Sunday, February 24, 2008

A Sermon for the Third Sunday of Lent

Preached at Grace and St. George’s, Sunday, 24 February, 2008, clocking in at an appalling eighteen minutes. Memo for next time - be shorter, much shorter.

Exodus 17:1-7, Psalm 95, Romans 5:1-11, John 4:5-42

Jesus said to her, “Everyone who drinks of this water will be thirsty again, but those who drink of the water that I will give them will never be thirsty. The water that I will give will become in them a spring of water gushing up to eternal life.” (John 4:13-14)

Our gospel story begins with a weary traveller under a hot noonday sun. Ask anyone whose been to the Middle East and they’ll tell you that the song about “only mad dogs and Englishman” going out in the noon day sun is true. Christie Blatchford, in her recent book about her time in Afghanistan, describes that sun as “relentless”. Even in the early morning, at 6am, she writes that when she got up “and opened the tent flap, the whiteness outside was so blinding I more often than not emerged in a stumble, as surely as if I were drunk” (p. 12). In this environment, water is literally the difference between life and death. Blatchford describes Canadian troops in Kandahar in July drinking up to eighteen litres of water a day. So when Jesus greets this Samaritan woman at the well and says “Give me a drink”, we can assume that he’s not making polite conversation. Both parties know the reality of physical thirst, the necessity of water to keep our bodies alive. But Jesus is also starting a conversation that will uncover the spiritual thirst of this woman, and this conversation will offer comfort to all of us who thirst for love and truth.

Why does Jesus find this woman at the well at noon. She should be there in the cool of the early morning or evening, sharing gossip and conversation with the otehr village women. Instead she has come alone, under a burning sun. The likely explanation for her isolation is because she is the village outcast, the object of gossip and scorn because of her five husbands and her current live-in partner. This woman is feeling the heat in many ways, under the noon day sun but also under the glare of social disapproval.

During their conversation, we see that Jesus knows her past, but he doesn’t treat her like an outcast. Moral condemnation is just one of the boundaries that Jesus ignores to have this conversation. He also sets aside the fact that she is a Samaritan. In those days, Jews and Samaritans were related but were estranged because of different religious beliefs, just as Catholics and Protestants in Northern Ireland are estranged, even though they are both Christian. Jesus also sets aside the fact that she is a woman, and unescorted, and according to “safe” practices they should not be having this conversation alone. Jesus knows all these things, but he sets them aside because he cares about this one person. He’s doing what comes naturally to a good shepherd. As Jesus said elsewhere, his business is with the one lost sheep, and not the ninety nine who are safe (Lk 15:3-7).

Jesus and the woman talk about water, but as with the conversation with Nicodemus we heard last week (John 3), we get the impression that the conversation works on two levels. There’s a literal level, the water from the well that quenches your thirst temporarily, and there’s a spiritual level of “living water” which is the gift of God. The woman hears Jesus mention “living water” but she’s still thinking literally, thinking about the burden of that heavy clay jog that she has to tote back home day after day. Perhaps jokingly, she says “Sir, give me this water, so that I may never be thirsty or have to keep coming back here to draw water” (Jn 4:15). Her tone is “yeah, right, like you have some magic water bucket or something”.

It’s only after the husband part of the conversation that the woman starts to let her guard down. Whoever this guy is, he has some kind of special ability to know all the secret details of her life. “You’re a prophet”, she concedes, but then tries to take shelter in the religious differences between Jews and Samaritans. As others have noted, her conversation sounds like the person you meet today who says “There are a lot of different religions with different takes on the truth, so I’ll just decide for myself what truth is”. However, Jesus doesn’t let her off the hook. “God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth” (Jn 4:24). That’s a difficult line of dense Johnanine theology. Jesus is saying, I think, that “God is spirit but he is also real, God’s truth rises above all our ideas of the truth, and if you want to worship God, then you have to agree that his truth trumps our ideas of truth. Once again the woman tries to pull back, saying in effect that they can argue all they want, but only when the Messiah comes will we know who God is and what is real. Then Jesus points gently to himself, and says, “that person whom you’re looking for, the Messiah who will reveal everything, that would be me, the guy you’re talking to”.

So we start with a conversation about thirst and water, a conversation between two people who shouldn’t be talking to one another. In this conversation, we learn that spiritual thirst is different from physical thirst. We see many examples of spiritual thirst in the woman’s life. Spiritual thirst is isolation and condemnation that keep people apart. It is the guilt and shame that comes from the deserts we make of our lives. It is doubting that anything is really true, and muddling along in the dark hoping that one day, maybe, God might show himself.
The spiritual thirst quencher is Jesus. Jesus is a real Messiah who is willing to talk with the person that everyone else is happy to ignore. Jesus is the Messiah who offers an alternative to moral shame and condemnation. Jesus offers God’s love and forgiveness and new life, reviving a parched soul and giving new life. Later in John’s gospel, Jesus will say, “If anyone thirst, let that person come to me and drink. He who believes in me, out of his heart shall flow rivers of living water (John 7:37-38). Jesus started by asking for a drink of earthly water, but he gave the woman a spiritual drink that she didn’t expect. She discovered that God was real, God knows exactly who she is, and still loves her. Her parched heart is now flowing with water and she reaches out to others, running back to the village to tell the people who shunned her about Jesus. When she runs back to town, John tells us, in a small but important detail, that she leaves her water jar behind. The suggestion is that she’s found the water that really counts. She’s been freed of carrying that old heavy jug, all by herself in the hot sun, and given a new life that she can share with others. John tells us that Jesus stayed in the village for several days, where the woman is now part of a community that nows Jesus is the saviour of the world.

When I go out into the world, I see a lot of people carrying water with them. Go to any public place and you’ll see people walking around with water bottles. You see the disposable kind, you see sports bottles or those clear, coloured, hard plastic ones that young people tuck into their backpacks. Perhaps these people are so active that they need to be constantly drinking. (As a runner I certainly understand the need to keep hydrated.) But is it also possible that these ever-present water bottles signal some kind of crisis? Isn’t it ironic that so many people know the value of physical water, but so many people lack spiritual water?
This week I came across two examples of people suffering from spiritual thirst. One was about an internet dating service, RRSP, which caters to middle-aged woman who are no longer content living “in an arid (emphasis mine) marriage or partnership”. The reporter interviewed a Rutgers professor of anthropology who thinks that as people live longer, our needs for intimacy and love become greater than established, conventional relationships can meet. The fact that half a million women are members of this site suggest that the professor is on to something, though as the reporter notes, not all these stories end happily:
"D", who is 55, has been complaining to me for years about her husband's addiction to the remote control, which he uses to watch sport, accompanied by beer, while turning his double chin into a triple chin. Last year she went out and had an affair with a Latin lover. (That turned out to be a disaster, but this column is about needs, not ends.)

