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Posts from the ‘Blogging’ Category

On Burning and Rotting

One does not need to be an apologist for the Roman Catholic Church or for the Government of Canada or for the wretched legacy of Indian Residential schools to be alarmed at and deeply troubled by the spate of recent church burnings that have taken place across Canada. I probably should not need to begin a post with a sentence like that—i.e., it should be fairly unremarkable that a person could feel grief and anger toward historical injustices perpetrated by the church and simultaneously be convinced that burning houses of worship to the ground is wrong—but such are the times we live in. We are forever sorting one another into moral categories. It can be a risky thing to risk the wrath of the online mob by expressing the wrong moral sentiment. Or the right moral sentiment directed toward the wrong group. Or the right moral sentiment expressed with the wrong degree of certainty or outrage. Or… well, you’ve presumably been online in the last few years. You get the idea.

The Roman Catholic church is not a particularly popular or sympathetic institution, at present, for reasons that are well (and appropriately) documented. And the response to these burnings from politicians and other public officials has predictably been somewhat muted. There are condemnations, certainly, but often with a tinge of, “Well, yes, but you see it’s understandable given the history here…” If these were Canadian mosques or gurdwaras or Buddhist temples being reduced to ash, one suspects the public narrative would be rather different (it would not be difficult to find historical injustices associated with these institutions and symbols either, even if these do not have the same emotional, geographic, or social proximity as those connected to the churches that are burning). But our history in this nation, for good and for ill, has been profoundly influenced and shaped by the church. This is where we live.

The act of burning carries with it a lot of symbolic freight. It can be a symbol for the white-hot rage that many indigenous people (again, appropriately) feel toward all that they have endured at the hands of the church. “Burn it to the ground” could simply be an attempt to destroy and consign to oblivion. There may be the idea of something like self-immolation at work—offering oneself or one’s institutions up as a sacrifice to atone for sin (this article conveys such sentiments). It can also take on purificatory connotations. The idea of fire as a tool of refining and burning away impurities is found throughout Scripture (e.g., Zech 13:9). In this case, the church itself represents an impurity, a stain on our more morally evolved cultural moment. It must be purged and refined according to present sensibilities if it is to remain.

I suspect that some combination of what’s described in the preceding paragraph is at work in how we as a nation are viewing these church burnings. They’re wrong, yes, but… We have little fondness for the church or the ugly parts of its history. We lament the aesthetic loss, perhaps, but the thought of those children… and all that abuse of wealth and power… and all that naked racism and cultural imperialism. Many Canadians wouldn’t say “Burn it to the ground” publicly (unless they work for the BC Civil Liberties Association, perhaps), but privately we’re more or less ok with editing this chapter out of Canada’s past. Good riddance. Etc.

Speaking of editing the past. I read an article this morning where I encountered a term that was new to me: link rot. In a world where so much information is migrating online and where there is so little regulation, apparently plenty gets lost along the way. Or modified. Or “updated” to reflect current moral sensibilities. Or deleted. Link rot describes the phenomenon of hyperlinks no longer working or pointing to the same external content that they once did. A link to an article that you posted in 2017, for example may or may not still work in 2021. One study found that “50 percent of the links embedded in Court opinions since 1996, when the first hyperlink was used, no longer worked. And 75 percent of the links in the Harvard Law Review no longer worked.” That’s some significant slippage.

Even here on my own little blog, I’ve linked to a lot of content over fourteen years. I did a quick check on a few posts that I wrote over a decade ago. Sure enough, over half of the links in those posts no longer work. Who knows, the links in this very article might not work by the time you read it! I could simply remove the rotten links, but a) that would be tedious and cumbersome work; and b) it would make the post that cited them somewhat confusing. A lot of what I write here references specific content and context. If that content and context is lost or inaccessible? Well, then I guess readers just have to trust me.

I remember in the early years of blogging, I realized that along with the obvious power I had to change past posts whenever I wanted, I could also edit other people’s comments. Say they had made a point that was inconvenient for my argument, or they quoted something I had said that was inaccurate or wrong or reflected poorly on me in some way, or I was just generally finding them an irritating conversation partner. Well, I could just change or delete any comment that didn’t flatter me or my story. As it happens, I think that this is deceitful and immoral. I couldn’t live with myself if I was forever editing what other people said or changing old posts that contained things that I wouldn’t say the same way anymore. But I suspect many people could.

