Tuesday, 28 October 2014

Are All Heroes Equal?

The tragic events of last week have given me much to think about.  Taking my mind off my new role as care giver and chief cook and bottle washer as Lorna recovers from a hip replacement I have been pondering the events in which two Canadian soldiers were murdered in cold blood.  There are many issues that arise from those events which have been extensively covered in the media including the state of security on Parliament Hill and in Canada in general.  However, in the last few days I have been taken with how the death of the two soldiers has been treated in the media and the response of the public.
Both men died in ways that were similar.  Both were in uniform and serving their country in the armed forces.  Both were murdered by men who reportedly had mental problems and had found meaning in the ideology presented on-line by terrorist groups which claim to be the true though distorted representation of Islam.  Both men were killed in Canada and not serving on foreign shores.  Both men were unarmed.  One was targeted by a deliberate hit and run driver and the other was fatally shot.  Finally, both the murderers were killed by authorities following the death of their victims. 
Despite the similarities the response to the two deaths has been amazingly but perhaps not surprisingly different.  If I was to mention Cpl. Nathan Cirillo you would probably recognize it as the name of one of the soldiers who was killed.  But if I was to ask you the name of the other soldier would you be able to name him or recognize it?  I was not able to without looking it up on the internet.  It is Warrant Officer Patrice Vincent.  There has been an outpouring of grief in the form of memorials and remembrances and comments for Cpr. Cirillo.  However, the response, as reported in the press, to the death of Warrant Officer Vincent has been shall we say subdued. 
There are of course reasons for this.  Cpr. Cirillo was an attractive person – good looking, vigorous, young, father of a young child. Pictures and descriptions of him have been plentiful in the media.  Warrant Officer Vincent, on the other hand, is middle aged, not so photogenic and details and descriptions of him have been generally lacking.  He had served in the military for 28 years compared to Cpr. Cirillo serving in the reserves for a much briefer time.  Despite the similarities the events were very in some ways very different.  Warrant Officer Vincent was killed in a hit and run which also injured another soldier in what could be described as rather less than dramatic circumstances.  Cpr. Cirillo, on the other hand, was murdered in very different circumstances.  He was gunned down at the National War Memorial.  This is in itself filled with symbolic meaning.  His attacker went on to break into the Parliament Buildings, the home of our democracy.  He was killed in a shootout by the sergeant of arms of Parliament in a way that could not have been scripted more dramatically by Hollywood. 
There is nothing intrinsic in the deaths which set the two victims apart.  Both died tragically but not in what could be called heroic circumstances.  It is in my opinion very unfortunate that their deaths are being treated so differently.  The loss of both lives is tragic and sorrowful for all who loved them.  And yet through no action of theirs the loss of Cpr. Cirillo is given much more significance and honour by the media and the public in general.  I do not know how this difference is perceived and felt by the family of Warrant Officer Vincent.  Perhaps they are glad of the lack of publicity but I can’t imagine they do not question why their loss seems much less important than the loss of Cpr. Cirillo to his loved ones and the nation.  This to my mind only adds to the tragedy of both events. 
One more note, it is commendable that in their time of sorrow, the family of Warrant Officer Vincent  reached out to the family of their son’s murderer, saying their thoughts are with them “as they go through these difficult moments.”
I will keep all those who loved Cpr. Cirillo and those who loved Warrant Officer Vincent in my prayers. 

Tuesday, 14 October 2014

Gratitude and Thanks and More

Lorna and I attended the Thanksgiving service at church on Sunday at our home parish of St. John’s-by-the-Lake in Grand Bend.  Being by the Lake (Huron) is not the same as being at our cottage-by-the-sea in Prince Edward Island.  However, it is nice to be worshipping there again.  The priest preached a very good sermon on gratitude.  He covered a lot of territory including Aesop’s fable of Androcles and the Lion as well as the parable of the wicked tenants from last week’s Gospel where the master who planted a vineyard and the dastardly servants who not only wouldn’t give the master of the vineyard his due but instead killed the master’s some when he came to them.   Now that another Thanksgiving has come and almost gone my thoughts turn to what I am grateful for.  There is the usual of family, health, health care, hearth and home, security, and the opportunities I have had to worship God in different ways and in different places in the past year.

