Sunday, August 29, 2010

God's Seating Plan

A Sermon for the Fourteenth Sunday After Pentecost
Christ the King Chapel, CFB Suffield
29 August, 2010

Proverbs 25:6-7, Psalm 112, Hebrews 13:1-8,15-16, Luke 14:1,7-14

For all who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted." Luke 14:11

A longstanding military custom at a regimental or unit Christmas dinner is for the most junior private to exchange places with the commanding officer. The two will exchange their uniform tunics (often an amusing spectacle if the two are physically mismatched) and then the young soldier, blushing and smiling, will take his place at the head table where he or she will have the place of honour for the evening. Like the other Christmas custom of having the officers and senior NCOs serve the troops, this inversion of protocol reminds those present that every soldier, from the CO to that blushing private at the head table, are all part of the regimental family and therefore, in a profound sense, equal and deserving of respect and dignity. Of course, when that regiment goes back to the parade square or to the field, the hierarchy of rank and authority will be firmly back in place, for that’s how armies work. However, through the year to come, the lesson of the Christmas dinner will be there to remind the superior to treat his or her subordinate fairly and justly.

Today’s gospel story from St. Luke finds Jesus at a banquet. Like a regimental dinner, it was the kind of affair where every guest knew who was who and sat accordingly. Unlike the regimental dinner, there was no idea of calling the lowliest person up to the highest table, at least, not until Jesus opened his mouth. In the world of Jesus’ day, people were constantly reminded of their status. Your family, your wealth, and your connections to the rich and powerful determined what you could where, where you could go, and what you could do. A banquet, such as the one Jesus attended, literally put people in their place by seating them according to the amount of prestige and honour that they had in society. If you have trouble imagining this idea, just think back to the last time you went to a big airport. If you left your car in the Park and Fly lot, struggled onto the shuttle bus with all your luggage, and then waited in long lines and uncomfortable seats until you board the plane and go to your cramped seat in Row 29, you were one sort of person. If you were whisked to the airport in a limo, went through the VIP security line to the executive lounge, and then got the first boarding call with all the elite and superelite passengers, then you were another kind of person. I’ve only been seated in First Class once, but every time since then, I’ve shuffled past the few in the big cushy chairs in the front of the airplane, with their free drinks and cloth napkins, and wished I was one of them.

So is Jesus saying that if we only act humble and meekly, then God will include us in the preboarding announcement and call us to the first class seats? If we focus on verse 10 of today’s gospel, we might get that impression. “But when you are invited, go and sit down at the lowest place, so that when your host comes, he may say to you, "Friend, move up higher'; then you will be honored in the presence of all who sit at the table with you.” If we just focus on this line, then we might only take away the message that good table manners will get you far in the world. But what if Jesus is saying something much bigger and even something more dangerous?

What if the message isn’t “act humble so you can get ahead in the world” but rather “act so that the world is the humble?” If it’s just about a lucky few getting called up to the head table, then nothing has changed much, but if it’s about getting rid of the head tables altogether, then the world is changed altogether. At the very beginning of his ministry, Jesus warned that God’s kingdom would not be about head tables of super-elite preboarding calls. In the synagogue in Nazareth, Jesus opened up the pages of the prophet Isaiah and read this:
‘The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,
because he has anointed me
to bring good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives
and recovery of sight to the blind,
to let the oppressed go free,
to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favour.’ (Luke 4:18-19)

You may recall that as St. Luke describes it, Jesus wasn’t too popular in Nazareth when he read these lines and then took them as his own mission. Jesus’ whole ministry was dedicated to the folks who didn’t matter in the world’s seating plan. Jesus had a different seating plan, God’s plan, and it kept the best places for lepers, cripples, sinful women, tax collectors, the people who settled for table scraps and who never mattered to the few in the places of honour.

