roman legions would destroy Jerusalem. The Temple, which looked to the disciples as if it would stand for ever, was finished.

Why does Jesus give this warning to the disciples? Was it just to scare them, or bum them out? No, I don’t think so, any more than Al Gore wants his movie to bum them out (even if people like me are too chicken). Jesus was trying to change the disciples. The disciples looked up at this magnificent church and thought that its bricks and mortar and gold were a testimony to the glory of God. They thought that this building was a sign of God. No, says Jesus. The time will come when the church will be gone, but you will be signs of God. Don’t fear the scary times to come, says Jesus, because as he says, “This will give you an opportunity to testify.” (Luke 21:13). In the times to come, says Jesus, what will matter is not the testimony of buildings, but the testimony of people – real, ordinary people who believe in God, who know God, and who aren’t afraid to talk about God.

Fast forward to today. This weekend, Renee, Kristyn, Hilda, Michele and Heather went to an event called The Magnetic Church. They heard a speaker, Andy Weeks, who at times could sound rather scary. Andy reminded us that in 1965, there were 122,000 people on the parish rolls in the Diocese of Huron. Today there are just 47,000. That decline matches other dioceses in the Anglican Church of Canada, including Toronto, and I know that he’s right because I got these figures for Andy from Huron Church House. We’ve built these wonderful churches, full of beautiful things given to God by faithful families, but the buildings are starting to crumble and increasingly, people walk by them and pay them no heed.

Andy told us that we’ve reached a point in our history where churches of brick and stone, even churches as lovely and as well-loved as ours, no longer testify to the glory of God. Like Jesus, Andy told us that only people testify to God, and we are those people, if we want to be. The only role of a church, he said, is to be a vehicle “to support and further God’s purposes in the world”. What are God’s purposes? To show humans that God loves us, that God wants us to love one another, and that God wants us to show his love to people who see only “the weariness and scariness of their daily lives”.

How are we going to carry this message to the people who need it? Andy reminded us that as Anglicans we were also Protestants – not Protest-ants but also Pro-testants, Pro-testifiers, Pro-claimers. See how we’re back to our Lord’s words of this morning’s gospel, “This will give you an opportunity to testify”. How are we going to testify? This week the Missing Link once again goes out in the mail to our community, and the last page offers a rich reflection from Lynn Trute on how we as a parish endeavour to show God’s love through service. During the announcements today we will have some time for our Magnetic Church delegates to reflect on their ideas of what they learned and how they feel we can go ahead as “Pro-testants, Pro-testifiers”. In the weeks and months to come, I hope that our two congregations can think more and more about how our parish of Grace and St. George’s can be a “magnetic church”.

Let me finish with this thought about certainty and uncertainty. There are times when things look bleak. When I came here I thought I might be the minister who has to close Grace Church. The other day a family was checking us out and said “we like this – it looks like a young church”. God can surprise us. Likewise, I know some folks at St. George’s worry about our future, but again, God can surprise us. There is much strength and goodness in both congregations, and there always will be, if we remain people of hope. Not hope in what we alone can do, because temples end. Times and eras end. Perhaps we do live in the end times of our planet, or perhaps our great-grandchildren will remember this time as the dawn of a new era. Whatever happens, God is faithful. He is the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end, but he is always loving, and he is always good, and he will never abandon his children. This is the message that the world needs, this is the message that we are called to testify, and the world will always need the church if we hold true to this message. Amen.

©Michael Peterson+ 2007

A Sermon for Remembrance Day

Sunday, November 11, 2007, Grace and St. George’s

Now he is God not of the dead, but of the living; for to him all of them are alive.’ (Luke 20:38)

This morning I want to offer a few comments about remembrance and hope. These two things are important to today, of course, but they are also important to the faith which gathers us here week by week, year by year.

