Friday, May 31, 2013

“Win Some, Walk Off, Go in, Have A Beer. That’s It.” Longevity Advice From The Oldest Living Brooklyn Dodger

Baseball has a unique appeal to history-minded types such as myself that is probably just tedious to those who don't get it. If I could get into a time machine and go back to one era or place in baseball, I would go without a second thought to Ebbets Field in Brooklyn in the years just after World War Two. I don't think there's ever been a more romantic and archetypal ball club than the scrappy, underdog Dodgers, "dem Bums" in their baggy uniforms.

I didn't blog it at the time, but back in April I was charmed by this NYT article about Mike Sandlock, who at age 97 is the oldest living Brooklyn Dodger. His advice for a long and happy life is something he honed while playing golf after his baseball career: “Win some, walk off. Go in, have a beer. That’s it.” I think that advice could safely and profitably be applied to any field of human endeavour.

This year has been kind to those who remember the Dodgers. "42", the Warner Brothers film about Jackie Robinson, who wore a Dodgers uniform when he broke the colour barrier in major league ball, was an earnest but entertaining film. I grumbled about the film's unwillingness to show us any scenes in Montreal, Canada, where Robinson played AAA ball before being called up to Brooklyn, but that's the price of a film aimed at American viewers. I wonder how many people who saw 42 remembered the 1950 film The Jackie Robinson Story, in which Robinson played himself. Richard Brody in the New Yorker makes a strong case that the earlier film is the superior one. I shall have to track that down a decide for myself, though it will be hard to top Harrison Ford chewing the scenery as Branch Rickey, the avuncular owner of the Dodgers who championed Robinson.

A book I shall be looking for this summer, and possibly taking to the ball park, is "The Victory Season", Robert Weintraub's history of baseball in the years just after World War Two and reviewed here. Mike Sandlock was playing shortstop for the Dodgers in 1946, the first of those victory seasons, but he went up to Montreal in 1947, the year Robinson came down to make history in Brooklyn. Sandlock never played in the same lineup with Robinson, but he was aware of a player petition protesting the presence of Robinson, and to his credit he was among those Dodgers who never signed it. While in Montreal Sandlock did work with another player called up from the Negro Leagues, Ray Campanella, who became one of the greatest catchers in the game. "Campy" gave much credit for his success to lessons learned "from a white teammate, catcher Mike Sandlock".

In such ways does baseball, a simple game played by boys, become something greater than itself, and is thus worthy of memory.

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

With My Fellow Anglican Padres

My friend and Anglican chaplain colleague John Hounsell-Drover posted this reflection in our first day of the meeting of the Anglican Military Ordinariate (AMO). If that sounds like a mouthful to you, then you probably aren't fluent in the aracana of the Anglican Church, which, as Stanley Hauerwas (himself a new Anglican) on e remarked, leaves no pretension unused. After all, whereas other denominations have basements, we have "undercrofts". But I digress.

"Clericus" is an Anglican term for the formal gathering of clergy within a diocese. In our case, we are the Regular (full time) and Reserve (part time) chaplains of the Canadian Forces who are ordained clergy in the Anglican Church of Canada (ACC) and who hold our licenses from the Bishop Ordinary, one of two members of the ACC's House of Bishops who are extra-territorial, meaning that they don't oversee a geographically defined Diocese. For two days within our larger annual meeting of the whole CF Chaplain's Branch, Clericus is, as John notes in his blog post, our chance to be peculiarly (in the best sense of the word) Anglican as priests and as chaplains.

Today, our second day, we are fortunate to have with us the ACC's other extra-territorial bishop, The Right Reverend Mark MacDonald, the first National Indigenous Anglican Bishop of the ACC. Bishop Mark's mandate is to be a pastoral leader to the First Nations peoples of the ACC, as well as to help the non-indigenous Church to better understand and be in healthier relationship with our First Nations brothers and sisters in Christ.

Mark's conversation with us revolves around the differences between the predominant (white) culture and indigenous culture, and ways in which culture constrains and determines our ways of relating. In past, my experience of these sorts of discussions in the life of church has been a finger-wagging, guilt inducing lecture which does not further the causes of understanding and helpful change. Mark's approach is wise and gentle, leading us into a nuanced discussion of culture (indigenous, western, military, Anglican, technological, gospel) and pointing us towards a vision of the church that is smaller, less structured, and less dependent on the forms and norms of western culture than we as Christians have been in past. For a highly institutionalized structure like the AMO, this message may seem like a challenge, but for those of us who are charged with serving a dominant culture (the military) while being grounded in the culture of the gospel, it's striking a chord.

