"As I mused, the fire burned"

Reflection on life as a person of faith.

Archive for January 2013

Military Suicide

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I’ve written before about the suicide rate in the Canadian Forces. The last formal report from the CF health care side stated there wasn’t a problem because the rate of suicide among soldiers was below that of the general population. These interesting articles from the US suggest that the problem of suicide among combat soldiers is growing, and a concern even though the rate is below that of the general population.

This article talks about the `epidemic of suicide` among US soldiers.

This article offers the startling statistic that more US soldiers died by suicide than in combat.

The report from the CF ‘expert panel’ on suicide is still off the website (ah, I found it at a third party site).  I have trouble believing our experience is that different from the US, except in number of people involved. 

From the expert report panel on suicide prevention in the CF…the conclusion that there is no real problem:

The finding that CF suicide rates are lower than the general Canadian population rates is not surprising as CF personnel are a screened, employed population and would be expected to have lower rates of suicide as well as lower rates of other medical problems. Reporting of CF suicides is probably more complete than those of the Canadian population as the latter derive from death certificate records, which are known to under-report suicides. Reporting of CF suicides is a product of both death certificate data as well as records kept by military police.

As shown in Table 1, no recent trend is apparent in CF suicide rates. However due to low numbers and low statistical power, detecting changes in CF suicide rates over time is limited to finding only very gross changes in suicide rates as the numbers are very small.

Which means exactly what it says, the sample size is so small as to not be significant.  From earlier in the report, they document some of the data shortfall, which is a pretty huge issue.

Surveillance is an essential component of any prevention program. Since 2004, the CF has implemented a suicide surveillance program, which is described in detail in ANNEX I. While this represents a significant advance over the previous system, key information for evaluation of prevention efforts is often missing. For example, documentation available to staff involved in suicide surveillance may not indicate the source of the weapon (personal vs. CF) for firearm suicides.

The CF has no mechanism for capturing information about suicides in Reservists, for whom the CF has much more limited potential for suicide prevention. Class A Reservists (who form the bulk of the CF Primary Reserve personnel) spend only a few hours per week in their military workplace and receive almost all of their healthcare through the provincial system. 

Until recently, there was no ongoing surveillance mechanism within the CF or within Veterans Affairs Canada for suicide in veterans (that is, after separation from military service). This is an important blind spot because of evidence that service members may be at increased risk for suicide only after they release [12;120]; risk appears to be highest in the first few years after release [120;121].

Our mission in the sandbox started around 2002, yet the surveillance program has only been in place since 2004.  There is no way to track info on reservists or retired military personnel.  That means the CF suicide rate only reflects those who have deployed and are still in the CF. 

The conclusions are telling:

The following conclusions are reached with the understanding that a true difference can be missed due to the small sample size (i.e. the power of the study is low):

1. The crude rate of suicide in the Canadian Forces is below those of the general Canadian public, which is not unexpected for a screened, working population. From 1995 to 2008 there has been no clear change in male CF suicide rates.

2. The rate of suicide when standardized for age and sex is lower than that of the general Canadian population.

3. History of deployment is not a risk factor for suicide in the Canadian Forces.

So the study is potentially statistically flawed, but there are still conclusions?  One of which is there is no correlation between deployment and suicide…in a study with too small a sample size…when reservists and released soldiers are not considered.  You don’t have to be a rocket scientist in statistics to raise your eyebrows.

My problem with all this – we spend $ to ensure our soldiers have body armour, and armoured fighting vehicles, and the equipment necessary to fight (new howitzers, GPS shells…), but once they get home our studies suggest they’re all fine, even though our closest neighbour is ringing alarm bells (with a good sample size).  [and this report on sleep problems in active duty soldiers, which won’t help any mental health issues]

What does it mean to support your soldiers?


Written by sameo416

January 29, 2013 at 8:06 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

Traffic Circle Pictures from Driver’s Manual

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  Vehicles B and C must yiled to vehicles A.

  Vehicle E must yield to vehicle D, while
  vehicles F and D may proceed together.


Written by sameo416

January 22, 2013 at 9:41 am

Posted in Uncategorized

98th Ave and 85th Street – Traffic Circle of Death

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Copied from the Alberta Government website (where they have pictures).  I’m dedicating this post to the driver of a gold metallic sedan, license SVA-062, that just about caused a collision this morning (22 January 2013 at about 0740) at the 98th Avenue and 85th Street traffic circle.  This was the chap who cut in front of me, and then swore at me for honking at him.  I missed clipping your back bumper by about 9 inches.  Just to make it clear, I underlined the provision that applies to you (that’s why there’s a yield sign at the entrance to a traffic circle…it means you have to YIELD to the oncoming traffic…it means I had the right of way). 

I was coming around the circle in the right hand lane – that means I yield to cars in the left hand or inner lane.  As I travel around the circle, I leave my left turn signal on signaling to all the waiting traffic that I am not yet prepared to exit. 

When I approach my exit, I put my right turn signal on to signal my intention to leave the circle.  Right hand lane yields to the left, and has right of way over all traffic entering the traffic circle.

Now, note the language about those who are passing more than one exit, “Drivers planning to travel past the first exit should use the left lane to enter and exit”.  That’s a ‘should’ – it is the preferred method.  If it was mandatory, the word would be ‘shall’.  I was in the right lane, passing more than one exit because I could not enter the left lane because of traffic volume…which is permitted.  In any event, traffic coming into a traffic circle is required to yield to all oncoming traffic.

I have no idea what this guy was thinking, but it supports my conclusion that we should do away with traffic circles in Edmonton.  I have at least two near-misses per week through the two traffic circles I drive through twice per work day. 


Drivers entering the circular intersection must yield to drivers already in the circle. Once in the circle, drivers must activate the right signal when preparing to exit.

