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Broken Down

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

Charlie Sheen is a Winner and So Am I!

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

Look Into My Eyes

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

F*** Everything (Except Me)

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

The Slow Rewards of Fidelity

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

Questions and Answers

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.

Read more

Three Girls (And an Orangey-Brown Dress)

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

These Words

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

Hints and Glimmers (A Tale of Two Movies)

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

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.

Read more

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