On a personal note, +Mark's talk is offering me much food for thought as I look ahead a few months to the start of my MA program in Religion and Culture. I shall be digging into his writings on mission, missiology, and his suggestions in discussion that some of the emerging discourse between African and Indigenous Anglicans on culture, gospel and orthodoxy.

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What The UK Of Chief Of Defence Staff Is Reading

For those interested in military reading, I commend this list of recommended reading from the Britain's top soldier, as published by the Defence Academy of the United Kingdom. Here are three titles from that list that I am hoping to track down and read this summer.

The Untold War: Inside the Hearts, Minds, and Souls of Our Soldiers
by Nancy Sherman

Review (written by Air Commodore Paul Lyall)
War imposes incredible stresses on those that wage it on behalf of others. It can involve fighting, killing, and seeing your mate be killed or injured. In this book, Nancy Sherman looks at the impact this can have on individuals and on how the transition from civilian to soldier - and more importantly, back again - can be hugely traumatic. Considering what many of our young soldiers have experienced on recent operations, this book is a real reminder that we owe them not just a debt of gratitude, but our enduring support.

Defeat into Victory
by Field Marshal Viscount William Slim

Review (written by Air Commodore Paul Lyall)
This book tops the reading list of the Higher Command and Staff Course. It was written by a Field Marshal who seemed unclouded by ego – a man who learnt from his mistakes, grew into a great commander through reflection and dedication, and was eager to record his experiences in order to help develop future leaders. It is a work of great humanity and humility which perfectly illustrates the demands of military operational command and the weight of responsibility that falls on senior shoulders. The prologue is one of the great works of military literature.

Morality and War: Can War be Just in the Twenty-first Century?>
by David Fisher

Review (written by RCDS)
David Fisher is a former civil servant in the Ministry of Defence and defence adviser to the Prime Minister. This book originated as a PhD thesis in the Department of War Studies at Kings College London. In it, the author revisits the Just War tradition and its revival following the end of the Cold War, and then goes beyond that to suggest that we need a new framework for thinking about war in the modern world. Fisher uses the Aristotelian concept of virtues to offer a notion of virtuous consequentialism as a guide to wise action.

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Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Seen On The Morning Run: A Refreshing Bath Of Green

This was part of my route this morning, along the St. Lawrence River near Cornwall, Ontario, where I am currently attending a conference. A leafy trail doesn't seem that remarkable or blog worthy, but it was a welcome change (green! leaves! trees!) from what I usually see at home (for a few more months, anyway) on the prairie of SE Alberta.

I took the second photo here while on recent ATV tour of the training area at CFB Suffield. As long as I will live, I will always remember this amazing, sky-soaked landscape. I'm not sure I'll miss it, however.

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Location:Seen On The Morning Run

Monday, May 27, 2013

When Society And Its Military Move Apart

I liked this essay in today's NYT by Karl W. Eikenberry, a retired Army lieutenant general and Stanford fellow, on the growing gap between the US military and the citizens it serves. Here's an excerpt.

"Together, these developments present a disturbingly novel spectacle: a maximally powerful force operating with a minimum of citizen engagement and comprehension. Technology and popular culture have intersected to perverse effect. While Vietnam brought home the wrenching realities of war via television, today’s wars make extensive use of computers and robots, giving some civilians the decidedly false impression that the grind and horror of combat are things of the past. The media offer us images of drone pilots, thousands of miles from the fray, coolly and safely dispatching enemies in their electronic cross hairs. Hollywood depicts superhuman teams of Special Operations forces snuffing out their adversaries with clinical precision."

Eikenberry's proposals to remedy this trend include a return to the draft, which would not work well in countries such as my own, which have long traditions of volunteer service and small peacetime militaries. For Canada, however, as we leave the Afghanistan era and the military returns to garrison and leaves the public spotlight, I think we need the same discussion here that Eikenberry proposes for his country, What is the relationship between military service and citizenship? What is our modern military capable of doing, what is it currently doing, both conventionally and in special operations, and what do and what should civilian citizens know about these things? These questions might be more helpful to pursue than our ongoing preoccupation with military procurement.

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Friday, May 24, 2013

The Canadian Forces iPad Pocket, War, And Literacy

Now that warmer weather is here I like to travel about the base on my bicycle, and found that I faced a problem. I didn't have my small backpack with me and I needed to transport my iPad. How was I to do it?

