This morning I am grimly staring in the mirror at a large red scab that is rapidly moving toward full bloom almost directly in the middle of my forehead. An uncomfortable reminder, this, of the previous evening’s activities when, instead of making contact with the soccer ball as I had intended, I rather abruptly introduced my forehead to an opponent’s skull. This ugly scab seems somehow uglier as I reflect upon the game itself. Up 2-1 in the second half, then conceding three goals in about 10 minutes to lose 4-2—two of said goals almost entirely due to giveaways by the guy with the blotchy red forehead.
Sigh. 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 considered 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
I spent part of this week reading a book about preaching. It had an impressive sounding title that included the words “the glory of preaching.” I bought it on the recommendation of someone from my grad school days who had spent ten minutes or so listening to me going on and on about my what an unobvious choice I was for the vocation of “pastor.” Zero homiletics courses, zero counseling courses, a whole string of academic classes on systematic theology, philosophy, postmodern theory, etc., an almost pathological fear of public speaking, a history fast-talking, stuttering, introversion, etc. ”All in all, not the most obvious candidate to be behind a pulpit on Sunday morning,” I nervously half-joked. “You should buy this book,” she said. “It will be a great help to you.” Read more
I listened to the story of a gay man yesterday. It was a story both tragic and tragically typical. It was a story of knowing he was “different” from his very earliest memories, of being mocked and ridiculed throughout his school years, a story of confusion, anger, and pain, a story of desperately trying to come to terms with an identity that just didn’t fit, a story of a string of unsatisfying relationships, a story of isolation and deep loneliness that persists to the present day.
It was also, of course, a story in which the church played a role. I wish I could say that it was a positive role—that the community that bears the name of the Friend of Sinners had provided a place of refuge and peace for this person… I wish I could say that. But I can’t. We all know that this isn’t how the story usually goes. We know that “rejection” and “guilt” and “judgment” and “fear” and “misunderstanding” are among the words that appear at this point in the story. Read more
As far as I can recall, the last few weeks have contained my first ever interviews. This sounds quite a bit more impressive than it is or was. One was forty-five minutes in a Tim Hortons coffee shop discussing my time in Colombia last year with a local reporter who is preparing a small booklet as part of an upcoming relief sale put on by Mennonite Central Committee. The other was ten minutes or so in front of a camera in Montreal as part of a feature about the Truth and Reconciliation Commission being put together by Mennonite Church Canada. We’re not really talking a big stage here. But still, kind of interesting experiences. Read more
That may be true for you, but how can you say that it is true for everyone else when there are so many different understandings of truth out there
This is, of course, among the most common questions out there in postmodern-dom and, more specifically, in the context of the religious/ethnic/cultural diversity that is becoming the new normal in Canada and the West in general. Christians are becoming increasingly aware that there is much that is good and true and beautiful in a wide variety of worldviews and practices. We are also alert to the painful reality that the Christian worldview has all too frequently been aligned with the interests of colonialism and other less overt modes of cultural imperialism. It can be a tricky thing, this business of expressing one’s convictions about the particularity of truth amidst all of diversity and historical error and the baggage that comes along with it. Read more
I continue to consider it a shame that I have only begun to get acquainted with Brennan Manning now that he has passed away. I am finding him to be a remarkable writer and thinker. Even though at times Manning’s spirituality seems quite different from my own and, on occasion, I even find myself disagreeing with how he puts this or that, he quite stubbornly holds the reality of grace before the reader in an extraordinary and compelling way. Here are a few memorable quotes containing plenty to ponder from my reading of The Ragamuffin Gospel this evening. Read more
The following comes out of an experience I had yesterday. I try to be very careful in deciding if/how to share about stuff that I encounter in my daily work. There are issues of privacy, of course, in addition to the simple fact that not every experience I find meaningful necessarily needs to be shared—especially in an online/cultural context where over-sharing is reaching almost epidemic proportions.
Having said that, I think it is important to hear the stories of our world and our communities—perhaps especially the unsettling ones. Stories move and change us. At the very least, it’s important for me to hear/tell them. There are so many things that I cannot do in light of the many problems in our world, but one thing I can do is simply to write, to tell stories like this one. It is especially relevant, I think, in light of my recent posts on the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (here, here, and here) and yesterday’s post on “Normal Unhappiness.” All the names below have, of course, been changed. Read more
It’s intriguing to me how frequently our morning worship services will contain a pleasant surprise of some kind, whether an unplanned correlation between a song and a prayer or a testimony that just fits with this or that aspect of the sermon or some other thing. It’s remarkable how frequently the Spirit of God seems to be working in similar ways and prompting similar ideas in the hearts and minds of people in our community. Read more
I arrived at work in a bit of a grouchy mood today. I had spent my twelve-minute commute listening to the first part of a recent podcast from CBC Radio’s Tapestry—a program that explores faith and spirituality in the twenty-first century Canada. The host was in conversation with “Adam” (a pseudonym)—a pastor at a fundamentalist church in the southern USA who lost his faith a few years ago but has remains in his position despite his unbelief. For the interview, Adam had phoned from an undisclosed payphone in an undisclosed town and his voice was distorted to protect his identity and preserve his job. It all felt very grave and dangerous and important. And annoying. Read more
A story from day three of the Québec Truth and Reconciliation Commission…
It was nearing the end of a long day of listening and I was looking for a place near the back of the hall to sit quietly for the last session of the day. Near the back of the room, I was somewhat surprised to see a flip chart stand with a drawing on it sitting in the middle of the aisle. I was even more surprised to see a young aboriginal man wildly gesticulating beside it as he was speaking in a very animated fashion to a young woman with a notepad. I edged closer to get a better look (and maybe a listen). The closer I got, the more obvious it was that this young man was very angry indeed. Read more
I had one of those semi-awkward, overly familiar God-talk conversations today… You know the ones right? Conversations punctuated by words about “what God is doing” and breathless declarations that “it was such a God thing” and “God just showed up” and “it’s so amazing how God is just moving.” Now that I am a pastor, these kinds of conversations are even more awkward than they once were because, rightly or wrongly, I get the overwhelming sense that I am supposed to be eagerly expressing my approval of such language. Kinda like a professional requirement or something—like if I don’t understand and affirm the words and the experiences, then I get a failing grade as a pastor. I usually mostly smile and nod while inside I am rehearsing a thousand objections and criticisms and mostly wishing my interlocutor would just take their enthusiastic fervour somewhere else. 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.
I am a theological schizophrenic.
Some days, I am an incorrigible rationalist. I like reading philosophy and theology. I like rational arguments and logic and consistency. I like highly charged debate about abstract and arcane concepts. I am drawn toward topics that have very little “practical” value. Thinking rightly about God’s nature and God’s purposes is very important to me. I like to be right. Read more
Last week, I found a message from a reader of this blog buried off in some dark corner of Facebook-land that I hadn’t noticed for at least a month. It was a message that was both encouraging on a personal level, as well as provocative in the best sense of the word. As it happens, the powers that be in Facebook have thus far prevented me from responding to this message. Every time I try to reply, I get a message telling me that I cannot do so due to some setting in one of our accounts (I don’t have an email address for the person who wrote to me, so I’m at the mercy of Facebook). Rather than wading through the labyrinth of Facebook’s privacy settings, I decided to do the only rational thing and simply write a blog post in response . Read more
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 good reminder for Good Friday, from Thomas Yoder Neufeld’s Killing Enmity. And, perhaps, a bit of a rebuke for all of us who are tempted to explain how the cross “works” on this day when the lights go dim and God gives himself away: Read more