Skip to content

Posts from the ‘Books’ Category

Wednesday Miscellany (Nick Cave Edition)

I have a few books on my shelf that I return to often, books that I’ve read and reread and underlined and highlighted and stuck a bunch of colourful sticky notes in to draw my attention easily to memorable passages. I usually quote these people endlessly on my blog because, well, because why not? Good words need to be shared. Christian Wiman’s My Bright Abyss is one of these. Some of Marilynne Robinson’s novels would fall into this category. And now Nick Cave’s Faith, Hope and Carnage has become another. I promise I’ll give it a rest for a while after this, but a few of his quotes anchor today’s miscellany. Read more

The Question the Whole World Revolves Around

“You know that bible verse that talks about the greatest three things, or whatever… you know, the three things that remain and how the best one is love?” The question comes from a young man at the jail. He has this wild look about him, hair everywhere, restless movements, a frantic, searching gaze, cuts on his hands. One is still bleeding. He gets up now and then to go tear a few strips off the toilet paper roll on the bookshelf to slow the flow. He follows this up by spraying disinfectant on his hands (there’s a bottle in the corner by the overhead projector, a lingering remnant of early pandemic days, I suppose). “Yeah, that’s 1 Corinthians 13,” I say, trying to keep tabs on his movements. “It’s one of my favourites.” “Yeah, I read it last night,” he responds. “I like it, too. But he’s missing one. There’s a fourth one that should be in there.” Read more

Our Loneliness Has a Secular Shape

The topic of loneliness came up at a breakfast meeting this morning. This is the devastating norm for Western cultures these days. Anxiety, depression, addiction, bitter cynicism, yes, all these things are rampant. But loneliness and social isolation seem to be the common thread that runs through the despair of our cultural moment. I see this nearly every day in my work as a pastor and as a prison chaplain. Read more

On “Jesus Smuggling,” Impatience with Window Shopping, and a World That Can’t Help Being Beautiful

I’ve started reading Nick Cave’s Faith, Hope, and Carnage, which is basically a memoir-ish extended interview with journalist Seán O’Hagan. I have to say that so far, it’s pretty awesome. Nearly every other page, I’m thinking, “Oh, that’s good, I need to use that in a sermon or an essay or something.” You may have to tolerate a bunch of quotes around here for a while. Read more

God is Love. And We Must Love Each Other

A month or so ago, I became aware (I forget how) of Nick Cave. I had never heard of the Australian singer, songwriter, poet, and author before this, nor had I ever listened to his band (Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds). Actually, scratch that. His song Red Right Hand is the theme song for Peaky Blinders. And apparently a song called O Children made an appearance in a Harry Potter movie. So, I guess I’ve heard him before, but only accidentally. It wasn’t his music that grabbed my attention a month ago, but the title of his new book: Faith, Hope, and Carnage. Quite a title, that one. The kind of title that might incline someone to do a bit of digging around. Read more

Thick Like Honey, Sweet Like Grace

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

The Pain of Getting Well

Last year I was poking around in a cool little bookstore in the Rocky Mountain town of Canmore when I happened upon a little book called What Comes from Spirit by the late Ojibway author Richard Wagamese. Wagamese is best known for books like Indian Horse, Medicine Walk, and One Native Life. I had the opportunity to meet Richard in 2014 when I hosted an event he was speaking at. I remember him as a very soft-spoken and gentle man. And a great storyteller. 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

A Liturgy for a Sick Day

There are a lot of people home sick in these early days of 2022, whether because of Omicron or some other thing. I was among them last week. My experience of Covid was fairly ordinary, even boring. It felt like a common cold. I say this knowing full well that others have had worse experiences than I have. One of weirdest thing about this virus (and there are many weird things!) is how differently it seems to affect people. Read more

