"As I mused, the fire burned"

Reflection on life as a person of faith.

Archive for August 2012

Nature is more complex than our modelling predicted…

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There are some climate researchers still acting like real scientists:

Viewed as a potential target in the global effort to reduce climate change, atmospheric black carbon particles absorb significantly less sunlight than scientists predicted, raising new questions about the impact of black carbon on atmospheric warming, an international team of researchers, including climate chemists from Boston College, report August 30 in the latest edition of the journal Science.


Boston College Professor of Chemistry Paul Davidovits, an authority on airborne particles, known as aerosols. “In one respect, it shows that nature is much more complicated than our initial laboratory experiments and modeling indicated. Now we will try to unravel and understand that complexity.”

A reasonable conclusion…if reality does not reflect the model results, there must be something wrong with the model.  Now contrast that with a story two years earlier, based on modelling of soot particles:

“Controlling soot may be the only method of significantly slowing Arctic warming within the next two decades,” said Jacobson, director of Stanford’s Atmosphere/Energy Program. “We have to start taking its effects into account in planning our mitigation efforts and the sooner we start making changes, the better.”

To reach his conclusions, Jacobson used an intricate computer model of global climate, air pollution and weather that he developed over the last 20 years that included atmospheric processes not incorporated in previous models.

Which only serves to prove two fundamental truths about science:

– Science is always learning.  That is, science reserves the right to be wrong with each new day.

– Science provides an imperfect model of an infinitely complex reality.

Which is why we should not give in to schemes like painting all the rooftops white to increase solar reflection, since we don’t even have a good grip on the climate as a chaotic, complex process.  If we don’t understand the forcing situation in reality, and our models are only approximations at best, do we really have any basis to undertake dramatic actions when we can’t even predict the outcome?  (let along the weather tomorrow with any real accuracy)

In a world that seeks to reduce everything to simple truths, we have to remember that there is nothing simple about the creation.


Written by sameo416

August 30, 2012 at 1:48 pm

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Stupidity versus Malice

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Saw this in a news feed comment:

“Never attribute to malice that which can be adequately explained by stupidity.”  Called “Hanlon’s Razer” by Wiki.

How often do we interpret other’s actions based on presumed intent?  That person is deliberate in lying to me, versus, perhaps they’ve created their own reality and believe what they’re saying.

In church land debates on human sexuality, the polemic is often marked by the assumption that the other side is operating from malice, while those of your own ilk are righteous.  The deeper dynamic is our ability to rationalize and make righteous almost anything, including activities that are clearly contrary to Christ.  It is striking how often my first assumption is to attribute motivation to malice.

A good reminder for me, particularly when I’m upset with other drivers.  While the BMW driver (see below) was clearly operating from malice (demonstrated by his flipping me the bird), perhaps that lady who cut me off this morning didn’t do an adequate shoulder check? 

This AM I was waiting to turn left into a solid line of stopped traffic.  A car stopped, maybe to let me in.  I had the sun full in my eyes and could not see the driver, so I wasn’t sure if he was checking email, or was motioning me into the line.  The driver behind me laid on the horn…which was less than helpful, as I was trying to be cautious.  Did she (the lady behind me) attribute my hesitation to malice or stupidity (or the reality, caution)?

A good reminder in our dealings with others.  Malice is probably the last thing we should assume in assessing the motivation of others.

Written by sameo416

August 28, 2012 at 9:09 am

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A Fool for Christ

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This is one of those sermons I’ve just got no idea about…

SJE sermon series: 2 Corinthians 11:16-12:10,  26 August 2012

This is our second last installment in our series through Paul’s second letter to the church at Corinth, and David will wrap up the series next week. What we are hearing this week is Paul’s use of irony and the startling conclusion – it is in weakness that the Christian finds true, mountain-moving strength and courage – to continue to unbind the hold that the false or pseudo-apostles have on the church. Don talked about these pseudo-apostles last week in terms of a parasite – a creature that needs another to survive, but ultimately destroys the host. Paul continues his attack on the pseudo-apostles, by demonstrating his willingness to be a fool for Christ.

Proverbs 26:4-5 gives us this wisdom: we should not answer a fool in a way that reinforces his folly, but rather we should answer according to his foolishness so he can see that he is not wise. This is what Paul is undertaking.