A second article spoke to the same phenomenon of unmet needs. The US Centre for Disease Control has released a study showing that the suicide rate for middle-aged people has increased dramatically in recent years, by a 20% increase for people from 45 to 54, and a 30% increase for women in this age group. By contrast, the group most worried about, teenagers, has seen an increase of only 2%, while the suicide rate of seniors has actually declined. The article says that the question of “why thousands of men and women have crossed the line between enduring life’s burdens and surrendering to them is a painful question for their loved ones. But for officials, it is a surprising and baffling public health mystery”. Statistics are always open to debate, but it’s tempting to conclude, as the article suggests, that for baby boomers, used to a lifetime of self-gratification, middle-age and the challenges it can pose to health, family, and career, spiritual thirst can be fatal.

Experts and news stories tell us that the future will be fraught with debates and struggles over the earth’s resources of fresh water. We need to deal with this, but as churches we need also need to address the spiritual water crisis by offer our thirst-quenching Saviour. “If anyone thirst, let that person come to me and drink. He who believes in me, out of his heart shall flow rivers of living water (John 7:37-38). In Jesus time, “living water” meant flowing water, like a stream or a spring. As I finish this sermon, I think of the spring of clean water that bubbles beside St. George’s, one of the two churches of our parish. Old-timers tell me about the old tin cup that was beside the spring, there for anyone who wanted a refreshing drink. What a wonderful image for the role of the church in a thirsty world!

Today’s gospel calls us to be unashamed about our good news, that Jesus, and only Jesus, is the Saviour of the World. We need to be clear about saying this, and we need to be alert to the people we know who are thirsty. Our church community must always be a place where Christ is real, where his truth is listened to, and where all who wish to drink are welcomed. Our drinks take many forms, the spring outside, the warmth and community of a coffee hour, cool lemonade on a summer day, but always the living water of the Holy Spirit that can quench the deepest thirst and bring life to the driest soul. We who have been given life by that Spirit are called to share it, as the woman at the well did.

In the eastern church, the woman at the well is known today as Photini or Svetlana. The name means “equal to the apostles” and was given to her because she went to her village and through her story convinced many that Jesus was the Messiah. She could not have told her story if she hadn’t first found the courage to look into herself, and open her greatest needs and thirsts to the living water of Jesus. May we have the same courage to open our greatest needs to Christ, and to invite others to come and drink the living waters that have saved our lives. Amen.

Saturday, February 23, 2008

Paardeberg Ball, 2008

The anniversary of the Battle of Paardeberg, from the Boer War, is a fixture in the calendar of the Royal Canadian Regiment. In London, for the RCR's Fourth (militia) Battalion, the Paardeberg Ball is an opportunity to be glamorous. For me, is was an opportunity to debut in my mess kit, the traditional red jacket and dark trousers that has been the traditional formal wear of British and Commonwealth armies for ages.

I am missing the Chaplain's Branch lapel badges, and a white shirt and tie would make a nice change from the clerical shirt and collar. Maybe next time. Alas, my wife Kay, an American and proud of it, has been taught from childhood that soldiers in red coats are bad guys, and would not pose with me. Perhaps next time.

This year's Ball, the 108th held in London, was a classy affair, thanks to the efforts of Captain Martin Anderson and the organizing committee. Regrettably, the Paardeberg Ball occurs during the season of Lent, and this year the Good Lord made it known to me that my Lenten fast should involve alcohol. Alas! Comically, my seatmate to my right was also observing the same Lenten fast, much to the delight of the captain to my left, who had one of the complimentary wine bottles to himself.

Here two of my colleagues demonstrate their training in making use of local flora as camouflage. On the left is my fellow Lenten pilgrim, the newly promoted Lt. Jerry Rozic, and on the right is Captain Brian Telfer. Jerry was serving as General's ADC that night, hence the aguillettes (the gold bling, as one guest called it) on his shoulder.

Pro patria!

Friday, February 22, 2008

"How to Run a Marathon" - A Good Sermon for Runners

My friend Pastor Renee passed this link to me, from the Calvin Theological Seminary's Centre for Excellence in Preaching website. The preacher is Lora Copley, and she does a wonderful job of exegesis and application with Hebrews 12. Scroll down the podcast archive for L as in Laura, it's arranged alphabetically by the preacher's first name. Lots of other cool preachers here as well.

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

From My Workbench: Late World War Two Canadians

These figures are larger than the last lot I posted - these are 20mm, or in modeling terms, between 1/76 to 1/72 scale. You click on any of the photos to see a larger image.

Platoon of Canadian infantry from 3rd Can Division (indicated by the light blue shoulder patch). These are plastic figures, manufactured by Revell:

Another view of the same lot. The officer on the single base in the middle is a metal figure, sculpted and cast by AB Miniatures in the UK, who make detailed and accurate figures in true 1/76 scale:

Infantry advance up a road. The three figures in the foreground are Raventhorpe (available through the nice and helpful people at RLBPS), another UK maker of metal figures. Not sure I like them - they are larger than most other ranges in this scale, and they lack a lot of raised detail, but they don't look bad when the paint up, somehow. I've mixed some dark green with Vallejo English Uniform to try and capture the more distinctive green Canadian pattern battledress:

Raventhorpe officer with binos and a signaller with a radio backpack - I've based them together to represent a FOO (Forward Observation Officer) who goes forward with the infantry and spots the fall of shots from friendly artillery. Always a useful asset to have on the tabletop:

Finally, the company OC (officer commanding) gives orders to one of his platoon leaders, while the OC's signaller stands nearby keeping in touch with battalion. The two officers are AB - no idea who made the signaller:

Monday, February 18, 2008

What I'm Reading: The Diana Chronicles

Tina Brown, The Diana Chronicles, New York: Doubleday, 2007.

Tina Brown's biography of the late and iconic Princess of Wales reads like smart cultural history rather than celebrity expose, and is therefore, I think, an important book. It's also an extremely even-handed account of a tragic life and death that has changed how we think about monarchy, celebrity, and media. Brown has talked to the partisans of both camps, but manages to be sympathetic and fair to the characters in her story.

