Tuesday, November 29, 2011

The Economics Of Death

Kudos to the Globe and Mail for running this latest piece in their series on end of life issues. As Canada's population ages along with the rest of the Western world, death will consume more and more of our health care dollars. Personally I welcome the discussion this article invites. While I worry that an economic analysis like this could lead us toward the sort of future envisioned by P.D. James in The Children of Men, where the aged are invited to quietly (and cheaply) off themselves, the reality is that Canada is looking at 300-400,000 deaths a year by the 2030s, when I will likely be approaching the end of my lifespan. With current costs of $30K+ for terminal illnesses or death from old age, that's a lot of money. Perhaps, as the article suggests, more frankness and honesty as to how we want to die (eg, "do not resuscitate’ or "no heroic measures" instructions) could be a good first step in making health (and death) care sustainable for the future. MP+

How much does dying cost Canadians?
lisa priest
From Tuesday's Globe and Mail
Published Monday, Nov. 28, 2011 8:44PM EST
Last updated Tuesday, Nov. 29, 2011 10:35AM EST

Of all the financially grim statistics confronting Canadian health care, this ranks among the grimmest: About 25 per cent of all health-care costs are devoted to caring for patients in their last year of life.

Provincial governments are scrambling to contain health-care spending, even as an aging population begins to place increasing demands on the system. Yet there is also a growing recognition among policy makers that they cannot make efficient spending decisions without a better understanding of the economics of death.

Whole article here.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

A University Chaplain Brings Some Peace To Tense Campus

The tense campus is University of California at Davis, site of the now-viral images of a university peace officer casually pepper-spraying a row of sitting and apparently peaceful demonstrators on 18 November. The chaplain is the Rev. Kristin Stoneking, who was called in to campus the following day to defuse a tense situation outside the administration building. A group of students, feeling excluded from a press conference being held by the university chancellor, had gathered and the administration staff were feeling threatened and excluded.

Chaplain Stoneking was able to act as an interlocutor between the two groups, escorted the chancellor from the building, and descalated a potentially tense situation.

UC Davis Chancellor Linda Katehi walks with Rev. Stoneking past silent protesters as she leaves her office at the campus in Davis, California November 19, 2011. (BRIAN NGUYEN - REUTERS)

On her blog, Chaplain Stoneking wrote this:

What was clear to me was that once again, the students’ willingness to show restraint kept us from spiraling into a cycle of violence upon violence. There was no credible threat to the Chancellor, only a perceived one. The situation was not hostile. And what was also clear to me is that whether they admit it or not, the administrators that were inside the building are afraid. And exhausted. And human. And the suffering that has been inflicted is real. The pain present as the three of us watched the video of students being pepper sprayed was palpable. A society is only truly free when all persons take responsibility for their actions; it is only upon taking responsibility that healing can come.

Why did I walk the Chancellor to her car? Because I believe in the humanity of all persons. Because I believe that people should be assisted when they are afraid. Because I believe that in showing compassion we embrace a nonviolent way of life that emanates to those whom we refuse to see as enemies and in turn leads to the change that we all seek. I am well aware that my actions were looked on with suspicion by some tonight, but I trust that those seeking a nonviolent solution will know that “just means lead to just ends” and my actions offered dignity not harm.

I like this story because I believe it points to a function that all chaplains have the potential to fulfil, namely witnessing to our common humanity and values. As the Occupy movement becomes taken up in ideological talk of class warfare by both sides (note the perception of militarization in the linked articles), we need voices to pull us back from dehumanizing and demonizing one another. MP+

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Seen On The Run

Two images from some recent runs of things that caught my attention.

Last week in downtown Calgary, during an all-too brief run along the south bank of the Bow River, I came across this carved monument, a gift to Calgary from the Hungarian Arts and Heritage Association of Alberta. It had just snowed for the first time this winter just moments ago, and my footprints were the first along the trail. If I hadn't read the inscription, I would have guessed that the carving style was Japanese.

