Thursday, September 29, 2011

New On My Tablet Christmas Wish List

I've been considering getting an Ipad this Christmas, partly because I'm tired of trying to find print copies of The New Yorker in the small town where I live and getting it on a tablet seems attractive.

This piece in today's Globe and Mail on the new Kindle Fire tablet is intriguing. For half the price of the Ipad, if I can get a bigger screen than my iphone to read ebooks AND get the New Yorker, hmmmmm.

Oh, and it supports Plants Vs Zombies! Bonus!

"You've Just Got to Join In": Tips of the Trade From a British Army Chaplain

Good advice here for my chaplain colleagues from a British army padre. MP+

Army chaplain Padre Stephen Hancock
[Picture: Corporal Andy Reddy RLC, Crown Copyright/MOD 2011]

"Sitting in a vehicle watching these guys, in body armour and helmet in 56 degrees [Celsius] heat, 122 [degrees Fahrenheit] in English money, you've got to be robust, but that's how you earn their respect.

"Even if you fainted, they'd probably love you more - you've just got to join in.

"You've got to do what they're doing, be with them, share with them, and then it's incredible how, when you least expect it, they will come to you with their intimate pain and intimate secret.

"And that is a real privileged position and you start to think 'my presence is not wasted'."

More here.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

"Generosity Can Lower A Person's Status": In Tough Times, Be Tough, Study Finds

In August I posted a sermon here which noted two studies claiming that selfish and assertive people do better financially and in the workplace. Today's Globe and Mail notes a similar study which finds that people may respect selfless and generous behaviour, but in times of crisis they would prefer a leader who is selfish and aggressive.

"While we all might prefer to work for a saintly personality like Mother Teresa, when the going gets tough most people would rather be led by a self-serving toughie like Al Capone".

An interesting and somewhat alarming story to read at a time when the West seems to be drifting over the falls and strong leadership is nowhere to be seen.

"They Are the Beginnings of a Nation": Major Fernando Lujan on How the War in Afghanistan Can Still be Won

Wise and encouraging words in today's NYT from a US Special Forces Major who believes that the Afghan people have the will to prevail against the Taliban even when many in the West have pronounced the conflict unwinnable.

Here's an excerpt: "... optimism in Afghanistan should not be mistaken for naïveté. We’ve paid a terrible price for the gains we’ve made, and Afghans know we’re leaving. Insurgents still control many areas and are certain to attempt a counteroffensive as foreign troops withdraw. My optimism is rooted instead in an intangible metric, gleaned from the thousand cups of tea we drank and the hundreds of patrols we walked: the Afghans have the will to win, with or without us."

Read the whole piece here.

Monday, September 26, 2011

Military Goats In the News

It's been over a year since we at Mad Padre posted on that most captivating of subjects, the military goat. In August 2010 we introduced you to AirCraftsman George, the mascot of the Royal Air Force recruit training centre at RAF Halton. Apparently AC George is stagging on and doing his duty as a good goat should.

Today the UK MOD News Service announced that the RAF and the Bucks Goat Centre, his official residence, have put together a handsome trailer so AC George can travel in style.

Recruit Training Squadron mascot George the goat arrives at RAF Halton in his new trailer to attend a graduation parade
[Picture: Crown Copyright/MOD 2011]

The RAF reports that "George appears to love his new trailer as it gives him a place to rest, shelter and prepare himself physically and mentally for his performances."

Sadly, to my knowledge there are no goats serving in the Canadian Forces. If the situation changes, Mad Padre will be the first to let you know.

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Getting Over Ourselves

A Sermon for the Fifteenth Sunday of Pentecost, preacher at Christ the King Chapel, CFB Suffield, Ralston, AB, 25 Sept 2011.

Lectionary texts for Year A: Exodus 17:1-7, Ezekiel 18:1-4, 25-32, Psalm 25:1-9 (6), Philippians 2:1-13, Matthew 21:23-32

First sermon after a month of leave and temporary duties. Hasty and rushed, and written after the fact, but a pleasure to preach the gospel again. H/T to the Kiwi Canon for the idea. MP+
My friend Gene Packwood put me on to this excellent piece by Sharon Hodie Miller on aithenticity. Her starting point in this essay is the prevalence of the word "authentic" and the claims to autnenticity by so many politicans and celebrities today. This prevalence leads Miller to claim that "authenticity is near to becoming a core ... ethic" at a time when so many of us feel manipulated and lied to.

