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Joy and Thunder

My wife loves thrift shops. She spends hours in them, unearthing all manner of hidden gems for herself, for the kids, for me. I, on the other hand, do not love thrift shops. Not even a little bit. Where my wife sees endless possibility and the challenge of hunting down a good bargain, I see a warehouse full of stuff that other people (quite rightly) didn’t want. On the rare occasion that I find myself in a thrift shop with my wife, I usually end up spending ten perfunctory minutes drifting through the book section and then resignedly making my way to the parking lot to wait until my ordeal is done. Read more

What Kind of God?

Most pastors know that the time immediately following a service can be a black hole for anything resembling deep conversation. This is probably appropriate, on some levels. A busy foyer full of people and conversation is not exactly the best time or place for existential crises or deep queries into the meaning of life. It’s a time and a place for cheerful banter and connection with friends and talk of weather and sports. Or, less cheerily, it’s a time and a place for the shuffling of feet and awkward attempts to say something polite about the sermon or to itemize one’s ailments and medical appointments for the week ahead or to complain about this or that. Either way, it’s a place for the ordinary chatter that is part of the glue that holds together any human community.  Read more

Why Worry?

Maybe sometimes prayer is just “worrying out loud” before God.

So mused a friend over coffee yesterday when the subject of prayer came up. I was very relieved to hear this as I had just spent the previous forty-five minute motorcycle ride to the meeting worrying. Um, I mean praying. Read more

Original Sin

It’s a grey and gloomy early August day. The sky is ominous and dark and the rain and wind lash against the window of my study. It doesn’t feel much like summer. As it happens, I, too, am feeling rather grey and gloomy at this halfway point of summer. Five weeks or so ago I was visited by a persistent neck and upper back/shoulder pain that has well and truly overstayed its welcome by now. From the moment I get up in the morning until my head hits the pillow at night, it feels like someone is persistently tapping a tent peg through the back of my skull down into my shoulder. It’s loads of fun. I’ve been to the doctor, I’ve had the x-rays, I’m doing the physiotherapy. Hopefully this will do the trick. In the meantime, I’m sampling a wide variety of mostly ineffective painkillers to get through my days. Read more

Dispatches from Summer Camp

As I mentioned in my last post, I’m spending this week hanging out with a bunch of 8-12 year olds (and older kids serving in various other capacities) at a summer camp northwest of Calgary. I’ve been speaking at chapels in the morning and evening, eating with the staff and kids, swimming in a freezing cold river, sitting around fires, and and generally loitering about the place for the rest of the time. At the risk of stating the obvious, speaking to young kids does not exactly represent my natural habitat. But it’s been good to be dragged out of the comfortable and familiar for a stretch. Read more

Course Correction

There are times, even amidst the gloriously lazy days of bright sunny mid-summer, when it’s difficult not to despair of being human. I was sitting with friends at various points yesterday, enjoying casual conversation, catching up on the news, on current events, on stuff going on in people’s lives… At least three different times we came to a point in the conversation where someone said something like, “Ok, this is getting depressing. We need to find something else to talk about.” Read more

Why Do You Call Me Good?

When I was a kid, I was often puzzled by the way Jesus responded to people in the gospels. From callously telling someone to “let the dead bury their own dead” to calling a Samaritan woman a “dog” to saying that he didn’t come to bring peace but a sword, Jesus often seemed a bit obnoxious (at worst) and enigmatic (at best). Read more

Long Way Home

I did a very embarrassing thing this morning. I purchased Def Leppard’s latest album. This is not the sort of thing that any self-respecting human being of the twenty-first century ought to admit to, I know. A quick glance at my recent purchases in iTunes reveals a much more acceptable (I hope) repertoire: The Lumineers, Mumford & Sons, Basia Bulat, Radiohead, Of Monsters and Men. This is probably a more accurate gauge of where my musical tastes have drifted over the years. Def Leppard is the paradigmatic example of the unimaginative late twentieth century glam rock that was the soundtrack of my small-town high school experience. They were big hair, big power chords, soaring engineered harmonies, and mawkish power-ballad-y lyrics about love biting or breathless paeans to endlessly getting rocked or adrenalized or something. In response to the screaming query from 1988’s massive hit “Armageddon It”—Are you getting it?—I can only reply, “Yes, yes, apparently I really am a-getting it.” Or I just got it, at any rate.  Read more

Sky

I spent thirteen or so hours this past week driving under the summer prairie sky. Saskatoon was the location of our Mennonite national church’s biennial gathering which I combined with a visit with my brother and his family. It’s a long drive and very flat. It’s the kind of drive that is easy to dread, particularly in winter months when the roads are bad and the landscape is bleak. It’s a drive I’ve done often enough but it’s not one that I’ve ever particularly relished. This time, however, the sky almost literally took my breath away. Golden yellow canola beside wavy green barley fields stretched out under this vast canopy of pillowy cloud and brilliant blue. Or, when the weather turned, spectacular scenes of dark, brooding masses of cloud. The sky seemed alive. Even when it looked threatening and portended fierce rain, it was a kind of strange comfort. It was the kind of sky that puts you in your place. There was a vast unchangeableness about it. It seemed the kind of sky that nothing could go wrong under. Read more

