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Posts by Ryan

On “Weather Events” and Other Absurdities of the Digital Age

On Friday afternoon, as I was spinning my wheels on a sermon that just wasn’t coming, I did what I tend to do when the inspiration tap seems to have run dry. I began to click aimlessly around the internet. It’s an inspirational strategy, I know. Feel free to take notes. At any rate, I checked a few soccer scores. I scrolled half-heartedly through Facebook and Instagram. I visited an inbox that somehow, frustratingly, wasn’t magically whittling itself down. And I checked the weather. Read more

The Crowd

On Saturday afternoon, I was gloriously lost in the crowd. The scene was the Commerzbank Arena in Frankfurt, Germany, where I was watching the match between the home team, Eintracht Frankfurt, and German and European powerhouse FC Bayern München. I was there with a group of lifelong friends who had convened in Europe to reconnect and watch a few soccer games. The previous weekend we had been at a game in Madrid, which was fantastic, but the atmosphere in Frankfurt was electric. At times, the entire stadium seemed to be shaking and roaring in lusty approval as Eintracht demolished the hated rivals from Bavaria 5-1 (for non-soccer fans, Bayern would be kind of like the New York Yankees of German football—the phenomenally wealthy team that poaches everyone else’s best players and who everyone loves to hate). Even though we were ostensibly there to see Bayern (they are our German friend’s team and they have a kid from Alberta with a fascinating and inspiring story playing for them), it was a riotously good time and an experience to remember. Read more

On Division and Negativity

Like many Canadians, I had an eye on the national election last night. Election results and commentary provided the background noise throughout the evening, as I had dinner with my son, as I went to the gym, as I watched a bit of soccer and talked with my wife, and as my head eventually hit the pillow. To the surprise of probably no one, the end result of a nasty campaign characterized by polarizing rhetoric, majoring on minors and minoring on majors, name calling, fearmongering, avoiding issues, peddling partial truths or simply outright lying, was a minority Liberal government. This was what many pundits and pollsters predicted and for a change they got things pretty much exactly right. Read more

Smells Like Teen Spirit

I’ve been pondering connections between David Bentley Hart and Nirvana this afternoon. As in, the band, not the state of blissful detachment from desire and suffering. Apparently, psychologists have discovered that our musical tastes begin to take shape as early as age thirteen or fourteen and by the time we’re in our early twenties these tastes are locked into place pretty firmly. One study indicated that “popular songs released when you’re in your early teens are likely to remain quite popular among your age group for the rest of your life” and that many of us stop listening to new music entirely after around age thirty-three. This probably explains why I struggle to appreciate the throbbing, migraine-inducing EDM that drifts up from my son’s corner of the basement. Read more

Whatever Makes You Feel Better

A thought experiment for your Tuesday afternoon.

Scenario A: You’ve been experiencing pain. Maybe it’s arthritic knees or chronic migraines or the fallout from an injury. You go to your local clinic. The building is sterile and clean. It is filled with all kinds of humming machines, urgent activities, and the myriad accoutrements of a modern, technologically advanced health care facility. Your doctor is well-groomed and wearing a white lab coat. On her office wall hang impressive-looking degrees from prestigious universities. She analyzes your symptoms, perhaps does an X-Ray or an ultrasound. Images are produced, diagnoses pronounced. Your doctor writes a prescription on official letterhead and sends you off to the pharmacy where you encounter a few more white lab coats, a bit more buzzing technological efficiency. Eventually, you depart with a sealed bottle of pills with detailed instructions on the label. Read more

Fearfully Religious, Religiously Fearful

Like many, I’ve been following with interest the story of Greta Thunberg, the sixteen-year-old Swedish climate activist whose words and actions have been galvanizing young people (and beyond) and dominating the news in recent days. Hers is a voice that speaks clearly and forcefully for a generation that is sick of platitudes and political inactivity when it comes to the looming climate crisis on the horizon. She is unafraid to speak fearlessly to the rich and the powerful—to demand action for the sake of future generations who will pay the price of the reckless and wasteful inattentiveness of we who preceded them. Read more

Emotional Days

It’s been an emotional morning. No, not in that way—nothing bad has happened to me, nothing special is tugging at my heartstrings or causing me elation, sorrow, or confusion (at least no more than usual). Nothing like that. But it’s been a morning where the theme of “emotions” and how they operate in our thinking, our self-understandings, our politics, and our collective discourse has popped up a few times in my quick tour of the news and social media over breakfast. Read more

Our Poisonous Purity

The big news this week here in Canada is that a nearly-two-decades old photo has surfaced of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau—heroic champion of diversity and inclusion and tolerance and fierce critic of their opposites—in brownface at a costume party. For scandal-hungry media covering an election campaign grinding along in a rather pedestrian and uninspiring fashion, with candidates trying desperately to make voters’ choices seem like something more sensational than they are (do we prefer a center-left or center-right government this time around?), this is of course pure gold. It was front page news on every major news media site this morning and I expect the commentary will continue for days.  Read more

