"As I mused, the fire burned"

Reflection on life as a person of faith.

Archive for May 2012

Ed Spaans, RIP+ By what measure a man?

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May 20 edit: Ed’s obit is now up on the funeral home website with a simply smashing photo of him (below).

I was just collecting together some things of iconic significance to Ed’s place as a commissioner – the things that marked his vocation here, and also marked who he was in our small community. It got me thinking about the question of what it is that defines our personhood, what measure reflects the man? (this is a question of ontology, the fundamental nature of being, but that’s my only word intended to impress). Please excuse the rambling.  (the photo I boldly borrowed from Ed’s obiturary – too good a photo to pass up).

Flying Officer Vivian Rosewarne died during the Battle of Dunkirk in May 1940 at age 23 when his bomber was shot down. In his last letter to his mother, he included this line, “The universe is so vast and so ageless that the life of one man can only be justified by the measure of his sacrifice.” It is an interesting suggestion, but one that is only really at home in a time of war, and we’re not at war. What is left for us now is service and relationship – but more on that in a minute.

At a military funeral, it is usually clear what the person did while in service. The casket or table will have objects that represented their occupation. For pilots, there would usually be a photo, their helmet and mask, and an officer’s sword and headdress. The individual’s medals would be placed nearby. While those things always reminded me of the person who had died, they failed to transmit the true nature of the person they represented.

As I looked through the physical things, it struck me how they carry little sense of the person. Even Ed’s hearing binder, the one he carried with him for most of the recent 639 hearings he sat on over his nine years here, did not contain even a hint of the essence of who he was.

This has reminded me of a few fundamental truths.

The singer Florence Welch captured an aspect of dying in her song, “My Boy Builds Coffins”:

My boy builds coffins for the rich and the poor
Kings and queens have all knocked on his door
Beggars and liars, gypsies and thieves

The truth of death is that it remains the great leveler, and sacrifice or service aside, when we reach the moment of our death, we share a moment of great equality with all humanity. Even Jesus died, and so too shall we.

This is not fair.  As my friendly neighbourhood priest pointed out at a recent funeral for a dear member of my parish, it is also not God’s plan for us.  Death is God’s enemy, and it too will be defeated for all of us.  While it sucks to be living the loss of Ed, I do know with sure confidence that this is not the end of the story.

On my desk I have two photos of my (at the time) young daughter, one with some face painting I had done, one with me in uniform after a parade in front of “my” airplane (the one with my name painted on the side). Those photos are pleasant to look at, but the real memories, the dear ones, are the ones I still hold within me. I remember her running to me after the parade had been dismissed, and jumping up into my arms. I remember that day’s street fair and the process of applying the face paint. The photos, in the end, are only signs along the road that point to the destination, which are the memories within. Without those photos, indeed even if I lost my sight, the memories are still there, still vivid, still a part of me.

In that is an aspect of that ‘measure of a man’ question, and what it is that defines us ultimately are the parts of our being that others reflect back to us. My daughter (now 13 years older) reflects back to me who I was that day on parade. Our measure is contained not in the physical, but in the things we have written on other’s hearts, and they in turn have written on ours.

RS Thomas, Welsh poet, captured this beautifully in his poem, “The Country Clergy”:

…They left no books,
memorial to their lonely thought
in grey parishes; rather they wrote
on men’s hearts and in the minds
of young children sublime words
too soon forgotten. God in his time
or out of time will correct this.

That is perhaps where our measure is maintained, in the sublime words our life and our love has written on the hearts and minds of those we touch.

Against a life of service, like that of Ed’s: 38 years in uniform with the RCMP, 9 years in the uniform of a commissioner, what does that mean?

My father-in-law went missing on his farm one day in August 2005. The local RCMP came to co-ordinate the search. During the search, an adult male black bear charged from the woods. It was an RCMP constable that stood in the breach and killed the bear with his sidearm. That young constable stood in the place that Ed had stood many times in his life of service. That act engaged us in his life, even though we have not spoken since that day.

Those who serve, and particularly our police, are those citizens who step forward with a willingness to take on things on behalf of the rest of us that we have no desire to do. As Colonel Dave Grossman says, they are the ones who chose to run toward the sound of gunfire instead of fleeing. A life of service in uniform means tens of thousands of lives touched in ways that only God, in His own time, will make clear:

• The first on the scene of a traffic accident, bringing comfort to the dying and wounded.
• The first on the scene of a death notification, bringing a gentle word while delivering a message of horror.
• The one who stands between the threat and those threatened.
• The one who willingly hides who he is, in order to detect and stop crime that only desires chaos.
• The one who repeatedly chooses duty to the nation, over duty to self.
• All those in uniform who were led and mentored so they too in their turn could write their own words on the hearts and minds of those they touched.

