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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

Be My Brother

Lord Jesus, come yourself, and dwell with us, be human as we are, and overcome what overwhelms us. Come into the midst of my evil, come close to my unfaithfulness. Share my sin, which I hate and which I cannot leave. Be my brother, Thou Holy God. Be my brother in the kingdom of evil and suffering and death. 

— Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Sermon for Advent Sunday, December 2, 1928

——

Each of the last three Advents I have been spending time with God is in the Manger, a collection of Advent and Christmas-themed writings by the great German theologian and pastor, Dietrich Bonhoeffer. And each of the last three years I have been stopped dead in my tracks by the quote above. The following are a few reflections taken from a journal entry after encountering these words again this morning. Read more

A Child Has Our Life in His Hands

A few scraps and fragments after a morning spent the morning at the seniors home…

A woman sits, staring vacantly at the television in front of her.  I look at the TV.  It is a road report, outlining the wintry conditions that we might expect on this or that Alberta road.  I ponder the abundant ironies and incongruities contained in the image of this woman sitting, alone, watching the road report.  She will likely never travel a winter road again… Read more

Lament for a Small Town Bible School

The official news showed up where all things show up these days: on my Facebook feed. Right there next to cheesy inspirational slogans and idiotic videos and family photos and passive-aggressive politicking…

It is with profound sadness and regret that the Bethany College Board of Directors announces that the conclusion of the 2014-2015 year will mark the end of the ministry of Bethany College in its current iteration.

It wasn’t a surprise to me—I had seen this sad news coming for quite a while, had been talking with my twin brother (the academic dean) about it for months—but I was surprised at the way my heart sank when I read the announcement. Surprised by how surprised I was to see the words on the screen.   December 10, 2014. The day the news came that another small Canadian Bible school—an institution that has been around since 1927­—would be closing its doors. Read more

I Don’t Understand

I didn’t really understand what you were talking about the other night.

The comment was simple, innocent, straightforwardly honest. It was an utterly unremarkable event in the life the church. Indeed, it was a gracious invitation for further clarification and conversation. And the comment wasn’t even in response to a sermon or lecture that I had poured hours of time and energy and emotional investment into, but a rather light-hearted devotional at a social function. But for some reason, this simple statement came crashing over me like a tidal wave.  Read more

God is a Lover

What is God like?

The question sounds simple enough, but the ways in which we explicitly and, more often, implicitly answer this question in our daily lives has profound effects upon nearly all that we are and all that we do. In many ways it is the question.  And anyone who has spent even a small amount of time in churchy circles (and beyond) will know that there a truly bewildering array of toxic conceptions of God that people daily walk around with in their heads. Read more

Rough Ground

A photographer friend of mine often reminds me of the importance of paying attention to the world around us, of capturing ordinary moments in ordinary places on ordinary days. I’m not much of a photographer, but I would like to be a better payer-of-attention. Lately, I often find myself just sitting and staring, recording images and impressions in my head, trying to remember, trying to write them down…

One of the places I sit and stare is the downtown library.  I spend a decent amount of time here. I read while my daughter is at swim club, while my son is at guitar lessons, when I have an hour to kill between supper and a meeting, when I need to get out of the office.  The library is a very interesting place to sit and stare…  Read more

Come to Jesus

I was part of a conference call yesterday with a number of young-ish pastors in our denomination where we were talking about Jesus’ prayer in John 17 that the his followers would be “one.” Anyone with even the most cursory understanding of church history will know that, well, we haven’t exactly done so well with this little ideal of Jesus’. Read more

Look On Us, We Pray

As I write these words, my kids and my wife are putting the finishing touches on the Christmas decorations around the house. There are giggles and lights, there is colour and warmth on a brutally cold day. There are happy sounds. And the happy sounds make me happy, too.

But it’s impossible for my thoughts not to drift in darker directions, too, even amidst the giggles and the lights.  For whatever reason, this has been a need-filled fall season. So many people struggling. So many people limping along from crisis to crisis. So many people desperate for love, for acceptance, for belonging. So many people for whom God’s peace and God’s plan seem utterly hidden. So many people needing so much help.  The need is always there, I know. But for whatever reason, it has felt more acute this fall. Read more

Hunger

Rocky is third in line for lunch at the soup kitchen. He has a big red face, crooked aviator sunglasses, and a navy blue tracksuit. His jacket is opened wide to reveal a gaudy silver dog chain that hangs down to the middle of his chest. He’s got a bunch of faded tattoos peeking out from the bottom of his sleeves, and the word “Elvis” tattooed across the side his neck. Read more

“A Shard of Glass in Your Gut”

For most of this fall, our church’s worship has spent time dwelling in a handful of chapters from the back-end of Matthew’s gospel.  This stretch of the first gospel (ch. 22-25) contains long, at times unbroken stretches of words out of the mouth of Jesus.  Words to the religious leaders of Israel, words to his disciples, words to the hovering crowds.  Words of clarification and confrontation, words of offence and judgment.  Words that jolt and alarm and cause the scratching of heads.  Words about vineyards and virgins and landlords and kings, and screwed up systems where the punishment rarely seems to fit the crime.  Words about wasting opportunities, about not paying attention, and suffering the ultimate consequence.  Words about weeping and gnashing of teeth, words about darkness and the eternal fires prepared for the devil.  Words that sometimes draw us to and sometimes repel us from the One who speaks them.  I have been struck throughout our trip through this portion of Matthew at what an enigma Jesus can be, at times.  At how hard his words can sometimes be. Read more