Wednesday, October 31, 2012

In Praise Of Dependency

I have had spotty internet access lately and so am only now posting last Sunday's sermon. For preachers who may be reading, I have an interesting dynamic working at the military chapel where I currently preach. We have several new families with young children (praise God!), but not enough of a critical mass for a Sunday school, so the adult sermons only appear here or in printed form at the back of the chapel for the grown ups. An extended children's talk, usually with props, takes the form of a sermon, and everyone seems happy that way. I certainly have more fun preaching when the kids are engaged, rather than trying to talk over the children's boredom or discomfort.

Preached at Christ the King Chapel, CFB Suffield, Crown Village of Ralston, AB, 28 October, 2012. Readings for the Twenty Second Sunday After Pentecost, Year B: Jeremiah 31:7-9, Psalm 126, Hebrews 7:23-28, Mark 10:46-52

When he heard that it was Jesus of Nazareth, he began to shout out and say, "Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!" (Mark 10:47)

Several conversations lately have got me thinking about the word “dependency” and how people seem to feel about it. For many people, “dependency” seems to be an ugly word.

A young man told me that while he loves a girl, he doesn’t want to get into a committed relationship with her because she will be “dependant” on him. He might rethink things if she went back to school, started a career, and became more, well, independent.

A mother told me that she despairs of getting her dropout son to leave home. If he must be dependant, she said, I’d rather he was dependant on welfare than on her.

An elderly lady told me she hated the onset of winter because she fears driving in the snow and hates being dependant (her word was burden) on friends and family for rides.

Admittedly these three vignettes are just that, and it’s always dangerous to say much on the strength of anecdotes. However, I think it’s fair to say about our society is that our ideal condition for humanity is that we be independent, self sufficient free agents. Some of this is biological; we want to wean our children and bring them to successful adulthood, rather than see them living in basements. As we age, we resent the limits to our autonomy imposed on us by our deteriorating bodies and faculties.

The apex of human life, since the days of our first hominid ancestors, is surely the period of maturity where we are physically strong and able to provide for ourselves. The desirability of this condition is also at the heart of consumerist culture, which celebrates human life as a series of choices made by autonomous and financially independent individuals.

Religion, I think, has always been threatening to this ideal human state of autonomy because it threatens to pull us into webs of dependency and obligation. Religion is perceived to make claims on our choices, on our money, and on our individuality. At least, I think that’s what a colleague was thinking at the mess last week, when he said that he didn’t like hanging around with church people, because if he did he would feel that he owed them something. And I think that’s what another colleague of mine was thinking when he told me that he didn’t want to be a Christian if it meant following rules and obeying the church’s teaching.

Today’s gospel reading celebrates dependency. In blind Bartimaeus, we see who knows all about dependency. As a beggar he is used to being a burden up in others. He also knows something about Jesus. He’s heard enough ahead of time to call Jesus “Son of David”, addressing Jesus as the Messiah, the Saviour. His loud voice and his words “Son of David, have mercy on me” are totally shameless, because desperate people don’t have the luxury of a sense of shame. Bartimaeus knows that he needs help, and he believes that Jesus can help him.

It’s interesting that Jesus’ first words to Bartimaeus, “What do you want me to do for you?” (Mk 10:51) are the same words that he says in last Sunday’s gospel to James and John, the sons of Zebedee (Mk 10:36). But whereas the two brothers asked Jesus for a share of his heavenly glory, Bartimaeus asks only for his sight. Bartimaeus has no illusions about glory. He has lived in darkness all his life, and all he wants is to see. Bartimaeus, who knows all about dependency, knows that he must be fully dependent on Jesus for help. He must throw himself on the mercy of Jesus.

For the last few Sundays we have heard stories from Mark about people who couldn’t be helped by Jesus because they couldn’t admit their dependency. The rich young man couldn’t envision life without the riches that gave him his independence and autonomy. James and John asked for a share of Jesus’ glory, but only so they could be powerful rulers. Their vision of God was an earthly vision that celebrated power over dependence and so they couldn’t understand that God would come to them as a servant. But Bartimaeus gets it. He knows that only God can help him, and he isn’t ashamed to say it.

