Thursday, July 30, 2009

Mike Bikes for Bibles, or, the Adventures of a Cycling Chaplain

I don't wish to be smug about this, but the Canadian Forces recently paid me to ride my bike for a week. How great is that? The following is a report on the event which I wrote for Dialogue, the journal of the Canadian Forces Chaplaincy. MP+

Anyone driving through the quiet farmland and rolling hills of southwestern Ontario during the third week of July might have seen a band of twenty cyclists, legs pumping and big smiles almost always fixed in place. Indeed, with their bright yellow and red jerseys emblazoned with “Bike for Bibles”, the riders would have been hard not to overlook. This high degree of visibility was partly for safety, and partly to promote this unique form of evangelism.

The B4B team moves through yet another small Ontario town.

Every year the Canadian Bible Society arranges a series of Bike for Bibles rides in each region of Canada to support a particular goal within the CBS’ larger mission of “Sowing God’s word that hearts and lives might be changed”. In 2007, cyclists raised money for the CBS to print bibles for distribution to members of the Canadian Forces. This year’s Bike for Bibles goal is to raise funds to distribute scripture resources at the 2010 Winter Olympics.

As part of the long affiliation between the CBS and the Chaplaincy Branch, the Principal Protestant Chaplain, Col. Karl McLean, approved the participation of one chaplain to represent the Branch in this year’s All Ontario ride, a six day event covering over seven hundred kilometres of rural Ontario. I was delighted to be that chaplain and to participate in this event, and spent June and early July in training, riding Annapolis Valley back roads solo or with fellow members of 14 Wing’s ZX Cycle Club.

On July 18th I flew into London, Ontario, my carbon-fibre bike carefully stowed in its hard case. Reaching the farm town of Listowel, an hour north of London, I reassembled my bike, thankful that it had travelled well, and met up with twenty other riders ranging in age from fourteen to seventy-nine. Many were accomplished cyclists and veterans of CBS cross-Canada bike trips, and some were new to long-distance cycling. My fellow riders, members of diverse protestant churches, had come from all over Ontario. I was the only one from out of province, and in the week to come they would proudly introduce me as their rider from Nova Scotia. The Christian Reformed Church in Listowel was our home that night, and early on Sunday morning, following a hearty breakfast served by the men of the congregation, we gathered for a brief devotional time and then set off into a grey and cool dawn, making our way northwest for Lake Huron.

B4B riders waiting to start the ride at the Christian Reformed Church, Listowel, ON

Our route as laid out by Corrie Boer and her father-in-law Henk, members of the Listowel CRC congregation.

This morning would set the pattern for the days to come. We would regroup from our night’s rest, pray for God’s blessing and for travelling mercies, and set out on our journey. At each stop we were welcomed by the people of churches large and small, of many denominations, who unfailingly prepared huge meals and snacks to allow hungry riders to refresh and refuel. In the long rides in between meals there was ample time for the riders to get to know one another. I met farmers and teachers, musicians and electricians, students and retirees from places as diverse as Holland and Japan, all united by their love of God and of cycling through God’s creation. They in turn were interested in my work as a CF chaplain and eager to know more about military life. Many riders said they were grateful that we chaplains are there to serve and support the people of the CF. All of us drew on the strength and encouragement of others as we battled headwinds, hills, sore knees and long hours in the saddle.

B4B riders and roadies gather before departing the Christian Reformed Church in Drayton, near Waterloo, Ontario.

With Listowel as the center of a figure eight, our route took us from the shores of Lake Huron in the west to the hill country of Grey County in the north, to the corn and wheat fields of Middlesex and Oxford counties in the south and east. Because we avoided major highways whenever possible, staff and volunteers of the CBS in their support vehicles were always at crossroads and obscure turns, pointing the way, watching over our safety and ready to fix breakdowns and flat tires. When we came to a town we always regrouped and came in together, to enhance the power of our witness. From the many friendly honks and waves we received, I think we made an impression on many.

B4B riders push through rain on the final day, near Shakespeare, ON.

Padre Peterson demonstrates the military axioms of “Rest when you can” and “There are no prizes for being uncomfortable”.

