Thursday, December 30, 2010

Life in Suffield 3: More Fun on the Prairie with the British

These pictures have been hanging around on my hard drive since late October, when I had the chance to make another trip out to the training area (or "The Prairie" as the British call it) to see the last of the UK Battlegroups go through this year's training exercises, PRAIRIE THUNDER. I had the good fortune to go out as the guest of the Queen's Dragoon Guards, the British armoured unit that was here this summer as the OPFOR (OPFOR = Opposing Force, the troops who play the "bad guys" against the exercising troops). Thanks to the QDG's padre, Major Alex Bennett, I was able to link up with their QM (quartermaster or supply officer), Capt. Tim Moore, who was going out with his cooks and supply trucks to provide a barbecue meal for troops that had been out for oer a week.

The weather was cold, slightly above zero Celsius during the day and around -7 at night. We arrived in the training area about three PM and the cooks set up their tents, large gas barbecues, copious supplies of food, and got cooking.

Capt. Moore and his staff cooking for several hundred expected guests.

The first guests arrive. Land Rovers of the QDG light reconnaissance force.

I had the pleased of helping serve the troops as they arrived, hungry and cold, many of them having been awake and active for several days straight. I heard a number of strong and melodious Welsh accents and learned that the QDG are mostly recruited from Wales. Ah, that explained all the fellows I've been seeing on the base's running trails wearing PT shirts with "The Welsh Cavalry" stencilled on the backs. Amidt these young squaddies I heard a strong Canadian voice and met a strapping young man from Vancouver. He explained that living in the UK was expensive and the British Army looked like a good job. Good for him.

During the afternoon I had a chance to look around and see some of the kit that the British have assembled to prepare their troops for the sights and culture of Afghanistan. Here is a so-called "jingle bus", one of the colourfully painted buses and vans you see in that part of the world.

I'm not too sure what this was all about.

Possibly another one of the goat mascots that the British army are so fond of?

As sun was setting I linked up with Major Alex Bennett, the QDG/OPFOR padre, an Anglican priest like myself. We bumped into British Army photographer Steve Woods, who had flown over to Canada to cover PRAIRIE THUNDER, and he was gracious enough to take some shots of the two of us - his email sending them to me was entitled "Prairie Padre Photos", displaying a nice touch for alliteration. This one is my favourite.

Sgt. Woods, or "Woody", has a blog here, and his work is well worth a look. He's a truly gifted photographer.

A very cold and dark night descended on us. Alex and I waited for transport to a mock Afghan village known as "Hettar", where the next phase of the exercise would begin. We were next to a platoon of Nepalese Ghurka soldiers, who appeared cheerfully impervious to the cold. I chatted with their English officer, who when asked admitted that he knew enough Nepalese "to get by with the lads". I once wrote a paper on England's Gurkha soldiers while an undergraduate and it was a thrill to see these representatives of a proud soldiering tradition live and up close.

Once bussed to Hettar, Alex and I dossed down, as the Brits say, in a building meant to represent the local mosque. I say "represent" because I want readers to be clear that this was not a consecrated religious structure used for worship, so there was no question of disrespect or worse. The building was used as an HQ by the exercise control staff, and was jammed with all sorts of kit, including these rather gruesome mannequins representing victims of bomb blasts.

It was rather discooncerting to have these chaps feet from my head as I tried to sleep, but at least they didn't snore, which is more than I can say for Padre Alex.

When morning came I learned that there would be at least a day's lull before the training resumed, so I caught a lift off the prairie. Two days later, however, I was back in Hettar. BATUS was looking for bodies who would get dressed up in Afghan clothing and help populate the village as the British troops came through, practicing their patrolling techniques. Here's me dressed up as a local.

Pretty unconvincing, but fortunately the real atmosphere was provided by Afghan-Canadians who are brought in to act as the local population. I have no pictures of these folks to post here, since there are security considerations. The Afghan-origin interactors are understandably nervous about the bad guys identifying them on the internet and then taking reprisals against family and friends overseas. The Afghan-Canadian interactors are recruited and supported by an Alberta based film company that provides the same services to the Canadian Forces at our training base in Wainwright. One of the Canadian staff of this company that I spoke to was an ex-Canadian army infanteer with several tours of Afghanistan, so these folks knew their stuff. Once you were on the ground in Hettar, I felt I was on a film set, and it was as close to the real thing that I am likely to get for some time. Here's an exterior shot of Hettar's "mosque" against a crisp prairie sky.

Besides myself BATUS dressed up a number of Canadian civilians, including teachers from the grade school in Ralston, where many of the British kids go, and some business people from Medicine Hat. It was an excellent and thoughtful way for BATUS to give these folks a perk and a chance to see what they do. For those of us who liked flying, we also had the thrill of a helicopter ride out to the prairie and back, rather than a jolting hour long ride along rutted dirt roads.

These shots were a bit of a challenge for my little iphone camera, but they convey a sense of the prairie. In the second shot you can see a herd of antelope to the left.

Once in Hettar we milled about, waiting for something to happen. The Afghan interactors brewed a constant supply of tea, or chai, and it was a thrill to accept a cup from one elderly gentleman, who tried to teach me a few words of Afghan which I've sadly forgotten. In time the British army arrived, and their patrolling techniques were tested when a simulated suicide bomb went off in the middle of the market. We had been warned to stand clear of the area, because a very powerful charge was used to simulate the blast, but what followed was extreme. The interactors rushed into the smoke with a variety of gruesome simulated wounds, and the resulting chaos and carnage and noise was overwhelming. According to a British sergeant major who was the minder for us Canadians, the troops reacted well, always vigilant while doing what they could for the local populace. It was an excellent simulation for these troops, who are, unfortunately, likely to see the real thing when they go overseas sometime soon.

So ended my last trip to the prairie for 2010 and another adventure in Suffield. I came away with a healthy respect for the work that BATUS does. As the BATUS CO Col Carver said at his Christmas address to the troops, if all this work saves just one life in theatre, then it will have been worth it. Amen.

Why Priests and Guns Are a Questionable Idea

Whiskey Tango Foxtrot indeed. Sent to my by my nephew Tom. Obviously Eastern European armies have different regs on chaplains bearing arms than we do.

Monday, December 27, 2010

2010 Christmas Letter

Dear Family, Friends, and Readers of MadPadre:

When I sent out our Christmas cards this year (a pathetically small number considering the number of lovely folks who are in our lives), I promised a Christmas letter on the blog. Some folks are emailing me today and saying, "Hey, where's that letter"? Doesn't time fly when you're procrastinating?

Kay says godbye to her garden in Kingston, NS, this August. The unsung sacrifices of the military wife and gardener.

Last Christmas Eve, Kay and I were in Kingston, Nova Scotia, in the heart of the Annapolis Valley. I remember it as being fairly mild, with some snow. This year, thanks to the great dartboard known as the Canadian Forces Chaplains' Branch posting plot, we find ourselves almost clear across the country in Medicine Hat, Alberta. There's snow here as well, though it's dwindled to ankle-height after a few chinooks since the snow came in mid-November. It's colder, too, that particularly dry, prairie cold that shocks your lungs with the first few breaths of outdoor air. It was a bracing -15C on my morning run, which is doable if you keep moving (moving slowly, given the ice everywhere).

At 60,000, Medicine Hat is somewhere between a small city and a big town. Down in the SE corner of Alberta, it feels somewhat isolated: three hours to Calgary, threeish to Swift Current, fiveish to Edmonton, a full day to Vancouver - moaning about our 90 minute drive from Greenwood to Halifax now seems rather lame by comparison. Locals call it "The Hat" and call themselves "Hatters". I myself am a proud member of the Mad Hatters Running Club. The locals are friendly, perhaps because so many are from Atlantic Canada. It's mostly an oil and gas and railway town, and since a lot of people find employment or connections to CFB Suffield, 45 kms to the west, it's a military friendly community. Friendly, that is, except sometimes to the young Briish troops who come here in the summer times for training, and who like to spend money in town. One hears some mixed things about the squaddies, but if the British Army pulled out of Suffield, this town would be hurting.

