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Putting Out FIRES

I’ve been reading Tim Otto’s Oriented to Faith over the past few weeks as I seek to help our church have healthy conversations about sexuality.  Like many churches, ours is characterized by a wide diversity of views when it comes to how the church should live with and think/talk about homosexuality. As we have these conversations, one thing that I am convinced of is that we need to make space to hear from a plurality of Christian voices on these matters, whether it is those who would have an “affirming” view or those whose perspectives would run along more traditional lines.

Or those that don’t fit nicely in any camp.  Like Tim Otto. Read more

“The Devil Lost One of His Best Soldiers”

I realize that I tell a lot of stories like the one that follows here on this blog. I even realize that a lot of them probably sound very similar to each other. At least my retelling of them does. I sometimes hesitate to throw up another “post like this” for these reasons among others.

In the end, though, despite whatever misgivings I might have, I think that I tell stories like this because there are so many people whose stories are treated as disposable, unreliable, or somehow unworthy of being told. If nothing else, perhaps “posts like this” can be a space to hear them, to encounter people who often find themselves on the wrong side of life’s ledgers. Read more

Impossible Stories

There was this radio program I was listening to today… They were interviewing some guy who was the executive director of a Christian relief organization who had spent decades in war zones and poverty and famine and disease… Some guy who had traveled around the world doing good in the name of God.

I was half paying attention when he told two stories. The first was about driving down the road in the aftermath of the Rwandan genocide, and seeing a four-year-old boy stagger out of the bush, malnourished, barely alive, having been without water for nearly two days. His parents and other family members had died. There was nobody with him. He was all alone.  Four years old. Read more

“We Are From the Future”

It’s a bit of a dreary Friday afternoon on a number of levels.  There’s a screaming southern Alberta wind outside my window which makes my head hurt just to listen to it.  I’m fighting some kind of a cold or flu or something that has been a most unwelcome and miserable companion since Wednesday or Thursday.  And then there is the steady trickle of bad news on the church front.  A combative email from a church in our conference that has decided to leave because of supposedly incompatible views on the authority of Scripture (and the ever-present threat of others joining them).  A notification from the school I obtained my graduate degree from of a 30% reduction in staffing (coming on the heels of the closing of another institution that I am connected to).  And, of course, the omnipresent reality of the state of the church in the postmodern, post-Christian West, with many shrinking, aging, and dying churches.  Of course there is good news out there as well—stories of vibrancy and creativity in the church, stories of new life and growth.  But some days… I don’t know.  Some days it’s easy to feel as if the gates of hell are on the fast track toward prevailing… Read more

Straight Lines

When I was young, faith often seemed to be about straight lines. Right/wrong. Do/don’t. Pure/impure. In/out. Faith/doubt. Virtue/sin. Blessed/cursed. Victorious/suffering. Innocent/guilty. Saved/damned. The lines were clean and true, and not to be trifled with. To suggest that the lines might not be so straight was itself evidence that you were on the wrong side of the line. To live and think rightly in the world involved accepting and preserving a lot of straight lines.  Read more

The Last Shall Be First

There is much that we hope for, we who have cast our lot with Jesus of Nazareth. We hope for mercy, forgiveness, new life, eternal life. We hope for the promise of a new heart that—against  all odds!—beats in sync with our Maker, as promised by the prophet Ezekiel. We hope for the relief from pain, for relational wholeness, for freedom from the burden of crippling doubts and unmanageable burdens. We hope for heaven, whatever that might mean. We hope for justice and peace, shalom for all of creation, for lions with lambs, for swords into plowshares, for a new heaven and a new earth. We hope that we will be loved and healed and restored, despite all that we have contributed to the brokenness of a broken world. We hope for no more tears.  We hope to be with God. And to be able to stand it. Read more

Sound Theology

Over the last few weeks, I have been mulling over an interesting passage from Marilynne Robinson’s fine novel, Lila. Reverend John Ames, an elderly Midwestern congregationalist preacher is in conversation with his much younger new wife Lila, who has come to find rest, shelter, and love after a brutally hard life full of abuse and neglect.  The conversation is about hell and the final judgment. Lila knows little of theology and metaphysics, but she has questions. Hard questions. How, she wonders, could the many people she has known who struggled and suffered so terribly on earth be made to suffer further in eternity because they didn’t become Christians? Who could believe this? She asks her husband how any of it could be true. Read more

A Meeting at the Well

This morning, I attended an ecumenical worship service in celebration of the Week of Prayer for Christian unity. Truth be told, this service wasn’t high on my list of things to do on a Saturday morning in the midst of a weekend where I am single parenting (my wife is away at a conference), where I spent five hours Friday night working at a bingo to raise funds for my daughter’s swim club, where I am weary from a full and demanding week, and where to say that Sunday’s sermon is “unfinished” would be the height of understatement. To top it all off, I usually feel a little out-of-place at these ecumenical services, standing amidst all of my more impressive-looking clergypersons with their beautiful robes and vestments. I can only imagine how it looks from the pew. Who’s that guy with the scruffy sports coat who forgot to shave?  What’s he doing up there? Who let him sit amongst the real pastors and priests? Read more

Fear Never Gives Birth to Love

I’m in the middle of a pretty busy stretch right now, so the posts will probably be a bit thinner than usual over the next little while. I did, however, want to throw up a brief reflection on fear and love. This past weekend I spoke at a young adults retreat out in the mountains. In the sessions, I reflected on what it means to be “set apart” for Jesus and, more specifically, what it is that ought to set us apart as Christians. I tried to make the case that it is not the correctness of our theology or the devotion we have for Scripture or our ethics or any of the other things that we scramble to do or think to secure our own salvation, but our capacity for and willingness to give and receive love. Read more

What a Friend We Have in Jesus

We often like to speak, in Christian circles, about the God who descends, who comes down, who is somehow nearest to those on the bottom, those who find themselves on the wrong side of the score. The words roll off our churchy tongues almost too easily. Friend of sinners… Blessed are the poor, those who mourn… A bruised reed he will not break… Man of sorrows, familiar with suffering… I have not come for the healthy but for the sick… The list could go on and on. We are well acquainted with the idea that Jesus seemed far more comfortable with the “losers” than he did with the “winners.”

