Friday, January 30, 2009

British Ministry of Defence Launches New Line of Action Figures

Thanks to the British MOD webnews, I learned about this line of action figures that the British military has endorsed.

If anyone from the Canadian Ministry of Defence is reading this and thinking "hey, what a good idea", I would be happy to model for an action figure. Just putting it out there.


Wednesday, January 21, 2009

More on My Sponsor Child and On Zimbabwe

I was bragging earlier this month here about my sponsor child, Nkiwane Thandolwenkosi, who lives in Zimbabwe. The other day the good folks from World Vision sent me this Christmas card, embellished by Nkiwane's artwork.

I couldn't help but remember, as I looked at the card, a piece I had read very recently in the New York Times on Zimbabwe by op ed columnist Bob Herbert. I'm taking the liberty of repeating that column in full here:

January 17, 2009
Op-Ed Columnist
Zimbabwe Is Dying
If you want to see hell on earth, go to Zimbabwe where the madman Robert Mugabe has brought the country to such a state of ruin that medical care for most of the inhabitants has all but ceased to exist.

Life expectancy in Zimbabwe is now the lowest in the world: 37 years for men and 34 for women. A cholera epidemic is raging. People have become ill with anthrax after eating the decaying flesh of animals that had died from the disease. Power was lost to the morgue in the capital city of Harare, leaving the corpses to rot.

Most of the world is ignoring the agony of Zimbabwe, a once prosperous and medically advanced nation in southern Africa that is suffering from political and economic turmoil — and the brutality of Mugabe’s long and tyrannical reign.

The decline in health services over the past year has been staggering. An international team of doctors that conducted an “emergency assessment” of the state of medical care last month seemed stunned by the catastrophe they witnessed. The team was sponsored by Physicians for Human Rights. In their report, released this week, the doctors said:

“The collapse of Zimbabwe’s health system in 2008 is unprecedented in scale and scope. Public-sector hospitals have been shuttered since November 2008. The basic infrastructure for the maintenance of public health, particularly water and sanitation services, have abruptly deteriorated in the worsening political and economic climate.”

Doctors and nurses are trying to do what they can under the most harrowing of circumstances: facilities with no water, no functioning toilets and barely any medicine or supplies. The report quoted the director of a mission hospital:

“A major problem is the loss of life and fetal wastage we are seeing with obstetric patients. They come so late, the fetuses are already dead. We see women with eclampsia who have been seizing for 12 hours. There is no intensive care unit here, and now there is no intensive care in Harare.

“If we had intensive care, we know it would be immediately full of critically ill patients. As it is, they just die.”

Mugabe’s corrupt, violent and profoundly destructive reign has left Zim-babwe in shambles. It’s a nation overwhelmed by poverty, the H.I.V./AIDS pandemic and hyperinflation. Once considered the “breadbasket” of Africa, Zimbabwe is now a country that cannot feed its own people. The unemployment rate is higher than 80 percent. Malnutrition is widespread, as is fear.

A nurse told the Physicians for Human Rights team: “We are not supposed to have hunger in Zimbabwe. So even though we do see it, we cannot report it.”

Mugabe signed a power-sharing agreement a few months ago with a political opponent, Morgan Tsvangirai, who out-polled Mugabe in an election last March but did not win a majority of the votes. But continuing turmoil, including violent attacks by Mugabe’s supporters and allegations that Mugabe forces have engaged in torture, have prevented the agreement from taking effect.

The widespread skepticism that greeted Mugabe’s alleged willingness to share power only increased when he ranted, just last month: “I will never, never, never surrender ... Zimbabwe is mine.”

Meanwhile, health care in Zimbabwe has fallen into the abyss. “This emergency is so grave that some entity needs to step in there and take over the health delivery system,” said Susannah Sirkin, the deputy director of Physicians for Human Rights.

In November, the primary public referral hospital in Harare, Parirenyatwa Hospital, shut down. Its medical school closed with it. The nightmare that forced the closings was spelled out in the report:

“The hospital had no running water since August of 2008. Toilets were overflowing, and patients and staff had nowhere to void — soon making the hospital uninhabitable. Parirenyatwa Hospital was closed four months into the cholera epidemic, arguably the worst of all possible times to have shut down public hospital access. Successful cholera care, treatment and control are impossible, however, in a facility without clean water and functioning toilets.”

The hospital’s surgical wards were closed in September. A doctor described the heartbreaking dilemma of having children in his care who he knew would die without surgery. “I have no pain medication,” he said, “some antibiotics, but no nurses ... If I don’t operate, the patient will die. But if I do the surgery, the child will die also.”