USING THE RIGHT LANE TO ENTER AND EXIT: Drivers entering the circle from the right lane must do so when it is safe and stay in the right lane while in the circle. They must exit using the right lane.

USING THE LEFT LANE TO ENTER AND EXIT: Drivers using the left lane to enter the circle must do so when it is safe and stay in the left lane while in the circle/roundabout.  They must exit using the left lane. Drivers planning to travel past the first exit should use the left lane to enter and exit.

IN CIRCULAR INTERSECTIONS: While in the circle, the driver on the right must yield to the driver on the left. Activate the right signal when preparing to exit. Use caution when exiting and crossing through the right (outside) lane. Do not change lanes in the circle. Traffic in the red lanes (white arrows) must yield to traffic in the yellow lanes (black arrows). Traffic entering the circle (grey lanes) must yield to traffic in the circle (both red and yellow lanes).  

Written by sameo416

January 22, 2013 at 9:40 am

Posted in Uncategorized

Derating of Electrical Cables in Thermal Insulation

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As a late update (September 2017) NEMA has put out some information on type NM cables encased in spray thermal insulation. It appears that the risk may not be as high; although I’m still concerned with the impact of circuits loaded to capacity (which is arguably an extreme condition). NEMA entire bulletin is available here.

Home inspectors in Washington State also put out some guidelines in early 2016.

Original post:

I submitted this to the Canadian Standards Association (CSA) as a proposed amendment to the Canadian Electrical Code. The subcommittee concerned with the code rejected the amendment unanimously.

I published (along with two collegues) an article in a trade journal on the subject. This was my attempt to get word out to electrical professionals that there were greater issues involved when installing electrical cables into insulation. In most Commonwealth countries, their electrical codes have been modified to include derating factors since about 2008. In the UK, a cable surrounded with thermal insulation must be derating to 50% of its free-air current carrying capacity. I’m presently dialoguing with an Australian architect who is examining the derating of electrical cables installed in masonry walls filled with thermal insulation. This is a present issue, and I was a little shocked that the CSA dispensed with the proposal.

The reasons? There was no evidence of a problem in the field (although my fire investigation was exactly that). The present code was clear (our rule 2.122 just says be cautious, while the UK code has specific derating factors). There was no need perceived (although the UK, Aussie and Kiwi codes have all been changed…along with the USA NEC in more recent days).

The reason we don’t see this problem frequently is because most residential installations are done with a great enough safety factor (over design), that the circuits are rarely operated near capacity. So a 15 amp lighting/outlet circuit will rarely be operated at even 50% of that load. I have some future concerns – particularly with the popularity of spray foam insulation. I have seen installations where the foam is sprayed over the installed electrics, encompassing the electrical cables fully. The thickness of the spray is dependant on the operator. That high safety factor will protect most of those installations, but might not cover an electrical installation that is running near capacity.

As an example, consider a standard 15 amp circuit installed in a garage or shed by a do-it-yourselfer to service wall outlets and lighting (I’m not considering the code provisions for installation here, just to illustrate the loading).  The owner then uses the circuit to run lighting, as well as a forced-air space heater operating constantly to warm the garage/shed.  During the build he insulated by spraying foam insulation into all the voids between joists, and did this after the wiring was installed, so the cables are completely surrounded in thermal insulation.  Now, the reason we don’t see these failures happening on a daily basis is because: the ampacity tables in the code already have a hefty safety factor built into the values; almost no home-owner runs a circuit near capacity for any length of time (how long does your kettle, or hair dryer operate over a 24 hour period?).  In fact, there is effectively no heavy-draw appliance that would be classed as continuous operation in a residence (the code says operating at least one hour out of every two hours).  In my investigation, the cable that failed was operated near capacity (200 amps versus 215 amps) and was a continuous load cable.

So, the approximate math:

A 1500 watt space heater, on a 120 volt circuit, draws (Ohm’s law: V=IR; P=VI=I^2R) a current of 12.5 amps.  The home owner also runs three 100 watt light bulbs on the circuit, each drawing 0.83 amps for a total of 2.5 amps.  The circuit is now operating at capacity of 15 amps.  If the heater is left operating with the lights off, the circuit would still be over capacity according to the British electrical code, which would limit the circuit to 7.5 amps.

If that cable is completely surrounded with thermal insulation for a good distance of its run, it will eventually fail due to over-capacity use.  This is one of the reasons grow-ops burn, because they are one residential application where the circuits are loaded to and beyond capacity on a continuous basis (aside from all the unlawful stuff).  This is also the reason to be very cautious about operating space heaters on a continuous basis.

I found this perplexing comment at a USA spray foam website:

Can Spray Foam Insulation be sprayed over electrical wiring?
Spray Foam insulation does not pose any issues with electrical wiring as long as the electrical wiring is installed per National Electric Code. Any overheating issues with Spray Foam insulation in regards to wiring would be directly related to improper installation of the circuit or the size of the wiring. Polyurethane foam is chemically compatible with electrical wiring plastic.

So…if you install the wire correctly by the NEC (that is, you properly derate the wire for the impact of the thermal insulation)…the wire won’t overheat…but if you don’t install it correctly, and it overheats, its not the fault of the foam insulation, it’s the bad installation of the wire.  I obviously spend too much time thinking like a lawyer: but for the thermal insulation, the cable would not have been overloaded.  So what causes the overload?

Anyway, here’s my submission – just so I can say I noted it first when the Canadian code is finally amended.


Introduction:  I am writing with a suggestion for an addition to the Canadian Electrical Code (CEC) Tables 1, 2, 3 & 4 and the related rules.  These tables concern the allowable ampacities for copper and aluminum conductors in various configurations.  This suggestion also includes rule 2-122, Use of thermal insulation.

