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On Demons, Soul-Sucking Disillusionment, and Keeping Christianity Strange

Over breakfast with friends today, the conversation inevitably turned to the latest murderous school shooting in America (yes, the second half of that sentence is truly insane; as if there should or could ever be a “latest” in such a grotesque category). “What would possess someone to do such a thing,” someone asked? “Maybe the word ‘possession’ is an apt one,” I almost offhandedly opined. Maybe there was something demonic going on. How else to explain such evil? We reach for extreme explanations for things that seem unexplainable. There was an awkward pause before we moved on to safer explanatory terrain. Drugs. Mental health. Social isolation. Violent video games. Yeah, probably. Read more

Means and Ends

Are you happy? Would you like to be happier? Are there tweaks to your habits that could move you up a few notches on the happiness scale? How is happiness achieved, maintained, measured? I come across a lot of articles these days on happiness. Maybe it’s because there is so little of it out there in our depressed, anxious, and addicted times. Maybe I’ve reached that life-stage where my eyes are drawn to them like a moth to a flame. Maybe the algorithms are steering my my weary and manipulable brain down the paths they have deemed most likely to be profitable. Maybe Elon Musk is somehow to blame. Read more

On Building the Things We Love

My daughter and I were invited on a podcast a while back where the topic was “reconciliation.” What is it, how do you work for it, what shape ought it to take, etc. Would we be interested? Well sure. But we were both quite clear when the invitation came that we did not see our relationship as some kind of abstract exercise in reconciliation but as a father and a daughter. We were not placeholders for a theory of racial relations. We were family. Read more

Jesus Doesn’t Stop (Where We Wish He Would)

I’ve probably preached half a dozen sermons on “Doubting Thomas” over the last decade or so. Thomas and his doubt show up faithfully in the lectionary readings each year after Easter Sunday. Thomas and his stubborn needing to see to believe. Thomas and his demanding what his fellow disciples received as a gift and the surprise of a lifetime. Thomas, the recalcitrant empiricist. Read more

Thursday Miscellany (On “Lived Experience”)

Well, the half-written posts and fragments and links and barely formed loosely connected ideas are piling up in my drafts folder. I need to do some digital (and mental) housecleaning, as it were. So, I guess today shall be a miscellany day. Here’s some of what I’ve been thinking about over the past few weeks. Read more

Love and Peace or Else

I hadn’t heard of South African novelist Damon Galgut until this week. Or maybe I had. Who can say? I had evidently reserved his latest book The Promise at the library without remembering that I had done so or how or why or when [insert self-deprecating “getting older” witticism here]. The book won an important prize, apparently, or so the sticker on the top right corner of the cover told me as I inspected it at the checkout. On the bottom A certain Claire Messud from Harper’s Magazine breathlessly declared “Simply: you must read it.” Well, hard to argue with either the enthusiasm or brevity of that recommendation. So, I did. Simply, I read it. Read more

Man in the Middle

Each year, some part of the story of Holy Week grabs my attention in a new way. This year, it was the criminals on either side of Jesus’s cross. Matthew and Mark have the two criminals joining everyone else in heaping insults and scorn upon Jesus, adding to the general consensus that this is a very poorly performing Saviour. He saved others. Let him save himself. If you’re the Messiah, let’s see some action! Some “king.” Come down off that wretched cross if you are who you say you are. Read more

On Resonance: A Good Friday Reflection

I was not in the mood for an “I’m spiritual but not religious” conversation this week. I had just buried one of our church’s saints. I had been planning a vigil in honour of a young man who took his own life and processing it with those most affected by this. There was the usual fatigue of Holy Week with its multiple services to prepare. All in all, my appetite was very low for another critique of religion or the church from an earnest and painfully certain twenty-something. Read more

This Shadowed Fog

This afternoon, I received the devastating news that a young man connected to our congregation had taken his own life. I sat stunned, staring at my screen for what felt like an hour. Who can comprehend such things? Who can make sense out of what is ultimately senseless? I thought immediately of all those I know who loved this dear young man, all those who will be shattered by this loss, those whose grief will be immense. Read more

