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The Measure of a Life

Ezekiel Emanuel wants to live for seventy-five years and not a day more. In an article called “Why I Hope to Die at 75” published in The Atlantic, he makes the case for living a full and productive life for as long as this is statistically likely, and for exiting stage right long before the possibility of dementia and depressing decline begin to take over. We are living longer, Emanuel argues, but often the years that we gain are not very good or desirable ones. Indeed, with some researchers forecasting a “tsunami of dementia” by 2050, we may be inclined to agree with Emanuel’s conclusions: Get me out of here long before any of that begins to show up! He’s not arguing for euthanasia (in fact, he’s against it); he is simply expressing how he would prefer things to go. Read more

Give, Forgive, Lead, Deliver

I’ve reflected many times here on the mystery of prayer and what often seems like the abject silence of God. We so often struggle to know how prayer works and how it influences God’s activity in the world.  We don’t know what the point of prayer is if God already knows everything.  Sometimes it all seems like a bit of a strange charade that has precious little influence on either God or each other. Read more

Signs

What would you think if you were walking or driving down the street and you saw a sign that said, “Honk Less, Love More” or “Follow Dreams, Not Crowds” or “Have a Great Day?” Would these signs make you happier, or at least more inclined  to behave decently? Might they help lower crime? Would they boost morale ? British artist Killy Kilford seems to think so, and he’s testing his theory in one of American’s most crime-ridden cities, Newark, NJ. According to an article in New York magazine, Kilford is planning on placing hundreds of signs like this throughout the city and has “zero doubt” that the signs will make a positive impact on city.

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Bright Colours Make the World Happy

Half a year or so, my wife came home one day with a pair of shoes for me. This, in and of itself, is not particularly surprising. I loathe shopping and my wife has discovered that the best way to keep me looking presentable is to simply buy clothes for me, bring them home for me to try on, and then return the ones I don’t like. But on this day, her purchase was a bit surprising. It was a pair of bright red (non-returnable) New Balance runners. Like, really red. To the surprise of probably no one, I tend toward more muted fashion statements. I like greys and browns and blacks and dark blues. Bright colours are not really my thing. But there they were, these non-returnable bright red runners.  Read more

Our Selves Drift Away

The other day I was racing around some big-box type store, scrambling to get all the back-to-school stuff for the kids. We had adopted a “divide and conquer” mentality with my two kids going in one direction and I going in another for different things, and agreeing to meet at the front till. As I was standing breathlessly in the line up, having emerged relatively unscathed from my close encounter with the panicked hordes of desperate parents, I noticed one particular item amidst all the pencils and paper and geometry sets that I didn’t recall being on the list.

 A bottle of Coke. But not just any bottle of Coke. This one had my name all over it. Literally. Read more

Kindness Matters

And so, another summer is gone and it’s back to school. This morning we coaxed and cajoled two reluctant teenagers out the door approximately three hours earlier than they had grown accustomed to being anywhere or doing anything over the course of the summer. Out the door for another year of glorious personal growth and social interaction and intellectual stimulation. Or something like that. Judging by the looks on their faces as they trudged out the door, about the only thing on their minds were the beds they had been unceremoniously dislodged from. Read more

Covenant Prayer

I was  cleaning out and organizing old files this afternoon because, a) my “filing system” is a haphazard and chaotic mess that is often hopelessly difficult to navigate and locate anything in; and b) because it provided me with the illusion of usefulness and productivity as I avoided the sermon that seems not to want to come.

Among my more pleasant discoveries this afternoon, amidst innumerable useless documents and files and folders that I haven’t opened in years, was this “covenant prayer.”  I have no idea where it comes from or how I happen to be in possession of it, but it is a good prayer, a good challenge, a good aspiration for me on this day.  Perhaps for you, too. Read more

Life Eternal

It’s late August. Another summer is dwindling away at an alarming pace. I should be busy preparing for the inevitable crush of fall activities or finalizing worship themes or getting my head around what our family’s schedule might look like come September 2 or tackling some writing deadlines or readying myself for planning meetings or “networking” (such a loathsome word) or getting together with important people or praying or studying or some other virtuous activity.

There are so many things that I should be doing as the last grains of summer slip through the glass. But I find it difficult to do any of them. Because a little girl has died. A little girl has died, don’t you see? There is this ugly fracture in the cosmos that wasn’t there a few days agoand everything else seems small and trivial. Read more

His Sorrow is Splendor

A little girl in our community has died.  Suddenly.  Unexpectedly.  Shatteringly.  Ten years old, Christ have mercy.

And this is the part where those who call themselves “pastors” are supposed to provide words of comfort or meaning or hope or something, right?  Right?  But what if these are hard words to find during times like this?  What if they are difficult words to spit out?  What if they all seem hollow and forced, and I hate them even as they bounce around in my brain, even as they are tumbling out of my mouth?  What could words ever do, when a little girl who once filled the worlds of those who loved her with sunshine and light is dead? Read more

Riding the Storm (Or, What to Do When the Internet Explodes in Righteous Fury)

In what is now becoming something like a sacred ritual of the digital age, the following scenario unfolded this week. 1) Something bad happened—in this case, the suicide of a famous celebrity who had long struggled with addictions and depression; 2) People flooded to the Internet to give voice to their opinions about what (if anything) this bad thing meant and what (if anything) we ought to learn from it; 3) Someone wrote something that was perceived to be inflammatory/controversial/insensitive/wrong about the nature of this bad thing (in this case, conservative Christian blogger Matt Walsh, who wrote a post called “Robin Williams Didn’t Die From a Disease, He Died From His Choice” which has generated well over three million views and over four thousand comments at the time of this writing); 4) The Internet heaved and lurched in a maelstrom of fury and passion, whether in opposition to or defense of said article/writer (in this case it seems to be mostly the former; Walsh has apparently even received death threats over this post); 5) After collectively marinating in this unedifying, soupy mess for a few days, we all moved on to other more fertile pastures in which to expend our self-righteous energies. Read more

Brain States

Religious fanaticism is, regrettably, front and center in our collective consciousness again in this the summer of bad news. Whether it is Iraq or Israel/Palestine or other places around the globe, many people are quick to point to the role that religion plays in stoking the flames of violence and hatred.

And whenever there is violence associated with religion in the news, we can expect to see articles like “The God Effect” over at Aeon Magazine.  The piece, written by Patrick McNamara, seeks to locate the religious impulse in dopamine levels in the brain. There is, according to McNamara, a fine line between “benevolent saints” and “murderous fanatics.” And dopamine, apparently, is one of the main triggers for when this line is crossed.  Read more

The World Remains Divided

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.

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Burdens

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

“Is it Okay If I Really Like Life?”

 A few observations and reflections as a summer holiday draws to a close…

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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

Things That Make For Peace

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

When Bad Things Happen

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

On the Necessity of Equivocation

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

Ruts and Ruins

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