To be a pastor is to periodically find oneself on the receiving end of sorts of bemused and confused sentiments. Many people in post-Christian Canada have few categories for something as inexplicably odd as a “pastor.” Understandably, they have questions. So what do you actually do all day? Do you like just hang out with people for a living? Do you read the Bible all day?
My personal favourite from the “things people say to/about pastors” file came earlier today (third time in the last week or so): Must be nice to just work for twenty minutes on Sunday! Read more
So you’re coming to Winnipeg? Would you have time to get together while you’re here? I don’t live far from the city…
So came a message from a reader of this blog and a fellow pilgrim on the way. And so came a delightful evening last week at a restaurant not far from the university where I was spending the week. Read more
This morning, I’m shaking out the cobwebs after a delightful week spent out in Winnipeg with the students, staff, and faculty at Canadian Mennonite University as pastor in residence. It was a week full of chapel talks and forums and lunchtime discussions and devotionals and informal conversations with students in the campus cafe and a whole host of other interactions and opportunities that have gotten all jumbled together in my weary brain. I feel a bit like a wrung-out rag, but in a contented, satisfied, grateful sort of way. It’s good to spend oneself in good ways with good people.
During my last chapel talk, I reflected a bit on the experience of being back on a university campus, about the memories it triggered, and about what advice, if any, I might give my younger university self from the vantage point that I now occupy a few years down the road. The following is a lightly edited version of some of what I said yesterday morning. Read more
There hasn’t been much of time for blogging this week, alas. I’ve been scrambling to get a few book reviews out the door, along with sermon work for Sunday worship and prepping for a series of talks for next week when I am in Winnipeg as the pastor-in residence at Canadian Mennonite University. So many words to assemble and rearrange and package in such a short amount of time… Maybe if I had, oh, I don’t know, planned ahead a bit better? Sigh. Read more
Most Sunday mornings, I’m the first person to arrive at our church building. There is often last-minute printing to do (I have learned that our church printer can be a temperamental beast, and it’s best to leave enough time to properly engage the hostilities), last-minute prepping for the high school Sunday school class I lead, and a handful of other odds and ends to ensure are in place before things get rolling around 9:45. Today, though, my wife and daughter were at a swim meet, and it turns out that my teenage son’s heart is not quickened by the prospect of getting up early to arrive at his dad’s customary time. So the lights were on when I arrived at church today. Which was unusual. Read more
Scot McKnight has a bee in his bonnet. He’s been observing how the word “kingdom” has been used by Christians over the last few decades and he doesn’t particularly like what he sees. The word has become a kind of vaguely Christian (or not) catch-all term to describe generically good deeds that have a connection—sometimes strong, sometimes tenuous—to the ethical vision of Jesus of Nazareth. Rather than pointing directly to the biblical vision of a specific King and a kingdom with a specific people, it often devolves into little more than the baptizing of a liberal, western, democratic ethic from which Jesus could quite comfortably be subtracted. Read more
I look out my office window this morning and see a rusty, mud-streaked old pick up truck with a creaky-looking camper on the back stagger and wheeze its way into the church parking lot. Such sights in the church parking lot rarely portent good news, and this particular appearance will prove no different.
A broad-shouldered middle-aged man ambles up to the path and into the church. I greet him at the front door. He’s wearing a black cowboy hat, a dirty denim jacket, and a big pair of grubby riding boots. The smell of manure is almost overpowering. He has a grizzled salt and pepper beard and when the smiles he directs my way is full of gaping holes where teeth ought to be. “Hi there, my name’s Sam,” he says. “I’m in a bit of trouble, and I’m wondering if you might help me out….”
I sigh, inwardly. Someone’s always in a bit of trouble.… Read more
The sun is shining, it’s currently 25 degrees Celsius here in southern Alberta (in late October!), and I am feeling very warm and fully of sunny goodness. It’s not just the glorious weather, mind you. I’ve been feeling particularly grateful for the flood of affirmation that has been pouring into my WordPress dashboard from the innumerable thoughtful, considerate spammers out there (I mentioned these lovely folks in a recent post) who evidently spend long hours toiling to come up with just the right words to keep me feeling encouraged, motivated, and appreciative.