 I am also grateful that a friend brought to my attention a column by Rev. Bob Ripley who is as retired United Church minister.  Ripley was the senior minister at the most prominent United Church in London Ontario before retiring a few years ago.  Ripley has written a weekly column in the London Free Press for many years.  In the recent column, Ripley proclaimed that, in effect, he no longer believes in organized religion.  Ripley states unequivocally:

Where once I proclaimed the doctrines of Christianity with passion and sincerity, I am now convinced that religion, all religion, is man-made. As with the long line of deities dotting the history of our species, the idea of one God, Yahweh, made manifest in Jesus of Nazareth, is our means to an end — to explain how we got here, for instance, or to avoid looking fate in the face or to gain an edge over our enemies.

The juxtaposition of this column, Thanksgiving, and the Gospel parable of a week ago is propitious.  I am, as I mentioned, grateful that I was made aware of the column.  I am no longer a regular reader of the Free Press for a number of reasons— which I don’t want to get into now— so I might well have missed it.  I am grateful for the column itself as it has caused me to reflect on my relationship to organized religion.  I am also grateful for the parable of the wicked tenants that was the subject of three sermons in the last two weeks. 

In my relatively short career as a parish priest I have said to myself and occasionally to others in a fit of satire or perhaps irony (I’m not sure which) that the only thing wrong with church is the people—they tend to mess things up, make it inconvenient, disappointing at times, and generally not what God intends—at least in my idea of what church should be.  In the parable (Matthew 21:33-46), Jesus is using the parable to criticize the religious authorities for the way they practice their religion:

When the chief priests and the Pharisees heard his parables, they realized that he was speaking about them. They wanted to arrest him, but they feared the crowds, because they regarded him as a prophet. 

I can understand why someone who has served as an ordained minister or priest for many years or even a few years becomes disillusioned about the institution and all its human shortcomings.   Ripley notes that his disenchantment with religion was one of the reasons he retired early from his church position.  Jesus certainly was critical of the religious leaders and many of the people in his day.  There is much to criticise in the church and its ‘cheap grace’ as Dorothee Solle calls it in her book Thinking About God which I am currently reading.  She cites this term of Dietrich Bonhoeffer where the church is coopted by the ruling powers of the society in which it resides whether it is the Germany of Hitler or the economic powers and systems of today.  She notes that Bonhoeffer pleads, “that the church should take the risk of setting out to proclaim God’s commands as being valid today, as concretely, exclusively and radically as can be conceived”.  The church should, as Ripley notes, comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable. 

Solle states that because we are fallible does not mean that the gospel of Jesus Christ was not ethics-free and the church should not be either, “That we are fallible people and can make mistakes (in discerning God’s will) did not lead Bonhoeffer to withdraw from a world of action”.  The church is indeed imperfect but Jesus did not come to abolish religion but rather to fulfill God’s command for God’s people.  We are called to discern God’s will and to follow God’s commandments even if our efforts will inevitably flawed.  Let us give thanks and praise the Lord. 

Tuesday, 7 October 2014

Describe Yourself - If You Dare

One of the pleasures I have discovered in that last two summers at the cottage in PEI is the mystery novel.  I have never been a fan of this genre — at least in print form having enjoyed the TV adaptations — particularly of the British variety such as Midsomer Murders  or Inspector Morse.  Of course there is the original fictional detective Sherlock Holmes in his many incarnations. 

In the past two summers (or should I say Midsomers) I have found the detective mystery to be the perfect light reading to complement my more serious exploration of Spiritual Direction books, books on dream interpretation, alchemy, and Jungian psychology liberally (small l) mixed with the bible. 

One of the series I have discovered is by Sue Grafton who has written a alphabetical series (A is for Alibi, B is for Burglar down to W is for Wasted) dealing with the exploits of her female Private Eye Kinsey Millhone.  One of the things that makes Sue Grafton’s writing so engaging is the descriptive nature of how she writes.  The scenes and the characters are written so graphically and vibrantly that I have no difficulty picturing the scenes in the stories and the characters which inhabit them.

I would like to give you some examples of the writing but unfortunately all our copies of the books are back in Ann of Green Gable’s home province and so I must limit the examples to a few I found on line:

Beverly Danziger looked like an expensive, carefully wrapped package from a good but conservative shop. Only her compulsive chatter hinted at the nervousness beneath her cool surface. It was a nervousness out of all proportion to the problem she placed before Kinsey Millhone.

He was young—maybe twenty or so—and he must once have been a good-looking kid. Kinsey could see that. But now his body was covered in scars, his face half-collapsed. It saddened Kinsey and made her curious. 

The question I would like to put to you today is, “if Sue Grafton was to put you into one of her novels, how would she describe you?”  This of course could be both the outer appearance as well and the inner person. 
Thinking about what I would write was more daunting that I first thought it would be.  It is a bit like what would I put in my obituary if I were to write it but makes it more immediate.  In effect how do you think other people see you?