What about 9 years and 639 hearings as an appeals commissioner, hearing workers’ compensation matters? The Appeals Commission seeks truth and justice, such a good fit for a man who made those things his life’s work. And so those words written extend to include those 639 hearings, those who participated, and all those who shared that task with Ed. It is truly awe-inspiring to think of all those who have been caught in that net, Ed’s net, throughout those 47 years, including me:

• The words written on my heart and mind include the importance of good practical jokes as a tool of leadership and community-building (I remember particularly the year that the surveillance cameras were going to be mounted in the washrooms).
• The importance of relationship, and how Ed was always the one who would show up with cake or ice cream to brighten up an informal gathering (the ice cream scoop still sits in his office).
• The always present source of support and guidance for anything that might be going on: computer problems, electronic flight check-in, innovative ways of doing old tasks, all reminding me of the importance of time with others meeting them where they need to be met.
• Just being a real person in community with others.

So, in the end, what is the measure of a man, but the weight of himself that he leaves with all those who knew and loved him. Ed’s own memories, that early morning traffic accident he responded to, remain with him. Our memories of Ed, those words he wrote on our hearts and minds, remain with us. In some ways we each maintain that part of Ed.

More importantly for me is the question of how my life is changed by those written words. How does Ed’s life call out to me to grow as a person? How am I now to act with others at work, at home, in my faith community, to continue to reflect the measure of that man, Ed? That is my task as I seek new life on the other side of grief.

Now comes the really hard part:

That question of the measure of a man gets thrown into sharper relief when you consider those last few days of a life well-lived. What means that measure when you lay in a hospital bed? What means the decades of service, and words written on other’s hearts?

For my friend Ed, like with the military friends I have seen buried, those last days turn not on the trappings of office (even while these are dear items to we who remain behind):

– a sword,
– headdress,
– a scarlet tunic,
– medals,
– or those riding boots reversed in the stirrups of a too-empty saddle

Rather they turn on a life well-lived, a life full of memories and experiences, love and passion, anger and grief, birth, joy and death, but a life that is only dimly captured in the snapshots and physical things that we surround ourselves with.

The measure of that man stands in those around him as he lies in a hospital bed, on the border between life and death.

The measure of that man rests in his four children, his spouse, and all those who stand in silent vigil with them, row upon row, marking Ed’s place.

The measure of that man remains in all of us who love him, and were in turn loved.

In the end, all that remains, is love.

Give rest, O Christ, to your servants with your saints,
Where sorrow and pain are no more,
Neither sighing, but life everlasting.
Into your hands, O merciful Saviour,
We commend your servant Ed.
Acknowledge, we pray, a sheep of your own fold,
A lamb of your own flock,
A sinner of your own redeeming.
Receive him into the arms of your mercy,
Into the blessed rest of everlasting peace,
And into the glorious company of the saints in light. Amen.


Written by sameo416

May 18, 2012 at 3:21 pm

Geoff Parker, RIP+

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It struck me just now, as I mourn the death of my friend Ed (see below) that it is the 2nd anniversary of the death of Lieutenant-Colonel Geoff Parker, who died 18 May 2010 as the result of a vehicle-borne IED in Afghanistan.

It’s a sad truth of this era that I probably don’t have to spell out ‘IED’ as it has become as much a part of our collective mind as bandaids or Cheez-Whiz.

Geoff and I did post-graduate studies together (in electrical engineering, not your typical infanteer education).

This summary, from the army cadets, talks about Geoff’s life:

Col. Geoff Parker, the highest ranking Canadian to be killed in Afghanistan, leaves behind a wife and two young children after he was killed in Afghanistan by a suicide car bomb today.

Col. Parker, 42, was the 145th Canadian soldier to die in Afghanistan. As a commanding officer, he was often quoted speaking about the deaths of soldiers under his own command, always treating them with compassion and respect.

One Canadian Forces member travelling in a NATO convoy was killed after an insurgent detonated a vehicle borne improvised explosive device between the convoy of vehicles in Kabul at approximately 8 a.m. local Afghanistan time on May 18, 2010. Colonel Geoff Parker killed this morning in the suicide bomb attack that also killed 5 US servicemen.

“There was no hesitation in his mind that that was the place for him … happy to do what was required of him in theatre,” he said of a soldier who died in 2008, the year after he moved to CFB Gagetown in New Brunswick.

Col. Parker’s official biography, published by the Department of National Defence, describes him as a natural leader and career soldier born in Oakville, Ont. Flags in his hometown have been lowered to half mast. In 2007, Col. Parker moved his family to CFB Gagetown to take over a Commanding Officer of the Second Battalion of the Royal Canadian Regiment. He and his family looked forward to exploring the Maritimes.

He joined the military in 1989 while still a student at the University of Western Ontario. When he graduated the following year with a Bachelor of Engineering Science, he finished his Infantry Officer training and was posted to the 1st Battalion, The Royal Canadian Regiment in London, Ont., the following year. In 1992, Col. Parker moved north to Petawawa, Ont., with the battalion and wound up commanding a M113 rifle platoon, among others.

From there, Col. Parker moved to Belleville, Ont., for another posting. He returned to Petawawa in 1996. Four years later, he was promoted to Major. In 2003, his ascending career took him to Toronto, where he attended the Canadian Forces College. He then returned to Petawawa as the G3 of the 2 Canadian Mechanized Brigade Group (2 CMBG). During his tenure, the force generated three Afghanistan Rotations. He was promoted to Lieutenant-Colonel in 2006, and shortly thereafter moved to CFB Gagetown.

