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Life and Love, In Progress

Perhaps it’s an utterly ordinary affliction of mid-life, but I find myself wondering often these days about what it means to make progress along the journey of life, whether this progress is physical, relational, professional, emotional, spiritual, or all of the above. It’s fairly normal, I suppose, to reach a certain stage of life and ask questions like, “Ok, how am I doing? Have I gotten any better at anything? Am I more disciplined now than I was at twenty-three? Have certain convictions grown sturdier? Is my faith stronger? Are my relationships healthier? Am I more confident in my vocation? Have I become a better husband, a more devoted father, a more faithful friend? Am I progressing on anything like a more hopeful arc in these important domains of life? Read more

Believe in Something

So it seems Nike’s new 3oth anniversary ad campaign featuring former NFL quarterback Colin Kaepernick is causing a bit of a stir today. Kaepernick is, of course, famous for his decision to kneel during the American national anthem before a football game to protest police brutality and racial injustice. Kapernick has been unable to land an NFL job since then. He is currently pursuing a grievance of collusion against the league and its owners who he says are keeping him out of the league because of their displeasure with his protests and his politics. Read more

On Departing from the Script

The first thing I did this morning was trudge off to the post office with two very important documents to be sent by express post to the National SCIS Processing Unit of Indigenous and Northern Affairs. An SCIS is a “Secure Certificate of Indian Status,” otherwise known as a Treaty Status Card. Our kids have had Treaty Status numbers since birth, but we’ve not bothered to get an actual card until now. Adulthood and post-secondary studies loom ever more immediately on their horizons and, well, we’re rather keen to secure them whatever financial benefits they’re entitled to going forward. Read more

On Big Churches (And Those Who Love to See Them Fall)

Yesterday, I posted a link on Facebook to an article by Jonathan Aigner called, “Farewell, Willow Creek: Where the ‘Regular’ Churches Can Go From Here.” It was ostensibly a kind of “where now after Willow Creek” piece. It was snarky in tone and read, at times, like an elaborate exercise in schadenfreude from an angry guy who seemed a little too happy to see a megachurch fall. But I thought the article raised a few important questions, even if I tried to distance myself from its bitterness and make it clear that I wasn’t expressing my approval for all that it contained. 

As it happens, if my inbox is to be believed, not everyone appreciated the link or my attempts to endlessly qualify my reasons for posting it. Which is fine—I didn’t expect everyone to like the piece. Indeed, I tried to make clear that didn’t like everything about the piece. But I fear that whatever interesting points I might have been hoping the post might draw out were mostly lost due to the article’s tone. Those inclined to be supportive of the Willow Creek model of church felt attacked; those inclined to be critical of the Willow Creek model happily piled on.

So, I decided to do what I often do when I fear that I may have been misunderstood or when I have misgivings about whether or not I should have posted something: I wrote a long, tortuous blog post to make everything luminously clear. Ahem. Well, perhaps not. If nothing else, I tried to isolate what I found interesting and potentially worth discussing in the piece. In what follows, some of the key claims made by Aigner are highlighted, followed my own reflections on what these statements twigged in my own brain. Perhaps it will be interesting to others, perhaps it will only add to the frustration. If nothing else, at least the Internet has a few more words now, right? 😉 
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Will God Forgive Us Our Addiction to Junk?

I’ve often been asked a variation of a single question over the past few weeks. So what insights are you taking out of your sabbatical? It’s a natural enough question, I suppose, even if there’s a bit of pressure built into it. The expectation sometimes seems to be that three months away will have yielded a host of spiritual breakthroughs or ministry strategies or transformative insights. And those, as it happens, are in short supply during these last days of summer. Nothing quite that exciting, I’m afraid. I hope people won’t be too disappointed that I’m returning as roughly the same person that departed several months ago.  Read more

Friday Miscellany (On Race, Identity, What We Can Say, and How We Can Say It)

