"As I mused, the fire burned"

Reflection on life as a person of faith.

Archive for October 2014

Universality of Service

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The principle known as universality of service states that every soldier, regardless of rank or trade, must be able to deploy to an austere location, with minimal medical support, and operate there for an extended period. This is the principle applied when soldiers are medically discharged as unfit for further military service.

The enforcement of this principle was something that Rick Hillier brought to new emphasis when he was Chief of the Defence Staff. He brought to that job an army officer’s perspective (Hillier was a tanker) – that a soldier’s primary reason for existance is to deploy and fight. I suspect that Hillier was reacting to both sustained combat operations, and the large number of military personnel, particularly in headquarters positions, that were on medically restricted duties and could not deploy. Those people were competing on an (almost) level playing field with those who were deploying operationally for things like promotions and postings. Hillier was reacting, at least partly, to the unfairness such a situation creates.

I’ve always been a bit ambivalent about that rule. On a tactical fighter squadron, I was very aware of how even one person being medically unfit could compromise my ability to deploy to fulfil our war-fighting obligations. This is something I struggled with daily, and we would almost always quickly post a soldier with permanent restrictions off to a base job that did not involve deployment. However, what always seemed to be missing was the balancing with the amount of investment and training that had been made into an individual – sometimes, highly trained people were being medically released, even while being able to fulfill almost all military obligations…except deploying to the middle of a desert in a tent for 6 months.

There’s now a court case started in Manitoba by a Master Corporal who was punted medically in 2009, asking that the universality of service concept be declared inconsistent with the Charter (that link will die in 30 days).  I’ll include a snip below:

A Winnipeg soldier turfed from the military because she is disabled is suing the Canadian government, alleging her ouster violated her charter rights.

The lawsuit, filed Friday, asks the court to strike down the “universality of service” rule that mandates all uniformed personnel must be ready for combat deployment at all times. The case could have broad repercussions for the hundreds of disabled soldiers, including those with mental illnesses such as post-traumatic stress disorder, mustered out of the Armed Forces every year against their wishes.

“It feels like you’ve been thrown out, almost punitive,” said Louise Groulx, a former master corporal at 17 Wing. “Those who make the rules have no idea the impact this has on a soldier’s soul or heart. We’re not disposable.”

My situation was similar to hers, in that I could perform most of my duties unrestricted.  The only thing I could not do was one element of the physical fitness test – bent knee situps.  I offered to do an alternative test to demonstrate core muscle strength, but there was no such option available.  I also had a small  risk of a medical crisis that required immediate surgical intervention.  On that basis, I failed the universality test, because I could not deploy to the desert and live in a tent for six months.

I understand the reasons behind that rule very well.  The three years I spent on a tactical fighter squadron I wrestled daily with the challenge of meeting our war-fighting commitments when I had people coming up as medically restricted.  Our usual practice was to post them into a base job that didn’t require deployment on short notice.  In fact, those years I was dealing with those issues I was injured myself and was still deployable (as my medical category had not yet been formalized).  So for three years I was fully deployable, and did deploy several times including right after 9/11.  Part of my reason for remaining deployable was a leadership issue – it is hard to tell people they must be ready to deploy, if you yourself are unable to meet that requirement.

After leaving the squadron, my medical category was formalized, and I was offered the three-year period to heal.  With that three-year period comes some restrictions: no promotions, no posting, no career courses.  I had just been offered a postion at staff college (kind of a military MBA), and was in a position on the merit list that I would have been promoted in about 6 months (and in fact people below me on the list were promoted that year).  Given the choice of sticking around for three years in a ‘what if’ situation, losing what I had sweated for five years to obtain, and then ending up released anyway…the choice was academic.  I refused the healing time, and expedited my release (which was a good call as the three years would not have made any difference medically).

Now, I understand why the military ordered me medically discharged.  I understand universality of service and the need for it very well.  I still balk at the waste and the arbitrariness of that approach.  For me, the military had invested much money in my training and experience: two university degrees, about 2 additional years of training, and I was one of the few (maybe the only) person in my occupation who had worked both in NATO and NORAD (when we re-started arctic deployments I was the only engineer on base who had deployed to Inuvik or Yellowknife before).  It seems somewhat capricious to lose all of that training and 20 years of experience.

It seems doubly wasteful when you consider that, as a senior officer, my days of deploying to a tent in the middle of the desert were over.  In the Air Force I would not, like an infantry battalion commander, be taking my troops into the field.  At most, I would deploy into a headquarters position on a central base (with a Tim Hortons next door).  That job I could do (and did do for several years after my injury).  I remember one of my co-workers at the time telling me that I would never be medically released because at my rank I would never have to deploy again, and his shock when my release was announced.  That sense of waste is held in tension with the idea that those who are fully deployable should not be compared directly with those who are not in a merit-based system (although having an operational deployment on your assessment always bumps you up in the rankings).

I’m not bitter about this path that I’ve followed, but I wonder when I see soldiers with PTSD and TBI from Afghanistan being medically released, when those conditions are treatable and the person could give years of service.  What about those with traumatic amputations who still want to serve?  Is there not some place that they could work within the existing structures?  In asking that question, I’m aware of the inspirational story of Master Chief PO Carl Brashear , who served as a US Navy diver even after having a leg amputated.

I will watch this case with interest, to see if the court determines that the military has been too black and white with the universality rule.





Written by sameo416

October 28, 2014 at 9:34 am

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A Soldier’s Mind

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The primary reason I’m so upset about this last week has far more to do with my own inability to do something to forward the mission (force protection of the CF). So I pray, but I’m dreaming of getting into some intelligence analysis so I could put some of those God-given gifts to work.  If I’ve come across as offensive, forgive me, as I’m really conducting this as a public but personal argument about what is taking place internally.