A few months ago, Col. Parker and his family moved back to Ontario. When he died, he was in Kabul as part of a NATO team preparing for their upcoming mission, DND said in a statement.

Michaelle Jean, Governor General of Canada, said in a statement:

“This barbaric act of aggression in the middle of rush hour reminds us of the many dangers our brave military personnel and the Afghan population are exposed to every day. Despite this tragedy, the will of Colonel Parker’s brothers- and sisters-in-arms to protect the Afghan people remains unshaken. Together with NATO forces, they are fully committed to fulfilling their difficult mission of restoring justice and peace to a country ravaged by decades of oppression and injustice.”

Col. Parker leaves behind his wife, M.J., and his children, Charlie and Alexandria.

Col. Parker was a cadet in 1188 Lorne Scots RC(Army)CC in the 1980s

Written by sameo416

May 17, 2012 at 9:25 am

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My Friend and Co-Worker, Ed Spaans, RIP+

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One of my dear co-workers and friend, Ed Spaans, died today in the University Hospital ICU. Three weeks ago he completed a hearing, then went home because he wasn’t feeling well – I’m told that was his first sick day in his entire professional career. That night he was admitted to the hospital, was diagnosed with leukemia, entered the ICU with pneumonia late last week, and died this afternoon (May 16, 2012) at age 68.

I suspect I know the exact moment of death – 1446. I was filling up my coffee cup and had a moment of intense spiritual experience, and my first thought was ‘Ed has died’. I said a prayer which was equally spiritually active. It wasn’t a surprise when my work neighbour’s phone rang about 45 minutes later with the news. This sometimes happens to me when I’ve been praying for a person with particular focus. I would much rather have the ‘he is healed’ experience resulting from my prayers, but it seems my encounters are more focused around death (certainly glorious confirmation that God heard my prayers, but still…).

Ed was my mentor when I started at the Appeals Commission, a time when I was struggling with a transition out of full-time parish ministry and still mourning the loss of my military career. He was a constant support to me and we shared many jokes around the life of the uniformed. Ed served 38 years with the RCMP, retiring as a superintendent and CO of K Division here in Edmonton. We shared many common facets, as is always the case when military and police meet, including one touch point around the 2002 G-8 conference at Kananaskis – I had planned and directed the aircraft ground operation in Cold Lake while Ed was on the ground with the security force at Kananaskis (man we loaded and unloaded a lot of missiles over those 4 or 5 days).

I used to jokingly call Ed a ‘real’ Canadian, unlike me. His family brought him to Canada from the Netherlands when Ed was a young child (9 years old). He really manifested the Canadian dream through serving Canada in the RCMP, and then continuing to serve at the Appeals Commission. That sort of story is one that I take for granted now, as a 3rd or 4th generation spoiled rotten son of Canada. Ed had on the wall of his office a copy of the immigration certificate from his parents, a reminder of that heritage.

Ed was also a real wizard with technology, what would be called an ‘early adaptor’ when it came to tech stuff. He would often put me to shame, bringing up new things that I had not even heard of. He also passed to me a fair amount of surplus computer parts that I passed into a rehab program to provide computers to inner city families. Like most of Ed’s lifetime of service, that was done quietly and without recognition.

That model of service is another one that strikes me as a rare thing – an icon to all of us of what it means to be a citizen, a co-worker, a friend. Ed was always the organizer and motivator at work…and coordinated our Christmas auction for charity each year along with our annual golf tournament. He also acted as an informal leader in our little group, insisting on bringing us together even when we were tired or disheartened. A lifetime of service to his fellow humans, and a reminder to me what citizenship really means.

Ed leaves behind his wife, and four adult children (and of those five, two also served or serve with the RCMP). My prayers are with them.

I sat in his chair at work for a moment today, and prayed the commendation for my friend, my last offering of service to a man who lived life well, and died too young.

Well done, true and faithful servant. Enter into your rest. We will miss you.

Written by sameo416

May 16, 2012 at 7:20 pm

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“Soldiers Give Up Their Rights So They Can Risk Their Lives”

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As a late update (November 2017), now that there is absolutely no doubt that there is an epidemic of suicides among soldiers who have deployed, Veterans Affairs has just announced that they are going to start tracking post-release suicides in December 2017. Thanks to the Globe and Mail for continuing their series, The Unremembered, and continuing to document the continued death of soldiers post-deployment from wounds earned on deployment.

Liberal government to track veteran suicides as part of new prevention strategy

Suicides among soldiers and veterans have been growing concern since end of Afghan war

By Murray Brewster, CBC News Posted: Oct 05, 2017 11:45 AM ET Last Updated: Oct 06, 2017 4:18 PM ET


I came across this interesting article concerning the story of Cpl Steve Stoesz who is being disciplined for speaking out about the decision to cut military health care, particularly in the unit that treats post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

The author writes a compelling concluding paragraph, which echoes what I’ve written on the same topic. You can’t make arguments that equate military service to civilian jobs (including the police) because the military role is unique, particularly in the abandonment of individual rights (including the right to refuse hazardous work).

