Saturday, 22 January 2011

A Week of Prayer for Christian Unity

Third Sunday in Ordinary Time Year A Matthew 4:12-23

In this week's Gospel "Come, follow me," we hear that Jesus had already begun to establish a ministry – he was already out and about preaching a message of repentance. He was picking up where John the Baptist had been forced to leave off. By the time he walked past the fishing boats of Peter and Andrew, James and John, it is reasonable to suggest that his reputation, or at the very least this new message of the Kingdom of God had preceded him. When he called Peter and Andrew, “come, follow me” he was not an unknown preacher just strolling by. Like the society we live in there would have been at varying degrees of awareness of Christ, and hopefully we who hear it today are open to his call. As he walked along and more and more people began to follow him, people of varying backgrounds and religious traditions, all for a time unified in the Word.

Some who followed were Apostles, some disciples, some curious, and many who lost interest and went back to what they were doing. All were called by Christ, all are called by Christ. Some follow.

We pray for Christian Unity. Christ knew, Christ knows that we are stronger together, and he calls different people of different backgrounds and practices together to one central way of living a life of repentance, of anticipation of the kingdom of God, and a life lived in service of God through the service of others. That’s how society will know us apart from those who haven’t heard or believed the word, that’s how we share one unity in Christ. All that is different between us seems so petty, and small and meaningless when together we follow the one who calls us each by name when he says, “Come, follow me.”

Saturday, 15 January 2011

Why I'm Glad I was a Sea Cadet (or how I learned to crap overboard)

In the mid-seventies I joined my local corps of Sea Cadets. It was a tough and happy three years. Times weren't always great as a cadet, but better than they might have been without the discipline, camaraderie and discipline. Oh, and the discipline was cool.

Here then, are the the top reasons I'm glad I was a cadet.

1. The discipline. Leadership roles rotated between those officially in charge and those occasionally in charge, and those who took charge because the situation called for it. You didn't have to like it, but sometimes your life depended on following orders whether you liked the authority figure or not.

2. Sometimes your life depended on following orders, literally. I can count more than a few times, each involving water, where we found ourselves in situations that could have ended badly or worse. Every time there was one person in charge, the rest us followed orders, and each time we all came out together, even once when we were tossed overboard into the Pacific, all but one cadet struggled back into the boat and he was too exhausted to climb over the gunwales. We fought to drag him in and then as he went under the waves for the third time we found the strength. The boy beside me said, and I quote, "no one is going to 'f-ing' die today." The rescued cadet laid inside the boat spitting out sea water and he cried. In that moment he went from being an older cadet we all feared and disliked to being a human being who nearly died that day. I was sixteen. I never told my parents.

Oh yeah, I've since figured out that if we had been wearing life jackets we might not have come so close to calling some dude's mom with bad news.

3. I was sixteen. I'm not saying we didn't get into trouble, but we didn't have time to get into some of the trouble some of my school friends found. Band on Tuesdays and Saturdays, on Thursday nights the whole Corps assembled, and every other day and night were taken with cadet projects and activities. I couldn't find time to cut the grass at home on weekends, which lead to some terrific arguments with my dad, and he was right. "Cadets" was not more important than family.

4. I was in great shape. Marching, obstacle courses, calisthenics... We were all in great shape, even the "fat" guys, who in today's high schools would be considered just a bit heavy.

5. I learned to crap overboard. You don't just stop a sailboat. One guy hangs on to your shirt as you hang your butt overboard. No room for the shyness here. When you have to take a leak it's a lot the same, except someone holds on to your belt so you don't fall overboard. I'm sure there's a life lesson here, but I'm not sure what it is.

6. I learned to play three instruments, and though I can't really play any of them today, the lessons and memories of being part of a 120 piece marching band and summers in British Columbia have served me well.

Next time: Why I'm Glad I was in a Military Marching Band

Corps: A Corps (pronounced /ˈkɔər/ "core"; plural /ˈkɔərz/ spelled the same as singular; from French, from the Latin corpus "body") is either a largeformation, or an administrative grouping of troops within an armed force with a common function

Gunwale: The gunwale (pronounced /ˈɡʌnəl/ "gunnel" to rhyme with "tunnel") is a nautical term describing the top edge of the side of a boat.

Saturday, 8 January 2011

Why I'm Glad I'm an Air Force Brat

People sometimes ask me if I'm from Windsor. I tell them, "my dad was in the Air Force, I'm not sure where I'm from." Here's five more cool things about being a military brat:

1. I can tell military time. I don't have to subtract 12 after noon to calculate the hour. I use the 24-hour clock on my wristwatch. There's no misunderstanding what time of day it was if my notes say we met at 08:00 or at 20:00.

2. I respect authority. I may not like the person in authority. I may even publicly disagree in the decision making phase, but always respectfully and appropriately. In the end, when a decision is made I respect the office and move on. Authority is not a bad word, and neither is obedience.

3. I like hierarchy; another word for it is accountability. Reportability (I made that word up). Answerability. (I didn't make that word up but is nevertheless not a word). Support.

4. I may not like some of the dumb things my team mates do, and they definitely do not like some of the dumb things I do, but even military children know that no matter how we feel about each other, we stand together against all external challengers.

5. I learned at an early age how to make really good friends and then move on at a moment's notice when our dads got transferred. Sure, there were tears, but they were soon replaced by laughter with new friends. We learned early a welcoming attitude towards others. This skill has served me well in the hospitality industry.

