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Runaways

Ain’t we all just runaways? Yeah. — The Killers

For the past eleven years, I’ve preached in a congregation that loosely follows the Revised Common Lectionary when it comes to organizing the Scripture readings that guide our corporate worship and sermons. We don’t follow it slavishly, and I’ve certainly deviated from time to time, but it’s kind of our default. It’s certainly my default. I’d rather be assigned a text to preach from than choose one. Or at the very least, to have four from which to pick. Following the lectionary forces me outside of the texts I’d naturally gravitate towards. At the very least, it throws up an interesting surprise or two along the way. Read more

After All That I Put You Through

A few days ago, my wife and I were bombing through the mountains at the tail end of a holiday in British Columbia and had exhausted all other conversational options. So we decided to discuss the problem of evil and free will. It seemed like a nice, light holiday topic, a welcome break from what I think about most days. Read more

Who Are You?

I recently had a conversation with an acquaintance about an experience they had where someone claimed to have a physical disability based on their subjective impression of their “true self.” My acquaintance would, I think, consider themselves to be a fairly progressive politically, and is quite passionately committed to speaking up for the marginalized in our world. And yet they found this experience (and the broader trend it points to; see here, for example) enormously frustrating. Someone dear to them lives with a disability and is well-acquainted with the difficulties of navigating the world that come along with this. The idea that physically healthy person would claim to be disabled as a form of social currency was offensive to them, and I think quite rightly so. Read more

On Unearned Grace

So, the pope has been in my home province of Alberta this week. I’m not a Roman Catholic, so this obviously isn’t quite the momentous occasion for me that it might be for some of my Catholic sisters and brothers, but still, it’s a fairly big deal, not least because of one of the main reasons for his visit. He’s here to apologize, on Canadian soil, to indigenous people for the ugly history and legacy of residential schools. It is a “pilgrimage of penance,” in Francis’s own words, a time to unequivocally repent for the sins of the church and for the deep and lasting harm that they have caused. Read more

What Do We Declare?

This week, Mennonites from across Canada will gather in Edmonton for our biennial nationwide Gathering. This year, the theme is taken from the opening words of 1 John: “We Declare: What We Have Seen and Heard.” What does it mean to speak of the good news and bear witness to the gospel of peace? A good and timely question, on the face of it, particularly in our disenchanted, polarized, guilt-ridden, merciless age. Do we still believe that we have any good news, for ourselves or for the world? Have we seen or heard anything worth bearing witness to? Is Jesus still worth gathering around? Read more

Miracles Are Coming

“I’m here to see _____,” I say to the nurse at the front entrance of the hospital. “Oh, are you the son?” Her smile is so bright it radiates through her mask. “No, the pastor,” I respond, expecting, well who knows what. Apathy? Disdain? Curiosity? Impossibly, her smile brightens even further. “Oh, the pastor,” she beams. “How lovely.” All of a sudden, she is very eager not only to let me through the screening desk as quickly as possible but to personally escort me to the person’s room. She has some things she wants to say, evidently. Read more

The Bad Boy

For the last week or so, my wife and I have been eating breakfast with an eye on whoever’s playing at Wimbledon. I’m developing a fondness for the game, I have to say, both watching and playing. Although I suppose you can’t really call what I do on the tennis court “playing.” But I digress. There have been some fascinating matches at the All-England Club over the last few days, not least watching Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic continue to dominate well into their thirties. Hooray for the old guys. Read more

Know God, Know Peace?

There was a picture on the wall, barely visible, through the half-opened door. It looked faded and neglected and kitschy in all kinds of ways. There was an orangey sunset, maybe a lake or a river. I can’t remember, so instantly forgettable was the scene. It was the words on the top of the picture that grabbed my attention: “No God, No Peace; Know God, Know Peace.” A clever slogan, that one. Read more

On Forgiveness

I’ve been thinking about a line from the Dave Eggers quote that I used in my previous post: “Every new generation purports to be more empathetic, and yet every new generation is less forgiving.” This is certainly what I observe out there in the world. There is enormous social capital to be gained via the performance of empathy, particularly when it is directed in the right ways and toward the right targets. Forgiveness is the much harder and less-traveled path. There are fewer (public) rewards and far greater costs to forgiveness. Empathy can easily be absorbed into the personal branding project. Forgiveness, not so much. Forgiveness is slow, often painful, patient, quiet work. Read more