It’s a tricky business, this editing of the past according to what we prefer in the present, whether the tools are an outraged conflagration or sneakily changing the narrative online. There is something rotten about our zeal to “burn it down,” whether literally or digitally. If we cannot access the past truthfully, how will we understand the moral trajectory that has led to our present vantage point? How will we cultivate the capacity to cultivate even a bit of self-critical distance from our imagined righteousness and moral purity? And, at the risk of stating what should be obvious, what gives us such confidence that our current vantage point is so free of moral contaminants? How, I wonder, will future generations evaluate our particular cultural and moral moment? My strong suspicion is that it will get rather mixed reviews.

Earlier I referenced the notion of the “refiners fire” found in Scripture. As I said, I suspect many Canadians privately view these church burnings as a kind of purificatory symbol in light of our nation’s sinful past. The main difference, of course, is that in Scripture it is God doing the purifying and refining, not us. A rather important distinction, it seems to me.

On Selling My Attention Too Cheaply (Why I’m Deleting Facebook)

I was listlessly scrolling through Facebook recently over coffee when I reached something of a tipping point. I had just groggily plodded through a stretch that included, in order, a friend’s rather hysterical political musings, a sponsored advertisement for shoes, a post from a charity which fell under the strange category of “suggested content,” and another friend’s picture from somewhere much warmer and prettier than southern Alberta in October. I pondered, bleary-eyed, the math of my morning Facebook experience. 2/4 posts were some form of targeted advertising. 1/4 was a friend trying to get me worked up about something that was agitating them. And 1/4 was making me feel envious of someone else’s experience. That’s some pretty intolerable math, right there. Read more

2019 in Review

Well, here we are, on the cusp of a shiny new decade. December 31 is, of course, a quite natural day to reflect back on the year that was in the world and in one’s life. It’s also an opportunity to have a glance in the rear-view mirror in the life of this little blog. Incredibly, next month will mark my thirteenth anniversary blogging. I don’t think I ever expected that I would still be writing here in the year 2020. It is a testimony either to my stubbornness or your patience (or both) that this blog has survived as long as it has, particularly as the sheer volume of online content continues to wash over us in wave after indecipherable wave, and as our attention spans continue to be eroded by Twitter. 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

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

Turn Out the Lights

So today I’m setting out into some unfamiliar territory. This summer will mark seven years in my present pastoral role, and my church has generously offered me a three-month sabbatical. I’ve seen friends and colleagues take sabbaticals over the years and always wondered what one of these actually looks and feels like. I’m about to find out. It felt a bit strange when I turned out the lights and walked out the church door yesterday afternoon. It was a good strange, don’t get me wrong! It had been a lovely service where I was blessed on my way with good words, warm hearts, and delicious food. But still. Strange.  Read more

2017 in Review

As has become my habit over the past few years, it’s time to take stock of the year that was on this blog. And the best way to do so is, of course, to determine which posts had the most eyeballs roll over them over the past 365 or so days. Here are the five most viewed posts of 2017 along with a brief description of each. Read more

Farther Along

I spent last week in Vancouver attending a conference at Regent College, the school that I was making my way through around a decade ago. It was a good opportunity to learn, to worship, to take a breath, to connect with some old friends and, as providence would have it, to drop in on the opening night of U2’s 30th Anniversary Joshua Tree tour (the concert was fantastic, if perhaps not as memorable as past shows… a highlight was being told by a couple of spectacularly drunk Irishmen in the concourse that I looked like The Edge 🙂 ). All in all, a nice few days away. Read more

Songs Written On Leaves (Or, Lament for a Ludibrium)

I just came across one of the best inadvertent definitions of blogging that I’ve seen in over ten years in the game, and couldn’t resist sharing it. This is from the preface of David Bentley Hart’s new collection of essays, A Splendid Wickedness:

The truth is that essays of this sort—composed sometimes in haste, always in connection with some particular occasion, rarely with any larger project in view—have the form of ephemera; songs written on leaves and then carried away to become the ludibria of the rushing winds.

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Five Alive

In my previous post, and in most posts where I do any kind of reflecting on the nature of blogging or marking milestones in the life of this blog or whatever, I commented on how I’m regularly surprised at which posts garner attention here and which generate only the slightest of ripples. So, because it’s the last day of 2016 and because the soccer game I’m watching this morning is kind of dull and I’ve been absent-mindedly browsing through last year’s archives, I thought it would be fun to post a “top five according to me.” Or a “top five posts that I felt pretty good abut that languished in relative statistical obscurity. Or “five posts that are feeling lonely.” Or something like that.