CFB Suffield is home to BATUS (British Army Training Unit Suffield), its main reason for existing. While a Canadian base, it is part of the the UK Defence Training Estates, since its huge area of prairie has made it ideal for training with large numbers of tanks and troops. Suffield is also home to Defence Research and Development Canada, which does a lot of research with nasty stuff. While it sounds spooky and scary secret (there's a Suffield joke that if the Zombie Apocalypse ever started anywhere, it would likely start here), they do good work, especially in the area of combat medicine and trauma research. As Canadian Forces Bases go, Suffield is quite small, with about a hundred Canadians in uniform and three times that many civilians, so my work is quite manageable. Some of my earlier posts here on Life in Suffield will give you a flavour of that work.

Our Medicine Hat house on Christmas Eve

Kay and I bought a "character home" in an older, settled part of town called SE Hill. "Character home" is a euphemism for money pit, I think, but we are slowly making it home and plan a kitchen reno over the winter and a new roof in the spring. Kay made a start on transforming the garden into something closer to her tastes, but that will be a long term project. Kay has found a congregation she likes in the Hat, St. Barnabas, where people seem to have a lively faith and a willingness to pray. She's started some volunteer work with the local SPCA, and is sowly finding her way on Facebook, if you want to look for her there. Come the spring she hopes to get hired on with one of the local garden centres, even if the trees and shrubs here are different (and to her eyes uglier) than the ones she's used to.

New dino friend at Tyrhell Museum, Drumheller, seen this August
We've done a very little sightseeing since we've arrived in Alberta. This August we visited the excellent Royal Tyrrhel Dinosaur Museum in Drumheller and saw a little bit of the Badlands. Today we're off to have a look at Calgary and then north to visit friends in Edmonton.

I've transferred my membership in Lions to one of the local clubs. I like the people and the chance to give back to the community as time permits. I was invited to join the Board of the United Way of SE Alberta after getting involved with their campaign on the base, and enjoy working with the UW for the same reason. I'm slowly stepping up my running practice. This September I ran a very slow half marathon in Drumheller, my first in two years. Afterwards I remembered my promise to myself to do a full marathon before I turned fifty, and I only have eleven months to keep that promise.

That's a little bit of our lives out here on the prairie. Kay and I hope that you were blessed in spirit, family and friendship this Christmas, and we wish you all good things in the year to come.



Saturday, December 25, 2010

Christmas Dinner with Hitler

This one cracks me up every Christmas.

Christmas Dinner at the Front, Holland 1944

As you look forward to what you'll be eating this Christmas dinner, you can listen to this piece of CBC audio reporting from Holland, broacast n Dec 4, 1944. A Canadian army cook, Frank Barley, describes what he'll be serving the troops for their Christmas dinner.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Managing Expectations: A Sermon for the Third Sunday of Advent

I've preached all through Advent and Christmas now, but am behind in getting my sermons uploaded. Truth to tell, the concluding paragraphs of this one weren't finally written down until today (today being Christmas Day, despite the date of this post), and my sermon for 4th Advent and Christmas Eve was extemporaneous. As you can see from the image below, I was haunted by the image of the road from the AMC series The Walking Dead, and it's echoes of haunted post-apocalyptic highways in Cormac McCarthy or another novel I've just finished, S.M. Stirling's Dies the Fire, and the image of the highway in Isaiah. MP+
Preached at Christ the King Chapel, CFB Suffield, Ralston, AB
Third Sunday of Advent, 12 December, 2010

Lectionary: Isaiah 35:1-10, Psalm 146:5-10, James 5:7-10, Matthew 11:2-11

“Are you the one who is to come, or are we to wait for another?” (Matt 11:3)

In a previous life, when I worked in a sales department, we were taught something called “managing customer expectations”. This technique involved walking a fine line. On the one hand, we were expected to support the promises made by our marketing department and brochures, but on the other hand we had to prevent the customer from expecting more than we could deliver. It was in this job that I came to fully appreciate the black humour in the Dilbert cartoon strip.

Today’s Gospel reading starts with John the Baptist. Some time has passed since we met John last week, on the second Sunday of Advent (Matt 3:1-12). Then John was the herald in the wilderness, proclaiming the coming of the Messiah. “One who is more powerful than I is coming after me”, John promised. In the tradition of Israel’s prophets such as Malachi, John said that the one to come would bring a purifying fire to cleanse Israel, and he warned that there was little time left to repent. Since the time of that warning, Jesus has been active in Galilee, teaching and performing miracles, and word has spread about him. In that time, John has offended King Herod with his own preaching, and is now a political prisoner. Like many prisoners, John still finds a way to send a messages, and so he asks through his own disciples, “Are you the one who is to come, or are we to wait for another?” John’s seems much less confident now than he was in the wilderness. He almost seems querulous. When I hear these two gospel readings in Advent, I always wonder what happened to John’s certainty about the Messiah.

John the Baptist is a huge part of the Advent story as the church’s lectionary unfolds it. He stands for the two great and interrelated themes of Advent, preparation and repentance as the faithful make ready for the coming of Christ. It is interesting to speculate on what happened to John in prison to sap his certainty in the one he preached of in the wilderness, but as some biblical commentaries note, that would just be speculation. Far more interesting is that whereas in last Sunday’s reading John used the first person “I” and “me”, in today’s reading John uses the first person plural: “Are you the one who is to come, or are we to wait for another?” As David Hare notes, John hear appears to be speaking here for the people of Israel, who throughout this part of Matthew are not agreed on who and what Jesus is (Matt 9:33-34, Matt 12:23-24). And perhaps more to the point, John speaks for us, the people of God, as we wait for Jesus and as we wonder who he is and what he means for us. “Are you the one?”

We know that John had set himself apart from the mainstream of his people, rather like the Dead Sea Scrolls Qumran community had done. Dressed as an ascetic hermit, living in the wilderness, and preaching a baptism of repentance, John aligned himself with those prophets who foretold a coming judgement, which would cleanse Israel and reduce it to a righteous remnant. Perhaps John also hoped that Jesus as Messiah, a warrior king who would bring political liberation from Rome and its’ petty client kings for the people of Israel. Certainly John had expectations of who the Messiah would be and what he would do, and perhaps, as John languished in prison and Jesus stayed in remote Galilee, far from the seat of power, John was worrying that he gotten it wrong.

When I hear John’s question, I hear it echo in ways that pick up the anxieties and longings of our own day. One doesn’t have to be religious to be asking “are you the one”. Are you the one who can fix our schools? Are you the one who can get our hospitals and ERs working again? Are you the one who tell me how to raise my kids? Are you the one who can make me feel good about myself? Are you the one who can lift us out of our petty squabbles and give us a something to believe in and work for? I am sure there are Christians, people of faith, who ask “are you the one”. Are you the one who can fill our empty churches and breathe life back into our denomination. Jesus, it all happened so long ago and sometimes it seems so hard to believe, even at Christmas. Are you the one who was really born of a virgin. Are you the one who did all those miracles and who rose from the dead? Are you the one who will come again? Are you the one?

I talked earlier about managing expectations. Notice, in the answer he gives to John, how Jesus doesn’t do anything to diminish John’s expectations or to put realistic limits on what John is hoping for. Quite the opposite happens. Jesus fully aligns himself with the bold promises made by an earlier prophet, Isaiah. As we heard in our first lesson, Isaiah promised that a day would come when the blind would see, the deaf hear, and the lame could “leap like a deer” (which, if you watch deer leaping from back yard to back yard here in Ralston, is something to behold!) (Isa 35:5-6). As he does in Luke's gospel in his hometown synagoge, at the start of his ministry, so Jesus does here, fully aligning himself with the audacious promises of Isaiah and saying, in effect, I am the one whom the prophets foretold, the one who will save Israel and renew creation.