Friends vs. Allies

I have, over the course of nearly a decade and a half in pastoral ministry, encountered people who have quite specific plans about what should happen in the event of their death. Some plan out their own funerals to the letter. Some ensure that their organs will donated to science. Some write letters to remain unopened until after they are gone. It’s interesting to see what people prioritize as they think about their impending death. In today’s New York Times, Agnes Callard did something like this. Only, it wasn’t her physical death she was planning ahead for. It was her cancellation. Read more

Choosing Vinyl in a Digital Age

There’s a term that has gained wide traction over the last number of years to describe our unique cultural moment. Disenchantment. It’s a term used mainly by philosophers and historians and theologians to describe the fact that faith feels different in the twenty first century west than at most other parts of Christian history and even human history, more generally. Read more

On Demons, Soul-Sucking Disillusionment, and Keeping Christianity Strange

Over breakfast with friends today, the conversation inevitably turned to the latest murderous school shooting in America (yes, the second half of that sentence is truly insane; as if there should or could ever be a “latest” in such a grotesque category). “What would possess someone to do such a thing,” someone asked? “Maybe the word ‘possession’ is an apt one,” I almost offhandedly opined. Maybe there was something demonic going on. How else to explain such evil? We reach for extreme explanations for things that seem unexplainable. There was an awkward pause before we moved on to safer explanatory terrain. Drugs. Mental health. Social isolation. Violent video games. Yeah, probably. Read more

Means and Ends

Are you happy? Would you like to be happier? Are there tweaks to your habits that could move you up a few notches on the happiness scale? How is happiness achieved, maintained, measured? I come across a lot of articles these days on happiness. Maybe it’s because there is so little of it out there in our depressed, anxious, and addicted times. Maybe I’ve reached that life-stage where my eyes are drawn to them like a moth to a flame. Maybe the algorithms are steering my my weary and manipulable brain down the paths they have deemed most likely to be profitable. Maybe Elon Musk is somehow to blame. Read more

On Building the Things We Love

My daughter and I were invited on a podcast a while back where the topic was “reconciliation.” What is it, how do you work for it, what shape ought it to take, etc. Would we be interested? Well sure. But we were both quite clear when the invitation came that we did not see our relationship as some kind of abstract exercise in reconciliation but as a father and a daughter. We were not placeholders for a theory of racial relations. We were family. Read more

Jesus Doesn’t Stop (Where We Wish He Would)

I’ve probably preached half a dozen sermons on “Doubting Thomas” over the last decade or so. Thomas and his doubt show up faithfully in the lectionary readings each year after Easter Sunday. Thomas and his stubborn needing to see to believe. Thomas and his demanding what his fellow disciples received as a gift and the surprise of a lifetime. Thomas, the recalcitrant empiricist. Read more

Thursday Miscellany (On “Lived Experience”)

Well, the half-written posts and fragments and links and barely formed loosely connected ideas are piling up in my drafts folder. I need to do some digital (and mental) housecleaning, as it were. So, I guess today shall be a miscellany day. Here’s some of what I’ve been thinking about over the past few weeks. Read more

Love and Peace or Else

I hadn’t heard of South African novelist Damon Galgut until this week. Or maybe I had. Who can say? I had evidently reserved his latest book The Promise at the library without remembering that I had done so or how or why or when [insert self-deprecating “getting older” witticism here]. The book won an important prize, apparently, or so the sticker on the top right corner of the cover told me as I inspected it at the checkout. On the bottom A certain Claire Messud from Harper’s Magazine breathlessly declared “Simply: you must read it.” Well, hard to argue with either the enthusiasm or brevity of that recommendation. So, I did. Simply, I read it. Read more

Man in the Middle

Each year, some part of the story of Holy Week grabs my attention in a new way. This year, it was the criminals on either side of Jesus’s cross. Matthew and Mark have the two criminals joining everyone else in heaping insults and scorn upon Jesus, adding to the general consensus that this is a very poorly performing Saviour. He saved others. Let him save himself. If you’re the Messiah, let’s see some action! Some “king.” Come down off that wretched cross if you are who you say you are. Read more