Back in my university days I took an undergraduate philosophy course on the problem of evil. We had been through most of the well-rehearsed responses to the question of how evil can co-exist with an all-powerful, all-good, and all-knowing God. Each had their problems, of course. “But what happens if we just say that God is limited?” our professor asked, with evident glee. What if God’s kinda just making it up as he goes along? What if God’s a bit of a selfish jerk who isn’t nearly as considered with human misery as we are? Or, what if he’s a nice enough guy, but he just can’t do much about evil? What if he’s doing the best he can with what he has to work with? What if he’s learning as he goes, just like the rest of us? Read more
Posts from the ‘Death’ Category
Ever since I was a little kid, I have felt the pain of the world quite deeply (how’s that for a pretentious opening sentence?!). I don’t recall being an unhappy child—not by any means!—but I do quite distinctly remember being drawn toward more existential themes of pain and loss and identity and belonging, even as a relatively young person. Often the manifestation of these tendencies coincided with being dumped by a girlfriend (in grade 7-8!) or failing a test (mathematics and I are still sworn enemies) or some other utterly ordinary perceived injustice in the life of a kid. But I also remember wondering about and being saddened by some fairly big questions. Why do so many people suffer? Why do I have a mom and a dad who love and care for me while others do not? Why was I born in Canada and not Ethiopia? How does God expect us to live with joy and happiness when we see pain all around us and while we know that death is coming? If God is good and powerful, why does he allow so much horrific pain in his world? Read more
I opened my reader this morning to discover no fewer than six tributes to author, speaker, and contemplative Brennan Manning, who passed away early this morning at the age of 79. Brennan Manning is, regrettably, one of those writers that I have seen quoted endlessly but have never actually read. Consequently, I spent a bit of time this morning doing a bit of reading about his life and work, digging up quotes, and generally trying to learn a bit more about this widely admired figure who seemed so keenly tuned to grace. Of course, I also ordered a few of his books . I am looking forward to my relatively late introduction to Mr. Manning.
Every morning this week, these words from John’s gospel have framed the morning prayers in the prayer-book I use. They are good and hopeful words with which to greet a new day. They are appropriate post-Easter words. As is the case throughout John’s gospel, there is this wonderful contrast between the light and the life of Christ and the darkness and death we see all around us. Jesus’ words are true and good and full of strength and hope
And then I walk out the front door… Read more
I spent the morning after the triumph of life over death reading about the triumph of death over life.
Well, that sounds a little more dramatic than it actually was. What I was in fact reading was a fairly ordinary little book by David Webster called Dispirited: How Contemporary Spirituality Makes Us Stupid, Selfish and Unhappy. It’s hard to imagine a book with a subtitle that catchy being almost a complete waste of time, but it was. I was really looking forward to reading Dispirited after hearing an interview with Webster on the radio (he made some intriguing comments about contemporary spirituality and how it perpetuates selfishness, individualism, consumerism, etc.), but the book turned out to be a rather poorly written, sloppily edited collection of loosely connected rants against the increasing prominence of the (admittedly irritating) “I’m spiritual but not religious” claim. Read more
Remember that you are dust and that to dust you shall return.
These words have been spoken in churches around the world this Ash Wednesday and will be spoken later today in our own church. These words are a call to ponder our mortality, to examine our souls and repent for our sins, to begin the slow march to the cross of Christ and to the new life of resurrection on the other side. Read more
The world of social media has been all abuzz today with Mike Huckabee’s weekend response to the “Where was God in Connecticut?” question. Huckabee’s “answer” is as familiar as the question to which it responds, and has been somberly rehearsed by American evangelical types frequently over the past few decades when it comes to these kinds of tragedies. You know it well, don’t you? It goes something like this: “Well, why should we expect God to show up when we have spent the last fifty years systematically removing him from our [insert public institution—usually schools].” Simply put: “Where was God? Well, we kicked him out!” Read more
Part of this morning’s sermon preparation involved thumbing through Charles Taylor’s magisterial work, A Secular Age. That sounds unbearably pretentious, I know—as if it is my regular practice to consult dense works of philosophy for my weekly sermons. As soon as I finish with Taylor, I’ll get on with the rest of my weekly tour of really, really smart people who have written really, really long and impressive books that I understand perfectly, and will wonderfully and relevantly and seamlessly synthesize into an easily digestible sermon for Sunday. Sure.
