“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
For dear friends on the passing of a father and friend… Dear friends whose steps must today begin to beat the well-worn path through the valley of the shadow…
But if death is the end in Christianity, it is not the final end; it is the end of an act only, not the end of the drama. Once before out of the abyss of the unborn, the uncreated, the not-yet, you and I who from all eternity had been nothing became something. Out of nonbeing we emerged into being. And what Jesus promises is resurrection, which means that once again this miracle will happen, and out of death will come another realm of life. Not because by our nature there is part of us that does not die, but because by God’s nature he will not let even death separate us from him finally.
Because he loves us. In love he made us and in love he will mend us. In love he will have us his true children before he is through, and in order to do that, one life is not enough, God knows.
Frederick Buechner, The Hungering Dark
Every human society is, in the last resort, men banded together in the face of death. The power of religion depends, in the last resort, upon the credibility of the banners it puts in the hands of men as they stand before death, or more accurately, as they walk, inevitably, toward it.
Peter Berger, The Sacred Canopy
I’ve written a lot of posts about death here over the years. Usually these are reflections upon the pain and the longing that accompany death, or about what the existence of death and our reaction to its inevitability might say about what it means to be human or about the nature of God and God’s promise. Or these posts represent a personal encounter with death—they are reflections about what it’s like to walk with people through death, or the experience of grief, or whatever. Read more
One of the best parts of spending a bit of time in British Columbia each summer is the opportunity to reconnect with the many dear people whose lives we were once embedded in—at least in a more concrete way. It is so often a delight to discover the twists and turns people’s lives have taken, how their kids have grown, the new opportunities they are exploring, etc. It is a privilege to see how the goodness of God traces its way through the many stories we have been privileged to be a part of.
But, as always, there are other stories, too. Stories of relational breakdown, job difficulties, children who have gotten themselves into a bad place. And death. Always stories of death. Read more
This post is part of a MennoNerds Synchro-Blog on the topic of Death, Loss, Pain and Grief, July 14-30, 2013. Check out our page on MennoNerds.com to see all the other posts in this series.
As I was reflecting upon what and how I might contribute to this Synchro-Blog, it occurred to me to do some snooping around in my own archives. I discovered that I have actually written a fair amount on death over the years. What follows is a compilation of three posts from the past. The first was written after the death of a friend and is a personal expression of the pain of loss. The second is a reflection on death in the context of the pastoral vocation, written after being called upon to do a memorial service at the outset of my new role. The third is simply a quote about death that I have grown to love and deeply appreciate over the years. Read more
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 concerned 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
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.
Jesus said, I have come that they may have life,
and have it abundantly.
Whoever follows me
will never walk in darkness
but will have the light of life.
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
A few stray strands from the week that was that I am trying to connect on a glorious hoar-frosted Friday morning….
One of the cool traditions that our church is a part of is what is called “Lenten lunches.” Every Thursday throughout Lent, a different church in our city opens its doors to sisters and brothers from other denominations for a short devotional, followed by a simple lunch of soup and bread. Yesterday, I was at a table with a few other pastors and the conversation inevitably turned to the demands of ministry, the sometimes seemingly endless meetings, the overwhelming needs of people that we are so often powerless to meet, the importance of boundaries, etc. There was plenty of knowing nodding and mm-hmming. But then there was a pause… and a comment from an Anglican minister: “But isn’t the invitation to Christ on some level an invitation to die?” 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.