The motivation for writing this suggested amendment arose out of a forensic fire investigation I conducted as a consulting electrical engineer.

Incident Description:  An electrician installed a 250 kcmil armoured aluminum 3-conductor plus neutral cable (ACWU90) in a food processing plant to power a piece of process equipment.  The cable was routed through an attic space and was initially laid on top of the loose thermal insulation layer of about 16 inches depth for a total run of about 120 feet.

The cable was providing 3-phase 208 VAC power to a transformer through a shut-off switch which included 200 amp phase fusing.  The transformer in turn fed the process equipment.  The cable originated at the building supply panel where it was protected by a 225 amp moulded case circuit breaker.  After installation the electrician carried out a worst-case measurement of current indicating the maximum load was slightly less than 200 amps per phase.  The cable had been installed for about one year.

After operating the process machine the plant was left empty for the weekend.  About 12 hours after the process machine had been shut down the owner received a call from the building alarm service that there was a power failure in the building.  When the owner arrived he found the circuit breaker for the process equipment and the building main breaker tripped.  He reset the building main breaker but when he attempted to reset the process equipment breaker it immediately tripped off.  The owner left.  When he returned approximately 6.5 hours later to open for the day he found the building full of smoke.

When the fire department began suppression they found a smouldering fire involving the roof trusses buried in cellulose and rock wool insulation in two separate locations.  The point of origin had been nearly simultaneous at the two points which were both along this cable run.  The cable neatly and almost perfectly bisected each of the areas of fire damage.  The cable armour was burned away and melted for about one foot at the centre of each fire area.  A third location had become hot enough to melt the outer thermoplastic jacket.  There was evidence of electrical arcing coincident with the areas of armour damage.

Investigation:  The process equipment was a continuous load device as it was operating at least 1 hour out of every 2, under rule 8-104(3)(A).  For the cable installed, Table 4 provided an ampacity of 215 amps for 90° C cable.  Given the circuit fusing at 200 amps, this appeared to be a code-compliant installation.  I could find nothing involving the process equipment or the transformer that suggested a cause of the fire.

The two areas of worst fire damage showed clear evidence that portions of the armoured cable had been in contact with the ceiling joists.  There were burned-out notches in the joists that matched the cable armour dimensions.  This suggested the cable at both of the points of origin had been buried under about 16 inches of loose thermal insulation.  In the third area, where the thermoplastic insulation had melted off the armour, the cable had only been buried under 1 to 2 inches of the loose thermal insulation.  Other areas, where the supply cable remained resting on the thermal insulation, displayed no damage from heat.

The cause of the fire was identified as electrical overheating of the supply cable.

The only rule in the CEC concerning de-rating the ampacity of electrical cable which may be buried in thermal insulation is 2-122(1)(a):

 …special care shall be taken to ensure that conductor insulation temperatures are not exceeded due either to mutual heating of adjacent conductors or cables or to reduced heat dissipation through the thermal insulation…

A literature search provided British Standard 7671:2008.  An addition to this electrical code was issued in Regulation 523.7 which states that a de-rating factor of 0.5 should be applied to the current rating of a cable if it is completely surrounded by thermal insulation.  Applying the BS7671:2008 de-rating rule would have resulted in that cable installation being limited to 107.5 amps, just over half of the measured current flow in the cable.

The cause of the electrical overheating of the supply cable was found to be the result of its burial under the 16 inches of loose thermal insulation.

While the supply cable had initially been laid across the surface of the attic insulation, the residual twisting of the cable forced two portions into the attic insulation.  Over a period of time, that residual twist caused the cable to settle into the loose thermal insulation, permitting an overheating of the supply cable and eventual failure.

The installation electrician was sceptical when we discussed these findings.  After I presented him the analysis, he was shocked to find that what he considered to be a code-compliant installation, which had passed inspection by the municipality, had been the primary cause of the fire.  I pointed out Rule 2-122, which he commented offered him no guidance on how to accommodate thermal insulation.

There should be some indication in the CEC as to the hazard of placing electrical cables in a manner that may result in them being later buried in thermal insulation.  The British amendment arose at least partly out of some testing as to the impact of adding attic insulation to older structures.  I have enclosed the article that discusses that testing.

Recommended Amendment:  By way of an amendment to the 2009 code add a specific warning to each of Tables 1, 2, 3 & 4 to caution about the need to de-rate if a cable is surrounded by thermal insulation.  While Tables 1 & 3 specify that the ampacities refer to a conductor in free air, Tables 2 & 4 refer only to a raceway or cable and do not include the free air delimiter.  I would also suggest that the words ‘free air’ in the title are not sufficient to inform an electrical technician of the inherent limits in those tables.  A suggested text:

The ampacities listed in this table are only valid for a cable in free air.  If any portion of the cable is surrounded by thermal insulation, the ampacities need to be de-rated.  Failure to de-rate for thermal insulation can result in cable failure and fire.

For the next edition of the CEC, it is suggested that Rule 2-122 be amended to reflect specific guidance on the de-rating of cables surrounded by thermal insulation.  This will likely require the addition of ampacity tables for this condition.  The research conducted by the United Kingdom may be a useful starting point for development of this revised rule.

Update February 2016.  Picked this up for an industry magazine.  First comment is from NEMA.

The second is from the chief electrical inspector in Washington.

They both suggest there is no problem.  Most interesting to me is the U od Toronto study from 1985.  It seems that the problem would be highly dependent on the thickness of the spray foam, and the number of conductors, and the total loading on the circuit.  Without knowing how the study was done, it’s hard to say the problem does not exist.

I am tempted to run this test myself.  It would not be too costly to set up a number of conductors, with a layer of spray foam, then load and monitor temperature.  There should be a nice graphical relationship between insulation, load and temperature.