I think Miller has a good point. In an age of media spin and of a growing gap between the superrich and the rest of us, it does seem that those at the top are anxious to claim the legitimacy of being real folks, just like the rest of us. I found it fascinating this week to note a CBC documentary on the singer Celine Dion, who is anxious to tell her public that she is really just an ordinary working parent: "I am a mom, like other moms. I am a working mom, like other working moms." This claim may be hard to digest when we note that Ms. Dion makes megabucks singing in Las Vegas, but its fascinating that she needs to present herself to us this way, as if the reality of personhood is the one thing her public persona cannot give her.

Not that being "authentic" is a bad thing. I can't think of anyone who would be displeased to be described as "authentic". Authenticity is reality, without the semblance of masks or posturing. It is the matching of word and action that we call integrity. In very geneeral terms, being authentic is being true to one's self.

What does it mean to be authentically Christian? I ask this question because a frequent accusation made against Christians is that we are hypocrites, who speak piously but act in such a way that undercuts the values we proclaim. The sexual misdeeds of clergy or of Christian conservative politicians, the greed of televangelists, or the indifference of affluent congregations to racism and poverty are common facts that explain this perception.

Miller offers two helpful thoughts about being authentically Christian. The first is that it takes time and practice. Our word "disciple" comes from the Latinword for student, and being a student of anything worthwhile takes time. In this congregation we have soldiers, nurses, teachers and parents, and you all know that you don't get good at those crafts overnight. Miller's second point is that authentic Christianity only comes from its namesake, Christ.

Miller writes (and this is a long quotation but worthwhile) that authenticity "can only be had in Christ. C. S. Lewis wrote, “Until you have given up your self to Him you will not have a real self. . . . The very first step is to try to forget about the self altogether. You real, new self will not come as long as you are looking for it. It will come when you are looking for Him. . . . Christ will indeed give you a real personality.”

Lewis makes this statement as one who understands the deceptiveness and destructiveness of sin. Only God knows who we really are — that is, who he created each one of us to be. Sin leads us to construct alternative versions of ourselves, selves we prefer, selves that are more comfortable, selves that bring us the most glory. We may try to construct selves that will honor God, but even our best intentions will be perverted when working off a manmade blueprint.

In Christ, however, we become our true selves. God opens our eyes to our sins, to the self-deception, to the things in our lives that are not of him. Then he transforms us, conforming us to the only perfect human being who ever lived. In Christ, we stop operating according to the constraints of social expectations, personal insecurities, and lies. Rather than live in ways that are subhuman, we finally live in a manner worthy of God’s vision for humanity."

In our second lesson from Philippians, Paul expresses the idea of authenticity in his phrase "having the mind of Christ". He associates this mind with values that promote others above self, particularly "compassion" and "sympathy", and then suggests that there is only room for these values in the Christlike mind when the self is put out of the way: "Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility regard others as better than yourselves. Let each of you look not to your own interests but to the interests of others" (Phil 2:3-4). Only by removing the self, Paul suggests, can "the same mind be in your that was in Christ Jesus" (Phil 2:5).

The idea of devaluing the self is a difficult one. In the Sermon Brainwave disussion on today's lections, Prof. Karoline Lewis and her colleagues the very honest statement that Paul's call to lower ourselves can be heard the wrong way to modern ears, playing into power dynamics that promote inequalities and oppression. I think that's a fair caution. Even for someone as relatively privileged as myself, it's difficult to hear. This week I am meeting with my chaplain supervisor to receive my annual professional review, and of course the selfish part of me is hoping for good comments and a decent ranking that might lead the way to promotion and nice postings. Supessing the self or even dying to the self is a difficult thing.