A few days ago, I was meandering through a museum in a small BC town on a lazy summer afternoon. I was lingering over a historical image (the image to the left) of several Ktunaxa men and an inscription about how the gold rush had affected their people. The image itself was fairly nondescript. Six faces staring blankly back at the camera in front of what looks like a bush of some sort. I forget what the inscription beneath the photo precisely said, but I won’t soon forget a passing comment made by one of my fellow museum-goers as she passed in front of my view. “Look at the one in the top left, eh? Pretty good evidence that we come from apes! Hey, I just call it like I see it!” [knowing chuckle] She said it all so quickly. I wasn’t even sure if her comment was directed at me or to someone else within earshot. She was gone before my indignation had time to properly register. I simply stood there dumbly, staring at the picture, my temperature steadily rising. Read more

“Nature is My Sanctuary…” But Jesus Keeps Dragging Me Back to Church

There’s this mildly irritating phrase that I have encountered with some frequency over the course of the decade or so that I have been a pastor. I’m sure you’ve encountered something like it in your own circles, particularly in these post-Christian, post-church, post-everything times. Oh, I don’t mind church, but, you know, I encounter God best in creation. That’s where I worship. Nature is my sanctuary. Indeed. When I am on the receiving end of this phrase, I usually smile and nod in as gracious a fashion as I can muster. Inwardly, I am often thinking very un-Christian thoughts. Of course nature is your sanctuary. A rather convenient justification for avoiding this one, I would say. Read more

On Reconnecting

In my (long) last post, I said that I was part way through Johann Hari’s Lost Connections and I thought that it was among the more powerful analyses of our cultural moment that I had come across in some time. This morning, I turned over the last page. I remain convinced that as an analysis of the root causes of the epidemic levels of depression and anxiety in (primarily) Western culture, Hari’s book is rock solid. But the book is far lighter on the cure than it is on the diagnosis. Much of what Hari prescribes to address the seven “lost connections” he diagnoses seem to be scratching around on the surface of a problem that is at its very core profoundly existential and—dare I say it?—religious in nature. Hari is an atheist, so of course a religious diagnosis will not do for him. But as I closed his book this morning I couldn’t help but think that each of Hari’s recommended reconnections could easily be anchored in a robust Christian anthropology. Read more

Being Human (Or, What I Learned on My Sabbatical)

It’s hard to believe, and bordering on painful to set out in declarative form, but my sabbatical comes to an end tomorrow. I’m not back at work tomorrow, I should hasten to add—like many, I have appended my holidays to the end of my sabbatical to stretch it out a bit further—but my three month sabbatical officially ends July 31. So in the interests of trying to begin the process of transitioning back into thinking and writing mode, I thought I would throw up some reflections upon what I have observed and learned over these past few months where I have been (mostly) silent in this space. I’m not sure how much blogging I’ll be doing throughout August, but I suppose you could say this post marks my re-entry into more normal writing routines. Read more

On the Occasion of Your Seventeenth Birthday

Hi kids,

It’s your seventeenth birthday today, so I suspect you know what’s coming by now. That’s right, another long-ish and perhaps not altogether welcome letter from your dad. This is the third year in a row that I’ve subjected you to something like this (see here and here). I apologize. Kind of. Well, not really. I suppose next year these letters will have to stop, what with you officially reaching adulthood and all that. So I’d better take advantage of these last two birthdays to dump all of my wisdom (or at least nostalgia) on you before you launch out into the grown up world. Read more

How the Bible Sounds in Occupied Territory

One more reflection based on my time spent in Palestine and Israel over the past few weeks. After this, I shall endeavour to give this “blogging sabbatical” thing another, better try.

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It’s an interesting thing how geography and social location affects the way you read and hear Scripture. Most Sundays, I am reading and hearing Scripture as a relatively comfortable, white, middle-class Christian in a more or less peaceful country where religion often occupies a peripheral (at best) role in most people’s thinking and living. This affects how I read and hear the words of the Bible. My default, whether I want this or not, tends to be to listen in ways that will more or less endorse and validate myself and those who are like me. This is, as I said, most Sundays. Last Sunday, however, I worshiped in Palestine.