The lesson for us in today’s gospel, I think, is that the old slogan “God helps those who helps themselves” isn’t in fact all that helpful. That slogan comes from a human desire for independence and autonomy. It’s dishonest, because it doesn’t admit our absolute and utter need for God’s grace and love and power in our lives. God wants to help us. It’s why he came to earth.

Soin the week to come, imagine yourself in the place of Bartimaeus. Think of whatever it is in your life or your heart that you would bring before God. What needs fixing? Don’t flinch from your dependence on God. Be honest about your need. Jesus is coming, he’s passing before you. Don’t hold back. Don’t be too proud to ask for help,. Don’t think that God has better things to do than to help you. Call him him. Ask him for help. He knows what you want.

What will happen to you afterwards? I think that in our encounters with Jesus, if we are honest, we become less interested in what we can do for ourselves, and more grateful for what God can do for us, and for what we can do for God’s help. After his encounter with Jesus, we are told that Bartimaeus followed Jesus. We too are called to follow Jesus. To many, being a follower doesn’t sound attractive, if it means a surrender of autonomy and individuality. But in the encounter with Jesus, we find that by following him, we are led out of the loneliness and sadness that comes from our vain attempts to be self sufficient, and into the warmth of dependence on God and on one another.

Saturday, October 27, 2012

Book Review: They Eat Puppies, Don't They?

Christopher Buckley. They Eat Puppies, Don't They? New York: Twelve, Hachette Book Group, 2012.

If you enjoy hip and funny political and social satire, you'll like this book as much as I did. This novel is both silly and smart.

Bird McIntyre, a lobbyist working for a defence contractor with the delicious name of Groepping Sprunt, a maker of killer drones the size of blimps, finds himself working for a fictitious think tank funded by his employer. His new job is to drum up hostility against China, and, hopefully, more contracts for Groepping Sprunt. He needs the work to pay for his horse crazed trophy wife, but his marriage and morals fall even further when he falls in with Angel Templeton, a beautiful and hawkish neo conservative who sees peace as the greatest threat to America.

Here's a quick taste:

"What are you proposing? That we start a rumour that Beijing tried to kill the Dalai Lama on his way into a meeting with the pope?"

"Yes. Exactly."

"And what are we offering by way of evidence?"

Bird grinned. "Who needs evidence when you've got the internet?"

"So we post it on your Facebook page that the evil Chinese tried to poison him. And you expect that to lead the evening news?"

"There are a few details to work out." Bird leaned into Angel. He could smell her perfume. "Friday I stayed up until the roosters started, doing research. The Dalai Lama is the one thing having to do with China that Americans actually care about. Human rights? Zzzzz. Terrible working conditions in Chinese factories? Zzzzz. Where's my iPad? Global warming? Zzzz. Taiwan? Wan't that some novel by James Clavell? Zzzzz. When's the last time you heard anyone say, "We really must go to war with China over Taiwan? But the Dalai Lama? Americans love the guy. The whole world loves him. What's not to love? He's a seventy-five-year-old sweetie pie with glasses, plus the sandals and the saffron robe and the hugging and nirvana. All that. We can't get enough of him. If the American public were told that those rotten Commie swine in Beijing were" - Bird lowered his voice - "putting ... whatever, arsenic, radioactive pellets, in his yak butter, you don't think that would cause a little firestorm out there in public-opinion land?"

I won't give away the ending, but I will say that along the way I enjoyed Buckley's shots at bad action novels written for men, the kind you see in airport bookstores (Bird is working on an unpublished quartet of truly awful novels), as well as his imaginings of what happens inside Chinese politburo meetings. They Eat Puppies is brain candy for political junkies, but along the way manages to nail much of what's wrong with politics and the manufacturing of public opinion. A Mad Padre recommendation.

Friday, October 26, 2012

The Cheerleaders And The Bible

This week the New York Times updates the debate over the bible quoting cheerleaders in the township of Kountze, near Houston, Texas. Until recently, high school football games in Kountze feature inspirational verses on banners held by the cheerleaders. The pracice has been stopped by the school superintendent, Kevin Weldon, "out of concern that the signs were unlawful and amounted to school-sanctioned religious expression".

