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
The end of summer (sadly) draws nigh and, like many, I have spent these dwindling days of August attempting to tidy up the clutter, whether it’s physical, mental, or spiritual in nature. I’ve tried to achieve a bit of focus, clarity, and equilibrium before September arrives This has meant tackling my physical desk, rearranging unread books and recycling correspondence that has been rendered irrelevant by inattention, and trying to wrest a bit of order out of the chaos of random files and documents on my computer’s desktop. Things need to be put in their proper place, after all. Here are a few bits and pieces whose proper place is, evidently, another “miscellany” post. Read more
Summer is a time for reading books. Fiction, in particular. This year, I have taken something of a vow to buy no more new books until I have at least made an appreciable dent in the pile of unread books that clutter my desk and clog my shelves. Among these, is Alan Paton’s classic novel, Cry, the Beloved Country which explores the injustice and social decay of apartheid-era South Africa through the lens of two families. It’s one in an embarrasssingly long list of books that fall in the category of, “Books I really should have read by now.” Read more
Back in February, I remarked that Jonathan Haidt’s The Righteous Mind should be required reading for anyone who spends time on social media, particularly those who like to go to war over ideas. I said that this is a book for our cultural moment if ever there was one. These were not throwaway comments or exercises in hyperbole. I meant it then, after reading half of the book, and I am even more convinced of it now, after finishing it. If you are prone to heroically wading into the ideological trenches armed with unshakeable convictions about your rightness and your enemies’ wrongness, if you are convinced that your political/religious/ideological team is the rightest of the right and that your mission in life is to educate your unenlightened neighbours, you really must read this book. Go to your library, go to Amazon, go to your favourite local bookstore—heck, even drop by my office and I’ll lend you my copy. Just read this book. You might have to sacrifice a few hours otherwise spent on Facebook or Twitter, but perhaps after reading Haidt’s book you’ll be persuaded that the trade was a good one. Read more
Back in May, I went to the opening night of U2’s 30th Anniversary Joshua Tree Tour. I have, consequently, been listening to what I think is one of the greatest albums ever made (although maybe only U2’s second best) off and on ever since. I listen to it in the car on the way to work, in the headphones while I’m writing, and while sitting with friends on the patio on warm late spring evenings. It’s crazy how an album I’ve been listening to off and on for thirty years doesn’t seem to get old.
A few nights ago, “I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For” came through the little Bluetooth speaker on the patio table. As the song approached its lyrical and musical climax, the familiar words soared through the spring air:
I believe in the Kingdom Come
Then all the colours will bleed into one
I finally got a chance to see Silence over the weekend. The film arrived late in our town, and even then only in the second-run theatre (I imagine its themes were probably deemed “too religious,” and therefore not profitable enough for mass consumption). The film is Martin Scorcese’s long-awaited adaptation of Shūsaku Endō’s 1966 novel of the same name, and is set in the context of the 17th century persecution of Japanese Christians by the Inquisitor Inoue. It is a masterfully made film based on a beautifully written novel that asks hard questions about the nature of martyrdom and faith and fidelity and suffering, and, of course, about the silence of God. Read more
I had just dropped my daughter off at high school this morning and was gliding gingerly on snow-covered roads toward the intersection. I looked to my left and saw a car approaching the same intersection at what seemed to me to be a rather unrealistic rate of speed if it hoped to negotiate the turn that its flashing signal light indicated it was attempting to make. The car predictably began to slide, its teenage driver frantically (and fruitlessly) cranking the wheels as far as they would go. The car mercifully slid just past my driver’s side door and the crisis was averted. Read more
Each year around Christmastime for the last decade or so, our family has a tradition of watching the entire Lord of the Rings trilogy (extended versions, of course). We spread it out over six nights—a full week immersion into Middle Earth, as it were. Over the last two or three years, my ears have invariably perked up during Bilbo’s conversation with Gandalf near the beginning of the first film. Bilbo is tired and conflicted and ready to leave everything and everyone behind. Then, this memorable and evocative line: I feel thin, sort of stretched, like butter scraped over too much bread. Read more
There’s this fascinating conversation in Jesse Ball’s novel The Curfew. The scene is an undefined dystopic future, as so many seem to be, where a faceless government has assumed dictatorial control over an unnamed city. The people live in constant fear and anxiety, never going out after dark, always being careful not to cause any sort of ripple that might be noticed by the powers that be, living lives of weary resignation, whispering along the edges of shadows that never disappear. William lives with his young daughter Molly and makes his living as an “epitaphorist,” which entails visiting people whose loved ones have died or been killed, consulting with them about the words they want to adorn the gravestones of the deceased. Read more
Each year around this time, I look out my office window on a wintry late afternoon and morosely note to myself how early it is getting dark these days. This is one of the delights of living in the northern hemisphere at this time of year. Sixteen hours of frigid darkness a day. Hooray. Read more
You know the drill, by now. “Miscellany” means fragmentary, unrelated mind scraps hastily assembled and lumped together for your reading, um, pleasure?
