A clergy friend and I were talking over coffee yesterday about how being in this line of work is something of a magnet for human pain. As soon as people find out you’re a pastor or a priest, they will often begin to rehearse their own private litany of suffering or their grievances against the church or their most recent existential crisis or whatever. Sometimes, this can lead to very rewarding and meaningful conversation. Sometimes, it can simply be overwhelming. Story after story of loss and crisis and doubt and health problems and “Where oh where is God in all this?!” What do you say, pastor? Sometimes I don’t really have anything to say, whether because there’s very little to say or because I’m tired or just not really in the mood to hear one more awful story, thank you very much. Sometimes I don’t really have any room on my agenda for anyone’s pain. Alas, human suffering seems to care very little about my schedule. Read more
Two pictures popped up on my computer this afternoon.
The first was of the two families from Syria that will be coming to Lethbridge as part of a refugee sponsorship initiative that our church is a part of. No names, just a picture of nine pictures on a table. Nine precious people currently living as refugees in Lebanon, far from home, waiting for their claims to be processed. Nine people whose city and country lies in ruins. Nine people who can probably never go home. Nine faces in nine photographs laid out on a brown table. What have those nine faces seen, I wonder? What hopes do those nine faces have for their future? What might those nine faces make of a place like Lethbridge, AB, Canada? I imagine speaking with them, of playing with their kids, of becoming their friends. But these nine faces still seem a world away. Read more
It was thirty-six degrees Celsius around these parts yesterday, which, for many Canadians used to considerably more chilly climes, means a general experience of sticky, sweaty unbearableness that makes us despair of life itself. Well, that’s probably a bit dramatic. The heat is clearly going to my head.
At any rate, I had grand plans last night to do something virtuous like read a book or play a game with the kids or something. But I fought the heat and the heat won. I ended up collapsing into the couch after supper, and after aimlessly drifting around Netflix on my laptop for a few minutes, I settled on Alejandro González Iñárritu’s Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance. I had seen a previous film of his (2008’s Biutiful) and I had a vague sense that Birdman had won a bunch of awards. Plus, all that aimless drifting around Netflix was getting tiring in the heat. Read more
Gretta Vosper has been making headlines for a while now. She’s the pastor of West Hill United Church in Toronto. She also claims to be an atheist. According to a recent article at Vice News, Vosper realized back in 2001 that the idea of a supernatural being who intervened in the affairs of the world was a very silly thing to believe. She has, nevertheless, been soldiering on in her church for the last decade and a half in the service of the more worthy and “progressive” concerns that she feels the church ought to be about. Read more
Anyone who has read this blog for any length of time will know that one of my enduring interests is the way that we use technology and how the technology that we use shapes and forms us as human beings. A quick foray into my archives will probably yield a handful of very similar articles bemoaning the fact that social media is degrading the state of cultural discourse and turning us all into the equivalent of self-absorbed toddlers chasing after the next shiny thing to click and share. There will also, I suspect (hope?), be no shortage of frank admissions that I am undoubtedly guilty of the sins that I decry. I have a blog, after all. And I, too, am on Facebook, scrolling, staring, clicking, sharing, drearily contributing to the noise. Such are the contradictions made possible by our brave new digital world. Read more
I ran into two friends this morning for whom the month of August is an excruciating one. Two fathers for whom August is the anniversary of the unimaginably painful loss of a young daughter. For both, August brings an acute reminder of the ever-present reality of the gaping wound at the heart of their lives. For both, August means the rehearsal of a crippling loss that no parent should have to endure.
It is impossible to think of these two friends and their losses without thinking more generally about fathers and daughters. Read more
I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the sharing of his sufferings by becoming like him in his death, if somehow I may attain the resurrection from the dead.