Fortunately, Queen and Country have clothed me with fairly capacious side pockets in my trousers. Would the iPad fit?


This solution would only be useful in garrison. I certainly wouldn't recommend it in the field, but then again, I doubt I'd take my iPad into the field. But as I cycled around that day, I recalled reading the late Paul Fussell's book Wartime: Understanding and Behaviour in World War Two, and how his description of the "Penguin pocket". British and Commonwealth troops were issued with serge battledreaa uniforms that had a pocket above the left knee suitable for carrying an entrenching tool (though I've never seen period photos showing this use for the pocket, it seems jolly uncomfortable when going prone suddenly), a field dressing, or similar kit. Because the pocket was perfectly sized to carry one of the ubiquitous Penguin paperbacks that sustained literary minded soldiers in the field, it was named the Penguin pocket.

My inner historian found that a pleasing echo of the past, and I suspect that Fussell might have found it amusing, though I heard him speak once in the late 1980s and he seemed a bit of a curmudgeon to me, so who knows. I was reminded of a Major I knew at Suffield who told me once while climbing a mountain that as a young officer in the early 1990s he took two barrack boxes of books with him to Yugoslavia, and of them all his favourite was an anthology of poems chosen and loved by the British General Wavell. It was called Other Men's Flowers and was published in 1944. I suspect it occupied more than a few Penguin pockets. There was a lovely piece by Ian Jack in the Guardian from 2005 on Wavell, his book, and the lost art of memorizing verse which you can find here.

If I were to deploy somewhere for a long spell I would probably take a few print books with me, but would likely opt to stuff my iPad with as many ebooks as possible and take my chances. And I would take some comfort in the fact that I was part of a long tradition of soldiers who found space, somewhere in their kit, for that weapon most capable of keeping the mind and soul alive, the book.

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Men In Uniform Behaving Badly - The Sad Parade Continues

This sad looking fellow is a face that should live in military infamy. It belongs to a Lt. Col. Jeff Krusinski, who was in charge of the US Air Force's program to prevent sexual assault until he, well,ummm, oh dear, this is awkward, until he sexually assaulted a woman in a Virginia parking lot. Judging from the mug shot, he got the worst of it, which is in itself not a bad thing. When news of this story broke recently, the US Secretary of Defence announced that he would take a personal interest in seeing Krusinski was properly punished, which pretty much guarantees the acme of military career flameouts.

Unfortunately, it gets worse. Following revelations that the number of reported sexual assaults in the US military had risen six percent from 2012, going from 3,192 to 3,374, several other military men charged with the safety of their female peers and subordinates in uniform have also been accused of the very offences they were charged with preventing. Last Friday, Tom Ricks mordantly proposed a new competition, asking "Has your base's sexual assault czar been arrested yet?", in response to stories that two other US servicemen with duties similar to Krusinksi's had been relieved of duties and charged. One was accused of stalking his ex-wife, the other was accused of "pandering, abusive sexual contact, assault and maltreatment of subordinates." The issue has become sufficiently prominent that NPR's Tom Ashbrook recently dedicated an hour to it.

Lest I come across as being smug at the expense of the US military, I should note that a Canadian Forces base commander was recently relieved of his command and "faces a charge of sexual assault and two charges under the National Defence Act — disgraceful conduct and drunkenness". It is not the first time in this officer's career that he has been in trouble for sexual misconduct. While I don't have any current data for the prevalence of sexual assault in the Canadian Forces, the Ottawa Citzen reported in 2011 that the number of sexual assault complaints made in the CF in 2010 was 176, slightly up from the 166 complaints made in 2009.

I think we are seeing several trends happening here. The first is that as western militaries cease to be exclusively male preserves, and as lawmakers and elected officials charged with military oversight now include prominent and outraged women, we will see fewer excuses for male soldiers to behave badly. The second is that the current approach to fighting sexual misconduct in the ranks is now revealed as being badly flawed. It will no longer be enough to create a program aimed at preventing misconduct and giving it to an underperformer to administer. In my own experience in the military, I've seen examples of posts and programs aimed at making people virtuous, such as the Unit Ethics Officer, given as secondary duties to nonentities because no one else wants them. Making ethics or sexual assault prevention the responsibility of one person, especially someone whose career has stalled, is pretty much a guarantee that the idea behind that program won't be taken seriously.

