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Five Alive

In my previous post, and in most posts where I do any kind of reflecting on the nature of blogging or marking milestones in the life of this blog or whatever, I commented on how I’m regularly surprised at which posts garner attention here and which generate only the slightest of ripples. So, because it’s the last day of 2016 and because the soccer game I’m watching this morning is kind of dull and I’ve been absent-mindedly browsing through last year’s archives, I thought it would be fun to post a “top five according to me.” Or a “top five posts that I felt pretty good abut that languished in relative statistical obscurity. Or “five posts that are feeling lonely.” Or something like that.

At any rate, here are five posts that I think touched on important or interesting or amusing themes, and that received comparatively little attention in 2016 along with a brief description of each. Read more

2016 in Review

In a few weeks I will have been writing in this space for an even decade. Or, about nine and a half years longer than I expected when I first started blogging. As the years go by and the posts accumulate, I find it fascinating to track which posts grab people’s attention and which fade into online oblivion pretty much from the moment I press “publish.” As I’ve said before, I’m regularly surprised how posts that I’m quite proud of generate barely a passing glance and posts that I consider to be rather average receive a much wider viewing. Such is the wild world of writing online.

At any rate, as has become my habit over the past few years, here are the five posts that rose to the top of the pile in 2016 along with a brief description of each. Read more

Holy Night

Last night the kids and I went Christmas caroling with some friends from church. For whatever reason, I haven’t done this much over the years. But my daughter had been enthusiastic about it all week. And my son, well, we bribed him with the prospect of pizza after our caroling was done.  Read more

Wednesday Miscellany (On Words)

Can we use your post? Over the last week or so, I’ve received three emails from various publications asking permission to re-publish something I’ve written on this blog. These requests are the new normal in a publishing context where words are ubiquitous and cheap, where content is increasingly accessed rather than commissioned. There are so many words flying about and so many editors desperate to find something—anything!—to capture a few eyeballs for a few seconds before they click on to greener pastures. I suppose it makes sense to recycle the words.  Read more

Do Not Be Afraid

Each year around Christmastime for the last decade or so, our family has a tradition of watching the entire Lord of the Rings trilogy (extended versions, of course). We spread it out over six nights—a full week immersion into Middle Earth, as it were. Over the last two or three years, my ears have invariably perked up during Bilbo’s conversation with Gandalf near the beginning of the first film. Bilbo is tired and conflicted and ready to leave everything and everyone behind. Then, this memorable and evocative line: I feel thin, sort of stretched, like butter scraped over too much bread.  Read more

The Sort to Smile

A breeze was entering the room through the window and rushing about inside, giving small notice here and there. William would have smiled then, had he been the sort to smile. One envies such types—who do not smile. The rest of us go around like fools, and these few maintain such dignity.

— Jesse Ball, The Curfew

——

They say it takes more muscles to frown than to smile. I wonder about that. Sometimes it seems there is nothing easier than not to smile. Read more

little gods

There’s this fascinating conversation in Jesse Ball’s novel The Curfew. The scene is an undefined dystopic future, as so many seem to be, where a faceless government has assumed dictatorial control over an unnamed city. The people live in constant fear and anxiety, never going out after dark, always being careful not to cause any sort of ripple that might be noticed by the powers that be, living lives of weary resignation, whispering along the edges of shadows that never disappear. William lives with his young daughter Molly and makes his living as an “epitaphorist,” which entails visiting people whose loved ones have died or been killed, consulting with them about the words they want to adorn the gravestones of the deceased.  Read more

Who’s Winning at Church?

Over the past few weeks, a number of people have inquired about my thoughts on a recent study conducted by Canadian scholar David Haskell which draws a strong connection between theological conservatism and church attendance. According to the study, churches that interpret the bible more “literally,” hold to more traditional theological doctrines, and are open to more contemporary expressions of worship tend to be the ones that are growing, while those that emphasize their opposites are shrinking. The study has shown up in the Globe and Mail and The Guardian, among other places. A few days ago, Haskell himself authored an apologia of sorts for the piece, being loosely connected to the liberal Protestant tradition that the study seems to cast in a negative, or at the very least ineffective light. Read more

Our Fractured Worlds of Desire

Attention is the mind’s desire.

This five words leaped off the screen when I read Joseph Clair’s fine essay “Our Own Devices” over at First Things this morning. The whole piece seemed like a living, breathing personal indictment, truth be told. But those five words, they thrust a question that I often do my best to avoid right to the front of my consciousness: what does the object and quality of the attention that I pay say about the nature of my desire? Read more

Inshallah

Over breakfast this morning, I watched a video called “Welcome to Canada,” produced by The Atlantic. It is a fascinating window into the lives of Syrians who have fled their country and found a refuge in our nation. This particular story takes place in the Vancouver area and follows a young Syrian man who came to Canada in 2014 as a refugee, and is now doing what he can to help the most recent wave of refugees who have arrived in 2016. The outlines of the story will be familiar to anyone who has been following the news over the past few years, but is no less poignant for being familiar. Obviously.

