Sunday, May 25, 2008

Farewell Sermon to my Parish

Preached at St. George's of Middlesex Centre, on the Second Sunday After Pentecost, 25 May, 2008

It’s hard to believe that almost four years ago to the day, Kay and I came here for the first time. We were both in London for synod, and we knew that I would be coming to Ilderton for an interview in a few days time, so we thought, let’s go check the place out. It was a warm, quiet afternoon and we didn’t see a soul, but we were both entranced with the beauty and tranquility of the two churches. As many others have before and after us, we sensed that God’s Spirit was here in these places, even though God’s people were out and about in the midst of their daily lives. We both went home that day with a feeling of hope that this would be a wonderful place to come and begin ministry, and four years later we thank God for these four years with you.

I speak for both of us when I say that Kay and I consider ourselves blessed to have spent this time with you. You have opened up your arms and your homes to us, and we have known many acts of kindness from you. As a freshly minted priest you’ve been very patient with me as I experimented with the liturgy and tried out some things, especially those times when the service stretched out over ninety minutes. Last night I was thinking about some things I’ve learned in my time here. Here’s my top ten lessons that I’ve learned here:

1) When you’re in a small town, never say anything bad about anyone to anyone else, because they’re probably related.
2) Pancake dinners just aren’t complete unless they include potato salad, cole slaw, and buns, but don’t worry, all that cholesterol is the good kind.
3) Always check the chalice for flies before starting communion.
4) Sheep in the bible are way cuter than the ones in real life.
5) The secret to a good Christmas pageant – lots of grandchildren.
6) The secret to good worship is good music, whether the hymns are old or new.
7) The wisest things said in church often happen during the children’s talk, and they aren’t often said by the priest.
8) It never hurts to pray for miracles.
9) God’s people are like fudge, sweet and a little nutty.
10) Finally, and I have this on good authority, no one was every saved by a sermon that lasted longer than twelve minutes.

Seriously, I have learned so much in my time here. I’ve learned about love and forgiveness, about friendship and self-sacrifice, about family ties and history, about the needs of newcomers and about welcomes that turn strangers into friends and members of the community. I’ve learned what makes strong families. I’ve shared laughter and tears, and stood with you before God at baptisms, weddings, and funerals. I’ve seen how God works in the stuff of our daily lives, strengthening us in the sacraments and sending us out, week by week, to be his body in the world. It’s been a privilege to be your pastor, and now it’s time to leave.

As I told you when I announced my resignation last month, I believe that God is calling me to give more time and energy to serving the men and women who serve our country. Some of you have asked me what my ministry will be like in the Canadian Forces. It will be certainly be different. The language will be less polite, for one thing. As one soldier told me, "the army is full of loudly self proclaimed atheists and going to talk to the padre is perceived as a sign of weakness by the troops”. But God, as you know, is persistent. Let me share something that this same soldier told me about his experience in Afghanistan.

On my first night outside the wire I fired a warning shot at an oncoming truck that wouldn't move over. I was scared and this guy had a lot of opportunities to move over, there could be no question in his mind that he was approaching a ISAF (NATO) convoy as every vehicle in front of him was hustling off the road as we approached. Anyway; I followed the ROE (rules of engagement) and fired my C7 (rifle) at the road in front of him.
For days and days this event started eating at me. I was terrified that I might have killed the driver accidentally. Of course I kept all this to myself. After a couple weeks I got the opportunity to go back to KAF (Kandahar) and I went to see the padre. I broke down in my meeting with him and cried, I felt so horrible, I went to Afghanistan to fight Taliban so killing was something I was prepared to do but I wanted to kill 'Bad Guys' not some poor sap who was just trying to feed his family. I hadn't cried since I was eight.
The Padre really helped me. He was Catholic so he asked me if I wanted to do confession. Now I am Presbyterian and come from a Orange family if you know what I mean so normally I wouldn't even consider such a thing but in this case it sounded like a good idea so I did it and I instantly felt so much better. Not because I asked the Pope for forgiveness, because as far as I'm concerned I wasn't reading the confession prayer to the priest or the Pope but directly to God …
Telling someone else about what happened was only a tiny fraction of why I felt better after talking to the Padre, it was what the Padre said that made me feel better along with having a good talk with God.

I thanked my friend for sharing this with me, and I told him how helpful it was to me. It was helpful because the chaplain in his story did not do anything mysterious. He did not have any secret words for this young man who, like of our soldiers, has to do a terrible and demanding job. All the chaplain did was to remind the soldier that God’s love was enough even for that moment, even for him, and especially for him. The chaplain reminded him that God was bigger than Orange or Catholic, that God’s forgiveness was there for all who call on Christ crucified, and God’s hope was there for all through the power of Christ’s resurrection. Most importantly, the chaplain reminded the soldier that it was possible for him to have a “good talk” with God.