On the morning of our final day I was asked to give the devotion before starting. Holding up a CBS CF bible as an example of the good work that these rides has achieved in past, I drew a contrast between the camouflage of the bible’s arid cadpat cover and the deliberate brightness of our cycling jerseys, designed for maximum safety and visibility. Using Romans 1:8 and 1:16 as texts, in which Paul says that he is not ashamed of the gospel and trusts in its saving power, I gave thanks for being part of a group with such faith and confidence in our Lord that it was willing to be so conspicuous for the gospel’s sake.

One of the unexpected perks of this trip was the opportunity to go through my former parish of St. George's, Middlesex Centre and Grace Church, Ilderton. Here I am with the new Rector, Father Daniel Bowyer, and two dear friends and former parishioners, Mrs. Eleanor Little (left), and Mrs. Hilda Bonner (right). These folks gave us a very hearty breakfast, and it was great to see them again.

The final leg of our tour swung south and east of the town of Stratford before turning northwest and returning to our starting point of Listowel. After over 700 kilometres of cycling, despite fatigue, sore muscles and some minor scrapes, we entered town in a tight group of pairs, a column of grinning riders in bright yellow and red. We had made it. A final feast awaited us, and after the closing devotions at Listowel Mennonite Church I was asked to say some final words about military chaplaincy. I spoke briefly about our ministry, from the simple pleasures of unit visits to those solemn moments when we support members and their families in times of injury and death. Once again I was impressed by the pride of these Canadians in their armed forces and by their appreciation of our work as chaplains. Speaking for the Canadian Bible Society, Rev. Wib Dawson thanked the CF Chaplaincy for sending a rider to be part of this event.

Padre Peterson holds one of the CBS arid cadpat cover bibles, produced in part thanks to funds from the 2007 B4B Ride, at Calvary United Church in Tavistock, ON.

Now safely back in Greenwood, I continue to give thanks for the opportunity to have been part of this event. I am grateful for the chance to have been an ambassador for the Branch, and I am humbled by the way that our unique ministry in the CF is supported and upheld by the prayers and good opinion of many in the civilian church. Finally, I am impressed and humbled by how these riders came together, cheerfully enduring hardship and challenge for the gospel’s sake. I challenge other chaplains to become involved with Bike for Bibles events in their region (see, and predict that they will be strengthened in their vocations as a result.

Captain Michael Peterson
14 Wing, Greenwood

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

A Prayer for a Change of Command Parade

One of the purposes of this blog is to highlight the work that military chaplains do, and one of the chaplain's traditional places is at a change of command parade, when a unit's new commanding officer takes over. On such occasions, which are important moments in a unit's institutional life and identity, a chaplain can be called on to ask a blessing on the unit and it's commander. When one thinks about how secular and complex a country Canada can be, it's a great privilege to be asked to recognize and to invoke the aid of a higher power on such occasions.

For the last few months I've had the privilege of being the acting unit chaplain for 14 Air Maintenance Squadron here at 14 Wing. This group of talented technicians and mechanics keep Canada's east coast fleet of Aurora surveillance and ASW aircraft flying.

The Air Force does things a little differently than the army. Because 14 AMS' squadron crest features a honey bee, a symbol of industriousness, a member of the squadron dressed in a bee costume and accompanied the outgoing CO off the parade. Also, because the outgoing CO is notoriously fond of Swiss Chalet chicken, another member dressed as a chicken (one wouuld NEVER see this at an RCR parade)appeared at the end to present him with some Swiss Chalet gift certificates. The sight of LCol Garbutt and the chicken exchanging salutes was quite unique.

The prayer I composed for the occasion appears in English and French, the fruits of my recent French course. If you spot any errors, I'd be grateful to know about them.

Let us pray.


Seigneur, nous nous rassemblons aujourd’hui pour vous demander, par votre gentilesse, de bénir le quatorzième escadron de maintenance.

Nous vous remercions pour la direction et pour la sagesse de LCol Garbutt, et nous vous demandons de bénir lui pendant qu’il assume ses nouvelles responsabilités comme le commandant de la seizième escadre à Borden. Gardez sa famille, Corinne, Andrew, and Sarah, pendant qu’ils doivent vivre éloignèes de leurs père.

Gracious God, we ask your blessing on this unit gathered here, 14 Air Maintenance Squadron.

We thank you for the leadership and for the wisdom of L.Col. Garbutt, and we ask you to bless him as he assumes his new duties as the Commander of 16 Wing at Borden. Please guard and protect his family, Corinne, Andrew, and Sarah, while they must live apart from him in Ottawa.

