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Blessed Are the Poor

God can be funny sometimes. In an inconvenient and mildly irritating way.

During a sermon writing break on Saturday, I took the dog for a walk. As I was nearing home—only about a block or two away—I saw a strange thing, at least for small town southern Alberta. A shopping cart full of miscellaneous items—bottles, clothes, a sleeping bag, etc.—covered in tarp sitting in the middle of a snowy sidewalk. As I was passing by, I looked down the lane and saw a man sitting under a blanket against a building. The weather was, well, arctic.

I’m not proud to admit this, but I walked on by. An excellent Levite, I am. Read more

It’s Up to You

I’m sitting in Starbucks shivering over a latte while I get a new set of tires put on my car. Here in southern Alberta, we have been treated to a blast of winter worthy of mid-January. The scene is a pretty arctic one which means, among other things, that, the Christmas orgy of advertising and consumption will soon be upon us.

It also means that we can brace ourselves for the wearisome spectacle of (some) Christians complaining that their coffee cups don’t appropriately reflect their beliefs about Christmas. Because, you know, it makes so much sense to expect that. And it’s such a weighty problem to address, particularly when the plight of others on our planet is considered. And because I’m sure God has strong opinions on the matter of whether or not a global corporate monolith gestures appropriately toward a holiday that many Christians already do a pretty decent job of dishonouring through kitsch and greed and nostalgia. Sigh.  Read more

Jesus Hangs in My Honda      

Jesus hangs from the mirror of my 2002 Honda Accord. He’s up on his cross, arms outstretched. He’s skinny. His knees are knobby and his ribs are showing. His face is directed downward. He looks sad, lonely, defeated. A few beads up from Jesus on the cross, his mom looks down at her baby boy. I doubt she imagined that her son would ever end up with arms outstretched on a Roman cross, sadly looking down at and forgiving those who didn’t know what they were doing.

I picked Jesus up a few years ago in Jerusalem. Read more

Fifty Years

Fifty years is a long time. Enough time for a civil rights movement, a sexual revolution, a Cold War. Enough time for an institution or two to fade into relative obscurity, for a few givens to become anything but. Enough time for the Internet to become a thing. Easily. A few generations. Half a century.

Fifty years is a long time a long time to live with a hole in your soul. Read more

When I Grow Up I Want to Be a Human Being

Two recent conversations have me thinking about what I want to be when I grow up.

The first was with a recruiter for a Christian university over coffee a few days ago. I asked her about common questions that she gets from parents considering post-secondary education for their kids. She sighed, and listed off what was an unsurprising itemization of the requisite programs and degrees that would get their child the right kinds of jobs in the future. We mused about how little interest students (or educators) seem to have these days in things like virtue or being properly formed as human beings. Education is about dumping facts into brains so that these brains can then go out into the world and make money. You can figure out what kind of a person you want to be on your own time. Or not. So it seems, at any rate. Read more

“I Float in Mighty Waters”

In the course of a given week, I consume and produce a lot of words. I read books and articles, newspapers and blog posts, denominational publications and the detritus of social media. I send and receive what feels like roughly a billion texts/emails/messages per day. I pour forth my own stream of words via this blog and other forums. Many days, it feels like I am drowning in words. I suspect I am not alone in this. To say that in the digital age words are cheap and ubiquitous, disposable and forgettable is to simply add a few more to the pile. We have become grazers on words, rarely pausing to let them affect us in the ways that they should or could.

Every once in a while, though, a few good words will penetrate the fog of dull half-attention and listless consumption that is so easy to default to. Read more

God Probably Isn’t Watching (But Occasionally it Would Be Useful if He Was)

“My parents always told me, ‘We might not see everything you do but God does.’” This statement made an appearance during a recent conversation with an older friend about whether or not God as “judge” is something that Christians ought to celebrate, fear, or loathe. I’m not sure what your reaction to this particular parenting strategy is. Perhaps you think it is yet another diseased expression of what is by now a mercifully outmoded attempt at social control—the equivalent of God as a kind of gleefully punitive cosmic Santa Claus, who knows if you’ve been bad or good so be good for goodness’ (or bribery’s) sake. Maybe you think this is the kind of thing we need to get back to—“Kids these days gotta be whipped into moral shape somehow!” Read more

Unoriginal Sin

As far as sins go, a rich older dude using his power and influence to sexually prey upon young women is about as unoriginal as they come. As long as men and power imbalances and women have been in existence (which is to say, forever), the former have been indecently and inexcusably forcing themselves upon the latter. As depressing as the story of film executive Harvey Weinstein is, it is also about as predictable as they come.  Read more

Homo Reacticus

A few months ago, Macleans ran a piece that sent shivers of terror and guilt down the spines of parents of teenagers everywhere. It was called, “How the smartphone affected an entire generation of kids” and addressed the overwhelming connection between depression and mental health issues and the rise of the smartphone. Kids born in 1995 or later (iGens) are the first generation to grow up with (on?) smartphones and, according to Jean Twenge, professor or psychology at San Diego State University, this is having a devastating effect upon their mental health. Read more