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Accumulated Longings

God of our salvation, all our longing is known to you, our sighing is not hidden from you…

So begins one of today’s prayers in the prayer book I use. Quite appropriately, as it turns out, for I do a lot of longing and a lot of sighing. Indeed, it seems like the older I get, the more longings I accumulate. I took an hour to make a partial list today. Read more

On Love’s Way

On the shelf beside my desk in my study sits a card with scuffed up edges and faded colours. It’s a rather plain and unassuming, artifact, on the whole. On the front, is a picture of two little kids dressed up as if on their wedding day on a dusty dirt road. The little boy seems to be barely suppressing an awkward grin as he tries to drag the girl along with him wherever he’s going. The little girl has a smile that could melt your heart or save the world, but it looks like she’s not entirely convinced about the entire enterprise. Inside the card, it says something to the effect of Naomi Jade Horii and Ryan Courtney Dueck (yes, Courtney…thanks mom and dad), together with their parents, invite you to a wedding… to share in their joy, on November 25… Read more

Consider the Source

So, words like “truthiness” and “post-truth” are rudely and forcibly inserting themselves into our collective consciousness and public discourse. The former, according to an article today in Macleans, refers to people’s “preference for concepts they wish were true over ones that actually are true” (sometimes referred to in distant bygone ages as “illusions” or “lies”); the latter points to “circumstances in which objective facts are less influential in shaping public opinion than emotional appeals.” Neither addition to the Oxford dictionary flatters us much as a species. Is it possible to repent for making such additions necessary? Read more

They Don’t Know What They Are Doing

I often spend Monday mornings ruminating on the sermon I didn’t preach on Sunday. There are, of course, only so many things that can be said, only so many avenues to explore in a given text or texts in 15-20 minutes. There are usually many ideas and/or questions that never make it past the Saturday evening cutting floor. Sometimes it was because I didn’t have the courage to tackle them in public. Sometimes they weren’t relevant to the point I was trying to make. Sometimes there just wasn’t the time. Sometimes it’s all of the above. Read more

Whoever Jesus Drags Through the Door

There was a grizzled old man sitting outside the coffee shop yesterday morning. He was dirty and unshaven; he was missing a bunch of teeth and had dirty clothes. He was just hanging out by the garbage can, twirling a single cigarette in his grimy hands. I made eye contact and he perked up. “Hey brother, can you spare a bit of change?” I looked him up and down. “Do you want a coffee?” I asked. It was a bit chilly outside and I figured it would warm him up. He grinned sheepishly at me. “Nah, I just need some cigarettes.” I sighed (hopefully inaudibly). I asked him where he was from (Williams Lake, BC) and where he was going (Montreal). We talked for a few minutes more. I gave him a couple of bucks and went inside to get a coffee. He lit up his cigarette. Read more

It’s Hard(er) to Be a Jerk When You’re Across the Table From Your Enemy

It was fascinating to watch the three-minute video clip where Barack Obama and Donald Trump met the media after spending an hour together at the White House today. It wasn’t interesting because of anything either of them said. For the most part, the media briefing was the usual vacuous political-speak that we expect when the cameras are clicking at break-neck speed and the reporters are scrambling to gobble up every word. We need to come together… I hope he’s successful… I have respect for him… We discussed challenges and logistics… We had a wide-ranging conversation…. It was, in many ways, a study in how to say things that seem meaningful while saying not much of anything at all. Read more

Salt and Light

So, the world is today waking up bleary-eyed and incredulous to a Donald Trump presidency. Most of the people in my social media orbit are stunned, shocked, angry, grieving, horrified, anxious, fearful, and whole host of other grim adjectives. I can’t recall encountering this volume of doom and gloom before breakfast in quite some time. The once-laughable prospect of someone as reckless, crude, ignorant, arrogant, childish, and spiteful as Donald Trump ever occupying the White House has now become a reality. Read more

This is What a Christian Does

Every Wednesday evening, I lead a bible study with a group of seniors in our church. It’s a pretty simple affair, usually. We read the passage(s) that I will be preaching on the upcoming Sunday, we talk about what it means, we close by reciting the Lord’s Prayer, and then we have coffee and goodies.

We always begin our studies with sharing and prayer. Usually, this means a long list of people in our immediate orbits who are sick or suffering or struggling. Last night, however, we made a point of praying for those affected by this week’s stabbing at Abbotsford Senior Secondary School in British Columbia. A young man walked into an ordinary school on and ordinary day and took life. A thirteen-year-old girl killed, a fourteen year old injured. Christ have mercy. Who can understand these things? We have few categories up to the task of coming to terms with the hows and the whys of such acts. Read more