Seen this morning in Kin Coulee Park, Medicine Hat, during a chinook warmed and windy day. Some water continues to trickle over a little weir, while the bare trees and the dry yellow grass await the coming snow. The Park was an irresistible detour while running home after dropping my car off for its snowtire spa day. If this winter is like the last one, I'll need those snowtires soon. It got so thick last year that the trails and roads in parks like this one were no-go for runners.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Seen On The Morning Run

Today's image is, well, me. This grisly visage was what my fellow runners from the Mad Hatters Running Club had to look at during our 10k outing this morning. They said the high today was -14 C, but this morning with the wind chill I think it was at least -20. THe good thing about running in a prairie winter (and this is just the first taste of it) is that no matter how much you dread it starting, you feel so good when it's done. Worst thing: the dreaded frozen moustache.

Yes, I know, your eyes are bleeding, aren't they? Sorry.

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Meeting Royalty: A Sermon for the Reign of Christ Sunday

A Sermon Preached at Christ the King Chapel, CFB Suffield, Ralston, AB, 20 November, 2011.

The Reign of Christ and Last Sunday of Pentecost, Lectionary Year A. Ezekiel 32:11-16,20-24, Psalm 23, Ephesians 115-23, Matthew 25: 31-46.

Then he will answer them, "Truly I tell you, just as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me.' 46 And these will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life." (Matthew 25:45)

My brother sent me a news story this week about an Australian soldier who was invited along with his family to visit the Queen at Buckingham Palace. Normally Australian corporals don't get invited to tea at the Palace, but they made an exception for Corporal Ben Roberts-Smith. While in Afghanistan, the Corporal charged an enemy machine gun position in order to save his comrades. This action was considered special enough that Corporal Roberts-Smith was awarded the Victoria Cross, the Commonwealth's highest decoration for valour in combat.

Typically self-effacing as soldiers are, "Big Ben" as he is known by the media said that "At the time it was just something that needed to be done". This battle-hardened soldier confessed that he was quite nervous to visit the Queen in her home, but found that "She’s a lovely lady and made me very comfortable. It was easy to talk to her."

If the Corporal was nervous to meet a gracious elderly queen with corgis as her feet, the encounter with the Son of Man in today's gospel is much more intimidating! Here, almost at the end of the gospel we have travelled with this summer and fall, Jesus tells his disciples that he will return in glory as the "Son of Man" to judge all humanity. The criteria for judgement are quite simple. Those who paid attention to the "least" around them will be given a place of honour and "eternal life", and those who ignored the "least" around them will be shamed and condemned to "eternal punishment".

In his commentary on this passage, David Lose remarks that there is a significant "Yikes factor" at work when we hear about the sheep and the goats and judgement. As he writes, "Not only does it feel more than a tad threatening but it also seems to run contrary to much of our inherited theology about grace". Christians are taught that we are saved by faith in Christ and by the underserved love of God, but if in fact our judgement and our fate in eternity depends on what we do in life, then do any of us have really have a chance? If the Sheep extreme is, say, Mother Teresa, and the Goat extreme is the unregenerate Scrooge (or maybe Bernie Madoff), where do we fall in the spectrum? How much do we have to do to earn sheep status? And what about this gospel lesson's emphasis on prison visiting? What if I don't know anyone in prison? Does volunteering for a food bank count instead?

Before we get too agitated about the Yikes factor here, we need to pause and remember that what we are hearing is not new. A few weeks ago in Matthew's gospel we heard Jesus say that all of God's law and teaching could be summarized as "Love God with all your heart and mind, and love your neighbour as yourself". Jesus reminds us that our regard for others flows out of our relationship with God who creates and loves us. It's not a matter of doing some many good works in hopes of earning Sheep status before the Day of Judgement. Rather, it is about recognizing Christ as the King of a realm that works by different rules than those of the world we know. If , as some say, the kingdoms of the world are run by and for the one per cent, the inner circles and cronies, then the Kingdom of God is about the all the rest, what Jesus today calls "the least." A Christian is someone who recognizes that God has different priorities. As the theologican Stanley Hauerwas says about today's gospel reading, "The difference between followers of Jesus and those who do not know Jesus is that those who have seen Jesus no longer have any excuse to avoid 'the least of these.'"

So failure to act in the world as a Christian s not an option. If one decides to be a subject of Christ and live in the Kingdom of Heaven, I don't think it's possible to fail to act. People today speak of the church's irrelevance in an overwhelmingly secular age, but I think that as the spirit of that age becomes more and more manifest, the gospel speaks to us with a greater urgency. When wealth is concentrated into fewer and fewer hands, when powerful voices seem to reject the notion that they should have to pay taxes, and when a presidential candidate blames the poor for not being sufficiently industrious, then there is a problem. As Christians, our calling to live and act differently in this world becomes clearer by the day, it seems. We may see the lmits to what our individual actions can do to change things, but we also know that the boundless love and righteous anger of God are limitless, and that both will one day be fully revealed.