Written by sameo416

January 18, 2013 at 11:05 am

Posted in Uncategorized


with 3 comments

I get asked this question frequently…probably as the only ‘token fighter guy’ that people have in their lives…should Canada be purchasing the CF-35?

The background that most people haven’t heard through the media is that we started buying into the new fighter development program over a decade ago – I recall the project management office being stood up before I retired in 2003, and there was an industrial agreement even before that. The lead time for a major capital project is such that the preliminary work on it begins long before the aircraft first flies.

All that said, I have been a little shocked at the dogged determination that has been shown in making the F-35 the aircraft of choice. It is clearly a highly capable aircraft, that would easily fulfill a multi-role tasking.

However, I am continually amazed at the degree of risk that a small nation like Canada takes on when we buy into a development program, imho far beyond what we should be willing to accept. The USA has hundreds of fighters (1000’s?) to rely on, so if the development project slips 5 years, there are contingencies. For us, we have an aging fleet of CF-188s, another very capable aircraft, but one that is burning through its fatigue life with each flight (fatigue life = the number of load cycles that an aircraft can bear before the probability of structural damage reaches a level that the aircraft is considered unsafe to fly). We started retiring the first aircraft when I was on squadron – CF-1888702 was the first one I personally saw leave the fleet for fatigue reasons. We don’t have a buffer of F-16, F-15, AV-8B, F-14 etc to fall back on, so the timeline is much more critical for us.

In addition to the development risks, I really question a single engine fighter for arctic operations. I know, I know, the engine is ‘really’ reliable. Even so, it is a single engine, and an engine failure means aircraft loss. Arctic operations often mean a pilot is dragged by tanker support way north, right over the pole in some cases, and far from any airfield or even SAR resources. You just can’t beat two engines in that circumstance.  That role, arctic operations, is also the only real-world sort of mission our fighter force conducts on a regular basis.

The other development risk is the cost. A delay in production due to development problems means the cost continues to grow, which is something else we cannot bear. You really have to ask the question about the need for fighter aircraft at all – when our last real deployment was the first Gulf War (I’m deliberately excluding Libya, which was more of a ’boutique’ deployment). We have not deployed in direct support of Canadian ground forces…well, since Korea (excluding the work out of Aviano in the former Yugoslavia). It is truly awful, when our Canadian ground troops cannot rely on Canadian fighter assets being there in a CAS (close air support) role when they’re under fire. Instead for the past 10 years in the sandbox, our troops have relied on the British and US air forces. That is almost unacceptable, and is one of the reasons I question the need for fighter aircraft at all.

If soverignty ops is the answer, there are much better ways to do that – long range patrol aircraft, that can carry out soverignty patrols without requiring tanker support or deployment to the north (and excusing the small benefit of air troops in the north, since we only deploy to already existing settlements anyway).

If we wanted to seriously get into the role of supporting our ground forces – something I suspect is the most likely mode of operations in the next few decades – I’m not sure why we don’t consider something like attack helicopters. The Brit experience with Apaches in Afghanistan is truly inspiring, along with how quickly their land forces started demanding that their Apaches be on hand whenever they were operating (Ed Macy in his latest book describes how the CO of 3 Para spoke at a BBQ and told them he had been opposed to the purchase from the start, but that he was now a convert, and would not deploy into harm’s way without the Apaches.) It has always mystified me why the leaders of our air force have not eagerly been selling themselves to the army at every opportunity – with such a clear need ahead of us, being there in intimate CAS for our troops seems the place to be.

As an aside here, I can recall many times having debates with my operations counterparts about providing CAS support to the CF army for training – be it large exercises or to train FACs or FOOs. Invariably those tasks would either be fobbed off on the CT-133 units, or would be given to the most junior pilots on Sqn, as they were so low on the priority list. My argument was always that our disregard for our army colleagues would come back in a bad way to bite us. Instead, we would plan huge deployments to go and fight against US units in DACT (dissimilar air combat training), preparing for a dogfight type war that hasn’t happened since…Korea.  Is there really a good potential we’ll be fighting another first nation’s military in the next few decades?  Or is the present and future reality that counter insurgency ops, like Afghanistan, will be our most likely engagement?

The reality is that one or two added squadrons of fighters, even if we were willing to deploy them to support the army, really won’t make a big difference in a multi-national type of operations (another reality of the future). One or two squadrons of attack helicopters, on the other hand, with pilots trained to interoperate with our army brethern, would be invited to any future battle with open arms.  You can’t beat the ability to drop a Hellfire missile in on an enemy with accuracy measured in inches and within minutes of the request, or to provide CAS cannon fire to suppress on request.

This is off topic, but something I’ve ranted about for years. The bottom line for me, if we’re going to buy a new fighter aircraft, is that we should stick with a proven platform that does what we need, and is suited for the arctic operating environment. I would vote for the Super Hornet, as it meets all that, and has two engines to boot.

But a better path, would be to replace our fighters with attack helicopters (speaking as a life-long fighter guy, that is).

Written by sameo416

January 6, 2013 at 2:51 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

Being a Man of Integrity

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Some musings on integrity and the call of manhood…

The question: how to live with integrity in a hostile world?

I was surprised as I started to set out this topic – I’ve spent most of my adult life thinking about the question of integrity, and yet I found there was little that came to mind to say on the subject. I suspect this is because integrity is something we don’t necessarily think about on a daily basis, and it is something that we recognize immediately by its absence, but don’t necessarily acknowledge its presence. Rather than a technical talk on the subject, this is more of a reflection on my encounters with integrity both good and bad, in the hopes that this will spark in you some reflection on your life, and the place of integrity in your walk with Christ.

