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
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