Just as failure to act is not an option for Christ's followers, I don't think that trembling in fear of him is an option either. David Lose reminds us that today's lesson comes just before the final acts in Matthew's gospel, as Jesus chooses the the cross for all of us. In the paradoxical way of that cross, the shame of his death becomes the glory of the King who dies to serve his undeserving subjects. As David Lose notes, the one who will one day come to judge us is the same one who first came to be judged for us. So ... the one who came, the one who comes, and the one who is coming again -- is undeniably and unalterably for us...and all the world. And suddenly our "yikes" is transformed into "thanks be to God."

What Lose is saying is that Jesus chooses to make goats into sheep. Even if, as I've said here before, sheep can be kind of messy and dirty, they are still sheep. We don't become sheep by our own efforts and works. What we do as believers living as subjects in God's kingdom comes from the work that Christ has done for us on the cross. Everything else flows from that work of redemption and transformation. Which means that while we may, like the Australian corporal I mentioned earlier, be nervous about meeting Christ the King, in fact it is and will be a wonderful encounter. So if today's gospel makes you feel sheepish about being ready to meet Christ one day, it's ok to be sheepish. After all, he is a shepherd as well as a king.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Military Video Games: "The Promise Of Plausible Heroism"

In a thoughtful piece in the NYT, Seth Schiesel makes the point that the new generation of incredibly attractive modern war video games (I confess I'm tempted to get an XBox and start blasting away) are supplying narratives of war and heroism that the wars of the last decade have not given us. MP+

A scene from Battlefield 3.

November 15, 2011
Recruiting the Inner Military Hero in Men

If there were a draft in this country, video games about war probably wouldn’t be so popular. The fantasy would be less appealing if the reality of killing and dying in combat with other human beings were more imminent for more people.

A military draft is now unthinkable in America. And so bullet-spewing first-person shooter games like Battlefield 3 and Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3 seem likely to continue to reign among men as the most consistently popular genre in video games. According to game companies and analysts, the expansion of gaming onto social networks (FarmVille, Sims Social) and cellphones (Angry Birds) is largely being propelled by women. But the core console and PC gaming world — where players spend $60 on a product that has cost tens of millions to create — is still mostly driven by the tastes of young and reluctantly middle-aged men.

Despite the public’s political exhaustion after a decade of real war, imaginary war remains as popular as ever. Both Battlefield 3, published by Electronic Arts, and the new Call of Duty, from Activision, will be among the year’s biggest-selling games. In terms of design polish, production values, visual presentation, multiplayer appeal and even such storytelling as there is, they deserve all of their success.

But what makes these games so much fun for so many people in the first place? Of all video games, first-person shooters usually elicit the most confusion, consternation and derision in people who don’t play them.

Trust the marketers to show us the way. The people who make these games know exactly which of their audience’s psychological buttons they are trying to push. The tagline in the commercial Activision has been running during football games and other television programs to promote Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3 is “There’s a soldier in all of us.” The official trailer has been pulling in about a million hits a day.

Read the whole piece here.

Atheists In U.S. Military Seek Official Status

From last week's Baltimore Sun. As an aside, I can't imagine a Canadian military chaplain, faced with a similar situation, telling a soldier that "this is God's army". MP+

Army Capt. Ryan Jean, an intelligence officer at Ft. Meade, Md., is an atheist who seeks official recognition for nonbelievers on par with that of Christians, Jews and Muslims. (Algerina Perna, Baltimore Sun / October 20, 2011)

By Matthew Hay Brown, Baltimore Sun

November 14, 2011, 3:40 a.m.
Reporting from Ft. Meade, Md.— Capt. Ryan Jean wanted to perform well on the Army's psychological evaluation. But he also wanted to answer the questions honestly. So when he was asked whether he believed his life had a lasting purpose, Jean, an atheist, saw no choice but to say no.

Those and other responses, Jean says, won him a trip to see the post chaplain, who berated him for his lack of faith.