What follows is a sampling of the many sincere, warm-hearted tokens of affection and admiration that these dear people have personally delivered to me, which I have carefully preserved over the past few weeks. My heart swells with pride and hope for the human race just reading them: Read more
Most of this week was spent at a pastors “retreat” in the foothills northwest of Calgary. I put “retreat” in quotation marks because when you are on a provincial committee and the members of said committee are separated by hundreds of kilometres, opportunities to have face to face meetings are rare. Consequently, times when everyone does happen to be together are generally crammed full of meetings, ordination interviews, etc. So, not much of a “retreat” in the restorative, replenishing, relaxing sense of the word. More of a “three days of meetings and workshops and not-making-any-progress-on-the-sermon and falling-behind-on-countless-others” kind of retreat. Read more
I was listening to a radio program this morning about tattoos. Specifically, the co-hosts were discussing whether or not it was permissible to refuse employment to someone because of tattoos in prominent places—places like faces and necks and whatever other places people are finding to ink themselves up these days. Even more specifically, the co-hosts were wondering about if said prominent tattoos contained offensive messages. “What if, for example, someone had a tattoo in a place that was impossible to ignore that said, ‘F*** the World?’” asked one co-host to the other. What if, indeed. Can people who choose to decorate their bodies in such ways expect to be hired in public roles, for example? Do employers have an obligation to ignore such things and focus only on competencies? Murky waters, these are… Read more
Sometimes life has a way of, I don’t know, settling in. Like a fog over the bay, like a dull, sometimes barely perceptible ache.
Maybe it’s an age thing. Maybe it’s the result of seeing too many people hurting because of too many things. Maybe it’s the grinding cynicism borne of a shallow culture where we’re always trying to sell each other things or shout each other down. Maybe it’s the incremental erosion of youthful idealism, the gradual coming-to-terms with the fact that struggle and suffering and uncertainty will always be part of the furniture down here. Maybe it’s the residue of so many unanswered or strangely-answered prayers, so many unfulfilled or strangely-fulfilled promises. Maybe it’s a wondering if I am doing all I could or should in the world, if I am being all that I could or should be to those I love (and those I don’t). Maybe it’s the sobering recognition that I undoubtedly am not. Maybe it’s indigestion. Maybe it’s some combination thereof. Read more
Among the more delightful and rewarding tasks of managing a blog is dealing with the blight upon digital existence that is spam. My blog platform’s spam settings are usually pretty reliable, but occasionally either a legitimate comment is labeled spam or something gets through that shouldn’t. The sheer volume of spam seems to have dramatically increased over the 7+ years I’ve been doing this (my dashboard proudly proclaims that it has “protected” my site from 1,187,079 messages as of 11:50 AM MST). I try to empty my spam folder out a few times a day—often there are hundreds to delete even after a couple of hours. Spammers (or, their programs) are, evidently, a rather persistent lot.
They’re also getting more creative. Often, a “comment” will just be bunch of random nonsense in a wide variety of languages or a collection of unsavoury links. But occasionally, spammers will try to sneak in apparently legitimate messages to improve their odds of escaping the filter. I’ve started a file on some of the more interesting ones. Today, I was intrigued by this one, in particular:
I was really confused and this answered all my questions.
Among the gleanings of my morning tour through Facebook land was the discovery that Tuesday, September 30 has been designated “Orange Shirt Day” by the Assembly of First Nations (AFN) here in Canada. Intrigued, I did a bit of snooping around and found the following explanation for the origin of the idea in an article at NationTalk:
Orange Shirt Day is an outcome of the St. Joseph Mission Residential School Commemoration Project and Reunion events that took place in Williams Lake, BC in May 2013. It stems from a story told by former residential school student, Phyllis Webstad, who had her new orange shirt, bought by her grandmother, taken from her as a six-year old girl. She spoke powerfully of how it seemed to her that nobody cared and, in this personal way, it speaks to the many harms experienced by children in the residential schools.
I have no orange shirt, alas, but the initiative has me thinking of a few recent experiences, and about three girls. Read more
About four years ago, our family got a little white dog named Woodchuck. A neighbour on Vancouver Island was looking to find him a different home, and so, after a sober, rational family conversation—a conversation which consisted mainly of me saying, “I don’t want a dog” and my wife and kids saying, “who cares what you want, dad, it’s three against one”—the decision was made. Woody was in our house the next day. Read more
I have always been interested in the reasons people have for accepting or rejecting the existence of God. It’s even more interesting to look at how people frame their own reasons for these decisions. So often, things are framed in stark terms of darkness and light, good and evil, obvious willful stupidity and luminous intellectual clarity, callous depravity and laudable moral sensitivity. This is true on both sides, of course. There are no shortage of eager atheists and Christians who understand and explain themselves and their decisions in these terms. As if no thinking, moral person could possibly come to any other conclusions about massive existential questions of God, meaning, truth, goodness, and beauty than the ones they happen to have arrived at!
Except things are a bit more ambiguous than that in the real world. Read more
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
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
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.