I have spent much of this afternoon trying to write a sermon about 2 Corinthians 5:14-20 and the love of God while keeping abreast of news reports about the unspeakable atrocities currently taking place in Iraq. The absurdity of this task has, however, proven to be unbearable, and I have simply given up. How can one speak of the love of God after reading about human beings starving and dying on a mountain, fleeing the awful choice of conversion or death? How can one write about beauty and goodness after reading about—Christ have mercy!—children being executed or thrown from mountaintops to avoid it. How can one craft a sermon about the “new creation where the old has passed away” and “everything has become new” after seeing images of such gruesome violence that words well and truly fail?
The incongruity of the task is too much. Perhaps tomorrow I will want to write about the love of God. Today I only want to weep for the brutality that our species is abundantly capable of.
I was picking up a book at the library yesterday when I saw a run down black car pull up. A woman began to painfully extricate herself from the drivers seat. Her clothes were shabby, hair dishevelled, posture bent. Her overall appearance gave the strong impression that the world had kicked her around a bit. She looked up and, seeing me walking toward her, began to wave at me and called out in a raspy voice, “Hey, can you come over here and help me?” Read more
A few observations and reflections as a summer holiday draws to a close…
My son is convinced that he has discovered gold in the sand. We are at a beach and he sees little flecks of shiny sediment as he digs and builds on a hot summer afternoon. He tries to imagine ways that he might extract this “gold” from the piles he has collected. He asks about how the gold miners panned for gold back in the olden days. He takes a Frisbee and swishes the sand around. He fills up an old discarded coffee cup with his sand, wanting to bring it home. He is convinced there is gold in there—treasure that he, alone of the thousands who have tramped up and down this beach, he alone of the innumerable kids who have built sand castles in this exact spot—has managed to discover.
“There’s no gold in this sand,” I tell him flatly. He is not dissuaded. He sighs and looks at me with something like pity or exasperation. You just don’t understand… Read more
Like many over the last few weeks, I’ve been following with a mixture of interest, despair, anger, hopelessness, confusion, and weariness the latest round of conflict in Israel and Palestine. Like many, I have read countless articles and op-ed pieces trying to explain, advocate, condemn or make some kind of sense of a senseless situation. I have read impassioned justifications for the actions of Israelis and Palestinians. What would your nation do if it was surrounded by hostile nations dedicated to the elimination of your people?! What would you do if you were penned up and locked into a tiny space and deprived of dignity and brutalized at every turn?! I have read many words and words about words, but it all seems so futile, as I sit here on vacation, a world away from the unspeakable reality that so many are currently facing.
Words, words, words… And still the killing goes on. Read more
We’re house sitting for friends in North Vancouver so the mornings have been long and lazy, full of novels and coffee and games with the kids and sunshine on the patio overlooking Indian Arm, and more coffee… It’s been wonderful.
Yesterday, my morning reverie was interrupted by a few soft knocks on the door. At first I didn’t even hear them, so faint was the sound they made, but they were persistent. Eventually I clued in that those faint sounds at the door meant that, you know, someone was there and that this someone who was there probably wanted me to come to the door to see what they wanted. Read more
A few days ago, the Prime Minster of Canada had this to say in an official statement about the latest eruption of violence in Israel/Palestine:
Canada is unequivocally behind Israel. We support its right to defend itself, by itself, against these terror attacks, and urge Hamas to immediately cease their indiscriminate attacks on innocent Israeli civilians.
There is much that could be said about this statement. Read more
I often hear some version or other of the well-worn argument that faith in God is for the weak, the intellectually deficient, the cowardly, the lonely, the marginalized and disenfranchised, or those staring down the prospect of death and grasping at something—anything!—to make their pain more bearable. The healthy, the strong, the educated and influential, the sane—these are imagined to have no need for such supernatural aids. Religion is a crutch for those who can’t (or won’t) face life as it really is, in all of its starkness. Read more
I spent a good chunk of last week in Winnipeg for our church’s national Assembly. So a quiet Monday morning back home would be an ideal time to begin sifting through four days of lectures, workshops, and conversation, coming up with some kind of a coherent “takeaway” from the variously inspiring, moving, frustrating, exhausting, and rewarding time spent with Mennonites from across Canada, right? Not really, as I turns out. Maybe that synthesis will come later. Today, my thoughts are running along different lines. Read more
A few completely disconnected thoughts on an early summer Wednesday…
I went to see the latest Transformers movie last night. I wish I was joking, but, alas, it’s true. My kids are at the age where they have evidently graduated from little kid Hollywood crap to big kid Hollywood crap, so off we went. I was expecting very little and my expectations were barely met. Lots of explosions and digitally generated creatures and explosions and lame dialogue and explosions and tired old Americana and explosions and—oh, look! The robot trucks have discovered some robot dinosaurs and they will together vanquish the other robot things!—and mass destruction and chaos and explosions and a lame teen love story and a lot of very bad acting. And very loud impressive explosions. Did I mention those? Read more
In Jesus Christ God has promised to every human being a new horizon of possibilities— new life into which each of us is called to grow in our own way and ultimately a new world freed from all enmity, a world of love. To be a Christian means that new possibilities are defined by that promise, not by any past experience, however devastating.
