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For Those Who Want to Grieve in a Religious Way

I’m in Saskatchewan this week for a speaking engagement. Of course, no matter where I go, all anyone is talking about is last Friday’s horrific bus accident, which claimed the lives of fifteen members of the Humboldt Broncos junior hockey team. It is a story for which there are barely words. It’s made headlines around the globe. Not surprisingly, here in the Saskatoon area (about two hours from the crash site) it’s ground zero. The grief is raw and palpable. Hockey culture runs deep in each of Canada’s prairie provinces. Many people (myself included) have personal experiences of blasting down wintry roads in terrible conditions to play a hockey game. But in Saskatchewan, a sparsely populated province where vast distances often must be traversed to get from town to town, hockey culture is a different level altogether. Hockey binds these far flung communities together in a way that few things can.  Read more

In Search of a Holy Week

Holy Week is upon us, and with it the usual wearisome parade of articles and blog posts and podcasts offering more palatable understandings of Christian faith and crosses and empty tombs than the dreary orthodox fare. Rational people can obviously no longer be expected to believe the outdated and unbelievable story of miracles and dying for sins and actual coming-back-from-the-dead. But the narrative of Holy Week is still deemed to have a few residual nuggets of potential worth mining for us in our spiritual journeys. You’ll be relieved to know. Read more

I’m Not Doing So Good…

Victor* is the last of a handful of inmates to trudge into the Monday morning support group that I’m a part of at the local jail. He’s a small Latino guy, middle aged, a wispy beard and a short ponytail. He looks apprehensive about being there, but then that’s not uncommon. He sits down on a chair and stares at his feet waiting for the group to begin.  Read more

Be Careful What You Ask For

I was at a lunch this week where Matthew 20:20-28 was read devotionally before the meal. It’s the passage where the mother of James and John seeks to stake out some territory for her sons in the kingdom of God that Jesus was always going on about and which she believed was imminent. “Grant that one of these two sons of mine may sit at your right and the other at your left in your kingdom.” They’ve been good boys, after all. They’ve left everything to follow Jesus. They’ve puzzled over his strange teaching, witnessed his miracles, and are now trembling with anticipation at the triumph that is surely coming. They’re primed to rule with Jesus and they’d like a front row seat (and a bit of power) when the action starts. Read more

A Miserable Human Being

I love mankind; it’s people I can’t stand.

— Linus Van Pelt

I suspect that most of us can, at various points of our lives and to varying degrees, identify with this statement that Peanuts creator Charles Schulz puts in the mouth of good old Linus. “Humanity” as an abstract category seems entirely worthy of love and good will. Individual human beings? Well, that’s another matter entirely. Read more

There Goes My Hero

I got a phone call from my daughter this morning. It hadn’t been the greatest of mornings to that point. A few phone calls and emails had had brought unwelcome news. Our church is in the middle of dealing with a flooded basement mere days before we’re supposed to host a provincial conference. A few tasks that I had little energy for were stubbornly beckoning. I was generally feeling uninspired and uninspiring, bored and boring, tired and tiring. I probably resembled Jonah, pouting under his pathetic little plant. And then the phone rang and a beautiful voice dispelled the clouds for a moment. Read more

Thursday Miscellany (Love and Marriage Edition)

A few assorted scraps and fragments related to love and marriage for a Thursday morning…

My wife dragged me off to see… My wife and I went on a lovely date the other night to see the Oscar-winning film, The Shape of Water. I was underwhelmed. But then, I usually expect to be underwhelmed by films that the Academy pants after. It wasn’t terrible, just, well, as my kids would say, meh. I don’t seem to be constitutionally wired to appreciate a love story between a woman and a fish. Read more

On Divided Hearts

As I’ve mentioned before, I often join a few Anglican colleagues for morning prayers on Wednesdays. When I do so, I invariably come away with something to ponder from the Scriptures we read together and the traditional prayers that we join our voices with. This morning’s Psalm was a portion from the longest of them all, Psalm 119. Our reading began with these words: I hate those with divided hearts…

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The Old Wanderer

There’s a marvelous scene in Will Ferguson’s novel The Shoe on the Roof where Thomas Rosanoff, a medical student is having a discussion with his Catholic friend Frances about faith and reason and science and God, about what human beings can know and how they can know it. They are discussing a time when a patient’s shoe inexplicably (miraculously?) appeared on the roof of the hospital. Frances demands a rational explanation:

“How do you explain the shoe on the roof, then?”

“I don’t have to. It’s what we call an ‘anomalous experience.’”

“Tommy, everything we do is an anomalous experience. Being alive is an anomalous experience. That’s the problem with science; it always falls silent right when the questions start to get interesting.”

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Sex and Violence

A quick follow up to some of yesterday’s themes. I know I promised cheerier stuff in my next post, but, well, I meant the next one… 😉

The other day, I was watching over my wife’s shoulder at a video on Facebook. It was a bunch of celebrities speaking up for gun control in the aftermath of the Florida shootings. Ho hum. These sorts of videos are ubiquitous in the aftermath of tragedy. In a culture gorging itself upon entertainment, to whom else would we turn for moral advice, advocacy, solace, confirmation of our confused ethics, etc. than our entertainers? And how else could we be expected to digest such morsels of support and confirmation and solace but via entertainment? Read more

Wednesday Miscellany (On Self-Control)

A quick consultation of my recent posting history has yielded the discovery that it’s been half a year since my last “Miscellany” post. Because I know that there are few things better on a mid-week morning than reading a bunch of rambling, loosely-connected thoughts from yours truly, I decided to rectify this situation today.

