It happened again the other day. That predictable conversation that begins with, “So what do you do?”, traverses through the awkward terrain where it is discovered that I belong to that most bizarre and incomprehensible of categories—“pastor”—thus placing myself outside the boundaries of ordinary humanity, and ends, inevitably, with a tortured query about what kind of creature, exactly, a Mennonite might be. I can almost write the script by now: “You’re a what?” “Why would you want to do that?” “Don’t Mennonites drive horses and buggies and wear only black?” “How many kinds of Mennonites are there?” “You’re a what?! Add a few variations here and there, for colour and variety. Rinse and repeat. Read more
Here in southern Alberta, we find ourselves in the grip of quite the blizzard. It’s been snowing for about a day and a half and there’s more on the way. With the wind chill factored in, it’s -26 degrees out there. My wife and I woke up early today to check on the status of the roads and the schools and to peer curiously out our window. Surely no one would try to get out today, would they?! Well, it’s 8:30 am, and we have already pushed/shoveled out two neighbours who were determined to head out into the wintry wonderland, despite all the warnings to stay home and wait out the storm. Not everyone can wait, it seems. Read more
I have an interesting relationship with silence. I like the idea of silence very much. I am easily persuaded that our culture is terminally noisy and distracted and that the church’s worship should offer a respite and an antidote to this dis-ease. I am convinced that ten minutes of silent prayer and meditation would be a far better way to greet my days than the wordy, techy ways that I default to. But I am well and truly lousy at silence. It makes me uncomfortable, restless, bored, annoyed, and a whole host of other unflattering adjectives. I like silence very much and am convinced of its necessity for spiritual, emotional, even physical health. Except when I have to be silent. Read more
Jesus stands at the door knocking. In total reality, he comes in the form of a beggar, of the dissolute human child in ragged clothes, asking for help. He confronts you in every person that you meet. As long as there are people, Christ will walk the earth as your neighbour, as the one through whom God calls you, speaks to you, makes demands on you. That is the great seriousness and blessedness of the Advent message. Christ is standing at the door; he lives in the form of a human being among us. Do you want to close the door or open it?
It may strike us as strange to see Christ in such a near face, but he said it, and those who withdraw from the serious reality of the Advent message cannot talk of the coming of Christ in their heart, either…
Christ is knocking. It’s still not Christmas, but it’s also still not the last great Advent, the last coming of Christ. Through all the Advents of our life that we celebrate runs the longing for the last Advent, when the word will be: “See, I am making all things new.”
Dietrich Bonhoeffer, God is in the Manger
A meeting cancellation last night left me with the delightful predicament of how to fill a few an unexpected few free hours. Option A was parking myself on the couch and watching a hockey game, but that space was, lamentably, already occupied by my wife and daughter who were engrossed in a movie. So, naturally, I decided to pick up a book by David Bentley Hart (I’ve written before about the delights and challenges of reading Hart before here). The Experience of God is not quite the test of one’s vocabulary (and the blow to one’s pride) as some of Hart’s other works, but it’s still not exactly the shallow end of the pool. Read more
I spent part of this morning catching up on some reading on “leadership” for a conference call later in the day. I have a tough enough time convincing myself that I am a leader at the best of times, but the task is made even more difficult when I spend even a minimal amount of time reading articles peppered with words like “visionary” and “outcome analysis” and “dynamic action strategies.” But good leaders use (and understand) words like these, apparently. Leaders look and sound a certain way. That’s the way things work. Read more
Sappy post alert! Avert your gaze, as appropriate…
I don’t write much about marriage and relationships on this blog. This is because, a) I don’t think I have any particularly unique insight or expertise to offer when it comes to these matters; and b) I don’t really want to :). I find much of what is written on love and marriage (especially by Christians) to be either formulaic and fluffy or interminably doctrinaire and rigid. Or just boring. I’m very interested in marriage (particularly my own, you’ll be happy to know!), but I have rarely felt like writing about it.
Until this morning, evidently. Read more
Let’s see if you can follow the Thursday afternoon rabbit trail….
I spent part of this afternoon hearing the story of an Anglican minister who recently participated in the El Camino de Santiago in northern Spain. We talked about the nature of pilgrimages, about history and tradition and communion with saints who have gone before us, about silence and prayer and participating in something deep and wide and long…
What is the gospel?