You know these things. Recently one of the altar guild told me that it is not uncommon to find finger prints on the altar rail, prints left by those who have come here during the week to pray. You are people who come here week by week to have a good talk with God, to pray, to show the strength and the love of the people who are the body of Christ. I think this is why the Canadian Forces requires its chaplains to spend at least two years in a civilian parish before they start serving in the military. Those two years aren’t just so the chaplain can learn to conduct a service or preach a sermon or learn other practical skills. Those two years are so that the chaplain can learn about the power and presence of God from God’s people, and so carry the good news of God’s love and grace to people who need it.

Dear people of God, you have given me four years with you, four years to learn how God lives and moves amidst you. For these four years of love and friendship, Kay and I thank you. For your faithfulness and for your service and worship, I thank you. I know that these four years will strengthen me for the work God is calling me to. I know that God will continue to be present here, in this part of the body of Christ called Grace and St. George’s. God bless you and keep you. And as Tom Robson would say, keep your stick on the ice, and your head up going into the corners.

Soon to be Padre, 14 Wing, Canadian Forces Base Greenwood, Nova Scotia

Friday, May 16, 2008

New Canadian Victoria Cross unveiled

I can't help but wonder if the decision to render the words "For Valour" from the old Victoria Cross into the Latin "Pro Valore" is an attempt to avoid putting it in both official languages? FYI, the only Victoria Cross awarded to an army padre is the one awarded to Padre John Foote of the Royal Hamilton Light Infantry for his decision to remain behind with Canadian POWs at Dieppe in 1942. His VC is on display at the Canadian Forces Chaplains School and Centre at CFB Borden.


Globe and Mail update

May 16, 2008 at 11:52 AM EDT

Ottawa — Prime Minister Stephen Harper and Governor-General MichaĆ«lle Jean unveiled the Canadian Victoria Cross Friday morning, the military honour that will replace the last medal that Canadian soldiers accepted directly from the Queen.

The Canadian Victoria Cross replaces the Victoria Cross as the highest honour awarded to Canadian soldiers.

Read the whole article.

From My Workbench: American Civil War Prisoner and Escort Vignette

I recently finished an entry for the Guild forum's latest contest, any miniature project on the theme "Captured". My choice was a set that's been in my "lead mountain" for quite a while, from the out of print American Civil War line by Wargames Foundry. I haven't painted larger (28mm) figs in a while, and these were a treat to paint up and try some new techniques for the facial expressions. It was also good to return to one of my first loves, the ACW period.

Here's the unpainted set, which also included a delightful "footsore straggler". Remember to click on the picture to see a larger image:

And some shots of the finished set:

More images are found at my entry on the Guild forum.


Sunday, May 11, 2008

Spirit Connections - A Sermon for Pentecost Sunday

Preached at Grace Anglican Church, Pentecost Sunday, May 11, 2008

Numbers 11:24-30, Acts 2:1-21, John 7:37-39

I am currently serving two congregations that don't often worship together. On Pentecost Sunday, which was also Mother's Day, we had a joint service preceded by a breakfast by the men for the mums and families. Since there was no Sunday school we had an intergenerational service, and that always calls for a creative approach to the sermon. I was inspired by the account of the gift of the Spirit in Acts 2, and wondered how that could be preached in a way that celebrated the Spirit's work as a unifying force in our parish. A visit to the dollar store and six rolls of bright red crepe ribbon later, I had an idea.

On Pentecost Sunday, we celebrate God's gift of the Holy Spirit which created the Chrsitian church. Ordinary people were given hope, strength, courage and wisdom to show Christ to the world around them. Two thousand years later, the church is still being created. God still pours out his Spirit on his people to send them into the world.

I've asked Caitlin to come and stand beside me with our processional cross. I've also given six rolls of red crepe tape to six families in our midst. Each of these rolls of tape represents a gift of the Spirit, as mentioned in our readings this morning. Each roll of tape will go back and forth through the church, showing the ways that the Spirit is at work in our midst. The only rule is that when the tape crosses the aisle, it has to be wrapped around the cross. Why the cross? Because the cross represents our Lord Jesus Christ, who told his disciples that he would leave them the Spirit as their (and our) comforter and advocate. Ready? Sound like fun? Here we go.