Jeff Rose-Martland wrote:

There is a subtext to national service. Those who serve agree to give up their rights because that is essential to doing the job. In exchange, they rely on every superior rank — including citizens — to see that they are treated fairly and justly, to ensure that they are cared for when they need it. They exchange rights for trust. When we betray that trust, we cannot demand to withhold rights as well.

I suspect part of the problem is there is still a strong line of thought in the military that PTSD is not an issue, along with suicide. When I was getting ready for some Remembrance Day talks last year I was investigating the question of soldier suicide in Canada. The US military has seen a sharp upswing across all services that they relate to service in Iraq and Afghanistan. I came across a report from the the CF health services published a report which confirmed there was no upswing in military suicides as a result of combat service. As rationale, they trotted out the same reason I recall seeing in health surveys back 25 years ago: they expect a lower-than-average suicide rate because soldiers represent a selected sub-set of the Canadian population. They did not answer the more challenging question, about why we were so different than the US experience – who themselves were a selected sub-set of US population.

Even if you take a hand-picked cohort from the population, and then expose them to stressors far beyond what the general population faces…would you not be doubly surprised that the suicide rate appears lower than the population?

Here’s one snip from a CF article from 2009:

Suicide rates in the CF are lower than those among the Canadian population and have been generally decreasing.The rate of suicide among CF men between 2000 and 2004 was about 75% of the rate among Canadian men (after figures are age-standardized). The rate of suicide among CF women is extremely low relative to the rate among Canadian women.

A recent PA backgrounder provides the same reasons, April 2012:

Suicide is a concern for all Canadians. According to Statistics Canada, suicide is the second leading cause of death for those aged 15 to 341. Suicide rates among currently serving CF personnel are lower than those among the overall Canadian population and there has been no statistically significant change observed in the suicide rates in the CF since 1995. This is not surprising given that CF personnel are a screened workforce, and have access to comprehensive, high quality health programs and services.

Finally, from the preface to the expert report on suicide in the CF:

Public interest in military suicides has been particularly acute over the past year or two, coincident with a rise in the suicide rates seen in the US Army and Marine Corps. Other militaries coping with the extraordinary demands of the conflicts in SW Asia are concerned that they, too, will see such increases in time. In the CF, however, the suicide rate has remained steady since the beginning of the mission in Afghanistan, and previous deployment does not appear to be associated with a signicantly increased risk of suicide. Nevertheless, the public, Members of Parliament, and military leaders often ask what the CF is doing in terms of suicide prevention.

I found a copy of that expert panel’s report previously on the CF website, but it seems to have been taken down. A link from a CTV story in October 2011 results in page not found. At a CF site I see that anyone wishing to view the report should contact one of the physicians. Has DND taken that report off public distribution? Curious. There is a copy available on scribd here.

A contrary opinion caught my eye in 2010 when I was investigating this question, and came across research done by an officer (social work if I recall) studying for his PhD (in religious studies I believe). He had, instead of just looking at reported stats, obtained the raw Military Police reports and examined them to determine if the death was likely suicide. His data reduction provided a suicide rate that was pretty comparable to the US experience between 2006 and 2007:

Starting in 2006, Sartori also noticed an abrupt change in the terms the military reports used to describe suicide in documents. The 36 suicides in 2007 were listed as sudden deaths, with 12 clearly marked suicide and 21 cases listed as “investigated.” National Defence officials did not dispute that the document is a suicide list, but did not respond to requests from CBC to explain the new categories.

The 2007 numbers put the military suicide rate at triple that of the general Canadian public. Over the past two decades Canada’s overall rate has ranged from 11.6 to 14 suicides per 100,000, though recent numbers are not available.

Dr. Greg Passey, a former military psychiatrist and head of a post-traumatic stress disorder clinic in Vancouver, says the spike in military suicides is “disturbing” but not surprising. He says he believes it’s related to what he calls the “increased tempo” of the Afghanistan mission, which began in 2002.

Particularly concerning is the change in definitions started in 2006 which, if true, might very well be obscuring what is really going on. On a related topic, consider this story from last year talking about the upswing in domestic violence on military bases:

Instead, it came from a freedom-of-information request that revealed a military police report that was shelved and later downplayed by Canada’s military bureaucracy.

According to the report, military police noted a five-fold jump in reported cases of domestic violence after troops returned from a heavy combat tour in Afghanistan to Ontario’s CFB Petawawa in 2007. […] Col. Jean-Robert Bernier, deputy surgeon general with the Canadian Forces, dismissed the report, noting “some methodological flaws in the way some of that military police data was collected and analyzed.”

[…] Is suicide interesting enough for our public debate? In 2008, the CBC cited research by Laval University doctoral student Maj. Michel Sartori, who obtained military police records that showed the suicide rate among Canada’s regular forces and reserves doubled from 2006 to 2007, rising to a rate triple that of the general population.

Last year, the National Post reported that, according to the military’s own figures, 2009 showed the highest number of suicides among Canadian Forces personnel since tracking began in 1995.

