Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Who Are The Dangerous Fundamentalists?

I was heartened to read a piece today by New York Times columnist Frank Bruni on the dangers inherent in using lables such as "religious right" to characterize Christians. Bruni makes some astute comments on the kind of Christianity espoused by US politician and sometime presidential hopeful Michelle Bachmann. Bachmann is back in the news for denouncing a prominent Washington politico and onetime Hilary Clinton aide, Huma Abedin, as a Muslim Brotherhood infiltrator and security threat.

Bruni asks the question, should we accept a poltician's self-description as being "deeply religious" when it clashes with our understandings (and there are many) of what it means to be a religious person? Why, Bruni asks, do "we accept [Bachmann's] descriptions of herself, and in turn describe her, as a deeply religious woman. That grants too much credence to her particular, peculiar and highly selective definition of piety. And it offends the many admirable people of faith whose understanding and practice of religion aren’t, like hers, confrontational and small-minded."

Bruni is right to point to a Christian spectrum in North America that is widely divided between left and right, and where some may be socially liberal but theologicaly conservative. He's right to remind us that extremism is extremism and fundamentalism is fundamentalism, whether we are talking about certain Moslems or certain Christians. He raises the interesting question, are extremist Christians in government more of a threat than potential Moslem infiltrators?

Before we accept a leader's claims that they are religious, Bruni suggests that we first examine their actions. He quotes US mayor Corey Booker, who says “Before you speak to me about your religion, first show it to me in how you treat other people. Before you tell me how much you love your God, show me how much you love all His children.”

A Call To Rest: A Sermon For The Eighth Sunday Of Pentecost

A Sermon Preached at Christ the King Chapel, CFB Suffield, Ralston, AB, 22 July, 2012

Readings for the Eighth Sunday of Pentecost, Lectionary Year B: 2 Samuel 7:1-14a, Psalm 23, Ephesians 2:11-22, Mark 6:30-34, 53-56

Jesus said to them, "Come away to a deserted place all by yourselves and rest a while." (Mark 6:31)

For a preacher just coming back from a week of vacation, this verse from Mark’s gospel, near the top of our reading for today, rings true with me. A week in Canada’s beautiful mountain parks, hiking and canoeing with my son, was a welcome break for me. But Jesus, I think, is saying something more profound that simply “take a break”. The rest he is speaking about is spiritual and theological, and needs to be understand in terms of our deepest relationships to him and to God his father.

We first need to understand that Jesus is offering rest to people who sorely need it. Today's gospel passage follows Jesus sending out the twelve disciples in Mk 6b-13 (that and today’s reading are separated by the account of Herod’s killing of John the Baptizer). So the disciples have had a hard tasking, doing the work that Jesus has called them to … preaching and healing. Now they have come back, and Jesus is reminding them that they need to recharge in his presence. I say his presence because he doesn’t say “go to a deserted place”, he says “come” and that come implies “come with me”.

I think that there are several places where we can see ourselves reflected in today's gospel reading, and one of them is as the disciples called to rest with Jesus. For us his followers, we need to be reminded that the work that Jesus has called us to, the work begun in our baptism and summed up in our baptismal covenant, is hard work. It’s not easy being true to Jesus in a world that is so busy, so consumed with the needs of self – acquisition, promotion, advantage. The only way we can find the energy to do this work is to rest with Jesus, to be in his company, to shelter with him and be recharged by him. That rest is pointed to in Psalm 23 that we read today.

This spiritual dimension of rest, of true rest, is quite different from the superficial rest we often settle for. This week past, while on holiday, I saw a lot of busy people trying to rest. Getting on the road, hauling a big RV, making timetables, setting up camp, trying to keep the kids occupied, choosing from a huge variety of leisure choices (horseback riding, canoeing, whitewater rafting, helicopter tours, ziplines, hikes, etc), and basically moving the suburban existence to a campground, well, I don’t think it was real rest. At least, not for me. There were only a few moments on my week when I really felt I was resting, and several of those were quiet times of prayer and reflection. The reality is that even when we try to rest, we are fearfully busy and preoccupied, and that’s when we need Jesus the most.

The second place we see ourselves in this gospel reading, I suggest, is in the crowds who “hurried there on foot from all the towns and arrived ahead of [Jesus] (Mk 6:34). These are the people who know that only Jesus can give them rest from their diseases and cares. On one hand, I feel pity for Jesus, that even in his attempt to rest, he is swamped with human need. On the other hand, I feel gratitude that Jesus doesn’t react with irritation, or with compassion fatigue,in those moments when we turn to Jesus for relief.