At any rate, here are five posts that I think touched on important or interesting or amusing themes, and that received comparatively little attention in 2016 along with a brief description of each. Read more

2016 in Review

In a few weeks I will have been writing in this space for an even decade. Or, about nine and a half years longer than I expected when I first started blogging. As the years go by and the posts accumulate, I find it fascinating to track which posts grab people’s attention and which fade into online oblivion pretty much from the moment I press “publish.” As I’ve said before, I’m regularly surprised how posts that I’m quite proud of generate barely a passing glance and posts that I consider to be rather average receive a much wider viewing. Such is the wild world of writing online.

At any rate, as has become my habit over the past few years, here are the five posts that rose to the top of the pile in 2016 along with a brief description of each. Read more

Wednesday Miscellany (On Words)

Can we use your post? Over the last week or so, I’ve received three emails from various publications asking permission to re-publish something I’ve written on this blog. These requests are the new normal in a publishing context where words are ubiquitous and cheap, where content is increasingly accessed rather than commissioned. There are so many words flying about and so many editors desperate to find something—anything!—to capture a few eyeballs for a few seconds before they click on to greener pastures. I suppose it makes sense to recycle the words.  Read more

What Do You Have to Say About Hope?

I’m starting to notice the semi-regular experience of having coffee with someone and having them pause at some point in the conversation and say, “Wait, this isn’t going to end up on your blog, is it?” I usually wince a little and say something, “Well, it might. But don’t worry, I’ll keep it anonymous.” Usually this is reassurance enough (and, rest assured that when it isn’t, it does not end up on my blog!). I can’t really help myself, though. I get to have a lot of great conversations with people, often about important and deeply meaningful questions that are basic to human experience. It seems a shame to not write about these moments, to widen the conversation, as it were. This is what I tell myself, at any rate. Read more

On Signaling Virtue and Practicing Righteousness

Over the last number of years I’ve reflected often about how we inhabit this shared space that is the Internet. The ability to interact online is a marvelous gift and one that, as someone who has been blogging for nearly a decade, I am immensely appreciative of. But to the surprise of precisely no one who has spent more than five minutes online, the shared spaces of our online discourse can also be profoundly uninspiring in countless ways. See any comment section anywhere. The human capacity for coarse vulgarity, tribalistic stupidity and willful misunderstanding and misrepresentation is apparently limitless.

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When No One is Watching

Often when people find out that I’m a pastor for the first time, they will gradually, at some point in the conversation, summon the requisite courage or boldness or curiosity to ask some version of the question, So what do you actually do all day? I will usually “um” and “ah” and “well, you see” for a while, before settling on things like sermons, worship preparation, writing, visiting folks, various administrative tasks, and whittling away at the ever-present mountain of email that is the bane of twenty-first century existence among the joyful privileges of participating in the Lord’s work. [Ahem] I don’t very often get to say things like, Well, this week, I’m actually spending a bit of time with an international journalist who is in town working on a story about our community’s responses to the Syrian refugee crisis. Like, roughly never. Read more

Love Isn’t

This blog has been rather quiet over the last few weeks. There are a few reasons for this. It’s been a frantically busy period for me. The two Syrian families that our local group of churches has sponsored arrived on January 8 and since then life has been rather full. It’s a good “full,” but I collapse into bed most nights feeling utterly exhausted. Aside from that, I haven’t really felt like I’ve had much to say lately. This may simply be down to the aforementioned weariness, but I seem to go through seasons of life where I get tired of the sound of my own voice, the clang and clatter of the same old tired ideas crashing against the boundaries of my skull. There are some stretches where the sermons and blog posts and articles come quite naturally. There are other times where I bore myself to death and it feels like every word has to be dragged out of the quicksand. Read more

If I’ve Told You Once, I’ve Told You a Thousand Times

You must not judge what I know by what I find words for.

— John Ames (in Marilynne Robinson’s Gilead)

Given the heavy themes of recent posts, it occurred to me that perhaps we could use some lighter fare around here. I could, at any rate. And what better way to accomplish this goal than to compose a self-indulgent and nakedly hubristic piece to celebrate the one thousandth post in the history of this blog? In the (quite likely) event that this prospect does not set your heart alight with anticipation, you are welcome to click away now. Read more

Adventures in Internet-land

Part of today was spent at our local city hall for a meeting about refugee resettlement in our area. There were reps from the city, from the healthcare and education sectors, from immigrant services, from various other community support organizations, and one lonely pastor off in the corner. 🙂 We talked about all kinds of practical issues related to the challenges and opportunities that undoubtedly loom on the horizon as we prepare to welcome government-sponsored refugees. We also talked about how the tone seems to have shifted in the conversation since the events in Paris last Friday. Almost to a person, people remarked that they have noticed a dramatic increase in fearful, angry, xenophobic language around Syrian refugees in the last few days, particularly online.   Read more