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
The mind of a teenage boy is, I am discovering, a fearful and wonderful thing. Beautiful, strange, unpredictable, irrational, surprisingly generous, unspeakably kind, maddening… All within a few hours, sometimes. Yesterday, I bought my son new strings for his guitars as a few of the old ones had snapped. He came home from a youth event at 10:00 convinced that now was the time to re-string his guitars and not go to bed. His father disagreed and the stage was set for a rather unpleasant end to the day.
But the sun is in the habit of rising anew each day, full of promise and possibility.
It’s been one of those weeks where what’s wrong with the world, what’s wrong with our cultures and communities, what’s wrong with the church, what’s wrong with me has seemed much more weighty and prominent than the many things that are undoubtedly right about each of the above. I suppose we all have weeks like this—weeks when the world somehow seems less like a stage for beauty and redemption and more like just a very heavy place.
It’s times like these that I am grateful for wise, trusted voices to elevate and sharpen my gaze. One such voice that I have come to trust over the years is that of Eugene Peterson. I spent some time reading his book, The Jesus Way this morning and was struck by this passage on the sin, salvation, and the “Suffering Servant” of Isaiah 53: Read more
I’m downtown for a lunch meeting, standing at a street corner… I look across the street, see his huddled frame lying against the side of the building… Lying there. On the street. A bed of concrete. Just lying there. Even from across the street, I can see that he has black hair, brown skin…
Is he sleeping? Passed out? Dead? Does anyone see him?
Car after car drives by, like so many priests and Levites.
Just another drunk Indian downtown… Read more
It’s been a day of sifting and sorting through the pain that shoots up and out like a geyser from the cracks in the ground of our lives together. The hospital, the seniors’ home, the coffee shop, the parking lot, the playground, the living room… Sometimes it seems that wherever I turn, there is only pain, only confusion, only sadness, longing, anger, regret. Outside the sun shines and the birds sing and all is bright and beautiful, but this is only the surface of things. Inside, just beneath the surface, so much is amiss. So many ugly things, always threatening to bubble up and spill out into the bright and beautiful things.
My son has a backpack. It is an old, weather-beaten backpack that has been kicking around our house forever. I think it was my backpack once. It might be almost as old as my son.
This backpack bears a great many strange burdens over the course of a given week. Books, clothes, playing cards (he likes to do card tricks), miscellaneous scrunched up permissions forms that his parents were supposed to see two weeks ago, rocks, guitar picks, a (usually half-open) lunch container spilling out its uneaten contents, sweaty sports uniforms, dirt, and an assortment of the other inevitable accretions of a preteen, male life. Sometimes I have to open the backpack to retrieve something, but I try to do this as infrequently as possible. Sticking my hand into this backpack is a very frightening thing. Read more
Over the course of the month of May, the MennoNerds blogging collective that I am a part of has been reflecting upon how “Anabaptist distinctives” impact our thinking and living in the world. A while back, fellow MennoNerd, Tyler Tully wrote a piece called What are Anabaptists? where he outlined three core Anabaptist convictions:
- The centrality of Jesus above all things
- The essential community/free church of confessing, baptized disciples
- The prophetic and non-violent witness of God’s peace.
The challenge subsequently went out for all of us to write our own blog post on how these three convictions influence our own faith and practice. Read more