Rest in this context is the knowledge thatGod is present with us in the form of his Son and of the Holy Spirit, and that God has compassion for us. Rest is relief from our self-doubting, from our guilt and from our self-accusation, and from our fear that the world is empty, indifferent, or even hostile to us. When in our second lesson from Ephesians, Paul speaks about God has ended the "hostility" that is between us and God, he is speaking about this rest. Rest is forgivness rather than condemnation. Paul goes on to say that God through Christ has made us "citizens with the saints and also members of the household of God" (Eph 2:19), he is talking about the rest of the soul. Isn't home and family, at their best, the place where we can find rest and refuge at the end of a long, hard day? Rest is knowing that we have a home in the family of God, of which our worship in the chapel is a foretaste. We may be relative strangers to one another here, but this hour of rest and friendship is an aspect of the rest that Christ offers us.

Being a Christian in the world is difficult work. It is costly to love, hard to forgive, tiring to try and discern God's will and direction, difficult to not give in and go with the flow of our society, which places self and choice before all else. It's all a tough slog, which is why Christ's offer to "come ... and rest for a while" is made to each of us. We need to take advantage of those moments, to rest for a moment from our vocation as disciples and as Christians, but also to seek the rest from our burdens, cares and griefs that is Christ's promise to each of us who would be his followers. So my prayer for all of us this summer is look for places of rest, whether in the canoe, the hammock, or the forest trail, but also to look for that deep and spiritual rest that we only find with Christ our Lord and shepherd. Amen.

. Amen.

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Notable Quotable On Women In The Infantry

H/t to Mad Padre reader Dan for pointing me to this interview with a USMC Engineer, Capt, Katie Petronio, who offers these comments, based on her experience in Iraq and Afghanistan, on why the Marine Corps is wrong to consider taking women into the infantry.

Note from her written comments that she is only speaking for the Marines. She deliberately refrains from commenting on similar experiments in the US Army. Readers from other services and other countries can draw their own conclusions, but as Dan noted in his comment, Petronio has written a brave article.

Monday, July 9, 2012

Dr. Rich Mahogany Takes Men's Questions On Mental Health

Another h/t to the New York Times today for this great piece on a fictional doctor, Dr. Ron Mahogany, who you can find on the website ManTherapy.org. Mantherapy is a joint effort by several US agencies, including the State of Colorado Office of Suicide Prevention.

I heartily recommend this site to my chaplain colleagues dealing with men and looking for a humourous and non-threatening mental health resource for them. I think militaries, whose mental health campaigns tend to be distressingly earnest, could learn a lot from this website.

How The Marine Corps Trains Its Officers

A fascinating piece (with equally compelling photos) in today's NYT about how the US Marine Corps trains its infantry officers. There was a recent conversation on this blog about the wisdom of militaries accepting women as combatants. One aspect of this NYT piece is that the USMC will soon open its Infantry Officer Course to female candidates. MP+

8 July 2012 A Grueling Course for Training Marine Officers Will Open Its Doors to Women By C. J. CHIVERS QUANTICO, Va. — Under the searing sun of one of the worst heat waves in decades, a sweat-drenched Marine second lieutenant stepped from the woods on the base here and reported to an infantry captain standing on a dirt road.

The captain handed the lieutenant a sheet of paper. “Write your name and the time on this card,” the captain said. “You have five minutes to take this portion of the test. Do not use any reference materials. When you are done, return this card to that captain” — he nodded to a huge, tattooed man a few yards away — “and he will tell you what to do next. Begin.”

The lieutenant dropped to the dirt beside other sweaty young officers and removed a pen from his soggy uniform. Another officer, his time up, approached the second captain, who took the card, expressed disgust that the lieutenant had not written his name at its top and pointed him to a laminated sheet of paper displaying a grid coordinate.

That coordinate was where the lieutenant was expected for the test’s next stage. When the lieutenant plotted it on his map, he saw that like many of the preceding stations, it was miles away. He shouldered his pack, slung his rifle and began to jog. The temperature hovered near 100 degrees.

This was one sequence in the Combat Endurance Test, the opening exercise in the Marine Corps’ Infantry Officer Course — one of the most redoubtable male-only domains in the American military. And this session of the course could be the last male-only class. Beginning in September, the corps says, female officer volunteers will participate here, part of a study to gauge the feasibility of allowing female Marines to serve in more extensive combat roles.