“When the day of Pentecost had come, they were all together in one place.” (Acts 2:1)
This ribbon represents God’s gift of the holy spirit which brings us all together in the church. We came today as two congregations, each with their own identities, histories and traditions, but we are reminded that church is really the gathering of all people who call on the name of the Lord. This ribbon starts with one of our wardens, Andy Van Koot, who will be leading your selection committee, and goes to the other wardens who lead our congregations.

“”I will put our my Spirit upon all flesh, and your Sons and your daughters shall prophesy”. (Acts 2:17)
This next ribbon represents God’s gift of the holy spirit to our young people and to our Sunday school and children’s ministries. All of us, old and young, have a place in the church as God’s family. We give thanks for our adults who teach our young people about what it means to be Christians, and we give thanks for our young people for wanting to grow in their faith. This ribbon starts with Alex and Kristyn McCoy, who are part of our Sunday school team at Grace, and is passed to young families and Sunday school teachers.

“We hear them speaking about God’s great deeds of power”. (Acts 2:11)
This ribbon represents God’s gift of the holy spirit that inspires us to tell the good news of Jesus Christ to the world around us. The word evangelist comes from the Greek and means a teller of good news, as Peter and the apostles were tellers of the good news to people who had come to Jerusalem from all around the world. This ribbon starts with Lynn Trute who edits out Missing Link newsletter, and it should be passed to anyone who is involved in the Magnetic Church group, where we learned ways to be better evangelists.

“Would that all the Lord’s people were prophets, and that the LORD would put his spirit on them!.” (Numbers 11:29)
We give thanks for God’s gift of the holy spirit that we hear week by week in church in the public reading of scripture, God’s word revealed to us, and in the preaching of the word, which helps us understand the word of God. This ribbon begins with Kaywyn Allison, who coordinates our readers at St. George’s, and with Patsy Allison, whose preaching often blesses this parish, and it should be passed to anyone else who reads scripture during our worship.

Jesus said “Let anyone who is thirsty come to me, and let the one who believes in me drink. As the scripture has said, ‘Out of the believer’s heart shall flow rivers of living water.’” Now he said this about the Spirit, which believers in him were to receive;” (John 7:37-38).
Jesus said “Let anyone who is thirsty come to me, and let the one who believes in me drink. As the scripture has said, ‘Out of the believer’s heart shall flow rivers of living water.’” Now he said this about the Spirit, which believers in him were to receive;” (John 7:37-38). We give thanks for the gifts of God that we call sacraments. Through baptism we receive the Holy Spirit, through confirmation we are strengthened by the Spirit as we grow in our Christian lives, and through the Eucharist we are refreshed in communion with Christ. This ribbon begins with the Redfearn family and with Christ and Rebecca who recently celebrated their first communion, and it should be passed to any other family which has had a baptism or confirmation recently.

"We hear them speaking about God's deeds of power" (Acts 2:11).
We give thanks for God's acts of power in our midst, and for the Spirit's gift of healing. This ribbon begins with the Miles family. For the last three years we've prayed for Katie's recovery from her car accident, and we've been amazed at her progress. Who would believe that this year we would be talking about how well she did at her first year at Western? This rubbon should be passed to any other family or member who is praying for God's healing.

It was a great Sunday. A lot of ribbon was passed, tossed, and thrown around the church. The cross was well-covered in red, and it was amazing to see how interconnected these two diverse groups were. Hopefully we are all beter equipped to talk about the Spirit and its work in our lives.

Sunday, May 4, 2008

Glimpses of Glory: A Sermon for the Seventh Sunday of Easter

Preached at Grace Church, Ilderton and St. George’s, Middlesex Centre, 4 May, 2008

Acts 1:6-14; Psalm 68:1-10,33-36; 1 Peter 4:12-14,5:6-11; John 17:1-11

“Father, the hour has come; glorify your Son so that the Son may glorify you.” (John 17:1)

“Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord”. I’ve been so grateful to Angus for including that great line from the “Battle Hymn of the Republic” in our worship as often as he does. It always gets my pulse going a little faster and makes me feel just a little bit more heroic and excited about being a Christian. I say “just a little bit” because glory is one of those elusive words that quickly fades in the cold light of day. We sing about the Queen being “happy and glorious” when we know from our stamps and coins that she looks like anyone’s grandmother with an often troubled family life. We revel in the glory of our favourite sports teams, while conveniently forgetting that this year’s champs can be next season’s bums. We are told of glorious wars and victories, when we know that slogans such as “Mission Accomplished” promise more than they deliver. Even in church we take our glory with a bit of a smile and a nod. The angels might say “Glory to God in the highest”, but it’s hard not to giggle when the angels are preschool-age children and grandchildren with tinfoil wings and lopsided halos made of gold pipe cleaners.