I think however that the famous Christ hymn in Philippians 2:6-11, as important as it may be to our doctrine of Christology, also explains what Paul means by the "Christ mind". The Son of God, Paul says, left the power and status of the divine to become a slave. My guilty pleasure right now is watching the Starz series "Spartacus: Blood and Sand" which, while not for the faint of heart, reminds us what it means to be a slave in Paul's world. No greater self-abnegation could be imagined by Paul's contemporaries. So Paul is saying that authentic Christianity is the Christ mind and the Christ mind is selflessness. To be authentically Christian, we need to try to get over ourselves. Otherwise we may be surprised, like the religious professionals, to find that those we might see through and ignore, like the "tax collectors and prostitutes" (Matt 21:31), are entering the kingdom of heaven way ahead of us.

Selflessness is not impossible. Military culture promotes it all the time. Theories about atltruism being a genetic trait may even suggest that it is hardwired in us. Whether we choose to cultivate an attitude of selflessness that as Christians will lead us into the mind of Christ is a choice that we make repeatedly over our lives. Selflessness means seeing the other person and their need with "compassion and sympathy". If you like, try practising that skill the next time you go into Medicine Hat for a Timmies, not at the nice ones with the drive thrus, but the one on Third Street with no drive thru, where the riff raff, street folks and the mentally ill hang out. Get in line with them. Notice them. Say hello to them. While you are down there, you may notice the sign in a nearby shop window that I saw the other day. It reads "We are on this earth not to see through one another, but to see one another through". Not a bad summary of the Christ mind, I think.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

"If People Are the Focus Then There's No Hope". Paul Wilson on Preaching

Paul Scott Wilson, from Emmanuel College, Toronto School of Theology, on what he calls "one of the biggest issues that there is in preaching", the need for the preacher to focus the sermon on God.

A Canadian War Hero Gets His Due

Major William. G. Barker poses with the wreckage of Sopwith F1 "Camel" aircraft of No. 28 Squadron, RAF, in 1918 in Italy.

Great story from today's Globe and Mail about steps in Toronto to honour Canada's greatest military aviator. He deserves to be remembered.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

More on Paul Hellyer and the "R" Word: A Reader's Comments

On 17 August I posted some comments here about Paul Hellyer's dissent from the government's decision to restore the titles "Royal Canadian Navy" and "Royal Canadian Air Force". Hellyer, pictured above, was Minister of Defence under the late PM Pierre Trudeau and axed these titles as part of his restructuring of the Canadian military in the late 1960s.

My post tried to be provocative as well as thoughtful, and it elicited some very thoughtful response. Today I got this great reply from JCanuck and I thought it was a pity to see it buried in the comments portion of an old post, so here it is. Thanks, JCanuck. When time permits I'll comment on it below but you deserve to have this seen by others.
Blessings, MP+

Honked Off? You did that with spades Mike, however I enjoy your blog. Let's examine your assertions on the term'Royal'.

You assert not many serving identify with the word Royal "particularly younger ones and especially those who are not of Anglo background". That is perhaps the way you feel, but it certainly hasn't been my experience in all the years I have been serving and I write as an 8th generation Canadian married to an immigrant from a visible minority. My wife and children are quite happy with the word Royal. So are Officers I have served with from the Royal 22nd, the 'Van Doos'. Not only happy with, but proud of the title.

The dropping of the prefix 'Royal' at the time of unification was justified on two premises which had little if any merit. Conveniently you repeated them for us. The first was that new Canadians would have trouble identifying with the term 'Royal'. Very strange as they chose to immigrate to a country that is a constitutional monarchy. They had other choices, no one forced them to come here. They came here out of their own free will. The other premise which you assert is that it creates 'difficulty' for French Canadians. The truth is that French Canada sided with the Crown in the wars of 1776 and 1812 and not with the Americans. It was in their interest to do so and we can see how well the French speaking population of Quebec has fared in comparison with their compatriots in Louisiana.