Jesus says the same thing to us, not managing or limiting our expectations but rather unleashing them to beyond what we can hope for. As Craig Satterlee et al point out in the latest of the excellent Augsburg New Proclamation preaching series, our culture today is full of apocalyptic fears and expectations. Living as we do in the midst of immense social, technological, even geopolitical change, I see these fears and expectations in the midst of popular culture. Two quicl examples, both centered on image we heard in Isaiah today of the highway. I've been watching the AMC miniseries The Walking Dead, with its iconic image of one of the last humans riding a highway into a city teeming with zombies. Like Cormac McCarthy's bestselling novel The Road of some years ago, this image takes the highway, which North Americans have long associated with unlimited freedome and adventure, and turned it into an image of menace, fear, and wrecked hope.

Now contrast that image with the image of the highway from Isaiah:

A highway shall be there, and it shall be called the Holy Way; the unclean shall not travel on it, but it shall be for God's people; no traveler, not even fools, shall go astray. No lion shall be there, nor shall any ravenous beast come up on it; they shall not be found there, but the redeemed shall walk there. And the ransomed of the Lord shall return, and come to Zion with singing; everlasting joy shall be upon their heads; they shall obtain joy and gladness, and sorrow and sighing shall flee away. (Isa 35:8-10).

We approach this Christmas amidst our own personal expectations (will it be perfect, will my loved ones appreciate all my gifts and efforts, will I cope with being alone, with being stressed, with being sad) and amidst our larger fears and hopes (will I find/keep a job, will things get better/worse, will we be safe, will it matter). If we are Christian, and we see our understanding of Christmas becoming more and more marginalized and seemingly irrelevant against the culture's understanding of Christmas, it's easy to echo John and ask "Are you the one?".

The message of this Sunday, and the joy that is the quality traditionally associated with the third Sunday of Advent, is that yes, the one who is coming is the real deal, he is the Messiah, and the road he invites us to walk upon is safe, and straight, and will lead us to a good place. It is a bold and wonderful promise, made with the full guarantee that God made to the prophet Isaiah, that the world will be renewed and restored by the Messiah who brings God's re-creation. There's no need to manage or spin or limit this expectation, merely to embrace it and to look joyfully for the one who is to come.


Monday, December 6, 2010

That We Might HAve Hope: A Sermon for the Second Sunday of Advent

Preached at Christ the King Chapel, CFB Suffield, Ralston, AB, 5 Dec 2010.
2 Advent (Year A)

Isaiah 11:1-10, Psalm 72:1-7, 18-19, Romans 15:4-13, Matthew 3:1-12

"For whatever was written in former days was written for our instruction, so that by steadfastness and by the encouragement of the scriptures we might have hope." (Romans 15:4)

Sister Madonna Buder is known in some athletic circles as “The Iron Nun” because in addition to being a Roman Catholic sister, she is also a champion triathlete. She holds many medals and titles in her age categoryfor international events such as the Hawaii Iron Man competition. For the record, an iron man event includes a 2.4-mile swim, a 112-mile bike ride, and a 26.2-mile run.. In her pictures she looks young for her years, lean and wiry, as you’d expect an endurance athlete to be, but what really catches your attention is her megawatt smile. I just know that if I was sucking wind around mile ten and I saw her smile at me, I’d get right back in the race.

Reading this book, I am continually impressed by what a big part encouragement plays in her story. Buder begins with a memorable story of how she was encouraged to finish the 2005 Kona Hawaii Ironman by two spectators who ran with her and urged her on to the finish line when she didn't think she could do it. She did, and thanks to her "angels" finished hust 57 seconds under the cutoff time.

Another story about another Kona Ironman involves describes how Buder in turn played the role of an ecouraging angel when she learned that a priest was in the race. Buder was already out because she had missed the cutoff time on the swim portion, but she got back on her bike and accompanied the priest, who was clearly struggling. Buder rode up beside him, shouted “You can do it, Padre”, and safely guided him through some crowds where his inexperience might have led to a crash. Left to his own skill and endurance, he probably would have failed. With his skill and endurance, plus Buder’s encouragement, he successfully finished. Buder gave him the hope to go on and finish.

Advent is a season with many facets. Last week we discussed how Advent is about the Coming of the Saviour at an unforseen hour, and thus about and our need to make the best use of the time given to us as followers who are accountable to Christ for the use of our time, talent, and treasure. We hear some of that in Matthew’s Gospel today in John’s preaching, when he talks about bearing worthy fruit. Advent is also about the righteousness of the Son whom God has appointed to judge the world, ad we saw some of that the week before Advent during the Feast of the Reign of Christ. Advent is the assurance of the righteousness of the King who will come to restore the reign of God's justice and mercy, and in a world of Wikileaks and of stolen elections this week, we need the assurance that there is one king who is righteouss and incorruptible.This Sunday is about another aspect of Advent. It's about hope and encouragement for God's people that we are not forgotten, for our King and Messiah will come.

Hope is a fragile thing that keeps us going. The military historian, B.H. Liddell-Hart, once said that armies lose battles only when they lose hope. The same is true of sports, marriage, business, or any other significant part of the human condition. Hope is what gets us out of bed in the morning. The hope that things will get better, that some happiness or prosperity will be found, is what leads us to marry, to have children, to change jobs, to go back to school, to emigrate, etc. The hopefulness of leaders can inspire us, as we saw when Barack Obama was elected and his book, the Audacity of Hope, was a bestseller for months. But when things fail to improve as quickly as we would like, hopefulness can seem deluded, even foolish, as Sarah Palin implied when she taunted Obama with the question, “how’s that hopey changey thing working out for ya?”

In our second reading , we hear Paul write to the fledging church in Rome that "For whatever was written in former days was written for our instruction, so that by steadfastness and by the encouragement of the scriptures we might have hope." (Romans 15:4). This statement deserves some thought, especially if we are used to thinking of Scripture as being about doctrine, or being a collection of metaphors and stories. Paul is saying that the purpose of scripture is to give us hope and encouragement. This thought is worth hanging onto when we feel overwhelmed by circumstances, whether we're despairing about the fate of the world or the church, or we're just overwhelmed by the ordeal that Christmas has become, or whatever our circumstance might be. Paul is encouraging us to hear a message of hope.

In our readings today, hope is Isaiah telling an Israel broken by invading armies that it will be come an earhly paradise of peace and healing for all nations. Hope is John the Baptist in Matthew saying that in the wilderness of their hearts it is still possible to turn to God and be made new. Hope is Paul telling a ragtag collection of slaves and free people, Jews and Gentiles, men and women, that in the heart of the mighty a mighty empire built on power and slavery and rigid class and gender divisions, ruled by a supposed man-god emperor, that these disparate people will become a new community through the word of God and the work of the Holy Spirit.

That Paul is writing to a new community formed by grace underscores the second point about Advent hope. Paul writes that the purpose of God's encouragement in scripture is so that we may "live in harmony with one another, in accordance with Christ Jesus" (15:5). This new community will come together in worship and praise, and its members will show the same grace to one another that they have received from God: "Welcome one another, therefore, just as Christ has welcomed you, for the glory of God" (15:7). Note that Paul isn't speaking to individuals. This isn't a message of hope in personal prosperity or enlightenment. Rather, it's a message of hope that we in the community of believers in Jesus Christ, we can find a foretaste of heaven in our common worship, love, and welcome, one of another.

At the end of her story about the race angels who helped her in the 2005 Kona Ironman, Sister Buder describes how she corresponded with them and thanked them for coming aside her and encouraging her. One of the wrote back and said that she did it because in the running community she has found a greater unity and spirit of caring and mutual support than she has found anywhere else. It's wonderful that people can find such rewards in communities dedicated to a specific practice or pursuit. How much more wonderful would if be if more people could find even greater rewards in the church.

