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Posts from the ‘Hope’ Category

Burn

I got a nice little note today from someone. It was about yesterday’s sermon. It had, apparently, “made sense of a few things.” I appreciated the note. Very much. God knows there are enough Sundays where it feels like one’s words are scattered to the wind. Who knows if or where or how they land? It is nice to hear that a sermon has helped. Read more

Be My Brother

Lord Jesus, come yourself, and dwell with us, be human as we are, and overcome what overwhelms us. Come into the midst of my evil, come close to my unfaithfulness. Share my sin, which I hate and which I cannot leave. Be my brother, Thou Holy God. Be my brother in the kingdom of evil and suffering and death. 

— Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Sermon for Advent Sunday, December 2, 1928

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Each of the last three Advents I have been spending time with God is in the Manger, a collection of Advent and Christmas-themed writings by the great German theologian and pastor, Dietrich Bonhoeffer. And each of the last three years I have been stopped dead in my tracks by the quote above. The following are a few reflections taken from a journal entry after encountering these words again this morning. Read more

A Child Has Our Life in His Hands

A few scraps and fragments after a morning spent the morning at the seniors home…

A woman sits, staring vacantly at the television in front of her.  I look at the TV.  It is a road report, outlining the wintry conditions that we might expect on this or that Alberta road.  I ponder the abundant ironies and incongruities contained in the image of this woman sitting, alone, watching the road report.  She will likely never travel a winter road again… Read more

Come to Jesus

I was part of a conference call yesterday with a number of young-ish pastors in our denomination where we were talking about Jesus’ prayer in John 17 that the his followers would be “one.” Anyone with even the most cursory understanding of church history will know that, well, we haven’t exactly done so well with this little ideal of Jesus’. Read more

Look On Us, We Pray

As I write these words, my kids and my wife are putting the finishing touches on the Christmas decorations around the house. There are giggles and lights, there is colour and warmth on a brutally cold day. There are happy sounds. And the happy sounds make me happy, too.

But it’s impossible for my thoughts not to drift in darker directions, too, even amidst the giggles and the lights.  For whatever reason, this has been a need-filled fall season. So many people struggling. So many people limping along from crisis to crisis. So many people desperate for love, for acceptance, for belonging. So many people for whom God’s peace and God’s plan seem utterly hidden. So many people needing so much help.  The need is always there, I know. But for whatever reason, it has felt more acute this fall. Read more

“A Shard of Glass in Your Gut”

For most of this fall, our church’s worship has spent time dwelling in a handful of chapters from the back-end of Matthew’s gospel.  This stretch of the first gospel (ch. 22-25) contains long, at times unbroken stretches of words out of the mouth of Jesus.  Words to the religious leaders of Israel, words to his disciples, words to the hovering crowds.  Words of clarification and confrontation, words of offence and judgment.  Words that jolt and alarm and cause the scratching of heads.  Words about vineyards and virgins and landlords and kings, and screwed up systems where the punishment rarely seems to fit the crime.  Words about wasting opportunities, about not paying attention, and suffering the ultimate consequence.  Words about weeping and gnashing of teeth, words about darkness and the eternal fires prepared for the devil.  Words that sometimes draw us to and sometimes repel us from the One who speaks them.  I have been struck throughout our trip through this portion of Matthew at what an enigma Jesus can be, at times.  At how hard his words can sometimes be. Read more

Night Visitor

 So you’re coming to Winnipeg? Would you have time to get together while you’re here? I don’t live far from the city…

 So came a message from a reader of this blog and a fellow pilgrim on the way. And so came a delightful evening last week at a restaurant not far from the university where I was spending the week. Read more

You Have Been Our Dwelling Place

This morning, I’m shaking out the cobwebs after a delightful week spent out in Winnipeg with the students, staff, and faculty at Canadian Mennonite University as pastor in residence.  It was a week full of chapel talks and forums and lunchtime discussions and devotionals and informal conversations with students in the campus cafe and a whole host of other interactions and opportunities that have gotten all jumbled together in my weary brain.  I feel a bit like a wrung-out rag, but in a contented, satisfied, grateful sort of way.  It’s good to spend oneself in good ways with good people.

During my last chapel talk, I reflected a bit on the experience of being back on a university campus, about the memories it triggered, and about what advice, if any, I might give my younger university self from the vantage point that I now occupy a few years down the road.  The following is a lightly edited version of some of what I said yesterday morning. Read more

Kingdom Conspiracy: Book Review

Scot McKnight has a bee in his bonnet.  He’s been observing how the word “kingdom” has been used by Christians over the last few decades and he doesn’t particularly like what he sees.  The word has become a kind of vaguely Christian (or not) catch-all term to describe generically good deeds that have a connection—sometimes strong, sometimes tenuous—to the ethical vision of Jesus of Nazareth. Rather than pointing directly to the biblical vision of a specific King and a kingdom with a specific people, it often devolves into little more than the baptizing of a liberal, western, democratic ethic from which Jesus could quite comfortably be subtracted. Read more

Three Girls (And an Orangey-Brown Dress)

Among the gleanings of my morning tour through Facebook land was the discovery that Tuesday, September 30 has been designated “Orange Shirt Day” by the Assembly of First Nations (AFN) here in Canada. Intrigued, I did a bit of snooping around and found the following explanation for the origin of the idea in an article at NationTalk:

Orange Shirt Day is an outcome of the St. Joseph Mission Residential School Commemoration Project and Reunion events that took place in Williams Lake, BC in May 2013.  It stems from a story told by former residential school student, Phyllis Webstad, who had her new orange shirt, bought by her grandmother, taken from her as a six-year old girl.  She spoke powerfully of how it seemed to her that nobody cared and, in this personal way, it speaks to the many harms experienced by children in the residential schools.

I have no orange shirt, alas, but the initiative has me thinking of a few recent experiences, and about three girls. Read more

Give, Forgive, Lead, Deliver

I’ve reflected many times here on the mystery of prayer and what often seems like the abject silence of God. We so often struggle to know how prayer works and how it influences God’s activity in the world.  We don’t know what the point of prayer is if God already knows everything.  Sometimes it all seems like a bit of a strange charade that has precious little influence on either God or each other. Read more

Signs

What would you think if you were walking or driving down the street and you saw a sign that said, “Honk Less, Love More” or “Follow Dreams, Not Crowds” or “Have a Great Day?” Would these signs make you happier, or at least more inclined  to behave decently? Might they help lower crime? Would they boost morale ? British artist Killy Kilford seems to think so, and he’s testing his theory in one of American’s most crime-ridden cities, Newark, NJ. According to an article in New York magazine, Kilford is planning on placing hundreds of signs like this throughout the city and has “zero doubt” that the signs will make a positive impact on city.

Read more

Bright Colours Make the World Happy

Half a year or so, my wife came home one day with a pair of shoes for me. This, in and of itself, is not particularly surprising. I loathe shopping and my wife has discovered that the best way to keep me looking presentable is to simply buy clothes for me, bring them home for me to try on, and then return the ones I don’t like. But on this day, her purchase was a bit surprising. It was a pair of bright red (non-returnable) New Balance runners. Like, really red. To the surprise of probably no one, I tend toward more muted fashion statements. I like greys and browns and blacks and dark blues. Bright colours are not really my thing. But there they were, these non-returnable bright red runners.  Read more

Life Eternal

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 agoand everything else seems small and trivial. Read more

His Sorrow is Splendor

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

The World Remains Divided

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.

Read more

Things That Make For Peace

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

When Bad Things Happen

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