What’s documented in the Physicians for Human Rights report is evidence of a shocking medical and human rights disaster that warrants a much wider public spotlight, and an intensified effort to mount an international humanitarian intervention.

Some organizations are already on the case, including Doctors Without Borders and Unicef. But Zimbabwe is dying, and much more is needed.

Hopefully someone in Nkiwane's village saw Barak Obama's innauguration speech and has some more hope today because of it.

Treadmill vs Outdoors Debate - New Thoughts for Runners

OK, no one told me when I got to Nova Scotia that the roads around here can resemble skating rinks (elles sont comme les patinoires, to use a phrase from my Canadian Forces French that I'm currently taking). Since I'm getting over an ankle sprain in November I don't want to do anything crazy, and so I've been running the treadmills at the CFB Greenwood fitness centre when I get tired of running their little 200m indoor track. I have been feeling guilty about running the treadmills - is it really doing me any good? And so I was heartened to come across Alex Hutchinson's article in last Friday's Globe and Mail. Here's an excerpt:


Is there any difference between running on a treadmill and running outside?


Enlarge Image
Running on a treadmill is a bit like making bread with a bread machine: Purists say you are missing the essence of the experience by taking technology's easy way out, while pragmatists say the convenience and results speak for themselves.

Even critics have to admit that running indoors on a treadmill has plenty of benefits, such as controlled temperature, good footing, even pacing and perhaps a big-screen television nearby. But if you're using the treadmill over the winter to train for a 10K road race in the spring, it's important to know whether you are working the same muscles you would if you were pounding the pavement.

Read the whole article.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

From my Workbench: Lord of the Rings and ACW figures

It's been three months since I've been able to sit at my workbench and and produce some painted miniatures. Finally a chance over the holidays, and here's the result. Most are from the Games Workshop Lord of the Rings line, designed by the Perry brothers (whose own lines of figures are worth a plug as well). Expensive figures in lead, relatively cheap in plastic, and gorgeous to paint.

This big fellow, the Isengard troll, was hired to bolster my Uruk-Hai army, which regularly gets demolished by my son John's dwarves. As usual, Blogspot is squashing the pics I post to the right, so click on each image to see the complete view.

Three veteran soldiers of Minas Tirith from the Osgiliath garrison, intended to be an anchor for my Minas Tirith army, waiting to be painted. I liked the patchwork and threadbare look of these old campaigners:

Shagrat, a dreaded and crafty captain of Mordor, He too has an army waiting to be painted to follow him into battle:

Finally, these two figures from the Redoubt American Civil War line - I painted them some years ago but never based them properly. They are part of my Irish Brigade project. General Thomas Francis Meagher, in his self-created green uniform:

The Irish Brigade's famous chaplain, Father Corby:

Corby and Meagher together;

Hopefully I'll get some pics of my troll squashing dwarves when my son and I drop the gloves next time!

Sunday, January 11, 2009

In the Beginning - A Sermon for the Baptism of Christ

Preached at St. Mark's Protestant Chapel, Canadian Forces Base Greenwood, Greenwood, Nova Scotia, 11 January, 2009.

Readings for Year B:
Genesis 1:1-5, Psalm 29, Acts 19:1-7, Mark 1:4-11

(Hurrican Ike as seen from the International Space Station, 2008)

In the beginning when God created the heavens and the earth, the earth was a formless void and darkness covered the face of the deep, while a wind from God swept over the face of the waters. (Genesis 1:1-12)

These opening words of Genesis begin the story of creation. It doesn’t matter how you understand this bible story, whether you think God created the world in six days or six million years. The important thing to understand about this story is that God is in the creation business. When we say that God is the creator, we mean that God hates chaos and darkness and formlessness. God is always working to bring order and light and life to the world. That’s the story of our readings this morning, which run from the beginning of the world to the beginning of Jesus’ ministry with his baptism. It’s also our story, for our creation comes from God, both in our conception and our birth, and in our baptism, which shapes our lives as followers of Jesus. So today I want to talk about how we need to understand and hold onto this story if our lives are to have what God wants them to have the purpose and the meaning that God wants them to have.