Today is a day of remembering. It’s not about remembering specific events, because there is no one alive today who can remember what it was like at Vimy Ridge or Passchendaele. In a few years more, a decade at the most, there won’t be anyone left alive who can remember what is like at Dieppe or what it felt like to be caught in the flak and searchlights over Germany. All we can do is remember the people who went before us to these terrible places. We can remember the people we knew – parents and grandparents – and we can remember the ones we didn’t know, the ones who are just names and strangers to us.

Why do we remember? The reasons are complex. We remember them because their lives were significant, and because the loss of their potential, so many who died so young, can never be fully appreciated. We remember them to do them honour, because they gave what Abraham Lincoln in his Gettysburg Address called “the last full measure of devotion”, paying the ultimate sacrifice for those they loved and for we who came after them. We remember them because it is our responsibility to remember them, because we owe them. If we decided to cancel November 11th and just forget about the past, we would be the less for it. Our society would somehow be diminished if we abandoned Remembrance Day.

These are good reasons to remember, to be sure, but I think the third and most important reason we remember is because of hope. We have the hope, again to quote Lincoln, that “these dead did not die in vain”. We have the hope that their deaths made the world a better place. We have the hope that peace and freedom are great gifts, to be defended if necessary, but never to be squandered or abandoned needlessly. We have the hope that we have learned from history, and that things will work out for the better. If we did not have hope, Remembrance Day would be a tragic event, nothing but the naming of victims, and history would be a trap that humans are forever caught in.

Christians are people called to remember and called to hope. God calls us to remember – to remember him and to remember that we are his people, and to remember the way God wants us to live. God also calls us to hope – the hope of Christ’s power and resurrection, the hope that we can change and that the world can change, and the hope that we will be saved. We believe in memory and hope because we believe that these things come from God. A God who created the world must surely remember everything and everyone in it, and a God who sends his son to save the world must surely have hope for the future. We see both these things clearly in today’s gospel.

In today’s reading from Luke, Jesus has finally reached Jerusalem. Not everyone agrees with his preaching and teaching, and not everyone agrees that Jesus is the Messiah, the one sent by God to save his people. A group called the Sadducces set out to challenge him. The Sadducces were Jews who did not believe in the resurrection. As far as they were concerned, once you die, that’s it. Game over. They challenge Jesus with the riddle of a woman who in turn marries seven brothers in accordance with a Jewish law called Levirate Marriage According to this law, if a man died, it was the brother’s duty to take his sister-in-law in marriage, and he was to name the firstborn after his deceased brother, “so that his name may not be blotted out of Israel” (Deut 25:5-6).

The Sadducces I think are like people who go to a funeral and say, “Well, Joe’s dead, he was a good guy, but he’s gone and the best that we can do is remember him”. As far as they are concerned, the best we can hope for is to be remembered by having our name and our memory continue in our descendants, which is the purpose of Levirate Marriage. If God intended to do something as radical as raise people from the dead, he wouldn’t have given this law to his people. The women in the riddle wouldn’t have needed to remarry, because her first husband would be alive again on the day of resurrection. For the Sadduccees, God is either trapped in history or he has lost interest in it. Their God has set things up a certain way, cleaned his hands, and said “this is the way it’s supposed to be, muddle along as best you can.”

But as I said, we are people of hope because we believe that God isn’t finished with history. God isn’t content with the way things are. God will change things for the better. Jesus tells the Sadducees something that human categories like marriage will change in heaven, so their question is irrelevant. We will be changed into “angels and .. children of God, being children of the resurrection” (Luke 20:37). We don’t really know what Jesus means by this. Certainly it tracks with what St. Paul says elsewhere about how human categories like gender, race, and social status will no longer count in God’s new creation (see Galatians 3:27-28), but other than noting this continuity I think it’s vain to speculate too much about what this might mean. All we can be sure of is that we will be made new, and made better.

Personally what I take comfort from is what Jesus goes on to say. “And the fact that the dead are raised Moses himself showed, in the story about the bush, where he speaks of the Lord as the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob. Now he is God not of the dead, but of the living; for to him all of them are alive.’” (Luke 20:37-38). Take a minute to let that sink in. God is talking about his memory. He is saying that in his eternal memory, all of us are alive – Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, the seven brothers of the woman in the riddle.