At the end of his parable, tells his host and his fellow dinner guests that they have a choice. They can live their lives according to the seating plan that works for them, or they can embrace God’s seating plan, which gives to those who have no place, no prestige, and no way of returning favours. Jesus does not offer this choice as a suggestion, as an “it would be nice if...”. Instead, Jesus reminds his hearers, as he reminds us, that this is a choice on which they will be judged for all eternity. “ And you will be blessed, because they cannot repay you, for you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous" (Luke 14:14). If God’s seating plan matters to us, then we must do what we can to honour the flood victim in the refugee camp, the child soldier, the unwed mother, the illiterate, the unemployed, and the homeless.
Let me finish with a story related by the
Dominican preacher, John Boll. He tells the story of Bruno Serato, the owner of a fancy restaurant that “feeds the rich and famous in Orange County, not far from Disneyland. He is also on the board of the local Boys and Girls Club, which is a national organization that helps poor children”. As a local news story describes it, “In 2005 Serato was visiting the Boys & Girls Clubs in Anaheim in 2005 with his mother, Caterina, when they noticed a small boy eating potato chips for dinner. When she learned that his parents couldn’t afford to provide a real meal, Caterina insisted that her son feed the child, who lived with his family in a low-income motel nearby. “Children have to eat” Serato recalls his mother saying. “So we went back to the kitchen and made pasta.”

That was the first of 250,000 meals the owner of the upscale Anaheim White House restaurant has served to children in need. Five nights a week, Serato, who grew up poor in Italy, delivers fresh pasta to 150 so-called “motel kids” at the club, all free of charge. “Nobody has a greater passion for the people he`s serving” says Anaheim mayor Curt Pringle.

One grateful recipient: Katlin Hadley, 12, who lives with her brother, parents and an uncle in a one-room motel room. “I get hungry sometimes,” she says. Adds her mom, Mandy 32: “What Bruno is doing is absolutely amazing.”

“I can’t stop helping these kids,” says Serato.

Bruno Serato is a concrete example of someone who understands and lives by God`s seating plan. He seems to derive real joy from what he does, reminding us that joy is one of the fruits of the Holy Spirit, and that the rewards of abundant, eternal life can begin now, and not just in the hereafter. We each have opportunities in our lives to live and act in a way that takes God`s seating plan off the pages of scripture, and into a world that longs to see the coming of God`s kingdom. Our Eucharist today is a reminder that God`s banquet table is open to all who hear and believe his call. May we enjoy God`s generosity, and may we carry that spirit of generosity into the world.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

It Runs in the Family

Mrs. Padre and I had the privilege to spend last Friday witnessing my great nephew's graduation from the Air Cadet Training Program at Penhold, near Red Deer, AB. We had to get up at oh-dark-and-stupid to make the five hour trip in time for the 10am parade, but it was worth it. Kay and I pose with Cpl. Sinclair Scott, who took a three week music training program. Sinclair is now back at home with his mom (and my niece) Laura.

I also got the chance to meet the parade's guest of honour, the Lt. Governor of Alberta, the Hon., Col. (Ret) Donald Ethell, a very distinguished Canadian soldier and a pretty cool guy.

Language Play of the Week

Every now and then I read something - a phrase, a turn of thought, and I think, "wow, Writer Dude, you just nailed that". OK, I realize that my last sentence wasn't exactly an example of the kind of effective writing I'm talking about, but you get my point. So, Mad Padre begins a new feature, entitled, "Language Play of the Week".

To start it off, David Rothkopf, in an opinion piece on why it's too early to rate Barack Obama as a President, earns this week's pick for his post-modern riff on an overused rhetorical phrase that he drops into his sentence.

"It was a well-argued, quite passionate piece. The problem with it was that it was arrant nonsense. (I recognize that the term "arrant nonsense" should usually be reserved for gaunt English character actors playing the Sherriff of Nottingham but in this instance it fits, and if you heard me say it with my not-so-plummy Central New Jersey accent, you wouldn't think it sounded half as pompous as it might appear in print.)"