The context into which Paul speaks is really not that different from our present context, at least in terms of our fascination with the strong, the successful, the wealthy. Have you seen the recent movie the Avengers? It is an entertaining super-hero story, another exploration of the mythology around power and might. In the best scene of the movie the evil demi-god proclaims, ‘Enough! You are all beneath me. I am a god you dull creature, and I will not be bullied…’ and the Incredible Hulk picks him up, repeatedly slams him into the floor and then drops him, muttering, ‘Puny god’. This is the sort of mythology which fits so nicely with the way of the world, and as much as we proclaim that might does not make right, the reality of the way of the world is that often power does win the day. This is the same sort of context that Paul is facing in Corinth.

We’ve talked about the Greek context of Paul’s ministry, but it is worth re-stating because it does emphasize for us again how similar our present context is to what Paul was facing, and why his words carry such import for we Christians here today. Humility was not a virtue in the Greek mind – humility was considered to be equivalent to servility, that is, humility went along with low station in life. A person who aspired to be a religious leader was expected to be charismatic, physically perfect, spiritually gifted, magical, given to ecstatic mystical experiences, and the list goes on. The expectation was that such a person was to be super-human, a religious super hero, we might say. This is so close to what we see today in the ranks of popular religious leaders…and the medium, that is the person, is placed in a position of far more importance than the message. So Paul’s critics cut into his message, by arguing that Paul is not the sort of person to be a real religious leader.

In Corinth, the particularly revolting aspect of Paul’s ministry was his stubborn fixation on the cross, the crucifixion of Christ, as the key to the faith and to true strength. This was a difficult message for a people steeped in the mythology of the heroic leader, who like a Greek hero survives incredible trials to rise triumphant again and again. Into that very super-hero focused culture, Paul proclaims the way of Christ, the super-hero who won by dying to save his people. The Greeks shake their heads, for the way of salvation is foolishness to those who are wise in the ways of the world.

That attitude literally drips from our culture, perhaps more visibly in the context of the United States and their fierce focus on liberty at all costs, but it is present in Alberta as well, an independence that says I can do this all on my whiles and strength, and have need of nothing other than my mind, my labour. I see this play out repeatedly in Workers’ Compensation appeals: the young worker who leaves grade school for the riches of the oil patch, some who earn six figures by working 80 hour weeks, 6 weeks in 2 weeks out. Then they have a devastating injury that leaves them unable to work, and they come asking how is it fair now, as I can’t live on my benefits? It is easy to live a joyous life when the money flows, less certain when you can no longer lift the wrench and are now in a minimum wage job. Where do you turn when the life you knew ends?

Yann Martel, in his book the Life of Pi asks the same question of Christ from a Hindu perspective (Chapter 17):

This Son, on the other hand, who goes hungry, who suffers from thirst, who gets tired, who is sad, who is anxious, who is heckled and harassed, who has to put up with followers who don’t get it and opponents who don’t respect Him – what kind of a god is that? It’s a god on too human a scale, that’s what. There are miracles, yes, mostly of a medical nature, a few to satisfy hungry stomachs; at best a storm is tempered, water is briefly walked upon. If that is magic, it is minor magic, on the order of card tricks. Any Hindu god can do a hundred times better.

This apparent weakness of the Christian God has been a source of ridicule for those to whom the weakness of Christ is foolishness. This is exactly what foolishness to the wise means this is exactly what Paul is attacking, because at its heart that thought is completely contrary to the Gospel of Christ.

We see this contrast between the strength of the world and the strength of Christ in the Garden, as he is seized and one of the disciples lifts a sword and cuts off an ear, Jesus tells him to put the sword down, “Don’t you realize that I am able right now to call to my Father, and twelve companies—more, if I want them—of fighting angels would be here, battle-ready? But if I did that, how would the Scriptures come true that say this is the way it has to be?” (Matthew 26:53-54) Jesus rejects the way of the world, the way of might and power, for he knows that it would be a short-lived victory, and he has something much grander in mind – the reconciliation of the entire creation throughout time with the Father. For that to happen, all he has to do is display ultimate weakness in the face of evil.

This is the way of the world in collision with the way of God. Paul’s message: your money, your hyper-spirituality, your holier-than-others faith, your ethnically pure heritage, your public popularity, none of it cuts any slack when the time of testing comes. For true strength from God only comes in total weakness.