I wonder if we really appreciate what this means. I wonder if we ever really grasp the significance of the way in which God conducted himself when he showed up as Jesus.  Read more

The News of the Day

A while back I was talking over coffee with a young man who had spent several months studying primate social behaviour in Africa. I asked him what, if anything, had surprised him about how chimpanzees behaved toward one another. “Yeah,” he said. “Sometimes they can be pretty awful toward each other! Almost as bad as humans.”

Almost.

 As we were reminded yet again today with the shocking events in Paris (and Yemen… and Iraq… and Somalia… and ____), human beings are unique in their capacity for ideologically fuelled violence, hatred, and murderous rage. Chimps can be selfish and cunning and brutal, yes. But it takes a human being to be evil. Read more

Rich and Poor

For a while now, I have had the following quote from Miroslav Volf’s Free of Charge taped to the inside of a handful of Bibles and displayed in prominent (i.e., unavoidable) locations in both my home and church office.  I’ve posted the quote here before, but these are words that I could stand to hear again (and again and again) at the outset of a new year.  It is a quote that speaks powerfully and personally to me.  It speaks of the self that I would like to be, for Christ’s sake, for the sake of others, and for my own sake.

A rich self has a distinct attitude towards the past, the present, and the future. It surveys the past with gratitude for what it has received, not with annoyance about what it hasn’t achieved or about how little it has been given. A rich self lives in the present with contentment. Rather than never having enough of anything except for the burdens others place on it, it is “always having enough of everything” (2 Corinthians 9:8). It still strives, but it strives out of a satisfied fullness, not out of the emptiness of craving. A rich self looks toward the future with trust. It gives rather than holding things back in fear of coming out too short, because it believes God’s promise that God will take care of it. Finite and endangered, a rich self still gives, because its life is “hidden with Christ” in the infinite, unassailable, and utterly generous God, the Lord of the present, the past, and the future.

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Little Hope

2015 came in with a bit of a whimper for me. Or, maybe a sigh. Or an uncomfortable grunt. Whatever the metaphor, it wasn’t really an exuberant cry of celebration. It wasn’t even the half-hearted smile toward the shallow madness that attends the New Years spectacles on television that I am usually just able to muster. Oh look, it’s 2015 in Sydney… and Tokyo… and Moscow… and New York! They’re still ___ hours ahead of us, eh? Who would have thought? Oh look, all kinds of fireworks and celebrities and sugary pop music that is—against all odds!— even worse live than on the radio and breathless declarations about dreams coming true and about what the coming year will (probably not) hold.

Sigh.

In the end, 2015 arrived in precisely the manner that a bunch of other years arrived. And we raised our glasses and wished each other a Happy New Year! And I yawned and went to bed. Read more

Twins

Something a bit different from the usual fare, to end off the year…

Over the last week or so, a handful of people have drawn my attention to a recent episode of The Current (a current affairs program on CBC Radio here in Canada) that talked about twins. Most readers of this blog will know why this program would have been deemed to be of interest to me. I am myself an identical twin, and am the father of fraternal thirteen-year-old twins. This morning, the day after my twin brother and his family departed after a Christmas visit, I finally sat down and listened to the podcast.  And now I find myself reflecting on twinhood (Twindom? Twinitude?) on this, the last day of 2014.

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2014 in Review

In a month or so I will have been writing in this space for eight years. As the years go by and the posts accumulate, it becomes increasingly interesting to track which posts grab people’s attentions and which do not, which have “staying power” (a tenuous term for, if ever there was one, in the context of our rapidly shrinking, social media-shaped attention spans) and which fade into online oblivion pretty much from the moment I press “publish.”

Speaking of pressing “publish,” I did so one hundred and sixteen times in 2014, which works out to nearly ten posts per month or two and half per week. And of those one hundred and sixteen posts in 2014, here are the five that caught readers’ attention more than the other one hundred and eleven, along with a brief description of each. Read more

Receiving a King

For I resolved to know nothing while I was with you except Jesus Christ and him crucified…

— 1 Corinthians 2:1

I’ve read these words from the Apostle Paul a number of times throughout the seasons of Advent and, now, Christmas. As is often the case when I read Paul, I find myself scratching my head, wondering why Paul says some of the things he does. I am pausing, in particular, on two words today, on this morning after we celebrated the arrival of the Christ child.

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The Mercy of God Directed Toward Us

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“We cannot approach the manger of the Christ child in the same way we approach the cradle of another child. Rather, when we go to his manger, something happens, and we cannot leave it again unless we have been judged or redeemed. Here we must either collapse or know the mercy of God directed toward us…

The throne of God in the world is not on human thrones, but in human depths, in the manger.  Standing around the throne there are no flattering vassals but dark, unknown, questionable figures who cannot get their fill of this miracle and want to live entirely by the mercy of God.”

— Dietrich Bonhoeffer, God is in the Manger

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Burn

I got a nice little note today from someone. It was about yesterday’s sermon. It had, apparently, “made sense of a few things.” I appreciated the note. Very much. God knows there are enough Sundays where it feels like one’s words are scattered to the wind. Who knows if or where or how they land? It is nice to hear that a sermon has helped. Read more