“I’ve had a bunch of revelations in my life.” The words came from an inmate sitting across the table at the jail recently. He looked impossibly young, was skeletally skinny, indigenous. His face somehow managed to look deadly serious and impishly goofy at the same time, a hint of a smile always threatening to break out into the real thing. He was a big fan of rap music, poetry, anime. He knew his bible well, rattling off passages and references by memory. Read more
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
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
It’s been a quiet few weeks here on the blog, I know. There are a number of reasons for this, but chief among them is that it has been a season of dying in our church. Since I’ve returned from holidays in late August, there have been three deaths to mourn, three lives to honour and celebrate, three occasions to proclaim with joy the great Christian hope of a life that swallows up death. I’ve been writing a lot of sermons and planning a lot of services, which doesn’t leave much time for writing here. Read more
I remember a few years ago I was hunting around for some music to listen to while preparing my Easter sermon. It was Holy week, so I thought I should try to find something a bit more inspirational than my usual fare. Perhaps some classical music. I surveyed the options on my streaming service. I was presented with two choices for Holy Week. How delightful! I read the description of each.
I wonder if one of the central tasks of faith at this middle stage of life is that of reimagination. To unlearn the notion that faith is a “whoever dies with the most correct ideas about God in their head wins” kind of game. To open oneself to the possibility that when it comes to the things of God, it’s less about arguing than evoking, less about proving than reminding and revealing, less about heroically thinking enough right God-things or doing enough good God-things than loving mercy. Sigh. Even as I look at the preceding three sentences, I hate the soppy mid-life cliché that they sound like. Perhaps one of the other tasks of the middle-stage of life is to somehow come to peace with the cliches that we inevitably become. Read more
A few nights ago, my wife and I watched a quirky Irish romantic comedy called Wild Mountain Thyme. The film itself was fine, nothing spectacular, but an interesting story if only because it strayed a bit off the beaten path as far as rom coms go. Two eccentric single farmers struggling to find each other in the midst of navigating a land dispute in the middle of Ireland doesn’t exactly scream “blockbuster” or “financial windfall.” Not caring much about these things is a feather in any film’s cap, in my books. Read more
I’ve been thinking a lot lately about beauty. This is perhaps a strange thing to be thinking about in a year as ugly as 2020 has been and may yet be. I could catalogue all the ways that 2020 has under-performed but this is hardly necessary, right? You’re all sentient beings and have likely been tethered to your screens just like everyone else during this pandemic. And at any rate, one gets tired of obsessing and complaining about ugliness after a while. There is a seemingly limitless supply of it and the outrage/fear/anxiety machine of the internet keeps it ever before us. Perhaps some more pleasant fare will be welcome.
Lord God, you love us, source of compassion
These words provided the restorative refrain near the end of a Taizé service I attended with our local L’Arche community on Tuesday evening. Over and over again, we sang. Lord God, you love us, source of compassion. Until it was drilled down into our bones. Until the words wore down our defenses and settled into our souls. Until we could just about believe this most incredible of things.
We are loved. I am loved. By God. Read more
Funerals often produce interesting conversations. Especially when the funeral follows the tragic and unexpected death of the matriarch of a massive family with deep history in and connection to the local community. This was the case with the funeral for my grandmother last week. There were so many interesting conversation topics—everything from the ethics of assisted dying to eccentricities of family history to Trump to atheism to, of course, the life that my grandmother lived. But one theme that popped up over and over again, indeed seemed to weave its way through most of the others in some form or another, was a deep sense of nostalgia. Read more
Each year around this time, I find myself remarking to my congregation that the songs of Advent and Christmas give us some of our best theology. I’m sure they’re getting weary of hearing it by now. In my meagre defense, after a while one runs out of new things to say. At any rate, it’s no less true for my repeating it endlessly. Aside from just being a delight to sing, these songs give us marvelous lines like:
- Oh, love beyond all telling, that led thee to embrace, in love, all love excelling, our lost and troubled race.
- Dear desire of every nation, joy of every longing heart.
- Cast out our sin, and enter in, be born in us today!
- Hail the incarnate deity; pleased with us in flesh to dwell; Jesus, our Immanuel!