When I start to see hints about definition changes, and a Canadian report that concludes ‘smooth sailing’ when our US and other allies are having huge problems, I start to wonder. With objective contrary evidence for 2006-2007, and indications the number is climbing, really gets me curious. A recent CBC report suggests increases as well.

I see that Michel Sartori has published his doctoral work on the subject…although it is au Francais, so I’ll have to read it slowly. LE DRAME DU SUICIDE DANS LES FORCES ARMÉES CANADIENNES. QUAND LA VIE PERD TOUT SON SENS, UNE PAROLE PEUT-ELLE ENCORE ÉMERGER DU CHAOS (roughly, The Tragedy of Suicide in the CAF. When life has lost all sense, a comforting word may emerge from the chaos)

I suspect part of that goes back to part of the military ethos which is never to complain or to admit weakness. I suspect there is still some thought that “real” soldiers don’t end up with operational stress injuries (OSI) in spite of lots of evidence to the contrary (right back to WW I). I suspect that culture of denial won’t change as long as the mental health professionals that treat those conditions are downsized.

When I’ve worked through that thesis I’ll see if my mind is changed.

Written by sameo416

May 14, 2012 at 2:17 pm

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soma psychikon or soma pneumatikon?

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6 May 2012, 1 Corinthians 15:35-49
St John the Evangelist, Edmonton

Pray. We are continuing in our quick walk through 1 Corinthians 15. Last week Don spoke compellingly about the biblical end game, and how we know that God is not yet, in Paul’s words, “all in all”. We are still in the time of working out, of completion, and this leads to many things that are not so nice in this present life: that death still reigns, that we are still subject to the World, the Flesh (sarx) and the devil, bad things happen to ‘good’ people, and there is pain and suffering.

This week Paul goes on to give us an involved description about what the resurrection body will be like, as he continues this systematic argument against the wrong thought of the Corinth Christians. It sounds like the Corinth Christians had began to believe they were already living the full life promised, they had already adopted a spiritual body and this set them apart from those who were living merely an earthy life. The reason they had reached this conclusion was the obvious action of God’s Spirit in their communities, manifested through great gifts of the Spirit. Paul, in his analysis of the Corinthian belief, finds that they are not resurrected bodies but rather the usual sort of human bodies with a healthy dose of the flesh. The Corinthians rejected the resurrection as they imagined the resurrection of the dead focused on only the earthy, psyche bodies, in short, they were picturing a zombie resurrection, the reanimation of mere corpses. This is not what we’re talking of.

Before I get into the text, I wanted to pass a brief word about thermodynamics. That’s right, I did say thermodynamics, and in particular the second law of thermodynamics that involves something called entropy. You will recall that Don briefly mentioned that the Greek word translated as shame, entropen, is a common root to the word used by scientists and engineers to describe a natural law – entropy which loosely refers to the amount of disorder. One theory of the universe says that the entire physical reality is following this natural law of entropy, and we are unceasingly heading towards a future when all physical reality is highly disordered and the temperature of the entire reality becomes absolute zero (not a brand of Vodka, but the temperature at which all molecular motion ceases). A pretty dismal future for the creation, isn’t it? In that reality, the natural future of the body you are presently wearing is a progressive move to lower states of energy and order, until you are merely molecules blowing on the wind. If that is the end of the story it leaves a pretty dismal future for all that you are, doesn’t it?

This is the reality of the world we live in right now, and the reality of the before time, before God becomes “all in all”. We are subject to natural laws of this world. My friend and co-worker who was close to death two weeks ago, and is now under treatment for leukemia, is living that reality. All of us here, who in any way have experienced the process of aging, disease or suffering know that being subject to these natural laws…which mean the slow unwinding of our physical being as we too move to a state of increased disorder and lower energy…can be a challenging place to be. Now, if I was an atheist engineer, who knew all about thermodynamics and the theoretical ultimate fate of the creation, I’m not sure how I would get up out of bed each day. It is a pretty hopeless view of reality. It leads to the fatalistic thinking of last week: let us eat and drink for tomorrow we die. The reality of the world after the resurrection of Christ is much different that this gloomy view from science, and that is because science is limited to only the natural laws of this physical reality. With the resurrection of Christ an irresistible force is set loose within the creation which drives toward only one end game, which is the remaking of the entirety of creation. From the perspective of science, such a suggestion is completely in the realm of the irrational. How can the arrow of time, that pushes us forward as an irresistible force, possibly be altered? The process we’ll investigate today is one that is beyond time, not constrained by the natural laws that govern our present reality, but rather a super-natural process guided by God’s Spirit through Jesus Christ. Paul describes not the reanimation or resuscitation of corpses in some God-driven zombie movie, but rather the transformation of the physical body, even while quite dead, into a perfected and glorified body.

In the first 34 verses of this chapter we have heard Paul speak about the dead, as in, ‘if the dead are not raised’. At this point there is a transition in his argument, marked out in the first verse (35) and he moves from talking about the dead, to talking about the body, “By what agency are the dead raised? With what kind of body do they come?” This is a significant transition because the focus of Paul’s argument today is on the physical reality of the resurrection, so the body, this body, is a crucial part of that process and his language shifts from corpse to body (soma).

