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On Weakness

There are two dimensions of discipleship. One is the learning of habits and the forming of character, the shaping of commitments and the inscribing of rhythms, the training in disciplines and the facing of sacrifices. Some people speak as if that were the only part. But the other dimension is perhaps even more important. It is the acknowledgment of weakness, the asking for help, the naming of failure, the request for forgiveness, the desire for reconciliation, and the longing for restoration.

If we knew the truth about one another we would talk a lot more about the second than the first. But while the first inspires a confident proclamation, the second needs a tender application. The person seeking to articulate the Christian gospel in the face of fear must expect that God will be at least as visible and tangible in weakness as in strength—if not more so. For all the widespread insistence that the church has a difference message than the world, this conviction—that God is made known in weakness more than in strength—is perhaps the sharpest daily distinction.

And yet it is one Christian congregations find hard so hard to believe, to embody, to anticipate. Things will go wrong—faith will falter, clarity will fog, pastors will have feet of clay, congregation members will quarrel, long and sad periods will descend, relationships will fail, children will go astray, temptation will sometimes prove irresistible. The Bible is full of such things. So is the church. So should any account of the gospel be. These need not be moments when discipleship ends. They may be the moments when it begins.

— Samuel Wells, Be Not Afraid: Facing Fear with Faith

Wired That Way

Earlier this week, Canada’s top military man, Gen. Tom Lawson said a very, very bad thing in an interview about sexual misconduct in the Canadian military. He said that sexual harassment remains an issue in the military due to “biological wiring.”  Oh dear. Read more

An Open Pair of Arms

The headline grabbed me right off the bat: Alberta couple blindsided after adopted girls turn out to have fetal alcohol disorder. The story was heartbreaking in the way that only stories about wounds inflicted from close proximity can be. A couple took on two foster kids but one of them quickly proved to be quite a bit more than they could handle, There were repeated assaults of her sister, there were angry words and abuse, there were doors locked from the outside and alarm systems set up, there were desperate calls to social services.  There was the shrapnel of toxic rage flying around shredding everyone in the vicinity. Read more

Where in the World is God?

It was a morning soaked in pain. Three stories, three conversations, three lives turned upside down and inside out. A death, a dying, and a falling apart. And through it all, a single question, weaving its way through the tears, the rage, the stubborn silence. Where is God? Read more

Kings of Our Own

For the last few days, I’ve been sifting through the mental notes and impressions collected during my time spent last week at the final event of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission in Ottawa and the NAIITS (North American Indigenous Institute of Theological Studies) 2015 Symposium near Chicago. In many ways, I have been feeling that there’s not much to say beyond what I’ve said in previous posts about previous trips with similar themes. Or, at any rate, that I’m unable to put newer or better words to the ones I’ve already come up with. The pain and injustice of Canada’s history of Indian residential schools has been well documented, after all. Is there any point in adding to the noise?  Are there new insights to be gleaned or windows through which to see these matters? Read more

Shared Room

Near the conclusion of his remarks about the final recommendations of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission yesterday, Assembly of First Nations Chief Perry Bellegarde offered the following challenge to non-indigenous people: Make room.

Make room in minds and hearts for new ways of understanding and relating to indigenous people. Make room for conceptions that go beyond “drunk” or “lazy” or “entitled” or “pagan” or any of the countless other stereotypes about indigenous people that not only still exist in the broader culture, but flourish. Read more

Ronnie Otter

I’m spending the first part of this week in Ottawa for the closing ceremonies of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada, the long journey that began in 2008 with the government of Canada’s official apology for residential schools, and which will culminate tomorrow when the commission releases a summary of its six-volume final report. After that, it’s off to the Chicago area for the NAIITS 12th Annual Theological Symposium. It promises to be a full and stimulating week.

I confess, though, that after one day of the TRC I am feeling mostly just exhausted. Read more

Gift and Grace

A friend of mine is going through a mid-life career transition and asked me to be a reference for him as he applies for jobs and considers his course for the next stage of the journey. Today, I was reading over his response to a series of questions about his biography and his theology, and was stopped in my tracks by this paragraph.

I have been learning little by little that there is an unrepeatable gift and grace in the life of each person and in each circumstance regardless of race, culture and creed, or of how broken, wounded, or sin damaged the person or circumstance might be. The depth I can know this in others is only as deep as I know it in myself and in my own circumstances. The recognition and affirmation of this truth is often the beginning of healing and transformation.

Read more

The Spirit Sighs

Yesterday, I spent the afternoon and evening with a delightful bunch of young adults from around the world who were visiting our area and our church as part of MCC Alberta’s Planting Peace Program. The idea behind the program is to gather young adults from many different places for two weeks in Alberta to learn, to share stories, and to share life together.  The hope (and the reality) is that the participants will come to deeper understandings of their common humanity, and that their common commitment to peace and to breaking down of walls that we human beings are so good at erecting between each other will be strengthened. Yesterday, there were representatives from Kenya, Cambodia, Guatemala, Mexico, Bolivia, South Africa, and, of course, from various parts of Canada. It was a good day full of good stories.

