Christmas is a time for joy. Perhaps this year, of all years, we could use a focus on joy as we draw near to the manger. I want to offer a brief reflection on those two words.
Time and joy.
In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. Now the earth was formless and empty, darkness was over the surface of the deep, and the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters. And God said, “Let there be light,” and there was light. God saw that the light was good, and he separated the light from the darkness (Genesis 1:1-4).
I wonder if it’s any coincidence that an essay called “What if You Could Do It All Over?” seems to be getting a lot of traction near the end of the darkest month of what has been a fairly bleak year? It’s fairly natural, on one level, to wonder about lives that might have been when we’re all living lives that we never imagined we would be and that few of us want (I suspect the bloom is coming off the proverbial rose even for those extreme introverts who half a year ago were joking that all this enforced social isolation was just what they’d always been dreaming of). Not to mention, it’s easy, when we’re all stuck at home for long periods of time, to wander off into nostalgia, romanticizing the past, and hypothesizing about what might have happened if we had chosen y or z way back when instead of x. Unlived lives can often serve as both reproach and escape. Read more
For what feels like the six thousandth time, I sat down at around 3:30 MT this afternoon and watched the latest COVID update from Alberta’s Chief Medical Officer of Health. I’m not sure why I do this, exactly. I suppose like everyone, I hope to see the number of new cases, hospitalizations, and deaths begin to fall. Like everyone, I watch for signs of hope that the latest round of restrictions might be lifted. Like many over the last nine months, I’ve grown sort of accustomed to useless doom-scrolling and update watching. You want to feel like you’re up to date on this miserable virus that has so radically altered our experience. This is just what we do these days, I guess. Read more
I was captivated by an article over breakfast this morning. It was about a kid from a small town in southern Alberta who has improbably made his way to a massive NCAA college football program. Ajou Ajou is the child of South Sudanese refugees who grew up in Brooks, a rough prairie town whose demographics have been transformed in the last two decades by virtue of a massive meat-packing plant that aggressively recruited around the world for labourers. His is, in many ways, a classic rags to riches story. A poor immigrant kid with plenty of obstacles, growing up in a strange land, whose drive and determination, and no small amount of God-given talent, have led him to the top. His future looks bright. He is, against all odds, a winner. Read more
A podcast I was listening to this morning asked the question: “What was the last normal life experience you had before the pandemic lockdown hit?” What stands out in the memory of the days before normal life experiences became few and far between? For the host, it was attending a sporting event—a college basketball game between Virginia and Duke. And indeed, these collective experiences—sports (with fans), concerts, conferences, etc.—are what many feel no small amount of nostalgia for as this difficult year staggers toward its conclusion. Read more
I’ve been thinking a lot about trust lately. As the global pandemic grinds into its ninth (tenth? eleventh?) month, I’ve noticed a decidedly weary and cynical thread in many conversations. People are fatigued, obviously. They are tired of restrictions, tired of uncertainty, tired of agonizing over how the bills will be paid, tired of being unable to spend time with people they love, tired of feeling guilty when they sneak in a bit of illicit social connection, tired of politicians and health officials wagging moralizing fingers at them daily. But beyond this, I detect a sort of resigned cynicism, a sense that nobody can be trusted, and nobody really knows what’s going on. This is a dangerous place to be. Read more
Jason* pulls up in an old white pick-up truck. It’s cold outside and he’s wearing a big black jacket and oversized camo hunting pants. A worn-out toque is pulled down tight over a baseball cap. His face is weathered and worn. Long strands of blonde hair spill out underneath his headwear. His grin has plenty of gaps. There are the by-now familiar COVID greetings. We instinctively reach to shake hands, but then don’t. We ponder touching elbows, but don’t. We laugh at how awkward and forced it all feels. We make our way into the meeting room. The smell of stale smoke wafts across two meters of distance across the table. Read more
A few people have asked me over the last few weeks how it’s been since I deleted my Facebook account. The short answer is that I haven’t really missed it. There have been a few times when I have felt a little in the dark, not knowing something what others in a conversation did because I hadn’t seen what this or that person posted. I’m sure I’ve missed out on the odd article that I really should have read or an important update in someone’s life. These are among the expected trade offs that are part of the deal. Read more
I forget where I read or heard it, but someone once remarked that you don’t need a god to have a religion, but you certainly need a devil. It’s a statement that rings true, for me. It points to the apparently ineliminable human need for an enemy to define ourselves against. Human beings seem to need a narrative of moral struggle with clear heroes and villains within which to locate ourselves and anchor our thinking and acting in the world. This is as true for the committed Christian battling a literal devil as it is for the jacked-up truck driving Albertan with a F*** Trudeau sticker plastered across the back window or the woke warrior hammering away on Twitter in a feverish attempt to expose and defeat Donald Trump and all he represents. We all seem to need our devils. Read more
Four years ago, as another American election cycle staggered toward its exhausting conclusion, I wrote a post called “Do These Politics Make Me Look Christian?” I had just returned from a trip to Pennsylvania, as it happened, and had gotten a whole new level of insight into US political culture and discourse during an election season.