This year at Advent, this base chapel is learning about something called the Advent Conspiracy. It's a challenge to step out of the consumer-driven pressure of a false generosity and to turn outwards, so that our presents become presence to one another and to the world. The theme of this year's campaign, clean and safe water, is a concrete example of how Christians can share God's love with a wprld where many lack clean water. It's one way that we can rediscover that great theme of Advent, the theme of God's hope and encouragement to be his people and his community for the world's sake.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Military Picture of the Week - The Return of the RAF Moustache

Saw these pictures back in early December, as the "Movember" phenomeonom was ending. These characters are Royal Air Force personnel from 1 Air Mobility Command who had pictures of themselves and their "Movember" moustaches taken in vintage World War Two uniforms. See more pictures of them here.

Military moustaches

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Anglican Journal Special Issue on Military Chaplaincy

Lieutenant Commander the Rev. David Greenwood leads a baptism in Bosnia.

Kudos to The Anglican Journal, the newspaper of the Anglican Church of Canada, for dedicating much of the space in its latest issue to covering military chaplaincy in the Canadian Forces.

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

A Christmas Gift for Canadian Military History Buffs

Representative of Their Numbers Medium: oil on canvas
Dimensions: 107 x 137 cm Date: 2005
From the collection of: The Loyal Edmonton Regiment (4th Battalion, Princess Patricia's Canadian Light Infantry)
Painting by Catherine Jones, one of the war artists featured on the DHH website.

The Canadian Forces' Directorate of History and Heritage recently launched a new website, that has something to offer for students, teachers, amateur genealogists, military history buffs and nerds, and the like. I had a quick browse just now and found some intriguing online reference books, a multi-century military timeline, and lots more to entice me back.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Making Good Use of the Time: A Sermon for the First Sunday of Advent

A Sermon for the First Sunday of Advent
Preached at Christ the King Chapel, CFB Suffield, Ralston, AB

Isaiah 2:1-5, Psalm 122, Romans 13:11-14, Matthew 24:36-44

But understand this: if the owner of the house had known in what part of the night the thief was coming, he would have stayed awake and would not have let his house be broken into. Therefore you also must be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an unexpected hour (Matthew 23:43)

Earlier this year I had a smart phone stolen from my car. I don’t blame the thieves, really, even though it was an expensive and annoying experience. No, I blame myself. The phone was in the glovebox of my car, the car was unlocked, and the door of my garage had been left open If that sounds careless and naïve to you, it should. I had read all the police warnings and PSAs about not leaving valuables in my car, but at the time I lived in a quiet, safe neighbourhood, and I never thought thieves would walk up my driveway and rob my house. To add insult to injury, I could have protected my phone by downloading some tracking software that I had read about. However, that precaution seemed like a lot of work, and I had put off looking into it. And so it was that thieves came unexpectedly in the night, while I slept, and because I had not made good use of the time, I lost something that was valuable to me.

So today, as we come to the season of Advent, I am rather sensitive to Jesus’ rather creepy teaching in today’s gospel that His coming again will be like a thief in the night. However, the point of today’s gospel isn’t that Jesus is sneaky. The thief metaphor simply means that Jesus’ coming will unexpected and disastrous to those who are not ready. What does not being ready mean? Consider the imagery of Noah’s flood that Jesus uses a few lines earlier. The flood was God’s judgement on those humans who lived sinful lives, and who never believed that there would be consequences for the choices they made in their lives. Only Noah and his family were considered to be righteous, and so they were spared. So, the flood reference, I think, is Jesus reminding his followers that he will come again as a judge, something he makes quite explicit shortly thereafter:

“When the Son of man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on his glorious throne. Before him will be gathered all the nations, and he will separate them one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats”. (Matt 25:31-32)

A preacher I am very fond of, Fleming Rutledge, makes the very wise point that Jesus says these things to his disciples just before his trial and execution, and finds a particular significance in the contrast between these words and this occasion.

“Here is a man who owns nothing; who has no bank account, no resumé or portfolio, no job or house, no title or rank, a man who is about to be judged guilty and not fit to live by the highest religious and political tribunals of his time, and he is saying that he is going to come again, personally, at the end of the world, to determine the fate of all human beings who have ever been born. It should make our brains crunch just to think about it. This man Jesus is about to go on trial for his life before the judges of this world, yet he is telling us that he himself is actually the Judge. We need to pause in awe before this contradiction.” (“Jesus Will Show” from Help My Unbelief, Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2000, p. 219).

Rutledge goes on to make the point that when this day comes, we, who have just prayed to God “to whom all hearts are open, all desires are known, and from whom no secrets are hid”, will be there too. The season of Advent points us, not only to Christmas Day, but to Judgement Day.

This morning we hear about judgement falling on us unexpectedly, coming like a thief in the night. The image of the Noah’s neighbours in the Flood story caught unprepared. It all sounds anxious and ominous rather than being the celebratory and joyous anticipation of Christmas that our hearts want Advent to be. Indeed, in the history of the Church, Advent has been regarded as a penitential season, rather like a second Lent. But we who are followers of Jesus should hear nothing today that makes us apprehensive or uncertain. Last week we celebrated the Reign and the Kingship of Christ. We know that one of a king’s traditional roles is to be a judge and make judgements, and we know that our King is a good, righteous king. One of the traditional Advent scriptures, from Isaiah 11, talks about the Messiah coming as a judge who will hear the poor who have had no one to help them.

He shall not judge by what his eyes see,
or decide by what his ears hear;
but with righteousness he shall judge the poor,
and decide with equity for the meek of the earth;
he shall strike the earth with the rod of his mouth,
and with the breath of his lips he shall kill the wicked.
Righteousness shall be the belt around his waist,
and faithfulness the belt around his loins. (Isaiah 11:3-5)

We shouldn’t have to fear this judge. We are followers of Jesus, baptized and marked as his. Yes, we are sinners, but we are sinners of his redeeming, and at our judgement, we can throw ourselves on the mercy and atonement of Christ with total confidence. But as followers of Christ, are are also accountable. We have been called to a way of living and to a way of being as his disciples. We have work to do. My sermon title is Making Good Use of the Time and this is the theme of several of Christ’s parables. The stories of the Wise and Foolish Bridesmaids, or the Three Servants and the Talents, are about judgement but also about preparedness. What if, today, we resolved not to fear the coming of this king and judge, whenever that might be, but rather what if welcomed him as a rescuer of the world and what if we throw ourselves into his work?

Today we saw a video about something called the Advent Conspiracy. The video suggests a way of preparing for Christmas that is so counter-cultural, so Christian, that it deserves to be called a conspiracy. The video calls us away presents and into presence. It calls us away from things and into relationship. In our second reading, Paul talks about relationships of love with our neighbour that are one and the same as our relationship with Christ. Paul says that loving is all that we owe one another, and all that we owe God. So what if, this Advent, we were to join with Paul in this conspiracy of love? Perhaps we could conspire to let go of some of the junk and business around Christmas and resolved simply to love one another and to love God? Perhaps we could embraced time with our families and with our neighbours? Perhaps we could conspire to rethink how we use whatever wealth we may have been blessed with? The Advent Conspiracy video raises some themes and ideas that we will revisit over the next three Sundays of Advent. I hope you become co-conspirators with me, as we all ask ourselves, how can we make good use of this time that has been given to us?

Friday, November 26, 2010

From Soldiers to Teachers

This item from the UK MOD news service describes an interesting school reform that calls for assistance to retrain former soldiers (since a lot of folks will be leaving the UK military) as teachers. Best case: these former soldiers will be able to bring the leadership skills, discipline, and work ethic to the classroom and be role models for their students. Worst case: the schools will not allow these new teachers to emply their gifts, and the teachers will become miserable and disaffected, as my ex-army dad was when he turned to teaching. Good luck to them. MP+

Plans to encourage troops to become teachers
A Defence Policy and Business news article
25 Nov 10

Plans to encourage Service personnel leaving the Armed Forces to become teachers were announced yesterday, 24 November 2010, as part of the Schools White Paper released by the Department for Education.

