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
Posts from the ‘Hope’ Category
One day, three conversations.
1. I’m at a function where my job is to give a short devotional and prayer before the meal. Pastor-y stuff. You know. I’m trying to be witty, disarming, light. I make some throwaway comment about how I know we’re all hungry and that the soup smells good, but please won’t you just spare 5 minutes or so for the presence to descend? I do my thing. Appreciative smiles, all around. Let’s eat. I wander around the room, hungry for praise, when a woman approaches me. I smile warmly, preparing myself for the inevitable, “oh, thank you for your words” and “that was so wonderful” or some other appropriately appreciative expression of gratitude. But she isn’t smiling. “You shouldn’t have said that, you know!” I look blankly at her. “Um, what?” “About being hungry. We’re not hungry. None of us has ever been hungry. Certainly not you. You shouldn’t have said that.” I’m waiting for her to say, “ah, just kidding!” or “but other than that, your words were, of course, quite brilliant.” I’m waiting for the conversation to make the obligatory turn. Doesn’t she know this isn’t how it goes? Doesn’t she know about the appreciative remarks and that grateful smiles? Hasn’t she read the script?! But there is no turn. And she still isn’t smiling. “Um, well, I’m sorry,” I mumble unimpressively. “My husband was a prisoner of war,” she says, face unmoving. “He knew about hunger. But you don’t know what it’s like. You should be careful about what you say.” 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
I had planned to be in Edmonton today for the seventh and final national event of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada, but a combination of an unexpectedly clogged schedule and yet another batch of bad weather in the winter that refuses to die means that I am, instead, watching the events on my laptop on this snowy spring morning. The opening ceremonies are taking place right now—the prayers, the speeches, the parade of dignitaries across the stage. It’s all very good, but the audio’s not great, so my mind is drifting.
I notice her standing in line at the café. She’s young, attractive, and has an easy smile. Everything about her appearance screams confidence and self-assurance. She’s dressed stylishly, I suppose, a little bit provocative or edgy or something (as if I knew a thing about style). She turns toward me and I notice her shirt. It’s tight and black and it has what looks like a Jack Daniels logo on the front. But it doesn’t say “Jack Daniels.” It says, rather, in bold, bracing white letters, “100% PURE ATHEIST.” Underneath, in smaller letters, “Two hands at work for good in the world are more useful than a thousand folded in prayer.” I sigh, almost audibly. I would have preferred Jack Daniels. Read more
Fear. Of nothingness. Of dying. Of failure. Of change. It is of different degrees, but it all comes from one source, which is the isolated self, the self willfully held apart from God. There are three ways you can deal with this fear. You can simply refuse to acknowledge it, dulling your concerns with alcohol or entertainment or exercise or even a sort of virtuous busyness, adding your own energies to the white noise of anxiety that this culture we have created seems to use as fuel. This is despair, but it is a quiet despair, and bearable for many years. By the time that great grinding wheel of the world rolls over you for good, you will be too eroded to notice.
Or, if you are strong in the way that the world is strong, you can strap yourself into life and give yourself over to a kind of furious resistance that may very well carry you through your travails, may bring you great success and seem to the world triumphant, perhaps even heroic. But if it is merely your will that you are asserting, then you will develop a carapace around your soul, the soul that God is trying to refine, and one day you will return to dust inside that shell that you have made.
There is another way. It is the way of Christ in the Garden of Gethsemane, pleading for release from his fate, abandoned by God. It is something you cannot learn as a kind of lessons simply from reading the text. Christ teaches by example, true, but he lives with us, lives in us, through imagination and experience. It is through all these trials in our own lives, these fears however small, that we come close to Christ, if we can learn to say, with him, “not my will, Lord, but yours.” This is in no way resignation, for Christ still had to act. We all have to act, whether it’s against the fears of our daily life or against the fear that life itself is in danger of being destroyed. And when we act in the will of God, we express hope in its purest and most powerful form, for hope, as Václav Havel has said, is a condition of your soul, not a response to the circumstances in which you find yourself. Hope is what Christ had in the garden, though he had no reason for it in terms of events, and hope is what he has right now, in the garden of our own griefs.
— Christian Wiman, My Bright Abyss
Lord teach us to pray (Luke 11:1).