Tell Me What to Think

So, a millennial, a baby boomer and a Gen-Xer walk into a bar… —or, a church picnic, as it happens—and a surprising collision and confluence of assumptions and expectations ensues. At least it did on Sunday afternoon. The topic of conversation was critical thinking and its presence/absence in the world and the church. I’m painting in broad strokes in what follows, so I’ll have to ask your forgiveness and patience in advance. With a few stereotypes operating in the background, some surprising and not-so-surprising themes emerged in the conversation. Read more

On Simplifying

Early September is one of a handful of “new years” that many of us use to orient or mark time. The beginning of another academic year is experienced as a new beginning for many, particularly those with kids. January 1 is another, obviously. For Christians, the First Sunday of Advent would be yet another, as we mark the beginning of another year lived according to the story of Jesus. These are logical points on our calendars and in our lives for us to recalibrate, reorient, recommit, or remind ourselves of important truths. Read more

Thursday Miscellany: On Resilience

Some fragmentary thoughts and observations on resilience accumulated over the course of the summer…

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I spent last weekend in Vancouver, BC where my wife was running a half marathon. She inexplicably enjoys running long distances on purpose and I enjoy drinking coffee and reading in between seeing her off and waiting for her at the finish line, so it’s a decent enough arrangement. Last weekend, however, things took an unexpected turn. Just under two miles in, she had a fall and landed hard on her shoulder. The pain, she said, was excruciating. No doubt. So, she naturally did what most normal people would do in such a situation, which is to say, she ran eleven miles with a grade three separation of her shoulder. Err… Read more

On Walking Long Distances

I went on a long walk last Friday. Seventeen kms or so, according to a map I consulted this afternoon, up and down a mountain. Not being a terribly proficient hiker and, consequently, not possessing a decent pair of hiking boots, I used someone else’s. Which (unsurprisingly) turned out to be a mistake. Halfway along my long walk, one heel had been rubbed pretty much raw. My hiking companion generously patched together a combination of gauze and duct tape to tamp down alongside the heel of my boot which enabled me to hobble the rest of the way up and back down on a hot summer’s day. Six days later, the heel is still a rather unsightly red. But the spectacular views of the Canadian Rockies were more than adequate compensation for the accumulated discomforts of my long walk. Read more

It’s This, But It’s Also That

Last weekend, I read a remarkable piece of journalism. It was about an issue that I knew little about and it described a reality with which I have no personal experience. It was about a city I have never visited in a country not my own whose social conditions are difficult for me to personally imagine. It discussed a material reality has very little bearing on my everyday life in a small city on the Canadian prairies. And yet, the article modeled a way of approaching a difficult issue that I think we can (must) all learn from if we are going to inhabit our cultural moment in honest and hopeful ways. Read more

How Long?

I periodically listen to the popular podcast This American Life, hosted by Ira Glass. It’s hit and miss, for me, like most podcasts, but very often it will at least leave me with a lingering thought, an itch or two worth scratching. In this week’s episode, “The Weight of Words,” it was the prologue that provided the aforementioned itch. Read more

More, Better, Faster!

Occasionally, if I’m feeling a least mildly provocative (or if I want to see if someone is actually paying attention), I will respond to the query, “So, how’s it going” with “Good enough.” Sometimes my conversation partner will steamroll on, assuming that I have answered with one of the expected responses (“good,” “well,” “busy,” etc.). But occasionally, they’ll pause and give me a sideways glance. That one word—”enough”—throws a bit of uncertainty into what’s supposed to be a relatively thoughtless bit of social lubrication. Enough? What does that mean? Is that code for “I’m not doing well?” Is it a joke? Good enough for what? Read more

On Liberating Desire

Further to yesterday’s post on the inevitably social nature of human desire, I was fascinated to read the following passage this afternoon in Danish psychologist Svend Brinkmann’s book, The Joy of Missing Out. The quote comes in the broad context of an argument that living well requires being willing to settle for less, to not constantly be chasing after the latest experience, product, or achievement, and, specifically, at the end of a discussion of Søren Kierkegaard’s assertion that “purity of heart is to will one thing”: Read more

Desire Infection

Most of us are at least dimly aware that our thinking and behaviour is influenced in important ways by our social circumstances. We tend, in general terms, to think and act like those we surround ourselves with, those we rub shoulders with daily, those we hang out with on the weekend, those we worship with, those we sit in coffee shops or book clubs with, etc. Over time, our thinking tends to come to resemble the thinking of our social groups. Not in every way, of course. It’s not like every social group is comprised of mindless automatons all regurgitating identical content (although social media might offer a depressing counterexample here…). But most of us would acknowledge that our beliefs about the world are profoundly social both in their origins and in their ongoing maintenance. Read more

Love Loses

I’ve had some interesting conversations (online and face to face) recently with people about psychology professor and blogger Richard Beck’s ongoing series on the need for a “post-progressive Christianity.” He’s covered some interesting terrain in the series thus far, everything from how progressives approach the Bible to the phenomenon of deconstruction to how they understand the role of the church and others. In each case, Beck describes how he has found progressive Christianity’s approach to faith insightful in important ways, but also lacking in others. Hence the need for a “post-progressive Christianity,” however much some of us might cringe at the introduction of yet another “post” into our cultural lexicon. Read more