I’m also acutely aware that my words in the last two posts probably won’t be received well by anyone who has not been a soldier. As much as I’ve tried (for the last eight remembrance services, and a score of talks to community groups in the past ten years) there is still a wide gap between us in terms of understanding what things we take for granted. We speak almost entirely different languages. My dear wife understands, but that’s because she’s been through much of that with me.

It is hard to describe the change that comes over you when you realize you have already pulled the trigger on one life, or in some cases 470 lives. That’s why Christ gives us such strong teaching about the avoidance of violence, because it is always a burden on the soul (even when you know the action was righteous).

Here’s a thought experiment as an aside: you’re a fighter pilot flying a training CAP on Sept 11.  You’re a 2-ship both with hot gun and 2×4 loaded because you’re the duty alert aircraft.  You get a call from NORAD to tell you there are two passenger jets inbound on the World Trade Centre, and they have been detected well outside the city limits.  You are in a position where you can down both aircraft over farmland.  Your choice (along with your wingman): trade two wide-body jets, say 400 souls under terrorist control, for two buildings plus 3,000 souls.  You have a good radar lock, all the numbers look good.  Do you take trigger?  If you don’t the human cost is 3,400 + 2 buildings.  If you do, 400 die.  Wow.  Whatever you may think about soldiers, those are the types of actions that the nation asks us to take on behalf of the country.  (oh, and refusing to shoot will land you in prison for failure to follow a lawful order)

I didn’t realize this great gap until I had a new co-worker join my day job who had been through much the same path that I had. He started mentioning things in passing, things that only he and I understood…and when we understood them it was perfect comprehension.

This all to say that maybe the only place I would feel settled is back in that environment, surrounded by the people that speak that language, and carry the same weight on their souls. Another friend, who just retired after a long and lettered career, has moved into a radically different business – finance. He tells me all the executives in the company are retired military, and it’s like he never left his day job.  Then again, maybe I’m supposed to be out of my element.

So, my outrage is probably only comprehensible to someone who has hoisted pack and rifle. I have found some comfort in Dietrich Bonhoeffer, in Ethics. He suggests that the important thing for the Christian in ambiguous situation is action, rather than deciding to do nothing (or little) in the hopes of staying holy. It is in action that the Christian lives out their ministry, and in God’s grace they receive forgiveness when they err in that ministry.

I think Bonhoeffer would have understood my outrage perfectly.

Written by sameo416

October 25, 2014 at 9:31 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

Running Away…

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One of the themes I’ve seen and heard clearly in the past week is that of what people do when faced with violence. This relates closely to my last ramblings about the willingness to sacrifice – and how tired I am of the endless hypocrisy about alternative approaches to deal with those who would have you dead.

The reality of our world is there is a minority, a small minority of fundamentalist adherents to a religious system of belief that have corrupted those teachings to the point that they celebrate and seek the deaths of the unbelievers. This was the same thinking that brought us 9/11, and has brought us a number of public beheadings of western reporters.

I’m not going to fall into western-centric thought here. I heard recently that the Kingdom of Saud regularly beheads as a part of its justice process (not fact-checked). The reality of life for most people on our planet is far less cozy that what we enjoy in the Western world. Short life spans, high infant mortality, little or no health care…the list goes on. We have it pretty good here in the first world.

So those western reporter’s deaths are only the ones that we sit up and take notice of, because these are people just like us. As was said about Rwanda by an un-named US intelligence officer…genocide is like a cheese sandwich, and who cares about a 3-day old cheese sandwich? The reality is that most of the first world doesn’t care about what takes place in the majority of the remainder of this planet. (from a book by Philip Gourevitch)

George Orwell captured this beautifully in a 1946 essay on Kipling’s poetry, saying that Kipling had one thing that “enlightened” people rarely possess, and that was a sense of responsibility.

All left-wing parties in the highly industrialized counties are at bottom a sham, because they make it their business to fight against something which they do not really wish to destroy…A humanitarian is always a hypocrite…[Kipling] sees clearly that men can only be highly civilized while other men, inevitably less civilized, are there to guard and feed them.

The reality for at least a part of our global concern is that we protest things primarily to bring ourselves relief from a sense of guilt. We rely on cheap labour in far-away places to bring us cheap electronics and clothes, complain when those things are not available, and favour discount stores over local family-run places. Orwell, while being very darkly pessimistic, is talking about just that contradictory philosophy. We don’t really want world change of any substantive sort, if it means we won’t be able to find cheap shirts from Bangladesh any more.  This ignores the other reality of our world, which is you need wealth to make other choices – for some, Walmart is not discretionary.

At its root, this thought process has a fundamental disconnection with reality. It’s internally contradictory, but the adherents feel righteous through their protests and stand on the moral high ground.  I try not to have such presumption, as I’m reminded daily that I am dust and ashes (a sing I’m just as deceived I expect).

There are many similar unjust patterns in our first world, without getting off topic: organic food that you can only buy if you’re wealthy, northern communities where the least expensive foods are the most highly processed (leading to an epidemic of diabetes). This was brought home for me at a church governance meeting a few years back, when someone put one of those feel-good motions on the floor to ban disposable plastic water bottles. One of the delegates from the Arctic pointed out that all of their drinking water came into their community that way, because they had no safe drinking water. If we were to ban those bottles, what would they have to drink?

We paper ourselves with feel-good motions to keep our deep sense of guilt at bay. Genocide (or safe water in the north, or no health care in Africa, Aboriginal land rights, or short life expectancies in the Middle East) is a cheese sandwich. As long as it’s not our cheese sandwich, it really doesn’t matter.