A Gurkha soldier teaches schoolchildren about biodiversity at Hythe Ranges in Kent (stock image)
[Picture: Allan House, Crown Copyright/MOD 2005]

'The Importance of Teaching' outlines the Coalition Government's schools reform programme. It draws heavily on evidence learned from the world's best education systems, and will see heads and teachers driving school improvement, the Education Department announced.

Part of the plan relates to Armed Forces leavers. The White Paper states:

"We will encourage Armed Forces leavers to become teachers by developing a 'Troops to Teachers' programme which will sponsor Service leavers to train as teachers.

"We will pay tuition fees for PGCEs [postgraduate certificates in education] for eligible graduates leaving the Armed Forces and work with universities to explore the possibility of establishing a bespoke compressed undergraduate route into teaching targeted at Armed Forces leavers who have the relevant experience and skills but may lack degree-level qualifications.

"We will encourage Teach First* to work with the Services as they develop Teach Next, so that Service leavers are able to take advantage of new opportunities to move into education.

"Service leavers also have a great deal to offer young people as mentors and we will be looking to increase opportunities for this.

"The charity Skill Force does fantastic work in this area enabling more former Armed Forces personnel to work alongside the children who benefit most from their support."

Read the whole piece here.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Notable Quotable: Pope Benedict on the Church's Need to Be Winsome

“A Church that seeks above all to be attractive is already on the wrong path."
Reported by George Weigel in his First Things article, "Fail Britannia", as a comment made by the Pope en route to his visit to England.

Benedict's 19 September sermon at Clifton Park on the occasion of the beatification of Cardinal Newman is found here - note his thanks to the people of Britain for defeating Nazism.

Compassion Fatigue: When the Caring Tank Runs Dry

Noted on today's AFPS news, worth repeating. Applicable to chaplains and other caregivers as well as to family members. MP+
Chaplain Urges Military Spouses to Avoid ‘Compassion Fatigue’
By Donna Miles
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, Nov. 23, 2010 – With almost all the 101st Airborne Division deployed to Afghanistan, military spouses here have their hands full taking care of each other.

Army Maj. Stanley Arnold, family life chaplain at Fort Campbell, Ky., is working with Karin Jenkins, wife of 101st Airborne Division 4th Brigade Combat team commander Col. Sean Jenkins, center, and Rebecca Santos, wife of Command Sgt. Maj. Hector Santos, the brigade sergeant major, to identify and address compassion fatigue among spouse volunteers. DOD photo by Donna Miles

Day in and day out, they’re called on to help a suddenly single parent juggle work, kids and household chores, and set aside time to visit with the lonely wife who needs a friend. Too often, they find themselves consoling a widow who has just learned of her husband’s death as they quietly wonder if they’ll be the next to receive that dreaded knock on the door.

Army Maj. Stanley Arnold, a family life chaplain here, praised the outpouring of family support that’s become a hallmark of the 101st Airborne Division’s “Screaming Eagles” and nearly every other military organization.

But he’s also concerned he’s seeing signs of “compassion fatigue” -- with spouses already laden with their own responsibilities and burdens giving so much of themselves that there’s sometimes little left to draw on.

Arnold met last week with spouses of the division’s 4th Brigade Combat Team leaders, encouraging them to recognize signs of compassion fatigue in themselves and each other, and emphasizing the need to take time out to recharge their emotional batteries.

Read the whole article here.

Two Preacher's Blogs of Note

Who would have thought that Medicine Hat would have been chock full of blogging pastors? That is, if three counts as a "chock"?

Besides myself, I am happy today to link my blog to GENEralities, the blog of the Rev. Canon Gene Packwood, Rector of St. Barnabas Anglican Church in MedHat. St. B's is a happening place and it's where I'd be if I wasn't in my chapel each Sunday. Gene's blog is eclectic, ranging from technology to Anglican Church issues, and refreshingly evangelical in content. He's also a cool guy and has made some kind hat tips to MadPadre, to which we say thanks and Hooah!

A second discovery, just made today, is Dim Lamp, the blog of a Lutheran pastor, Garth Wehrfritz-Hanson. There's nothing Dim about Garth - his blog features some lovely and soul-feeding sermons and is something I'll be visiting regularly.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Past and Present: A Nod Back at Remembrance Day

I didn't have time to post these two pictures, but I used them on the cover of the Remembrance Day program that I produced for use here at CFB Suffield. I came across them while trolling online for resources, and was taken by the fact that these two pictures, almost a century apart, capture the universal nature of soldiering. Note the almost identical walls of sandbags. Side by side, they made an effective cover page for the bulletin. MP+

Can't remember where I found the photo above of Canadian troops in a trench in the First World War, probably from the Canadian War Museum website.

Photo taken Nov 8, 2006, by John D. McHugh Caption from his website: "Soldiers from 8 Platoon, Charles Company, The Royal Canadian Regiment, enjoy fresh food at their fortified position in a volatile area in Panjwayi district, Kandahar province. It was their first fresh food since 19 October."

St. Clements Danes - The Air Force Church in London

The Maple Leaf, the Canadian Forces newspaper, ran a lovely piece in last week's Remembrance Day edition on St. Clements Danes in Westminster, London, UK. This church, designed by St. Christopher Wren in 1666, is the third church to stand on this site since the 8th century, and was devastated in 1940 during the London Blitz. It was rebuilt in 1953 and specially dedicated to the Royal Air Force and Commonwealth Air Forces. As someone who served with the boys and girls in blue in my last posting, this lovely looking church now has a place on my must visit while in London list.

Read the whole piece here.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

The Commander's Biography

A Sermon for the Reign of Christ the King

Preached at Christ the King Chapel, CFB Suffield, Ralston, AB
21 November, 2010 (Lectionary Year C)

Jeremiah 23:1-6, Psalm 46, Colossians 1:11-20, Luke 23:33-46

He has rescued us from the power of darkness and transferred us into the kingdom of his beloved Son, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins. (Col 1:13-14)

Commander's Biography
Jesus Christ the King, Son of God

Jesus began his career before time, when he was fully present with God the Father and was engaged in OP CREATION. At this early point in his career he attained the rank of Son of God and fully shared in his Father’s strategic command authority over all things.

In 0 AD he was selected by the Father to command OP INCARNATION and, with the support of the Holy Spirit, was born to the Virgin Mary in Bethlehem. From the Carpentry School in Nazareth, Jesus was posted to Galilee and commanded the twelve disciples in a three year tour of preaching, teaching, and performing miracles. For his leadership in a variety of medical, logistic, and instructing roles, Jesus was widely proclaimed as the Messiah and Son of God. His work as a fully human person, forsaking his heavenly honours and taking the role of a servant, earned him his Father’s commendation.

In 33 AD Jesus accepted command of OP SALVATION, headquartered in Jerusalem. During a three day campaign, he engaged enemy forces including worldly power, sin and death, and defeated them decisively at the battle of Calvary. For his role in this engagement he was decorated with the Crown of Thorns. During OP RESURRECTION he rose again from the dead, for which he earned the title of firstborn of the dead, Alpha, and Omega.

Following his resurrection, Jesus assumed worldwide command as Head of the Church, resuming all the powers and authorities that he held at the beginning of the time. He is currently stationed at the right hand of God, and is tasked with training and preparing his followers for his coming again in glory.

Jesus enjoys family life as a member of the Holy Trinity, and has countless brothers and sisters who are the adopted children of God the Father

This week past I was attending a chaplains’ conference in balmy Vancouver and our guest speaker was the commander of LFWA, BGen Wynnyk. He was a good speaker, and told us he was a great supporter of chaplains because he had a great uncle who served in the Canadian army as a padre. He also made it crystal clear that he had high expectations of his chaplains, and so he put us on notice that in return for his support we had better work hard for him, for his troops, and for their families. Every padre in the room, I think, left knowing who the boss is (or at least, one of our bosses) and what he expects us to do.