— Miroslav Volf, The End of Memory
I have many conversations with people who find it difficult to believe or people who barely believe or people who want to believe but can’t or people who are embarrassed to believe or people who look down in condescension at those who believe or people who are just bewildered that anyone could believe in something like God or resurrection or hope or any kind of future that is radically dissimilar to the present. This is the shape of our life and imagination in the post-Christian west. Read more
It’s the last Tuesday of the month, which means it’s our church’s turn at the local soup kitchen. It’s so easy for “the soup kitchen” to become a kind of generic placeholder for ooey-gooey charitable goodness, like “the short-term missions trip or “the Christmas food drive.” It’s all too easy to forget that there are real human beings on the other end of our shiny good deeds—real human beings with faces and names and stories, real human beings with real sadness, sin, and and struggle, real pain and distress, and, yes, real humour, insight, and wisdom.
A few snapshots, then, of one Tuesday, in particular… Read more
It’s June in southern Alberta, which means torrential rains, spring run-off from the mountains, and flooding. Lots of flooding. We have been back in Alberta for three years, and two of them have been characterized by miserably wet Junes. On Tuesday evening I arrived home to nearly ankle-deep water in our basement, and we have spent a good chunk of the rest of this week hauling out furniture, ripping out carpets, and trying to dry out a soggy and smelly house. Read more
I was sitting in a local Starbucks this afternoon when I saw the most absurd thing in the history of humankind: a big glossy advertisement for a product called an “Oprah Chai Tea Latte.” Alongside pictures of what I can only imagine must be very tasty delights indeed (iced or hot) was a (larger) picture of a beaming Oprah Winfrey, lending her teeth, her hair, her celebrity to this product. What does Oprah have to do with chai tea lattes, you might wonder? I certainly did. Did Oprah Winfrey make this chai tea? Did she create the recipe? Did she enjoy drinking this tea in some kind of unique way? Does she own the tea? Did she import it for our benefit? The advertisement didn’t tell us. It simply presented a picture of Oprah, a picture of tasty beverages and assumed that we would make (invent?) the connection. Read more
Scripture is a gift. This has been affirmed by countless people in the Judeo-Christian tradition down through the ages. Not only affirmed, but demonstrated in the way that its words have been revered, preserved, and followed. But is is a very strange gift, full of unfamiliar modes of communication and stories that vacillate between the weird and the confusing and the often brutally violent. It is a gift that many in the twenty-first century world increasingly have little interest in accepting, both inside and outside of the church. Read more
I had many things to write about, all jostling for space in my head as I drove home from a mid-week theology conference near Calgary… Things like the nature of Scripture and interpretation and inspiration and violence and barbarism and inter-textuality and transposition… All these things and others milled about in my head during the two-hour drive south, eager for release, to find expression on the page, to be assembled into some kind of coherent whole.
But it’s funny how a single image or experience, even of the briefest kind, can reduce all of these things to ephemera…
I spent last night at Tuesday L’Arche prayer night. It was a celebratory night in honour of a new leader taking over here in the Lethbridge community, so there was lots of food and laughter, singing and smiles. I don’t get out to these prayer nights nearly as often as I would like to, but whenever I do, I am struck in a new way by the simple profundity of this community of people of all kinds of abilities who are committed to living together, sharing life and love, participating in the good news of the gospel of peace and hope. Read more
I spent part of my day off yesterday watching The Secret Life of Walter Mitty. There’s a great scene and a great line near the end of the film where Walter Mitty (played by Ben Stiller), the “negative assets manager” for Life magazine and, at least as we are led to believe at the beginning of the film, quite possibly the world’s dullest human being, finds himself, through a strange set of circumstances on top of a mountain in the Himalayas. In the scene, he has just (literally) stumbled across Sean O’Connell (played by Sean Penn), the reclusive, elusive world-travelling photographer whose work Walter has been processing for many long years at the magazine, and who he has been trying to find for the whole film. Read more
Every Sunday morning, men and women around the planet get up in front of other humans and presume to speak about and for God. And, I suspect, that every Sunday morning, at least some of these same men and women sit down after preaching thinking, “there are a lot things that I left unsaid out there today.” Read more