Next time - why I'm glad I was a Sea Cadet in my teenage years.

Talented Child Athlete

This kid is cool...

Friday, 7 January 2011

Today's lesson is actually about Obedience

In her column "Today's Lesson: Bow to Authority" Windsor Star columnist Anne Jarvis compares the disobedience of some silly white girls to the courageous action of Rosa Parks who, when she herself was still a young lady, risked her life to put an end to state sanctioned racism and oppression. Black people were being lynched simply because of the colour of their skin in Rosa Park's time. Ms. Jarvis does great disservice to the Civil Rights movement and to our own area's history by comparing teenage rebellion to the fight for the dignity of all people, regardless of skin colour.

I remind the columnist that this is the same school that took strong disciplinary action with disobedient students in the hockey program just last year. If these children don't learn about consequence in school, then they will learn about it in the workforce where obstinate disobedience is not celebrated and can lead to loss of employment.

You go girls, indeed, go right back to class, lesson learned.

A brief call to the school principal might have clarified the issue for the columnist. Read Ms. Jarvis' poorly considered opinion here:

Today's lesson: Bow to authority

Sunday, 2 January 2011

Thanks George!

In my home we really enjoy watching "Undercover Boss." It's the CBS show where CEOs go "undercover", disguising themselves as rookies so they can truly learn about what's happening on the front lines. The whole thing is videotaped, and the cover story is about making a documentary so the unsuspecting staff is fooled into behaving normally, as normally as you can when you're being filmed.

The CEOs experience the good and the bad, and then things get ugly. They hand out perks and prizes randomly to employees with compelling life stories, but without creating universal policy to help all employees who might be experiencing similar hardship. Everyone weeps. Young men and women with dreams are magically whisked by their counterparts with similar dreams simply for having appeared on camera. Tears flow; serendipity! No long term plans for a company-wide career track are implemented. This is usually a case of being in the right place at the right time.

I'm not an Exec, so I don't know, but how is it that:

1. The CEOs' impersonation of a new-hire usually means not shaving and skipping showers in a crummy motel? Really - you run a company that hires people who show up on day-one looking like they could use a shower and a shave? You think so little of your workers and customers that this is how you imagine you'll be incognito?

2. I get why a CEO doesn't know the nitty-gritty of the front line process, but what's wrong in the exec offices that this stuff isn't being discovered, worked on and resolved by everyone from the entry-level supervisor to the divisional VP long before the CEO shows up?

3. What kind of CEO so insulates himself (and they're predominantly white men, it seems) that he doesn't even know he's got quality and service issues? Do you really need an elaborate scheme to tell your brain what your gut already knows?

I know of companies where the President telegraphs his visit far enough in advance to allow for carpet cleaning and a fresh coat of paint. I've know of restaurant companies where the Exec team never eats a meal that isn't personally prepared for them by the highest ranking culinarian on shift. They wouldn't want to risk finding out what their dwindling customer base already knows - quality is hit and miss.

And when I was a much younger man I worked for a company where the President showed up completely unannounced in our very busy restaurant two hours away from his office in Toronto, saw we were getting hanmered and jumped in to give us a hand. He started by grabbing a broom and dustpan, and then washed his hands and dug in; he was a pretty mean fry-guy as I recall. I'm not sure how many billions of burgers McDonald's had served by then but George Cohon, President of McDonald's Canada sure helped us sell a few more that day.

That was 32 years ago. I didn't get a chance to say it then, but thanks for your help, George!

Saturday, 1 January 2011

Our Christian Attitude Towards the Stranger - the Ephiphany

We join our story already in progress, as they say. The child Jesus has been born quietly and without fuss in Bethlehem. Except for an active census underway, it should go largely unnoticed. Certainly the birth happened without fanfare, almost as certainly, because of the census, it is recorded. The baby Jesus is a historical fact in our world.

The future of the world, the saviour of the world, is less than a week old. He needs to be fed, and burped. He needs to be rocked to sleep and kept warm, and raised by loving parents. From time to time he needs his diaper changed. This is a very trusting God who loves us.

When the wise men visit Mary and the baby Jesus, there’s no mention of Joseph. We don’t know where Joseph is, only that he is not mentioned in this scene. That doesn’t mean he wasn’t there, it does mean he knows his place. He has given the magi room to encounter the Christ, and he gets out of the way and lets them do so. He welcomes the strangers.

Pope Benedict XVI describes the servant nature of Joseph in another way, when he was Cardinal Ratzinger and writes in his book God is Near Us that Joseph, in early Christian art, is shown as a high priest, and archetype of the Christian Bishop and Mary as the living Church. As a result of the Holy Spirit coming down on her, Mary becomes the new temple. He writes, “Joseph, he righteous man, is appointed steward of the mysteries of God, the head of the house and guardian of the sanctuary…thus he becomes the image of the Bishop, to whom the bride is entrusted; she is placed, not at his disposal, but in his safekeeping.”

In the Church we follow the example of Joseph, we prepare a place as he did for the wise men at was, in effect, the very first Eucharistic adoration. We have the option, we can be like Herod and fear others for what they may reveal to us about our saviour and how that’s going to profoundly affect our lives, or we can be like Joseph and trust in the love of God to do his will whatever that might be, including welcoming the stranger into our place of worship, our church, our home.