It’s probably best that things are this way. I doubt that any of us could really handle it we saw real glory, like “ the glory of the coming of the Lord”. It would be more than we could stand. God seems to have learned that early on in his dealings with his chosen people. In the Book of Exodus, we are told that God came to the people of Israel while they were in the wilderness in Sinai and tried to speak to them. Exodus says that “all the people saw the thundering, and the lightning, and the noise of the trumpet, and the mountain smoking” (Ex ). All this glory was too much for God’s people to bear. They were afraid that God’s glory would kill them, and they begged Moses to ask God to pull back and leave them alone. God agreed, and pulled back, and told Moses to tell the people to hide in their in their tents, where they were safe. I am sure that if I were to open my front door one morning and saw fire and cloud and a voice like trumpets, I would ask God to please draw back and let me go back to my coffee. Glory is best taken in small doses. Angels with tinfoil wings and lopsided halos are infinitely preferable to the strange and terrifying beings that we glimpse in the Christmas story; no doubt the shepherds felt safer around the manager, away from the awful glory in the night sky that left them “sore afraid”.

The writer and mystic Annie Dillard tells an unforgettable story about traveling to join many other people on some hills in Washington state to watch a total eclipse of the sun. She describes seeing something that, for an unreal moment, pushed her to the edge of sanity. “The sun was going, and the world was wrong. The grasses were wrong; they were platinum. Their every detail of stem, head and blade shone lightless and artificially distinct as an art photographer’s platinum print. The color has never been seen on earth”. She is still trying to deal with this terrible light, which makes her husband look like a stranger from the land of the dead, when there is a new shock. “From all the hills came screams. A piece of sky beside the crescent sun was detaching. It was a loosened circle of evening sky, suddenly lighted from the back. It was an abrupt body out of nowhere; it was a flat disk; it was almost over the sun. That is when there were screams. At once this disk of sky slid over the sun like a lid. The sky snapped over the sun like a lens cover. The hatch on the brain slammed.”

For a few moments there is a terrible fear, and then the light returns, and sanity returns, and then there is the mundane reality of a body that wants its breakfast. Annie Dillard describes how the eclipse watchers left the hillsides and returned to their cars in relief. The eclipse is still going on overhead, but enough is enough. “One turns at last even from glory itself with a sigh of relief. From the depths of mystery, and even from the heights of splendour, we bounce back and hurry for the latitudes of home” (p. 28). This reaction should not surprise us, really, because is it so human. After the sheer evil of the 9/11 hijackers and the glorious heroism of the firefighters at the Twin Towers or of the passengers on UA Flt 93, what were we told to do with these new insights into human nature? We were told to go shopping, to do our bit to restore the world and the economy to normal.

So we poor humans have a limited appetite for glory, or terror, or indeed for anything out of the ordinary, but God does not stop being God and glory, however we understand it, is part of God’s nature. The words glory and glorify are used six times in today’s gospel reading from St. John. In fact, glorify is one of John’s favourite words. Over one-third of its occurrences in the whole New Testament are from John. Indeed, one of the first things St. John says in his gospel, is that “the Word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glory, the glory as of a father’s only son, full of grace and truth” (John 1:14).

How is the world filled with Jesus’ glory? It wasn’t the glory of kings and Roman emperors in their triumphal processions in some scene out of Ben-Hur, because the Jesus of Palm Sunday, riding a donkey, was a pretty poor excuse for an emperor. It wasn’t the glory of the Temple in Jerusalem, with its gold-clad walls and its priests in their robes. It wasn’t even the glory of Greek wisdom and philosophy, because Jesus was a simple rabbi and his apostles were ordinary guys. The world-filling glory of Jesus was a baby lying in a manger who filled strangers with hope and wonder. Glory was a man stopping to speak to a Samaritan women at a well when no one wanted anything to do with her. Glory was a finger dipped in saliva and slowly rubbing the darkness out of a blind man’s eye, like a dirty window being cleaned. Glory was a voice calling a friend out of the tomb and back into the land of the living. Glory was a sufferer hanging on a Roman cross, a friend showing patience and wounded hands to doubting Thomas, a companion breaking bread and praying at the dinner table.

The glory of Jesus is a glory that never overwhelms us. It’s not something that we run away from because it’s big and fearful and incomprehensible. Rather, it’s the glory of intimacy and familiarity that we find in rare moments of life that we want to hang on to forevermore. It’s the glory of light, the glory of friendship, the glory of acts of unexpected kindness given and received. It’s the glory of forgiveness, it’s the glory of growing into wisdom, of learning patience, of receiving and giving blessings. It’s the glory of the candlelit church on Christmas Eve, the thrilling hymns of Easter, the small voice of reassurance at a funeral that says farewell, but not forever. If Annie Dillard experienced a terrible and annihilating glory in that hillside during the total eclipse, the glory of the Son of God is different. Christ’s glory may fill the skies, as the hymn tells us, but it comes in washes of light like a sunrise, filling the land with colour and warmth, and promising us that night and death and all our other fears are but things that will pass.