The story is interesting because it challenges easy blue state / red state cliches about left wing bureaucrats versus read meat small town fundamentalists. AS the NYT story points out, Weldon is very Texas: a protestant, a former high school football coach, and a hunter who because of his constitutional principles finds himself uncomfortably aligned with atheits.

There's a thoughtful op-ed piece by the NYT here which makes the point that Weldon's view locally is in the minority, and while politicians such as Governor Rick Perry have weighed in on the side of the cheerleaders, this story shows "the dangers of a union between church and state. In this country — including in Texas — the Constitution does not leave religious freedom up to majority rule."

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Military Photo Of The Week

Sometimes it's about more than guns.

Guardian caption: Captain Anna Crossley speaks the Pashtun language which helps her to gain access to compounds, and the women that live inside them. She often pretends to have what she refers to as a 'Helmand husband', to boost her rapport with the women who do not understand the concept of remaining unmarried Photograph: Alison Baskerville.

Background on this picture and more photos here

Monday, October 22, 2012

You're Gonna Have To Serve ... Everyone?

Readings for the 21st Sunday After Pentecost (Year B): Isaiah 53:4-12, Psalm 91:9-16, Hebrews 5:1-10, Mark 10:35-45

Christ the King Chapel, Sunday, 21 October, 2012

For the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life a ransom for many. (Mk 10:45)

In just about three weeks, one of two men will get to be the most important person in the world for the next four years.

You may not be following the American presidential election at all, or you may have strong opinions about the suitability of either President Obama or Governor Romney for this job. It doesn’t really matter. Just think about any spy movie or thriller you’ve ever seen which shows the US President in the Oval Office? What do you imagine?

You may think of a dignified looking man (or maybe a woman) in an expensive suit of clothes behind a big desk, someone who got where he is because powerful people spent millions of dollars to put him there. You may think of someone who receives deference and respect. You may think of guards ready to throw themselves between him and an assassin’s bullets. You many think of someone with incredible military power at his beck and call.

You’re thinking of these things because you’re thinking of power as humans understand it. It’s the way we think the world works. It’s the way James and John think when the ask Jesus in today’s gospel to have a share of Jesus power when he as the conquering Messiah rewards his followers.

No, Jesus says. It doesn’t work that way. Jesus tells them that his followers must be prepared to be slaves and servants.

Imagine how shocking this would have been to people in the ancient world, where there were slaves and servants, hearing this gospel for the first time?

How shocking is it to us? Perhaps it’s hard for us to really take on the idea of being a servant today, other than whatever ideas we may have imported from Downton Abbey or other costume dramas with maids and butlers in the background. Perhaps it’s hard for us to be shocked by this passage because over time Christianity has blunted it, dumbed it down to the notion that we should be nice to others and not too pushy.

We should be shocked. It should be hard for us to comprehend, because Jesus is talking about something so foreign to us that we struggle to take it in. How can the Kingdom of God be a kingdom of service? How can the Son of what the Psalmist calls the Lord, the Most High (Ps 91:9) be the one who came not to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many (Mk 10:45)?

The idea is as foreign to us as it would be if either Mr. Obama or Mr. Romney, having won the election, refused to wear the fine suits and live in the White House. What if the winner decided instead to live with the poorest people, in the shelters and on the heating grates, so they could better understand their needs? If Hollywood made a movie along these lines, nobody would believe it. But God does the same and more, even to the point of dying for us.

How Jesus can be a ransom for us, how he can take our sins on us, as the prophet Isaiah seems to suggest he will, is a mystery that theologians struggle with. All that I, a simple preacher, can point to, is the simple and wonderful truth that Jesus lives a human life, and dies a human death, for many, for us. It is the action of the God who chooses to stand with the people he created, to serve them when he might expect to be served by us.

Because humans tend towards a distorted idea the of power as a zero-sum game, we conclude that power is about rulers and the ruled. Like James and John, we accept that there must be winners and losers, celebrities and masses, rich and poor, and so on. But as Christians, we encounter a God whose thinking could scarce be more alien than if he had stepped off a spaceship from another world. This servant God calls us to stand with him, and to be a servant like him.

Bob Dylan once said “you’re going to have to serve someone”. The thinking behind that song leads to the question, who will you serve? In the light of our Gospel, that’s the wrong question. The question Jesus asks is larger, and more startling. Jesus asks us, if we all thought and lived as servants, what would the world look like if we all served, not someone, but each other? My guess is that if we all thought and lived as servants, sharing the self sacrificing mind of Christ, then the world would look like the kingdom of God.