This is a hyper-challenging thought for us, as it was for the church at Corinth, for when we call on God to intervene what we really want is Jack Bauer or Chuck Norris, that is omnipotence in the way of the world who either with superior cunning and intellect or with a faster draw with his Glock, will come and destroy our enemies in a suitably just and entertaining way. To this Paul says, since you like listening to fools, let me speak to you as a fool. Any bold claim anyone else can make I can make too, states Paul, and them immediately says, “I am talking like a madman”.

If you were shopping for an apostle, by the measure of the world, this would not be a positive sales pitch. It’s a little bit like a marriage counsellor telling you that his four failed marriages has made him an expert in marriage counselling; or an engineer showing you photos of all her bridges that had fallen down as proof that she could build one that would remain standing. And yet, this inverted wisdom is the way of the Lord, as it turns over what the world holds to be true.

Paul’s approach takes the entire Greek approach and turns it on its head: rather than a list of his great successes, he lists all of his trials and failures. Paul summarizes, I am not sufficient for all the challenges of my ministry, I am no stronger than anyone else, I am no freer of sin than anyone else, I make mistakes. My first major act after becoming an apostle was to run away. My only witness is that I have an ever deepening sense of personal inadequacy.

Now, I will tell you from a personal point that this resonates with me on many different levels. My experience in the military was that promotion and greater responsibility brought with it not honour, glory and more power, but rather a greater servanthood to those in my care. My experience in ministry is that I am constantly reminded how inadequate I am when confronted with the call of Christ. I’m humbled by the opportunity to preach, and every time I sit down to compose I realize that I have nothing to say, but only that which God gives me. This has been the pattern of my walk with Christ, and the more I walk, the more I realize that it is God that lifts me up. Like Paul, I count any merit the world gives me as naught, for the honour of serving Christ makes all the laurels of the world appear as dust. Back to Paul…

After listing all of his numerous tribulations and trials, including the great burden of caring for the church, Paul turns to boast of his weakness. Now this is truly amazing. Paul is flipping around the image of the pseudo-apostle as superman, by emphasizing how weak he is. Rather than a biblical Jack Bauer who brings the might of God to bear on the unrighteous, or a Hindu deity who unleashes cosmic powers, we have more an image of the suffering servant, that is, the image of Christ. It is an image of far more use to us than Jack Bauer, for it is an image that reflects the reality of this world far more clearly…it is an image that holds our hand in a hospital bed far more effectively that an apostolic super-hero.

Paul undoes all the mirrors and smoke of the world, and instead defines his ministry in weakness. This weakness is characterised by the ‘thorn in his flesh’ which is nowhere described, except that Paul had asked God three times that it be taken away and was told, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Paul tells us the thorn was there to prevent him from becoming conceited…perhaps from becoming one of the super-apostles that he is presently describing. We can derive some powerful truths from Paul’s words.

First, that this mighty apostle Paul, when he talks about his spiritual experiences, looks back to a distant event some 14 years earlier. Paul is not living a life that is filled with hourly mystical encounters with the Lord, and this reality is the truth for all Christians. Even the greatest saints, those given to great intimate encounters with God, wrote about the years of the slogging in prayer and labours without that divine touch. Paul’s ministry is defined by his physical limitations, and his weakness, and what he has learned is that this is the most powerful place to minister from, and the reason he boasts of his weaknesses, because that is where the power of Christ is most clearly manifested.

Second, Paul helps us to understand the path of trials and tribulations. I really understand Paul’s words on a personal level, and though I don’t like to talk about myself, a brief word. It is highly likely that I would not be standing here today preaching if not for a rather minor MVA that ended my military career with a medical release. It was a rather successful career, and the day I was told I was medically unsuited for further service was the same day my career manager phoned to tell me I was going to be promoted and offered a scholarship for another graduate degree. That MVA left me with permanent nerve damage and chronic pain – a literal ‘thorn in my side’, and is one reason I’m not in full-time parish ministry. I’ve also heard that response to prayer, “My grace is sufficient.” So I boast of my weakness, because but for that thorn, I would not be here today (but probably back in Cold Lake for another 10 years!). It also keeps me from getting too conceited, as it is a constant reminder of my frailty and my need to rely fully on the strength of God.