The Gift of Sabbath Time

Proper 16, Thirteenth Sunday After Pentecost
Deuteronomy 5:1-15, Psalm 71:1-6, Hebrews 12:18-29, Luke 13:10-17

This is my first sermon preached at the chapel of Christ the King, CFB Suffield. I followed the lectionary but substituted Deuteronomy 5 for the first reading at the suggestion of the participants of this week's "Sermon Brainwave" podcast at Working Preacher, since I agree with them that this lesson helps understand the gospel lection. MP+

“And this woman, a daughter of Abraham as she is, whom Satan has bound for eighteen long years, should she not have been released from this bond on the Sabbath day?” (Lk 13:16)

This week I’ve met a lot of folks here as I began my time here as base chaplain, and during one conversation, a soldier told me that while he was pleased to meet me, I probably wouldn’t be seeing him in church. Well, that didn’t surprise me much, because soldiers aren’t famous for being churchgoers. The English poet Rudyard Kipling, who knew a thing or two about soldiers, wrote that “Single men in barracks don’t grow into plaster saints”. Fair enough, but as I looked at this Sunday’s readings, which are about the Sabbath and about what God’s people should and shouldn’t do on this holy day, I got led to thinking about these questions. Why should we as Christians go to church (especially when so many who consider themselves Christians are elsewhere on Sunday mornings?). Are we obliged to go to church because our prayers and our worship are expected of us by God? Or, is going to church something we do, not because we owe it to God, but because we owe it to ourselves?

Today’s gospel reading from St. Luke is not just a healing story. It’s also an argument about what our response to the Lord’s day, the Sabbath, should be. Jesus is in church on the Sabbath, and sees a woman who is suffering from a sickness, so he heals her. A religious official becomes upset because, as he sees it, Jesus’ action breaks the Jewish laws forbidding any work to be done on the Sabbath. In the eyes of the official, the requirement to honour the holiest day of the week comes first, whereas for Jesus, the needs of a woman whom he sees as one of God’s children, “a daughter of Abraham”, come first.

It’s tempting to think that the synagogue official is merely a fussy and petty-minded nincompoop who puts religious rules above human needs, but hold that thought for just a moment. For a long time, Christianity has taken the same view as the official. Christians, like Jews, consider ourselves bound by the Third Commandment, to “Remember the Sabbath day and keep it holy” (Ex 20:8-11). Some churches, including the Roman Catholic church in its catechism, regard it as a “grave sin” not to go to Sunday mass, and some protestant churches will send the elders to your door if they don’t see you on Sunday. Christians have also tried to enforce the Third Commandment on society as a whole, such as in the losing fight against Sunday shopping. Militaries used to enforce the Sunday church parade, though if you read the memoirs and history books I’m not sure that anyone found these parades an uplifting experience. I’m old enough that I was taught to dress up in my Sunday best, and I still find myself uncomfortable at the sight of jeans and T-shirts in church.

There’s a word for the kind of mindset which says that we should or shouldn’t do things, and that word is called legalism. When you think about it, the word “should” is an unattractive and unhelpful word when it comes to Sunday. You aren’t likely to persuade people by telling them that they “should” come to church. If young people who always wear jeans and T-shirts show up at church and are told they “should” wear nicer clothes, they aren’t likely to come back. The word “should” won’t fill pews, nor will telling people that they owe Sunday to God. But you might get people to come to church if they were to hear that Sunday is about a loving and freedom-giving God who wants to release them from their burdens.

Think for a moment about the obligations and burdens that most people carry through the week. The unemployed carry poverty and hopelessness. The underemployed carry the crushing weight of multiple jobs to maintain a foothold in society. The employed, especially the professionals, give lavishly to their jobs, often at the expense of the families and relationships. We all go through the week carrying the burdens of our hidden, inner lives, whatever they may be. Spiritual emptiness, physical and mental illness, failed relationships, addictions, loneliness, depression are unseen but heavy weights that God never intended his people to carry. If you think about it, the woman in today’s gospel who for many years “had a sickness caused by a spirit” is more like you and I than we may care to admit.

Burdened and distracted as we are, people associate the word “Sabbath” for the ideas of rest and freedom. Our word “sabbatical”, meaning a time away from the daily routine to rest and recharge, comes from the Jewish word “Sabbath”. The author William Powers, who has written about how we are increasingly burdened and stressed by all the digitial communications technology that is supposed to make our lives easier. Powers and his family now enjoy an “Internet Sabbath” when they disconnect the internet from late Friday to early Monday to become more connected with themselves and with each other. His idea of an “internet Sabbath” captures a small part of what God intended when he gave us his gift of Sabbath time.