The words of our gospel today form part of what biblical scholars call the Farewell Discourse. The Son returns to the Father, but his glory remains. This week in the Christian calendar also marks the Feast of the Ascension, when Christ ascended into heaven. For Christians this is not the end of Christ’s presence in the world. The Son of God is not subject to eclipses. The world sees the glory of God whenever Christians through their love and unity show God to the world. At the end of today’s gospel, Jesus prays “Holy Father, protect them in your name that you have given me, so that the may be one, as we are one” (Jn 17:11). This protection does not mean that Christians are immune to cancer, or death, or persecution, or dwindling churches. Rather, protection means, I think, that we are given a share of God’s glory through our common life and worship that allows “eternal life” to begin now.

The next time you see a child’s artwork done in Sunday school, it’s a glimpse of glory. If gnarled hands brush yours as you receive a cup of coffee after church, there’s a touch of glory. If you see the reflection of stained glass dancing in the wine and you somehow feel, as you bend and sip, that this is real communion with your Saviour, that’s a taste of glory. Glory comes as a visitor to the hospital room, in the strains of an anthem, in a humble church and in the Sunday best that smells of woodsmoke and mothballs. Glory is that instinct that says “this is where I need to be this Sunday morning, with my creator and with God’s family”. Glory is here. Glory is now, and for ever more. Glory to God in the highest, and peace to his people on earth.

© Michael Peterson+ 2008

Friday, May 2, 2008

Why We Fight - Some Good Reasons From 2000

If anyone in Canada needs some perspective on what Afghanistan was like ten years ago (as if we cared about or understood it then), they would do well to read the book Taliban: Militant Islam, Oil and Fundamentalism in Central Asia (New Haven: Yale UP, 2000) by Ahmed Rashid. Rashid, a Pakistani journalist, has covered Afghanistan for 25 years and his knowledge of the region shows in his writing. He wrote this conclusion in 2000, before 9/11 put Afghanistan on our TV screens, and it’s worth reading again today.

Afghanistan has become one of “the world’s orphaned conflicts – the ones that the West, selective and promiscuous in its attention happens to ignore in favour of Yugoslavia”, said former UN Secretary General Boutros Boutrous-Ghali in 1995. The world has turned away from Afghanistan, allowing civil war, ethnic fragmentation and polarization to become state failure. The country has ceased to exist as a viable state and when a state fails civil society is destroyed. Generations of children grow up rootless, without identity or reason to live except to fight. Adults are traumatized and brutalized, knowing only war and the power of the warlords. “We are dealing here with a failed state which looks like an infected wound. You don’t even know where to start cleaning it” said UN mediator Lakhdar Brahimi.

The entire Afghan population has been displaced, not once but many times over. The physical destruction of Kabu has turned it into the Dresden of the late twentieth century. The crossroads of Asia on the ancient Silk Route is now nothing but miles of rubble. There is no semblance of an infrastructure that can sustain society – even at the lowest common denominator of poverty. In 1998 the ICRC reported that the number of Afghan families headed by a widow had reached 98,000, the number of families headed by a disabled person was 63,000 and 45,000 people were treated for war wounds that year alone. The only productive factories in the country are those where artificial limbs, crutches and wheelchairs are produced by the aid agencies.
Afghanistan’s divisions are multiple – ethnic, sectarian, rural and urban, educated and uneducated, those with guns and those who have been disarmed. The economy is a black hole that is sucking in its neighbours with illicit trade and the smuggling of drugs and weapons, undermining them in the process. “It will take at least ten to 15 years before there will be a functioning central authority capable of doing the minimum of the administration needed for the development of the country. And that is, in my view, a rather optimistic statement” said Swedish aid-worked Anders Fange. (pp. 207-208)

...if the [civil] war in Afghanistan continues to be ignored we can only expect the worse. Pakistan will face a Taliban-style Islamic revolution which will further destabilize it and the entire region. Iran will remain on the periphery of the world community and its eastern borders will continue to be wracked by instability. The Central Asian states will not be able to deliver their energy and mineral expots by the shortest routes and as their economies crash, they will face an Islamic upsurge and instability. Russia will continue to bristle with hegemonic aims in Central Asia even as its own society and economy crumbles. The stakes are extremely high. (pp. 215-216)

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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