Like the disciples, I often have no idea how to pray. I don’t know what to ask for, I don’t know how long to keep asking, I don’t know if I am doing it right, I don’t know how it all really works. That doesn’t sound very pastoral, I know. What can I say? I suppose I am, at least, in decent (or at least populous) company when I say that prayer is often very hard for me. Read more
There are times when it feels like to be a pastor is to be the receptionist at a walk-in clinic where the doctor is never in. The sick and the wounded, the weary and confused, the angry and exhausted—in they stumble, speaking of bodies that are breaking down, of loved ones who are dying, of relationships that stagger under the weight of too many cumulative breaks and fissures to possibly think of mending, of doubts born of too much suffering and silence. In they come, assuming that the receptionist has some kind of special access to the doctor, to the healing they want and need. Read more
The news is bad today. But then the news is so very often bad.
Where to begin? Violent conflicts in the Ukraine, Syria, the Central African Republic, and so many others grind wearily on, with all the predictable innocent pain and suffering that drags along in the wake of tired, old, struggles for power. A volcanic eruption in Indonesia displaces more than 100 000 people. There is political unrest in Egypt and Venezuela. There are the places that we need only name to know that there is bad news: Afghanistan. Iraq. North Korea. Iran. Haiti. And all of this bad news takes place while our eyes are mostly fixed upon a very expensive extravaganza for the rich at a resort on the Black Sea.
“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
“Would you be interested in coming to give a short talk to a group of high school/university students?” The question came a few weeks ago and, as is my customary practice, I enthusiastically agreed without giving so much a passing glance at my calendar. How hard could it be, right? “What would you like me to talk about?” I asked. “Well, we’re wondering if you can speak on the topic, ‘What is the meaning of life?’” The meaning of life. Right.
This was followed by period of awkward laughter and dumb silence on my part. Not terribly inspirational, I wouldn’t think. Read more
It is the middle of January and I wish it was colder than this. I wish it was brilliantly white and crisp and clear. I wish I could see my breath and that the snow crunched under my feet as I walked. I would prefer an idyllic winter scene.
But it’s well above zero here, these days. There’s a 100 km/hr chinook wind ferociously screaming daily in my face, relentlessly wearing down optimism and good will. All around there are shades of grey and brown. The barren trees bend and shake, wearied by the wind, plastic bags and garbage clinging to their lonely branches. The roads are choked with gravel and salt and the last dirty remnants of snow. The world seems grimy and plain. Read more
A few days after Nelson Mandela’s December 5 passing, I checked out his autobiography, Long Walk to Freedom from the local library. This morning, I turned the last page. The book was, of course, inspiring, illuminating, heartbreaking, stunning, rage inducing, hopeful, profound and a whole host of other superlatives. Given the subject matter and the nature of the story, how could it not be? Read more
I’ve written here before about delightful “holy moments” that I have experienced in the church I serve (see here and here, for example). These are often moments when something unexpected happens, something that spills out of our careful containers of planning and order, something that points simply, poignantly, and powerfully to the hope of the gospel in a way that no eloquent sermon or finely crafted liturgy ever could. I love these moments. Even when I don’t notice them. Read more
I spent a bit of time this morning snooping around in my archives from Januarys past. This was partly down to simple curiosity. What was I thinking/writing about at the outset of previous years? How have I approached the first post of a new year in the past? It was also due to being faced with a rather uninteresting lack of inspiration in the present. Writers block isn’t something I tend to face with any degree of regularity, but it’s annoying on the occasions when it does make an appearance. Perhaps revisiting themes from New Years past would result in a eureka! moment, and I could stand back and watch the insight and creativity pour forth!
So, 2013 is drawing to a close, which means it’s time to take a peek in the rearview mirror and reflect a bit on the year that has nearly passed. In the blogging world, this means—what else?!—highlighting the most read posts on this blog over the past 365 days or so. It’s an imperfect tool of evaluation, obviously—a cursory count of clicks and page views hardly provides an accurate assessment of meaningful or substantive engagement—but I suppose it give some sense of the themes that drew people here over the year. Whenever I look at statistical summaries on this blog, I find myself scratching my head. That was my most-read post?! I don’t even like that one! Why didn’t ____ make the list? Posts that I am convinced are the best thing the internet has seen since, well, two hours or so ago languish in obscurity while others that I dashed off in twenty minutes generate more traffic than I would ever have expected. I suppose such is the nature of blogging. Read more
A few years ago, when I was taking my first steps in my present role as pastor, a church member timidly approached me sometime around mid-December with a question: “I know it’s Advent, and Advent is about waiting, but would you be OK if we sang some Christmas carols during the Sundays before December 25?” The question was probably more pragmatic than theological. Our church doesn’t have a Christmas day service, and the Sunday between Christmas and New Years is usually among the most lightly attended of the year. There simply weren’t as many opportunities to sing these dearly loved songs as some people would like!