There were also two young men from Syria. Read more

What’s Love Got to Do With It? We Couldn’t Possibly Say…

As I mentioned in the previous post, I spent a lot of time on the road this past weekend. Twenty-six hours in a car on one’s own affords plenty of time for listening to things, and when I wasn’t preparing for the concert by going through U2’s entire catalogue, I listened to a number of podcasts. One of these podcasts, in particular, stood out to me. It was an episode of q—a Canadian culture/current affairs radio program—and the topic under discussion was whether or not love should be part of the sex education curriculum in public schools. Read more

Gifts

Yesterday morning, I hopped in the car and made the brief (!) thirteen-hour jaunt over the Rockies for a weekend in away in Vancouver. I’ve been looking forward to this weekend for a while, not least because tonight I’ll be heading downtown for the second of U2’s two Vancouver shows to open up their world tour. Plus, it’s just always nice to come back to this beautiful city—a city where we lived from 2005-2008 while I attended graduate school, a city where we have many friends and made many good memories. Read more

Five Reasons That I Am Developing a Strong Distaste For “Five Reasons People Are Leaving the Church” Articles

It seems like every second time I open my computer these days I come across the latest instance of what is becoming a very familiar (and obnoxious) brand of writing: the “Five reasons for ____.” genre. Sometimes this takes the form of an “open letter,” a form of writing that is surely unparalleled in its odious ostentatiousness (“Dear church, here’s why no one is interested in you anymore” or “Dear church, let me explain to you why all your young people are leaving,” etc.). Sometimes writers of these pieces come up with really clever and original titles like “Losing My Religion” (I’m sure R.E.M. would be pleased). But more common these days are plain old lists.  “Five Reasons Why Nobody Goes to Your Church,” for example, or “Five Ways That You as a Pastor Can Stop Being So Boring and Lifeless” or “Five Ways to Stop Being a Soul-Sucking, Hollow Institution and Start Being Spiritually Vital and Appealing for Twenty-First Century Sophisticates.”

(Those last three may not have been actual titles, but, well, you get the point.) Read more

On Small Churches and Large Worlds

I followed a rabbit trail this morning from a blog that I occasionally read to the website of the church where the blogger was a pastor. It had been a while since I had visited the website of an American evangelical mega-church, and after a few minutes of browsing I was beginning to experience a bit of sensory overload. There was a page for every conceivable ministry under the sun—addictions, young moms, men, young adults, sports enthusiasts… On and on the list went. And then there was the “staff” page. There must have been close to fifty people and profiles as I just kept scrolling down and down and down the page. Pastors for care, for counseling, for administration, for music, for preaching, for teaching, for kids, for “operations,” for seniors, for outreach… I didn’t see any pastors for pets, but maybe I didn’t scroll down far enough.

I thought of our church website’s staff page with its one lonely inhabitant…  Read more

Hope and Change

The province of Alberta woke up this morning to, of all things, a majority NDP government. For my American readers, this would be something like the very reddest part of Texas voting in a Democrat. I say “something like” because in reality the Alberta NDPs are probably more centrist than many NDP provincial governments in Canada have been, and because Alberta isn’t quite as far right as Texas. But still. Many were expecting a minority government at best (or worst, depending on your perspective… Myself included).  The idea that Alberta—Alberta!—could be awash in NDP orange (and by a considerable margin!) was, for many people, quite literally unthinkable. Until last night. Read more

On Kings and Kingdoms

It’s Election Day here in the province of Alberta, and for the first time in nearly half a century, it seems that the election will be more than a foregone conclusion. For the past forty-four years, the Progressive Conservative party has been in power in our province, often winning elections in laughably overwhelming numbers. Alberta simply is PC blue. At least that’s how it’s been until now. The political climate is changing, it seems. The PCs iron grip on the province seems to be weakening. There is even talk that they could be defeated. In other words, we have a meaningful election on our hands for the first time in my lifetime. Read more

People of the Heart

Every so often, the accumulation of paper and books and coffee cups and unopened correspondence on my desk crosses a threshold of clutter and despair that even I am no longer able to tolerate, and I begin take halting, tremulous steps to beat back the beast..  This often happens on Fridays on weeks when I am not scheduled to preach.  Like today, for example.

Among my discoveries as I tried to wrest order out of chaos this morning was a monthly newsletter from our local L’Arche community.   Read more

Our Refuge and Strength

Last week’s earthquake in Nepal has, at last count, resulted in well over five thousand deaths and has crippled the nation in all the devastating ways that “natural disasters” do.  We see these images and read these reports on our screens and we feel numb.  We have few categories for such suffering.  The weight of the pain seems too much to contemplate.  We don’t know what to do or say or how to pray.  For a while, at least. Read more

What Do You Want Me to Do For You?”

When I was younger, I would often hear or imagine some version of the “If you could ask God any question in the world, what would it be?” I had a long list. What’s the point of angels? What’s with all the killing in the OT? How old will I be in heaven? Did Methuselah really live for almost a millennium? What was the point of the flood if wickedness has remained on the earth ever since? How did Jesus walk through the door after his resurrection, yet Thomas could still touch him? How did you make something from nothing? Why should we pray if you already know everything? How can you be everywhere at the same time?  Why did Eve take the fruit…  My list could have filled a book. Or a blog.  Read more