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Empty Words

Summer is a time for reading books. Fiction, in particular. This year, I have taken something of a vow to buy no more new books until I have at least made an appreciable dent in the pile of unread books that clutter my desk and clog my shelves. Among these, is Alan Paton’s classic novel, Cry, the Beloved Country which explores the injustice and social decay of apartheid-era South Africa through the lens of two families. It’s one in an embarrasssingly long list of books that fall in the category of, “Books I really should have read by now.” Read more

My Old Bible

I found my old bible last week. Actually, to be precise, my wife found it as she was doing a massive purge of the basement bookshelves. Our sixteen year old twins are working at camp this summer so we spent a few days with hazmat suits and masks in the dark and terrifying underworld attempting to restore a sense of order (or at least hygiene) to the chaos of teenager-land. And there, amidst the clutter of dusty kids’ books that hadn’t been cracked in years, was my old black, leather bound NIV bible. My name engraved on the front. Duct tape barely holding the spine together. An inscription inside indicating that it had been presented to me by my grandparents on Christmas Day, 1985. Thinking back to what an ungrateful wretch of a child I could be, I cringed to think that I might have been more excited to discover this bible last week than I was to receive it as a ten-year-old.   Read more

When the Truth Gets in the Way of the Story You Want to Tell

There’s a fascinating episode of Malcolm Gladwell’s Revisionist History Podcast that looks at the issue of truth and how we tell it. In the episode, Gladwell explores the history behind a statue in a park in Birmingham, Alabama that has come to be among the most iconic images of the civil rights movement. It’s called “The Foot Soldier of Birmingham” and shows a fearsome looking white police officer turning loose a ferocious wolf-like beast upon a defenseless young black protester. The sculpture was the creation of an artist named Ronald McDowell and is based on a photo taken by Bill Hudson at a protest in Birmingham on a spring day in 1963. It captures in a visceral and devastating way the malevolent racial injustice of the American south at that time. The only problem is that the moment the sculpture is based upon seems not to have happened. At least not that way. Read more

Oh, Canada

The last few days have been full of expressions of patriotism and anti-patriotism. Canada’s 150th birthday was on Saturday. Today, obviously, is the big day for our American neighbours. The internet is, predictably, aflame with either nationalistic chest-thumping or withering criticisms thereof. There is, of course, plenty to be critical of. Canada continues to come to terms with and be confronted by its treatment of indigenous people, historically right down to the present. The USA struggles with all things Donald Trump and his “America First” agenda that seems content to kick a whole bunch of people to the curb. I suspect that no matter the insignia on our passport, many of us feel at least a little bit conflicted when it comes to waving the flag. And if we don’t, we should. Especially if we are Christians. As followers of Jesus, our national identities ought always to be worn loosely given our primary convictions and commitments to Christ and to his kingdom. Read more

What Jesus Does With Stones

A few conversations based on yesterday’s post have me thinking (again) about sin and struggle and our often frantic scrambling to claim the moral high ground in our discourse. And, like water running down well-worn grooves, my thoughts seem always to drift inevitably to familiar stories of Jesus. Stories that I talk and write about frequently. Stories that my kids probably get sick of me bringing up. Stories that saturate ten years worth of blog archives (herehere, here… on and on it goes). Sometimes I feel mildly embarrassed about defaulting to the same handful of stories over and over and over again. But the embarrassment doesn’t usually last long. These stories tell us the truth about who God is and about who we are. These are the kinds of stories that can save us.  Read more

I Didn’t Choose This

“If there was one thing that you would say to the church or if there was one thing that you would want Christians to know about your experience as a gay man, what would it be?” This was the question that I recently put to a friend on a warm summer evening near the end of a wide-ranging conversation that had covered everything from his experience of coming out to the controversies around Pride celebrations in our community to the sexualization of identity more broadly to his experience growing up in a conservative evangelical church. His answer surprised me a little, both for its content and for its brevity. He needed little time to think before saying, simply, “I didn’t choose this.” I waited for him to elaborate, but he didn’t say much more. I had asked for one thing and one thing was what I got.  Read more

