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Free Booze: A Lenten Reflection on Customer Satisfaction

I heard an advertisement on the radio while driving around today. A restaurant was offering one free glass of wine per person for every visit over a certain period of time. After frantically altering my lunch plans and stampeding down to this restaurant for an 11:00 lunch snorting derisively at the moral decay and transparent desperation evident in such a marketing campaign, I got to making a few (mostly unflattering) comparisons in my head between restaurants and churches as I meandered along the errand trail for the rest of the morning. Read more

“A Love That Never Shudders at the State We’re In”

Of all the stories that Jesus tells, there are few that break and remake us, that lay our souls bare, that fire our hearts us with the hope of mercy like the parable of the prodigal son (Luke 15:11-32).  It is a story for broken sons and weary daughters, for love-sick fathers and grumbling exemplars of grim-faced duty.  It is a story that describes the homecoming we all, I suspect, hunger for, even when we are only dimly aware of it.  It is the story of what God looks like and how God loves, no matter what we look like, no matter how poorly we love. Read more

Unlearning

Last night, our family went to see a drama performance called “New Blood” that was held at the local university as part of their “Native Awareness Week” celebrations. The show was put together by high school students from Strathmore, AB, a small town near Calgary and bordering the Siksika Nation, a member of the Blackfoot Confederacy. Through music, drama, drumming, and dance, the students told the life story of Vincent Yellow Old Woman (the current chief of the Siksika Nation), including his time spent in residential school as a boy, and the later recovery of his Blackfoot culture. It was a moving portrayal of the many losses experienced by indigenous people as a result of colonialism, as well as a stirring call to hope, forgiveness, and love. Read more

Some Sundays

Some Sundays are better than others. Every pastor knows this. Every parishioner surely knows this. Some Sundays the seats are filled, the music is glorious, the prayers and the stories and the sermons are crammed full of inspiration and provocation. Some Sundays there are unexpected divine surprises that catch you off guard and move you to tears. Some Sundays are incredible, and I am pleased with whatever contributions I have made to the worship of Christ.

And other Sundays? Well, not so much. Read more

A Soul and a Bad Bargain

Have you ever had the experience while reading of one sentence almost literally leaping off the page? Amidst all the little black marks on white pages arranged in neat little rows, one collection of markings sets itself apart from the herd, towering above the others, reaching out, grabbing you by the throat, forcing you to reckon with it. Have you ever observed as all the other words on the page, the chapter, the book, recede into the background, as this one sentence burrows into your brain. Have you ever noticed that not all words are created equal. That some matter more, are bigger, deeper, more terrifying than others. That some words drag us into the ring and force us to face foes we would prefer to ignore. That we have even, perhaps, spent long years determinedly ignoring. Read more

“Who Sees and Sings and Wonders Why…”

Poetry doesn’t tend to agree with me.  Or, more precisely, I don’t tend to agree with it.  I’m too linear or dully rationalistic or unimaginative or…  Too, well, something.  Or, perhaps, not enough something.  I so often just don’t get it.  I read a poem (or, more likely, a few lines from a poem), scratch my head, struggling to decipher “the meaning” of the strange words and patterns, the unfamiliar arrangements of syllables and syntax on the page, furrow my brow, read harder, more determinedly, try, try again, and then retreat, defeated, tail between my legs, to the safety and predictability of prose. Poetry so often seems like a gleaming city I have never visited filled with sights and sounds that are destined to forever remain inaccessible to this provincial boy. Read more

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.

Read more