As with any military event, there were biographies of all of our speakers in our conference packages. The military biography is highly conventional piece of writing. Each one tells you about the career of its subject, detailing all the postings, promotions, awards, accomplishments and decorations, and ends with some personal and family information. The point of the commander’s biography is to assure his or her followers that the boss has what it takes to lead. It says, here is a qualified person you can trust, and even though he or she is the boss, they’re a family person like you are and so they can relate to you.

As I was reading General Wynnyk’s biography, which is very impressive and inspiring, the preacher’s part of my brain was reading along and suddenly realized that our second reading today, from the first chapter of Colossians, is St. Paul’s attempt to write a commander’s biography for Jesus. I was so taken with this idea that I penned my own version on the flight home, which I’ve included above.

My version isn’t meant to compete with Paul (I think his place in the church is safe) but simply to underscore the point made in Colossians and in this service, that this is Jesus Christ. Call him King. Call him Messiah. He’s the boss. He’s our boss, our commander. We’re his troops. But our CO isn’t like any other you’ll read about in a standard CF issue biography. This one’s different.

One of the paradoxes of the Christian faith is contained right here, in this chapel. The name of this chapel is Christ the King, which ties in with the day we celebrate. In so far as this humble little chapel on this small base can manage, it points the glory of the King of Heaven and Earth. But, behind me, a piece of the heritage of the Roman Catholic chapel that once existed here beside the Protestant chapel, is the statue of Christ crucified on the cross. The cross behind me, like the gospel reading from Saint Luke that we hear today, reminds us that our king, our CO, has a different and a greater power than the rulers of the earth can imagine.

The Romans placed a sign over Jesus that, in calling him a king, really mocked him. Look, they were saying, this is what happens to anyone who sets himself up against Caesar comes to. This pathetic dying man is what a fake king looks like. Some, Luke tells us, buy into the Roman message and mock Jesus because they can’t imagine power working any other way than the strong being on top and the weak crushed beneath them. Others, particularly the condemned man who asks Jesus to remember him, see the truth. This man realizes that Jesus is not about saving himself, but is about saving others, and that his power is the power to open the gates of heaven itself. This simple exchange between Jesus and the criminal is a concrete example of what Paul says in the abstract in Colossians, about God in Christ rescuing us from the power of darkness and transferring us into the power of his kingdom (Col 1:13). It’s an act of rescue that happens one by one, again and again, as each of us comes to Jesus the King and decides to serve him.

Not everyone makes this decision. Yesterday my wife brought home a women’s fashion magazine, which included an article on the SBNR (Spiritual But Not Religious Movement) which is apparently for people who want a relationship with the divine that is “unmediated by authority”. The article quotes Oprah’s “go-to guru” Eckhardt Tolle who says that his version of spirituality is more accessible than “a teaching that is heavily dependant on the past – like ... Christianity” (Elle Canada Dec 2010 p. 144). Not everyone, it seems, needs a king.

For those of us who are SAR (Spiritual And Religious), we believe differently than self-appointed gurus such as Echkardt Tolle. We choose to follow Christ the King because his authority combines love and power. The King who opens paradise to the criminal opens it to each one of us, as unworthy as we may be. He does so out of love and friendship, because he is a CO who cares for his followers. As Jesus says in John’s gospel, "I no longer speak of you as slaves, for a slave does not know what his master is about. Instead, I call you friends…." (John 15:15), We know also that we come to one another as friends because Christ is friends with each of us, and if being SNBR is all about ME, than being SAR is being all about ONE ANOTHER. Finally, we know that being SAR isn’t about the past. Jesus may have died and risen again in the past, but he isn’t finished. Today is about the Reign of Christ, a reign which will last for ever and ever. We follow the one who is outside of time, who is the beginning and the end, the Alpha and the Omega. The Reign of Christ is then, and now, and to come. It’s every moment of our lives lived in the love and peace of God.

So, my friends, today we have heard our commander’s biography. We’ve heard about his career, about his accomplishments and decorations, and his qualifications. We’ve been reminded of how lucky we are to have him as a boss. And, this Sunday, as we prepare ourselves for Advent and for our four week pilgrimage to Christmas, we’ve been reminded of just what kind of King it is that awaits us in Bethlehem.

Friday, November 19, 2010

British Forces Moslem Chaplain Leads Celebrations in Theatre

HT: UK MOD news service
British Imam leads Eid celebrations in Kandahar
A Military Operations news article
19 Nov 10

Imam Asim Hafiz led a 600-strong congregation on Tuesday morning, 16 November, comprising ISAF Muslim troops from a host of nations, including the UK and the US, and local Afghans, to celebrate Eid ul Adha or 'Festival of Sacrifice'.

Sermons were delivered by Imam Asim, the Muslim Chaplain to the British Armed Forces, and also by the Imam of the local 205 Corps of the Afghan National Army (ANA), demonstrating the united relationship between ISAF and the ANA.

Imam Asim Hafiz was appointed five years ago as Muslim Chaplain to the British Armed Forces
[Picture: Crown Copyright/MOD 2010]

Read the whole piece here.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Seen on the afternoon run

One of those iconic views of Vancouver. Ships ride at anchor in Burrard Bay off Stanley Park on a beautiful late November afternoon. Ran part of the Seawall with Padre friend Howard and stopped to get this shot.

As we were setting off from our hotel in False Creek, also noticed this chap on a weathervane. depicted in medieval garb reading a book and riding backwards on a horse. At first I thought it was a depiction of Chaucer, but in fact it is a reproduction of Rodney Graham's Erasmus Weathervane.

A Holy Jolt of Joe

Seemed a suitable place for a Mad Padre to have lunch and a shot of coffee. Gotta love Vancouver. This was taken at the Wired Monk on West 4th in Kitsilano, near Jericho Beach.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

A Sermon for the 25th Sunday After Pentecost

I'm not convinced that this sermon ever really gets off the ground and makes one coherent point. I was inspired by today's second lesson, which I suspect got rather short shrift in the church today. The subject of this lection, work, is so terribly problematic; given disparities in income worldwide, structural unemployment and the rise of a seemingly permanent underemployed class, telling people from the pulpit to just carry on what you're doing might seems imperious and insensitive. However, there is much wisdom in the last line of this reading and, I think, much encouragement for the Christian, whatever work he or she may be called to. MP+
A Sermon for the Twenty-fifth Sunday After Pentecost, Proper 33 Year C

Isaiah 65:17-23, Isaiah 12, 2 Thessalonians 6-13, Luke 21:5-19

Preached at Christ the King Chapel, CFB Suffield, Ralston AB, 14 November 2010

“Now such persons we command and exhort in the Lord Jesus Christ to do their work quietly and to earn their own living. Brothers and sisters, do not be weary in doing what is right.” (2 Thessalonians 12-13)

Last month at this chapel we celebrated the baptism of a British soldier who had decided, in midlife, to become a Christian. It was a great day, because it’s exciting to see someone being born again, starting a new life as a Christian. We didn’t get the chance to get to know this new Christian, I for one would have loved to have heard her talk about what happened in her life that made her decide to become a baptized follower of Jesus. But she couldn’t stay long, and now she’s back in Germany with her family and with her army mates. So today, as an experiment to start my sermon, imagine with me if we had been given the chance to spend some time with Zone. What if she had asked us a question. What if she had asked, “OK, now that I’m a new Christian, now that I’m born again, what should I do with my life? What should I do?” What would you tell her if she’d asked that question?

The question “what should I do as a new Christian” is behind the second lesson we heard read this morning. The lesson comes from the second of two letters that Paul had written to a church he had founded in the Greek city of Thessalonica. The Thessalonian church was relatively new and had been formed in part by Paul’s preaching and teaching. In his first letter to this new church, Paul had evidently been trying to address their concerns about death and about the afterlife of those members of the church who had recently died. Would the living members be reunited with them in the afterlife? In answering this question, Paul had taught them that Christ’s Second Coming would be soon and that, “through Jesus, God will bring with him those who have died” (1 Thess 4:14). This passage from 1 Thessalonians is often used today as part of the funeral liturgy, as a reassurance that the souls of the faithful dead are safe in God’s keeping until the final judgement. However, for the Thessalonians, this passage was evidently taken to mean that the Second Coming would be quite soon, and in fact a sense of the imminence of Christ’s return was widespread in the early church.