Reading the post again, with four years of a Trump White House in the rear-view mirror, I wouldn’t change anything substantive. I am still amazed at how eager Christians are to define themselves by their political attachments as opposed to, say, their allegiance to Christ and his kingdom. I am still bemused at how Canadians and other non-Americans seem to vicariously live through American political theatre. I am still troubled by how politics has become a perverse combination of entertainment and ideological warfare rather than something like an attempt to find practical solutions to common problems that we have to negotiate together Read more
I’m bald. Have been for roughly two decades. Perversely, I spent the previous two or three years before losing my hair shaving my head and bleaching the stubble that remained platinum blonde. I’m not at all filled with self-loathing for my poor choices on this score or bitter about going bald early or filled with jealousy for men my age who have full heads of hair. The fact that I pleaded with my son for most of his teenage years to grow his hair long so I could live vicariously through him has nothing to do with unresolved early-onset balding trauma. My proclivity to wear a hat anytime I’m not sleeping or preaching has nothing to do with vain contempt for my bald head. I like being bald and am fully at peace with it. Really. Read more
I was listlessly scrolling through Facebook recently over coffee when I reached something of a tipping point. I had just groggily plodded through a stretch that included, in order, a friend’s rather hysterical political musings, a sponsored advertisement for shoes, a post from a charity which fell under the strange category of “suggested content,” and another friend’s picture from somewhere much warmer and prettier than southern Alberta in October. I pondered, bleary-eyed, the math of my morning Facebook experience. 2/4 posts were some form of targeted advertising. 1/4 was a friend trying to get me worked up about something that was agitating them. And 1/4 was making me feel envious of someone else’s experience. That’s some pretty intolerable math, right there. Read more
As human beings, we’re generally pretty lousy at grace. We long for it in our deepest and truest moments, and we desperately need it, God knows. But we often struggle to receive it. We’d prefer to earn, to justify, to merit. Grace is for the weak and that’s not us. At least this is the impression we often give. We’re even worse at extending it, particularly to those we are convinced will treat it recklessly and wastefully. Those who most need it, in other words. We are far more interested in and skilled at scorekeeping and evaluating. This is our lane and we are too often happy to stay in it. Read more
How will the post-pandemic church pay the bills? Clicking on headlines like this, along with the usual parade of daily updates, warnings and statistics have become part of my grim COVID daily reading ritual. Forever scanning the horizon in search of some sign of clarity for what the future might hold when it comes to public worship or the gathered life of the church more broadly. This particular headline, unsurprisingly, wasn’t particularly encouraging. According to a Barna Group study, 65% of American churches have seen donations decline during the pandemic. Incredibly, one in five churches may be forced to close their doors in the next 18 months. I don’t know if the same numbers would map precisely on to Canadian realities, but the general trends aren’t hard to recognize. Read more
One of the (many) things that regularly irritates my kids about their dear old dad is that he has this exasperating tendency to insist upon precision and consistency in language. I feel sorry for them, on one level. The burden of being subjected to a father with tendencies that can run toward a dry and dour rationalism is surely one that no one should have to bear. This is no doubt among the (many) childhood ordeals they will have to unpack with a therapist at some point in the future. Read more
A few years ago, I wrote a blog post called “I’m Not Spiritual but Not Religious (But I Can See it From Here). It was a gesture of empathy, if of an exceedingly grudging sort, toward some of what might be animating this ubiquitous declaration that echoes throughout the post-Christian landscape. I could appreciate, I said, the suspicion of institutions and the labour they require. I get it, I said, that it’s frustrating to come to a religious institution with a hunger for God and meaning and get asked to join a committee. It’s understandable, I said, that endless debate and “discernment” and bureaucracy can have the effect of stifling the profound human yearning to know and be known by God. Given some of the drearier realities of what the word “religion” conjures up for many, I could understand why some gravitate toward a statement like, “I’m spiritual but not religious.” Read more
There are probably better things to think about than the toxic polarizing hostilities of our cultural discourse while riding a motorcycle through the Rocky Mountains on a glorious fall Monday. I could have simply exulted in the beauty all around me or opened myself up to mid-life epiphany of some sort or another. And to be fair, I did do a fair bit of the former—the Rockies in autumn are simply spectacular (no epiphanies to speak of, alas). But I had just listened to a podcast… and just finished a book… and read a few articles about the corrosive effects of social media on democracy and the world more generally. There were some things I just couldn’t get out of my mind. And you have to fill six hours alone with your thoughts inside a helmet somehow, right? Read more
Six months into this pandemic my sense is that fatigue has well and truly settled in for many people. We’re tired of all the restrictions, inconveniences and uncertainty, obviously. We’re tired of the way the same handful of headlines seem to dominate the news every day, tired of the dull drip of dopamine produced by our listless doom-scrolling, tired of the endless politicizing of this virus, tired of the fear-mongering and conspiracy theorizing, tired of being tired. Many of us have spent far more time thinking, speaking, and writing about this thing than we would have ever wanted. I certainly have. Read more