"He basically told me that if I don't get right with God, then I'm worthless," said Jean, now an intelligence officer at Ft. Meade. "That if I don't believe in Jesus, why am I in uniform, because this is God's army, and that I should resign my commission in order to stop disgracing the military."

Jean says experiences such as that confrontation three years ago, when he was serving at Camp Arifjan in Kuwait, have spurred him to seek Army recognition as a humanist lay leader — on par with Christian, Jewish and Muslim lay leaders who help military chaplains minister to the troops.

Read the whole story here.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

"This Should Haunt All Of Us": A US Army Officer Calls For Better Ethical Training For Soldiers

Apropros of yesterday's post on waterboarding, here's another take on the role of torture in contemporary warfare.

H/t to Tom Ricks of the Best Defence blog for flagging this excellent piece on ethics and combat by a junior US Army officer, based on his recent experience in Afghanistan.

Kevin Bell argues that ethics can't be left to chaplains as subject matter experts because nobody else needs to know about it. He argues that because of the stresses that junior officers will feel in a counter-insurgency environment where the enemy is largely unknown, the temptation to resort to torture as interrogation will be huge because of anger and the desire for revenge will be enormous.

"Reasonable people can disagree about the best arguments for and against torture. For us as soldiers, though, these claims are beside the point. We are required by duty and honor to uphold our country’s statutory and treaty obligations, which state that torture is categorically unacceptable. To better fulfill this duty we have to do more to confront the ethical dilemmas of our profession before we go to war. It isn’t enough to know the rules if we are still unsure in a time of weakness what to do with detainees who might have tactically useful information. Our training
and leadership culture have to reinforce our understanding that the ethical treatment of prisoners doesn’t undermine the counterinsurgency strategy."

Whole article here. A must read for army officers.

On The Wargames Blog: Confederate Gunners

Posted on my wargames blog yesterday, some photos of a group of American Civil War gunners just finished. Lots more toys on the mad padre workbench to keep me busy this winter.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

US Soldier: Waterboarding Is Torture, Period

I came across this piece in Small Wars Journal by Malcom Nance, a US counter-terrorism guy, on how waterboarding as an interrogation practice is torture, pure and simple, and how equivocation in US government and media circles on its continued use is a "crisis of honor". A must read for anyone interested in military ethics. Here's a sample:

"Until recently, only a few countries considered it effective. Now American use of the waterboard as an interrogation tool has assuredly guaranteed that our service members and agents who are captured or detained by future enemies will be subject to it as part of the most routine interrogations. Forget threats, poor food, the occasional face slap and sexual assaults. This was not a dignified 'taking off the gloves'; this was descending to the level of our opposition in an equally brutish and ugly way. Waterboarding will be one our future enemy's go-to techniques because we took the gloves off to brutal interrogation. Now our enemies will take the gloves off and thank us for it.

There may never again be a chance that Americans will benefit from the shield of outrage and public opinion when our future enemy uses of torture. Brutal interrogation, flash murder and extreme humiliation of American citizens, agents and members of the armed forces may now be guaranteed because we have mindlessly, but happily, broken the seal on the Pandora's box of indignity, cruelty and hatred in the name of protecting America. To defeat Bin Laden many in this administration have openly embraced the methods of by Hitler, Pinochet, Pol Pot, Galtieri and Saddam Hussein."

Seen On The Morning Run: Winter Starts To Grip The River

Running along the bank of the S. Saskatchewan River this morning around 07:00hrs, I stopped to take this and several other shots of the first ice forming on the water. I was glad I turned off my music to do so, because it allowed me to hear the ice actually moving on the river, something that can only be described as a hissing sound, like water on a hot skillet heard from the next room.

Total distance this AM: 7.1k. Listened to: NPR Podcast, Diane Rehm show Friday news round up, which while very informative did little to speed my pace.

Monday, November 7, 2011

Life in Suffield: The Mad (And Bad) Padre On Ice

Last week marked my second ever ice hockey game. Our Base Public Affairs Officer, Nicole, came to the rink for the game featuring the Officers' Mess vs the Senior Warrants and Sergeants' Mess, and took many thrilling action shots.

I am not among these thrilling action shots, because I saw no action, other than slowly careening (if that's not a contradiction in terms) about the ice, trying to get close to the puck while trying not to run into anyone. However, Nicole did capture this shot of me during the warm up, tapping a puck with my stick (and look, one of my skates is off the ice!)