Nous vous demandons aussi de bénir notre nouveau commandant de l`escadron, LCol Flynn, sa conjointe Carolyn, et leur famille. Permettez la direction de LCol Flynn de continuer cet escadron d`être le meilleur escadron dans la Force Aerienne.

We ask you also to bless our new squadron commander, LCol Flynn, his wife Carolyn, and their family. May his leadership guide this squadron and help it continue to be the best squadron in the Air Force.

Seigneur, parmi la famille qui est cet escadron, nous vous remercions pour la naissance du troisieme enfant de la famille MacSween, et nous prions pour tous parmi nous qui ont besoin de votre aide puissante

Loving God, among the family that is this squadron, we give you thanks for the birth of the third son of the MacSween family, and we pray that all among us who are in need may know the help of your mighty power in their lives.

Aidez nous, nous prions, à se rappeler toutefois que les vies des autres comptent sur notre bon travail. Aidez nous de faire notre devoir envers Canada et envers l`un l`autre.

Help us, we pray, to remember always the lives of those who depend upon our good work. Help us to do our duty to Canada, and to one another.


Thursday, July 16, 2009

US National Guard Member Earns Chaplain of Year Award

A great story - the quotes from Chaplain Montgomery speak to the heart of the call of military chaplaincy, as well as to some of its difficulties. A big salute to her from her Canadian colleagues. MP+

By Army Staff Sgt. S. Patrick McCollum
Special to American Forces Press Service

ARLINGTON, Va., July 14, 2009 – Chaplains have myriad reasons for serving their country, but recognition usually isn’t one of them.

“Chaplains are often in the position where we love to serve so much, it’s always a surprise to be rewarded for it,” said Army Chaplain (Capt.) Rebekah Montgomery, who will receive the Chaplain of the Year award from the Military Chaplains Association on July 17.

Montgomery, a Unitarian Universalist chaplain serving with both the Army National Guard Readiness Center here and Maryland’s 58th Troop Command, said she has been a student of religion since high school.

“I was always drawn to how people negotiate their daily lives with the experience of the spiritual,” said Montgomery, a Bethesda, Md., native. “I got so much stimulation out of understanding other faith traditions, and I still do.”

After an 18-month tour in Afghanistan, Montgomery returned to Maryland and took on two jobs. One weekend a month, she is the brigade chaplain for the 58th Troop Command, a job that she said keeps her grounded in the “M-day” unit mentality. An M-day unit one in which troops serve one weekend a month and a two-week annual tour each year.

Read the whole article here.

US Web Site Features Jobs for Disabled Veterans

One of the things I admire the US military for is its commitment to look after its wounded and disabled veterans. To my knowledge, there is no equivalent program for wounded veterans from Afghanistan (and we do have them), and is something I would encourage Canadians to ask their elected officials about. MP+

By Sharon Foster
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, July 15, 2009 – With more than 3,000 job openings, the creators of a new Web portal are hoping to attract disabled veterans seeking employment.

“Our current project is to spread the word that we are here,” said Diana Corso, executive director of disABLEDperson Inc., a nonprofit group aiming to reduce the unemployment rate of disabled veterans.

“We launched a couple of months ago,” she said. “We have jobs on the site, but not that many resumes. We are hoping to attract many more applicants. These positions are from employers across the U.S.”

DisABLEDperson.Inc. hosts the nationally based online job board called Job Opportunities for Disabled American Veterans. The site is free for disabled veterans to post their resumes and employers to post their jobs.

Read the whole article here.

New Bishop to the UK Armed Forces Appointed

Military chaplaincy, for episcopally-led denominations (Roman Catholic and Anglican particularly) requires that chaplains from these denominations work under the oversight, direction and pastoral support of a bishop. I was therefore interested to read this announcement from the UK Ministry of Defence website. This article also has some interesting material on the Buddhist chaplain to the UK Armed Forces, and has some interesting links for those interested in military chaplaincy. MP+

The Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr Rowan Williams, has announced the appointment of the Right Reverend Dr Stephen Venner as the new Bishop to the Armed Forces.

The Rt Revd Dr Stephen Venner has been Bishop of Dover and Bishop in Canterbury since 1999 and upon taking up post will succeed The Rt Revd David Conner, the Dean of Windsor, who has served in this role since 2001.