Well here is my preliminary effort.  In outward appearance Gregory (Greg) Little is a tall (6’2”) somewhat overweight (215 lbs.) senior citizen (now 65 years old).  You could not describe Greg as tall dark and handsome despite his height.  He is fairly attractive but his years are beginning to show.  He does wear his age quite well but not as well as he thinks.  He is certainly no longer dark as the thinning hair is showing a lot of gray as is his full beard.  Greg peers at the world through myopic eyes and does not see a lot of the physical colours in the world being somewhat colour blind to go along with his short-sightedness.  Greg is, however, very interested in the nuances of people and what makes them tick. He is a person who likes to see the connections with things beyond the physical world however; he doesn’t always make the connections about others as well as himself as he thinks he should.  Greg is not a detail oriented person as anyone reading his emails can attest.  He puts this down to his personality type which is INFJ on the Myers Briggs scale and a 9 on the Enneagram scale.  However he is more attentive to detail than he used to be.  Greg also has a good sense of humour and likes seeing the ironic and paradoxes in life. 
I could go on but I think I will leave it at that — for today in any case.  So how would Sue Grafton describe you on the inside as well on the outside? 


Thursday, 2 October 2014

Recycle That — Maybe or Maybe Not

We have been back from PEI for more than a week now including a stopover in Toronto to visit Lorna’s mother.  We are settling in reasonably well and accepting our life away from God’s country.  Actually there are many things I am enjoying about being back.  However, I wouldn’t dream of speaking for Lorna on that front—or pretty much anything else.  In any case, we are back into the Parkhill routine and things have been surprisingly busy for two supposedly retired people.

I want to talk in this edition of News & Views about recycling.  First let me say up front that I am a strong supporter of recycling.  One of the first things that struck me about being back is the approach to recycling.  I had finished a litre of milk and realized that it went into the garbage and not the recycling.  I found this initially to be a bit of a guilty pleasure.  However, on second thought my better nature kicked in and I realized that we here in North Middlesex and possibly much of Ontario need to go a lot further in recycling.  PEI has a very elaborate system of recycling which has been a bit of a challenge for me to get the hang of.  I’m sure I am not all there yet in becoming a proficient PEI recycler but I am a work in progress as with other areas of my life.  Lorna on the other hand has conquered the system.  Whenever she is in doubt if an item is recyclable or not she holds it up and asks me. 

PEI has a very long list of things that they recycle including milk cartons.  The gods of recycling in PEI fortunately provide an extensive chart listing all the things that can be recycled and how to do it.  Items to be recycled are placed in blue transparent plastic bag—either bag 1 or bag 2—bag 2 being paper or cardboard or other like things and bag 1 being all other recyclables except things that have to be taken to centres for special handling.  They also do a collection of compost material which includes things I would not normally associate with compost.  We compost our own compostables at home so I don’t worry about that.  Everything else is pure garbage.  The compost and garbage are collected alternate weeks in large black (garbage) and green (compost) bins.  The recyclables are collected once a month which is a bit of a problem if you forget to put them out on that day.  It is a very effective and efficient system (other than the infrequency of recycling collection) and we find that we have very little that ends up as pure garbage. 

The system on PEI came about through the Great Mother Necessity as space for garbage disposal and many other things is at a premium on our smallest (by far) province.  As space for garbage dumps is at a premium they have had to develop a sophisticated system of recycling.  It is definitely a case of making a virtue of necessity.  Here in Southwestern Ontario space has not been at such a premium but we are getting to the point where we will certainly need to be more effective and can learn a lot from PEI in this regard and perhaps other areas.  I recall a few years ago when there was a controversy about Toronto garbage ending up at a site near London and there was the case of Toronto gifting our neighbours to the south in the U.S. with its garbage which didn’t raise such a stink (proverbial or literal) with the good people of London.

I thought I would close on a theological point.  Does God support recycling, or to put it another way, what is God’s intention in respect to recycling?  I can’t know the mind of God but if you look at the world it has been created to naturally recycle everything. Scavengers often take care of dead things before they can decompose.  Plants that aren’t consumed die in the fall and new life spring forth in the spring.   Mother Nature is in natural balance and everything that gets used gets recycled one way or another.  Some life may get out of balance sometimes but left to take their natural course the balance will be restored.  This is until we humans started to use the world for our own purposes and in ways that God doesn’t necessarily intend.  That is a rather idyllic view but it is a reminder that we humans have a long way to go if we are to have ‘dominion over’ the world as God intends which as its core means to protect and care for.