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
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
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
Scripture is a gift. This has been affirmed by countless people in the Judeo-Christian tradition down through the ages. Not only affirmed, but demonstrated in the way that its words have been revered, preserved, and followed. But is is a very strange gift, full of unfamiliar modes of communication and stories that vacillate between the weird and the confusing and the often brutally violent. It is a gift that many in the twenty-first century world increasingly have little interest in accepting, both inside and outside of the church. 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
I spent part of my day off yesterday watching The Secret Life of Walter Mitty. There’s a great scene and a great line near the end of the film where Walter Mitty (played by Ben Stiller), the “negative assets manager” for Life magazine and, at least as we are led to believe at the beginning of the film, quite possibly the world’s dullest human being, finds himself, through a strange set of circumstances on top of a mountain in the Himalayas. In the scene, he has just (literally) stumbled across Sean O’Connell (played by Sean Penn), the reclusive, elusive world-travelling photographer whose work Walter has been processing for many long years at the magazine, and who he has been trying to find for the whole film. Read more
It’s been one of those weeks where what’s wrong with the world, what’s wrong with our cultures and communities, what’s wrong with the church, what’s wrong with me has seemed much more weighty and prominent than the many things that are undoubtedly right about each of the above. I suppose we all have weeks like this—weeks when the world somehow seems less like a stage for beauty and redemption and more like just a very heavy place.
It’s times like these that I am grateful for wise, trusted voices to elevate and sharpen my gaze. One such voice that I have come to trust over the years is that of Eugene Peterson. I spent some time reading his book, The Jesus Way this morning and was struck by this passage on the sin, salvation, and the “Suffering Servant” of Isaiah 53: Read more
I’m downtown for a lunch meeting, standing at a street corner… I look across the street, see his huddled frame lying against the side of the building… Lying there. On the street. A bed of concrete. Just lying there. Even from across the street, I can see that he has black hair, brown skin…
Is he sleeping? Passed out? Dead? Does anyone see him?
Car after car drives by, like so many priests and Levites.
Just another drunk Indian downtown… Read more
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.
My son has a backpack. It is an old, weather-beaten backpack that has been kicking around our house forever. I think it was my backpack once. It might be almost as old as my son.
This backpack bears a great many strange burdens over the course of a given week. Books, clothes, playing cards (he likes to do card tricks), miscellaneous scrunched up permissions forms that his parents were supposed to see two weeks ago, rocks, guitar picks, a (usually half-open) lunch container spilling out its uneaten contents, sweaty sports uniforms, dirt, and an assortment of the other inevitable accretions of a preteen, male life. Sometimes I have to open the backpack to retrieve something, but I try to do this as infrequently as possible. Sticking my hand into this backpack is a very frightening thing. Read more
Over the course of the month of May, the MennoNerds blogging collective that I am a part of has been reflecting upon how “Anabaptist distinctives” impact our thinking and living in the world. A while back, fellow MennoNerd, Tyler Tully wrote a piece called What are Anabaptists? where he outlined three core Anabaptist convictions:
- The centrality of Jesus above all things
- The essential community/free church of confessing, baptized disciples
- The prophetic and non-violent witness of God’s peace.
The challenge subsequently went out for all of us to write our own blog post on how these three convictions influence our own faith and practice. Read more
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.