What appears to have happened in Thessalonica is that some who heard or read Paul’s first letter concluded that since Christ was returning soon and they were living in the End Times, there was no need to go on as usual. Some may have heard teaching which seemed to be from Paul, claiming that the day of the Lord is already here. (2 Thess 2.2) Some evidently had quit their jobs or livelihoods, thinking perhaps that ordinary life was pointless, and these people may have been arguing with those who were still working, hence Paul’s reference to “busybodies” (2 Thess 3:11). So part of Paul’s goal in his second letter to the church he founded is to set them straight on what to do as new Christians. He tells them to imitate his example of working and not depending on others for his livelihood. He does not seek to persuade so much as he calls on them to obey him as their teacher, reminding us that all communities, even churches, function best when someone is in authority. He closes with this piece of ethical advice: “Brothers and sisters, do not be weary in doing what is right” (2 Thess 3:13).

Let’s go back to our newly baptized person. What if she had been in the same Christian bookstore I had been in yesterday, and seen the same rack of books about prophecies, about the end of the world as we know it, and about the Second Coming (Christians can be as worried today about these questions as they were in Thessalonica). What if she said to us, “Well, I see all these books, and I see all this news about global warming and the end of oil and the end of America and all that, and I think, what’s the point of going to work? Since I want Jesus to take me with him at the end of things, maybe I should chuck my job and chuck the housework and just spend my time praying, or join these Christian survivalists in the woods, and just wait it out?” What would we say to this question?

Well, we might answer that yes, the world can be a scary place. With gold hitting $1400 an ounce and economists saying that we might be in for round two of that great world depression we thought we avoided in 2008, things look bad. Jesus in today’s gospel never promised his disciples that the future would be rosy. However, he did promise them that if they believed that he was who he said he was, the Son of God, and if they held to that belief no matter what, they would come shining through: “But not a hair of your head will perish. By your endurance you will gain your souls” (Luke 21:5-9). Perhaps, as Jesus was looking at the great temple that human hands had built, he knew that God his Father was the true creator, and that he was not finished his work. Perhaps Jesus was thinking of the words of the prophet Isaiah, of a time when God’s people could enjoy their work and their lives without fear or doubt: “They shall not labor in vain, or bear children for calamity; for they shall be offspring blessed by the Lord— and their descendants as well” (Isa 65:23).

What we could and should say to our new Christian is to have faith in the one who called you and brought your new life. Its interesting as a soldier to note that the word Paul uses for “idleness” is a atakos, a word meaning not in order for battle It is the opposite of taktos, meaning ready for battle. So Paul is saying that as a servant and soldier of Christ, hold yourself ready. Whatever you have been called to do in life, keep doing it, provided, as Paul tells the Thessalonians, that you “do not be weary in doing what is right”. That is good advice for all of us, whatever or wherever we may be.

So, If you are a young person in school, and you see all the cool kids being cliquish and getting popular by being cruel and gossipy, do you do the same thing? No. Do not be weary in doing what is right.

If you are a parent or a homemaker, and you’re tired of the unending grind of trying to raise your kids when all the forces of advertising and money and culture work against you, do you give up? No. Do not be weary in doing what is right.
If you’re a caregiver or a friend, tired of another long visit to the hospital or the senior’s home and wondering if it will really make a difference, do you give up? No. Do not be weary in doing what is right.

If you’re a soldier preparing for another deployment, when you know in your gut it probably won’t make a difference because the government over there is corrupt and the people don’t get it, do you give up? No. Do not be weary in doing what is right.

Whatever you do, do it well and faithfully, in the name of the Our Lord who is faithful and who does all things well (Mark 7:37) for our salvation.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

More on Syrupy Remembrance Day Kitsch

Here's a reason why I was glad to read Christie Blatchford as stated in the previous post. By the end of this week, I had received my share of maudlin and bad emails. Here's one that a co-worker sent me, supposedly about the origin of Taps or, as we Canadians and Brits know it, The Last Post.

The email claimed that the creation of Taps dates to 1862, when a Union army captain named Ellicombe heard a dying soldier crying out at night. Not knowing if the soldier was Union or Conederate, he crawled out "through the gunfire", and pulled the man back to safety. Ellicombe then lit a lantern and discovered (horror!) that the (now dead) soldier was his own son, in a Confederate uniform (gasp! sob!). Why was his son in a Confederate uniform, you ask? I'll tell you! Because he was in the south studying music before the war, and for some reason joined to fight for Dixie. Ellicombe asked if his son could be buried with full military honours, even though he was a Reb, and was told he could only have a bugler. Guess what? They found some music in the dead boy's pocket that he'd actually written, and the bugler played it, and guess what? That music was Taps! "This music was the haunting melody we know as Taps that is used at all military funerals". (Need a kleenex yet?)

Maybe you've gotten that email yourself. Setting aside the fact that it strains all credulity well past the breaking point, it's factually wrong, and has been since the story first started circulating in the 1930s! Since I know a little bit about the American Civil War, I knew that Taps was written for Union General Dan Butterfield because he didn't like the bugle call for "Extinguish Lights". The story is fully debunked on Snopes , and, since some people in my experience think that Snopes is just some mean guy's opinion and isn't true, the authoritative story of Taps can also be found on the Arlington National Cemetery and West Point websites.

Dan Butterfield

My point being, it does no honour to the memory of sacrifices past and present to circulate this sort of historical rubbish. Before you hit forward, take a moment to look into the accuracy of what you may be sending.

By the way, I complimented my coworker on sending me a lovely story, and offered my regrets that it was not true. I also sent him the Arlington, Snopes and West Point links and suggested he look at them. In my experience, correcting people on forwarded emails is never helpful and just makes you look like a prick, but I think Christie Blatchford would agree with me that it's the right thing to do.

Notable Quotable: Christy Blatchford on the Oprah-ization of Remembrance Day

I was glad to read Christie Blatchford in today's Globe and Mail on the syrupy kitsch that has been accruing lately around Remembrance Day. Here's a taste:

"I cannot help but imagine that as glad as [our soldiers] might be for civilian Canada’s current devotion to “supporting the troops" – if only because it is far less unpleasant than the dark days of the Canadian Forces when soldiers occasionally would be spit upon – they would have little stomach for the witless sappiness that has been in the air all week.

If corporate Canada really wanted to show its appreciation for soldiers, companies could hire more of them when they leave the army: All any soldier really learns is how to lead, how to care more for his fellows than he does for himself. Surely the world can use a little more of that.

And if you really must say thanks to a veteran, send him over a damn drink and shut up."

Seen on the morning run

This view of some sunlit trees against a clear sky provided a welcome excuse to stop on the hill I was toiling up this morning in Med Hat and take a shot, again using the HDR utility I downloaded for my iphone. A bit shaky (I blame my ragged breathing) but it conveys the idea of how lovely a late fall / early winter day can be here in Southern Alberta.

Sunday, November 7, 2010

The Conqueror - A Sermon For Remembrance Day Sunday

Preached at Christ the King Chapel, CFB Suffield, Nov 7, 2010

Lections used are for Peace as per the ACC Book of Alternative Services:

Micah 4:1-5, Psalm 85:7-13, Ephesians 2:13-18, John 16:23-33

There is a school of thought that says Remembrance Day Sunday should be observed the Sunday closest to Nov 11, which would be the 14th, but I wanted to preach on the 7th in a way that hopefully might cause some to reflect on the upcoming observance. MP+

"I have said this to you, so that in me you may have peace. In the world you face persecution. But take courage; I have conquered the world!’ John 16:33)

“Recessional” by Rudyard Kipling
God of our fathers, known of old—
Lord of our far-flung battle line—
Beneath whose awful hand we hold
Dominion over palm and pine—
Lord God of Hosts, be with us yet,
Lest we forget—lest we forget!