Paul first turns to the creation account of Genesis to set out his argument. He first outlines how all aspects of the creation have their own specific nature, by God’s will: the seeds all have their particular bodies, as God has chosen. Each being has its own type of flesh: one for humans, one for animals, one for birds and one for fish, as God has established it. If you look to the sky, you can see the heavenly bodies, each with its own particular type of glory, one for the heavens, one for the earth, another for the sun, moon and stars, and indeed each star is unique. There are many different types of bodies, as God has willed it. Paul makes an argument from experience, and establishes those things which any person can see on their own: tigers and eagles are different, so too humans and antelope, each reflecting a particular glory of God’s very good creation. Likewise all of the heavenly bodies each have their own particular glory, distinguishing them from each other.

In verse 42 comes the pivot of this sequence where Paul links this argument from experience with the point he has been driving toward, the real nature of the resurrected body. After establishing that God’s very good creation is unique in all aspects, he now goes on to say: if the uniqueness of the creation is so distinct everywhere you look, how can it be that the resurrection body is not similarly distinct from the pre-resurrection body? What follows is a specific description of the resurrection body as contrasted with the pre-resurrection body.

Paul uses two terms here for the two bodies: the natural body is the soma psychikon (psoo-khee-kos’), a ‘soulish’ or earthy body while the spiritual body is the soma pneumatikon (pnyoo-mat-ik-os’). The spiritual body, the resurrected body is literally the body of Spirit, in that word that we draw pneuma from, literally a body ‘of the breath’ (of God). He begins his analysis by talking about planting, using the same word for sowing as in verse 36 and sets up a comparison/contrast beginning at verse 42 telling us the nature of the new body (sown / raised slide).

And if we know there is a natural body, it follows that there is a spiritual body – it is the same soma body in both descriptions, but the nature has changed. This new body will have a status, a glory, of which we presently know nothing. As Paul writes in Philippians 3: “But our citizenship is in heaven, and from it we await a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ, 21 who will transform our lowly body to be like his glorious body, by the power that enables him even to subject all things to himself.” The process Paul describes is one of becoming that which you were designed to be, but not what is realized in the present. There is also an interesting play on the word glory here (doxa), which in the Greek can mean the radiance of a heavenly body like the sun, but also God’s glory. So the heavenly bodies with their own glory (radiance) offer an image of the resurrected body, raised in God’s glory. It also reminds us of the Revelation text describing the New Jerusalem, which is completely lit by God’s glory, “the city has no need of sun or moon to shine on it, for the glory of God gives it light, and its lamp is the Lamb” (Revelation 21)

At this point Paul dives back into Genesis and brings out that first man, Adam contrasted against the last Adam. As we heard last week: “for as by a man came death, by a man has come also the resurrection of the dead/for as in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive.” (vs 21-22). Adam’s disobedience brings death into the world, and Christ by his obedience defeats death on the cross. Adam is destined to sweat and till the earth, while Christ ends the toil of plough. Adam’s being ages and unwinds, while Christ lives eternally unchanging. Adam received life from God, while Christ instead gives life to all.

This is the reason that Christ is called the last Adam, as his ministry, death, resurrection and ascension effectively undo the death and destruction that Adam brought into the world. So this is the theme that Paul introduces: the first Adam became a living being, and the word (psoo-khee-kos’) is used so there is no doubt that the first Adam had a soma psychikon. The last Adam, by contrast is a life-giving Spirit, and again this other word soma pneumatikon (pnyoo-mat-ik-os’). What comes first is the earthy, soulish body; what comes last is the spiritual body. The first human came from the earth, the last Adam, the second human is literally the Master out of heaven.

Just a word here on translations: you will have heard in the translation we use in our church readings, the NRSV, that verse 44 was set out as ‘sown a physical body; it is raised a spiritual body’. This is not good, and the reason it is not good is that it sets up a path of wrong teaching, that is directly contrary to what Paul is talking about. We do not lose the physical body and fly up to the heavens with a spiritual body…rather Paul is telling us that the physical body will be transformed through the resurrection into a physical body perfected and infused with the pneumatikon of God. The older Jerusalem Bible renders the verse this way, “when it is sown it embodies the soul; when it is raised it embodies the Spirit”. So be cautious in the use of translations, because the word choice can lead to some confusion about what is being described. Even the division used in many other translations natural/spiritual has some problems.

The reason this division is so important is that we are still experiencing the effects of ancient Greek philosophy, including several religious groups that actively promote such a view. At a family funeral I attended I was told by the pastor in the sermon that we were all destined to leave behind our suffering physical body to gain a perfected spiritual body. No. We lean into this idea as a part of our Enlightenment heritage, because the physical-spiritual dichotomy sets up for us the idea that our present bodies are empirical, that is, we can measure them using science, so they represent a tangible reality. The ‘spiritual’ body, on the other hand, we see through science as somehow being in a different world, one that could not be weighed, or X-rayed or measured. This is how that Greek philosophy traps us, as it plays nicely into our minds conditioned to see an empirical world that can be observed, and a hidden world of the spirit. This is not what Paul is talking about…and Paul’s description is clear that the resurrection body will still be observable according to science, although I expect some of our natural laws to have some different effect. For example, Jesus appears to his disciples, invites them to touch him, to feel the wounds he still carries, and he eats fish, all very fleshy, soulish things. Then he disappears from a locked room, a very celestial, spiritual thing. The resurrection body carries with it the attributes of our present bodies, but at the same time is something different.