Now, back to the death issue. 9/11 happened because a group of religiously-motivated extremists managed to pull together a pretty amazing operation. It hasn’t happened again because much of the ability of terrorist groups to project power beyond the local area has been degraded (to use a not-so-lovely military word). That has happened through the (sometimes lawful, sometimes unlawful) application of violence. That the west is safer today than it was 10 years ago is still a point of debate, but we’ll likely never know for certain. What is certain is there has been no other attack (or attempt) of similar magnitude since 9/11.

Those who suggest alternative approaches to violence seem to miss one particular detail – the sort of people who were mounting and are attempting to mount these attacks are not interested in a rational dialogue, or even anything as basic as an end to the violence for clean water and hospitals. If that’s not self-apparent, I’m probably wasting electrons. The impact on Christians in the areas taken by ISIS has been horrific. If dialogue is the path of choice, I’m wondering why those proposing it are not stepping onto airlines to Syria to meet with the ISIS leadership to open those paths of dialogue?

The answer, I expect, is that talk is cheap. It is easier to brand the government as war mongers and to complain about what they’re not doing than to actually take some personal risk to effect a real change in the present state of affairs.

That there is evil in the world (a term I use deliberately) that seeks to destroy us for no reason than who we are, seems clear.  These extracts from jihadist instruction are pretty blunt (from a StratFor briefing note):

The Islamic State initially focused its propaganda efforts on calling jihadists living in the West to travel to Iraq and Syria, and thousands have responded to that call. However, that message changed Sept. 21 when Islamic State spokesman Abu Muhammed al-Adnani published a message titled “Indeed Your Lord is Ever Watchful” in which he encouraged jihadists living in the West to conduct simple attacks. An excerpt reads:

“If you are not able to find an IED or a bullet, then single out the disbelieving American, Frenchman, or any of their allies. Smash his head with a rock, or slaughter him with a knife, or run him over with your car, or throw him down from a high place, or choke him, or poison him.”

In addition, the fourth edition of the Islamic State’s Dabiq Magazine (also published in late September) contained an article entitled “Reflections on the Final Crusade” in which the author writes:

“At this point of the crusade against the Islamic State, it is very important that attacks take place in every country that has entered into the alliance against the Islamic State, especially the U.S., U.K., France, Australia and Germany. Rather, the citizens of crusader nations should be targeted wherever they can be found. Let the mujahid not be affected by “analysis paralysis” and thus abandon every operation only because his “perfectionism” pushes him towards an operation that supposedly can never fail — one that only exists theoretically on paper. He should be pleased to meet his Lord even if with just one dead kafir’s name written in his scroll of deeds… Every Muslim should get out of his house, find a crusader, and kill him. It is important that the killing becomes attributed to patrons of the Islamic State who have obeyed its leadership. This can easily be done with anonymity. Otherwise, crusader media makes such attacks appear to be random killings.”

The article explicitly called for leaderless resistance when it stated:

“Secrecy should be followed when planning and executing any attack. The smaller the numbers of those involved and the less the discussion beforehand, the more likely it will be carried out without problems. One should not complicate the attacks by involving other parties, purchasing complex materials or communicating with weak-hearted individuals. ‘Rely upon Allah and stab the crusader’ should be the battle cry for all Islamic State patrons.”

I saw recently the report of a young Christian man from the US who had died fighting against ISIS. He had apparently felt compelled, as a Christian, to participate personally in combating ISIS. This is not a positive example to offer for how to participate, but you have to admire his commitment to his beliefs.

Last night I listened to an interview with a nurse who was one of those giving aid to Cpl Cirillo at the war memorial. She related how astounded she was at the two types of people around her that day. There were those like Barbara Winters, on her knees performing CPR…and, she said, there were those standing around taking pictures or video taping the man dying (a far larger group). She couldn’t understand how people could do that when someone was in need. A woman who would understand what I’m (quite poorly) trying to say.

Watching the RCMP presentation of the video surveillance footage of the Ottawa gunman’s progress, one of the things that amazed me was the number of people running away from him. As he passed through the front gates on the hill, there were five or six people milling around who all scattered. After getting out of the car he stole from a driver for a cabinet minister (who also ran away) at Centre Block, there was another group who ran away, as the RCMP rushed to catch up.

The RCMP have some hard questions to answer about how the shooter got that close…and if he had been able to turn into one of the caucus rooms along that hallway, there might have been a number more dead including either the Prime Minister or Thomas Mulcair depending on if he had picked the right door or the left.  But that’s not the point.

The point is, he could have been stopped long before reaching Centre Block. If the soldiers at the war memorial had loaded rifles…if the 5 or 6 standing on the street banded together to take him down (or if even one of them did so)…if the driver of the car he stole tried to stop him…and so on. This, I’m realizing, is the reason I’ve completely had it with the hypocrisy of talk.

That hypocrisy is reflected in our willingness to stand back and to let people in uniform do our dirty work for us. When an enraged man beats another man to death on an LRT train, we stand and watch and complain that the emergency responders didn’t arrive quickly enough. When a gunman (for whatever reason) kills a soldier at the tomb of the unknown soldier, we either stand and take video, or run in the opposite direction.

When I was on post-grad studies (at a military university in a country far, far away), the departmental secretary complained to me one day that the Airborne Regiment were insensitive. This was before Somalia and the Regiment’s disbanding, and a video had come out that showed a group of Airborne soldiers being red-necked and racist. It was completely unacceptable, and her suggest was that they all be required to take sensitivity training. I asked her, if she was being held hostage in an embassy somewhere by rough men who had killed and would kill, who she wanted coming through the door to her rescue – a group of sensitivity-trained people, or a bunch of rough soldiers who were there to save lives, by taking lives. She looked at me in disgust and left the room. I had obviously failed to understand her moral outrage.