— Philippians 3:10-11
I’ve been thinking a lot lately about what faith in Christ is good for. If someone were to ask, “why ought I to sign up for this whole Jesus business?” what ought we to say? Faith doesn’t seem to make life much easier. Christians appear to struggle along with the same problems and challenges as everyone else in life. It doesn’t offer the pathway to material blessings, however desperate the many enthusiastic (and wealthy) religious hucksters are to convince us that this is so, and however dependent their wealth is upon their listeners’ believing that this is so. Faithful Christians seem to occupy every position along the socio-economic spectrum. And it is, of course, laughably absurd that a religion that ostensibly claims to follow a poor wanderer from Galilee who said, “blessed are the poor” could ever get this kind of message off the ground. Faith doesn’t offer a way out of failure and pain and sorrow. Christians are not immune from the many things in this world that inflict pain upon its inhabitants. It doesn’t forestall death. Christians die at precisely the same rate as every other human on the planet. Read more
A few long and rambling reflections on my first experience of the Big Apple this past week… I’ve included a few pictures, too, for those who will undoubtedly tire of my wordiness. :)
New York City is one of those places that looms large in our collective imagination as Westerners and, more particularly, as consumers of media produced in the USA. Its streets and buildings and cityscapes and rivers and landmarks provide the backdrop for so many of our films and television programs and advertising. New York is where famous people live and work and play and produce moments for the rest of us to observe. And, of course, since September 11, 2001 many people feel an even deeper connection, however conflicted, with the city. We watched as its towers came down, as the already intense media glare was sharpened still further, as its citizens were lionized and held up as emblematic of all that was good and true and virtuous about America. New York is where the action is, where it all happens. New York is where people want to be. Read more
“Hey, man, can I see your book?” I’m sitting in the Amtrak station in Harrisburg, PA waiting for the train to New York. I look up and see an African-American guy with a broad smiley face, his head covered by white bandana. “Sure,” I reply. I’m not sure if it’s the title that caught his eye or something else. “It’s just a fantasy novel,” I say. “Pretty light stuff.” He picks up the book and holds it up to eye level, examining its thickness. He opens the back cover. “Aw, man, that’s a lotta pages,” he says. “Yeah, I guess,” I reply, not sure what else to say. Read more
It’s 11 PM ET and I’m sitting in a hotel lobby in Harrisburg, PA reflecting on the week thus far at the 2015 Mennonite World Conference. It’s been another full day and I should probably be more tired than I feel, but I’ve been sleeping poorly all week so I’m not even going to bother trying until after midnight. I think my body is still on Mountain Time. What better time, then, to try to scramble a few thoughts together on the MWC experience so far? Read more
Faith can be a hard road, sometimes. Earlier today, Richard Beck published a short piece on his blog in response to the question, “ What keeps me holding on to faith?” His answer reflects the response that many of us would give, I suspect. We are drawn to Jesus. Not necessarily to theological doctrines about Jesus or official explanations about what he did and what it accomplished or will accomplish or whatever, but to the person of Jesus, to stories about how he lived and loved in and for the world. However we might have come to faith, and whatever the reason(s) we cling to it in the teeth of so many doubts, behind all of it on some level is the simple truth that the person of Jesus is enormously attractive for many, many people. Read more
I’ve tried to sit down and write something substantive here a few times over the past week and a half or so, but for whatever reason(s), the words haven’t come. Maybe it’s just because the last few weeks have been unusually full. Maybe I’m out of words. Maybe my spirit (and the Internet) is in need of a prolonged period of digital silence. Maybe I just need a vacation.
At any rate, in place of a more substantive piece, here are a few unfinished thoughts on unrelated matters for a summer Wednesday morning. Read more
My friend and I spent the last two and half days or so meandering through the inferno that is the Las Vegas strip in early July while our spouses sat in the conference that brought us down there. Big city streets are fascinating to wander in general, but Las Vegas, of course, takes things to a different level entirely. Maybe the heat had fried my neural circuitry, but after about a day or so of wandering, I found that I had lost the ability to be amazed. Floating flower balls in hotel lobbies? Ho hum. Fake replicas of ancient Greece… and Paris… and Venice… and New York? Obviously. Artificial thunderstorms with rainfall in a shopping mall? Yawn. Ok, who wants to impress me next? Read more
For the first few days of this week, I find myself in, of all places, Las Vegas, NV. My wife is attending a conference here so I tagged along for a short getaway. It’s nearly 45 degrees Celsius here during the day. It “cools off” to the mid 30’s at night. Walking outside is like stepping into an oven. Read more
I’ve been thinking about fatherhood over the last few days. I suppose Father’s Day last weekend got me started, although the day itself was a fairly muted affair around these parts. Oh, it’s Father’s Day? Um, well, happy one of those, dad… Yawn. Which was mostly fine with me. I’ve never been a terribly enthusiastic participant in the dictates of the Hallmark calendar, anyway. Read more
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
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