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 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
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
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.
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
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 ago, and everything else seems small and trivial. Read more
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
In what is now becoming something like a sacred ritual of the digital age, the following scenario unfolded this week. 1) Something bad happened—in this case, the suicide of a famous celebrity who had long struggled with addictions and depression; 2) People flooded to the Internet to give voice to their opinions about what (if anything) this bad thing meant and what (if anything) we ought to learn from it; 3) Someone wrote something that was perceived to be inflammatory/controversial/insensitive/wrong about the nature of this bad thing (in this case, conservative Christian blogger Matt Walsh, who wrote a post called “Robin Williams Didn’t Die From a Disease, He Died From His Choice” which has generated well over three million views and over four thousand comments at the time of this writing); 4) The Internet heaved and lurched in a maelstrom of fury and passion, whether in opposition to or defense of said article/writer (in this case it seems to be mostly the former; Walsh has apparently even received death threats over this post); 5) After collectively marinating in this unedifying, soupy mess for a few days, we all moved on to other more fertile pastures in which to expend our self-righteous energies. Read more
I often hear some version or other of the well-worn argument that faith in God is for the weak, the intellectually deficient, the cowardly, the lonely, the marginalized and disenfranchised, or those staring down the prospect of death and grasping at something—anything!—to make their pain more bearable. The healthy, the strong, the educated and influential, the sane—these are imagined to have no need for such supernatural aids. Religion is a crutch for those who can’t (or won’t) face life as it really is, in all of its starkness. Read more
I spent a good chunk of last week in Winnipeg for our church’s national Assembly. So a quiet Monday morning back home would be an ideal time to begin sifting through four days of lectures, workshops, and conversation, coming up with some kind of a coherent “takeaway” from the variously inspiring, moving, frustrating, exhausting, and rewarding time spent with Mennonites from across Canada, right? Not really, as I turns out. Maybe that synthesis will come later. Today, my thoughts are running along different lines. Read more
So we have arrived at the Thursday before the Friday before the Sunday that changed the world. One of this morning’s readings in the prayer-book I use was the scene where Jesus is sentenced to death in the twenty-third chapter of the Gospel of Luke. It is, of course, a sad scene. The light of the world is handed over to the greedy and murderous hands of an angry mob. The Son of God gives himself away to those who don’t know what they are doing. Read more
I sometimes think of strange things on the way to work. Today is April 8, 2014. Yesterday it was 20 degrees Celsius here in southern Alberta. This morning it is snowing. This seemed somehow wrong to me as I was driving down the highway this morning. Yesterday the window was open. Today the defrost is on and there is snow on the hood of my car. Yes, this is very wrong indeed.
As I was pondering the deep and mysterious wrongness of southern Alberta weather patterns, I began to wonder about other wrong things in our world. I began to wonder about how many things are said, each day, in our communities, cities, nations, and world, that are wrong. How many factual errors? How much sloppy and inaccurate reporting? How many people pronouncing upon things they know little about? How much of noisy chatter in Internet-land is simply misinformed and incorrect? How are we able to wade through all this wrongness and still function? Read more
I read an article this week about the death of handwriting and how a whole generation of kids will grow up with bad to nonexistent penmanship skills due to the proliferation of technological devices that they master before their tenth birthday. I read another one about how we retain far more of what we write when use pen and paper rather than laptop and tablets. And then I read yet another article about how wireless technology was giving us cancer and generally rotting our brains. Feeling appropriately despondent about the state of our wired and technologically dependent world, I said to myself, “very well then, pen to paper it is.” My handwriting, as you will see, is truly abysmal (I’m old enough that I can’t even blame the Internet for my inadequacies), but hopefully it is legible nonetheless. Believe it or not, this is the result of me writing extra slowly.
I wrote the following reflection sitting in a dumpy coffee shop with an old notebook after visiting a dear saint walking through the fog and sadness of the valley of the shadow. Read more
“We do not know how to pray” (Romans 8:26). The whole uniqueness of Jesus of Nazareth lies in this: that he knows how to pray, because he knows to whom he is speaking. His greatest miracle was not healing or walking on water or driving out devils, but teaching his followers to say our Father.
— Benjamin Myers, Salvation in My Pocket
This afternoon I did a bit of an inventory of recent encounters with the Lord’s Prayer. Read more
So, Nelson Mandela has died and the tributes are deservedly pouring in. The world is undoubtedly a poorer place for Mr. Mandela’s absence. His story inspires and compels on so many levels. His legacy is sure and strong. Read more
What is the gospel?
You would think that a room full of pastors would be able to offer a pretty concise and comprehensive answer to so basic a query, but when the question was posed at a gathering I was a part of yesterday, the silence was deafening. Maybe we thought it was a kind of trick question, that it was too easy. Maybe we were afraid that we would omit some important detail and look foolish in front of respected peers. Maybe we were mentally sifting and sorting between all the competing answers out there. Maybe we just didn’t want to be the first to speak. Or, maybe it was a genuine struggle to articulate somethings so basic to our identity. I don’t know. Read more
It struck me, as I was standing at the graveside of a family friend last week, what a truly staggering thing it is to proclaim the resurrection of the dead.
I was staring at the wet, squishy ground, wiggling my toes, trying to stay warm in the typical British Columbia November drizzle, listening to the pastor reciting familiar words from the Psalms, from the Gospels, words about how death is a beginning not an end, words about how this person is with Jesus now, about how we have a living hope. I looked at the coffin and thought about the person we all knew and loved who was about to be lowered into the ground. I stared back at my shoes. More words from the pastor. I remember thinking, “God, I’m glad I’m not in his shoes today. I’m glad I am not faced with the task of speaking these wildly counterintuitive resurrection words into the yawning chasm of death today.” Read more
“There are no atheists in foxholes,” goes the famous aphorism. It’s meant, I suppose, to get at the idea that when you’re face to face with darkness and death and horror and suffering, atheism suddenly becomes a less credible option. The reality of death makes believers, or at least desperate hopers out of us all. When our lives are under threat, God seems more palatable. That’s the idea, as I understand it at least. Read more