As Brown portrays her, Diana Spencer grew up in a titled but dysfunctional family that left her craving intimacy. She was also the product of a largely bygone world that expected little of its daughters other than training them to a convincing degree of gentility that would prepare them for the right marriage. In Diana's case, that marriage was almost preordained, to the Prince of Wales, a man who was spiritually at least a generation older than her. Diana came from a pedigree that could claim "dollops" or royal blood, was young, virginal, and beautiful. I remember in my teenage years the stunning images of the fairy tale wedding of the century, but beneath the images that sold millions of tea towels and china plates was a reality, as Brown suggests, that there were precious few other women whom Charles could have married.

The question of whether Charles' infidelities drove Diana's or vice versa is, I think Brown would say, probably irrelevant. The tragedy of the day after the fairy tale wedding was that a young, affection-starved, and poorly educated girl found herself "interred" within The Firm. The Royal Family, as Brown portrays it, was an emotionally constrained, duty bound endeavour whose members were expected to buck up and do their job. One of Brown's best lines is her imaging of what it must have been like for Diana to have realized that she was trapped within this world: "When I think of the young, beautiful, newly married Princess of Wales at this time, I see her sitting up abruptly in the middle of the night in the Spartan spaciousness of her bedroom at Balmoral and uttering a long, bloodcurdling scream ..." (p. 172).

Compounding the tragedy was The Firm's (and Charles' ego, Brown suggests) inability to adapt to the enormous media attention that Diana generated in her "Dynasty Di" days. Brown is especially good at describing the cultural dynamic that generated this media frenzy - a sharpening of class divisions between rich and poor in the Thatcher years, the erosion of respect for those class divisions on the part of the press, and the ascendancy of money and public relations over titles and protocol in Thatcher's England. An avid consumer of tabloid culture in her youth, Diana built her power base as public icon because she understood the new media-driven, PR world while the rest of the royal family never got it.

While Diana understood the media, and certainly manipulated it, Brown never suggests that her connection with the masses was not genuine. Diana's ability to engage with the poor and her vocation for charity work later in life came from within. She was willing to shake hands with and hug people with HIV AIDS in the late 1980s and early 1990s when no one else was. As Brown puts it, in the ruthless Thatcher era, Diana "rediscovered her own big heart. Like a Method actor, she plumbed the unhappiness of her own life and turned it into empathy" (p. 282). (It's a revealing footnote that Diana's favourite film was The English Patient). Diana was convincing to others in pain because she did not hide the pain in her own private life, while the other royals were trained to conceal their emotion. It's a mark of Brown's fairness that she never diminishes the charitable work that other members of the Royal Family, including Charles, selflessly did. Unfortunately, their good deeds, as Brown quotes Beatrix Campbell, came across as "patrician" rather than "humanitarian" as Diana's work did.

One of the great tragedies of her life was that Diana the post-divorce humanitarian could have been a huge force for good in the world. Her willingness to go to places like Angola and walk through landmines came from courage and empathy, even if Diana made sure she looked good while doing it. Brown quotes one of friends who was noticing the changes within her late in life: "I never saw a prohject under construction as Diana" (p. 428). Unfortunately, she still had the hunger for intimacy and for a simulacra of the royal life that led her to the playboy Dodi Al Fayed and that fatal crash in the Paris tunnel.

Brown's final chapters ar a tour de force. She is devastating to Dodi's father, Mohamed Al Fayed, who generated enough conspiracy theories to fuel a staggering 35,000 websites at the time but whose scattergun accusations have been convincingly refuted by several inquiries. She's sympathetic to the Royals, who slowly adapted to the aftermath (her account of the crusty Prince Phillip giving strength to his grandsons in the funeral procession is very touching). Her comments on how Diana as "the People's Princess" changed (and possibly salvaged) the role of the monarchy going into the 21st century are especially insightful:

"The political power of the monarcy has been hemmorrhaging for nearly 400 years, and by a centuiry ago it was effectively gone. Diana stumbled on a new kind of royal power. She showed what could be done with the old concept of royal bounty when the drama of humanitarian concern is connected with the new electonic nervous system of worldwide media." (p. 481).

Another reason to read this book is to admire Brown's writing. She has a wonderful and often cutting capacity for description. Diana is pursued by "the farting motorbikes of the international press" (p. 12). The media savvy Tony Blair is a "master surfer of the zeitgeist", Margaret Thatcher is "Nurse Ratchett in Downing Street" and John Major is "a furled umbrella". As you might expect from someone whose editorial career has included both The New Yorker and Vanity Fair, Brown writes with panache, and her eye for style probably explains much of her fascination for her subject.

In the Anglican tradition of the Prayer Book, as one might expect from what once was (and in part still is) the state church of England, there is A Prayer for the Royal Family that is among those to be read in the daily offices of Morning and Evening Prayer. The prayer asks God to bless the sovereign and all the royal family, to "Endue them with thy Holy Spirit; enrich them with thy heavenly grace; propser them with all happiness; and bring them to thine everlasting kingdom". As an ordained Anglican priest and as an officer of the Canadian Forces who holds the Queen's commission, but as someone who also remembers and sometimes watched Spitting Image (the vicious satire puppet show of the 1980s and 1990s) in its heyday, I confess that I have often been less than respectful of the royals. My takeaway from Brown's book is that these flawed human beings, tied to their ancient stakes of duty in a new media world, need our prayers more than ever.


Sunday, February 17, 2008

A Sermon for the Second Sunday of Lent

Preached at St. George’s of Middlesex Centre, 17 February, 2007
Genesis 12:1-4a, Psalm 121, Romans 4:1-5,13-17; John 3:1-17

“Very truly, I tell you, no one can see the kingdom of God without being born from above.” (Jn 3:3)

Does it make a difference to you, where you were born and who your ancestors are? My guess is that most of us would say “yes, it does”. You may, like many residents of this parish, be someone whose ancestors go way back in this part of the country, and that may matter a great deal to you. If you’re descended from one of London Township’s settler families, you likely know a great deal about those who went before you, and that would probably make a great difference in how you saw yourself and your sense of place in this community and in this church.

What would it be like if you didn’t know much about your ancestors, or who they came from? Would you think any the less of yourself? Probably not, but I think you might feel that you are missing some part of yourself. I think one of the fascinations of genealogy for so many people is that the act of filling in a family tree might tell us more about who we are in the here and now. One of my brothers, for example, is haunted by his inability to locate our paternal grandmother’s birthplace in Scotland. Would that missing knowledge make him a more complete person? In my brother’s case, I think it might.

In a new world country like Canada, genealogy is primarily a pastime. Our ancestries don’t give us status or privilege (though Justin Trudeau is a possible exception). We don’t worry about the breeding of whoever our children might be dating or marrying. In an old-world country like England, pedigrees can still count. I’m currently reading The Diana Chronicles, Tina Brown’s biography of Diana, the late Princess of Wales. It’s a very engaging book, but also a very sad one. Brown describes a very small world where pedigree and ancestry made all the difference.