I’ve talked to enough pastors over the years to know that I’m not unique in saying that I have some ambivalence toward the whole “visitation” thing. Some pastors are born for the task and seem to enjoy it immensely, but I’ve also had numerous conversations with colleagues that run something along the lines of, “Yeah, it’s not really my thing… It’s something I have to talk myself into doing… It’s hard to find the time…” And, of course, the ubiquitous, “I should probably do more of it than I do, but it’s just so hard…” Read more
A clergy friend and I were talking over coffee yesterday about how being in this line of work is something of a magnet for human pain. As soon as people find out you’re a pastor or a priest, they will often begin to rehearse their own private litany of suffering or their grievances against the church or their most recent existential crisis or whatever. Sometimes, this can lead to very rewarding and meaningful conversation. Sometimes, it can simply be overwhelming. Story after story of loss and crisis and doubt and health problems and “Where oh where is God in all this?!” What do you say, pastor? Sometimes I don’t really have anything to say, whether because there’s very little to say or because I’m tired or just not really in the mood to hear one more awful story, thank you very much. Sometimes I don’t really have any room on my agenda for anyone’s pain. Alas, human suffering seems to care very little about my schedule. Read more
There are two dimensions of discipleship. One is the learning of habits and the forming of character, the shaping of commitments and the inscribing of rhythms, the training in disciplines and the facing of sacrifices. Some people speak as if that were the only part. But the other dimension is perhaps even more important. It is the acknowledgment of weakness, the asking for help, the naming of failure, the request for forgiveness, the desire for reconciliation, and the longing for restoration.
If we knew the truth about one another we would talk a lot more about the second than the first. But while the first inspires a confident proclamation, the second needs a tender application. The person seeking to articulate the Christian gospel in the face of fear must expect that God will be at least as visible and tangible in weakness as in strength—if not more so. For all the widespread insistence that the church has a difference message than the world, this conviction—that God is made known in weakness more than in strength—is perhaps the sharpest daily distinction.
And yet it is one Christian congregations find hard so hard to believe, to embody, to anticipate. Things will go wrong—faith will falter, clarity will fog, pastors will have feet of clay, congregation members will quarrel, long and sad periods will descend, relationships will fail, children will go astray, temptation will sometimes prove irresistible. The Bible is full of such things. So is the church. So should any account of the gospel be. These need not be moments when discipleship ends. They may be the moments when it begins.
— Samuel Wells, Be Not Afraid: Facing Fear with Faith
Last week’s earthquake in Nepal has, at last count, resulted in well over five thousand deaths and has crippled the nation in all the devastating ways that “natural disasters” do. We see these images and read these reports on our screens and we feel numb. We have few categories for such suffering. The weight of the pain seems too much to contemplate. We don’t know what to do or say or how to pray. For a while, at least. Read more
At any given moment, I have around half a dozen half-written blog-posts and/or fragmentary ideas lying around collecting dust in my “drafts” folder. Sometimes these turn into full-length pieces. Sometimes they just forlornly sit there for months on end until I either get sick of looking at them OR forcibly wrench them into a “Miscellany” post. Today, it’s the latter. 🙂
Here, then, my latest assemblage of ideas about totally unrelated topics… Read more
Of all the stories that Jesus tells, there are few that break and remake us, that lay our souls bare, that fire our hearts us with the hope of mercy like the parable of the prodigal son (Luke 15:11-32). It is a story for broken sons and weary daughters, for love-sick fathers and grumbling exemplars of grim-faced duty. It is a story that describes the homecoming we all, I suspect, hunger for, even when we are only dimly aware of it. It is the story of what God looks like and how God loves, no matter what we look like, no matter how poorly we love. Read more
Poetry doesn’t tend to agree with me. Or, more precisely, I don’t tend to agree with it. I’m too linear or dully rationalistic or unimaginative or… Too, well, something. Or, perhaps, not enough something. I so often just don’t get it. I read a poem (or, more likely, a few lines from a poem), scratch my head, struggling to decipher “the meaning” of the strange words and patterns, the unfamiliar arrangements of syllables and syntax on the page, furrow my brow, read harder, more determinedly, try, try again, and then retreat, defeated, tail between my legs, to the safety and predictability of prose. Poetry so often seems like a gleaming city I have never visited filled with sights and sounds that are destined to forever remain inaccessible to this provincial boy. Read more
I’ve been reading Tim Otto’s Oriented to Faith over the past few weeks as I seek to help our church have healthy conversations about sexuality. Like many churches, ours is characterized by a wide diversity of views when it comes to how the church should live with and think/talk about homosexuality. As we have these conversations, one thing that I am convinced of is that we need to make space to hear from a plurality of Christian voices on these matters, whether it is those who would have an “affirming” view or those whose perspectives would run along more traditional lines.
Or those that don’t fit nicely in any camp. Like Tim Otto. Read more