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Pray For Me, St. Joseph

Joseph greets me with a smile and warm handshake before serving me breakfast every morning in Bethlehem. I met Joseph two years ago during my first trip to Israel and Palestine and it has been a delight to reconnect with him this week.

Joseph is a Palestinian Christian and is always willing to share about his life and story. The one memory of him that stood out in 2016 was of him telling me about the hotel being shut down and commandeered by the Israeli army during one of the uprisings of the early 2000’s. For forty days, the top floor was used for army surveillance and sniper locations. Joseph was conscripted to prepare food for the army and not permitted to leave for the entire time they were there.

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Somewhere to Be

I know I’m technically on a “blogging sabbatical,” but I decided to interrupt it to offer a few reflections and observations on a trip I’m presently on to Israel and Palestine. One of the things we consistently hear wherever we go in this conflicted area is, “Tell others what you have seen and heard with your own eyes and ears.” It’s a serious call, and one that I feel an obligation to respond to given the privilege that I have of being here. Here are some assorted stories and reflections from my first few days here. Read more

Turn Out the Lights

So today I’m setting out into some unfamiliar territory. This summer will mark seven years in my present pastoral role, and my church has generously offered me a three-month sabbatical. I’ve seen friends and colleagues take sabbaticals over the years and always wondered what one of these actually looks and feels like. I’m about to find out. It felt a bit strange when I turned out the lights and walked out the church door yesterday afternoon. It was a good strange, don’t get me wrong! It had been a lovely service where I was blessed on my way with good words, warm hearts, and delicious food. But still. Strange.  Read more

Older Brothers

I made a rather remarkable discovery yesterday. Well, remarkable to me, at any rate. I have only preached one sermon on the parable of the lost (or prodigal) son in ten years (and that was seven years ago). This surprised me because it’s one of my favourite stories that Jesus tells. I’ve written about it a fair bit on this blog. I’ve described it in pretty breathless terms. But I haven’t preached on it much. This seems a rather glaring omission. Read more

Same Jesus

Last night our little church had the opportunity to hear from what is a bit of a rarity in southern Alberta: a Syrian Orthodox priest. We have a connection with Father Lukas Awad that goes back three years. I first met him when he was touring the province with a group connected to MCC Alberta. Through a series of events, this initial meeting led to our group of churches sponsoring families from his parish in Homs that were refugees in Lebanon at the time. Father Lukas has thirteen families from his parish scattered throughout the province of Alberta, including six here in Lethbridge.  Read more

Hard to Hallow

Richard Beck is a blogger that I have been reading for quite a while now. He’s a psychology professor and “progressive Christian,” although he seems to have a level of distaste for the term that approaches my own. He has, in my experience, an ability that is rare among progressives—the ability to be unflinchingly self-critical and to acknowledge the challenges and inconsistencies that are bound up with many forms of “progressive Christianity.” His recent nine part series “On Tribes and Community” should be required reading for anyone interested in how faith communities are formed and maintained, and how our cultural and ideological context works against this. Read more

Thinking is Hard (Or, The Value of Squirming)

I’ve been reading Alan Jacobs’ little book How to Think over the last few days. It doesn’t contain anything particularly new, but it has been yet another reminder of just how bad at thinking we often are and are becoming, particularly in the digital age. Jacobs does not paint a flattering portrait. Reactionary ideological sloganeering easily and often replaces careful, nuanced thinking about difficult issues. More often than not, the things we think are determined less by actual investigation and weighing of evidence than by our need for social belonging and our desire to have an “other” to define ourselves in opposition to. We are yanked around by emotional reactions and impulses and then tell a rational story to reframe our views as the result of logical analysis. We are masters at lying to ourselves about why we think the things we do, at taking shortcuts when we can’t be bothered to deal with complexity, and at regurgitating platitudes in the confident expectation that this will be affirmed by the people we seek to impress and the groups we hope to belong to. All in all, according to Jacobs, we’re not nearly as good at thinking as we think we are. Read more