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On Innovation

A few months ago, I did something I don’t often do. I attended a candidates’ forum during a provincial election campaign. I don’t tend to expect much from politics or politicians, and my low expectations were barely met during this event. There were plenty of platitudes and evasive non-answers, plenty of posturing and sniping, plenty of “questions” from the audience that seemed like either lightly informed speeches masquerading as a queries or fastballs down the middle of the plate for a preferred candidate. This is, it seems, what passes for political discourse these days. Read more

Unstuck

There are questions that I encounter as a pastor that haunt me. I’m not necessarily thinking about the “usual suspects” here. Questions about the existence of God or why we suffer or the challenge of pluralism or the historicity of this or that biblical story or the conundrums of interpreting this or that passage or doctrine. These all represent familiar enough terrain and present their own challenges to faith. But the questions I’m thinking about today are much more personal in nature. Read more

Pornland and Purity Culture: A Tale of Two Impossible Demands

A friend and I have been having a very interesting discussion this morning about a New Yorker article published yesterday called “A Sociologist of Religion on Protestants, Porn, and the “Purity Industrial Complex.” It’s a clunky title for what is a fascinating examination of how internet porn is affecting conservative Christians (who tend to have strong moral convictions in this area). In short, it’s leading to depression and unhappiness, it’s disrupting marriages, and it’s destabilizing communities. But is all of this because of the nature of porn itself, and the way it has been thoroughly normalized and made easily accessible in our culture? Or is it the impossible moral demands that these Christian communities make on their adherents? Read more

When the Women Showed Up

There were two mistakes made at the jail this morning. The first was that the security guard called the wrong unit to the chapel. So, instead of the one or two men who usually show up Monday mornings it was nearly twenty women. In most places, the error would be corrected, the wrong group sent back, the right group recalled. But nothing happens easily or quickly in the jail and we were already running late. So, we decided to just play the hand we were dealt. The circle was widened, more bibles were procured, more photocopies of lessons were made. The women had shown up and we couldn’t very well turn them away. Read more

The Weirdest of Animals

Human beings are by far the weirdest of all God’s creatures. I say this with all due respect to the wild and extravagant diversity of the animal kingdom, much of which, regrettably, I remain woefully ignorant. The species of our world are truly bewildering both in number and variety, and their capacity to astonish and confound seems virtually limitless. But we are by far the strangest of the bunch. Read more

On Elections and Empathy

After a volatile and rancorous six weeks or so of campaigning (both by the candidates themselves and by their devoted and faithful supporters), it’s election day here in Alberta. There has been seemingly endless mud-slinging and accusations and labelling and self-serving platitudes. The UCP has mostly tried to frame this election as an overdue corrective for a staggering economy. The NDP has mostly tried to cast it as a referendum on progressive social policies. A friend commented this morning that this election might simply reveal what’s more sacred to us, sex or money. Probably not far from the truth. At any rate, I did my duty on the way to work this morning. I sighed, and I voted. Read more

Genesis

I left the jail this morning feeling a heaviness that I have not felt in some time. I don’t go there each Monday with some big agenda—I’m not there to reform or convert or instruct, but to listen, to pray, to encourage. But most days, I get a glimpse of goodness through a conversation, a smile, a new insight into the human heart and the human predicament. Today was not one of those days. Read more

Bigger Barns

Another Monday morning, another trip to the jail. Again, only two guys show up. There was a third who just about made it, but he transgressed on the walk to the chapel (he said hi to someone in an adjacent classroom, which is not permitted, and which led to a voice over the loudspeaker just as he was entering the chapel: “Back to the unit…”). So, only a few plastic chairs occupied in the circle this morning. Read more

Egypt for Your Ransom

Only two guys showed up for the support group at the jail today. There had been some kind of a disturbance in the unit, apparently, and so it was twenty-five minutes past start time when the pair of them trudged in. One was an older guy who seemed reserved and didn’t say much. The other was a young Cree man who talked a mile a minute and seemed delighted to be anywhere other than his cell. Brandon* introduced himself to me three times, a vigorous handshake accompanying each introduction, before we settled in to the circle. Read more

