I spent part of this morning listening in on an assassination plot. Well, that probably sounds a bit more dramatic than what actually transpired but, you know, click bait and all that. I was having coffee with an older gentleman that likes to get together periodically to talk about what he’s been reading in his bible. He speaks quietly so I have to really work to listen. The peripheral noise can quite easily take over. Read more
“I think that the Christian doctrine of redemption—this idea that we need to be “redeemed” from something—is just wrong. And it’s done all kinds of harm.” The comment came in the midst of an invigorating and wide-ranging conversation with an acquaintance over coffee recently. It was one of those delightful encounters where the person you’re talking with is much smarter than you—where you feel like you’re kind of scrambling to keep up. It was good exercise for the brain. Read more
I don’t talk about the devil nearly enough for some Christians. In some churchy circles, one often hears prayers and conversations littered with all manner of wild spiritual warfare language that makes me squirm with discomfort. What are we talking, like horns and pitchforks and fiery barbecues? Frank Peretti and Tim LaHaye novels? None of it resonates with me. Read more
If you’re not a socialist at twenty, you have no heart, and if you’re not a conservative at forty, you have no brain.
As far as quotes go, this well-known offering of unknown provenance could probably raise the ire of people across the political spectrum, particularly on the left. No one enjoys being implicitly told that they do (or don’t) have a brain or a heart. Those are fighting words, right there. Which is of course why the quote is repeated and why it’s memorable. Read more
“Not only are Americans becoming less happy—we’re experiencing more pain too.” A headline like this from the Washington Post is bound to grab the attention even of a non-American like me (we Canadians have been habituated to more or less seamlessly insert ourselves into headlines like this over the years—trends in America often more or less map on to those in Canada, even if in ways that aren’t as noisy or impressive… except when we’d rather define ourselves by not being American… or when someone whose name is Trump is involved… or… well, our relationship to America is rather complicated). Anyway, I didn’t see “Canada” in the charts and graphs in the article, so I can only assume that we have somehow been subsumed under the category of America. Based on mostly anecdotal evidence, I doubt the trends would be much different up here in the Great White North. Read more
On Friday night I went with a friend to a concert at a local club. It was a good show—just three guys with their guitars, and a packed room. But one of the singers insisted upon ruining the cheery vibe. He kept talking about how the world was in such a bad place, and about how he didn’t know if or how we were ever going to get ourselves out of the messes that we have made. Read more
I have a category on this blog called “Conversations with Kids.” Early on in my blogging “career,” I discovered that the questions kids ask about God often provide a window into some pretty interesting and important theological issues. Questions like, “How do we know that God is real and zombies aren’t” and whimsical musings about whether God is kind of like an alien with an evil detector have provided plenty of good writing fodder over the years. Over ten years, this category has accumulated some fifty posts based on listening in on how my kids think about all this God business. Read more
I’ve been thinking about resilience today. I am hardly the first to comment on what seems, on the surface, to be an incongruity at the heart of life in the twenty-first century West. In global and historical terms, we are in uncharted and unprecedented waters when it comes to material comfort, life expectancy, medical care, connection options via technology, discretionary time for entertainment, recreation, and much more besides. At the same time, we are the most heavily diagnosed and medicated, depressed, chronically anxious population on the planet. There are exceptions, of course. There always are. But, again, in very general terms, the preceding describes a phenomenon that many of us recognize. Things have, in some ways, never been better and yet we’ve never been less able to cope. Read more
A few nights ago, I went with some friends to see the latest superhero film, Justice League. As a rule, I find this genre of movies rigidly formulaic and not terribly interesting, but my wife tells me that I’m not supposed to be antisocial so I went along for the ride. Also, I figured that no matter how awful the movie was, I would at least have the pleasure of listening to Jeremy Irons deliver a few lines. Read more
A Saturday morning tour through news headlines, social media, and personal correspondence has unsurprisingly delivered a steady stream of commentary on the pitiful parade of powerful men behaving badly. Politicians, Hollywood executives, actors, comedians. Everybody greedily grabbing and groping and exploiting and exposing themselves. The list is long and will undoubtedly get longer. And it falls to the rest of us to howl and moan in outrage and keep the Internet busy for a few days. Read more
Earlier this week, I dropped my kids off at school after a long weekend at home and sent them forth with these inspiring words of parental wisdom: “Remember, be kind and gracious to each other.” As is the tendency of twins and siblings more generally, they have been known to (exceedingly rarely, of course) be less than kind or gracious to one another. It was one last desperate salvo before I began the long drive home. Please be nice, for heaven’s sake. Or at least for your worrying dad’s sake. Read more
The opposite of love is not hate but self-love. The opposite of faith is not atheism but self-deification. Both love and faith (love of God) offer true freedom–release from the harshest prison, imprisonment from oneself.
So begins a chapter entitled “Narcissus’s Deceptive Pool” in Tomáš Halík’s I Want You to Be. I’ve long thought that the opposite of love is fear. But the more I read and reread this statement, the more I was convinced that Halík was on to something. Read more
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
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 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 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
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
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