The Only One

That’s the dumbest thing I’ve ever read! This was my decidedly uncharitable and exasperated reaction to a sentence that I read over my toast and coffee morning. The offending sentence was a wildly enthusiastic recommendation on the cover of Kate Bowler’s new book No Cure for Being Human. The writer of the sentence that so aggravated me was a certain Glennon Doyle who had this to say about the book and its author: “Kate Bowler is the only one we can trust to tell us the truth.” Right. The only one. I tried (and failed) to resist the temptation of saying (audibly), “I guess that means I shouldn’t pay attention to your stupid book recommendation because I can’t trust you to tell me the truth.” Read more

On Deciding in Advance

In her marvelous book Prayer in the Night, Tish Harrison Warren tells the story of her friend Julie, whose infant son had to undergo surgery. As the nurses were about to wheel him into the operating room, Julie looked at her husband and said, “We have to decide right now whether or not God is good, because if we wait to determine that by the results of this surgery, we will always keep God on trial.” Read more

On Textbook Characters

There’s a scene in the opening pages of Marilynne Robinson’s most recent novel, Jack, where the eponymous protagonist has contributed to an unpleasant dinner experience with a certain bishop’s daughter named Della. The walk home is tense and the dialogue is strained. Jack has, evidently, really stepped in it:

She said, “I have never been so embarrassed. Never in my life.”
He said, “Well, you haven’t known me very long.”

Read more

Final Exam

I often talk to people who feel like they’re failing. Failing God, failing their kids, failing their spouses, failing their church, failing their colleagues or shareholders, failing to realize their potential, failing to optimize, prioritize, maximize. Sometimes the people I talk to about all this failing are the voices in my own head. Life is conceived of as some kind of a test or a race or contest with winners and losers. It’s remarkable how frequently people who, by all outward appearances seem to be thriving, or at the very least keeping their heads above water, feel like they’re not measuring up. Read more

Sunk Costs

Last week marked an anniversary of sorts, at least in the life of many churches. It’s been one year since the pandemic closed our doors, drove us online, kicked into motion myriad restrictions for eventual physical gatherings, etc. It’s obviously been a long and difficult year for many, and for a wide variety of reasons. Read more

If I Ran the Zoo

My wife got a little heated over breakfast today. Not at me, thanks be to God. No, the object of her displeasure this morning was the story of Dr. Seuss running afoul of the cultural gatekeepers that broke yesterday. Evidently, six books from the well-known author and illustrator will no longer be published due to “racist and insensitive imagery.” Classics like The Cat in the Hat and The Sneetches are safe (for now), but And to Think That I Saw It on Mulberry Street and If I Ran the Zoo did not make the cut. My wife does not normally have much interest in the culture wars, but, like many, she grew up on Dr. Seuss and this was just a bit too far. “I need a platform to protest this!” she said. I reminded her that I had a platform, modest though it may be. She wasn’t interested in writing a guest post, strangely. At any rate, I don’t run the zoo, but if I did, here are three things I might say.  Read more

Forgive Us Our Sins

Last year at the beginning of Lent I decided that rather than giving something up I was going to take something on. I would read Fleming Rutledge’s The Crucifixion. What better way to journey toward Good Friday than by immersing myself in a serious theological reflection on the cross of Christ? I made it just over a hundred pages. I wish I could say I had a good reason for quitting, but I don’t really have one. I suppose I could blame COVID’s arrival in Lent 2020 and the way it colonized most of my mental bandwidth, but mostly it was just a combination of distractibility, apathy, and preoccupation with other (lesser) things. What can I say? The truth isn’t always flattering. Read more

What’s the Matter with Death?

Reading a book about the philosophy of the mid-life crisis is comparable to being on the receiving end of targeted advertising for Rogaine. You instinctively resent the fact that you now represent a category of humanity for whom this could even plausibly be relevant. Alas, haughty resentment is about as useful in stalling the clock as it is in stimulating long dormant hair follicles. I have thus far resisted the siren call of Rogaine. Mid-life philosophy books? Evidently not. Read more