My perspective on integrity is informed by the 20 years I spent in the Canadian Forces as an officer, for there is little more important for an officer than to be a person of integrity. This is especially critical for anyone who presumes to command others, for there is one thing that your troops will detect and react adversely to, and that is an officer without integrity. How can you expect someone to risk their life on your order, if they can’t even trust you to care for them with integrity on a day to day basis. Indeed the officers I respected the most were those who were tough and had high expectations, but were immensely fair – that is, dealt with you with integrity.

Integrity is a term that appears most frequently in the Old Testament – and the Hebrew word is sometimes translated as integrity of heart, sometimes as sincerity, sometimes as flawlessness. The most interesting occurrence of the Hebrew word for integrity comes in 1 Kings 22:34, account of the battle between the kings of Israel and Judah and the King of Aram at Ramoth Gilead. The two kings of the Hebrews ask the prophets if they should attack, and all the prophets say yes, except for Micaiah who prophesies that this attack will be the death of King Ahab, for which the king throws the prophet into prison. Ahab was a particularly nasty king, we read that there was, “none who sold himself to do what was evil in the sight of the Lord like Ahab, whom Jezebel his wife incited” (1 Kings 21:25). Immediately after he desires result in an innocent man being murdered so he could get his vineyard, a prophet tells Ahab that the dogs will lick up his blood in the same way that they licked up the blood of the innocent man. Ahab repents, and God decides not to destroy his line until his son rules, but shortly thereafter Ahab is killed in a battle that was not of the Lord. How is he killed? The text tells us that an archer randomly drew his bow and shot an arrow into the enemy, “But a certain man drew his bow at random and struck the king of Israel between the scale armor and the breastplate” (1 Kings 22:34) So here we see a total lack of integrity on behalf of Ahab, and an immensely luck shot from an archer. The word integrity is used to describe the way the archer used his bow: he drew his bow with flawlessness…that is he drew the bow with integrity, and the arrow did God’s will. It is an interesting use of the word – and it tells us something about integrity in our lives, that our choices and our habits must be guided almost unconsciously with the desire to do what is right, to act with integrity, that is for the Christian, to model the way of Christ in all we say, think and do.

An image of this integrity comes to us in Exodus 1:15-21, , which begins with the story of the plight of the children of Israel at the hands of a new Pharaoh in Egypt, it says: “Then the king of Egypt spoke to the Hebrew midwives, of whom the name of one was Shiphrah and the name of the other Puah; and he said, ‘When you do the duties of a midwife for the Hebrew women, and see them on the birthstools, if it is a son, then you shall kill him; but if it is a daughter, then she shall live.’ In God’s unique economy the pharoh is not named, but we do hear the names of these two midwives. Because the midwives feared God, and did not do as the king of Egypt commanded them, but saved the male children alive. So the king of Egypt called for the midwives and said to them, ‘Why have you done this thing, and saved the male children alive? “And the midwives said to Pharaoh, ‘Because the Hebrew women are not like the Egyptian women; for they are lively and give birth before the midwives come to them.’ An interesting exercise in integrity – that involved a lie to Pharoh but a willingness to risk everything personal in order to answer to a higher authority.

One of the greatest challenges to living with integrity in our world today is the all-to-common cult of indifference. This cult of indifference is well-defended, usually by the universal statement, “You can do whatever you want, as long as you’re not hurting anyone else.” Tightly tied to that is a second universal belief, usually not stated, that there is no such thing as absolute truth, that is, everything exists in relative relationship. People who want to appear learned will state that this truth is what Einstein established in science with his general and special rules of relativity, and that reveals only their ignorance. Einstein spoke of relativistic motion, and nowhere does his science include the assertion that there is no absolute frame of reference. Yet the denial of the absolute is a cornerstone of modern, and post-modern culture.

I attended a talk by a military professor of philosophy on ethics, when I was teaching at an engineering school. The room was full of students, about 150 in total, all of whom were well-educated and experienced leaders in the military…and all of whom commanded a fair amount of lethal force in their day jobs. The professor began by asking the question, ‘How many of you believe there is no such thing as absolute truth?” I was stunned when everyone in the room but for 4 of the instructors put up their hands. How could it be that this group of highly educated leaders did not understand the presence of the absolute? Without even invoking faith, this is something foreign even to science, which is based on its own set of absolute truths.

I won’t put you on the spot and ask the same question here, but it is important to answer that question – do you believe there is such a thing as absolute truth? The question is key to our discussion, because I am convinced you cannot be a true person of integrity unless your system of belief, your moral virtues, are grounded in something that is greater than you. The reason I mention this directly is the lie of relativity is alive and well within the Christian church, and is preached from many pulpits (not here).

Let me illustrate – at our recent synod, the body voted in favour of permitting the blessing of same-sex relationships in this diocese…and in fact, it’s already been happening. I’m not going to talk about that, but rather a conversation I had at my table during discussion time. One long-standing Anglican started the discussion with an absolute statement, “I believe it is time we did this. Jesus tells us to love everyone, and to welcome them into our communities. It is wrong not to welcome everyone.” I was a little shocked. I hesitated to ask a question of an elder member of my church, but I couldn’t let that assertion stand unchallenged. I asked to clarify, “So we are to welcome everyone in as full members of our community regardless of who or what they are?” He firmly said, “Yes”. So I asked, “What about a practicing pedophile?” There was silence and he stared at me with his mouth hanging open.

Now, that’s not to illustrate anything about me or him, but just to show how common these wrong thoughts are even within the community of believers. Of course we welcome all to the faith, as Jesus did, but that doesn’t mean we affirm and accept anything they might chose to do. And why not? Because there are moral virtues that come to us through the teachings of Christ, and one of the things we do in our communities is teach and practice those moral virtues, even while acknowledging that we will fail but that Christ calls us to keep trying.