Col. Todd S. Desgrosseilliers, the commander of the Basic School, which oversees the course, said he had no special concerns as the course prepares to accept women. “Nothing more so with women than with men,” he said.

“We expect them to be fit enough to go through the course when they get here, just like the men are.”

Read the whole piece here.

Military Picture Of The Week

No, these are not soldiers practising geometry. Well, maybe they are, in a sense.
This picture from the UK MOD news feed shows British Army NCOs at Sandhurst engaged in a competition. Here's the MOD description.
"The 2012 British Army All-Arms Pace Sticking Championships saw 14 teams competing at the Royal Military Academy Sandhurst. The teams of four march just over 300 paces, with each person twisting a 30-inch [762mm] wide pace stick as they go to measure their step. They are judged on their drill, performance and skill whilst pacing at two speeds - 65 paces per minute, and a quick speed rate of 116 steps per minute. The annual event dates back to 1952, but the pace stick itself can trace its origins back to the Roman Empire when the engineers used an almost identical device as a measure of two Roman marching paces. When building roads, the Roman 'sticker' would turn his pace stick 500 times, which equalled one Roman mile. A milestone marker would then be erected, and this would continue along the entire length of the road." [Picture: Shane Wilkinson, Crown Copyright/MOD 2012]
As a matter of interest, the pace stick is still used in the Canadian Army, both for training purposes and, when folded together, as a badge of office for the senior NCO in a unit or formation. Whenever I see a trim figure striding around with a long stick under his arm, I automatically check my bearing and try to look more military.

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Seen On The Morning Hike

Such is the glacial pace of my blogging that I am only now getting to the next part of report on some travels in SE Alberta that Mrs. Padre and I took last month. After seeing Writing on Stone Provincial Park (see last post), we pointed Appa the Volksbison (see previous post) west, travelling along Alberta's Mormon Trail through quiet rural towns like Magrath and Cardston, with the mountains growing closer on the horizon.

Our destination was Waterton National Park, one of my favourite places on earth. Waterton is sometimes called the place where the prairies and the mountains meet, and unlike the region further north around Banff and Canmore, there is hardly any interstitial area of foothills. You just kind of arrive at the base of this part of the Rockies. The weekend in question, June 22-24, was the Waterton Wildflower Festival, and Mrs. Padre was booked into several workshops on nature photography, something she is getting very good at. That left me free to hike on Saturday.

The trail I chose was the Rowe Lakes Trail, a moderate 12km route that takes you to two mountain lakes. The weather was threatening rain, but I got an early start and it was dry and misty, only starting to rain late in the morning as I was on my way back down. All the pictures that follow were taken with my iphone 1 using the HDR app.

There wildflowers aplenty in the meadows off the lower parts of the trail, and while I'm not an expert, I got this photo of some wild clematis (as I later learned it was) to show Kay.

Some lovely little waterfalls are visible off the lower part of the trail.

My favourite shot of the day, looking up the slopes of Mount Rowe at these trees in the mist.

AS I got about half way up the trail I noticed a small patch of snow, and since it was the second day of summer, that seemed rather cute to me. "Awwwww, snow!" I said, and bent down and touched it. Another few hundred metres of elevation, and the trail began to look like this, with snow covering long sections. I stayed warm enough in my shorts, but occasionally I broke through to the knee and that was both cold and scratchy.

I was able to make it to Lower Rowe and was rewarded with this incredible sight.

By Lower Rowe Lake, looking up the mountain side at a waterfall. Lots of snow!

After resting at Lower Rowe Lake I headed off to follow the trail to the upper Lake, and made it about a kilometre before giving up. At higher elevations the snow was everywhere, totally covering the ground, and the footprints marking the established trail grew fainter and fainter, until I became increasingly nervous about losing it altogether and blundering around in thick woods. With a magnetic compass and a topo map I would probably have been ok, but I felt discretion was the better part of valour, and turned around. An hour and a half later, as I got back off the trail to my car, a light drizzle had turned into a steady rain, and I felt sorry (slightly) for the pack of teenagers I had passed in tshirts, shorts and sandals. Not sure what they were thinking.

Waterton is one of the hidden gems of Canada's parks, and is worth visiting if you are in this part of Canada. I hope to make it back before the summer is over and discover Upper Rowe Lake and parts beyond.

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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