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Five Reasons That I Am Developing a Strong Distaste For “Five Reasons People Are Leaving the Church” Articles

It seems like every second time I open my computer these days I come across the latest instance of what is becoming a very familiar (and obnoxious) brand of writing: the “Five reasons for ____.” genre. Sometimes this takes the form of an “open letter,” a form of writing that is surely unparalleled in its odious ostentatiousness (“Dear church, here’s why no one is interested in you anymore” or “Dear church, let me explain to you why all your young people are leaving,” etc.). Sometimes writers of these pieces come up with really clever and original titles like “Losing My Religion” (I’m sure R.E.M. would be pleased). But more common these days are plain old lists.  “Five Reasons Why Nobody Goes to Your Church,” for example, or “Five Ways That You as a Pastor Can Stop Being So Boring and Lifeless” or “Five Ways to Stop Being a Soul-Sucking, Hollow Institution and Start Being Spiritually Vital and Appealing for Twenty-First Century Sophisticates.”

(Those last three may not have been actual titles, but, well, you get the point.) Read more

On Small Churches and Large Worlds

I followed a rabbit trail this morning from a blog that I occasionally read to the website of the church where the blogger was a pastor. It had been a while since I had visited the website of an American evangelical mega-church, and after a few minutes of browsing I was beginning to experience a bit of sensory overload. There was a page for every conceivable ministry under the sun—addictions, young moms, men, young adults, sports enthusiasts… On and on the list went. And then there was the “staff” page. There must have been close to fifty people and profiles as I just kept scrolling down and down and down the page. Pastors for care, for counseling, for administration, for music, for preaching, for teaching, for kids, for “operations,” for seniors, for outreach… I didn’t see any pastors for pets, but maybe I didn’t scroll down far enough.

I thought of our church website’s staff page with its one lonely inhabitant…  Read more

Hope and Change

The province of Alberta woke up this morning to, of all things, a majority NDP government. For my American readers, this would be something like the very reddest part of Texas voting in a Democrat. I say “something like” because in reality the Alberta NDPs are probably more centrist than many NDP provincial governments in Canada have been, and because Alberta isn’t quite as far right as Texas. But still. Many were expecting a minority government at best (or worst, depending on your perspective… Myself included).  The idea that Alberta—Alberta!—could be awash in NDP orange (and by a considerable margin!) was, for many people, quite literally unthinkable. Until last night. Read more

On Kings and Kingdoms

It’s Election Day here in the province of Alberta, and for the first time in nearly half a century, it seems that the election will be more than a foregone conclusion. For the past forty-four years, the Progressive Conservative party has been in power in our province, often winning elections in laughably overwhelming numbers. Alberta simply is PC blue. At least that’s how it’s been until now. The political climate is changing, it seems. The PCs iron grip on the province seems to be weakening. There is even talk that they could be defeated. In other words, we have a meaningful election on our hands for the first time in my lifetime. Read more

People of the Heart

Every so often, the accumulation of paper and books and coffee cups and unopened correspondence on my desk crosses a threshold of clutter and despair that even I am no longer able to tolerate, and I begin take halting, tremulous steps to beat back the beast..  This often happens on Fridays on weeks when I am not scheduled to preach.  Like today, for example.

Among my discoveries as I tried to wrest order out of chaos this morning was a monthly newsletter from our local L’Arche community.   Read more

Our Refuge and Strength

Last week’s earthquake in Nepal has, at last count, resulted in well over five thousand deaths and has crippled the nation in all the devastating ways that “natural disasters” do.  We see these images and read these reports on our screens and we feel numb.  We have few categories for such suffering.  The weight of the pain seems too much to contemplate.  We don’t know what to do or say or how to pray.  For a while, at least. Read more

What Do You Want Me to Do For You?”

When I was younger, I would often hear or imagine some version of the “If you could ask God any question in the world, what would it be?” I had a long list. What’s the point of angels? What’s with all the killing in the OT? How old will I be in heaven? Did Methuselah really live for almost a millennium? What was the point of the flood if wickedness has remained on the earth ever since? How did Jesus walk through the door after his resurrection, yet Thomas could still touch him? How did you make something from nothing? Why should we pray if you already know everything? How can you be everywhere at the same time?  Why did Eve take the fruit…  My list could have filled a book. Or a blog.  Read more

I Am Not a Rational Human

The day started promisingly enough. I opened my eyes and the sun was trickling through the blinds. I remembered that it was Monday, and that Monday was my day off, and that I like Mondays. I thought about a leisurely morning spent on the front porch sun with a good book and a cup of coffee. I sighed contentedly. Yes, very promising indeed. And then I got out of bed. Read more

This World Is (Not) My Home

Judging from the content pouring through my various social media feeds (and from my wife’s enthusiastic exhortation to go get a free Starbucks coffee!), today is Earth Day. Another day devoted to building awareness, promoting responsibility, and broadening horizons. I wonder if we are soon going to run out of calendar space for all of the special “days” that join the fray each year, but I am of course happy to affirm Earth Day and all it represents. Read more

Nothing Can Separate       

I’ve been thinking often over the last few days and weeks about the last three verses of the magnificent eight chapter of Paul’s letter to the church in Rome:

No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.