Another trend, and I'm surprised that no one has mentioned it in this context, is pornography. Perhaps its the elephant in the room, but I think it needs to be discussed in relation to the issue of how women are mistreated in the military. Not to put too fine a point on it, but the military culture tolerates, and even encourages, the consumption of porn. In the case of the Canadian officer I mentioned above, his earlier misconduct seems to have been linked to porn. Feminists have been saying for decades that the consumption of pornography encourages men to objectify and dehumanize women, and I agree with this basic argument because I see it in my military peers. I don't see a way to make pornography magically disappear, but I don't see any way forward for militaries composed of men and women until we can start talking about it.

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

The Hard Commandment: A Sermon For The Fifth Sunday Of Easter

Blogging ground to a stop in the last month while I was working my way through the posting process and getting my house ready to sell. I noticed that this sermon, preached on 28 April, never got posted. So, for fans of the Fifth Sunday of Easter, here's one for you. More regular blogging should resume shortly. MP+

A Sermon for the Fifth Sunday of Easter. Preached Sunday, 28 April, at Christ the King Chapel, Crown Village of Ralston, CFB Suffield, AB. Lectionary texts for Year C: Acts 11: 1-18, Psalm 148, Revelation 21: 1-6, John 13: 31-45

"I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another." (John 13: 34-35

Pick up your cross and follow me. Sell all you have and give it to the poor. Turn the other cheek. Don’t commit adultery, even in your thoughts.

Compared to these commands of Our Lord, “love one another” seems manageable. I’m not sold on turning the other cheek, but I think I can manage loving others. Especially people I like already.

If we strip the words “love one another” of whatever saccharine accretions our culture has layered onto them, we may find that this new commandment is in fact the most strenuous of them all.

To really understand what Jesus is saying here, it’s helpful to examine the context of this new commandment in John 13. In the Fourth Gospel this reading is part of John’s account of the last meal that Jesus shares with his disciples before his death. Five weeks after Easter, we return to the events of Maundy Thursday, to the charged atmosphere of the Upper Room as the disciples struggle to understand what is about to happen and what Jesus means by acts such as washing their feet.

Most commentaries note that when Jesus gives this new commandment, he has already predicted his betrayal. Judas has just left the room, just minutes before Jesus utters these words. Just after Jesus delivers this commandment, Peter promises that he will lay down his life for his master, and yet Jesus knows, and says, that Peter will deny him before the dawn comes.

So, as the commentators all point out, these words are bracketed by the sad and abrupt limits of human love. Judas, one of the inner circle, sells Jesus out. Blustering, emotional Peter can’t find the courage to live up to his promise. Human love fails, and Jesus knows it will fail when he gives this commandment.

N.T. Wright notes if we think of this commandment as just another ethical dictum, just another item in Jesus’ list of what makes a good person, we miss the point. David Lose notes all the things Jesus could say here and doesn’t: “Die with me”, “Keep the faith”, “Tell the world about me”. Nope. He just says “love one another”. He says these words with great deliberation and simplicity, because he knows that on the cross he will go to shortly, these words will be given meaning in a way that humans cannot give them meaning.

“Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another.” The “as I have loved you” part is played out on the cross, the very meaning of John’s gospel that he points to so early on, in John 3:16 (“For God so loved the world”). This is redemptive love, and it can only come from God, who sees so clearly our limits and failures, as he saw those of Peter and Judas, and still wishes to love and save us. This love comes as a gift from God, and is given to his people to share.

Verse 35 reminds us that the gift of God’s love is one of the marks of the church: “By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another”. There may be other places where we can find people who will make us feel good about ourselves for a while. There may be places where we can do good things for one another, for a while. But the church, when it is true to its calling, is the only place where we can find the love we don’t deserve, and be reminded that it is, through God’s power, something we can offer to others whom, left to our own devices, we would might not choose to love. That’s the mission of the church.

I am sure that in the past week, you have all done something to show God’s love to others. Take a moment to recall that time, and give thanks for it. Now take a moment to recall a time in the last week when you came up short, when you could have shown God’s love to someone and didn’t. Pray about that moment, and move on with God’s help.

‘Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another.’ No, it’s not an easy commandment. It’s rather difficult, actually, just as it was difficult for our Lord in the Garden that night, as he prepared to go to the cross. But he did it, and that love, confirmed in the resurrection, is one of the gifts of the Holy Spirit that God gives his people. Love one another. It’s who God is. It’s who we are. Amen.

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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