“In the beginning when God created the heavens and the earth, the earth was a formless void and darkness covered the face of the deep”. There’s been a lot of chaos and confusion in the financial sector lately, and this Friday I caught a piece on American radio, reporting that one side effect of the financial crisis there is increasing church attendance. One staff member at St. Bartholomew’s in Manhattan has noticed these new visitors since September, when the financial meltdown started on Wall Street: “We saw people coming into church, business people, men and women in suits, just sitting in the pews, some holding their heads in their hands. We had increased attendance at our midday Eucharist. And that has continued.” A pastor at nearby Trinity Church on Wall Street has also noticed people coming in, “crying, praying, and seeking counsel”. It would be tempting for a preacher to say that these business suited visitors were repenting of the greed that Wall Street has lately come to symbolize. After all, John the Baptist in today’s gospel reading was “proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins” (Mk 1:4), right? True, but the problem for that preaching strategy is this – not all of those folks in suits are corporate greedheads. A pastor at Trinity Church is quoted as saying that one of the people he is counseling is feeling “overwhelmed that he was losing $2 million every two weeks for many of his clients”. At least some of these folks are, apparently, hardworking and conscientious folks who are trying to create wealth for their clients, and are finding that their best efforts aren’t good enough. They’re finding that our efforts to create things, whether its wealth or security, all too often fall short of our hopes.

Now some of these folks are coming to churches in the hope of a word of hope, looking for a stability that has vanished from the office buildings towering over those churches. What words of hope can the churches offer them? What words of hope could we offer to people like this guy if he happened to come to our little chapel?

Now not all of us have the gifts of evangelists. We can be shy or reluctant to speak too earnestly or too loudly about our faith, because we see faith as a private matter. But we’re not individuals of faith. We are a people of faith, called by God to gather to worship, to praise, and to proclaim, to speak about what we believe. So if one of these Wall Street seekers, or if someone from the PMQs, wanders in and wants a reason to hope, we need to know what we believe so we can know what to say. We need to say that our lives are not formless and pointless. We need to say that that the world is created by a loving God, even when humans appear to be busy destroying that creation. We need to say that God loves each of us and sent a Saviour for each one of us. Most importantly, we need to know and name that Saviour as Jesus Christ, the Son of God. A church which does not know these things and cannot say them will not be much help to those seeking words of life and hope.

Our second reading today, from Acts 19, gives us an example of a church we don’t want to be. The Apostle Paul comes to a town in Greece, Ephesus, and finds some believers gathered together (which is what a church is). So he asks them who and what they believe in. Did you receive the Holy Spirit when you were baptized, he asks them. “They replied, ‘No, we have not even heard that there is a Holy Spirit’” (Acts 9:2). It turns out that these people have heard of God’s messenger John, but they haven’t heard John’s full message. They have heard John’s call to repent and turn away from their old lives, and so they got baptized, but they haven’t made the connection between baptism and our new life in God. In other words, the believers in Ephesus feel sorry for their old lives of sin, but they don’t know who will take that sin away from them. So Paul fills in the story for the Ephesians. He tells them that John was a messenger preparing the way for Jesus, the Saviour. Once he has instructed them, Paul baptizes them again, in the name of Jesus, and they receive the Holy Spirit in a way that has an effect on them: “they spoke in tongues and prophesied” (Acts 19:6).

The point of the second lesson is simply this remind us, like Paul reminded the Ephesians, that a Christian church needs to know that its life and purpose comes from the living God who saves us so he can share his life with us. Paul baptizes them in the name of Jesus, the resurrected son of the living God. The Ephesians find that with the presence of the Holy Spirit in their midst, they can do ministry. They “spoke in tongues and prophesised”, which may sound scary to us but simply means that they are know what they’re talking about. They know God through God’s son and are therefore able share the good news about God with the people around them. Paul enables the Ephesian church to do ministry, because we are all called by our baptism to show the love of God to a hurting world.

Padre Foz reminded us last Sunday that the start of a new year is a time when we look for new beginnings. This morning we heard the first words of Genesis, “In the beginning”, reminding us that God is the loving creator who beings life and order out of chaos. And now, in the first words of Mark’s gospel, we hear the words “The beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ, the Son of God” (Mk 1:1). What better beginning could we hope to find than this good news? And notice how does the beginning of the good news of Jesus start? Not with his birth, as we might expect with Christmas so close behind us, but with his baptism.