Read more

“Some More Skilled Future Self”

Unlike animals that live in the moment and merely cope with the world (however smoothly), we are… drawn out of our present selves toward some more skilled future self that we emulate…. [W]e are never fully at home in the world. We are always “on our way.” Or perhaps we should say that this state of being on our way to somewhere else is our peculiar human way of being here in the world.

— Matthew Crawford, The World Beyond Your Head

 Most therapists will say that a key to finding any kind of viable and lasting happiness in the world requires coming to peace with who you are. Not some future self that you wish you could be, not the person that you imagine yourself to be in your best moments, not the person that you will undoubtedly be 2, 5, 10 years from now. No, the person staring back at you in the mirror. Unless you can believe that you are enough as you are—that you matter and have value even prior to all of the well-intentioned character modifications that inevitably loom over the next ridge of your life—you will never be at peace. Your striving will always be borne out of restlessness and dissatisfaction, rather than a desire for goodness. Read more

Wednesday Miscellany

At any given moment, I have around half a dozen half-written blog-posts and/or fragmentary ideas lying around collecting dust in my “drafts” folder.   Sometimes these turn into full-length pieces. Sometimes they just forlornly sit there for months on end until I either get sick of looking at them OR forcibly wrench them into a “Miscellany” post. Today, it’s the latter. :)

Here, then, my latest assemblage of ideas about totally unrelated topics… Read more

The Jesus Lizard

After one of the warmest winters I can recall in southern Alberta, we were greeted on Easter Sunday with snow. So much for the springtime resurrection metaphors, I suppose.

Which is fine. I’ve never had much use for the resurrection of Jesus as a metaphor anyway. At least not as just a metaphor. As I read through the four gospel accounts of the resurrection last week, again and again I was struck by how utterly unprepared and bewildered and terrified the first witnesses were by this turn in the story. The early church was literally shocked into existence, dragged reluctantly and confusedly from an empty tomb into the landscape of new creation. I think those first witnesses would find all of our enlightened “resurrection as hopeful metaphor” language rather amusing. At best.  Hope was something they had pretty much abandoned, until it showed up, wounds and all, and stared them in the face. Read more

O Lamb of God, Forgive Thy Butchers.

And so, this is the day.

The day when the angry mob baying for blood gets their way, the day when they trade the Messiah sent to them for the Messiah they wanted, welcoming the insurrectionist Barabbas back from the dead, and sending the Lamb of God off to slaughter.   Read more

Phone Call

I have learned, over the course of nearly four years being a solo pastor in a small church with no office staff to handle phones, to be wary of answering calls with unfamiliar area codes. At best, these tend to be automated telemarketing calls or faxes (there are people out there who still fax, apparently) and I can easily hang up the phone and move on with my day. At worst, they are eager representatives (frequently relentlessly cheerful young women with southern drawls—unless it’s Promise Keepers calling) from large, usually American, religious organizations who are seeking my/our support for some upcoming event or initiative or massive multi-site networked “experience” that will revolutionize my ministry. These calls are much more difficult to extract myself from. I am never rude, but I’m afraid I don’t give them much by way of encouragement. Usually by around the second minute of our phone call, I can sense the exasperation bleeding through the line all the way from Tennessee.  Read more

Hiding

Like many, I’ve been following the story of the Andreas Lubitz, the Germanwings pilot who deliberately crashed the plane he was co-piloting from Barcelona to Dusseldorf into the French Alps this week, killing himself and 149 other precious human beings. It is a disturbing story, on so many levels. We read, we watch, we listen with mouths open, aghast. What could possibly drive someone to do such a thing? We struggle to make sense out of the senseless. We sift around in the wreckage, as it were, trying to find something—anything—that might allow us to place this event into intelligible moral categories.  Read more

The Enemy at the Gate

People like to give pastors things to read, I am discovering. Hardly a week goes by without an article or a book appearing on my desk or church mailbox, or a link in my inbox. You should really read this, pastor!  A quick survey of the accumulated suggestions of the past week or so reveals an article on the history of Mennonites in southern Alberta, a book about the “battle” against same-sex marriage, a review of a book about dying well, promotional material for an educational institution, and an expose of the Alberta tar sands. Oh, and a drawing of Sponge Bob with “Happy Early Easter!” written beside it that showed up after church on Sunday.  It’s not just the grown ups who like to leave things in my office, evidently. Read more

Pain Management

Two recent conversations about pain…

My daughter has lately been coming to terms with the horrors of World War 2. They’ve been studying this period of history in school, and last night she watched a movie that told the story of war through the lens of a couple of young children. She was distraught and more than a little belligerent at the end. How could God possibly allow people to make things like gas chambers?! she demanded to know. I thought God was supposed to help people! What about all the promises that God makes to deliver people?! Why wouldn’t God stop people from doing that to each other?! I totally get why some people say there’s no God! Why doesn’t God do something?!  Read more