This is How We Make Our Way

All across the nation today, there will be ceremonies commemorating National Aboriginal Day (or what will soon be National Indigenous People’s Day, according to Justin Trudeau). There will be dancing and singing and regalia and official speeches by important people in city centers from sea to sea to sea. There will be earnest expressions of regret for Canada’s historical treatment of indigenous people and celebrations of how ancient cultures and languages are being reclaimed. There will be talk of honouring diversity and respecting treaties. There will be solemn pledges to do better going forward.  Read more

Binding and Blinding

Back in February, I remarked that Jonathan Haidt’s The Righteous Mind should be required reading for anyone who spends time on social media, particularly those who like to go to war over ideas. I said that this is a book for our cultural moment if ever there was one. These were not throwaway comments or exercises in hyperbole. I meant it then, after reading half of the book, and I am even more convinced of it now, after finishing it. If you are prone to heroically wading into the ideological trenches armed with unshakeable convictions about your rightness and your enemies’ wrongness, if you are convinced that your political/religious/ideological team is the rightest of the right and that your mission in life is to educate your unenlightened neighbours, you really must read this book. Go to your library, go to Amazon, go to your favourite local bookstore—heck, even drop by my office and I’ll lend you my copy. Just read this book. You might have to sacrifice a few hours otherwise spent on Facebook or Twitter, but perhaps after reading Haidt’s book you’ll be persuaded that the trade was a good one.  Read more

Wednesday Miscellany

Back in May, I went to the opening night of U2’s 30th Anniversary Joshua Tree Tour. I have, consequently, been listening to what I think is one of the greatest albums ever made (although maybe only U2’s second best) off and on ever since. I listen to it in the car on the way to work, in the headphones while I’m writing, and while sitting with friends on the patio on warm late spring evenings. It’s crazy how an album I’ve been listening to off and on for thirty years doesn’t seem to get old.

A few nights ago, “I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For” came through the little Bluetooth speaker on the patio table. As the song approached its lyrical and musical climax, the familiar words soared through the spring air:

I believe in the Kingdom Come

Then all the colours will bleed into one

Read more

On the Occasion of Your Sixteenth Birthday

Dear kids,

Next week, incredibly, you will turn sixteen. This is the point at which you would expect me to roll out every known cliché about time flying, and about how hard it is to believe that the two delightful little creatures we brought home in 2001 are stampeding—with no apparent care or concern for their parents’ nostalgia—toward young adulthood, and about how old this makes me feel, and how with each passing year I experience ever more of the creeping dread of sentimentality and anxiety-stained hope for your futures, etc. But I won’t do any of those things. I’m sure you’re relieved. 😉 Read more

You Only Believe in Science!

There’s a well known scene in the 2006 cult classic Nacho Libre where Nacho, a hapless monk who aspires to be a Luchador, and Esqueleto, his emaciated unbaptized sidekick, are in conflict about life and religion and fame and fortune and why they’re so terrible in the wrestling ring. At one point, Nacho blurts out, “I’m not listening to you—you only believe in science. That’s probably why we never win!” The scene is funny because the characters are hilarious (it’s especially amusing to watch Nacho’s attempts to “baptize” his unsuspecting partner in the changing room before one of their matches). It’s also funny because I think many of us have a sense that even in popular discourse, science and religion debates often fail to attain much loftier heights of nuance and sophistication than the banter between Nacho and Esqueleto. “Science” and “religion” function like two bumbling Luchadors theatrically slugging it out in the ring before mostly ignorant throngs interested in little more than baying for blood. They are competitors for the same territory in our hearts and minds. One must win and one must lose. Read more

Mediation on a “Therefore”

Therefore God lifted him high, 
and granted freely to him
the name above every name,
so that in the name of Jesus
every knee would bend,
in heaven, on earth, under the earth,
and every tongue constent.