Dr Venner will step down as Bishop of Dover this year, but will continue his role as Bishop for the Falkland Islands. Dr Venner was the first Bishop of Dover to serve as an ex-officio member of the House of Bishops in recognition of the particular responsibilities the Bishop has leading the diocese day-to-day on behalf of the Archbishop of Canterbury.

Read the whole article here.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Eight British Soldiers Come Home

This sombre picture from the UK Ministry of Defence News Service shows some of the price the United Kingdom has been paying lately for its committment to the NATO mission in Afghanistan.

From July 9-10, eight British Army soldiers were killed in Afghanistan and their bodies arrived in the UK at RAF base Lyneham yesterday, July 14. The British have, as they say, been taking a lot of stick for their aggressive operations in Afghanistan of late, and their losses include a battalion commander of the Welsh Guards, Lieutenant-Colonel Rupert Thornloe, killed in his vehicle by an IED. The head of the British Army, General Sir Richard Dannatt, had this to say:

"I can say to them that my heart goes out to them in their grief at this time but they should take great comfort from the fact that their loved ones have lost their lives in carrying out a mission that is really important.

"It's really important not just for Afghanistan or for this region, it's really important for the overall security of the West and for the United Kingdom. And we must get this right, we will get this right. So they have lost their lives in something that is really important, and they should take great comfort from that."

Read the whole article here.

Rest eternal grant unto them, O Lord, and may light perpetual shine upon them.

Friday, July 10, 2009

The Globe and Mail Weighs In On Church Etiquette

Given the public furor here in Canada about what Prime Minister Stephen Harper did with a communion wafer (or host) at the Roman Catholic funeral mass of former Governor General Romeo Leblanc last week, the Globe and Mail today offers this helpful "church etiquette" guide for those finding themselves in that most unfamiliar of places, a church, especially at an RC funeral, this summer.

Read the article here).

I imagine that for many secular Canadians, the issue of what Harper did with that host seems arcane at best. Certainly the mainstream media's handling of the issue strikes me as "gotcha" politics played at religion's expense. Is the issue really about the PM's alleged disrespect for the Roman Catholic Church, and if so, is this about a protocol gaffe (akin to Michelle Obama's touching of the Queen during the recent presidential visit to London) or is this about a real issue of spiritual significance to many Canadians? The Globe's couching this How to Avoid a "Wafergate" blunder would seem to indicate the former.

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

"An extremely difficult week" in Afghanistan

The words "extemely difficult week" from Canadian commander Brigadier-General Vance in Kandahar provide a sad understatement on Canadian casualties this last week.

Yesterday we lost two soldiers, Master-Corporal Patrice Audet and Martin Joanette, when their Griffon helicopter crashed at a forward operating base in Zabul province in Afghanistan. A British soldier was also killed in the crash. While most of our fatalities in Afghanistan have been from the Army, Audent joins a small group of KIAs who wore blue berets, something one becomes sensitive to when working on an Air Force base.

Quoted on Global News, BGen Vance had this to say about the two fallen soldiers:

“Master Cpl. Pat Audet was a charismatic man who always knew the right words to put a smile on someone’s face,” Vance said in a statement to the media.

“He was a big man with a gentle heart and always put the needs of others before his own. Pat was exceptionally proud of his family and talked of his wife, Katherine, his parents and the rest of his family constantly. A scuba enthusiast, he was passionate about exploration and travel. Pat was always very professional in his work, loved what he did and was proud to be serving on this mission.”

It was Audet’s second overseas deployment, but his first in Afghanistan.

“Cpl. Martin Joannette had a heart of gold and a remarkable generosity which he shared with everyone around him,” Vance said. “He was a proud and devoted infantryman who excelled in adversity. He was always ready to push forward and lead others through because in his eyes, nothing was insurmountable.”

It was Joannette’s third deployment in Afghanistan and Vance said the soldier had already spoken about returning for a fourth. He leaves behind his wife, Marie-Eve.