A quote from Richard Beck’s recent short post on self-control set me off on a bit of a tangent:

One of the reasons we have trouble connecting love to holiness is that we associate holiness with self-discipline, self-mastery, self-denial, self-control, and even self-mortification.

Love, by contrast, tends to be other-focused and affectional in nature, a matter of the heart.

And by and large, we’re more attracted to being kind and affectionate people than we are interested in the rigors of self-denial and self-discipline. The grim asceticism we associate with holiness seems far removed from the joy and spontaneity of love.

And yet, can we really love others without a foundation of self-control and self-denial?

If you can’t say no to yourself, how are you ever going to say yes to others?

A good question, that last one…  Read more

What a Silly Reason to Lose Your Faith

I listened to a podcast the other day where a comedian was talking about losing his faith. I was intrigued when I heard the preamble—I nearly always am, when the topic has anything to do with faith, whether losing it, finding it, or hanging on to it for dear life. As it happens, intrigue quickly gave way to a yawn. He had grown up in what sounded like a pretty conservative religious environment. He had imagined that faith was something like a formula where believing and doing the right things when it comes to God would yield desirable outcomes in life. And then his wife had left him. And his career had floundered. So clearly, his faith was misplaced. God didn’t exist. And I remember thinking something like—I’m not particularly proud of this, I confess—“Oh, is that all? What a silly reason to lose your faith.” Read more

Joy is One Kind of Courage

Christian Wiman is one of a very small number of writers who I will read pretty much anything they write, regardless of the subject matter or form. His book My Bright Abyss is probably one of my favourite books of the last decade. Consequently, I happily seized upon a recent piece he wrote for the New York Times called “The Poet of Light.” It is ostensibly a reflection upon the life and poetry of Richard Wilbur. But on a broader level, it’s about the relationship between nature of art and writing and joy. Or, more frequently, joy’s absence. We live in times where it often seems like the darker the themes of a given work—writing, film, television, whatever—the more “authentic” it must be. Happy endings are passé. Joy is obsolescent. No serious artist would want to be outed as a cheerful optimist. Dark, brooding, tortured—this is where the action is. Read more

I Wanna Open My Heart

His eyes rarely leave the floor, even as he’s baring his soul. He’s young, tough-looking, brown skin marked with tattoos, black hair slicked back over the middle of a mostly shaved skull, rosary around his neck. It’s the first time he’s showed up at a group I participate it in at the local jail. He’s looked wary about the whole thing since he walked through the door. But he mustered up the courage to begin a sentence like, “I think I wanna say something…” And the story comes pouring out.  Read more

Do You Love Me?

I’ve been spending some time this week pondering Jesus’ restoration of Peter in John 21. Like the best stories in Scripture, it is one that we have little trouble locating ourselves in. It is a story of failure and forgiveness, of restoration and healing. It is a story that gladdens our hearts with the hope of what might yet be possible despite our many missteps and misdeeds. It is a story portends what love can cost for those who give it and those who receive it.  Read more

The Magic Wears Off

Up here in the Great White North (and it truly is white these days, caught as we are in the grip of a wintry blast!), the media has been having fun with our dear Prime Minister’s “peoplekind” comment delivered at a recent town hall in Edmonton. Some young woman made the calamitous error of using the word “mankind” in her essay-length question, and, as luck would have it, our fearless leader deigned to correct her. “We like to say ‘peoplekind,’ not necessarily ‘mankind.’ It’s more inclusive.” Well, yes. “Mankind” is a perilously uninclusive word (I know “uninclusive” isn’t technically a word, but if our PM can make up words, so can I). Also, “peoplekind” is much more 2018, much more fitting for our enlightened, unshackled times. Granted, a white middle aged man telling a young woman what words she’s allowed to use doesn’t sound very feminist, but I suppose I’ll have to defer to those more knowledgeable about such things.  Read more

Undone

Once a week or so, I join a few Anglican clergy for morning prayers. Like many who grew up in a “low church” tradition with its relentless demands (real or perceived) for extemporaneity in prayer and worship, I have taken a sort of refuge in the solidity and predictability of the durable prayers and liturgies found in the high churches. I’m glad for a few Anglican friends who don’t mind a stray Mennonite showing up and stumbling along through forms that still feel at least somewhat foreign (and beautifully so). Read more

On Fixing and Forgiving

My daughter and I were sitting at the streetside window of a local café this afternoon when a couple of quite spectacularly drunk guys walked up to the front door. One of them started screaming at the door, middle finger enthusiastically raised in glorious salute. He looked over at us, grinned weirdly and then returned his attentions to the front door. More middle fingers, more yelling, and then the unpleasant culmination of his hostilities: he leaned back and spit on the front door before stumbling away.  Read more