The Dis-Ease of our Time

I was talking to an older friend the other day. His life has been hard in many ways—long years of manual labour, the loss of young children to a devastating accident, the death of several partners, a long descent into the pit of addiction and an emergence out the other side, a walking away from and a coming home to faith. Now he’s living out his remaining years on a slim pension in a small apartment. He has a litany of health problems. His medications conflict with each other producing unpleasant side effects. He can’t eat what he likes, struggles to sleep, moves slowly. Whenever I see him, we usually run through some portion of the above scenario. The last few times I’ve spoken with him, though, he’s had a different complaint—one that supersedes all of the others, one that may even, in some way, play a role in his deteriorating physical health. He states it baldly, unapologetically, without a hint of pretense or shame: I’m just so lonely. Read more

On Payback

On Friday night, I attended a vigil outside our local Islamic Centre that was held in response to the March 15 massacre of Muslim worshipers at Friday prayers in Christchurch, New Zealand. It was an eclectic mixture of Muslims and Christians and conservatives and liberals and believers and unbelievers that gathered in a parking lot on a warmish early spring evening, and it was good to come together, to… well, to do what, exactly? Read more

No Religious Books!

I was walking around downtown this morning in a pleasant little neighbourhood near some stately old churches. It was gloriously warm—a desperately welcome respite after our sub-arctic February. People were out and about. Spring was in the air and it was delightful. Read more

Peace for the Going

Many Sundays, our worship service ends with me or someone else saying three words to the congregation: “Go in peace.” These are good last words. They are words I like to speak and words that I like to hear before heading out into another seven days of God knows what. Peace for the going is surely what each of us craves, even if only in the substrata of our consciousness. Read more

The One Whose Mark We Bear

Last night, I conducted my eight Ash Wednesday service. I still feel like an utter novice at it. It feels like I am playing make believe, engaging in rites and rituals that I have no business attempting. Last night, incredibly, I forgot my lines (“Remember that you are dust and to dust you shall return… except, when you forget, evidently!). Each year, I make a mess of producing the ashes. I dutifully save last year’s branches from Palm Sunday, but in the process of burning and oiling them I usually end up with a chunky mess filled with inconvenient strands of palm branch. One year, on a particularly windy Ash Wednesday, I almost burned my back deck down. I’m only half-joking. All in all, not the most impressive Ash Wednesday record. Read more

Oh Boy, I Hope So!

I’ve mentioned (and quoted) Ben Myers’ fantastic little collection of line-by-line reflections on the Apostles’ Creed a few times over the last little while. I’ve been going through it again this morning as I reflect on the beginning of the season of Lent tomorrow and, ultimately, the staggering hope of Easter coming. There were a few passages I encountered today that I thought were too good and too profoundly hopeful not to share. Read more

My Name is Lazarus

I’ve spent part of this morning sifting through a week’s worth of difficult conversations. Several dealt with the trials and tribulations of parenting adult children. What do you do when the kids you have poured years of yourself into seem determined to walk down destructive roads, when they have little interest in your values or hopes for them? What do when you see nothing but trouble on the horizon but feel powerless to do anything about it? How do you sustain hope when it feels like you are failing or have failed at one of life’s most important tasks? Read more

We Die as Those Being Born

Some further thoughts on death…

At the conference I attended last week, our attention was drawn to an article from a few years back where Thomas Lynch, an undertaker, was interviewed about changing funeral practices in the postmodern West. We are increasingly uncomfortable with actual bodies at funerals—too morbid, too grim a reminder of our own inevitable fate—so we deal with them before the service, often in private ceremonies attended only by close family and friends. That’s if we even have a service. Many don’t anymore, preferring to slip away quietly, not wanting to burden people (financially or existentially) with their death. Others prefer a “celebration of life,” which often amounts to an extended eulogy with only saccharine references to God and the afterlife or none at all. This is how, increasingly, we are choosing to die and to deal with death, both inside and outside of the church. Read more

Rest in Peace

Death has been on my mind a lot lately. Not my own, necessarily, although I do think about that more than I probably ought to. But just death as a phenomenon. Both of my grandmothers have died in the last six months. Several people in my orbit could well be approaching this threshold. I just returned from a pastors conference about death, funerals and the Christian hope. Death has been a hard thing to avoid lately. Read more