Now, Paul is talking about something that is of crucial importance to us as people of faith, and that is courage. This is not the courage of the world, that allows Jack Bauer to fight and win, but rather the courage of the suffering servant. It is what keeps us, as people of faith, going when thing go completely to crap. It is also completely contrary to the wisdom of this world, “which fails to perceive any meaning or value in suffering, but rather considers suffering the epitome of evil, to be eliminated at all costs” in the words of Bishop John Paul. Paul’s courage is the courage that allows people of faith to endure great trials, sometimes for years or decades, and to still say, along with Job, “The Lord gave, and the Lord has taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord.” (Job 1:21) It is the courage that defeats fear.

I spoke with a woman last week from a parish I used to serve, and she related to me how she had survived a brush with cancer. As we’ve heard many times, she related how the strength of community was what allowed her to get through it. The other thing we know, is that if she hadn’t got through it, that same strength of community would have carried her into glory with equal grace and success. How is it you face these things in your life? The sudden death of a parent? Watching a sibling or a child slowly destroy themselves through addiction? Watching this broken world, with shootings and dying and explosions and injustice everywhere we look…and not giving in to despair and grief? How do you do it?

A young woman named Kristen Anderson decided one night when she was 17 that she no longer wanted to live, after the death of three friends, her grandmother and her rape at the hand of a friend. She lay down on the railway tracks to await a train. The train comes and she loses both of her legs, as 33 freight cars run over her at 50 miles per hour and loses about 80% of her blood volume. Through a series of miracles, Kristen survives the injury and recovers. As she documents her recovery, she describes the journey from despair into the love of Christ which transforms her life. She now runs a ministry of support for those wrestling with depression and suicide, just one example of the courage to endure that comes from the love of Christ.  (http://www.reachingyouministries.com/About_Us.html)

The alternate, the way of the world, is really one built on a foundation of lies. Suffering in any form is avoided, even to the point of seeking assisted suicide in order to avoid pain of being a burden. Some state they are more fearful of suffering than of death. This is not the time for the discussion, but I will say that the great moral debate of our time is not same-sex blessings, but rather euthanasia and the question if we truly have a personal ‘right to die’. What would Paul say about such a thing? Without the idea of the suffering servant, you have to live in the way of the world, which is living in the midst of a lie…or if you like, a created mythology that convinces you that all will be well, until the world falls apart around you.

Paul tells us that the source of his courage is in the weakness of his humanity; for it is there that the true power of Christ is made manifest. This is real courage, which arises not from certain knowledge of your own righteousness, or your own might, or the certainty of victory or a return to health, but from knowing that in suffering and endurance of that suffering Christ’s power is made perfect in us. Courage allows us to stop relying on our own strength, our own intellect, and particularly when things get challenging it is that courage that allows us to rely fully on Christ. Courage, arising from Christ, is nothing more than love of the truth in place of all else, formed on the sure knowledge that it is God who has defeated death, it is God who has defeated evil. Our Christian courage comes down to a proclamation of one central truth: it is in dying that we will find real life; it is the carrying of our cross that we will find real power. Let us each take up our cross, as we live in the courage born of Christ. Amen.

Source documents:

Proverbs 26
4 Answer not a fool according to his folly,
lest you be like him yourself.
5 Answer a fool according to his folly,
lest he be wise in his own eyes.

Do not answer a fool according to his foolishness SUCH THAT you also be like him. RATHER, answer the fool according to his foolishness SUCH THAT he doesn’t view himself as a chacham.” http://www.mesora.org/schneeweiss/ArgueFool.htm

A story about the death of Zaidee Jensen: “He is also blind,” said her uncle Frank Potter, who considers her the bravest person he knows.

“If you can imagine a toddler and a 5-year-old who can see perfectly well and you can’t, can you imagine the bravery that requires.”