In our first reading, from Deuteronomy, before God gives the Third Commandment to his people, he reminds them that they were once slaves in Egypt before he brought them out to freedom. The Sabbath is a gift to former slaves, a time of freedom from work for all people, even the lowliest household servants and farmhands. Everyone is made equal by the same gift of rest from work, and so everyone, from the lowest to the highest, is reminded that they are former slaves who have been rescued and emancipated by God. When the synagogue official gets angry at Jesus for breaking the Sabbath, he misses the point because he doesn’t understand who Jesus is. Luke wants us to realize that Jesus, as God’s son, in this and other acts of healing, continues God’s work of rescuing his children. Sometimes when we read the healing stories of the gospels, we think that they are medical stories about a lucky few sick people that Jesus helped. A better way to think of these stories is that Jesus offers the same healing to all of us, the same healing rescue from sin and death. Today’s Eucharist, like the Passover meal that it arose from, is a reminder that all of us, from the lowest to the highest, are God’s children rescued from our slavery to sin and death.

One of my favourite preachers is a Texan named Stanley Hauerwas (and it seems appropriate to mention him today in my first sermon in Alberta, Canada’s Texas). Hauerwas tells a story of how, during the American Civil War, news of the Emancipation Proclamation came to Texas on June 19th. For years thereafter, African Americans in Texas observed “Juneteenth” by not showing up for work, and while the whites didn’t like it, they couldn’t do much about it. As Hauerwas notes, Sunday , the Christian Sabbath, is our Juneteenth. It’s a day when we step out of the world’s business and disorder into the peace and order that God wants, and always wanted, for us. It’s a day when we offer up prayers and hymns, not because we owe them to God, but because our prayers and hymns are the thanksgiving of people who were slaves, and who now are free. Sunday is a reminder that peace and joy and freedom are God’s great gifts to his children, it’s the day when we can fully live and experience those gifts, and if we did a better job of explaining this to a world that needs these gifts so badly, then we wouldn’t worry about our empty pews.

I have said these things in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. +

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Military Goats in the News - Meet Aircraftsman George

We here at Mad Padre are devoted to scouring the military news to bring you, gentle readers, all the latest on that most fascinating of topics, the military goat. Today the UK MOD news feed introduces us to Aircraftsman George, a two-year-old Golden Guernsey-Boer goat who is the mascot of the Royal Air Force recruit training centre at RAF Halton. I recently read The Mint, T.E. Lawrence's (as in Lawrence of Arabia) account of life at an RAF recruit school just after WW1, and it sounded quite beastly, and he certainly didn't mention anything about goats. RAF Halton sounds much more pleasant.

AC George certainly earned his place in the ranks.

"Lauren Godfrey, the farm manager at the Bucks Goat Centre (where AC George was raised), said:

"I am not surprised that he has fitted in so well as he has been raised around people and was a keen competitor on our animal assault course." !!!

Read the whole piece here.

Military Picture of the Week

In keeping with the nautical theme of my last posting, I liked this picture from the British Ministry of Defence daily news feed and thought it worth putting up here. Portland looks like a model ship against the glacier. MP

HMS Portland has recently paid a reassurance visit to South Georgia, a remote UK territory in the southern Atlantic Ocean, where she came face-to-face with the remarkable size of the Nordenskjold Glacier. South Georgia is a pristine natural reserve where the first shots of the Falklands War were fired in 1982. The island was formerly used as a base for a number of whaling stations until the industry's demise in the 1960s. HMS Portland is currently deployed for seven months on Atlantic Patrol Task (South) where she will reassure UK overseas territories and commonwealth and other friendly nations. See this and more Defence images on our Flickr channel. [Picture: Leading Airman (Photographer) Ian Simpson, Crown Copyright/MOD 2010]

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Farewell to Nova Scotia 2 - the Navy Past and Present

During our last week in NS before leaving for Alberta, Kay and I had the chance to wander through Halifax a bit, following the harbour trail from Pier 21 along the waterfront. We thirstily passed the Garrison Brewing Company (I'm going to miss their beer as well as Propellor, another excellent Halifax brewery) and found ourselves in front of HMCS Sackville, Canada's World War Two maritime memorial..