The author of Hebrews called Jesus “the pioneer and perfecter of our faith” (Heb 12:2). In 405 Squadron terms, we’d call Jesus our pathfinder, the one who shows us the way. In these first lines of Mark’s gospel, Jesus shows us a pattern for our faith lives. It begins with baptism, and in that baptism, Jesus is named by God: “You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased” (Mk 1:11). Jesus receives God’s Spirit, and Mark goes on to tell us how that Spirit will accompany Jesus for the next stage of his journey, when he is driven into the wilderness to be tested. The wilderness is like the formless void at the beginning of Genesis, the place of chaos and darkness where no pattern or meaning can be found. That’s the place of despair that we as Christians depend on Jesus to lead us out of. That’s the place of hopelessness that so many in the world, like those folks on Wall Street I mentioned earlier, are looking for a way out of now. That’s why it’s important that churches know who they are and who they believe in, because we are called to stand with God the creator and Jesus his Son in bringing life and light out of darkness and chaos. That’s why, incidentally, I love the Canadian Forces current recruiting commercials, about fighting fear and fighting chaos. That’s the fight that Jesus calls us to join.

Another gospel, John’s gospel, begins with these words, words repeated on Christmas Eve. “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God … What has come into being 4in him was life, and the life was the light of all people” (John 1:1-4).

Jesus calls us out of darkness and into life. He calls us from the chaos and meaningless of sin into a life of meaning and purpose, which is why, I think, Rick Warren called his bestselling book about Christianity The Purpose Driven Life. That’s the life we were called to in our baptism, whether it was at our birth or because of an adult decision that we made for Jesus. That’s the life that the unemployed stockbroker wandering into a Manhattan church is looking for. That life may be quite different than the stockbroker is looking for. Jesus probably won’t say “I’ll help you create more wealth”. He will likely say “I created you, just like I created the nanny and the office cleaner who lost their jobs with you. You are all beloved children of mine, and I’ll help you see that if you walk with me”. And so a new life is there, waiting to begin. The act of creation begun in Genesis continues.

Today in the lectionary churches is called the Baptism of Christ. It’s an invitation to think about our baptisms and what they mean. It’s a reminder that we are all beloved children of God, called to new life and ministry. It’s a warning that we will be, like Jesus, tested by wilderness times of darkness and despair, when it’s most important to ask God to give his Holy Spirit to us. And finally, it’s a challenge to us, as Paul challenged the Ephesians, to ask, do we know what and who we believe in? My prayer for all us is that God strengthens us with the Holy Spirit he gave us at our baptisms, so we can join with him in fighting the darkness and bringing the light of his new creation in Christ to a world that needs it so desperately.

Michael Peterson+ 2009

Thursday, January 8, 2009

Rest in Peace, Father Richard John Neuhaus

I was saddened to learn today, via Titus One Nine, of the passing of Fr. Richard John Neuhaus yesterday, January 8, at the age of 72. Father Neuhaus was for years the genius behind First Things magazine, an intelligent and lively journal of conservative Catholic thought. His book Death on a Friday Afternoon remains one of my favourite Good Friday devotions.

Neuhaus, while a stern and uncompromising critic of liberal trends in the Anglican Communion, was a great friend of Anglicanism and was always worth reading. I will miss his acerbic roundup of religious news every month in FT. I join Titus One Nine in excerpting this piece from Neuhaus' meditiation on his cancer and his nearness to death, written in 2002:

“Everything is ready now.” I would be thinking about that incessantly during the months of convalescence. My theological mind would immediately go to work on it. They were angels, of course. Angelos simply means “messenger.” There were no white robes or wings or anything of that sort. As I said, I did not see them in any ordinary sense. But there was a message; therefore there were messengers. Clearly, the message was that I could go somewhere with them. Not that I must go or should go, but simply that they were ready if I was. Go where? To God, or so it seemed. I understood that they were ready to get me ready to see God. It was obvious enough to me that I was not prepared, in my present physical and spiritual condition, for the beatific vision, for seeing God face to face. They were ready to get me ready. This comports with the doctrine of purgatory, that there is a process of purging and preparation to get us ready to meet God. I should say that their presence was entirely friendly. There was nothing sweet or cloying, and there was no urgency about it. It was as though they just wanted to let me know. The decision was mine as to when or whether I would take them up on the offer."
Read the whole piece.

Requiescat in pacem, Father.

Canadian Officer Faces Charges From Afghanistan Shooting

As a serving officer, I need to avoid making any personal comments while the case of Captain Robert Semrau is being decided. However, as this blog is interested in military ethics, amongst other things, I believe it important to flag this matter. Semrau, to my knowledge, is the first Canadian soldier to face charges for treatment of a Taliban fighter in Afghanistan. Several commentators in the press have noted that the Canadian Forces is moving quickly to bring Semrau's case to trial, and is handling the matter with a considerable degree of transparency.