Some genuinely thought in the 1960's that playing down or eliminating our heritage and traditions would make it easier for newcomers to become Canadians and would put paid to the separatist threat in Quebec. In fact those actions had the opposite result. Newcomers saw no depth of tradition or heritage to adopt and fell back on to the traditions and heritage they had come from in what Reginald Bibby called 'Mosaic Madness'. They didn't feel particularly Canadian. Separatists were interested in promoting their own 'heritage and traditions' not old or new Canadian ones. Canadians who had treasured their heritage and traditions were hurt by the changes and grew resentful. So negativity all around.

Did you notice that the Australians and New Zealanders, who have large immigrant populations, didn't feel the need to drop the prefix 'Royal? No one thinks of Australia or New Zealand as a colony. Interesting to note too that no major country has embarked on the unification route put forth by Hellyer.

Unification also got rid of two Regular Regiments with very long histories that predate the formation of Canada: The Black Watch of Canada and the Queens Own Rifles of Canada. Given that we have more Scottish Blood flowing through Canadian veins than they do in Scotland, that was particularly hurtful.

Canada is constitutional monarch and our titles and symbols should reflect that. Elizabeth II is Queen of Canada (she also has some secondary duties :-) )

What has happened this year is not a move backward, but a restoration to what is right and proper. The Royal Canadian Navy brings to mind the Battle of the North Atlantic and the Convoys. The Royal Canadian Air Force connects to the Battle of Britain, Number 6 Group in Bomber Command, the Golden Jets, and the Avro Arrow. The RCAF and RCN connects with heritage and traditions that were bought with service and sacrifice. It's good for us to remember that and be connected with it. It shows us paying respect for what has gone before and the Canadians that have gone before.

It take a big man to admit that he was wrong. Hellyer isn't that sort of a man. He never was and never will be.

What Soldiers Are (And Should Be) Reading

Tom Ricks serves up his own and others' reading books on the profession of arms as practised today and in the past. Lots of essential and worthwhile reading here to keep you busy this winter.

For Some Squids, Don't Ask Don't Tell Still Applies

No, this post has nothing to do with the US Navy, who are sometimes known as squids. Nor does it have to do with the repeal of the US military's Don't Ask, Don't Tell policy, which became official yesterday, allowing serving men and women to be openly gay. According to the New York Times, the US Marine Corps has been the first out the gate to recruit gays and lesbians. As the Times put it, "Although Marines pride themselves on being the most testosterone-fueled of the services, they also ferociously promote their view of themselves as the best. With the law now changed, the Marines appear determined to prove that they will be better than the Army, Navy, Air Force and Coast Guard in recruiting gay, lesbian and bisexual service members." Which is all to the good, in Mad Padre's opinion. It's actually quite gratifying that the USMC is following in the Canadian military's footsteps in this area. Think of it as military evolution.

Actually, this post is about another NYT story that caught my eye today, about a certain species of deep sea squid, octopoteuthis deletron, which don't ask their prospective mate's sex before, well, mating. "Male squid, for example, pay no attention to the sex of other squid. Understandably so. They live alone in the dark, males and females are hard to tell apart, and only occasionally do squids pass in the night. Far better to risk wasting a few million sperm than to miss out on a chance to reproduce."

Theologically the story is interesting because it led me to think about the doctrine of creation, where, as Karl Barth and others have insisted, good theology starts. Apparently octopoteuthis deletron is one of many species, including of mammals (dolphins and bonobos) that are indifferent as to the gender of their sexual partners. Besides certain and oft-debated biblical warrants, the Christian disapproval of homsexuality is grounded on the belief that it the practice is unnatural, since the revelation of nature, if we accept that nature is God's handiwork, seems to testify that God created life male and female and intended the sexes to complement one another. The behaviour of this diminutive species of squid, and of other animals mentioned in the NYT article, seems to make that argument a tad blurry.

By the same token, those who use octopoteuthis deletron to argue that there is a natural warrant for same-sex behaviour may find themselves on shaky ground. Dr. Hendrik Hoving, one of the authors of the squid study, "was prepared for attention to the same-sex behavior and was ready for people to conflate squid and human behavior and announce the discovery of gay squid.

He fended off that notion, reiterating that the squid has no discernible sexual orientation, and that a tentacled invertebrate that shoots sperm into its mate’s flesh really has nothing to do with human behavior."