This ethics specialist then demonstrated that there were obvious absolute truths that even atheists would affirm, he next asked another question, “How many of you believe it is better to do good than to do evil?” The entire room raised their hands – “There, he concluded, you have all demonstrated that you believe in an absolute truth.” This is one reason why the lie of there being no absolute truth is so evil, as it denies the very nature of reality – to say there is no absolute truth is in fact a self-defeating statement, as the denial is itself an absolute statement. A Christian perspective on the beliefs of others runs more like this: we ought to be tolerant of other’s beliefs until those beliefs constitute a moral evil. We are tolerant of the nation of Islam, but when those beliefs move into justifying killing in the name of Allah, we rightly condemn those beliefs as evil.

This is why integrity is so important to we men of faith, because one of our roles is to stand apart from the greater culture as examples of another way, and to model that behaviour for our friends and more importantly for our children. When those around us follow the way of Ahab, listening to corrupt teachers give us soothing words for our itching ears to justify what we want, even when we know it is wrong, our calling as men of integrity is to offer another way. Most of the time, this involves a quiet witness to the contrary – so when all your buddies are heading out to the peelers after a long day’s work, do you go along, or do you do something different? Those small decisions are the really important ones, for they say far more about our Christian character than anything else. Most of us will never have the opportunity for one of those heroic acts of integrity – being the whistleblower that brings down Enron, for example. But all of us, on a daily basis, are called to make those little decisions, those small choices, that show the world there is a different way.

One thing that really struck me in the last two weeks was the beating death of a man on the LRT recently in front of a dozen or so witnesses. I don’t want to second guess anyone on that train, but is it as disturbing to you as to me that the only thing they felt obligated to do was to inform the driver and to call 911? We’re not talking about two young guys wailing away on each other, but the systematic beating of one man by another. What would Christian integrity call on us to do in that circumstance? One of our obligations as Christians is to be the good Samaritan to those in need, and if we fail to recognize in that parable that the thing which stopped the priest and the Sadducee from helping the beaten man was self-preservation, we can allow ourselves to view such violence with indifference. It’s not me or my family being beaten, and I might get injured if I intervene, so it’s best to rely on the authorities and in so doing I discharge my obligation. If that LRT incident was isolated, I would be less concerned, but the reality is that most of those sorts of situations are avoided by most people for want of self-preservation. What does Christian integrity call us to do when our neighbour is in need? Ralph Waldo Emerson made a famous statement about how our lives of integrity are seen by others: “Who you are speaks so loudly, I can’t hear what you say.”

At my service academies, RRMC and RMC, the motto (which sounds really cool in French): verite, devoir, valiance, or in English: truth, duty, valour. This was, and continues to be, one of my touchstones in helping me live a life of integrity. Truth, meaning that I would not stand or participate in falsehood. Duty, meaning that I would fulfill the obligations I had undertaken – my word is my bond. And Valour, meaning I would not stand by while injustice was done to another, but also that I would have the courage to stand up and admit when I had fallen from those ideals because of my own sin. There is no more courageous act than to admit you’re wrong in public. Now those are admirable goals to live by, but the motto had an informal subscript: truth, duty, valour (but don’t get caught).
Some aspects of that ‘but don’t get caught’ were admirable. We were trained to be innovative, and to be daring in undertaking new challenges. Part of that training was an intricate system of practical jokes on our seniors, and so the ‘don’t get caught’ was a challenge to pull off some really outlandish pranks, in good taste, with the goal of not being found out in the process. One night, a group of my classmates took one of their senior’s room furniture – desk, bed, chair, dresser – and suspended them with rope 20 feet in the air, all in proper arrangement. Original, challenging, and reflecting skills that would make those pranksters good officers. Now the unfortunate part of that motto was those who understood it to mean that there was one standard for the daytime, and another for the night, and the goal was not to get found out.

Now does that sound at all familiar to we Christians? One of our biggest challenges is to live apart from the world, while living in the world. The faith of too many Christians becomes a faith of convenience, that is practiced on Sunday but the rest of the week is given over to living as the world does. What does that say to those around you, who know you go to church, but also know that you’re willing to do things right on the edge of legal to close a deal, or live your life out of church just like everyone else does? The old hymn says, you’ll know we are Christians by our love, and is that how people know you? The greatest compliment you can ever be paid by a non-believer is a simple statement: there’s just something different about you, and I want to know what that is.

These are the sorts of questions that challenge us to examine what it means to be a man of integrity. Do you have the courage, the valour, to stand against what the world deems as proper when the time of testing comes?

Our present culture is living a legacy that arose out of some destructive streams of philosophy – ethical egoism, that said one always ought to act in one’s best interest; utilitarianism, that says if the end result produces more pleasure than pain for the majority of people, then the action is right; moral relativism, which says there is no real difference in absolute terms between any actions – so both the allies and the Nazis were morally equivalent in World War II. Several of these streams gather together to form popular post-modern thought, and the result is this culture of indifference. There is nothing more contrary to our calling to be men of integrity than this culture of indifference, of self-service, of the denial of absolute truth. The ultimate call of integrity, which I pray we will never have to make, is the willingness to die for what you believe is right. That sounds like a shocking statement, but it is an important question to ask yourself – what is there, if anything, that you feel is so important, is so unable to be compromised, that you would defend it to the death? A question like that forces you to consider what is it that you really believe?

St Polycarp, a 2nd century Christian martyr, was asked to burn incense to the emperor, an act of worship affirming the emperor’s place in the pantheon of gods. Polycarp refused, and is reported to have said, “Eighty and six years I have served him. How then can I blaspheme my King and Saviour? Bring forth what thou wilt.” Polycarp was burned alive for his faith. What is it that you really believe? Our brothers and sisters in Christ, in many parts of the world, attest to their willingness to die for the faith on a daily basis. What is it that you really believe?