It’s the Mercy I Can’t Take

If you’re going to be home sick on Sunday as a pastor, you probably couldn’t pick a worse Sunday than the Fourth Sunday of Lent, Year C. For churches who follow the Revised Common Lectionary, this is the Sunday where the parable of the lost son shows up. And what preacher doesn’t look forward to being able to preach on this most famous and well-loved of Jesus’ stories? This preacher certainly does. The arrival of this passage is the homiletical reward for struggling through all those awkward Old Testament texts and dense Pauline theology and even some of Jesus’ more fiery words throughout the rest of the year And yet this is precisely the predicament this preacher found himself in last Sunday. Home sick instead of preaching about lost sons and a love-sick father. Read more

The Muffin Man

Jason* is poor in pretty much every sense of the word. He has very little money and what he does have he spends poorly. He is poorly educated and generally incurious about the broader world around him. He is poorly connected socially and spends a lot of time alone. He lacks social graces and is often a poor conversation partner. His health is, well, poor. Read more

A Brief Pause Before the Fuller Thought

I sat with someone as they took their last breath yesterday. These are simultaneously strange and sacred spaces, where grief and relief and fear and faith weave in and out and among each other. We live and move in a culture that doesn’t really do death well. We mostly avoid it, keep it at arm’s length, outsource it, deny it. Death, even when it comes at the end of a long and faithful life, intrudes.   Read more

Life After (and Before) Death

I’ve been thinking about life after death lately. This is not a very respectable thing to spend one’s time thinking about, at least not in “progressive” theological circles. “The church has too often been too heavenly minded to be of any earthly good” and all that. Well, yes. Certainly, many zealous Christians down through the ages have obsessed about the afterlife to the quite culpable neglect of this one. Locating all one’s hope in an unobservable and undefinable future can have the effect of partitioning it off from empirical scrutiny and absolving those who hold it of any responsibility to pursue God’s justice and peace in the present. Fair enough. Read more

The Last Shall Be First

There are no trees here. There should be trees to keep company with the dead. This was the first thing I thought as I stood beside a hole in the ground in tiny cemetery on the windswept winter prairies. It felt like the middle of nowhere. I guess it kind of was. Plots are more affordable the farther you go from the city, and the family had little money. It was bitterly cold and the few souls who had gathered shuffled nervously and stamped their feet. We were waiting for one more person who was late in arriving. I looked around and saw nothing but flat farmland and blowing snow. Where are the trees? Read more

The Inhuman Kingdom

Like many this morning, I’m fighting the urge to do little more than sit, slack jawed, at my computer, trying to process the news coming out of the Ukraine. It all feels so ominous and heavy and infuriating and sad. So terribly, terribly sad. After an hour or so of impotent doom scrolling, I closed my computer and decided to pray. I had no idea what to pray, so I borrowed better words than I could ever summon on my own.

The following excerpts come from a liturgy called “A Prayer of Intercession Against the Kingdom of Death.” from Every Moment Holy, vol. 2. Perhaps it will give you language appropriate for the sorrow and rage of the day, as it did for me: Read more

Tuesday Miscellany (A Whisper and a Scream)

It’s Tuesday morning and I’ve, um, been thinking some thoughts. Nothing well-formed enough for a substantive post on its own, but a few loosely connected fragments that need to be expelled from my brain so I can move on to other things… Read more

On Abstaining from Generalizations

It may surprise readers of this blog to know that I was a trucker in a previous life. In my early twenties, before I went back to university, I used to haul hotel furniture across western Canada. I remember more than a few harrowing winter trips over the Coquihalla or into the bone-chilling north. It was long and lonely work and I only did it for a few years, but it was an interesting and valuable experience. I have my class one license to this day. I’m not going to lie, there were days during these last two years of pandemic when it looked like an attractive option! Read more

The End Will Not Come Easily

The end of the pandemic will not come easily.

These words, from Danish political scientist Michael Bang Petersen in today’s New York Times, state what is self-evident to many, particularly here in Canada where the so-called “Freedom Convoy” has dominated the news over the past week or so. For many, relinquishing the emotional urgency that this pandemic has thrust upon us has the feel of a bitter concession. “The End of the Pandemic May Tear Us Apart,” warns Petersen’s ominous headline, and after the two years we have all endured, few would doubt this is true. Read more