Yet she thrived, taking them to day care every day while going to work, always riding the LRT. http://www.630ched.com/news/edmonton/story.aspx?ID=1762640

“This Son, on the other hand, who goes hungry, who suffers from thirst, who gets tired, who is sad, who is anxious, who is heckled and harassed, who has to put up with followers who don’t get it and opponents who don’t respect Him – what kind of a god is that? It’s a god on too human a scale, that’s what. There are miracles, yes, mostly of a medical nature, a few to satisfy hungry stomachs; at best a storm is tempered, water is briefly walked upon. If that is magic, it is minor magic, on the order of card tricks. Any Hindu god can do a hundred times better. This Son is a god who spent most of His time telling stories, talking. This Son is a god who walked, a pedestrian god – and in a hot place, at that – with a stride like any human stride, the sandal reaching just above the rocks along the way; and when He splurged on transportation, it was a regular donkey. This Son is a god who died in three hours, with moans, gasps and laments. What kind of a god is that? What is there to inspire in this Son?
Love, said Father Martin.” The Life of Pi, by Yann Martel, from Chapter 17
From: http://www.msgr.ca/msgr-7/christ_on_trial%2011%20Martel.htm

Article on courage and Paul (“Power Made Perfect in Weakness”):

Comments on Nietzsche (“The weakness in virtue, the virtue in weakness”):

Liturgy as Lament:

Kristen Jane Anderson, Life, In Spite of Me: Extraordinary Hope after a Fatal Choice, Multnomah Books, Colorado, 2010.

Certain portions based on Roy Clement’s book, The Strength of Weakness, Baker Books, 1995 (and thanks to Fr Don for providing a copy of this excellent reflection on 2 Corinthians, it has taught me much)

Written by sameo416

August 25, 2012 at 10:03 pm

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Lance Armstrong

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In my day job we are all about due process, natural justice and the rules of fairness. A key part of any quasi-judicial process is the right to know the case against you. We were discussing all the media reporting on Lance Armstrong’s lifetime ban by the USADA. On the surface, it appears as if the case against Armstrong is mostly circumstantial…and we have to be aware of our natural tendency to react by the all-too-human response, “I knew he couldn’t have been that good.”

Of interest is this press release from the International Cycling Union, the international authority for the sport (and likely the ones that would have to remove Armstrong’s tour de France titles). They’re by no means supportive of the USADA approach. In fact, the press release basically states the USADA has followed an unjust process.  Sounds like a witch hunt, at least from the ICU end.

Press release: UCI clarifies USADA statement

Date: 04.08.2012

Description: Following public statement made by USADA on the position of the UCI regarding the disciplinary proceedings it opened against six persons the UCI wants to clarify.

After the Federal Department of Justice dropped its investigation into alleged doping fraud within the US Postal Cycling team, USADA continues to allege that such conspiracy took place indeed with the participants having committed the most serious doping offences over some fifteen years of time.

When Floyd Landis formulated his accusations in an e-mail sent on 30 April 2010 to USA Cycling, a UCI member federation, the UCI asked several national federations to conduct investigations. This included USADA that was acting on behalf of USA Cycling.

The UCI received no other information from USADA than that it opened disciplinary proceedings against six respondents on 12 June 2012.

Three respondents were banned for life because they didn’t respond or didn’t respond in time to USADA’s letter of accusation. USADA refused to provide UCI with evidence that these respondents received the letter of accusation in due time. In any case it is a matter of fact that these respondents didn’t receive the case file with the alleged evidence that USADA claims to exist against them. Nevertheless USADA claims that these respondents have accepted to be banned for life. Yet it seems that these respondents were banned for life for not having reacted to a letter of USADA. Furthermore the evidence that USADA claims to exist against the respondents was not reviewed by a neutral instance.

Likewise none of the other respondents have seen the evidence that USADA claims to have collected. Two of them are expected to file their defence by 15August 2012, yet still don’t know what is the evidence that USADA alleges to exist against them. It is amazing to see how USADA accuses the respondents of cover up whilst USADA refuses to reveal the evidence that it claims to exist.

According to the World Anti-Doping Code and UCI’s Anti-Doping Rules that USADA claims to apply, the UCI is the authority having results management for this case. USADA claims that there are elements with vest results management authority in USADA, yet refuses to show what these elements are.

For the UCI it is clear that USADA claims an authority that it does not have and uses procedures that violate basic principles of due process.

The absence of any evidence that has been made available to the respondents and to the UCI, the fact that USADA has no results management jurisdiction in this case, the fact that USADA refuses to have its file assessed by an independent results management authority and the fact that USADA continues to claim in these circumstances publicly that a doping conspiracy has taken place indeed brings UCI to the conclusion that USADA has no respect for the rules and for the principles of due process. This raises great concern.