It would be like God saying to me “I am the God of Michael Peterson, and of his father Allan Peterson, and his father Arthur Peterson, and his father …”. Now I knew my father, but after his death I realized that there were many things about him I didn’t know and would never know. My grandfather Arthur was dead long before I was born, and I only new a few things about him. I have only the vaguest idea of who my great-grandfather knows, and likely never will never know more. I can try as best I can to pass what I know of them on to my children and, perhaps, my grandchildren, and give them the few mementos that my father left to me. But memories fade, stories are lost, and I have no guarantee that those to come will remember Arthur, or Allan, or Michael.

Likewise we who gather today face an impossible task. We can try to remember the dead of our wars as best we can. We can do wonderful things, like the project this year of giving each schoolchild who went to Vimy Ridge the name and details of a Canadian soldier who died in that war. We can talk to the veterans while they last, and capture their fading memories. We do the best that we can, but we know, as our hymn today reminds us, that “time like an ever-rolling stream bears all its sons away”. Not so with the mind of God. We have the promise in the words of our gospel that God will not forget us.

Let me close by asking you to try, if you can, to let go of one image and replace it with another. Try to let go of the traditional image of God’s memory, the image of that big book at St. Peter’s desk where all of our misdoings and mistakes are kept for the day of judgment. Think instead of God remembering all of you that is important – who you loved, the best that you can be, your fondest hopes and greatest dreams, your most selfless moments. Think of God holding these things clearly in his mind, as clearly as your best and brightest memory of your childhood summers, and brighter still. Finally, think of God calling these memories forth on the day when he will recreate the world, creating you anew, as something angelic, a child of the resurrection. On that day none of us will be forgotten. We will be remembered, fully and gloriously, along with our grandparents and their grandparents and all the names on every cenotaph across this country and overseas, to stand with those in the graves marked “A Soldier Known Unto God”. For surely that is our best and brightest hope, that each of us is “known unto God”.

©Michael Peterson+ 2007

Thursday, November 1, 2007

All Saints Day Children's Program, November 1st, 2007

On November 1st, St. George's of Middlesex Centre, one of the churches I serve, played host to the Deaner of Medway's All Saints Children's Day. This event is one of a series of events organized by deanery youth ministry coordinator Heather Brown. Medway deanery offers two events a year, one on All Saints Day (1 Nov) and one at the beginning of Lent on Ash Wednesday, and takes advantage of Ontario legislation that excuses children from school to attend a day of religious instruction. Because this was All Saints Day, we thought we'd take advantage of the host church's name and tell the story of George and the Dragon using crafts, drama, stories and games. A video of the event, shot by Heather Brown, can be seen here. There are digital pictures and captions as part of my Facebook site. A video of the event, shot by Heather Brown, can be seen here.

A script and outline of part of the day's events is posted below. You are more than welcome to use it or adapt it as you see fit.

Morning Session
Facilitator talks about the importance of saints. We believe as Anglicans that saints are role models – they teach us how to be Christian. By their example, we learn what it means to live the kind of life that God wants us to live.
Today we are going to have a visit from a very special saint, St. George! And here he is now!
Voice off:
Left, right! Left, right!
Marching off, to the fight!
Gotta be strong, do what’s right!
Gotta love God with all my might!
Left, right! Left right!
Company ...... HALT!

Looks around, surprised.

Well, hello there!
I say, I’ve been marching for a long, long time.
I could use a bit of a rest.
Do you mind if I take off my armour
And sit down for a visit?

My name’s George. How do you do?
They call me SAINT George, but really, George is fine.
And what are your names?

So pleased to meet you.
They told me you were studying ME.
And they told me that this church is named after ME!
Fancy that! Isn’t that kind of you!
I say, I would love something to eat.
May I please have one of those cookies?
Thanks awfully! How nice. Very tasty.
So, what would you like to know about me?

The children might ask, or be prompted to ask George to talk about his life.