Talk to Me, Talk for Me

Over the last few years, I have found it interesting to observe where we turn in times of crisis. Increasingly, it seems that the answer is, “talk show hosts.” Every mass shooting, every natural disaster, every crisis now seems to be followed by a rather predictable ritual. In the hours immediately after the event in question we scurry online and busy ourselves with changing our profile pictures and hash tagging and wearing out the phrase “thoughts and prayers.” Later that night or, perhaps, the next night, we all tune in to the talk show hosts (and then share clips of whate they said the next day). Yesterday, CBC ran a story devoted entirely to what the talk show hosts were saying about the mass shooting in Las Vegas, complete with video clips of each one. They “decried it,” evidently. Whew. Read more

Give Me an Apocalypse

“I think God is about to purify the world with wind and fire.” The words didn’t come from a fire-breathing televangelist but from a guy who gave me a ride home from the car dealership after I had dropped my vehicle off for repairs. He had asked me what I did for a living. I had swallowed hard and told him I was a pastor. I’ve played the “what-do-you-do” game for long enough to know that people often choose one of two options when they obtain this piece of information: 1) shut down the conversation, assuming that you are a peculiar sub-species of humanity called “religious” and are therefore some combination of uninteresting, untrustworthy, and weird; or, 2) launch into the story of their lives, including whatever theological speculations might happen to be on their minds. This guy, obviously, chose the second option. Read more

Selling Sex

So, Hugh Hefner is dead. I don’t expect to see the breathless eulogizing that often accompanies the deaths of other famous people—I suppose we still retain just enough prudery (or at least good taste) to feel at least slightly awkward about praising the man who brought the world Playboy magazine. At least some of us might. I don’t know. More likely is a kind of chuckle, chuckle, wink, nudge frat boy mentality that thinks, “Not bad, the guy entered his tenth decade still surrounded by his young airbrushed bunnies, still living the dream of unrestrained lust and easy sex, still selling human bodies for greedy profit, still building and maintaining his palatial empire of desire right to the end. Atta boy, Hugh!” Or something like that.  Read more

Sparrows

My wife tells me that I shouldn’t read the news because the news makes me sad. Or angry. Or confused or helpless or despairing or apathetic or cynical. Or some toxic combination of all of the above. She’s probably right. She’s right about a lot of things. Read more

The Word of God

The following conversation took place via text message with my daughter this afternoon. She’s taking her first Bible Survey class in high school, and she had some good questions for dear old dad. It is reproduced here with her permission (C = my daughter; R = me): Read more

Threatening Days

It’s not been a pleasant few weeks for our dear planet. Hurricanes in Texas, Florida, and the Caribbean, an earthquake in Mexico, monsoon floods in southeast Asia, and now wildfires ravaging my own little corner of southern Alberta. These are just the stories that are presently dominating our attention. It doesn’t take much digging beneath the headlines to encounter the uncomfortable truth that awful things are happening all the time all over the world, whether it’s nature venting its fury or human beings manufacturing and multiplying our own. These are indeed threatening days.  Read more

A Hell of a Thing to Believe

Human beings spend a lot of time arguing about whether or not our beliefs are true. Even in these strange days where “I feel like” seems to have replaced “I think that” as the, ahem, ultimate trump card in a given dispute (how can you argue with a feeling?!), we still invest a fair amount of intellectual, emotional, and rhetorical energy into arriving at, and convincing others of what we believe to be true. Even amidst of the mountain of lies that can sometimes seem to overwhelm our socio-political discourse, the truth of the matter still seems to matter to us.  Read more

Wednesday Miscellany (Detritus of Summer)

The end of summer (sadly) draws nigh and, like many, I have spent these dwindling days of August attempting to tidy up the clutter, whether it’s physical, mental, or spiritual in nature. I’ve tried to achieve a bit of focus, clarity, and equilibrium before September arrives This has meant tackling my physical desk, rearranging unread books and recycling correspondence that has been rendered irrelevant by inattention, and trying to wrest a bit of order out of the chaos of random files and documents on my computer’s desktop. Things need to be put in their proper place, after all. Here are a few bits and pieces whose proper place is, evidently, another “miscellany” post.  Read more

we teeter on the edges of dark

I returned to work from holidays today to find two artifacts in my church mailbox: pair of socks and a book. Church mailboxes can yield the strangest discoveries. I was perplexed by the socks (my kids probably left them somewhere?) and delighted by the book. It was a book of poetry and woodcut prints entitled “Prophet, Priest, and King” and collaboratively produced by Chris Stoffel Overvoorde, an American artist, and Martin Oordt, a poet who taught for years at our local university before passing away in 2011. The book is a series of visual and poetic explorations and snapshots of Old Testament characters who anticipated, imperfectly, haltingly, partially, the final prophet, priest and king, Jesus Christ. Read more