If that sounds at all familiar to you, it should, because that language is very much the same we use to describe what happens in our communion service. The bread and the wine, both tangible, physical things, known to science, are transformed into something different. Still bread and wine, but infused with a reality that changes them in a fundamental way. We experience this resurrection reality each week, here when we gather as the Body of Christ.

Paul is not talking about a brand new body shell into which our spirit is dropped, like some kind of science fiction film about cloning. The process of resurrection is not some spiritualized loofah brush that helps us to slough off our old, corrupt bodies to reveal the pink and new resurrection body inside. It is not abandonment of the physical, but rather a new animation of the perfected physical by the creator’s own Spirit (Wright, 353). Indeed if that was what Paul was talking about he would not have used the Greek word anastasis, the resurrection, but would have used a word which only described the birth of a new body. We’re talking about a process that leaves behind an empty tomb, not a moldering corpse.

Instead, Paul sees the problem as not our fleshy, soulish bodies, but rather the sin and death that have taken up residence in our bodies, which in turn produces corruption, dishonour, frailty and weakness. Being human is good, a gift from God in fact, what is bad is the rebellion, the decay, the sin and death – as Don pointed out last week, these things are the enemy of God, not a characteristic of what God had created. What Paul desires is not some ‘astral immortality’ (which is also at home in many new age religions) but to stop the soul, the psyche from being the governing principle for the body, which leads to sin and death. Rather, the ultimate goal of the resurrection is to renew the soul through the full infusion of the pneuma, the Spirit of God. (this para is after NT Wright’s stunning treatment in The Resurrection of the Son of God, p. 346, 2003) Paul uses as metaphor for this process his introductory discussion about seeds – when a seed is planted it dies, and loses the body it had before planting, but when the plant grows forth it still is fundamentally the seed in its essence, but is in a transformed body. Now this is not to be literal and to suggest that bodies planted in the ground will sprout trees, but to draw a parallel with something we all understand – the growth of plants from seeds.

The reason this truth is so critical, and the reason Paul argues from Genesis, is that the entire doctrine of creation is tied together in the resurrection. Displacing one part, in turn displaces the rest. God’s great plan involves the perfecting of what already once was perfect, but became corrupt. So the corrupt must put on incorruption; the lowly must put on glory; the weak must put on power. As Adam died, so too we will die. As the last Adam, that is Christ, was resurrected from the grave, leaving behind no body, so too will we be resurrected into Christ’s perfection. As the first Adam was formed of dust, so too now we are of the dust; but as the last Adam was from heaven; so too we shall be of heaven, by reason of Christ’s breaking open the path for us. For we of the Body of Christ, as we experience the unwinding of our bodies, and the suffering of this world, that is truly good news. Amen.

——————– (slides, maybe)

Sown in corruption / raised in incorruption
Sown in frailty / raised in glory
Sown in weakness / raised in power
Sown a soulish body / raised a spiritual body.
Sown a soma psychikon / raised a soma pneumatikon

A soulish body first / a spiritual body last
Soma psychikon / soma pneumatikon
Embodies the soul / embodies the Spirit
Adam 1: a human being (life receiving) / Adam last: a life-giving Spirit
Adam 1: earth-man / Adam last: the Lord out of heaven
Adam 1: dust man, all of us: clothed as dust people / Adam last: celestial one, all of us: clothed as the celestial one

(infused with ruach, (God’s Spirit through
God’s breath) the last Adam in heaven)
From earth -> Adam 1 -> “the fall” (soma psychikon) -> us -> soma pneumatikon

Snips unused….

Paul’s conclusion is that as we have worn the image of the man of soil, that which we wear today; so too we shall wear the image of the celestial one, Jesus. The word used here translated as ‘borne the image of’ means literally to wear a suit of clothes. It is important to get this part right, because we are still influenced strongly by Greek philosophy which set as the ultimate goal ‘astral immortality’, which is exactly that image of an ethereal soul flying free of the decaying body – death was an escape from the prison of the flesh (which does have a certain native attraction about it).

There is at once a continuity and a discontinuity in this process of the remaking. The body we wear with the last Adam is the body we wear now, but perfected. Here we have to avoid the trap of spiritualizing this process too much, as there are a number of heresies that involve the idea of casting off the mortal body completely. So our spirits do not swim up to heaven where God pulls a brand new set of clothes off the rack; rather our present bodies, through the grave and dissolution are re-gathered and remade as they are now, but completed the way the creation will be completed: the same thing but somehow more real than ever before.

This is one of the places where artistic pursuits can be a window into the resurrection. In a particularly moving piece of art, a sculpture or painting, a piece of writing that moves you to the core, or a song that brings you close to God, you can see for a brief instant an image of that perfected being that is at once in continuity with the first Adam, but has also been completely remade into the form of the last Adam.