Sackville is the last of over two hundred small warships, called corvettes, built by Canada as a response to the German submarine fleet. They were made famous by the British sailor and writer, Nicholas Montsarrat, whose novel, The Cruel Sea, was mde into what for my money is one of the top ten WW2 films ever made.

For a small fee, you can board her at the dock and tour the ship, guided by recorded comments in most compartments.

A corvette as she would have appeared in wartime.

Sackville at rest in Halifax today. The blue and white paint pattern was a surprise to me, as I expected a neutral navy gray, but a young sailor in charge of ticket sales (nice PAT job) explained to me that it was a disruptive (camouflage) pattern, similar to the dazzle ship idea of the First World War, to make it hard for UBoat captains to judge direction and distance of their targets.

The interior of the Sackville is incredibly cramped and highly efficient, with no space wasted. The introvert in me shuddered to think of living and working with a hundred other men for long weeks on end, even though I would jump at the chance to work as a shipboard padre before my CF career ends.

The tradition continued. HMCS Athabaskan berthed nearby Sackville. Regrettably she wasn't open to visitors during our time there.

Back to School Tips for Military Families

As Kay and I settle into our new house in our new town, I realize that our adjustment and lives are a little easier because we don't have to worry about getting young kids ready to go to new schools. I experienced that anxiety myself an army brat whose peripatetic dad kept moving even after he left the CF, and so I can see the need for parents to be responsive to their kids' emotional as well as educational needs following a posting.

Elaine Wilson of the US military's Family Matters blog has some useful advice for military families with kids starting school shortly.

Family Matters Blog: Blogger Shares Back-to-school Tips
By Elaine Wilson
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, Aug. 16, 2010 – After two months of summer vacation, the natives are restless. My kids have been at home at close quarters for weeks at a time now and the tension is mounting.

It started out innocently enough. Back in June, my 6- and 8-year-old were thrilled to toss off their school shackles and dive right into summer fun. They swam for hours, visited amusement parks, built sand castles on the beach and sweated gallons during outdoor play.

While at first they were best buds, over time the sibling quarrels began to escalate along with the temperature. I've come to realize there really is such a thing as too much together time.

While my children won't admit it out loud, I think we all are secretly looking forward to the first day of school. They may grumble and moan about it, but I know when that first day of school arrives, they'll head off excitedly to meet their friends with new backpacks and school supplies in tow.

Read the whole piece here.

Sunday, August 8, 2010

Farewell to Nova Scotia 1 - Nova Scotia is a Fowl Place

Before our flight out to Medicine Hat on August 4th, Kay and I had a chance to spend several days in Halifax, doing and seeing things we never had the opportunity to do during our posting in Greenwood.

Kay made a friend in Halifax's lovely Public Gardens Park.

And another, larger goose, outside the Art Gallery of Nova Scotia :

Interpreter in full historical costume at the Fortress of Louisbourg:

Friday, August 6, 2010

Notable Quotable: British Soldier, Triple Amputee, on His Tandem Parachute Jump

"It's been a bit of a challenge. Getting up there into the plane and learning what to do. It has been a challenge, every day's a challenge really, but you just take them on board and get over them."

Corporal Reid lost both legs and his right arm last autumn due to an improvised explosive device while serving in Afghanistan
[Picture: Graham Harrison, Crown Copyright/MOD 2010]

Read the whole story here.

Wounded Soldier Keeps Fighting for Comrades and Their Families

I'm glad that the American Forces Press Service continues to remind us of how wounded soldiers can find a road to healing and recovery. The story of Major Ed Pulido, who lost a leg in Iraq, while inspiring in its own right, underscores some of the key elements to recovery: a support group of peers with whom to share similar experiences, physical activity and challenges to restore self-esteem, and a positive attitude. There's also a mention of how military chaplains played an important role in Pulido's recovery which is inspiring to those of us in that vocation.

Retired Army Maj. Ed Pulido poses with his wife, Karen, and daughters, Kaitlin and Kinsley. Courtesy photo

‘Real Warrior’ Loses Leg, Gains New Perspective
By Elaine Wilson
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, Aug. 4, 2010 – With a combat escort at front and rear, Army Maj. Ed Pulido drove a sport utility vehicle into an area of Iraq known as “IED Alley” on his way to Kirkuk from a base northwest of Baghdad.