Like all small communities, the ice rink here in Ralston is the beating heart of the community. For the mostly British population resident in the married quarters patch, they have ample opportunity to get good at hockey during a two year posting, and some of them are very good. In fact, the Officers' Mess team would be lost without our British players.

They are very kind to let me play with them and perhaps before the season is over I'll have a more dramatic picture to post here, or at least something dramatic to report (a pass? an assist? perhaps a goal?).

"They Facilitated the Horror": A New Study Of German Chaplains in Hitler's Army

In the National Post today, Canadian professor Doris Bergen talks about her research on the paradoxical place of German chaplains in Hitler's army, and how their presence did not stop and may even have facilitated the atrocities committed in places such as the Eastern Front. Here's an excerpt:

"For all her work she had done on the Holocaust, she had never given much thought to the role of Christian chaplains who served the cause of the Nazi Germany.

The chaplains were always in a strange position, she explained. Pure Nazi ideology was at its core pagan. The SS, for example, never allowed chaplains in their midst. Hitler probably would have thought Nazism was enough for the troops, she said. At the same time, 95% of Germans were baptized Christians who continued to belong to the mainstream churches. German soldiers had the words Gott mit uns (God with us) on their belt buckles.

“What I tried to show that the chaplaincy was in an uncomfortable position, that they were also in a position of suspicion.” In the field, the chaplains had to keep adjusting themselves. While there were many who wanted their services there were fanatical Nazis among the troops who hated the chaplains and would taunt them.

“That pushed the chaplains into a position that wouldn’t offend some of the troops. It pushed them in a direction to make their lives easier.”

I'm currently in the process of reading Michael Burleigh's book Moral Combat: A History of World War Two, which proves from documentary sources that rank and file German soldiers (including chaplains) could not have been present in invaded Soviet Russia without witnessing the massacres of Jewish and Slavic civilians by specialized Nazi formations. The presence of chaplains, and their vain attempts to intervene in these massacres, is indeed the starting point for Prof. Bergen's study. It doesn't surprise me that most of these German chaplains shared the mindset of many Germans - that Hitler was good for Germany, that Nazism was a bulwark against Communism and atheism, that Jews were enemies, etc. Not every Christian had the clarity and the courage of those who followed Barth, Bonhoeffer and the confessing church. I wouldn't want to have made those choices myself.

I will look for Bergen's study in print. Her subject is a cautionary tale that all military chaplains and people of faith should study.

Saturday, November 5, 2011

Zombie Apocalpypse, Christian Apocalypse

A Sermon for the Twenty-First Sunday After Pentecost, Preached at Christ the King Chapel, CFB Suffield, Ralston, AB, 6 November 2011

Lectionary Year A, Proper 32. Amos 5:18-24, Psalm 70, 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18, Matthew 25:1-13

But we do not want you to be uninformed, brothers and sisters, about those who have died, so that you may not grieve as others do who have no hope. (1 Thess 4.13)

In this text from our second lesson, Paul reminds us that Christians are people who have hope in the future. Not the anemic hope that everything will somehow turn out ok but the robust, eschatological hope that God will win and that fear and death will lose. I mention death because Paul is writing to a church where death has shaken hope in the future. The early Christians in Thessalonica appear to have believed that Christ would return soon, and now that some believers have died, theire hope is shaken. What of their beloved dead? Will they be saved as well? What if those now living die before Christ returns? Will they be saved as well? Paul, as one of their pastors, addresses these fears by saying that the Thessalonicans don't need to despair: "For since we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so, through Jesus, God will bring with him those who have died" (1 Th 4:14).

Christianity is faith that is as much about the dead as it is about the living. The church, like Israel before it, believes that it is for the generations past, present and future. Through its feast days All Souls' Night and All Saints Day (which some congregations are celebrating today), we remind ourselves that we are united with the great cloud of witnesses, with those who, as the old prayer book puts it, have gone before us in faith and fear. The church also looks forward to new generations, in its sacraments of baptism and marriage, trusting that the future is in God's hands. Because we believe that the generations are united across time in God's creation, and because we have hope in what God will do from the here and now to the end of time, we do not fear the dead. They, like the living and those yet to be born, are part of the church.