For those of us who are married, or have children, what would you be willing to do for your spouse, for your children? What is it that your marriage vows mean to you? Is your word, on oath, a binding thing, or a comfortable assurance that you can turn to when you need it, but ignore when the end result will produce more pleasure than pain for you? Is a marriage a true spiritual union of man and woman to the exclusion of all others, or is it a social construct that can be re-defined as society wills? Is the example you present to your children so important that you will enter into self-denial to maintain Christian integrity. What is it that you really believe?

I was driving once with my daughter somewhere, and she asked if we could stop for ice cream. When I said no, it’s almost time for supper, she said, we don’t have to tell mom. Without thinking I replied, that it might start with little lies like that, but that was the path to destroy a marriage which should be founded on absolute trust, so if we did it we would tell mom when we got home. I didn’t even think about that exchange, and certainly didn’t intend it to be a teaching moment, but several hours later my dear wife told me the Mckenzie had related the conversation and how it had really impacted her about the meaning of marriage and relationship. This is the reason why the practice of integrity is so important, because those tests come most often when we’re not expecting them, and it is our instinctive reaction that marks how we will witness to integrity.

You see, the answers to these sorts of questions are what mark us apart from society as followers of the Christ. Now, how are those answers marked out in your day-to-day life? CS Lewis said, “Every time you make a choice you are turning the central part of you … either into a heavenly creature or into a hellish creature.” (Mere Christianity, book III, chap. 4, para. 8) It is our choices, even the small ones, that mark out what is the measure of our integrity.

We can certainly recall recent examples of leaders who failed dramatically when it came to integrity – who can forget Bill Clinton’s international testimony that he did not have sexual relations with that woman? What about this line (a bit more dated), “I was provided with input that was radically different from the truth, and I furthered that input.” Oliver North, a US Marine officer who covered up the government’s illegal activities to support his superiors. A classmate of mine once wrote about a colleague, who worked with the military police for a summer. One police officer took him one day and unlocked the cabinet containing the file concerning a crime our classmate had committed, pointed out the location of the paper shredder, and left the room. Our classmate looked at the file, returned it to the drawer, and locked the cabinet. Now, in your hour of need, when you call on a friend or family member, or a minister, or firefighter, for help, which one would you rather have responding?

Anglican priest Robert Capon came to Winnipeg to do a clergy conference, and this was at a time when a priests in that diocese had been criminally charged for sexual offenses involving children. The bishop asked Fr Capon what he would do with these priests who had disgraced themselves through sexual misconduct – that is, who had abandoned the integrity of their office and calling. Fr Capon replied that once they had been convicted, he would handcuff them to a radiator up alongside the altar, with enough food and water to survive. Aside from letting them free for bathroom breaks, he would only release them to preach on Sundays. At this point there was considerable laughter from the clergy. When the laughter stilled, Fr Capon concluded in a stark silence when he explained his reason for having them preach – I would rather hear the gospel from a convicted sinner, than by someone who still thinks they’re a good person.

Now, that thought really brings to light the Christian idea of the integrity of Christ. Integrity, for a Christian, is not some object lesson that we present to the world by standing up and vocally proclaiming that we’re not sinners and won’t do that. No, our integrity is firmly rooted in the deep conviction that we are sinners, and it is only by the grace of God that we are able to claim worthiness to stand as his people. Integrity, for a Christian, means not acting out of your assurance that you are good, but your certainty that you are not good but for He who redeemed you. And it is this anchor that keeps the Christian on that path of integrity – because we have this absolute frame of reference that stands external to us…every time we turn to look at the Word, the Word also turns to look back at us, and to cast into sharp relief who we are and to remind us why it is we need Christ so badly. As we hear in another old hymn, we have an anchor that keeps the soul, steadfast and sure while the billows roll – speaks not only to enduring times of trial, but also to remaining a man of integrity at all other times.

The ultimate image of Christian integrity from the New Testament comes to us in the person of Paul. Now, remember Paul’s job was the persecution of the Christians before his spectacular conversion. So feared was Paul that when he first came calling on the Christians, they refused to believe that he had converted. Paul’s words from his letter to the believers at Philippi, are a good point to conclude, because he wraps all this up – what it means to be a man of integrity in a hostile world.

If anyone else thinks he has reason for confidence in the flesh, I have more: 5 circumcised on the eighth day, of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; as to the law, a Pharisee; 6 as to zeal, a persecutor of the church; as to righteousness under the law, blameless. 7 But whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ. 8 Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ 9 and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith— 10 that I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, 11 that by any means possible I may attain the resurrection from the dead.  12 Not that I have already obtained this or am already perfect, but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own. 13 Brothers, I do not consider that I have made it my own. But one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, 14 I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus. 15 Let those of us who are mature think this way, and if in anything you think otherwise, God will reveal that also to you. 16 Only let us hold true to what we have attained.  17 Brothers, join in imitating me, and keep your eyes on those who walk according to the example you have in us. 18 For many, of whom I have often told you and now tell you even with tears, walk as enemies of the cross of Christ. 19 Their end is destruction, their god is their belly, and they glory in their shame, with minds set on earthly things. 20 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.

May we all follow Christ’s path to be men of integrity. Amen.

Written by sameo416

January 5, 2013 at 4:49 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

Died, after having been beaten before a dozen witnesses…

with one comment

I am presently struggling my way through a talk for Saturday night on the subject of integrity. For a person that has spent most of his adult life studying the question, I’m finding it surprisingly hard to put words to paper.