Thing is, I understood it perfectly. I didn’t like the Airborne video either, but I also understood who they are as a fighting unit. Without great explanation – they’re supposed to be rough around the edges. It goes with dropping behind enemy lines with scant supplies, little support and the requirement to “hold until relieved”. Perhaps stated a bit more bluntly – when you want to remove one dead tree from a forest, a chain saw is a good tool. When you need to remove all vegetation and trees over a 6 foot width for an oil allowance of 15 kilometres, you need something a little larger. The Airborne are a particular type of tool, for a particular type of job (and that job was not, as we found out quite horribly, peacekeeping).

Our reality is, that there is a small minority of radical fundamentalists who want us dead. They hate us, not because of what we’ve done, but just because of who we are. They will not stop until we are dead. How do you address that problem?

My answer is, I don’t know…this is a horrible decision to have to make. We could do nothing, and let them continue to conquer and kill, up until the point where they build enough organization to begin to launch attacks on Europe or the west directly. The decision to employ force is a horrible one that will have long-reaching consequences, and will leave more than a few souls stained in the process. In a broken world, sometimes the best choice available to you is to select the lessor of two evils, but then we shouldn’t be surprised. That’s what Christ told us the final days would be like:

4 And Jesus answered and said to them, “See to it that no one misleads you. 5 For many will come in My name, saying, ‘I am the [c]Christ,’ and will mislead many. 6 You will be hearing of wars and rumors of wars. See that you are not frightened, for those things must take place, but that is not yet the end. 7 For nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom, and in various places there will be famines and earthquakes. 8 But all these things are merely the beginning of birth pangs.

9 “Then they will deliver you to tribulation, and will kill you, and you will be hated by all nations because of My name. 10 At that time many will [d]fall away and will [e]betray one another and hate one another. 11 Many false prophets will arise and will mislead many. 12 Because lawlessness is increased, [f]most people’s love will grow cold. 13 But the one who endures to the end, he will be saved. 14 This gospel of the kingdom shall be preached in the whole [g]world as a testimony to all the nations, and then the end will come. (Matthew 24)

If we think we can create something different here, through the sweat of our brows, I would like to hear the proposal.  We’ve been told quite clearly that the world is a messed up place, and will be a messed up place until the end arrives.  That end will not be because we’ve finally gotten it right through proper legislation, but because Christ has returned. We have a bad track record of making heaven here on earth…and we will never achieve that because of the fundamental failings present in each of us (ignoring what an idolatry it is to even consider we can do such a thing).

So, people will complain, people will run away from danger and then complain the police weren’t ready, and at 0332 in the morning when a drug gang conducts a home invasion in the wrong house – your house – we’ll phone in a panic for those people in uniform to come and save us (and then complain about how long it took them to arrive).  Perhaps our neighbours will document the whole thing with their iPhones while they’re standing by, watching.

While my infinite hope rests in Christ, my hope among my fellow humans here on earth will rest with people like Barbara Winters – a civilian who chose to run back toward the gunfire because she thought someone might have been in need of her help. Note that her response to horror and danger didn’t involve and talking or dialogue.  People like that are the ones who make a real difference – the ones who are willing to endure immense personal risk for the sake of bringing help to someone in need. When given a choice between complaint without action, or frail human intervention doing the best we can to make things better, I’ll always opt for action, even while knowing I’ll often be wrong.

For the whole law is fulfilled in one word: “You shall love your neighbour as yourself.” (Gal 5:14)

Written by sameo416

October 24, 2014 at 9:05 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

The Cowardice of (safe) Belief

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I’m angry, and frustrated and as a result, my thoughts are a bit scattered.

What angers me most of all is the demonstrated lack of commitment to sacrifice on an individual level I’ve experienced in the past couple of weeks.  You can critique the government’s decision to extend foreign policy by force, but there needs to be some honesty in that as well – honesty that recognizes that others risk their lives regularly to protect the rest of us.  I speak here of all those in the helping professions, police, military, fire, paramedics, hospital staff (RNs in particular) who regularly place their self-interest aside to provide assistance to others.  Today, however, I’m speaking primarily about our police and our soldiers.

In one week we have the murders of two Canadian Forces members, one with a vehicle, and one with a shotgun. The first act was carried out by apparent “home grown” radicals in lone wolf style attack.  The second by an obviously disturbed man, whose personal history is still being uncovered. [Late edit: The RCMP, based on a review of the video he left, are now calling the motivation for the second attack primarily ideological.  StratFor, an intelligence analysis service, calls all three ‘grassroots jihadists in North America’.  The third was a hatchet attach in New York on Oct 23.  These things travel in threes.]   That he targeted soldiers and government is without dispute.  We’ve been comfortable in the peaceable kingdom longer than anyone else in the first world, and now we have our own local terrorists.

When I recently made a comment about the violence present in elements of Islam, someone commented that Christianity had been quite violent in its past. I’m tired of this come back – it’s a banal platitude that seeks to sound even, fair and accepting, but it’s just a cop-out.  It’s a statement that frees you from any need to act or to decide.  It’s so Canadian.

Christianity has lots of blood on it’s hands is usually the second reply…but the last time I checked the Christian church hasn’t led a holy war in a number of centuries.  By contrast, we have these new words added to our daily talk: Jihad, Sharia, Quran…and have heard them again and again for the past decade. Blaming a lack of action on Christianity’s questionable past is an excuse designed to free you from the responsibility to take some form of a moral stand.