My life? My goodness, that’s a long story and it’s rather hard to tell.
You see, I’ve been around for such a long time, there’s a lot to remember.
I guess I should start back in the year 400!
That was a long, long time ago.
I was a soldier in the Roman Army.
As a soldier I had to be brave and strong and ready to fight.
But, I was also a Christian.
I believed that Jesus was our Lord and Saviour, the Son of God.
And that was hard, because in those days,
If you were a soldier, you weren’t allowed to be a Christian.
Sometimes it’s hard to be a Christian.
Perhaps it’s hard for you, when you’re friends don’t go to church
And you can’t be them them when you’d like to on Sundays.
Well, one day they found out that I was a Christian.
They said, George old boy, you can either give up this being Christian business,
Or, well, if you don’t, we’ll just have to chop your head off.
My goodness, that was a hard choice.

What did I do? Well, it was simple. I said I would stay a Christian.
Even if they chopped my head off.

Was I scared? I should say so. I was scared stiff.
But you see, I remembered what the Bible said
About having faith and putting on the armour of God.
I knew that I could trust God and he would protect me.
No matter what happened.

Well, I’m still here, aren’t I?
You see, saints are hard chaps to kill.
We’re God’s reminders.
Whenever someone is scared,
Whenever someone wonders what’s the right thing to do,
Whenever someone needs a good example, they can look to us.

Years and years later, some soldiers from England heard about me.
They heard about my fight with the dragon
And they brought my story back to England.
They made me the national saint of England.
That’s why my red cross on a white shield
became part of the British flag.

What dragon? My goodness, THE dragon.
Have you never seen a dragon?
Well, the dragon has lots of different names.
Some people call him the devil, some people call him Satan.
The important thing is, the dragon is whatever is bad.
Anything that goes against God’s plan for the world is a dragon.
Anything that tempts us to do bad things,
Anything that tries to get us to love ourselves more than other people,
Anything tries to get us to put ourselves ahead of other people,
That’s a dragon.
I fought the dragon many times.
I always chased him off, but he always came back.
I’m always ready to fight him.

That’s my story, and that’s why,
Whenever people remember me and tell my story,
They talk about St. George and the dragon.
If we go into this church that is so kindly named after me,
I bet that we can see some pictures of me and the dragon.
Let’s go look, shall we?

That was very interesting, wasn’t it?
Did you know that you too can be dragon fighters?
That’s right! All of us Christians are dragon fighters.
When we were baptized, our parents and our godparents
And the whole congregation in church that day,
Promised that they would teach us to fight against
Satan, the devil, and all the bad things in the world.
So that makes us dragon fighters, doesn’t it?
Our family and our church family promised to help us
To grow up to be dragon fighters.

Now, as dragon fighters, how are you going to fight the dragon?
What sorts of things would you need?

Those are all good answers.
I have some more answers, from the Bible.
In a book of the Bible called Ephesians, Paul
(Paul was also a saint, a good fellow, Paul)
Writes this advice for dragon fighters.

“God is strong and he wants you strong. So take everything that the Lord has set out for you, well-made weapons of the best materials. And put them to use so you will be able to stand up to everything that the Dragon throws your way. ... Be prepared. ... Take up all the help you can get, every weapon God has given you, so that when it’s all over you’ll still be on your feet. Truth makes the best belt, fasten it tight around your waist. Doing what’s right in God’s eyes makes the best armour, so put that on over your chest. Wear good boots, that make you want to tell how great God is wherever you may go! Faith and trust in God makes the best shield against whatever flames that old dragon spits out at you! Your best helmet comes from Jesus, who died to save us all from sin. Finally, your best sword isn’t a sword at all, but it’s the Holy Spirit that we learn about in the Bible, which teaches us how to be God’s people. And always, always, pray for yourself and for other people, and use prayer as your lifeline to God.”

This paraphrase of Ephesians 6:10-18 is inspired partly by Eugene Peterson’s The Message and is partly my own paraphrase of the NRSV.

So, how does that make you feel?
Do you think you’d be safe with all those things?