——

So began today’s morning reading in the prayer book that I sometimes use. The words are familiar, as they represent an alternative wording of the famous Christ hymn of Philippians 2. Many scholars believe that this hymn represents one of the earliest liturgies of the early church, possibly even going back to a few decades after Christ’s crucifixion, resurrection, and ascension. It thus gives a fascinating window into both how the early church worshiped, who they understood Jesus to be, and what it all meant.

Therefore, God lifted him high… Read more

A Dreadful Compliment

I spent part of this morning on sin. Not actively sinning, I should hasten to add, although I probably accrued a few transgressions to the old ledger along the way, possibly even before breakfast. But let’s leave that aside, shall we? Instead, I’d like to talk about a lecture that I watched today from the recent Mockingbird NYC Conference. It was called, “Hiding in Plain Sight: The Lost Doctrine of Sin,” and was delivered by University of Nottingham theologian Simeon Zahl. In it, Zahl described sin as a “diagnostic tool of great power.” We can’t make sense of ourselves, the world, or God without the category of sin. And yet, says Zahl, there is no theological assertion more likely to meet such resolute opposition among his students than this. Read more

On Admiration

I was in Germany last week visiting friends and celebrating my brother’s completion of his PhD. I consequently spent a lot of time on trains and planes and had ample time for looking out of windows and thinking big thoughts. Among the things that occurred to me as I whizzed through the springtime Bavarian countryside is that you can tell a lot about someone by what or who or how they admire. The shape of our admiration speaks volumes. And of course it (almost) goes without saying that we tend to admire badly. I do, at any rate. Read more

Farther Along

I spent last week in Vancouver attending a conference at Regent College, the school that I was making my way through around a decade ago. It was a good opportunity to learn, to worship, to take a breath, to connect with some old friends and, as providence would have it, to drop in on the opening night of U2’s 30th Anniversary Joshua Tree tour (the concert was fantastic, if perhaps not as memorable as past shows… a highlight was being told by a couple of spectacularly drunk Irishmen in the concourse that I looked like The Edge 🙂 ). All in all, a nice few days away. Read more

Wednesday Miscellany

For the past few days, I’ve been mulling over a recent short piece by Richard Beck. In it, he observes a paradox that runs through many strains of “progressive” theology (a term I despise, incidentally, but I’ve covered that ground before). Beck states this paradox succinctly:  Read more

You Don’t Know Me

He sits over in the corner of the little restaurant on the #3 highway that a friend and I sometimes meet at to talk about God, life, pastoring. He is wet and dirty, just like the weather outside, a ball cap pulled down over long black hair, a wispy moustache straining and stretching over snarling lips. He’s agitated, clearly. He’s equally clearly very, very drunk. He blurts out incoherent words every now and then. Sometimes he pounds on the table. One time when I look over he’s leaned forward, face down on the table. It looks like he’s passed out or fallen asleep. I so desperately wish that he wasn’t an Indian, that he wasn’t providing greedy ammunition for all the toxic stereotypes that swirl around our area. But he is. And he is. Christ have mercy. Read more

Something Like the Grace of God

Whenever I drive through the reserve, I’m always struck by how little seems to have changed over the last thirty years. I remember coming to play hockey here as a kid, remember how it seemed like a different world to me. And it kind of was—and still is, at least taken at face value. The windswept barren prairies in the shadow of the Rocky Mountains, the haphazard housing, the run down buildings that dot the the side of the road as we enter and leave the tiny town, the signs of poverty and chaos, the ominous billboard as you enter warning of the fentanyl crisis, urging indigenous youth to say no to drugs—“The drug dealers don’t care about you, they just want your money!” There was a recent article in the local paper saying that tribal police were considering requiring visitor permits for anyone coming on to the reserve in an effort to curtail the impact of the drug trade. If you’re going to the reserve with a narrative of hopelessness in your head, it won’t be hard to have it confirmed. Read more