Some elements of our media are already downplaying the linkage with radicalization, asserting there were “other” reasons that contributed to these individuals taking such action.  I’m not sure why our desire to avoid offence to every possible person results in us wilfully ignoring the facts.  The attacks we’ve seen around the world, and the rise of ‘jihad tourism’, have not been attempted by seemingly random individuals, but consistently by those who have been exposed, and coverted, into a radical form of Islam.  Our call as truth-tellers needs to make this plain.  To not do so, is to promote a lie, and ignoring this reality will not bring us peace.

Yes (in answer the the third standard objection) there are lots of moderate practitioners of Islam, which means nothing more than there are lots of moderate practitioners of Islam. This is another empty reply, which leaves me perplexed every time I hear it as a response. When a “Christian” shoots an abortion clinic physician, you don’t hear the moderate Christians say – hey, there are a lot of moderate Christians. What you hear is an outright condemnation of someone who has corrupted a peace-centred teaching into something unrecognisable and evil.

Moderates have never made any difference in the face of any great evil that has ever existed in the world.

Moderates bring the Neville Chamberlain theory of dealing with evil into reality.  If we appease them enough, maybe they’ll go away.

I’m not sure what else you can call such attacks except cowardly. There is a code of honour between warriors, that involves a mutual understanding of conduct on the field of combat. Shooting an unarmed person, or running someone down with a car…is the act of desperation that arises out of cowardice. The high ideals contained in the concept of Jihad, end up with sorry, lone wolf losers, trying to achieve some measure of glory by bringing pain and chaos into other’s lives. An honourable struggle? Not a chance. [unarmed because, as most don’t realize, the military doesn’t permit soldiers in ceremonial posts to use loaded rifles…so those weapons they were carrying at the war memorial were no better than clubs]

A soldier who has lived will tell you that violence is always the final option to be avoided at all costs – when someone has seen their friends killed right next to them, or made the decision to take another person’s life, it has a way of bringing the theories and careful academic discussions crashing down.  When that violence is facing you, like today, the real question is what are you prepared to do about it?

I’m beginning to understand that there are many willing to talk around the concept of sacrifice, and particularly the sacrifice of self for something you believe in.  There are much, much fewer who are actually willing to step forward and put themselves on the line to stand between those being threatened and those who bring the threat.  Ron Sider talked about this when he challenged a church group to send their sons and daughters over as an unarmed peace-keeping group to stand between the warring parties – and to die by the thousands:

But to do that, we must not only abandon mistaken ideas and embrace the full biblical conception of shalom. One more thing is needed. We must take up our cross and follow Jesus to Golgotha. We must be prepared to die by the thousands.

Those who have believed in peace through the sword have not hesitated to die. Proudly, courageously, they gave their lives. Again and again, they sacrificed bright futures to the tragic illusion that one more righteous crusade would bring peace in their time. For their loved ones, for justice, and for peace, they have laid down their lives by the millions.

I’m not engaging in a dialogue about the way of peace versus the way of war – it’s about something more fundamental.  It’s not a call to take up arms (unless God is calling you into that profession), but a call to ask what you’re willing to sacrifice to bring about the high ideals you promote?

What is it that you’re so convicted by that you would be prepared to sacrifice your life for that idea?  Ron Sider suggests that the biblical concept of shalom requires a willingness to die in large numbers, and I find I’m really tired of talking to anyone about issues like this unless I see a similar commitment in their eyes.  Sider clearly gets this – you need moral credibility to be able to stand on this hill.

I say this quite boldly as someone who stood on guard for thee for most of my adult life. I think this leaves me far more latitude to be angry than most Canadians – I signed that blank cheque at one point that promised my life in support of my nation. I ended up giving my health to that cause, and had to leave that profession prematurely as a result. I’m not bitter about this…that was what I signed on for.

This is perhaps our great loss as people of belief in the modern age, that we’ve reduced a radical way of life (Christianity) to a safe system of belief.  Oh, we can get worked up about it over craft beer with fellow travellers in a warm neighbourhood pub, and head home afterwards to our safe homes and lives…while others stand ready to sacrifice themselves for the safety of others.  Whether we want that protection or not, it is there, and provides us with a comfortable way of life – so you can’t absolve yourself of the system by saying, ‘I never asked anyone to risk their lives for me.’

The few who actually answer Sider’s call to form those unarmed Christian Peacekeeper Teams, who go into threatening parts of the world with only the Word of God as their sure defence, have my respect.  They’ve answered the call, are prepared to, and have given their lives in support of that radical way of life.  I think we would understand each other perfectly, even while we disagreed around the form of that selfless service.

What I am is tired of hearing the same sorts of rationalizations and catch phrases that are always offered in such times…with almost no willingness to do anything other than complain about how there is a holier way of life that sets adherents apart from the rest of us…and particularly apart from those who have thrown their lot in with those in uniform.

If you haven’t watched the Globe & Mail reporter’s video from the hall of honour in Parliament today, I think you should.  It’s terrifying.  Watch carefully what every person in the video is doing, all police and security personnel…all uniformly moving toward the sound of the gunfire.  When the shotgun fires all you see is floor, because the reporter has ducked and taken cover behind a pillar. When the camera comes back up, look carefully at what is happening now.  None of those people dropped to the ground, and in fact they start to run towards the sound of the gunfire.

Now that is commitment to a way of life.


As a follow-on comment, I see a report that one of the first-aiders at the memorial was lawyer Barbara Winters, who had served in the Naval Reserve.  When she heard the sound of gunfire after walking past the memorial, she knew it was an attack, and turned and ran back to give aid.  Ran back, toward the sound of the gunfire (still serving, even though retired).

Second report that caught my eye, are a couple of retired military who are now standing guard at the memorial on their own initiative.