For the last few weeks, the lawns of houses around me have been transformed into mock cemeteries as meighbours decorated for Halloween, surely the biggest spending holiday behind Christmas. In the popular idea of Halloween graves and the dead are accessories, part of the fun of a good clean scare that ties into our ancient fear of the dark and things going bump in the night. But under all that, I think, something more profound is going on. How a culture sees (and even fears) the dead is an index of its outlook on the future, particularly whether it sees the future as a thing to be dreaded or longed for. When our society fears a future where the dead are walking around eating the living (something pop culture calls "the zombie apocalypse"), that to me is a sign that something is badly broken in our hopes for and views of the future.

I mention zombies because it's slowly dawning on me that I have acquired a reputation around the base as "the zombie padre". I don't think "zombie padre" means that I'm not shambling about uncertainly and moaning (except after morning PT, maybe) but rather, I gather, speaking confessionally, that it has to do with my well-known enthusiasm for that grotesque and quite trendy subgenre of horror movies.

Very briefly, the zombie genre, as developed by film directors such as George Romero, assumes that virus (or similar explanation) causes the dead to rise and become mindless, flesh-eating and remorseless threat to humanity. Because the zombie virus is highly contagious, the numbers of zombies rise exponentially, overrunning civilization and leaving the few human survivors hunted and scattered. The Walking Dead, a TV series currently running on AMC, is perhaps the best contemporary example.

I enjoy the zombie genre because it's viscerally as well as intellecturally scary, tapping into many of the conscious or subconscious fears of the anxious time that we live in. The fear of civilization falling apart quickly and disastrously (see the interview with Niall Ferguson in today's Globe and Mail) seems very real as our economies and legislatures seize up and our leaders appear helpless and bereft of vision. The idea that one's family and neighbours could turn into ravenous killers evokes recent memories of ethnic cleansings around the world, and haunts the increasingly rancorous political and social discourse we see in the national life of our US neighbours. Finally, the idea of the numberless zombie horde surely points to our own fears that the human race, now at seven billion and climbing at a rate called "more bacterial than primate" by scientist Edmund O. Wilson, will outstrip and devour the resources of a limited, fragile planet. So while I enjoy the zombie genre as drama and as pop culture, I also think that it has something profound to say about our culture's fear that we have failed. Our culture doubts that much is meaningful, fears the future, and senses that death is greater than life, and this is why we need to hear the gospel of Christ.

The gospel, the good news of Jesus Christ crucified and resurrected, is a gospel of meaning, of life's triumph over death, and of hope in the future. The gospel story of Jesus' life and work is a story about God's commitment to the world he created, and his determination to see that his creation continues to be good. The gospel story of Jesus' resurrection tells us that the kingdom of death, which the zombie genre both celebrates and fears, is made powerless by Christ's rising from the dead. The gospel's promise that Christ will come again is about hope, because it promises us that the future, however dark it may seem, is in God's hands and is therefore safe.

Both our second reading from 1 Thessalonians and our gospel reading from Matthew point to the future and to Christ's return. We call the return of Christ the Second Coming or the apocalypes, from a Greek word meaninhg "revelation" or "unveiling". Some Christian churches, like the ancient Thessalonicans, still place great emphasis apocalyptic theology, combing the Book of Revelations and other texts for signs and indicators of when the end times will occur. My own thinking on this is, to paraphrase what C.S. Lewis said about devils, that it Christians should neither think too much of these things or too little of them. The future is in God's hands, the dead are safe in God's keepings, and are lives are to be lived in faith with the aid of the Holy Spirit.

What all those means for those of us in between the past and future, in the present of the church, is to be worked out along with the rest of our Christian lives. Our gospel reading from Matthew 25 is a difficult one in that it can be taken as a call for a heightened vigilance which, like terror alerts, are difficult to sustain over time. What it does clearly say is that Christ, the bridegroom, shall return and shall know those who believed in and waited for him. As Holly Hearon notes in her commentary on our second lesson, Paul advises the Thessalonicans to continue to do the little, everyday things of Christian life:

For myself, I find this hope in the little things rather than the apocalyptic scenarios. Nonetheless, they are things that are also identified in the letter: in the encouragement we receive from one another (4:18; 5:14); in the practice of praying without ceasing (5:17) so that I learn to live in the presence of God; of discovering some way of giving thanks, regardless of the circumstances (5:18) because this helps me to see God at work in all circumstances; in not becoming complacent, but keeping awake even when I would prefer to numb my senses through alcohol, mindless television shows, or shopping sprees; in attempting to discern what it means to live by the grace and peace of Christ so that I may hold fast to what is good and abstain from evil (5:22-23).