It is difficult to get your head around, and ultimately all Christian faith centres around this one question that we sometimes ask aloud, but more often ask in the quiet of our own heart: can it possibly be true?

I started out by talking about the arrow of time. We are constrained here to that arrow of time, and with each passing moment there are cells in our bodies that are dying, and with each passing moment our physical system is a bit less capable in replacing those dead cells with new ones. Past a certain point in life, regardless of how we struggle against it, there is an increasing realization about the unwinding of our being. Our culture wars against this, and you only need to look at media for a few moments to appreciate the enormous effort focused on keeping ourselves unaware of that unwinding. There is only so much Rogaine, botox and time in Pilates classes that we can spend, before we too will be confronted with the reality of that arrow of time…and we can only slow the impact of time for so long.

Our culture is actively engaged in this denial of reality, which is a denial of death. Rather than the perspective of Paul…who will tell us next week that in the twinkling of an eye we shall all be changed…the culture says that to die is to end, and therefore it’s better to burn out than to fade away. Yet Paul assures us, as does Jesus, that the very essence of who we are will never be lost, as it will be gathered back and perfected. Here’s an example – consider marriage.

The Scriptures reflect the marriage of man and woman as a parallel for Christ’s union with His church. (Ephesians 5:22-23). Why is it that Jesus says to the Sadducees that people neither marry nor are given in marriage in heaven? (Mark 12:25) He tells us that when a man leaves his mother and father and marries a woman, the two become one, so there are no longer two people, but one person. (Mark 10:7-9) The reason for marriage, in this time of being soil-people, is because we are incomplete as we stand as individuals, and marriage, this union of two to become one, gives us a glimpse of the completeness that comes through union with God. In this world now we need marriage as a way of experiencing a brief glimpse of that eternal union with God that will come when we become spiritual-people. The reason there is no marriage in heaven is it is not needed, because all dwell in perfect union with God all the time. That completeness that we glimpse through our human relationships becomes the reality of forevermore. So, in our heavenly life, it is not that we forget our spouse once in heaven, but that when both of us are in that perfect union with God it brings about a perfection that makes the marriage a pale image of the present reality.

Written by sameo416

May 5, 2012 at 4:19 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

John Wesley on the Process of Being Made Holy

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I was trying to describe Wesley’s idea of entire sanctification the other day, and wrote this (poor) summary from my notes from a course I took several years ago on Wesley’s theology.

Wesley established the process of conversion of a human from first belief until union with God, this way:

1. Once a believer accepts God, they are justified and saved. (what Wesley called being ‘born again’ or ‘new birth’)

2. The moment after justification, the process of sanctification begins. (sanctify = to make holy, so literally, the process of making one holy).

3. Gradual sanctification continues throughout your life. (the work of the Holy Spirit dwelling in the believer from the point of justification)

4. After a process of maturation in Christ, some believers will achieve entire sanctification. (a full salvation from all our sins, perfect love)

5. The believer is glorified after death, when brought into total union with God.

Wesley suggested that entire sanctification should be the goal for all believers. After this point sin no longer dwells in the heart, although a person may still sin. What changes is that the believer is no longer ruled by sin (as with the unbelievers), but is now inclined more towards righteousness. The ‘default’ setting for a believer after entire sanctification is not sin, but righteousness.

By his description, Wesley would consider most mature Christians to be in the state of entire sanctification. The transition was typically marked by a moment of intense clarity and communion with God, sometimes a sense of joy and peace or total forgiveness. (Wesley’s description was that his heart was strangely warmed, and he knew for certain that God would even save him). It is not a state of sinless perfection, but rather one of being made perfect in love.

A believer who does not obtain entire sanctification in life will be totally sanctified after death, just prior to obtaining glory. Some chosen by God may be glorified prior to death (Moses’ face coming down off the mountain).

The Methodist articles of religion include this entry: Sanctification is that renewal of our fallen nature by the Holy Ghost, received through faith in Jesus Christ, whose blood of atonement cleanseth from all sin; whereby we are not only delivered from the guilt of sin, but are washed from its pollution, saved from its power, and are enabled, through grace, to love God with all our hearts and to walk in his holy commandments blameless.

Most of the troubles with Wesley’s work are around the concept of ‘entire sanctification’ as it was often interpreted as meaning a believer had been made perfect, that is, had become sinless. That’s not the case. I would mark the state as when a believer knows (more often than not) that they are saved. Wesley noted there are peaks and valleys even in the state of entire sanctification, so it is not a state of bliss or eternal happiness.

I included this portion of the process leading to entire sanctification, as I’m not convinced that Wesley saw a singular moment early in a believer’s life when they could be said to be ‘entirely sanctified’. Some Wesley scholars would disagree with that approach. In my limited study I saw the idea of ‘progressive sanctification’ as closer to Wesley’s thought. This is to some degree caught up in the way we understand sanctification. I would also suggest that a believer’s life is marked by many moments of ‘entire sanctification’, that time when one is completely assured that they have been completely forgiven and are fully in the love of God (I’ve lost track how many times I’ve been through that type of doorway).

Written by sameo416

May 5, 2012 at 11:04 am

Posted in Uncategorized

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