In my old home town, Cold Lake, a story that the local mosque had been vandalized.  I worked with several people who worshipped in that community, in the days when they met in each other’s homes.  That sort of thing is simply unacceptable in Canada, and in fact is one of the rights that I signed on to that unlimited liability to defend.  The error that many make is presuming that to identify radical Islam as the source of a threat somehow condemns all other Muslims, like my former co-workers in Cold Lake.  That’s just incorrect thinking.

Written by sameo416

October 22, 2014 at 10:47 pm

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Ancient Teachings Made New

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I’ve just finished a fascinating book, Returning to the Teachings: Exploring Aboriginal Justice. The author spent several years exploring Aboriginal “justice” systems, and ended up with his worldview being completely re-worked.

The fundamental shift in cosmology he identifies is based on the principle assumptions made about the nature of reality. For an Aboriginal, the worldview is informed first by the network of relationships between the community and the creation – in fact to state it that way is to already lapse into a Western perspective, because there is no distinction between the people and the creation – these are all parts of the same inter-related reality.

By contrast, the Western view begins with the individual, and extends outward from there. So justice is implemented, in a Western context, with the individual offender. In a First Nations context, “justice” starts with the damage to right relationship, and a plan to restore that relationship to a right footing.

He summarizes the differences between the two systems on pages 284-286 (Penguin edition):

First, according to Western law, offenders can be effectively dealt with on their own, whether within deterrent or rehabilitative contexts. Traditional wisdom suggests that we are all substantially the products of our relationships. Traditional law thus commands that justice processes involve all people within the webs of relation¬ships that surround every offender and every victim.

Second, Western law seems to assume we are captains of our own ships and that each of us is equally capable of moving out of antiso¬cial behaviour on our own, just by deciding to do so. Traditional wisdom suggests that each of us rides a multitude of waves, some stretching back centuries, which we cannot fundamentally change and which will still confront us tomorrow. Further, it suggests that each of us is confronted by very different wave combinations, some much more powerful and destructive than others. Traditional law thus commands that a justice system focus on healing and teaching offenders so that they become more, not less, capable of dealing with their unique and continuing realities.

Third, Western law focuses very narrowly on particular acts, for it is acts that are alleged, subject to proof and, if proven, substantially controlling of the court’s disposition. Traditional understandings suggest that such acts are no more than clues signaling relational disharmonies between individuals, between individuals and other aspects of Creation, and between the physical, mental, emotional and spiritual dimensions of each individual. Traditional law thus commands that these be the areas of investigation and intervention, and that acts no longer occupy centre stage.

Fourth, Western law puts the parties through adversarial processes that inevitably add to the level of antagonism between them. Traditional wisdom suggests that antagonism within relation¬ships is in fact the cause of those adversarial acts, and traditional law thus commands that justice processes be structured in ways to reduce that antagonism and bring health and understanding back to those relationships.

Fifth, while Western law labels and stigmatizes offenders, to others and to themselves, traditional wisdom suggests that we are all in constant processes of reformation within ever-changing relationships. Traditional law thus commands that justice processes be structured to help people begin to believe they are more than their anti-social acts, that they too have worth and dignity; and that they too are capable of learning how to cope with the forces that surround them. In short, while our punitive law treats offenders as enemies of the community, traditional wisdom suggests that such alienation is part of the problem, and traditional law commands that every effort be made to overcome that conviction, not add to it.

Sixth, according to Western law, “taking responsibility for your act” means little more than acknowledging the particulars of the illegal act, then paying a proportionate price in punishment. Traditional wisdom suggests that acts are important only for their consequences on the mental, emotional, spiritual and physical health of all those affected, including all those within the offender’s relationships. Traditional law thus commands that justice processes be structured so as to incorporate the “felt” responses of all those people in respectful, dignified and “non-blaming” ways and to help the offender truly “take responsibility” for his act by coming to feel some portion of the pain he has caused all those other people.

Seventh, according to Western law, “solutions” are best provided through reliance on professional, third-patty strangers like judges, psychiatrists, probation officers and the like. Traditional wisdom suggests that the only people who understand the complexities of their relationships thoroughly enough are the people actually involved. The proper role for third-party professionals is to act as regulators of respectful processes, teachers of values upon which respectful relationships can be developed, and real-life demonstra¬tions of what those relationships look like in action. Traditional law thus commands that the responsibility for problem solving be restored to the parties and that the experts step down from their thrones.

And, as I hope to have shown, all such laws can indeed be found “hidden in every leaf and rock,” where every relationship speaks of interdependence, of intersustenance, of symbiosis. In the face of such laws, it only seems appropriate to contemplate a human duty to strive constantly to attain a state of mind—a spirit—that both acknowledges and manifests such understandings at every instant, and in every act.

He tells a short story about a friend’s comments on trapping to a provincial government agency that had asked for input on trapping quotas.  The perspective shift is interesting, and I’m certain the ministry staff had not included the spiritual perspective in its analysis.  It seems like a strange idea – that there is a spiritual element to taking animals from the environment to sustain yourself and your family…and yet it makes so much sense.  Part of our disconnection from the food supply is our lack of understanding of how other parts of the creation are sacrificed to permit us to live, which has a deeply spiritual aspect.

There is some danger here for the Christian.  It’s a short step from St Francis’ address to the wolf as “Brother Wolf”, I think reflecting that inter-relatedness of all creation, to calling that wolf a ‘spirit guide’ or a literal family relation.  We’re told that a day will come when the creation will be at peace with itself, lions and lambs, etc.  Yet, I’ve got no problem with thinking that God might send an animal to teach an important lesson – I’ve had an interesting relationship between prayer and jack rabbits that I’ve never understood.  Sometimes when I ask something in petition, sometimes the answer comes in animal form.  I’m still working this through, as I know there is a genuine Christian faith available within the traditional teachings as I’ve seen it, and met those who are living it.