In brief, Captain Semrau is charged with second degree murder after allegedly killing a wounded Taliban fighter while on patrol in Afghanistan on 19 October 2008. The latest DND press release on Captain Semrau can be found here. The latest coverage from the Globe and Mail can be found here. Whether Semrau's alleged actions will be seen as an act of mercy or as an act of murder, and a military's obligations to wounded enemy combatants, will be the questions at issue in this case.

According to CBC news, yesterday a military court in Petawawa, ON, allowed Semrau to return to his unit and return home, as recommended by both the defence and the prosecution. CBC is reporting that the investigation continues and the trial will not likely begin until the fall.

Friday, January 2, 2009

Archbishop of Canterbury's New Year's Message

Being an Anglican Mad Padre, I'll take this opportunity to post the Archbishop of Canterbury's New Year's message. In it, Rowan Williams continues the emphasis on children made in his Christmas message, and it thus seems appropriate to follow on the heals of my post on my sponsor child. I join with the Archbishop in wishing all readers of this blog a happy and blessed New Year.

It’s always a relief to have a bit of space after the busyness of Christmas to relax at home and mull over the past 12 months and the hopes and possibilities of the year ahead. The prospect of this coming year, though, is one that produces a lot of anxiety and insecurity for countless people. There are fears about disappearing savings, lost jobs, house repossessions and worse. While the headlines are often about the big figures, it’s the human cost that makes it real for us.

A little before Christmas I visited a new academy in Scunthorpe named after St Lawrence. Lawrence was a Christian minister in Rome in the days when you could be arrested and executed for being a Christian, nineteen hundred years ago or so.

When he was arrested, he was told to collect all the treasures of the Church to be given up to the courts. He got together all the homeless, the orphans and the hungry that the Church looked after in the city, and presented them to his judges, saying, ‘These are the Church’s treasures.’

Like any really good school, St Lawrence’s treats its children as treasures. In the last few months we've had to think a lot about wealth and security and about where our ‘treasure’ is.

But it set me thinking - what would our life be like if we really believed that our wealth, our treasure, was our fellow-human beings? Religious faith points to a God who takes most seriously and values most extravagantly the people who often look least productive or successful- as if none of us could really be said to be doing well unless these people were secure.

And as we look around in our own country as well as worldwide, this should trigger some hard questions – whether we think of child soldiers in Africa or street children in Latin America, or of children in our midst here who are damaged by poverty, family instability and abuse, street violence and so much else. Children need to be taken seriously, not just as tomorrow’s adults but as fellow-inhabitants of the globe today, growing human beings whom we approach with respect and patience and from whom we ought to learn.

One of the most damning things you could say about any society is that it’s failing its children. That’s why I was really encouraged recently to be invited to open a project in Springfield in Birmingham - a church-based initiative supporting children and their parents from across the whole community. Here the church community took the brave decision to open up their church building for work with local families and to seek funding for further buildings and resources from the local authority. What’s more, they’ve worked throughout in close collaboration with the local mosque and have a joint programme with them for young people. There’s a community with its eye unmistakeably on its real treasure.

So what about a New Year in which we try and ask consistently about our own personal decisions and about public polices, national and international, ‘Does this feel like something that looks after our real treasure, something that keeps our real wealth safe - the lives and welfare of the youngest and most vulnerable?’

Jesus said where our treasure is, that’s where our hearts will be. Our hearts will be in a very bad way if they’re focused only on the state of our finances. They’ll be healthy if they are capable of turning outwards, looking at the real treasure that is our fellow human beings. A very happy and blessed New Year to you.

See the original message.

Sponsor Child Update

One of the best things we got for Christmas at Chez Padre was an update from World Vision about our sponsor child, Nkiwane Thandolwenkosi. We've been WV sponsors for over two years now, and it's a great organization to work with. I heard World Vision CEO Dave Toysen speak at a graduation at Wycliffe College some years ago, and his call to be productively outraged at global poverty still rings in my ears.

Nkiwane leaves in Zimbabwe, and is part of the Inkosikazsi Development Program. I haven't been able to learn much about this program, but a WV press release from 2002 reported that WV Zimbabwe was feeding over 100,000 people in four such districts at the time. imbabwe is experiencing terrible political and economic unrest. Judging from the WV mailing, some good is being done at the local level.

Here is Nkiwane:

His health is good, and he attends Grade One at Siganda Primary. His favourite subject is maths and his school performance is good. At home he helps by running chores, and he enjoys playing with toys. His best friend is named Freedom. His favourite day of the year is Christmas, and he wants to be a teacher one day. Recently his family participated in a cattle vaccination.

If you are considering doing something positive this year, consider sponsoring a child with World Vision.

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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