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Wednesday Miscellany

At any given moment, I have around half a dozen half-written blog-posts and/or fragmentary ideas lying around collecting dust in my “drafts” folder.   Sometimes these turn into full-length pieces. Sometimes they just forlornly sit there for months on end until I either get sick of looking at them OR forcibly wrench them into a “Miscellany” post. Today, it’s the latter. :)

Here, then, my latest assemblage of ideas about totally unrelated topics… Read more

The Jesus Lizard

After one of the warmest winters I can recall in southern Alberta, we were greeted on Easter Sunday with snow. So much for the springtime resurrection metaphors, I suppose.

Which is fine. I’ve never had much use for the resurrection of Jesus as a metaphor anyway. At least not as just a metaphor. As I read through the four gospel accounts of the resurrection last week, again and again I was struck by how utterly unprepared and bewildered and terrified the first witnesses were by this turn in the story. The early church was literally shocked into existence, dragged reluctantly and confusedly from an empty tomb into the landscape of new creation. I think those first witnesses would find all of our enlightened “resurrection as hopeful metaphor” language rather amusing. At best.  Hope was something they had pretty much abandoned, until it showed up, wounds and all, and stared them in the face. Read more

O Lamb of God, Forgive Thy Butchers.

And so, this is the day.

The day when the angry mob baying for blood gets their way, the day when they trade the Messiah sent to them for the Messiah they wanted, welcoming the insurrectionist Barabbas back from the dead, and sending the Lamb of God off to slaughter.   Read more

Phone Call

I have learned, over the course of nearly four years being a solo pastor in a small church with no office staff to handle phones, to be wary of answering calls with unfamiliar area codes. At best, these tend to be automated telemarketing calls or faxes (there are people out there who still fax, apparently) and I can easily hang up the phone and move on with my day. At worst, they are eager representatives (frequently relentlessly cheerful young women with southern drawls—unless it’s Promise Keepers calling) from large, usually American, religious organizations who are seeking my/our support for some upcoming event or initiative or massive multi-site networked “experience” that will revolutionize my ministry. These calls are much more difficult to extract myself from. I am never rude, but I’m afraid I don’t give them much by way of encouragement. Usually by around the second minute of our phone call, I can sense the exasperation bleeding through the line all the way from Tennessee.  Read more

Hiding

Like many, I’ve been following the story of the Andreas Lubitz, the Germanwings pilot who deliberately crashed the plane he was co-piloting from Barcelona to Dusseldorf into the French Alps this week, killing himself and 149 other precious human beings. It is a disturbing story, on so many levels. We read, we watch, we listen with mouths open, aghast. What could possibly drive someone to do such a thing? We struggle to make sense out of the senseless. We sift around in the wreckage, as it were, trying to find something—anything—that might allow us to place this event into intelligible moral categories.  Read more

The Enemy at the Gate

People like to give pastors things to read, I am discovering. Hardly a week goes by without an article or a book appearing on my desk or church mailbox, or a link in my inbox. You should really read this, pastor!  A quick survey of the accumulated suggestions of the past week or so reveals an article on the history of Mennonites in southern Alberta, a book about the “battle” against same-sex marriage, a review of a book about dying well, promotional material for an educational institution, and an expose of the Alberta tar sands. Oh, and a drawing of Sponge Bob with “Happy Early Easter!” written beside it that showed up after church on Sunday.  It’s not just the grown ups who like to leave things in my office, evidently. Read more

Pain Management

Two recent conversations about pain…

My daughter has lately been coming to terms with the horrors of World War 2. They’ve been studying this period of history in school, and last night she watched a movie that told the story of war through the lens of a couple of young children. She was distraught and more than a little belligerent at the end. How could God possibly allow people to make things like gas chambers?! she demanded to know. I thought God was supposed to help people! What about all the promises that God makes to deliver people?! Why wouldn’t God stop people from doing that to each other?! I totally get why some people say there’s no God! Why doesn’t God do something?!  Read more

Free Booze: A Lenten Reflection on Customer Satisfaction

I heard an advertisement on the radio while driving around today. A restaurant was offering one free glass of wine per person for every visit over a certain period of time. After frantically altering my lunch plans and stampeding down to this restaurant for an 11:00 lunch snorting derisively at the moral decay and transparent desperation evident in such a marketing campaign, I got to making a few (mostly unflattering) comparisons in my head between restaurants and churches as I meandered along the errand trail for the rest of the morning. Read more

“A Love That Never Shudders at the State We’re In”

Of all the stories that Jesus tells, there are few that break and remake us, that lay our souls bare, that fire our hearts us with the hope of mercy like the parable of the prodigal son (Luke 15:11-32).  It is a story for broken sons and weary daughters, for love-sick fathers and grumbling exemplars of grim-faced duty.  It is a story that describes the homecoming we all, I suspect, hunger for, even when we are only dimly aware of it.  It is the story of what God looks like and how God loves, no matter what we look like, no matter how poorly we love. Read more

Unlearning

Last night, our family went to see a drama performance called “New Blood” that was held at the local university as part of their “Native Awareness Week” celebrations. The show was put together by high school students from Strathmore, AB, a small town near Calgary and bordering the Siksika Nation, a member of the Blackfoot Confederacy. Through music, drama, drumming, and dance, the students told the life story of Vincent Yellow Old Woman (the current chief of the Siksika Nation), including his time spent in residential school as a boy, and the later recovery of his Blackfoot culture. It was a moving portrayal of the many losses experienced by indigenous people as a result of colonialism, as well as a stirring call to hope, forgiveness, and love. Read more

Some Sundays

Some Sundays are better than others. Every pastor knows this. Every parishioner surely knows this. Some Sundays the seats are filled, the music is glorious, the prayers and the stories and the sermons are crammed full of inspiration and provocation. Some Sundays there are unexpected divine surprises that catch you off guard and move you to tears. Some Sundays are incredible, and I am pleased with whatever contributions I have made to the worship of Christ.