The story:

[this is an intro snip about an attempt to make subject lists for a traditional school program] As that Cree educator phrased it, he felt that his people had to take “two giant steps backwards” to precolonial understandings, to learn from the elders about what the traditional values and laws were, and how they were incorporated into daily life. Then, he said, it would be possible to “get our feet on solid ground again.” And only then, as he put it, could his people take “even the first small steps forward” in creating the kind of education system that the communities require today. In my experience, that appears to be the strategy emerging across the country, whether the context is justice, health, family law, education, child rearing or any other aspect of life. The belief seems to be that, whatever processes are created or restored to deal with today’s issues, they must be firmly grounded in the values—in the laws—of traditional times.

As much as it might surprise non-Aboriginal readers (and many Aboriginal ones too, I suspect), this approach is being taken even where the activity seems much more straightforward than law or education. Charlie Fisher, my friend and teacher from the Treaty Number 3 area of northwestern Ontario, prepared a paper on trapping to help discussions with the Ministry of Natural Resources (MNR) in May 1995. A couple of excerpts show how much traditional understandings are seen as the most important aspect of trapping:

“For Anishinabe people, trapping is not simply a satisfying way of livelihood. Trapping in the Anishinabe way is first and foremost a spiritual activity. At its most basic level, it means:

  • Giving respect for the land and animals in the Anishinabe way so that life on the land will be renewed; and
  • giving respect for those people who have the sacred knowledge of how to trap in a sustainable way based on Anishinabe teachings and knowledge.

When we talk about respecting the land and animals, we do not mean them in any way like the whiteman does….Our knowledge of trapping is a unique knowledge…. I believe that it is vitally important because it expresses our sense and experience of the lands. Our knowledge of trapping has its spiritual and sacred aspects…. Our knowledge has a spiritual and cultural form….

In terms of Anishinabe people, these animals are better understood as our relatives. Many of them are clan dodaems of our people. We have our own ways of speaking about them and relating to them…. Our knowledge of our animals is often expressed in the language of our ceremonies. But it reflects a great complexity and sophistication which the MNR bureaucrats and scientists do not know about. Our knowledge has arisen out of relationships to our lands and animals.”

All of the white man’s “science” used to make management decisions for quotas was based on their relationships to the land. It was against our relationships to our land and each other, as Anishinabe people, on our lands. It still is. This science is not objective. It is a tool of the whiteman that reflects his understanding of the land. It reflects his social relation­ships to the land.

Ross ends the book with a listing of the twelve teachings that come from the medicine wheel:

The Twelve Teachings of the Sacred Tree

Wholeness. All things are interrelated. Everything in the universe is part of a single whole. Everything is connected in some way to everything else. It is therefore possible to under¬stand something only if we can understand how it is connected to everything else.

Change. All of creation is in a state of constant change. Nothing stays the same except the presence of cycle upon cycle of change. One season falls upon the other. Human beings are born, live their lives, die and enter the spirit world. All things change. There are two kinds of change: the coming together of things (development) and the coming apart of things (disintegration). Both of these kinds of change are necessary and are always connected to each other.

Change occurs in cycles or patterns. They are not random or accidental. Sometimes it is difficult to see how a particular change is connected to everything else. This usually means that our standpoint (the situation from which we are viewing the change) is limiting our ability to see clearly.

The seen and the unseen. The physical world is real. The spiritual world is real. These two are aspects of one reality. Yet, there are separate laws which govern each of them. Violation of spiritual laws can affect the spiritual world. A balanced life is one that honours the laws of both of these dimensions of reality.

Human beings are spiritual as well as physical

Human beings can always acquire new gifts, but they must struggle to do so. The timid may become courageous, the weak may become bold and strong, the insensitive may learn to care for the feelings of others and the materialistic person can acquire the capacity to look within and to listen to her inner voice. The process human beings use to develop new qualities may be called “true learning.”

There are four dimensions of “true learning.” These four aspects of every person’s nature are reflected in the four cardinal points of the medicine wheel. These four aspects of our being are developed through the use of our volition. It cannot be said that a person has totally learned in a whole and balanced manner unless all four dimensions of her being have been involved in the process.

The spiritual dimension of human development may be understood in terms of four related capacities.
First, the capacity to have and to respond to realities that exist in a non-material way such as dreams, visions, ideals, spiritual teachings, goals and theories.

Second, the capacity to accept those realities as a reflection (in the form of symbolic representation) of unknown or unrealized potential to do or be something more or different than we are now.

Third, the capacity to express these non-material realities using symbols such as speech, art or mathematics.

Fourth, the capacity to use this symbolic expression to guide future action—action directed towards making what was only seen as a possibility into a living reality.

Human beings must be active participants in the unfolding of their own potentialities.

The doorway through which all must pass if they wish to become more or different than they are now is the doorway of the will (volition). A person must decide to take the journey. The path has infinite patience. It will always be there for those who decide to travel it.

Anyone who sets out (i.e., makes a commitment and then acts on that commitment) on a journey of self-development will be aided. There will be guides and teachers who will appear, and spiritual protectors to watch over the traveller. No test will be given that the traveller does not already have the strength to meet.

The only source of failure on a journey will be the traveller’s own failure to follow the teachings of The Sacred Tree.

Reprinted, with emphases added, from The Sacred Tree (1984), Four Worlds Development Press, Four Worlds Development Project, University of Lethbridge, 4401 University Drive, Lethbridge, Alberta, Canada T1K 3M4.

Written by sameo416

October 21, 2014 at 11:05 am

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WMD Were a Lie?