One of the things my daughter was looking forward to when we moved from the west coast back to the prairies was the opportunity to join 4H and have her own sheep. For those who don’t know, 4H is a kind of farm club where kids learn how to raise calves, sheep, etc. And so, this past weekend I found myself at my daughter’s 4H sale. Saturday was the big day when her sheep was paraded before the judges and then auctioned off. Read more
The resurrection message burst through the frontiers and was universal: Christ has been raised not as an individual but as Israel’s messiah, as the Son of man of the nations, as humanity’s ‘new Adam’, and as “the first-born of all creation”…. The risen Christ pulls Adam with his right hand and Eve with his left, and with them draws the whole of humanity out of he world of death into the transfigured world of eternal life. His new beginning in his end is the beginning of God’s new world in the passing away of this one. Whether this world will come to an end, and whatever that end may be, the Christian hope says: God’s future has already begun. With Christ’s resurrection from the catastrophe of Golgotha the new beginning has already been made, a beginning which will never again pass away.
Jürgen Moltmann, In the End—the Beginning
What does this have to do with me? These were the decidedly impious words that kept rattling around my cranium as I drove around town running errands after a local Good Friday service this morning. It had been a meaningful service—beautiful music, considerable time spent hearing Scripture, a dramatic portrayal of Jesus’ betrayal, “trial,” and crucifixion—but for some reason, the events we remembered this morning seemed light years away from my own life and experience.
Occasionally, a word or a phrase encountered in everyday discourse will jump out and lodge itself in my brain for the rest of the day—or at least until I blog about it! This morning, I was listening to a radio program discussing a certain person who had been the victim of some terrible crimes, the unlikelihood of “justice” being done in this case, the effects this was having upon them, etc, etc. It was an interview that spoke of sadness and regret, anger and pain. Near the end, the topic turned to the uncertainty of what lay ahead for this person who had been victimized in a variety of ways. He wasn’t sure about specific next steps, but he were certain of one thing: “I deserve a happy ending.” Read more
It’s mid-afternoon and it’s been one of those scattered, disjointed days. Office equipment malfunctioning, the seemingly constant pinging of email, several conversations about how to do this or that better, and what the church ought to consider doing, and what a healthy church looks like, and not getting my sermon done, and thinking ahead to a funeral for a friend tomorrow, and how are we going to get the kids to their various activities tonight, and don’t forget to stop at the bank, and remember to call so-and-so about such-and such, and, and, and…. Read more
I led my first ever Ash Wednesday service today. Actually, scratch that. I participated in my first Ash Wednesday service today. My Mennonite Brethren background was decidedly low church and we didn’t really observe Lent or Advent or the Christian year in general. It was Christmas and Easter and that was about it. Everything else was high-church or “liturgical” (as if we weren’t!) or some other negative or, at least, unnecessary practice. And even though in recent years many churches in the Anabaptist tradition have moved toward embracing the Christian calendar, I still had never actually attended an Ash Wednesday service.
Two services in the next six days, combined with a quick jaunt to Saskatchewan to see family in between will likely mean a rather light week on this blog. I did, however, want to throw up a quote that I came across a while back that I’ve been thinking about as we head into the season of Lent.
This past Sunday was Transfiguration Sunday where the divinity of Jesus is revealed to a handful of frightened and bewildered disciples on the top of a mountain. During Lent and Holy Week we reflect upon the simultaneously horrific, beautiful, and unexpected manner in which this divinity is expressed. Read more