Diana was one of a tiny handful of young women who would have made a suitable bride for the Prince of Wales. As Brown puts it, Diana’s family, the Spencers, had “dollops of royal blood” going back to the 1600s. Growing up in her family home of Althorp, Diana could look at portraits of generations of Spencer women who had been married into royalty (pp. 57-58). Marrying the Prince of Wales seemed to her to be the fulfilment of a fairy-book destiny, practically a birthright. The tragedy, of course, was that Diana married into a family where duty and breeding ruled with a heavy hand, and that became a great burden to her. The other tragedy, as Brown describes it, is that Diana the aristocrat craved the attention of the media which made her real to millions of commoners as “the People’s Princess”, and that media attention would destroy her.

In our gospel today, Nicodemus, who visits Jesus under cover of darkness, has more than a little in common with the class-ridden world of Charles and Diana. Tom Wright notes that Judaism in Nicodemus’ time was all about being born in the right family. In our first lesson, we heard in Genesis how God had sent Abram and Sarai out of their homeland and promised to make of them “a great nation”. In Jesus’ day, that great nation was the Jewish people, both in Israel and Judea and wherever else they were scattered in the Mediterranean world. As one of the Jewish orthodox known as Pharisees, Nicodemus would have taken pride in tracing his ancestry back to one of the original twelve tribes of Israel and before that to Abraham himself. Like his fellow Pharisees, he would have known who he was descended from and where he came from (to see an example of this sort of pride, compare with Paul’s account of himself in Philippians, before his encounter with Christ – Phil 3:4-6). Nicodemus would have known that he was the spiritual equivalent of the Spencers, “the right sort of people”, entitled to salvation through his bloodline.

Nevertheless, Nicodemus is curious about this teacher Jesus. The fact that he comes in the night shows that he doesn’t want to compromise his daytime prestige and position with the Pharisees. He is willing to admit that Jesus is “a teacher come from God” (Jn 3:1) but Nicodemus isn’t willing to be seen with him. What Jesus says in return is rather startling: “Very truly, I tell you, no one can see the kingdom of God without being born from above” (Jn 3:3). Nicodemus doesn’t get it, because he thinks Jesus is talking about a literal second birth. Sometimes I don’t think we get it either, because when we hear Jesus talk about being born again, we might think in our sometimes fusty Anglican fashion that Jesus is talking about worship styles (hands waving in the air and all that). But really it’s much bigger than Nicodemus or ourselves can imagine.

Jesus is talking about God creating a new family “from above”. In this new family, birth and class and the right breeding won’t matter any more. Jesus is talking about God letting his Holy Spirit blow as wide and free as all that clean white powdery snow blowing over the roads and fields last Sunday. Jesus is talking about blowing the doors of God’s kingdom wide open, saying come one come all, come if you know your family tree way back or come if you don’t know a thing. Come if you’re from a good family or if you’re from the wrong side of the tracks. No pedigrees. No right sort of people or people like us. All you need is a hunger to know God and a need to know God’s love.

This message is an example of God’s incredible generosity, a generosity that Christians call grace. It’s the way God works, from the very beginning. Our first lesson was full of grace. Abram didn’t do anything to deserve being singled out. Everything that happens in this story comes from God: “I will make”, “I will show”, “I will bless”. All Abram has to do is go and God will do the rest. Paul picks up on this in our second lesson by noting that all Abram did in the story was to have faith in God, faith to go where God would send him. Everything else, Paul says, is the work of God, “who gives life to the dead and calls into existence the things that do not exist” (Romans 4:16). When we think of it, these readings make an amazing story of generosity and good news for the traditionally austere and sombre season of Lent.

We don’t hear how Nicodemus takes this news. He comes in the dark and presumably he leaves in the dark. When he shows up two more times in John’s gospel, there are suggestions that he got the message. How do we receive this message? How do we feel about being born from above?

As I said at the beginning, I asked you if it was important to you to know who your ancestors were and where you came from. It may be very comfortable knowing that we belong to a place and to a family. Our family relationships can indeed be a blessing to us, just as Abram received a blessing. However, our sense of identity can also limit the possibilities in front of us. If I say “I know who I am and where I am and where I came from and I’m fine with that”, we risk missing what God might do with us. Our lessons today suggest that God doesn’t care who we are or where we came from as much as he cares about who we will be and where we will go. God wants to make you new. God wants us to be “born from above”, “born again”.

I think that we have born again several times in our lives. First, at our baptism. Later, when we took on new lives and responsibilities as spouses and parents. You may have been born again when you buried a quarrel with someone, when you reconciled with a parent or with a child. You were born again when you worked up the nerve to return to church after a long absence. You were born again when you took up a new ministry in the church, like the parishioners I saw working at the meal program at St. James last night. You may have been born again when you first went on a retreat, or embraced a spiritual practice, like keeping a holy Lent. You were born again when God called you out of an old life and into a new one, like Brad from Dunbar Homes being ordained as Father Brad at the end of this month.

These are some ways that God can take us and make us new, blow new life and new direction into us through the work of his spirit. Who knows what else God wants to do with us? Who knows where God will lead us and what God will do with us? This Lent would be a good time for us all to ask these questions. What new relationships is God calling us into? How is God wanting to make us new? What possibilities might we be open to? How might we relax our grip on who know ourselves to be and allow God to make us into the people he wants us to be? Jesus said that no one can see the kingdom of God unless they have been born from above. Who knows what new and wonderful things we will see if we ask God to make us new?

©Michael Peterson+ 20007

Monday, February 11, 2008

The Road to Ottawa: Inscrutability Five K

It's been ruddy cold these last few days. The weather talked about -10C, -20C with the windchill. However it was gorgeously sunny today here in London, ON, with none of the frightful wind of Sunday, and that helped me decide to get a late afternoon run in. I did however make a point of bundling on, wearing five layers on my torso plus some of the items of winter kit issued to me by Her Majesty.

Kay was taken with the final look, which she pronounced "quite inscrutable", hence the name for today's run.

And comfortably bundled up and ready to go:

Managed to do the 5.1k circuit around the neighbourhood in 31m6s even though I felt slow as a tortise at times as I picked my way through patches of ice. My goal for my shorter runs is to break the Running Room induced habit of run ten, walk one. The one minute walk break is just too tempting and I slow down too much during that minute. I've heard John Stanton say the minute walk break needs to be fast, but I can't keep it fast. Today I managed to do the 5k route without stopping once, and that felt like an accomplishment.