Patrice Audet

Martin Joanette

On Friday, July 3rd, Corporal Nick Bulger, an infanteer with 3 PPCLI, was killed when his vehicle struck an improvised explosive device in Kandahar province. Bulger was part of BGen Vance's close protection force - BGen Vance was not injured in the blast. CBC News carried a quote from Cpl. Bulger that he had given in an interview just days before on Canada Day:

Especially when we're driving down the streets in the rural areas, to look down into the eyes of the children that are there, you get a different perspective," Bulger said Wednesday.

"All you see is the war and the destruction and stuff like that, but then when you see those kids running through the streets without a care in the world … being here makes a huge difference."

Video of that interview can be found here.

Nick Bulger

On Saturday, July 4th, another Canadian soldier, Master Cpl. Charles-Philippe Michaud, died in a Canadian hospital of injuries suffered from an IED blast while on foot patrol in Panjwai province on 23 June. Michaud served with the 2nd Battalion of the Royal 22nd Regiment. CBC reported BGen Vance as saying of Michaud:

"Master Cpl. Charles-Philippe Michaud, or Chuck as he was called by his friends, was a proud member of the [22nd Royal Regiment] and a dedicated soldier who never gave up and was always concerned about the well-being of those around him."

Charles-Philippe Michaud

These deaths bring the number of Canadian soldiers killed in Afghanistan to 124. While that number is significant and painful, to put it into perspective, 516 Canadian soldiers fell during the Korean War (1950-53), 359 were killed on D-Day in Normandy (6 June, 1944), 3,598 fell at Vimy Ridge (9 April, 1917) and 244 died during the Boer War (1899-1902).

Rest eternal grant unto them, O Lord, and may light perpetual shine upon them.

Alternatives to Lethal Force

This article from the American Forces Press Service on "laser dazzlers" offers an interesting example of how technology can give modern militaries non-lethal options in their rules of engagement that can diminish casualties.

Nonlethal Capabilities Provide Alternative to Deadly Force
By Ian Graham
Special to American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, July 6, 2009 – When shouting isn’t enough to stop someone who poses a threat, nonlethal weapons provide an alternative to lethal force.

“Nonlethal weapons give warfighters crucial escalation-of-force options between shouting and shooting,” said Kelley Hughes, strategic communications officer for the Joint Non-Lethal Weapons Program at Marine Corps Base Quantico, Va.

“They help minimize casualties and collateral damage across the full spectrum of military operations -- everything from full-scale combat to humanitarian and disaster relief missions,” Hughes said during a July 1 webcast of “Armed with Science: Research and Applications for the Modern Military” on Pentagon Web Radio.

Read the whole article.

Sunday, July 5, 2009

A Tale of Two Cities: A Sermon for the Fifth Sunday After Pentecost

Lections for the Fith Sunday After Pentecost (Lectionary Year B)

2 Samuel 5:1-5, 9-10, Psalm 48, 2 Corinthians 12:2-10, Mark 6:1-13

Do you take pride in being from a big city, or from a small town? It seems to be a human trait that we like to compare the place we live with other places which we find to be less desirable. Ask a long time resident of the Annapolis Valley why they like to live here, and in my experience they will say things such as “the people are so friendly”,or “I don’t have to lock my doors at night”. Ask the same people how they feel about Halifax and odds are they’ll say “too expensive” or “too violent”. But the reverse is just as true. I’ve known city dwellers who love the culture and the fast pace, who can’t sleep without sirens and traffic noise, who aren’t happy unless there’s a Starbucks just around the corner, and who wouldn’t be caught dead in a Timmies. How many comic films have you seen where a very urban, chic city dweller is forced to go live in the sticks, and is totally at sea in rural life? I think this dynamic explains the humour behind Garrison Keillor’s fictitious town of Lake Woebegone (or Dan Needles’ Persephone Township). On the one hand ,. Lake Woebegone celebrates the innocence of small town life, but on the other hand it allows Keillor, a New Yorker who writes for sophisticated, urban audiences, to gently poke fun at Hicksville and its small-minded inhabitants.

In our scripture readings today we find a similar tension between the big city and the small town. We started with a vision of the big city in Psalm 48, which describes the city of God, a place so mighty and so magnificent that it fills the kings of the earth with terror. This psalm was probably written as a hymn of praise for Jewish pilgrims visiting the holy city, a place filled with the praise and worship of God. It expresses their wish and their belief that Jerusalem is set apart from all other cities, because with its great temple it is the place where God comes to earth and lives among his people.

