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
I have spent much of this afternoon trying to write a sermon about 2 Corinthians 5:14-20 and the love of God while keeping abreast of news reports about the unspeakable atrocities currently taking place in Iraq. The absurdity of this task has, however, proven to be unbearable, and I have simply given up. How can one speak of the love of God after reading about human beings starving and dying on a mountain, fleeing the awful choice of conversion or death? How can one write about beauty and goodness after reading about—Christ have mercy!—children being executed or thrown from mountaintops to avoid it. How can one craft a sermon about the “new creation where the old has passed away” and “everything has become new” after seeing images of such gruesome violence that words well and truly fail?
The incongruity of the task is too much. Perhaps tomorrow I will want to write about the love of God. Today I only want to weep for the brutality that our species is abundantly capable of.
Like many over the last few weeks, I’ve been following with a mixture of interest, despair, anger, hopelessness, confusion, and weariness the latest round of conflict in Israel and Palestine. Like many, I have read countless articles and op-ed pieces trying to explain, advocate, condemn or make some kind of sense of a senseless situation. I have read impassioned justifications for the actions of Israelis and Palestinians. What would your nation do if it was surrounded by hostile nations dedicated to the elimination of your people?! What would you do if you were penned up and locked into a tiny space and deprived of dignity and brutalized at every turn?! I have read many words and words about words, but it all seems so futile, as I sit here on vacation, a world away from the unspeakable reality that so many are currently facing.
Words, words, words… And still the killing goes on. Read more
We’re house sitting for friends in North Vancouver so the mornings have been long and lazy, full of novels and coffee and games with the kids and sunshine on the patio overlooking Indian Arm, and more coffee… It’s been wonderful.
Yesterday, my morning reverie was interrupted by a few soft knocks on the door. At first I didn’t even hear them, so faint was the sound they made, but they were persistent. Eventually I clued in that those faint sounds at the door meant that, you know, someone was there and that this someone who was there probably wanted me to come to the door to see what they wanted. 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
A few completely disconnected thoughts on an early summer Wednesday…
I went to see the latest Transformers movie last night. I wish I was joking, but, alas, it’s true. My kids are at the age where they have evidently graduated from little kid Hollywood crap to big kid Hollywood crap, so off we went. I was expecting very little and my expectations were barely met. Lots of explosions and digitally generated creatures and explosions and lame dialogue and explosions and tired old Americana and explosions and—oh, look! The robot trucks have discovered some robot dinosaurs and they will together vanquish the other robot things!—and mass destruction and chaos and explosions and a lame teen love story and a lot of very bad acting. And very loud impressive explosions. Did I mention those? Read more
In Jesus Christ God has promised to every human being a new horizon of possibilities— new life into which each of us is called to grow in our own way and ultimately a new world freed from all enmity, a world of love. To be a Christian means that new possibilities are defined by that promise, not by any past experience, however devastating.
— Miroslav Volf, The End of Memory
I have many conversations with people who find it difficult to believe or people who barely believe or people who want to believe but can’t or people who are embarrassed to believe or people who look down in condescension at those who believe or people who are just bewildered that anyone could believe in something like God or resurrection or hope or any kind of future that is radically dissimilar to the present. This is the shape of our life and imagination in the post-Christian west. Read more
I had many things to write about, all jostling for space in my head as I drove home from a mid-week theology conference near Calgary… Things like the nature of Scripture and interpretation and inspiration and violence and barbarism and inter-textuality and transposition… All these things and others milled about in my head during the two-hour drive south, eager for release, to find expression on the page, to be assembled into some kind of coherent whole.
But it’s funny how a single image or experience, even of the briefest kind, can reduce all of these things to ephemera…
I spent last night at Tuesday L’Arche prayer night. It was a celebratory night in honour of a new leader taking over here in the Lethbridge community, so there was lots of food and laughter, singing and smiles. I don’t get out to these prayer nights nearly as often as I would like to, but whenever I do, I am struck in a new way by the simple profundity of this community of people of all kinds of abilities who are committed to living together, sharing life and love, participating in the good news of the gospel of peace and hope. Read more
The mind of a teenage boy is, I am discovering, a fearful and wonderful thing. Beautiful, strange, unpredictable, irrational, surprisingly generous, unspeakably kind, maddening… All within a few hours, sometimes. Yesterday, I bought my son new strings for his guitars as a few of the old ones had snapped. He came home from a youth event at 10:00 convinced that now was the time to re-string his guitars and not go to bed. His father disagreed and the stage was set for a rather unpleasant end to the day.