No real troubles with the cold, except the exposed skin around my mouth and my tush felt a little chilly towards the end. Those Running Room fleece gloves are lovely on days like this.

A Sermon for the First Sunday of Lent

Preached at Grace Church, Ilderton, 10 February, 2008

Genesis 2:15-17,3:1-7; Ps 32; Rom 5:12-19; Matt 4:1-11

Jesus answered, “It is written, ‘One does not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.’” (Matt 4:4)

I spent Ash Wednesday with a bunch of pirates. Well, not pirates exactly, but kids and adults dressed up as pirates. The theme for our deanery children’s day was “Pirates Journey to Easter Island”. We did some teaching around the themes of Lent, themes that are prominent in our readings today: human sin and temptation, repentance and some of the spiritual practices of Lent. We asked the kids to think about what a “piratey” world would be like, with lots of cheating and killing and stealing, and then we contrasted that with what the world of God’s kingdom would look like. It was also a great opportunity to say “Arrrgh” and “Shiver me timbers” a lot.

Towards the end of the day, we invited the kids to write down a list of “pirate” acts, such as cheating and stealing and mean behaviour, on a sheet of paper. This paper was then burned along with the palm crosses, and the Rev’d Greg Little told them how we need to block out the tempting voice of the devil by listening to God. The ashes were then used in the ancient act of tracing the sign of the cross on the children’s foreheads at the closing Eucharist, as a reminder of how, at their baptism, their parents and sponsors promised that they would help these children resist the world, the flesh, and the devil.

I’m pleased to report that none of our deanery children are in any immediate danger of running off to become pirates and cause mayhem on the seven seas. They didn’t appear tempted by a life of killing and freebooting and hoarding gold. Being children, they were however subject to the normal temptations of childhood, such as sneaking an extra chicken finger when no one was looking, or fighting with toy swords despite the ban on this activity. This misbehaving was hardly sinister, just the normal business of children being children, though at the end of the day the adult organizers agreed that running a holy day for just twelve kids, as we did in November, was a lot easier than running one for thirty five kids.

Even though we adults were tired at the end of the day, we were all glad that we’d put on this day. I think we all understood that one of the fundamental roles of churches is to give reality and substance to the idea that we are all God’s family. That sounds really abstract, doesn’t it? We tried to make it real by asking the kids at the start of the day to say what churches they were from. Then, after a fun time of imaging what “piratey” life might be like, we reminded the kids that they were from different churches, and as such, were part of God’s family. The kids got the point, that they’re called to live as God’s people, in so far as they understand it from bible stories, from church fellowship and Sunday School, from the Ten Commandments and the Golden Rule, as it’s taught to them by their family and from their parish family. They chose God’s life over pirate life, and in doing so, they showed that they got the basic theological idea behind Lent: listen to God, don’t listen to the devil.

What is Lent for us grown-ups? As adults, we know all too well that when we do wrong, it’s more than a stolen chicken finger or naughtiness with a play sword when no one is looking. Most of us have done a lot worse than that. We know from experience the truth behind St. Paul’s statement in Romans that “all have sinned” (Romans 5:12). Given our frailty, it’s easy to think of Lent as a sort of spiritual new year’s resolution, a time to try to improve ourselves. As the Dominican preacher Jude Siciliano puts it, “Perhaps we’ve decided to try and pray more; or try to go to church a little more often, or try to break a bad habit. Perhaps we may have resolved to eat and drink less, so that we can sacrifice some and have the bonus of losing a few extra pounds.” Those might be good things to do in themselves, but what if Lent was, as our children suggested, simply a matter of not listening to the devil?

In today’s gospel reading, Jesus withstands three temptations from the devil. Satan tries to persuade Jesus that he doesn’t need God. Use your powers to look after yourself, Satan says. If you’re the Son of God, feed yourself. If you’re the Son of God, force him to look after you. If you want power, real power, forget God and worship me. This is the same temptation that Satan used on Eve, as we heard in our first lesson. It’s the same temptation that we have probably heard at some point, the temptation to think that we should decide what’s best for us. What God wants doesn’t matter. He’s far away and we’re here and we know best.

How does Jesus resist temptation? Partly it’s his identity as the Son of God. As Paul writes in our second reading, he is the only one who can undo the sin of Adam. But what’s also interesting is how Jesus begins each response to the devil with the words “It is written”. He’s not taking words of scripture out of context, as Satan does here, but rather, we get the impression that he is anchored in the word of God, like a radio set clearly tuned into a strong signal. Jesus knows who he is, and who God is, and that sustains him in this moment of temptation. Jesus knows that God’s word is trustworthy and life-giving, and he knows that only God is worthy of service.

I think one of the worst kinds of temptation is the tendency to think that God isn’t there, or that if he is, he doesn’t speak to us anymore and doesn’t really care what we do. The worst temptation of all may be the thought that we are alone and abandoned in whatever wilderness we may find ourselves in. I conducted a funeral service yesterday for a gentleman who had taken his life. I didn’t know him, but I gathered that a combination of crises had convinced him that his life was no longer living. Now I thank God that the church today has a more compassionate understanding of suicide than in the old days, when Christians saw it as a mortal sin. We understand that depression and mental illness are complex, and can be just as deadly as other diseases. Even so, I can’t help wondering if this man would have taken his life if his spiritual resources had been greater. Would he have given in to despair if he had felt that God was present with him in his personal wilderness, if he had felt that God might have had something to say to him?

If we think of nothing else this Lent, let’s set our minds on the truth that God does speak to us. When we feel temptation, even if it’s the temptation that we are alone, let us hold to the truth that God speaks, and we need to hear his word to stay alive. “One does not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.’” (Matt 4:4). I came across an article last week which has also been making the rounds of the internet, and it struck me as a great spiritual discipline for Lent. The idea is simply this. What if we treated our bibles with the same importance that we treat our cell phones? What if we picked it up every time we left the house, and took them with us whenever we traveled? What if we turned to it once a day for an important text message? What if we gave bibles to our kids the way we give them cell phones? Thanks to the Holy Spirit, our bible always keeps a charge, and we never have to worry about our bible being disconnected because Christ paid the bill! If we carried our bibles with us every day for the next six weeks, my guess is that we would better see the truth behind today’s text, ‘One does not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.’ Amen.

©Michael Peterson+ 2008

"Pirates' Journey to Easter Island" - An Ash Wednesday Children's Event

I've included some materials that some colleagues and I put together for a children's ministry day sponsored by the Deanery of Medway, the Anglican churches in NW Middlesex Country (Diocese of Huron). They are posted here in the hopes that others might be inspired to do something similar. Christian ministry should be about sharing whatever ideas work, and some of the ideas here worked, though I think in the afternoon we were making it up a bit as we went along and it would be nice to try this again some day.