Through these small things, lived day by day, the power and presence of God becomes real, as real as Christ coming down out of the sky, and offers me hope to face each new day with courage.

There will be days when the future, including death, will be scary, when our atavistic fears and impulses will be strong. In my first parish, I served a church beside an ancient(for Canada) country graveyard that could still be scary when I was alone there at night. On those occasions I would sometimes find myself whistling the fine Christian hymn "For all the saints", and was particularly encouraged by this verse:

O blest communion, fellowship divine!
We feebly struggle, they in glory shine;
yet all are one in thee, for all are thine.
Alleluia, Alleluia!

If, as some might say, Christianity is merely hopeful whistling in the graveyard, then I would counter by saying that there are worse things to whistle.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Military Picture of the Week

Got this courtesy of Dana Rittenhouse. This was taken last week in Kabul, during the ramp ceremony for Master Corporal Byron Greff. The padre leading the bearing party is Dana's husband, Captain Howard Rittenhouse, chaplain to the Third Battalion, Prince Patricias' Canadian Light Infantry, and a dear colleague of mine.

Dana wrote that "The ramp ceremony went without a hitch - they actually practice it (and Howard had to lead the procession in a slow march - the hardest one to do, drag foot, hesitate, put down, start again) and Howard maintained his composure until he was all done - he was wearing a preaching scarf (that is the tradition) so did not have headgear which means he could not salute the casket as everyone else did. He was bothered by that so he walked over to face the casket and stood at attention for a minute as his gesture of respect - he said he started to lose it after that, and then watching the man's closest friends go into the herc to salute goodbye."

Doing Church in Hipster Brooklyn

Sometimes I'm tempted to think that churches are no longer countries for young people, and then a story like this one give me hope. Perhaps the "Skinny Jeans" angle explains why it was carried in the NYT's style section, but no matter. MP+

November 2, 2011
A Congregation in Skinny Jeans

ONE recent Sunday night on the south side of Williamsburg, Brooklyn, a crowd of more than 100 men and women in their 20s and early 30s gathered.

True to the unspoken dress code of the neighborhood, they were wearing high-waisted skinny jeans, vintage T-shirts and deliberately homely sweaters. One woman in a floral romper, her platinum-blond hair cut in a shag, carried a Bob Seger vinyl record under her arm. After a gospel band played, the group listened as a man with a tattoo and a shaved head, Thomas Vito Aiuto, gave a talk that referred in turn to Woody Allen, jogging and London cabdrivers.

They were at church.

Resurrection Presbyterian Church and Mr. Aiuto (known as Vito), its pastor, have developed a reputation for attracting the artistic young denizens of the neighborhood to services that combine readings of Psalm 85 with sermons that have a somewhat secular inflection.

Mr. Aiuto, 39, bristles when his church is singled out as particularly cool. “I don’t want this church to be special,” he said over chicken mole at a Williamsburg taqueria. “I don’t want us to be a church for artists. I want it to be a garden-variety church. What we have to offer people is God.” He paused for a moment. “And I think our music is really good.”

While only one-quarter of the so-called millennial generation, those born after 1980, attend weekly religious services (according to a study by the Pew Research Center), young pastors like Mr. Aiuto and Jay Bakker, the son of the televangelists Jim and Tammy Faye, as well as groups like the Buddhist-inspired Dharma Punx, are tailoring their messages to young worshipers.

In Mr. Aiuto’s case, this can involve a certain irreverence (he made a rude gesture while illustrating a point about the parable of the prodigal son during a theological question-and-answer session after one recent service) and a dash of self-deprecation.

“I’m shocked I’m a preacher,” he said. “There’s a part of me that did and in some ways still feels that I have no place standing up and telling other people what to do or to believe.”

Read the whole piece here.

Notable Quotable: Gail Collins on Herman Cain and Frozen Armadillos

Gail Collins does some of the best satiricial and smart writing in politics today. From today's NYT, she writes on on the improbabilities of Herman Cain and frozen armadillos. Trust me, it's funny.

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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