But the sun is in the habit of rising anew each day, full of promise and possibility.
It’s been a day of sifting and sorting through the pain that shoots up and out like a geyser from the cracks in the ground of our lives together. The hospital, the seniors’ home, the coffee shop, the parking lot, the playground, the living room… Sometimes it seems that wherever I turn, there is only pain, only confusion, only sadness, longing, anger, regret. Outside the sun shines and the birds sing and all is bright and beautiful, but this is only the surface of things. Inside, just beneath the surface, so much is amiss. So many ugly things, always threatening to bubble up and spill out into the bright and beautiful things.
A couple of recent things have me reflecting on the nature and shape of pastoral ministry today. First, I spent last week at a Pastors Conference in Vancouver where the theme was “Cultivating Christ-Like Persons of Character & Faithful Ethical Action.” It was good to be reminded of the central importance of character and virtue and the life-giving habits of prayer, solitude, worship, and Scripture in this weird and wonderful vocation called “pastor.”
The second was an email from a younger colleague in another part of the country wondering if it would be ok if they referenced some of our earlier correspondence in a sermon they were preparing. Having little recollection of the specifics of this correspondence, I proceeded to dig it up for a fresh look. It was interesting reading indeed! This person was in the first months of pastoral ministry and was seeking advice/wisdom from those a bit farther down the road. They framed this request in the form of a very interesting question for me:
If you could write yourself a brief letter (one or two paragraphs) and place it on your desk three years ago as you started on this journey called vocational ministry, and reading this letter was very first thing you did on that first day three years ago, what would you write?
I’ve been spending the week worshipping, learning, walking, sitting in silence, and reconnecting with old friends as I attend a Pastors’ Conference in Vancouver.
[Pastors conference? How did I end up at one of these? When I was younger, the mention of such an event would have evoked images of smiley, hyper-enthusiastic white men walking around with oversized cell-phones holstered in their belts, stalking the halls, greedily “connecting” with others and/or triumphantly relaying stories of spiritual conquest and adventure … Happily, I have been disabused of such misconceptions at this and previous conferences :) . It’s been a good and refreshing week thus far.]
Of course one of the problems with these events is that there’s far too much information to take in and process adequately, but one sentence from a few days ago has lodged itself in my brain and refuses to disappear. It was spoken by a psychologist in the context of a talk about some of the problematic areas of being a pastor. Here’s what he said:
All too frequently, pastors can become purveyors of unused truths.
From a journal reflection, after visiting someone with dementia.
Why aren’t we happier? Why can’t we be content, even amidst such relative wealth and comfort? Why do we always feel like we are being evaluated? Why are we always trying to prove ourselves to others, to ourselves, to God? Why can’t we just be? Read more
There was this fight, you see, with all the wicked words dripping with sarcasm and spite, all the refusals to understand, all the tiny, incremental decisions to hurt and refusals to love in the ways that love actually matters. It was ugly, as fights tend to be, and it ended with the slamming of doors.
These closed doors, they speak so loudly and abrasively. They speak of hurt and stubbornness and ignorance and regret. They divide and they separate, closing us off from each other, ruling out possibility. They mock us as we stare blankly, angrily at them, willing them to open, wishing there was a rewind button, wishing words could be unsaid and actions could be undone. Read more
Sometime between Good Friday and Easter Sunday, I happened upon an interesting article called “Abandon (Nearly) All Hope” by Simon Critchley over at the New York Times philosophy blog. As the title might indicate, the author has little use for hope—at least in the way that it is conceptualized and applied in popular discourse. Hope is useful for little else than selling things to uncritical consumers or manipulating people into believing in all kinds of fanciful things for which there is no evidence. Critchley advocates Thucydides and Nietzsche as more worthy examples to emulate than the sellers of hope that we flock to by default. These thinkers understood that hope is for the weak and the easily manipulable, not for clear-thinking pragmatists. They understood that any meagre hopes we might be justified in embracing must be realistic. Read more