Next comes the small town, and what a contrast that is to the city described in Psalm 48. In our gospel reading from St. Mark we get Nazareth, and what a contrast that is from the holy city of the psalm. Jesus comes to back to Nazareth, the little town where Mary and Joseph raised him, and he runs into a brick wall of scepticism and suspicion from the folks who knew him back then. It doesn’t matter that he now has disciples, or that crowds flock to hear his teaching or to seek healing from him. To the folks in Nazareth, it’s as if Jesus is putting on airs, like some local boy who went to the city and is now acting all jumped up around the people who knew him back then.

Here’s another translation of today’s gospel, from Eugene Peterson’s The Message, which captures the home town reaction well.

He left there and returned to his hometown. His disciples came along. On the Sabbath, he gave a lecture in the meeting place. He made a real hit, impressing everyone. "We had no idea he was this good!" they said. "How did he get so wise all of a sudden, get such ability?" But in the next breath they were cutting him down: "He's just a carpenter – Mary's boy. We've known him since he was a kid. We know his brothers, James, Justus, Jude, and Simon, and his sisters. Who does he think he is?" They tripped over what little they knew about him and fell, sprawling. And they never got any further. Jesus told them, "A prophet has little honor in his hometown, among his relatives, on the streets he played in as a child." Jesus wasn't able to do much of anything there – he laid hands on a few sick people and healed them, that's all. He couldn't get over their stubbornness. He left and made a circuit of the other villages, teaching.

The Nazarene’s reaction reminds me of a story the journalist Andrew Cohen likes to relate about Lester B. Pearson, the great Canadian prime minister, as proof of his thesis that Canadians are too comfortable with the ordinary and with mediocrity. The story goes that one night some people at a cocktail party in Canada learned that Pearson had been awarded the Nobel Peace Prize, to which one woman was heard to say "Well, who does he think he is!". The people in Nazareth are like the woman at that party. They can’t believe that Jesus, one of their own, would want to stand out on the larger stage, especially given his background. Did you notice that the people refer to him, not as Joseph’s son, which you’d expect in a male-centered culture, but as “Mary’s son”, suggesting that these people still delight in the scandal that surrounded Jesus’ unusual birth and lineage.

Perhaps Mark includes this story in his gospel because jokes about Nazareth always got a laugh in his day, and in fact there are other Nazareth jokes in the New Testament. Early in John’s gospel, Nathanael can’t believe that the Messiah he’s supposed to meet actually comes from Nazareth (“Can any good thing come out of Nazareth?" John 1:46) and elsewhere in John there are several sceptical comments about Jesus coming from Galilee, the region where Nazareth was located ("You are not also from Galilee, are you? Search, and see that no prophet arises out of Galilee." – see John 7:41, 7:52).

I myself don’t think that Mark’s point here is to pick on Nazareth or to make fun of small-town mentalities (actually, judging from Mark’s very simple Greek style, he didn’t have much big-city education himself). Mark is not interested in the size of a village or town, but rather he’s interested in the size of the faith of the people who live in those villages and towns. Jesus was “amazed” at the “unbelief” of the people of Nazareth (Mk 6:6), but remember in John’s gospel that Jesus is similarly amazed at the ignorance of the wise and educated Nicodemus who lives in Jerusalem (“Are you a teacher of Israel, and yet you do not understand these things?” John 3:10). Likewise, it was the educated elite of Jerusalem who taunted and mocked Jesus on the cross, whereas Jesus disciples and followers tended to be, like Peter, simple people from the Galilean countryside. Later in Mark’s gospel, while the disciples were impressed by the size and grandeur of Jerusalem, Jesus rightly predicted that the Romans would destroy this great city (Mark 13:1-3, see also Luke 23:28).