And other Sundays? Well, not so much. Read more

A Soul and a Bad Bargain

Have you ever had the experience while reading of one sentence almost literally leaping off the page? Amidst all the little black marks on white pages arranged in neat little rows, one collection of markings sets itself apart from the herd, towering above the others, reaching out, grabbing you by the throat, forcing you to reckon with it. Have you ever observed as all the other words on the page, the chapter, the book, recede into the background, as this one sentence burrows into your brain. Have you ever noticed that not all words are created equal. That some matter more, are bigger, deeper, more terrifying than others. That some words drag us into the ring and force us to face foes we would prefer to ignore. That we have even, perhaps, spent long years determinedly ignoring. Read more

“Who Sees and Sings and Wonders Why…”

Poetry doesn’t tend to agree with me.  Or, more precisely, I don’t tend to agree with it.  I’m too linear or dully rationalistic or unimaginative or…  Too, well, something.  Or, perhaps, not enough something.  I so often just don’t get it.  I read a poem (or, more likely, a few lines from a poem), scratch my head, struggling to decipher “the meaning” of the strange words and patterns, the unfamiliar arrangements of syllables and syntax on the page, furrow my brow, read harder, more determinedly, try, try again, and then retreat, defeated, tail between my legs, to the safety and predictability of prose. Poetry so often seems like a gleaming city I have never visited filled with sights and sounds that are destined to forever remain inaccessible to this provincial boy. Read more

Putting Out FIRES

I’ve been reading Tim Otto’s Oriented to Faith over the past few weeks as I seek to help our church have healthy conversations about sexuality.  Like many churches, ours is characterized by a wide diversity of views when it comes to how the church should live with and think/talk about homosexuality. As we have these conversations, one thing that I am convinced of is that we need to make space to hear from a plurality of Christian voices on these matters, whether it is those who would have an “affirming” view or those whose perspectives would run along more traditional lines.

Or those that don’t fit nicely in any camp.  Like Tim Otto. Read more

“The Devil Lost One of His Best Soldiers”

I realize that I tell a lot of stories like the one that follows here on this blog. I even realize that a lot of them probably sound very similar to each other. At least my retelling of them does. I sometimes hesitate to throw up another “post like this” for these reasons among others.

In the end, though, despite whatever misgivings I might have, I think that I tell stories like this because there are so many people whose stories are treated as disposable, unreliable, or somehow unworthy of being told. If nothing else, perhaps “posts like this” can be a space to hear them, to encounter people who often find themselves on the wrong side of life’s ledgers. Read more

Impossible Stories

There was this radio program I was listening to today… They were interviewing some guy who was the executive director of a Christian relief organization who had spent decades in war zones and poverty and famine and disease… Some guy who had traveled around the world doing good in the name of God.

I was half paying attention when he told two stories. The first was about driving down the road in the aftermath of the Rwandan genocide, and seeing a four-year-old boy stagger out of the bush, malnourished, barely alive, having been without water for nearly two days. His parents and other family members had died. There was nobody with him. He was all alone.  Four years old. Read more

“We Are From the Future”

It’s a bit of a dreary Friday afternoon on a number of levels.  There’s a screaming southern Alberta wind outside my window which makes my head hurt just to listen to it.  I’m fighting some kind of a cold or flu or something that has been a most unwelcome and miserable companion since Wednesday or Thursday.  And then there is the steady trickle of bad news on the church front.  A combative email from a church in our conference that has decided to leave because of supposedly incompatible views on the authority of Scripture (and the ever-present threat of others joining them).  A notification from the school I obtained my graduate degree from of a 30% reduction in staffing (coming on the heels of the closing of another institution that I am connected to).  And, of course, the omnipresent reality of the state of the church in the postmodern, post-Christian West, with many shrinking, aging, and dying churches.  Of course there is good news out there as well—stories of vibrancy and creativity in the church, stories of new life and growth.  But some days… I don’t know.  Some days it’s easy to feel as if the gates of hell are on the fast track toward prevailing… Read more

Straight Lines

When I was young, faith often seemed to be about straight lines. Right/wrong. Do/don’t. Pure/impure. In/out. Faith/doubt. Virtue/sin. Blessed/cursed. Victorious/suffering. Innocent/guilty. Saved/damned. The lines were clean and true, and not to be trifled with. To suggest that the lines might not be so straight was itself evidence that you were on the wrong side of the line. To live and think rightly in the world involved accepting and preserving a lot of straight lines.  Read more