The Way Through

I was talking recently with a friend about the upcoming Mennonite Church Canada Assembly in Saskatoon that I will be departing for tomorrow morning. Like many denominations, ours is wrestling with some familiar trends (aging, shrinking congregations and the institutional challenges that go along with this) and predictable issues (same-sex marriage, how to respond to our nation’s history of colonial attitudes and actions towards indigenous people, among others). And, like many (all?) denominations who live and move in the twenty-first century western world, we do not agree on how best to negotiate these trends and issues. On top of all this, our polity is of a radically congregational nature, so every major decision comes with years of consultation and clarification and feedback and response. And, at the end of all that, we usually come to the unremarkable conclusion that—surprise!—we have a wide range of opinions on a wide range of issues. Read more

Interference

She had the remnants of tears in her eyes when I saw her as I rounded the corner and pedaled down the alley toward my garage. I had come from a friend’s house where we had spent the Canada Day holiday afternoon watching the European soccer championships. It was a glorious day full of red and white maple leaf flags on the front lawns of our small town, the glorious sunshine lighting up the day after a ferocious thunderstorm. Summer had arrived and all seemed well in the world. But not for this young woman. Read more

On Signaling Virtue and Practicing Righteousness

Over the last number of years I’ve reflected often about how we inhabit this shared space that is the Internet. The ability to interact online is a marvelous gift and one that, as someone who has been blogging for nearly a decade, I am immensely appreciative of. But to the surprise of precisely no one who has spent more than five minutes online, the shared spaces of our online discourse can also be profoundly uninspiring in countless ways. See any comment section anywhere. The human capacity for coarse vulgarity, tribalistic stupidity and willful misunderstanding and misrepresentation is apparently limitless.

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Forgive Us Our Sins

The prayer book I use for Ordinary Time operates on a four-week cycle of prayers, beginning with a daily movement through the sentences of the Lord’s Prayer—the words given by Jesus in response to a request as simple as it was (and is) drenched in desperate need: “Teach us to pray.” This morning’s sentence was a very timely one: Forgive us our sins. Timely because, well, I can’t really think of a time when I don’t need to forgive or to be forgiven.  Read more

On the Occasion of Your Fifteenth Birthday

A rambling letter to my fifteen-year-old twins “composed” (i.e., dictated to myself on my phone) during a morning walk on this the day of their birth.

 ——

Hi kids,

I apologize if this seems overdramatic or sentimental or nauseating or whatever. It’s been fifteen years since we brought you two beautiful little creatures home from the hospital and a lot of weird things can happen to adults’ brains over the course of fifteen years, especially when they’ve been fundamentally altered by a love as irrational as that of the love that a parent has for a child. I hope you can indulge me a little. Read more

“The Impeded Stream is the One That Sings”

Pope Francis got himself in trouble today for suggesting that the “great majority” of Catholic marriages being celebrated today are “invalid” because couples do not fully appreciate that they are making a lifetime commitment. The fact that this statement would draw criticism is puzzling, on the face of it, because who would dispute this after even a cursory glance at the world we live in? Apparently conservative critics objected to his use of the word “invalid.” Perhaps they think that this word will provide a loophole for those seeking to escape loveless marriages. At any rate, canon lawyers and media spin artists quickly went to work on words like “invalid” and “great majority,” seeking to downplay or reframe or somehow mitigate the pope’s comments and the ways in which they might be misconstrued. Read more

The Right Questions

There’s a scene in Canadian author David Adams Richards’ latest novel, Principles to Live By where John Delano, a washed up police officer trying to get back in the game, is asked by a colleague why he doesn’t have much use for school. Delano responds thus:

Oh, I don’t know—let’s just say that those who know all the answers are often the ones never able to ask the right questions.

A simple enough statement, right? But a profound and instructive one, also. At least so it seems to me. As someone who has spent nearly ten years blogging and interacting online with people on both ends of liberal-conservative spectrum, as someone who has been a pastor for nearly eight years and regularly finds himself in dialogue with people holding views that cross the theological spectrum, this statement rings true. Read more

Everything Terrible

Perhaps everything terrible is, in its deepest being, something that needs our love.

I have the above quote from the poet Ranier Maria Rilke taped to my office wall just off to the right of my desk. I look at it often, particularly when “everything terrible” makes its inevitable appearance. Paris, Brussels, San Bernardino. And now, Orlando. Another scarcely comprehensible act of murderous hatred in response to difference. Another convenient scapegoat located.  On and on, everything terrible goes. Read more

Warning Signs

I was warned, this afternoon. Me and a few hundred others who had gathered for a funeral. Me and a few hundred others who sat, silently, grimly, in a cavernous and spare sanctuary while a stern man in a black suit stood in an elevated pulpit and admonished us with grave fingers wagging. I was warned that death was coming for me and unless I renounced the ways of the devil and repented of my worldly pride and attachments, that my fate would be a fiery and tortuous one. I was told that there was nothing good in me and that I could never stand before the righteous judge of the earth. I was told that God has his elect and we must never question God’s ways. I was warned to keep watch for the temptations of Satan because Satan likes to provoke criticisms and doubts during times of death. Read more