Three things caught my eye. The first, a blog post by a classmate of mine, concerning a gentleman who was pushed onto the subway tracks in NYC and killed by a train…his post begins discussing the freelance photographer who captured photos of the man just before he was killed, apparently while he was trying to use his flash to warn the driver. The second is the post by theologian John Stackhouse noted below, about our role in evil. The third was this story, very close to home, about a man beaten to death on an LRT train on last Friday afternoon. A beating that took place while about a dozen people looked on.

In the reporting from the school shooting in CT, we heard of the principal and one other school staffer who attempted to stop the gunman, and died in the process.  We also heard of some staff who hid under their desks.  In Edmonton we hear of witnesses who stood by and watched what sounds like a one-sided beating (the deceased was apparently saying, stop, stop).  At what point did our first world become a nation of watchers?

My classmate talks about the bystander syndrome.  Basically, your chance of getting help is inversely proportional to the number of people standing watching.  There was a famous test done of seminary students – they were set up to move between two buildings in a rush, to give a talk on the parable of the Good Samaritan.  En route, they come across a person in need (a bicycle accident in one test).  The question was, how many of them would stop, when it meant they would be late for an important engagement?  The answer – most of them bypassed the person in need…so they could be on time to talk about the importance of always giving aid.  Ironic, but so very human.

Like my classmate notes, I was always trained to act (even, I’ll note, as a slack and idle air force guy).  The thought of standing by while someone is in need literally makes me physically uncomfortable…the reason why I’m an emergency responder at my place of work, and carry a trauma kit in my trunk…and started safety and security training of my coworkers.  How then is it a train full of witnesses watched?

My dear wife and I have been reading through our family history, and on both sides (Metis and Mennonite) come up with the sorts of pioneer stories one expects.  I recall the father who would walk 45 miles in the winter into Winnipeg to buy a side of bacon to feed his family for the next 6 months.  Thomas Vincent, the subject of my great-grandfather’s article (below), hiked 800 kilometres solo, on snowshoes (in the winter) from northern Ontario down to the Red River settlement to be ordained.  My grandfather and my father-in-law, both gone to glory, were the type of men who would always do what was necessary – if they needed a part they couldn’t buy, they would manufacture something suitable.  At what point did that pioneering ethic become displaced with a belief that is closer to sheep than those who built our nation?

The words of the one witness on that train are a little telling:

Witness Scott McLeod says the train driver didn’t offer any explanation to passengers as to what was being done to stop the assault.

He says he hit the yellow emergency bar on the side of the train, and was asked what the emergency was. But he didn’t hear anything back after describing the attack.

“I didn’t hear any response. I was very scared.”

McLeod and the rest of the passengers in the car got off when the train stopped at Belvedere station, but says he was surprised when the train continued on to Clareview.

“I was kind of surprised that the train didn’t just stop at Belvedere. I was expecting some kind of voice to come over the system, to tell people not to get on the train.”

I am always cautious about second-guessing those who have been through a crisis, as it is easy to assess in hindsight.  What I hear in those responses is something that seems to be too common in first world culture – the expectation that once the authorities have been notified, all will be taken care of.  Why didn’t anyone tell me what to do?  (apart from the fact that the driver would have been speaking with LRT operations, who would have been speaking to the police, setting up the meeting place)  Why do you need to be told what to do?

To be certain, that attitude has been fostered by government and those in authority.  Don’t try to do the job of the professionals, you’ll only end up hurt or in trouble.  There were also a fair number of comments about the possibility of being placed in trouble with the law yourself, after using force to intervene.  I’m recalling the grocer in Toronto who was charged with something criminal after he finally detained a serial shoplifter (that story is absolutely crazy, and the feds are changing the law to permit more latitude in citizen arrest, but it is indicative of a police force and a crown prosecutor that has lost all touch with who they serve).

What is also true is that when you need the police (or firefighters, or paramedics) in seconds, they’re usually only minutes away.  Even at my place of work, mid-morning, three blocks from a fire station, we expect paramedic response time on the order of 10 minutes – proven during a recent medical emergency.  That’s also, BTW, the reason I’m nearly insane over the question of AEDs and why after 3 years of trying to justify them we still haven’t purchased a set for the office (I’m at the point of considering getting my own, and keeping it in my desk drawer).  Of course, the people making the purchasing decisions are not the ones who would have been doing CPR for 10+ minutes – it would have been me.  But I stray…

There has to be some personal willingness to act in the absence of the people that we pay to protect us – and that point is important.  We, as a society, set apart certain classes of people to protect us.  But that act of setting apart does not excuse us from our obligation to care for our fellow citizens when they are in need.  I would go so far as to state that this is a responsibility of citizenship.  With all the blessings of living in the first world, comes an equal obligation to care for each other, and even if that caring places us at some degree of personal risk.

With every safety lecture I give, I repeat the same message – your obligation begins with notifying emergency services, and it only ends when they arrive and assume control of the scene and excuse you.  In some cases, that may mean that the paramedics arrive and tell you to continue CPR or whatever it is you might doing while they go about their business.  That is the responsibility of every citizen, and the fact we have police and firefighters is only to supplement that obligation.

We saw this change in flight after 911 – before you were told to be passive, to let the ‘professionals’ handle the situation.  Now, if you’re a rowdy drunk on a flight, you can expect 5 or 9 beefy passengers tackling you and restraining you until the police meet the flight.  That’s the way it is supposed to be all the time, and everywhere.

Why didn’t the people on the train do something other than sounding the alarm?  That’s a question only they can answer.  I would hope that the rest of us are learning – if we want people to come to our aid (or our children’s aid) in our hour of need, we need to be prepared to do the same for them, however inconvienient it might be for us personally.

Written by sameo416

January 1, 2013 at 6:19 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

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