Saturday, October 20, 2012

Sam Harris On Science And Morality

Our Man In Dublin asked me what I thought of this TED talk yy Sam Harris on Science and Morality from 2010. Sam Harris, if you haven't heard of him before, is often included among Richard Dawkins and the late Christopher Hitchens as a powerful voice in contemporary atheism.

Some quick responses to the talk as I understand it:

Given that science is factual and empirical, must science be neutral on the subject of morality and human values, a subject which supposedly does not admit to measurement and objectivity? I think he's right to say that human morality can be discussed factually. I agree that we can speak objectively about concepts such as human health and wellbeing, in that it's better to be alive than to be dead, it's better to live in a healthy society than in a failed state.

I agree with his suspicion of moral and cultural relativism, and with his claim that a view of universal morality would and should condemn cultural practices such as the honour killings of raped daughters. I would accept in principle that religious practice can be trumped by secular morality in certain circumstances, if those religious practices (eg, suttee, honour killings, polygamous marriages with child brides) are obviously harmful to human wellbeing.

Because I am a Christian and a priest and Harris is a secular atheist, he and I differ on the idea that my notions of human wellbeing and morality derive in some form from divine revelation. Harris' reference to religious leaders as "demagogues" who derive their moral worldviews from "whirlwinds" shows his obvious hostility to my moral worldview, although I can't help but noting that in an example of what a continuum of moral views might look like, he puts serial killer Ted Bundy at the negative end, and the Dalai Llama at the positive end. If I had the chance to ask Harris a question that day, I would have asked him whether he would call the Dalai Llama a demagogue and a representative of a "delusional" belief system?

This is my first exposure to Harris, so I would want to be careful about rushing to judgement about his claim that humanity might and should evolve to a universal, secular morality. I would want to know what guarantees he would want that such a universal morality would be benign. One can think of several regimes in recent history that have jettisoned religious views of morality and imposed tyrannous and lethal secular moralities on their peoples. Perhaps the best guarantor for an empirically measurable view of human happiness would be a society where dialogue, coexisgence, and respect between religious and secular views of morality was possible?

We Need A Vicar

My brother the Mad Colonel sent me this recently.

I found the video absolutely delightful. I hope they find a new vicar soon, and I hope he (or she) has a good sense of humour. I suspect it will be an essential quality in all applicants!

Saturday, October 13, 2012

This Call's For You

If you are a prosperous sort of person (and, if you are an inhabitant of a First World country, you are prosperous compared with most people in the world today), then you probably feel some sympathy for the rich man in today's gospel. Which one of us wouldn't balk at Jesus telling us to sell what we own and give it to the poor. Really, Jesus? Seriously? Isn't there something a little less extreme that we could do?

Because we tend to sympathise with the rich man, it's easy to miss the fact that Jesus asks him to do two things. First is the request to sell his goods and give them to the poort. That's phase one of his tasking. The second phase, once he has completed phase one, is to "come, follow me". When Jesus says "follow me" in the gospels, it's important. The people he says it to, and the people who follow him, are called disciples.

So today's gospel isn't just about the use of money, or "stewardship" in church terms. It's also about following Jesus, or "discipleship", as the church calls it. And it's important to note that stewardship, like everything else in our faith, starts with discipleship.

The preacher Will Willimon notes that this may be the only person in the gospels who declines Jesus' words "follow me". He's the only one who can't accept the demands that go with discipleship.

What are these demands? While Jesus says some pretty severe things in Mark, like today's sell all you have and give the cash to the poor, or pluck out your eye if it offends you, as he does in last week's gospel reading, actually the things he asks of his disciples aren't so extreme, and usually the disciples fail even these tasks. Be humble, he asks of them, and they quarrel over who is the most important. Stay up and pray with me, he asks at Gethsemane, and they fall asleep. And Jesus still loves them, just as he loves the young rich man (Mk 10.21).

