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The Question the Whole World Revolves Around

“You know that bible verse that talks about the greatest three things, or whatever… you know, the three things that remain and how the best one is love?” The question comes from a young man at the jail. He has this wild look about him, hair everywhere, restless movements, a frantic, searching gaze, cuts on his hands. One is still bleeding. He gets up now and then to go tear a few strips off the toilet paper roll on the bookshelf to slow the flow. He follows this up by spraying disinfectant on his hands (there’s a bottle in the corner by the overhead projector, a lingering remnant of early pandemic days, I suppose). “Yeah, that’s 1 Corinthians 13,” I say, trying to keep tabs on his movements. “It’s one of my favourites.” “Yeah, I read it last night,” he responds. “I like it, too. But he’s missing one. There’s a fourth one that should be in there.” Read more

Our Loneliness Has a Secular Shape

The topic of loneliness came up at a breakfast meeting this morning. This is the devastating norm for Western cultures these days. Anxiety, depression, addiction, bitter cynicism, yes, all these things are rampant. But loneliness and social isolation seem to be the common thread that runs through the despair of our cultural moment. I see this nearly every day in my work as a pastor and as a prison chaplain. Read more

On “Jesus Smuggling,” Impatience with Window Shopping, and a World That Can’t Help Being Beautiful

I’ve started reading Nick Cave’s Faith, Hope, and Carnage, which is basically a memoir-ish extended interview with journalist Seán O’Hagan. I have to say that so far, it’s pretty awesome. Nearly every other page, I’m thinking, “Oh, that’s good, I need to use that in a sermon or an essay or something.” You may have to tolerate a bunch of quotes around here for a while. Read more

God is Love. And We Must Love Each Other

A month or so ago, I became aware (I forget how) of Nick Cave. I had never heard of the Australian singer, songwriter, poet, and author before this, nor had I ever listened to his band (Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds). Actually, scratch that. His song Red Right Hand is the theme song for Peaky Blinders. And apparently a song called O Children made an appearance in a Harry Potter movie. So, I guess I’ve heard him before, but only accidentally. It wasn’t his music that grabbed my attention a month ago, but the title of his new book: Faith, Hope, and Carnage. Quite a title, that one. The kind of title that might incline someone to do a bit of digging around. Read more

2022 in Review

Well, 2022 has nearly expired. It was another year dominated by the pandemic in some form or another. It was a year of trucker’s protests in Canada and counter-protests, a year of fear and anxiety and self-righteousness and judgment and hysterical media and loss of trust. There were probably a few good things, too, but I am well and truly a product of the media waters in which I swim and all I can seem to remember is the stuff that made me anxious and angry. 🙂

You know the December 31 drill by now, I suppose. Here are the top posts from the last 365 days along with a brief summary of each. Four out of the five were connected either to the pandemic or to the protests against restrictions. Which says a lot about what generates clicks. And is mildly depressing. So it goes. Read more

Far as the Curse is Found

He comes to make his blessings flow
far as the curse is found. — Joy to the World

I often tell people that the bible sounds different when you read it in jail. The same is true for Christmas carols. The words and the melodies sound different when sung far away from festive church sanctuaries, when instead of candles and creches it’s just concrete and plastic and reinforced glass. You’re drawn to different lines of the familiar songs. Read more

Some Force of Love and Logic

As Christmas draws near, I am thinking, appropriately, no doubt, about awe. I happen to rather like awe and experience it regularly. I experience it in all the usual places—mountaintops, oceans, majestic cathedrals, spine-tingling music. On a perhaps less obviously inspiring note, after a third consecutive morning dragging myself out of the house in sub -30-degree temperatures I am currently experiencing awe at just how bone-crushingly cold this planet is capable of getting. But yeah, I am generally a big fan of awe. Read more

The Violent Take It By Force

And from the days of John the Baptist until now the kingdom of heaven suffers violence, and the violent take it by force. — Matthew 11:12

I am not a violent man. I have never been in a fight. Not a real one anyway. I suppose there were hockey skirmishes and the ordinary fraternal conflagrations of childhood, but these little irruptions don’t really count. I was invariably terrible at violence. At heart, I am a peacemaker, if of a conflicted sort. Read more

The Lion

You have to sign in for the weekly bible studies at the jail. Name, unit number, time. Records must be kept. And so, the clipboard dutifully makes its way around the circle. One guy always has a massive grin on his face as he writes his name. I’ll call him Adam. I know why Adam is smiling. He has a standard practice by now. He writes his name, as per the requirements. But then he always leaves a few blank lines before writing another: “Jesus.” This day, he expands a bit. “Jesus of Nazareth.” He hopes he’s spelled Nazareth right. Read more