You would think that a room full of pastors would be able to offer a pretty concise and comprehensive answer to so basic a query, but when the question was posed at a gathering I was a part of yesterday, the silence was deafening. Maybe we thought it was a kind of trick question, that it was too easy. Maybe we were afraid that we would omit some important detail and look foolish in front of respected peers. Maybe we were mentally sifting and sorting between all the competing answers out there. Maybe we just didn’t want to be the first to speak. Or, maybe it was a genuine struggle to articulate somethings so basic to our identity. I don’t know. Read more
It struck me, as I was standing at the graveside of a family friend last week, what a truly staggering thing it is to proclaim the resurrection of the dead.
I was staring at the wet, squishy ground, wiggling my toes, trying to stay warm in the typical British Columbia November drizzle, listening to the pastor reciting familiar words from the Psalms, from the Gospels, words about how death is a beginning not an end, words about how this person is with Jesus now, about how we have a living hope. I looked at the coffin and thought about the person we all knew and loved who was about to be lowered into the ground. I stared back at my shoes. More words from the pastor. I remember thinking, “God, I’m glad I’m not in his shoes today. I’m glad I am not faced with the task of speaking these wildly counterintuitive resurrection words into the yawning chasm of death today.” Read more
I distinctly remember the first time I heard about the work of A Rocha, a Christian conservation and stewardship organization that began in Portugal through the work of Peter and Miranda Harris, and has since branched out around the world. I was sitting in a first year Christian Thought and Culture class at Regent College in 2005 and Peter Harris was lecturing on creation care. I had grown up on a farm around animals and fields, so I knew where food come from and was aware of some of the gritty realities of life far from the city. My parents had done their best to instill a love for creation in their children, hauling us off to the mountains periodically for hikes and camping trips. I spent a fair amount of time outdoors as a kid, and regularly heard about the heavens declaring the glory of God in church. And yet, prior to that first lecture by Peter Harris at Regent College, I’m not sure I ever made the explicit connection between created world and the life of faith. I had never thought of stewardship and consumption and food choices as inextricably linked to the faith that I professed. Read more
“There are no atheists in foxholes,” goes the famous aphorism. It’s meant, I suppose, to get at the idea that when you’re face to face with darkness and death and horror and suffering, atheism suddenly becomes a less credible option. The reality of death makes believers, or at least desperate hopers out of us all. When our lives are under threat, God seems more palatable. That’s the idea, as I understand it at least. Read more
For dear friends on the passing of a father and friend… Dear friends whose steps must today begin to beat the well-worn path through the valley of the shadow…
But if death is the end in Christianity, it is not the final end; it is the end of an act only, not the end of the drama. Once before out of the abyss of the unborn, the uncreated, the not-yet, you and I who from all eternity had been nothing became something. Out of nonbeing we emerged into being. And what Jesus promises is resurrection, which means that once again this miracle will happen, and out of death will come another realm of life. Not because by our nature there is part of us that does not die, but because by God’s nature he will not let even death separate us from him finally.
Because he loves us. In love he made us and in love he will mend us. In love he will have us his true children before he is through, and in order to do that, one life is not enough, God knows.
Frederick Buechner, The Hungering Dark
I was standing in a line at the hospital check in desk today when I decided to start imagining.
It started innocently enough. As I was standing there watching the receptionist mechanically dispensing room numbers, I found myself imagining getting to the front of the line and hearing her say, “Oh, I’m sorry, sir, there’s been a mistake. The man you’re looking for isn’t here! He was discharged yesterday. He’s perfectly healthy, you see. He’s been made well, and he won’t be coming back here soon. You should have seen him when he left—he was beaming!” That’s what I imagined as I was waiting in line.
But she didn’t say any of that. What she said was, “Room 419.” Read more
I was talking to a boy the other day who was trying to put together an intramural team at school. The team had to have a mixture of both boys and girls on the roster, regardless of whether or not they actually played. “I went and asked a few girls that I knew would never play if I could use their names for my team,” the boy said. “Why did you do that?” I asked. He looked at me with a kind of resigned look on this face. “Well, what girl would ever want to play with a loser like me?”
A loser like me. Read more
A wise friend and mentor once told me to be very careful to cultivate what he called a “theology of holy interruptions.” “Sometimes God speaks in the unplanned, unexpected, even apparently annoying human interjections in our days,” he said. “Make sure you don’t allow your other ‘important work’ to trump the divinely appointed conversations that might cross your path when you least expect or want them.” While this is obviously a maxim that can be (and is) abused, the wisdom of my friend’s words has been borne out on numerous occasions in my relatively brief time in pastoral ministry. Read more
Attention! Brace yourself. A major announcement from the world of science came down yesterday morning.
Are you ready?
Apparently, people are not always, or even often persuaded by the facts when they are involved in an argument over an issue they feel strongly about.
Stunning, I know. Read more