It's because Jesus loves his disciples that he is going where he's going. Mark tells us that this story happens "As [Jesus] was setting out on a journey" (10.17). That's a significant detail, because Jesus is going to Jerusalem, and to his death on a cross. As he often tells the disciples, only he can do this thing. Where I am going, he says elsewhere, you cannot follow me. The disciples can choose to follow, but they cannot go where Jesus must go, or do what he must do. They, we, can only follow.

When the disciples are shocked by what Jesus says to the rich man, they think that salvation, or approval in the eyes of God, is impossible. "Then who can be saved?" they ask, and Peter takes it one step further, saying to Jesus, "Look, we have left everything and followed you" (Mk 10:26,28). To paraphrase Peter's words, "You owe us. We've been good. We've left our boats and our ways of life behind. We've kept our end of the bargain. Now it's your turn". But God's grace doesn't work that way.

Jesus says this about salvation: "For mortals it is impossible, but not for God; for God all things are possible" (Mk 10.27). Or, as Luther and the Reformers came to understand, it's all about God's grace, feely given, and not what we do, because what we do can never be enough to earn our salvation. Only God's son, freely giving himself on the cross, can do this. The irony of the story is that, had the rich young man thrown himself on Jesus' mercy, he would have what he wanted.

Answering the call to discipleship means answering the call of a generous God who will do for us what we cannot do for ourselves. Our lives as disciples, our Christian lives and caracters, is subsequently formed by our relationship with that generous God, so that what we do with our money, what we do for and with others, how we love, will acquire its full share of grace. But it is never what we do by ourselves. Whatever we do as Christians, it can only begin out of gratitude.

The preached Will Willimon notes that the Rich Man in today's gospel,

Seen On The Morning Run

Taken this morning at the top of Carry Drive hill in Medicine Hat, looking east towards the South Saskatchewan River, on an unseasonably warm October day. I was tryng to capture the light on the far coulees, but my iphone camera wasn't quite up to it. Despite those clouds in the photo, the day turned out kindly and I got a goodly bit of fence painted in my back yard once I recovered from my 10ks.

The Church Militant And Air Mobile

A tip of the beret to Mad Padre's Man In Dublin for spotting this wonderful story about the Russian Army's introduction of a new piece of kit, something it claims is it "the only flying chapel on Earth".

This airmobile chapel is designed to accompany Orthodox priests assigned as chaplains to Russia's airborne forces. The chapel is apparently slung on the sort of pallet used to transport equipment or armoured vehicles. Besides the icons (including, one presumes, one of St. Michael. the patron saint of airborne soldiers) and the cool steeple at the top, the chapel is also equipped with a diesel generator and other comforts.

Russian chaplains are shown in training for their airborne duties. I must say I am quite jealous.

More can be found at an intriguing blog called Subtopia: A Field Guide To Military Urbanism.

Friday, October 12, 2012

Seen On The Morning Run

Kin Coulee Park, Medicine Hat, around 07:30 yesterday morning. Fall fights its doomed battle with winter for dominance.

This run put me at 1844 kms logged with Nike Plus since June 2010. So far I'm on track to break 2000 before New Years, God willing.

No More Non Christian Prison Chaplains Says Canadian Government

A friend of mine put me on to this story tweeted by the Canadian church's Anglican Journal, reporting that the Canadian government will not renew contracts for non-Christian chaplains employed in Canadian federal prisons.

Vic Toews, the minister responsible, has apparently decided that non-Christian prison chaplains are not a good use of taxpayers' money and that Chris stian chaplains can take up the slack in ministering to Wiccans, First Nations believers, Moslems, etc. A spokeswomen for the minister is reported as saying that the government "is not in the business of picking and choosing which religions will be given preferential status through government funding. The minister has concluded … [Christian] chaplains employed by Corrections Canada must provide services to inmates of all faiths."

In today's Globe and Mail, journalist Lorna Dueck pushes back against the notion that Christian chaplains can adequately serve the needs of inmates of other faiths. She argues that the move not only promotes the impression at the government is giving Christianity preemince over other faiths, but also rests on the strange belief that all spiritual needs can be met by one faith. It would be like asking me as a Christian chaplain in the Canadian Forces to minister to a Moslem or First Nations soldier.