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It’s been a popular refrain of those who brand George W and Tony Blair war criminals (as I heard journalist, Robert Fisk of The Independent say in a public address a few years back). At least part of the reason for that claim is based in the claim that there were no chemical weapons found in Iraq.

This story from The New York Times, documents a number of finds of chemical agents, including nerve agents.

The Secret Casualties of Iraq’s Abandoned Chemical Weapons, By C. J. CHIVERS

The soldiers at the blast crater sensed something was wrong.

From 2004 to 2011, American and Iraqi troops repeatedly encountered, and at times were wounded by, chemical weapons that were hidden or abandoned years earlier.

It was August 2008 near Taji, Iraq. They had just exploded a stack of old Iraqi artillery shells buried beside a murky lake. The blast, part of an effort to destroy munitions that could be used in makeshift bombs, uncovered more shells.

Two technicians assigned to dispose of munitions stepped into the hole. Lake water seeped in. One of them, Specialist Andrew T. Goldman, noticed a pungent odor, something, he said, he had never smelled before.

He lifted a shell. Oily paste oozed from a crack. “That doesn’t look like pond water,” said his team leader, Staff Sgt. Eric J. Duling.

The specialist swabbed the shell with chemical detection paper. It turned red — indicating sulfur mustard, the chemical warfare agent designed to burn a victim’s airway, skin and eyes.

All three men recall an awkward pause. Then Sergeant Duling gave an order: “Get the hell out.”

It gets better, that it appears that US soldiers injured by exposure to chemical agents are having difficulty obtaining proper treatment – after all, everyone knows that the WMD were a lie.

In late 2005 and early 2006, soldiers collected more than 440 Borak 122-millimeter chemical rockets near Amara, in southeastern Iraq. And in the first nine months of 2006, the American military recovered roughly 700 chemical warheads and shells, according to data obtained under the Freedom of Information Act.

British forces also destroyed 21 Borak rockets in early 2006, including some that contained nerve agent, according to a public statement to the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons in 2010.

The Pentagon did not provide this information to the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence as it worked in the summer of 2006 examining intelligence claims about Iraq’s weapons programs.

Even as the Senate committee worked, the American Army made its largest chemical weapons find of the war: more than 2,400 Borak rockets.

The rockets were discovered at Camp Taji, a former Republican Guard compound, when Americans “running a refueling point for helicopters saw some shady activity on the other side of a fence,” said Mr. Lampier, who lived at the camp at the time.

An Iraqi digging with a front-end loader ran away when an American patrol approached, leaving behind partly unearthed rockets.

Mr. Lampier, then a captain commanding the 756th Explosive Ordnance Disposal Company, was with the first to arrive. “At first we saw three,” he said. “Then it wasn’t three. It was 30. Then it wasn’t 30. It was 300. It went up from there.”

The American military had found more than 3,000 chemical munitions and knew that many were still dangerous. The Pentagon did not tell the Senate.

The rockets appeared to have been buried before American airstrikes in 1991, he said. Many were empty. Others still contained sarin. “Full-up sloshers,” he said.

It appears the real issue behind this was the lack of a current WMD program, which it turns out, was a lie. What remained on the ground were 1,000s of chemical agent projectiles from the pre-1991 era (back when the US was helping Iraq design and build chemical weapons). Because the reality narrative did not fit the talking points of the administration, all the reports were classified.

The medical staff remained unmoved. On Aug. 18, two days after the exposure, an optometrist prescribed drops for Specialist Goldman’s eyes.

Their company commander, Capt. Patrick Chavez, who retired as a major in 2013, said that rather than help the patients, the clinic seemed intent on proving them wrong. “They were trying to come up with other causes for the symptoms — heat exhaustion, things like that,” he said.

“They were trying to come up with other causes for the symptoms — heat exhaustion, things like that.”

He gave the team a week off.

As the techs went untreated, burns and blisters broke out on two soldiers from Bushmaster Company, who lived at another outpost.

All of the political posturing aside, what really troubles me is the soldiers that ended up wearing the results in the end. As we approach another Armistice Day, it’s important to recall all of those who suffer because of our inability to be truthful and to resolve conflict without recourse to armed force.

Written by sameo416

October 17, 2014 at 8:48 am

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Islamic Scholars Speak Out

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One of the common refrains heard in critique of Islamic fundamentalists is the question as to the silence of the moderate Muslims. As was stated by one public commentator (a Muslim herself), throughout history the silent majority have been irrelevant in influencing the outcome of such situations.

I see that a group of Islamic scholars have published a letter to the leader of ISIS, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi.  A strategic analysis service I follow had this to say:

Doubts stemming from battlefield losses about whether God is blessing the Islamic State should also bolster efforts against the group on an ideological front. For example, on Sept. 19, a group of 126 Islamic scholars from across the globe published an open letter to the Islamic State and its leader, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi. The scholars used the letter to address what they consider to be 24 points of error in the theology espoused by the Islamic State. These errors encompass a number of issues, including the nature of the caliphate; the authority to declare jihad; the practice of takfir, or proclaiming another Muslim to be a nonbeliever; the killing of innocents; the mutilation of corpses; and the taking of slaves.

The letter ends with a plea for al-Baghdadi and his followers: “Reconsider all your actions; desist from them; repent from them; cease harming others and return to the religion of mercy.” It is unlikely that many of the hardcore jihadists will do as requested, but as these theological arguments are circulated and discussed, they will help undercut the ideological base of the jihadists and make it harder for them to convince impressionable people to join their cause. The effects of these theological critiques will not just be confined to the Islamic State; they will apply equally to al Qaeda and other groups that hold similar doctrines and commit similar acts.

A copy of the letter (in English) can be found here.

Written by sameo416

October 9, 2014 at 8:55 am

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