- Son of God, Love’s pure light, radiant, beams from thy holy face with the dawn of redeeming grace, Jesus, Lord at Thy birth.
For churches whose preaching is lectionary based, one of the texts for this Sunday is Revelation 1:4-8. It’s a marvelous passage that describes Jesus in some of the most exalted language in all of the New Testament. The “faithful witness,” the “the firstborn of the dead,” the ruler of the kings of the earth,” the one who is and who was and who is to come,” the “Alpha and the Omega.” It’s breathtaking stuff. The risen Christ is described as the source and goal of all creation.
There’s another section of this passage that we are perhaps not so readily drawn to:
“Look, he is coming with the clouds,”
and “every eye will see him,
even those who pierced him”;
and all peoples on earth “will mourn because of him.”
So shall it be! Amen.
It’s almost the definition of a calling that there is a strong inner resistance to it. The resistance is not practical—how will I make money, can I live with the straitened circumstances, etc.—but existential: Can I navigate this strong current, and can I remain myself while losing myself within it? Reluctant writers, reluctant ministers, reluctant teachers—these are the ones whose lives and works can be examples. Nothing kills credibility like excessive enthusiasm.
— Christian Wiman, He Held Radical Light
Christian Wiman writes sentences that sound so good that you’re convinced that even if they’re not true, they probably should be. Like that last one: “Nothing kills credibility like excessive enthusiasm.” I laughed out loud the first time I read it. It brought to mind the many eager beaver pastor-preneurs I’ve encountered over the years, people who so obviously craved the stage and all that went with it, people so utterly convinced that they could save every lost soul by the sheer force of their own conviction (and often volume). Or the people who are just a bit too desperate to plaster themselves and their causes all over social media, as if almost to overwhelm people with the innumerable exciting things that they are presently catalyzing. I have rarely found such people credible. Who are you trying to convince or impress? I often mutter unholily under my breath. No, I have never much appreciated the fevered sales pitch, religious or otherwise. Read more
I mentioned Christian Wiman’s latest book in my last post. It’s a marvelous read animated by one central question—the question of all questions: “What is the central hunger and longing that drives our peculiar species?” As always, Wiman expresses our options in such compelling ways: Read more
Christian Wiman is a brilliant writer—one of my favourites as I’m sure I’ve mentioned before here. I’ve been eagerly anticipating the arrival of his most recent book, He Held Radical Light and yesterday the blessed brown package showed up in the mail. I spent part of last night reading it. The man has a way of communicating the longing and haunting desire of human existence like few others that I have come across. Read more
There’s this mildly irritating phrase that I have encountered with some frequency over the course of the decade or so that I have been a pastor. I’m sure you’ve encountered something like it in your own circles, particularly in these post-Christian, post-church, post-everything times. Oh, I don’t mind church, but, you know, I encounter God best in creation. That’s where I worship. Nature is my sanctuary. Indeed. When I am on the receiving end of this phrase, I usually smile and nod in as gracious a fashion as I can muster. Inwardly, I am often thinking very un-Christian thoughts. Of course nature is your sanctuary. A rather convenient justification for avoiding this one, I would say. Read more
Joseph greets me with a smile and warm handshake before serving me breakfast every morning in Bethlehem. I met Joseph two years ago during my first trip to Israel and Palestine and it has been a delight to reconnect with him this week.
Joseph is a Palestinian Christian and is always willing to share about his life and story. The one memory of him that stood out in 2016 was of him telling me about the hotel being shut down and commandeered by the Israeli army during one of the uprisings of the early 2000’s. For forty days, the top floor was used for army surveillance and sniper locations. Joseph was conscripted to prepare food for the army and not permitted to leave for the entire time they were there.
I spent part of this morning taking a kind of personal inventory that often accompanies the beginning of a new calendar year. As is often the case, there was much to be grateful for and much that brought only sighing and sorrow. Progress—moral, character, spiritual, or otherwise—comes hard, it seems.
As I was thinking and praying on these things, I came across this quote from Francis Spufford’s Unapologetic that made my jaw drop and my soul heave with grief and gratitude. He’s talking about being seen—truly seen—by the living God. About being known as we are and loved even still. Read more