The UCI wants that the case is judged according to the rules, upon facts established on the basis of sound evidence and by a neutral instance, including in the stadium of results management. The UCI wants that justice is done. Justice cannot be done by violating rules on jurisdiction, with files that have been kept secret so far and results management proceedings that are not fair.

By having condemned the respondents in advance in public USADA has no option but to use all means to have its case pushed through. By having proclaimed itself as the representative of the millions who want to have a clean sport, USADA has made this case the one in which it cannot afford to lose its face or its very existence.

This is not a sound basis for justice to be done, not to the respondents, not to the whole of athletes in the world and not to the world of sports as a whole.

This is the reason why the UCI, although being the competent authority for this case, wants the case to be given in the hands of a third results management authority independent both from UCI and USADA.

That authority has to decide whether there is enough evidence for the case to proceed and for the respondents to have a case to answer, even if ultimately the merits of any disciplinary proceedings should be judged by an independent body as well. Indeed due process is required also for results management in order to protect athletes and other persons from being dragged into disciplinary proceedings without sufficient basis and without respect for the applicable rules.

UCI Communications Service

Written by sameo416

August 25, 2012 at 8:50 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

PQ Would Ban Non-French Speakers from Office

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Really?  I’m not sure this even requires comment beyond…overtly racist?

Anyone wanting to run for public office in a Quebec led by Pauline Marois will have to prove they can speak French first, the Parti Quebecois leader said as she announced her latest language-related campaign promise Tuesday.

The PQ leader said anglophones, allophones and aboriginal people will be forbidden from seeking municipal or provincial office unless they have an appropriate knowledge of French.

Marois said the idea is reasonable, given that French is the official language of Quebec.

[…] The language proficiency idea has its roots in a 2007 project by the PQ which seeks to establish a Quebec constitution and Quebec citizenship

Written by sameo416

August 22, 2012 at 8:28 am

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No Friend of my Drain Pan – Mr Lube

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I’m the forgiving sort (goes with the whole Christian thing). I’m even willing to permit a couple of chances for service people to get the job right…I saw enough honest error when I was running a fighter squadron maintenance organization (18 jets, 170 technicians and engineers).

Last year, I had my car in for an oil change at a local Mr Lube. I like those oil change places for the in-between maintenance checks, as they’re quick and convienient (unlike my dealership). The day after the oil change there was a puddle under the car. I know these places can be sloppy, and leave oil on the body members that can drip for days. After a couple of days the oil spot had not left, so I began to suspect a problem. When I was checking the oil filter for tightness, I also noted that there was oil sprayed all down the backside of my engine. At that point I was not thinking Mr Lube, but rather a blown head gasket. Since they were the last to work on the car, I went back to Mr Lube.

Turns out the drain plug seal had been split, which was the cause of the slow leak (this is typically due to improper installation through over-torquing, and poor post-installation inspection). When they saw the oil down the back of the engine, the Mr Lube tech said “It looks like you have a head gasket leak.” They replaced the split seal, and when I thanked them he said, “I’m just glad it wasn’t our fault”, which left me a little mystified.

I was due for some other maintenance work so I took the car into a licensed mechanic to look at the head gasket. His comment – no problem, whoever filled the oil last time just tried to go too quickly. When you rush the oil spills down the back of the engine.

After that experience, I decided not to go back to that Mr Lube, but not to write off the chain.

Now comes the most recent experience, in Winnipeg, on vacation. Oil change just before coming home. The morning we leave as we pull away…oil spot under the van. Same drill, monitor for a few days to make sure it’s not just sloppy clean-up. Nope. The van is high enough I can crawl underneath, and what do I find? A folded seal on the drain plug and a slow oil leak.

This now falls into the category of twice bitten, so we won’t be going back to Mr Lube.

I’m aghast – as there isn’t a task more basic (for a mechanic) than installing a drain plug and seal. I’ve done this many times on vehicles and aircraft. I really wonder if they’re using torque wrenches at Mr Lube, and if they are, what type of training program they have in place. The two installation critical parts in an oil change are the filter and the drain plug. Either done improperly could lead to a catastrophic loss of oil. Critical tasks demand focused training and a program of proficiency checks to keep the person sharp.

Anyway, forewarned is forearmed.

Written by sameo416

August 19, 2012 at 10:19 pm

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“The Other”

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I was reviewing a paper a friend wrote, that dealt with the theme of “the other”, in particular how culturally we are polarized to regard certain groups as “the other” – a source of danger, fear and uncleanliness.