What made the event work was the current craze for all things having to do with pirates. That gave us a theme to get the kids excited about, and we were able to use pirate life as a metaphor for the old life of sin that we are called out of by Christ (taking off the old, putting on the new, as illustrated in the Year A reading for Lent 1 from Romans 5).

Here's what it looked like - some pictures from my Facebook site.

Here's my introduction to the event, which I hope gives some idea of the theology behind it.

Good morning friends! It’s good to see so many of you here today. I know that you are from different churches. What churches are you all from? (answers)
I’m glad you’re all here today from all your different churches. Today is called “Pirates Jounrey to Easter Island”. So, who would like to be a pirate?
Being a pirate sounds like a pretty good time, doesn’t it? If you were a pirate, you could dress up in fancy clothes, like Captain Jack Swallow! You could say cool things, like “Arrrrr” and “Shiver me timbers”. You could have special pets, like a parrot on your shoulder, and you could train our parrot to say “pieces of eight!” If you went to Tim Hortons or Dairy Queen, you could pay with gold doubloons instead of with quarters and loonies. You could live on a desert island where there was no snow or winter. Yes, being a pirate sounds like a lot of fun!
But what are some other things that pirates do? Aren’t there some things that pirates do that aren’y nice? What’s something that pirates really like to get their hands on? That’s right, gold! (Hold up back of chocolate coins in foil wrappers). And where do pirates get their gold from? (children can answer). Sometimes from other pirates, or from other ships that they meet on the high seas. How would you feel if someone came along and took your gold from you? (Get an adult facilitator to come along and rob me of my gold coins) . “Hey, those were mine! That wasn’t very nice! I was saving those to take home and share with my family!”.
See, some of the things that pirates do aren’t so nice. What are some other things pirates do that aren’t so nice? (answers) Don’t they strand people on desert islands, or send them to Davey Jones’ Locker? Don’t pirates make people walk the plank? That’s not a nice thing to do to people, is it? What do pirates do with their gold? Do they share it with people who have less than they do? No, they keep it all to themselves and they bury it on far away desert islands, places so far away that they have to make treasure maps where X marks the spot! Do you think that a pirate would want you to find his treasure map? No, I don’t think so! And what sort of things do pirates carry around with them, tucked into their belts and boots? (answers) That’s right, things like swords and pistols and knives.
You know, now that I think about it, I don’t think pirates are such nice people after all! I’m not sure I’d like to meet any pirates! Well, maybe some nice pirates, but certainly not any mean pirates!
A few moments ago you told me you were here from different churches. Today we’re going to have some fun, but we’re also going to remember that we are from churches. We’re part of God’s family, and we are all followers of Jesus. So, now that we’ve thought about some of the things that pirates do, let me ask you this. What do you think Jesus would say about pirates? (answers)
Jesus talked about loving our neighbour as ourselves. That doesn’t sound very pirate-y does it? Not walk the plank-steal yer gold-send you to Davey Jones locker really bad pirate. And God, the Father of Jesus, gave us the Ten Commandments, which forbid us to kill and steal, among other things. God gave us these laws because God wants us to live in a certain way that is good for us and good for others.
Today is a special day in the church called Ash Wednesday. It’s a day when we sorry to God when we act like bad pirates and do things go against the way He wants us to live. It’s a day when we begin a long time called Lent, six weeks when we think about God and the way he wants us to live, as good pirates. Even when we’re bad pirates, when we do things that God doesn’t like (we call these things sins), we remember that Jesus died for us so he would take our sins away. The best thing about Lent is that it makes us look forward to Easter, which is in March this year. At Easter we celebrate the resurrection of Jesus and we are thankful that because of the love of Jesus we know that God loves us and forgives us.
So that’s what today is all about. We’re going to think about pirates, and we’re going to think about how God wants us to live. We’ll have fun, and we’ll look forward to Easter. We’ll have fun, and we’ll look forward to Easter and what Easter is all about. And we'll have fun being good pirates, being the pirates that God would want us to be!

Heather Brown, our deanery youth coordinator, wrote this terrific song. You can click on the image to get a large view.

There are some other items which I will add to this post if I can assemble them.


Thursday, February 7, 2008

A Sermon for Ash Wednesday

6 February, 2008
(Intended to be preached at St. George's, Middlesex Centre, but the service was cancelled due to a winter storm).

Isaiah 58:1-12, Psalm 103:8-18; 2 Cor 5:20b-6:10; Matthew 6:1-6,16-21

Is not this the fast that I choose:
to loose the bonds of injustice,
to undo the thongs of the yoke,
to let the oppressed go free,
and to break every yoke?

(isa 58:6)

Today, Ash Wednesday, is the beginning of Lent, a time that the Christian church has set aside for spiritual disciplines such as fasting, self examination, and meditation. As for fasting, I think any of you who went to the Grace Church pancake buffet are probably ready for a little fasting! As for self-examination and meditation, I’m not very good at it, I’m afraid. When I was in seminary, I fell asleep and began snoring loudly during a meditation workshop, something those around me never let me live down.

Back in January I was driving home from the hospital in Strathroy, and had a chance to hear some of CBC radio’s excellent show on religion and spirituality, Tapestry. This particular show was an interview with the Buddhist leader and teacher, Sakyong Mipham Rimpoche, who happens to live in Halifax, and who, as you might expect for a Buddhist holy man, knows a thing or two about self-examination and meditation.

During part of the interview, the host, Mary Hynes, was talking about some of the problems that many people have with meditation (even when we can stay awake). As she noted, most of our thoughts tend to revolve around “me, me, me, me, me, me, and, what about me?” I think most of us could agree that “me” is the subject of our conscious thoughts, even if we’re not meditating but just using our minds in our day to day lives.

Mary Hynes then read an excerpt from the Sakyong’s writings that dealt with our “me” preoccupations. “Here is the basic landscape we are living in. If the basic goal in life is to give me a good time, it won’t work out. Why? Because the lay of the land is birth, aging, sickness and death. That is the game plan for me.” Hynes added that she found this thought so shocking that it made her “gasp out loud” when she first read it.