It’s human nature to want to build and to want to build big. It’s part of human nature. Remember that one of the first stories of human pride in Genesis is the building of the tower of Babel. And if the lesson of Babel is that pride can lead to a fall, it is still hard to fault our noblest dreamers for wanting to build great things. Yesterday was July 4th, and I’m sure that many of our American friends were remembering Ronald Reagan’s famous words from his 1989 farewell speech, when he spoke of his oft-stated wish that quoted America would be a shining city on a hill. Reagan said:

I've spoken of the shining city all my political life, but I don't know if I ever quite communicated what I saw when I said it. But in my mind it was a tall proud city built on rocks stronger than oceans, wind-swept, God-blessed, and teeming with people of all kinds living in harmony and peace, a city with free ports that hummed with commerce and creativity, and if there had to be city walls, the walls had doors and the doors were open to anyone with the will and the heart to get here. That's how I saw it and see it still

If that language sounds biblical, that’s because it has a long biblical ancestry. Reagan was quoting a 17th century preacher, John Winthrop, who was himself quoting from the Sermon on the Mount where Jesus says you are the light of the world. A city that is set on a hill cannot be hidden." (Matt 5:14). Jesus himself, when he said those words, may have been thinking about Psalm 48, the psalm we read today, which predicts a day when God will establish his city “beautiful in elevation”, “the joy of all the earth” (Ps 48: 2).

We also know from our own painful experience that humans cannot build that shining city. Jesus knew that very well when he set his face for his final journey to Jerusalem, not the ideal Jerusalem of Psalm 48, but the actual Jerusalem, where God’s people would kill their Messiah, the Son of God. That shining city that Reagan wanted America to be is currently trying to come grips with the fact that its lawmakers authorized torture for the last five years. We can build huge cities, but those cities can be as full of tears as they can of rejoicing, as full of hatred as they are full of praise, as full of hunger as they are full of feasting. And we know that we are very good at destroying cities. The only city free of tears and violence and want comes at the end of the bible, the new Jerusalem predicted in Revelations. In today’s gospel, when Jesus sent the twelve out into the world, he did not send them out to build the new Jerusalem. He sent them out to do simple things - to call people to repent, and to show God’s love through acts of healing. Jesus told them that it would be hard work. Some would reject them. But Jesus sent them out anyway, because he knew that the kingdom of God would come of such things.

I asked you at the start if you were proud of coming from a big city of a small town, and I’m sure you had your own individual reactions. I’m sure also that just as you are proud of your place of origin, you are also smart enough to see its flaws. The big city person knows something about the violence, poverty, and loneliness with which many people live their lives. Likewise, the small town person will know something about conformity, hypocrisy, and suspicion of anything out of the ordinary. Big cities and small towns alike are all mission fields, needing the word of God and the presence of God’s people.

The last part of today’s gospel is often preached as a call for ministry and evangelism, and that indeed is what we are called to, whatever our gifts, talents, and resources may be. It doesn’t matter if we live as Christians in big cities or in small villages. It just matters that we recognize Jesus as our Lord, that we honour him and follow him. As today’s gospel teaches us, God cannot do much if our hearts and minds are not open to him. It doesn’t matter if the people we minister or the projects we support are rural or urban or in between. It just matters that we do something. The Annapolis Valley food bank can use our gifts, as can the United Way. It doesn’t matter if we find ourselves in a big city or a small town. It just matters that our eyes and hearts are open to what God calls us to do, and that we see the people around us as our sisters and brothers, all beloved creations of God and all prospective citizens of the city of God.

Friday, July 3, 2009

Another Reason to Love the British Army

I totally want to defect to the British Army and become the chaplain of the 101st Logistic Brigade. OK, that may not sound as sexy as the Brigade of Guards or the Highland Brigade, but the 101st Log Bde is also known as the Blackadder Brigade, after the character that Rowan Atkinson made famous (and no, pratt in the back, I'm not referring to Mister Bean).

Today I came across a post on the UK Ministry of Defence website announcing that the 101st Log Bde is celebrating it's tenth birthday, and this part of the story got my attention.

101 Logistic Brigade, which wears the Blackadder tactical recognition flash after the famous television series, was formed in 1999 from what was the Combat Service Support Group (CSSG).

The CSSG was the successor to the Force Maintenance Area (FMA), which was already using the Blackadder flash following its formation in 1990 in the deserts of Saudi Arabia.

The then commander of the FMA, Brigadier Martin White, recognised the need for a sense of identity and found inspiration in a letter from his daughter in which she quipped 'I hope you have a cunning plan'. And so it was not long before the transit camps in the port of Al Jubail were named after characters from the programme: Baldrick Lines, Blackadder Camp, Meltchett Lines and Camp Bob.

It doesn't get any better than that - it actually, it does, when you see the Brigade's shoulder flash is a blackadder:

You can buy one here.

As General Melchett would say, "Baaaahhhhh!".

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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