I threw that last term in, unclean, as much of what I read about “the other”, in our present day it is the terrorist, usually a Muslim, sounds an awful lot like the unclean/clean discussions that take place throughout the Old Testament. Hebrew ideas of purity are very complex, but have a fundamental bias against things (and people) who are ‘unclean’, as these represent a danger to the Israelite. The danger, becoming impure, can be a literal life or death matter, and certainly would involve isolation from the community as a minimum. This dynamic is one of the reasons you have to listen to the parables of Jesus with a Jewish ear, as the undoing of the Hebrew purity laws are one of the main thrusts of his ministry (for example, the Good Samaritan, the priest and the Levite both bypass the wounded man out of concern for maintaining their ritual purity…they select adherence to the Law, Torah, over love).

There is a long history of use of “the other” particularly by governments in order to mobilize public opinion. Some of the popular discussion in World War II around Germans and Japanese, and the internment of Japanese Canadians during WWII are good examples. I see some echoes of that today, particularly as we discuss our attitudes toward the terrorists in the Middle East.

Even that term, ‘terrorist’ contains an intrinsic aspect of “the other”. When we like the goal of the terrorists, we instead call them freedom fighters…as we did with the Afghans who were warring against the great red menance of the Soviet Union. Now those same fighters are terrorists, as they seek to kill Westerners. This is not to argue some relative ethic that places all such fighters on the same ruler, but just to point out a part of our reaction to them includes either welcome, or branding them “the other”, different, dangerous.

I find myself reacting this way, and in some reflection on Omar Kadhr’s case, I have been asking myself why I react differently to these individuals as opposed to the German soldiers who were trying to kill several of my great uncles. Why were those Germans noble warriors, perhaps following a misguided or even evil regime, but still warriors, but the Afghan fighter now is “the other”? This is a challenging question, as I suspect it goes to the root of a number of my own deep beliefs about righteous warfare.

I heard a commentator speak about Omar Kadhr and disassemble many of Romeo Dallaire’s concerns about his case…child soldier, imprisoned Canadian citizen, etc. The commentatory argued that Kadhr should not be considered a child soldier as he did not fit the mold of a ‘typical’ child soldier. This made me laugh. Child soldiers are by definition irregular fighters, there is no real ‘typical’. He said Kadhr had not been kidnapped, drugged and brutalized to convert him into a mindless fighter…no, but he had been conditioned by his rather radical family from an early age and placed there, in combat, by them. Is he at age 15 somehow more responsible than other 15 year old soldiers? It all seems quite inconsistent to me, and makes me suspect that because Kadhr has been branded “the other”, none of the usual rules apply.

It struck me a bit later on, that I was a child soldier, by modern definition, when I enrolled in the Canadian Forces in 1983.  I joined at age 17 and required my parent’s permission to enroll.  While I was in school for the first 4 years, I could have been sent to war if the need arose (the military colleges having been emptied out during past World Wars when the need arose).  We do not, however, permit 15 year olds to join under any circumstance – even with parent’s permission.

It is a dangerous attitude, and one contrary to Christian teaching. “The other” is a concept that ceased to exist in the new covenant, and no Jew or Greek, free or slave, means exactly that, there remains no category of personhood that can be defined as “the other” (which includes radical and fundamentalist atheists like Richard Dawkins). We simply don’t have the option to dispense with individuals or groups by branding them somehow outside of the true community. This is, of course, a favorite past-time of some Christian groups as it brings them some sense of safety and power by identifying that they are not “the other”.

Torah contains prescriptions for how you fairly deal with the ‘gar’, the foreigner who lives in your land.  Because they were not under the covenant, they were vulnerable, but were protected by the Law.  That need is blown apart after the New Covenant.  I guess you could read that the New Covenant only applies to those who are a part of the Christian community, but I do not see that those teachings are so restrictive (Christ did not come to create a whole new crop of “the other”, but to destroy all divisions once and for all).

I’m unresolved on the question still, but I continue to wonder why it is that I have no problem meeting a German WW II veteran as a fellow warrior, but find that the terrorists of Afghanistan don’t inspire the same level of respect. This perhaps says far more about me, than it does about them.

Written by sameo416

August 7, 2012 at 5:10 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

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