If you’re a veteran of Ash Wednesday liturgies, the “birth, aging, sickness, death” game plan isn’t so shocking. The brush of ashes across our heads, the murmuring reminder that we are dust, and to dust we shall return, reminds us that our goals for “me” must ultimately be unsuccessful, or, at most, short-term. In my case, all my efforts to prepare for my first marathon this May, that article on core strengthening and sixpack abs I read in Runners World, those new shoes I want, all of these things are a mere delaying action against the “birth, aging, sickness, death” game plan. Ash Wednesday gives us more honesty than we find practically anywhere else in the world, as the profusion of plastic surgeons these days suggests. The question any sane and reasonable person might ask, however, is how can we live with this honesty? What are we supposed to do when confronted so bluntly with our mortality? What are the choices between living in denial and embracing a grim asceticism?

In his radio interview, Sakyong Rimpoche spoke of how Buddhism holds two truths simultaneously. The first is the reality that all life is transitory (the “birth, aging, sickness, death” game plan), which alone would be scary and depressing. The second reality is that life is an infinitely precious thing, if we choose to make the most of every waking moment we are given. If we can get beyond our preoccupation with “me” and our selfish expectations that everything should naturally go our way, then we are liberated and able to think more sympathetically about the conditions and needs of the people around us, since we’re all in the same boat. In other words, getting beyond “me” allows us to think and act compassionately.

It has long been fashionable to turn outside the Christian faith for insights from Buddhism and other spiritual traditions, but I found the Sakyong’s comments helpful to understanding the meaning of Ash Wednesday. Why, for example, does Jesus command his followers to pray in secret (Matt 6:6) and not to celebrate their acts of piety and charity in public? (For Anglicans, by the way, if we were to literally follow this command, we would have to place a washcloth and mirror at the church exit, forcing us to give up the “cool factor” of wearing our smudged cross on our foreheads as long as possible).

I think that Jesus makes this command because he knows, as does the prophet Isaiah in our first reading, how easy it can be to practice religion in a way that merely validates “me, me, me”. Isaiah is writing to a comfortable Jewish ruling class who practice a false piety. On the one hand, they never miss a fast day or a religious festival, and yet they selfishly live off the efforts of those they oppress. As the prophet says, real fasting would be “to share your bread with the hungry, and bring the homeless poor into your house; when you see the naked, to cover them, and not to hide yourself from your own kin” (Isa 58:7). When people get beyond the pull of “me, me, me”, including judging their own piety against the perceived shortcomings of others (“the pointing of the finger, the speaking of evil”), then they will experience a liberation that allows them to see the “kin” around them. This liberation allows God’s light (a favourite theme of Isaiah) to shine through God’s people: “your light shall rise in the darkness and your gloom be like the noonday” (58:10).

Light in the midst of darkness, hope in the midst of ashes. Like the teachings of our Buddhist friends, Ash Wednesday challenges us not to ignore the darkness, prevents us from hoping for the best and pretending that the worst won’t happen to us. Tonight we hear the worst case scenario, that we are dust and we will return to dust, and yet those words, with their allusion to the creation story in Genesis (“then the Lord God formed man from the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and the man became a living being” (Gen 2:7) remind us that we are created. We are the handiwork of a loving and purposeful creator, and there is a purpose to life, if we care to see it. God’s handiwork is all around us in the form of our fellow creatures, and God has called us through his Son to love them as we love God – and as we love ourselves.

May we go forth tonight knowing that we have been given the precious gift of life, and in the short time that we are have to enjoy these gifts, let us use them so that God’s light is seen in the darkness, and so that the gloom around us seems like the bright light of noon. Amen.

©Michael Peterson+ 2007

Tuesday, February 5, 2008

The Road to Ottawa: Pancake Half Marathon

The Road to Ottawa is a grandiose term for my efforts to get ready for my first marathon, in Ottawa on May 25.

OK, there is no "Pancake Half Marathon", as attractive as it sounds. That's just my private name for my long run today, as assigned by my marathon coach, Sherry, who I met through my running club, the London Pacers. I was supposed to do 21K last week, but my schedule and snow got into the way.

Because I knew that tonight is our Shrove Tuesday pancake dinner in the parish, I thought I'd better get this in now. If you're wondering, like some of the grunts at the CO's O Group tonight, what Shrove or Fat Tuesday is all about, that's another story. Theologically, any religion that sanctions the eating of pancakes is alright in my books (see the Simpson's episode where Homer and Bart almost become Roman Catholic). However, my parish, unlike many Anglican churches I've met, doesn't just offer a pancake and sausage dinner for $6. No, sirree, this is the country, and so it's not a pancake dinner, it's a pancake buffet, complete with potato salad (heavy on the mayo), cole slaw, buns (because you've gotta have buns with pancakes) and of course, pancakes, with maple syrup, and finally pie. It's my favourite dinner of the year. But this year, I thought I'd earn those carbs and calories.


Temperature: About 3 degrees C, damp but not raining. Freezing rain coming in tonight. Melting snow meant puddles all over the place, feet always wet.

Distance: 21.3km.

Time: Between 10:30am and 1pm. Time to complete: 2h 13m 29s. Brutally slow (slower than my two halfs in 2007) but this is the long slow run.

Shoes: Nike New Balance - I like these shoes.

Results: Slight blister front right foot (wet sock, I think), but miraculously no knee pain en route.

Sunday, February 3, 2008

A Sermon for the Last Sunday After Epiphany

Preached at Grace Anglican Church, Ilderton, and St. George’s, Middlesex Centre, 3 February, 2008

Exodus 24:12-18, 2 Peter 1:16-21, Matthew 17:1-9

Six days later, Jesus took with him Peter and James and his brother John and led them up a high mountain, by themselves. (Matt 17:1)

Two of our readings this morning, from Exodus and Matthew, involve mountain climbing. It’s not mountain climbing as we might understand it, with pickaxes and ropes, and it’s not climbing as a sport, as an end in itself. Mountains in scripture are places of spiritual encounter, when people like Moses and Peter climb up out of everyday life and enter into a holy space. The person who goes down the mountain is not quite the same as the person who went up. The climber is changed by this encounter with the divine. He has a better idea of who God is and what God wants of them.

As I was thinking about this sermon and about mountains, I recalled that early in the New Year we lost one of the twentieth century's great heroes. Sir Edmund Hillary, the man who conquered Mt. Everest, died on January 11th. Hillary was a tall, ordinary New Zealander who listed his lifelong occupation as beekeeper, and who preferred being called Ed rather than “Sir Edmund”. He climbed Mt. Everest as part of a Royal Geographical Society expedition in 1953, just a few days before the coronation of Queen Elizabeth. I had always thought that he said he climbed Everest “because it was there”, but that saying actually belongs to George Leigh Mallory, who died on Everest in 1924.