So since St. Paul finished by asking us to pray,
Can I pray with you?

Gracious God, thank you that through our baptism,
You gave us the power to be dragon fighters
Through the love of your son, Jesus Christ.
Help us always to be strong to do what is good in your eyes.
And whenever we do wrong things,
Please forgive us and help us to try again and do better.
We ask these things in Jesus’ name. AMEN.

Well, friends, it’s been so nice talking to you.
Thank you for taking the time to learn about me on my special day.
More importantly, thank you for wanting to be God’s dragon fighters.
I pray that God blesses you and keeps you close to Him always.
And now, well, a dragon-fighter’s work is never done.
That old dragon is out there somewhere
and I’ve got to keep looking for him!
I’ll see you later! Goodbye!

After the visit from St. George the children can engage in crafts or activities.
After a break and before lunch, the Dragon will visit.

Dragon enters singing to the tune of “Puff the Magic Dragon”
I’m Ruff the Nasty Dragon!
I’m scary as can be!
I love to be mean and ferocious,
And make people frightened of me!

Big and small, short and tall,
I gobble folks up, boots and all!
You’d better watch out!
Better scream and shout!
‘Cuz today I’m here for YOU!!!!

Dragon looks around.

So, whaddya’ think? Are you scared?
I bet you are! I bet you’ve never seen
A dragon as scary as me? Well??

Well, you oughta be scared!
Who do you think I am? Barney the Dinosaur?
Well, I ain’t no nice guy like him.
Fortunately for you guys, today I’m not very hungry!
On the way hear I ate a farmer AND his combine,
And a whole field of cows! So good thing for you I’m full!

Well, almost full. I’ve always got room for a cookie ... or two ... or three.
Gimmee those cookies! . Mmmmm, delicious.

So, what are you guys doing here today? How come you’re not in school?

Saint George? So that’s what he’s calling himself these days, is it?
LOSER George is more like it.
I’ll bet he told you he won the last time we met?
Yeah, I’ll bet he did. I’ll bet he even got folks to name a church after him.
Say, what’s this church called?

Oh, man! That guy! What a nerve.
Well, don’t you BELIEVE a word of it!
The last time we met, SCAREDY George was running away calling for
His mommy!

“Oh, mommy, mommy, save me from the big nasty dragon!”
Saint George. Don’t make me laugh!

Look, kids, let me set you straight. Forget all that stuff.
St. George made it all up later because he’s a LOSER.
Face it, kids, nice guys always finish last.
How do you think I got to be such an important dragon?
By being NICE to people?
Forgetabout! They don’t call me Ruff the Dragon for nothing!
I got this name ‘cuz I’m Rough and Tough!
So remember, kids, nice guys finish last.
If you want to succeed in life, you gotta look out for number one!
You gotta be rough and tough, like me!

Well, kids, enough talk. Gotta run.
So many people to be nasty to, so little time.
Hmm, maybe a cookie for the road.
Say you don’t mind, do you?
Ha! As if you could stop me!

I’m Ruff the Nasty Dragon!
I’m scary as can be!
I love to be mean and ferocious,
And make people frightened of me!

Facilitators use this time to talk with the children about the dragon.
What did they think about him?
Is it better to be loved or feared? What did Jesus say (talk about the Golden Rule, love one another as you would love yourselves.
Talk about the dragon as a symbol of evil Ask children to identify other bad things, other sources of evil in the world (eg, child slavery, internet pornography, use of child soldiers in the third world, violent drug crime in schools, etc What are Christians supposed to think about these things?
After getting some thoughts from children, return to what St. George said about the Ephesians “Whole Armour of God” text in light of our baptismal vows. Our parents and godparents/sponsors promised at our birth to help us become people who would resist evil. Paul in Ephesians talks about the things that help us resist evil – prayer, faith, etc.

After lunch, St. George returns for a visit.

Hello friends! Did you have a good lunch?
Jolly good! You can’t be dragon fighters on an empty stomach!

I say, speaking of dragons,
you haven’t seen that old Dragon around, have you?
You have? By jove! I thought so!
My dragon sense was telling me there was trouble nearby?