Another biologist, Dr. Marlene Zuk, is quoted in the NYT piece as saying that same-sex sex in the animal kingdon is a valid evolutionary strategy. "Don’t imagine that squid are stupid, Dr. Zuk said, at least about being squid. “The animal is not making a mistake. It’s not mistaken to deposit sperm with another male,” because somehow, the behavior works, or natural selection would have eradicated the behavior or the squid.

And, she said, “we still have squid.”

So, I'm not sure that the squid story supplies much theological ammunition one way or another. At best, nature can only offer limited insights into the creator's intentions, as J.S Haldane once quipped when he said that God must be inordinately fond of beetles. If evolution is the outworking of creation, then it will do weird stuff as necessary (and if you think that the squid story is weird, google "traumatic insemination" and be prepared for nightmares). Perhaps all we can conclude from these two stories is that evolution is good for squid ... and for militaries.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Who Is Mary's Mother? Get It Right If You Want To Stay In Canada

Kudos to the Federal Court of Canada for reigning in a particularly zealous Refugee Board adjudicator, Ms. Rose Andrachuk, who wanted to turf a man from China claiming refugee status for being persecuted as a Roman Catholic.

According to today's National Post, "The Federal Court of Canada expressed dismay at the level of knowledge expected from the recent convert, who knew Mary was the mother of Jesus but didn't know Jesus' grandmother's name; and who knew Jesus was baptized by John but didn't know John's mother's name. (The answers are Anne and Elizabeth, respectively.)"

The refugee claimant, Mao Qin Wang, "26, says he turned to religion after his father was seriously injured in an accident and a friendly Catholic said he was praying for him. When his father improved, he started attending his friend's underground church in 2007, he says."

I can appreciate that Ms. Andrachuk, a practicing Roman Catholic, wanted to see if Mr. Wang's claim was sincere, but I'm also pretty sure that underground Catholic churches in China don't offer quality RCIA (catechism for converts) programs. I can think of a few of my Anglican clergy colleagues who might be stumped by the Anne and Elizabeth questions.

Read the whole story here.

The General's Jet

If you are Canadian, you will have likely heard that there has been a bit of a flap on since CTV News ran a story on the cost of jet travel incurred by Canada's top soldier, General Walter Natynczyk, the Chief of Defence Staff.

I'm a serving member of the Canadian Forces and I can't comment directly on this controversy. I'll simply say two things. First, if you're interested in this matter, you need to read this piece in today's Globe and Mail by George Petrolekas, who offers an insider's view on what happens on the CDS' Challenger jet.

Secondly, some months ago the CDS visited CFB Suffield for a few hours. We are a small base in an out of the way part of Alberta. The closest airport is Medicine Hat, and you can't fly there directly. Either you take a commuter flight from Calgary or you drive the three hours from Calgary Airport. The CDS flew his Challenger into Med Hat, and spent a few hours with us. There are barely one hundred uniformed CF members here, but it meant a lot to us that our top soldier came here to talk to us and listen to us. I have no idea where he was before Suffield, and where he went afterwards, but I am pretty sure the only reason he could carve time out of an insane schedule to visit us was because of his Challenger jet. I for one think that was taxpayer's money well spent.

Monday, September 12, 2011

A Call for Justice for Women Veterans

Props to the New York Times for this op-ed piece calling on the US Department of Defense and the Department of Veterans Affairs to take a pro-active and supportive stance towards those women veterans who have suffered sexual trauma while in uniform. Short and worth reading.

Where was Mad Padre?

Mad Padre has been offline for several weeks while Mrs. Padre and I bashed around southern Alberta in our new/old VW Westfalia Vanagon camper. Today I'm clean shaven and looking reasonably military. Yesterday I looked like a bit of a civvie freakazoid.

This picture, and the next, show Mrs. Padre and myself with our Westy at Spruce Coulee Lake, Cypress Hills Interprovincial Park, in SE Alberta. The Westy doesn't have a name yet. I'm thinking of Lt. Gruber (if you're a fan of Allo! Allo! you'll get the reference) because it drives a bit like a tiny tank. However, I'm open to your suggestions.

MTF on our adventures.

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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