The tumult and the shouting dies—
The Captains and the Kings depart—
Still stands Thine ancient sacrifice,
An humble and a contrite heart.
Lord God of Hosts, be with us yet,
Lest we forget—lest we forget!

Far-called our navies melt away—
On dune and headland sinks the fire—
Lo, all our pomp of yesterday
Is one with Nineveh and Tyre!
Judge of the Nations, spare us yet,
Lest we forget—lest we forget!

If, drunk with sight of power, we loose
Wild tongues that have not Thee in awe—
Such boastings as the Gentiles use,
Or lesser breeds without the Law—
Lord God of Hosts, be with us yet,
Lest we forget—lest we forget!

For heathen heart that puts her trust
In reeking tube and iron shard—
All valiant dust that builds on dust,
And guarding calls not Thee to guard.
For frantic boast and foolish word,
Thy Mercy on Thy People, Lord!

In 1897, as Queen Victoria celebrated the Diamond Jubilee of her reign and as Great Britain celebrated an empire that spanned the globe, Rudyard Kipling produced a poem to celebrate Victoria’s long reign. Kipling was one of England’s great literary voices and, through works such as Kim and The Jungle Book, had earned a reputation as the poet laureate of the British Empire, but the poem that he produced for the Diamond Jubilee was hardly one of imperial triumph. Its title, “Recessional”, which suggests things ending and passing away, sounded a sombre note of caution to a nation proud of its imperial accomplishments. Kipling used a refrain, “Lest we forget – lest we forget!” to remind his countrymen and women that their Empire too could pass away like ancient empires before it (“Nineveh and Tyre”) if they forgot the God who alone had the power to guard and save them from their pride and arrogance (“frantic boast and foolish word”). Kipling’s poem was a warning that God, and not Britain, had conquered the world, and it would please God to preserve the Empire as long as the British remembered that fact.

While Kiping’s poem may be largely forgotten today, the words of his refrain, “Lest we forget”, still have a place in our minds and hearts as we, here in what used to be part of the British Empire, approach what we have variously called Armistice Day or Remembrance Day. Sometimes these words -- “Lest we forget” -- are carved into cenotaphs, and, if we care to read these words and ponder them, they confront us with a challenge that something important is at stake here, that there are risks involved if we were to forget about the meaning of this day. I think it’s worth asking what would happen if we forgot about Remembrance Day?

First, if we were to forget about Remembrance Day, we would forget the sacrifice of those who served, both the sacrifice of our veterans old and (now, with Iraq and Afghanistan) young, and of our war dead past and present. Forgetting our veterans would be to devalue the civic virtues of service and the idea that some causes are worth great and ultimate cost. In forgetting these causes, such as the liberation of the Netherlands in World War Two or our attempts today, however frustrating and tentative they may be, to better the lot of the people of Afghanistan, we would devalue our sense of connectedness and obligation to other peoples, both at home and around the world, replacing that obligation with apathy and self-absorption. Forgetting our veterans and the causes they served means forgetting the stories which define us as peoples. A Britain which forgets its Finest Hour, or a Canada which forgets its coming of age at Vimy Ridge, would be diminished as a people, less a nation than a collection of individual amnesiacs. Finally, a nation that forgets these things would not be worth remembering by those who come after, except as an object lesson, like Nineveh and Tyre of how countries can end up in the dustbin of history.

You may have noticed that I have not said anything about God thus far, except to mention my text for this morning from St. John, and you would be quite right to wonder where I am going spiritually with this topic. One can observe Remembrance Day quite adequately without having any religious convictions. The things that I have suggested are at stake, “lest we forget”, are civic virtues of service and sacrifice, and a national cohesion that comes from remembering our stories and using them to chart our purpose for good in the world. One can subscribe to these values without believing, as Kipling did, that our country enjoys any divine blessing or God-given role as a world leader. We call such people realists or pragmatists, and if we had to chose we would likely say that pragmatists are less dangerous and make for better world neighbours than those who believe that their country has some special God given purpose (eg, the rulers of Iran and their nuclear program).

You however have come to church this morning either because you are Christians or because you are curious to hear what the church has to say. For the church, we too are a people who have much at stake “lest we forget”. Since God rescued his faithful people from slavery in Egypt, he has tasked them with the duty of remembrance. The Psalms, for example, remind God’s people never to forget the God who has never forgotten them:

It is he who remembered us in our low estate,
for his steadfast love endures for ever;
and rescued us from our foes,
for his steadfast love endures for ever;
O give thanks to the God of heaven,
for his steadfast love endures for ever. (Psalm 136 23-26)

The same divine love that sustained Israel is given to us in the person of God’s Son. In our Gospel lesson today, we hear some of the last worlds that Jesus gives to his disciples. He warns them that he will soon be arrested and that they will be scattered, but he says something to them so that they “may have peace”. Jesus does not give them something to look forward to, but asks them to remember something that has already happened. “But take courage,”, he says, “for I have conquered the world” (Jn 16:33).

Is this the mild Lamb of God who says he has conquered the world? What is Jesus saying, and how can we understand this extraordinary claim? First, Jesus is repeating the same message he gives all through John’s gospel, that he and the Father are one and have the same purpose and power in the world. John also reminds us that the Father created the world and created all things, but evil and darkness and death (and this is true especially of wartime) make us lose sight of God, lead us to doubt his power, and even doubt his existence. Because we have trouble seeing the Father, he has sent his Son and given him power over all things in the world, even power over evil and death as shown by his resurrection. To be a Christian is to believe and to remember that God has won this great victory through his Son, that the world is indeed “conquered”, and that the details of this conquest will be revealed in time.

What kind of conquest has our Saviour achieved? Two answers come to mind. First, we can say as followers of the risen Lord that he has conquered the power of death. As St. Paul says, “O death, where is your sting, O grave your victory? ” (1 Cor 15:55). This conquest is not just the abstract hope of some celestial life after death. For us as members of the military, it is the knowledge that the dealers of death we confront -- suicide bombers, practitioners of ethnic cleansers, wardens of prison states -- are on the wrong side of history. In the cosmic struggle between God and evil, their power is already broken, and this should give us hope and purpose. Second, as followers of the God who will reunite the earth, our quarrel is with those who practice hatred and division. We have the promise in the prophet Micah of all nations streaming to God’s heavenly mountain, and the promise of Paul in Ephesians that God “has broken down the dividing wall, that is the hostility between us” (Eph 2:14). These promises remind us that Remembrance Day is not about old divisions between former enemies, but about the hope that our sacrifices and conflicts will lead the peoples of earth to greater unity. We need to remember these promises whenever we encounter those things, such as the hateful email, or jokes about Arabs and Islam, which tempt us back into the divisions that God hates and has sworn to end.

As we prepare to gather at cenotaphs this week, it is a time of uncertainty and of fear for we who are the descendents of the Empire that Kipling celebrated. As in Kipling’s poem “Recessional”, there is a sense of things receding and fading. Even our neighbours to the south, whose Pax Americana followed the British Empire, now seem to sense that their best days are behind them. The West seems to lose purpose. New powers like China rise. Economies falter. Armies and fleets become burdeonsome to maintain, and their ability to bring change to a complex world seems suddenly to be in question. If our “captains and kings” have not quite departed, we doubt their ability to lead us anywhere good. This Remembrance Day we look from the pride and victories of the past to the uncertainties of the future. As we gather at cenotaph and monument this week, we as Canadians and Britons can remember with pride the accomplishments of those who went before us, and know with certainty what is at stake “lest we forget”. As Christians we can look forward with confidence to the future, trusting not in our own strength but in the promise of our King and Saviour that “I have conquered the world”.

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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