Now those of you who know your history are thinking to yourselves, “He wasn’t the only man who climbed Everest in 1953”. The other man was of course the Nepalese sherpa, Tenzing Norkay, and Hillary always said later that the two men reached the summit of Everest as a team. Unlike today’s sports climbers who go to Everest for the bragging rights, Hillary was changed by his experience on the mountain. He remained lifelong friends with Tenzing Norkay and with the Nepalese people. He founded the Sir Edmund Hillary Himalayan Trust, which “raised millions and built more than 30 schools, a dozen clinics, two hospitals, a couple of airfields, and numerous foot bridges, water pipelines and other facilities for the Sherpa villages in Nepal”. Hillary paid a personal price for this lifelong commitment – in 1975 his first wife and daughter were killed in a plane crash while visiting some of their Trust projects. In 2003 Hillary became the first foreign national to receive the dignity of being made an honourary citizen of Nepal.

Edmund Hillary was changed by his mountaintop experience. He wasn’t changed for the worse by the crass, superficial transfiguration of celebrity and fame – he resisted that. Rather, he was changed for the better. Hillary devoted himself to the people who had helped him achieve his fame. As he said in a 1977 interview, the greatest thing about climbing was the comradeship of a team that shared risks and achievement together, and this comradeship extended to the people of Nepal.

Like “Sir Ed”, the mountain climbers in today’s scripture reading are also ordinary people. I doubt that any of them had ever climbed a mountain before, and they may have been surprised and even dismayed to learn that they had to climb one. For all of them, the decision to climb and the decision to follow God were one and the same. They could not do one without doing the other.

Our reading from Exodus comes just after God has spent several chapters telling the Israelites how he wants them to live as God’s people. Now God summarizes this teaching in a set of ten commandments, and summons Moses and Joshua to come up the mountain and receive the tablets. Going up the mountain to see God’s glory is not an end in itself. Receiving rules that will guide God’s people is the goal.

In Matthew’s account, there are no tablets or commandments. Rather, God once again (the first time was at his baptism) reveals his Son as the Messiah who will lead and save God’s people. The commandments will come from the teaching of Jesus, and so the voice from heaven ends with three stark words: “Listen to him” (Mt 17:5).

Both these accounts show the glory of God, but that glory is not a barrier that keeps humanity from God. Moses may be up there alone for forty days, but he will return from the mountain and the people will know God better. The disciples may fall to the ground in terror, but then there is the familiar touch of their friend, a hand lifting them and a reassuring voice saying “Don’t be afraid, get up” (Mt 17:7).

Several weeks ago I talked about the Baptism of Jesus, and of how Matthew describes Jesus walking down to the Jordan in the same muddy footprints of all the sinful people who have gone before him. I think we see something similar here. At the end of the gospel lesson, Jesus walks out of the bright cloud of God’s glory and he goes down the mountain with his friends. He knows that these are ordinary men. He knows that they will fall asleep in Gethsemane when he asks them to stay awake. He knows that they will abandon him, even deny him. But Jesus also knows that these men can be ordinary heroes. Later, in the very last words of Matthew’s gospel, he will stand on another mountain with his disciples, and he will send them out into the world to tell the nations about the Son of God who died and rose from the dead to save the world. He will give them this mission, and he will make one final promise to them: “And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age” (Matt 28:20).

Our readings today are full of supernatural and miraculous events. Some people may find them hard to believe. Certainly the author of 2 Peter knew of people who dismissed these stories as “cleverly devised myths” (2 Pet 1:16). I think the most amazing thing of all about these stories is not their miracles connection to the real world. God doesn’t keep his glory to himself, up their on the mountains. God shares his glory with ordinary people and he sends them down the mountains into the world, to tell other ordinary people about God’s love. Moses and Joshua, Peter, James and John are changed by their mountaintop experiences and become angels, in the sense that angels are messengers of God.

I started by talking about an ordinary man, Edmund Hillary, who was changed by his mountaintop experience. For the rest of his life he remained a bloke, just “Ed”, but he did extraordinary things for the people who helped him climb Everest, and in doing so he made the world a better place. You and I will never climb Everest, but we are still God’s mountain climbers. God gives us all glimpses of his glory. We find them all over the place: in the beauty of worship, in the stillness of nature, in the kindnesses we receive or in our opportunities to serve others. Perhaps, like Edmund Hillary, we saw that glory in a particularly difficult time or place, when it was the comradeship and teamwork, the care of God’s people and our parish family, that got us through. Our challenge is to reflect that glory as best we can, as Patsy said last week, like little candles each in our own small corners.

Will we know how or when to reflect God’s glory? Well, we all hear the same voice that spoke to the disciples: “This is my beloved Son … listen to him” (Mt 17:5). How much attention will we give Jesus? How much listening will we do? God’s voice often speaks in quiet and gentle ways, and is easily drowned out by the world and its concerns. Fortunately for us we’re at the time of Lent, a time given to us to set aside our preoccupations and listen for God’s voice. Perhaps you need to find, if not a mountain, then some place where that voice may come more clearly to you. You may not think of yourself as a mountain climber, you may be just an ordinary person, but remember, God has glory to spare, and he can do amazing things with ordinary people. AMEN.

Michael Peterson+

Saturday, February 2, 2008

From My Workbench: 15mm WW2 Canadian Mortar Platoon

My goodness I paint slowly, but I've finally finished this lot, intended for my Normandy project. These figures are produced by Battlefront of NZ, using their basing system for Flames of War. The figures represent a 3" mortar platoon, a indirect fire support unit at the regimental or brigade level. For about $30 Cdn you get six mortar teams and half a dozen command and prone infantry stands, so it's a pretty good deal. I'm more likely to use these for IABSM than for FOW.

Here's the six mortar teams, set up in a field outside of a Norman village.

Two views of the mortar crews in action:

The figured are painted using Vallejo colours for the uniform and Games Workshop paints for the flesh. I've shown them in Vallejo English uniform which is typical for UK troops but most Canadians wore a more greenish shade of serge battledress. I have however shown them wearing the pale blue shoulderflash of 3rd Canadian Infantry Division that started the Normandy campaign.

I'm very happy with this command stand showing a pointing officer with Sten gun, an NCO listening while he leans on his Lee Enfield, and in the back is a signaller with a radio set.

Two views of the prone infantry included in this pack - they are all sculpted with PIAT anti-tank weapons, or as PIAT number twos with ammo cannister and Lee Enfield. I'm doubtful that so many anti-tank teams were organic to a mortar platoon, but they can be used to augment my infantry platoons, either as designated tank-hunting teams or just as prone infantry with a variety of weapons.

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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