Look, now that you’re all dragon fighters,
How about we put on our coats and boots
And go see if we can see signs of him?

St. George leads the children outside to look for signs of the dragon.
As they uncover signs, St. George looks wary, strokes his chin a lot,
And says things like “By jove” and “Can’t be too careful” and the like.

After returning to the parish hall:

Well, dragon fighters, you better be careful.
I’m going out for another look.
Remember, if you see that dragon,
Just call for St. George and I’ll be there to help you!

St. George leaves.
Shortly thereafter, Ruff the Dragon appears, singing.

I’m Ruff the Nasty Dragon!
I’m scary as can be!
I love to be mean and ferocious,
And make people frightened of me!

Hmmm, you again, eh? Well, guess what?
I haven’t had my lunch, and those cookies
Weren’t enough to fill me up!
I guess that means I’ll have to eat ...... YOU!!!

The children can be encouraged to scream and call for St. George, who at once reappears.

George: Now see here, Dragon!
Stop trying to frighten those children.
They know all about you and your wicked ways.
You just leave them alone and clear out.

Dragon: Oh yeah? Sez who?
Who’s going to stop me, eh?

George: I’m going to stop you,
Just like I did every other time.

Dragon: You’re going to stop me?
What a laugh! I hope you’ve got
A whole army out there, ‘cuz you’re going to need it.

George: I don’t need an army, Dragon.
I’ve got the shield of faith, the power of prayer,
And the love of Jesus Christ on me side.
You know what the Good Book says?
It says, “At the name of Jesus, every knee shall fall!”

Dragon: Well, THIS knee ain’t falling,
And I ain’t falling for you!
Get ready to be a dragon burger!

Dragon : Owwww, that hurt!
Whad’ya go and do a thing like that for?

George: I was defending myself!
I don’t want to hurt you, dragon,
But I am a dragon fighter,
And you are an evil dragon.

Dragon: But you did hurt me!
Do you think it’s any fun being an evil dragon?
You’ve been having a good time in here
While I’ve been lurking outside all day.
I don’t have any friends.

George: Well, you don’t have to be an evil dragon.

Dragon: Yes I do. I can’t help it. It’s the way I am.
It’s the way I am!
Boo hoo hoo!

There there, dragon, don’t cry. Come on, cheer up.
Look, you don’t have to be an evil dragon.
God didn’t make you to be evil.
God made everyone in the his own image.
That means God wants all of us to be his friends.

Dragon: Even dragons?

Even dragons, if they want to be God’s friends.
Do you know what else the Good Book says?
It says that “Nothing can keep us apart from the love of God.”
That includes you, if you want God to love me.

Dragon: How do I get God to love you?

George: God loves you already.
All you have to do is say after me.

“I’m sorry that I did bad things.”
“Thank you for loving me.”
“Thank you for sending me your son Jesus
To forgive me for the bad things I’ve done.”
“Help me from now on to be your friend
And to share your love with the people I meet.”

Dragon: That feels better.
Do I have to do anything else?

George: Well, you could apologize to these children
For scaring them and stealing their cookies.

Ummm, I’m sorry I scared you and took your cookies.

George: Children, do you forgive Dragon?
Why don’t you give Dragon a hug?

Dragon looks happy, hugs and high fives the children.

George: So, Dragon, how do you feel now?
Dragon: Well, I feel different!
I feel like a new dragon! I like it!
It makes me want to say thank you to God!

George: So why don’t you stay and worship God with us?
We’re going to celebrate the Eucharist now,
And have a meal of bread and wine together.
The Eucharist means “Thank You Dinner.”
So, will you stay for dinner?

Dragon: I think I will!

We close with the Eucharist. While it is being set up, a facilitator can ask the children what they have learned from the event. The children can be reminded about being dragon fighters and resisting evil, but as the dragon’s “conversion” reminds them, nothing is greater than God’s power of love and forgiveness, “For God so loved the world” (Jn 3:16).

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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