Dueck also argues that effective prison chaplaincy can serve the goals of rehabilitation and recidivism, which should also support the good use of taxpayer's dollars argument so beloved of Mr. Toews. I was pleased to see Ms. Dueck quote my fellow Wycliffe College alumnus, the Rev. Eleanor Clitheroe, CEO of Prison Fellowship Canada,who makes this argument:

“There are three parts we’re talking about here: spiritual issues, ethical issues and religious or faith issues. Faith is more than ethics. Ethical issues are around behaviour, and that’s important, but it has to be rooted in something for behaviour to change,” said Rev. Clitheroe. “When it is rooted in faith, we see the real transformation in people’s lives. It’s our view that Christian chaplains are not equipped to deal with languages, sacred writings and traditions of other religions. Because religious support is so effective, we would hope [Mr. Toews] could consider the distinction between ethical and spiritual support and faith-based transformation.”

Sunday, October 7, 2012

Marriage And Community: A Sermon

A Sermon For The Nineteenth Sunday After Pentecost, Preached At Christ The King Chapel, CFB Suffield, Ralston, AB, 7 October 2012

Readings For Proper 27, Year B: Genesis 2:18-24, Psalm 8, Hebrews 1:1-4, 2:5-12, Mark 10:2-16

Then the Lord God said, "It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him a helper as his partner." (Gen 2:18)

Today’s readings, and particularly the linkage between Genesis 2 and Mark 10, invite us to think about marriage and divorce. The pairing of these two subjects, particularly on a weekend devoted to giving thanks, doesn’t seem especially inviting, does it? Many of us have experience with divorce, either first hand or through our families and friends. Those of us who know about divorce and still feel called to worship will probably not be pleased to consider the subject today, in church. After all, the church doesn’t have an especially good track record in speaking to divorce. Divorced people often feel condemned by the church, or abandoned by church peers who don’t know how to deal with them, or even feel unable to return to church because of they may feel shame and guilt.

Divorced people know that marriage is hard. Married people know that marriage is hard. It’s especially hard in the military. Stress, frequent time apart, and frequent postings all seem to stack the deck against military marriages working for long periods of time. I am not sure if the probability of divorce is higher in military marriages than in the civilian world, where the chances of divorce are now greater than 50%, but it feels that way.

What words of hope can the church say to those who are married, especially to those who are married in the military world? Given that one sometimes hears calls for the church to get out of the marriage business, it may seem that the church is bereft of words, or wishes to abdicate its role in the face of changing definitions of marriage and gender.

I think that if the church has anything to say, we need to recover and understand the words of our first reading today from Genesis: Then the Lord God said, "It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him a helper as his partner" (2:18). However we understand Genesis, whether literally or figuratively, we need to understand it as God’s intention for the world he has created. All theology starts with the doctrine of creation, and that doctrine says, basically, God is good, and creation is God’s good and gracious gift to those God brings into relationship with him. Among the good gifts of God is community.

While God creates humans as being gendered, the traditional translation of Gen 2:18 is misleading. While it says “man”, biblical scholar Sara Koenig reminds us that the word man in the Hebrew, “’adam”, is in fact gender neutral. The verse could be translated as “It is not good that human or person should be alone”. So one key to understanding our human nature is that God never designed us to be solitary creatures. We are created for one another.

A second comment on the language of Gen 2:18 needs to focus on the words “helper” and “partner”. These words do not necessarily mean subservience. The helper or partner is not a servant. Again to quote Koenig, she notes that in Hebrew the word “ezer is used in the Hebrew most often to refer to God (e.g. Psalm 121:2), and it connotes assistance from a superior”. So humans, as exemplified in the book of Genesis as Adam and Eve, are created to be in community with one another as partners.

When I counsel people for marriage, I take them through the marriage vows and note that the vows are mirror images of one another. Neither the bride or the groom has a different job. Everything there, the sickness or health business, the better or worse stuff, is the vocation of both parties. If those vows are taken seriously and grown into, then the bride and groom will grow into a partnership with one another. Their marriage will become a community, expanding into friendships, relatives, and children, and children’s friends and their parents and so on, but it begins with the partnership at the heart of community. Perhaps if the church kept its nerve and continued to speak on this idea of marriage as a vocation, we wouldn’t want to get out of the marriage business. Rather, we might find that we have a better vision of marriage for a world which increasingly sees marriage as disposable or inherently flawed or obsolescent.