In Extremis

To be a pastor is to regularly find oneself in extremis. Pastors are expected to bring consolation and hope into extreme situations: contexts of depression, addiction, suicidal ideation, crushing poverty, relational breakdown, violence, existential despair, intellectual doubt, debilitating illness, and ultimately, of course, death. Or, more precisely, to point to the One who promises these things in (and beyond) the fractured and chaotic world of human experience. But what happens to the possibility of consolation when you don’t believe in this One anymore? Read more

On Packing Too Heavy

What hasty preparations we make for our future. Think of it: it seems almost tragic, the things we’re sure we ought to bring along. We pack too heavy with what we hope we’ll use, and too light of what we must. We thus go forth misladen, ill equipped for the dawn.

— Chang Rae Lee, My Year Abroad

There’s a weird and ill-defined stage of the parenting journey where your influence wanes and you become less of anything resembling an “authority” and more of a cheerleader or casual consultant (or vague irritant!). There’s no precise moment where this happens in your kids’ lives—they could probably be anywhere between 15-30!—but one day you wake up and sense that something has changed. They don’t need you in the same way, don’t want your input in the same way, don’t necessarily choose the things that you would have chosen, do not necessarily turn out to be carbon copies of their parents (go figure!)!. It’s the most natural thing in the world and yet it still somehow manages to come as something of a surprise. Read more

Thick Like Honey, Sweet Like Grace

One of my abiding critiques of the more progressive church circles that I inhabit is that there often seems to be little, for lack of a better term, “existential urgency.” God is, we think, very interested in our positions on social issues and is very eager to affirm our journey through various constellations of identities. But not so much in sin or salvation or judgment or deliverance or a love that breaks in order to mend or anything that could conceivably set a soul aflame. In many progressive churches, God cares a great deal about our politics and our self-esteem, not so much about our souls. Read more

The Pain of Getting Well

Last year I was poking around in a cool little bookstore in the Rocky Mountain town of Canmore when I happened upon a little book called What Comes from Spirit by the late Ojibway author Richard Wagamese. Wagamese is best known for books like Indian Horse, Medicine Walk, and One Native Life. I had the opportunity to meet Richard in 2014 when I hosted an event he was speaking at. I remember him as a very soft-spoken and gentle man. And a great storyteller. Read more

Death’s Diminishments

I’ve had a few hard conversations over the last week or so. Conversations about death and dying and despair, about the absence of God, the uselessness of God, the silence of God, the bleakness of the post-Christian landscape where hope, like every other good thing, must be manufactured by us if it is to be found at all. There are days when I would rather not be in God’s PR department. Read more

Don’t Just Stand There, Say Nice Things to Me

So, apparently you can go to the World Cup in Qatar next month for free. All you have to do is say nice things about the organizers on social media. This may require no small amount of nose-holding given Qatar’s generally abysmal human rights record and specifically atrocious treatment of foreign workers in building the infrastructure necessary to host the planet’s biggest sporting event. But hey, the World Cup is the World Cup! And this year, after a thirty-six-year barren stretch, Canada’s actually going to be there! I’m starting to regret going off social media. Perhaps even I could justify a bit of hypocritical online flattery for a free trip to the desert! Read more

Thursday Miscellany (On Religious Irreligion, Groupthink and Sectarian Leanings)

Well, it’s that time again. Time to empty out the “scraps and drafts and intriguing tidbits and provocations and half-formed thoughts folder” on my laptop and in my brain. It’s been a while since a “Miscellany” post anyway. I’m sure you’ve been waiting with bated breath. Read more

On Shipwrecks and Crutches

Faith in God begins where faith in oneself ends.

This is the kind of line that I would have probably condescendingly rolled my eyes at when I was younger. Yeah, there’s probably a kernel of truth in there, but it sounded to me like a pious cliché, the kind of thing you’d find on some kitschy piece of religious art or home decorating paraphernalia. It would have been in the same category, for me, as that “footprints in the sand” picture or sayings like, “When God closes a door, He opens a window” and “Everything happens for a reason.” Yeah, ok. Whatever. Read more

Did Dahmer Just Need a Friend (Anthropology in the Tattoo Parlour)?

I’ve recently been reading David Zahl’s excellent new book Low Anthropology. Readers of this blog will not be surprised to learn that I am deeply convinced that we are in need of better understandings of human nature than the default ones we tend to operate with these days. As I mentioned in my previous post, I think a realistic and hopeful anthropology is one of Christianity’s great gifts to the world, however ignored or misunderstood it often is. We are all sinners in need of grace. We are all divine image-bearers who are loved and called. Both of these statements are true. And together they can save us from thinking too little or, far more likely in our cultural moment, too much of ourselves. Read more