Pulido chatted with the colonel next to him, mostly about going home again, all the while unaware of the roadside bomb lodged in the asphalt directly ahead.

The soldiers in front saw it, but it was too late to warn Pulido. The bomb detonated, and smoke, glass, noise and dust filled the air. The air bag had deployed, and Pulido shoved it to one side. That’s when he saw the damage the fragments had inflicted on his leg.

It’s been six years since that day, and more than any other moment, that one still sticks in his mind.

“I’ve had dreams about it all the time,” Pulido said. “The night sweats and terrors -- it was that moment right there when I put the air bag aside and saw the blood.”

Read the whole story here.

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Stress of Combat Effects Animals as Well as Soldiers

In this photo taken Thursday, July 29, 2010, Gina, a highly trained bomb-sniffing dog with the U.S. military, joins Staff Sgt. Chris Kench on a sofa atthe kennel at Peterson Air Force Base in Colorado Springs. (AP Photo/Ed Andrieski)

Thanks to my brother Alex for pointing me to this link about a US military bomb-sniffing dog who returned from a tour of duty in Iraq with what a military veterinarian has diagnsed as a canine version of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.

David Rothkopf on the Human Rights of Women and Why We (Should) Fight

I haven't read the current issue of Time Magazine featuring the women of Afghanistan, but I did read David Rothkopf's piece on Foreign Policy this Tuesday on how the treatment of women in many Islamic countries is a challenge to our values. I expected a dispassionate, realpolitik-based argument as to why Time's cover image is a manipulative and simplistic attempt to make the case for the West's staying the course in Afghanistan. In fact, I was surprised by the course his argument took towards his conclusion, which I quote here:

"We can't be a moral society and turn a blind eye to this. Nor can we call ourselves honorable and ally ourselves to those who tolerate or empower the abusers. Our geopolitical objectives in the Middle East are not greater than the rights of women everywhere. Fighting terror is not greater than our obligation to those women. And no religion, nor any government that acts "in the name of religious values" that promotes the abuse of anyone, is worthy of our tolerance."

As Rothkopf himself notes, history has examples of how the West has responded (or ignored) the cultural practices of other countries which it deemed repugnant. I recall a history seminar I took once on the British Empire and how colonial administrators, missionaries and parliamentarians were outraged with cultural practices such as sutee in India and female circumcision in Africa. The ethical problem then, as now, is whether the West has the moral right to object to he internal religious and cultural practices of other countries. The question now is whether the West can move beyond the relativistic tolerance with which it has largely replaced institutional colonialism on the one hand and the limited engagement realpolitik abhorrence of nation-building on the other and find a coherent voice that recognizes the basic human rights of women wherever they may live? Rothkopf's argument may be a starting point for that discussion, as well as food for thought for Canadians who want to end our engagement in Afghanistan.

Back Online In the Hat

July has passed in a mad rush. Clearing out of my post at 14 Wing, Greenwood, selling our house there and buying another house here in Medicine Hat, packing, moving, it all went by very quicky and very little activity here. As I write this, Kay and I are resting in our hotel room in Medicine Hat, waiting for the realtor to call and say the keys are available and waiting for Steve the moving truck driver to call and say he's good to go. Above the television sit a small collection of plants, some brunnera taken from Kay's garden in NS, and some other little guys adopted in Halifax or Cape Breton during our brief vacation that travelled with us in paper bag from Starbucks. There are other plants packed on Steve's truck and we'll know soon how they made it. Another chapter in what I described earlier in this blog as "The Strange Hopefulness of Military Gardeners", although there's been a lot of sadness with leaving yet another garden behind and praying that someone else will enjoy it. When we discovered a website called Virtual Turnpike (try it, you'll like it), which allows you to see digital pictures of a street by address, Kay used it to see how her garden in London, ON was doing, and was pleasantly surprised.

So much to catch up on here, including our last adventures in Atlantic Canada and a lot of military news and some book reviews to post in the days and weeks ahead, as well as a new set of adventures in Alberta to describe.



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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