And what about divorce? What about those marriages that do fail, sometimes through no fault of one of the would be partners? It may be that such people, when they hear Jesus speaking in Mark 10, hear words of condemnation. In fact, I think Jesus is speaking words of condemnation, but he is in fact condemning a male-dominated society that sees women as disposable. There were divorces in Jesus’ day. Husbands could invoke “Moses” as per Deuteronomy 24:1-2 and get rid of their wives if they did something “indecent”, a word which could be interpreted as practically anything, such as being a bad cook. In a society where adult women had no place outside of marriage, the consequences of divorce were devastating and even deadly. So I suggest, with other commentators, that Jesus’ words here are part of his pattern of compassion and recognition of the women around him, such as the women he saved from stoning for adultery.

In invoking Genesis and the idea of community as the foremost intent behind creation, Jesus is reminding his audience of their interdependence. He is saying that no one is disposable. He is saying that human relationships, at their deepest level, are meant to be profound, sacred, giving us life and meaning. He is pointing to an idea of community, first seen in his relationship with the disciples (men and women) around him, and later seen, up to today, in the church.

Jesus’ prohibition against divorce in Mark 10 thus needs to be seen carefully. It may be that some marriages, sadly, have to end. Marriage exists in what we call the fallen world, and is subject to the influence of sin. Violence, injustice, betrayal and indifference are not just hostile to marriage, they are hostile to community. No community, whether a man and a wife or a larger group, can survive such threats indefinitely. They must be repaired in some way. It may be that the best thing that the church can extend to divorced people is a viable and attractive vision of community, one that doesn’t judge but which heals and restores. Ideally the church can play a role in teaching and exemplifying a vision of human community that will give the divorced hope that marriage, like all other aspects of lives, is not beyond God’s redemption.

Saturday, October 6, 2012

Notable Quotable: C.S. Lewis On Running

"If one could run without getting tired, I don't think one would often want to do anything else."

I saw this via Twitter just now from @CSLewisDaily. The quote I believe is from The Last Battle. I'm pretty sure Jack wasn't talking about running in the jogging sense, but I would add my own AMEN to the sentiment.

Military Goats In The News

As all faithful readers of this blog know, there are few things dearer to the heart of Mad Padre than that paragon of martial prowess, that prince of nature and epitome of military tradition ... I refer, gentle readers, to the military goat.

This noble creature is Shenkin, the regimental goat of the UK's 2nd Battalion, The Royal Welsh, who was present when the battalion paraded through Bridgend, Wales, yesterday. Image courtesy of the UK MOD.

I'm Published In Canadian Army Journal (In A Small Way)

A little under a year ago I posted a review of Lizzie Collingham's fascinating history on the role of food (or lack of it)in World War Two. I had submitted that review to the Canadian Army Journal, which encourages book reviews from serving members. After trimming it down to 500 words as per their request, I heard nothing more from CAJ and decided they weren't interested.

I was quite chuffed therefore to open my mail at work on Thursday, behold a shiny new copy of CAJ and find my review therein. The editors did a great job of dressing up the two page spread for my review with some well-chosen histrical photos, so it looks great. CAJ is wonkish and dense, and I'm not really sure how many of my colleagues read it, but I'm pleased that the editors picked up my review. Food supply is going to be a strategic issue in the 21st century, and Collingham's book gives us an historical perspective to understand this issue in our own time.

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Seen On The Morning Run / 1800+ Kilometres!

This morning in SE Ablberta looked like fall transitioning into winter, grey and cool with a threat of rain. Coming back to the base at the end of a 6k run, the drizzle stopped, the sun came out and this was my reward. A good omen for a good day ahead.

This run marked my 1800th kilometre run with nikeplus since I started tracking in June 2010. I am hoping to get to 2000km by the end of 2012.

BeastNews On The Religious/Political Fault Line

Interesting discussion on Beast TV this morning starts on whether the media are allowed to question a presidential candidate's religious beliefs on the role of women, and segues into a larger discussion on the "fault line" of mutual incomprehension between the media and traditional religious belief. Panelists ask some good questions as to whether the media can discuss the civic implications of belief (ie, questions on gender discrimination) while respecting the right to religious belief. No answers but good questions.

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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