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”.

Friday, November 5, 2010

Seen on the morning run

Out for a run on the back roads around CFB Suffield this morning, I ook this picture during an unseasonably warm (6C) for November morning just at sunrise, using my ihpone camera. Wanted to test an app, Pro HDR, that my friend Gene Packwood had mentioned on his blog. I was very pleased with the result. Seeing prairie magic like this sunrise is definitely an incentive to roll out of bed in the morning. Im not really sure that blogsopt does it justice - click on the picture and you get a better view of the fence and the grass in what looks on the blog like a dark foreground.

I was also using the Nike Plus run logging app on my ihpone when I took this shot, and also using it to listen to a podcast from Podrunner, so when you consider that I was able to do all that plus have the safety of a phone just in case, the iphone is a nice piece of kit for a runner to have.

Military Picture of the Week

Four teams of former and current Service (UK) personnel have begun the 'March For Honour' to pay tribute to those lost in Iraq and Afghanistan. The teams have all begun their marches from different areas of the UK in honour of every British military life lost on operations in Iraq and Afghanistan since 2001. Wearing military uniform, each team will march around 30 miles (48km) a day and a total distance up to 250 miles (400km) carrying 40 pounds (18kg) of equipment. The teams will unite and march into London on 11 November 2010 to deliver the Book of Remembrance to the Royal Albert Hall. They aim to raise £1m for the Royal British Legion. Pictured, the Royal Navy team starting their march from HMS Victory in Portsmouth. Click here to read more. [Picture: LA(Phot) Arron Hoare, Crown Copyright/MOD 2010]

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Notable Quotable: Tom Paine on discovering one's hidden inner chaplain

I'm currently reading American author Tom Paine's comic novel from 2003, The Pearl of Kuwait, about some US marines who go AWOL to rescue a beautiful princess after Saddam Hussein invades Kuwait. It's got a lovely style, told in the voice of Marine and surfer dude Carmichael. This passage, where a Marine officer is lecturing his troops on the humanity of the enemy, made me smile. I especially like the use of italics when he gets to the word chaplain. MP+

"In that sense, you and the average Iraqi soldier could have some common ground, do you see?"

No marine of Third Platoon could see.

There was silence and the humour evaporated. Captain Pettigrew was up there hanging, and you would have thought he'd pull back from the edge, but he stumbled onwards and said, "All I'm asking is for you not to demonize the individual Iraqi soldier. The average Iraqi soldier is a human being just like you who" - and here you could see Captain Pettigrew trying to circle back and tie it all together but having some trouble ... And then Captain Pettigrew said something that even he looked confused about when it came out of his mouth: "What I want is for you men to feel there is a fellow human in the Iraqi out there in the trenches."

There was total silence. I don't think any of the men had known there was such a chaplain hidden in their captain. I had the sense that even Captain Pettigrew was surprised that he had a chaplain hidden inside, but war changes people in all sorts of ways. From then on Pettigrew was known behind his back as Captain Chaplain.

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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