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Posts from the ‘Church’ Category

When the Queen Dies

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

On Unearned Grace

So, the pope has been in my home province of Alberta this week. I’m not a Roman Catholic, so this obviously isn’t quite the momentous occasion for me that it might be for some of my Catholic sisters and brothers, but still, it’s a fairly big deal, not least because of one of the main reasons for his visit. He’s here to apologize, on Canadian soil, to indigenous people for the ugly history and legacy of residential schools. It is a “pilgrimage of penance,” in Francis’s own words, a time to unequivocally repent for the sins of the church and for the deep and lasting harm that they have caused. Read more

What Do We Declare?

This week, Mennonites from across Canada will gather in Edmonton for our biennial nationwide Gathering. This year, the theme is taken from the opening words of 1 John: “We Declare: What We Have Seen and Heard.” What does it mean to speak of the good news and bear witness to the gospel of peace? A good and timely question, on the face of it, particularly in our disenchanted, polarized, guilt-ridden, merciless age. Do we still believe that we have any good news, for ourselves or for the world? Have we seen or heard anything worth bearing witness to? Is Jesus still worth gathering around? Read more

Miracles Are Coming

“I’m here to see _____,” I say to the nurse at the front entrance of the hospital. “Oh, are you the son?” Her smile is so bright it radiates through her mask. “No, the pastor,” I respond, expecting, well who knows what. Apathy? Disdain? Curiosity? Impossibly, her smile brightens even further. “Oh, the pastor,” she beams. “How lovely.” All of a sudden, she is very eager not only to let me through the screening desk as quickly as possible but to personally escort me to the person’s room. She has some things she wants to say, evidently. Read more

Know God, Know Peace?

There was a picture on the wall, barely visible, through the half-opened door. It looked faded and neglected and kitschy in all kinds of ways. There was an orangey sunset, maybe a lake or a river. I can’t remember, so instantly forgettable was the scene. It was the words on the top of the picture that grabbed my attention: “No God, No Peace; Know God, Know Peace.” A clever slogan, that one. Read more

On Demons, Soul-Sucking Disillusionment, and Keeping Christianity Strange

Over breakfast with friends today, the conversation inevitably turned to the latest murderous school shooting in America (yes, the second half of that sentence is truly insane; as if there should or could ever be a “latest” in such a grotesque category). “What would possess someone to do such a thing,” someone asked? “Maybe the word ‘possession’ is an apt one,” I almost offhandedly opined. Maybe there was something demonic going on. How else to explain such evil? We reach for extreme explanations for things that seem unexplainable. There was an awkward pause before we moved on to safer explanatory terrain. Drugs. Mental health. Social isolation. Violent video games. Yeah, probably. Read more

Jesus Doesn’t Stop (Where We Wish He Would)

I’ve probably preached half a dozen sermons on “Doubting Thomas” over the last decade or so. Thomas and his doubt show up faithfully in the lectionary readings each year after Easter Sunday. Thomas and his stubborn needing to see to believe. Thomas and his demanding what his fellow disciples received as a gift and the surprise of a lifetime. Thomas, the recalcitrant empiricist. Read more

Life After (and Before) Death

I’ve been thinking about life after death lately. This is not a very respectable thing to spend one’s time thinking about, at least not in “progressive” theological circles. “The church has too often been too heavenly minded to be of any earthly good” and all that. Well, yes. Certainly, many zealous Christians down through the ages have obsessed about the afterlife to the quite culpable neglect of this one. Locating all one’s hope in an unobservable and undefinable future can have the effect of partitioning it off from empirical scrutiny and absolving those who hold it of any responsibility to pursue God’s justice and peace in the present. Fair enough. Read more

2021 in Review

It’s been… a year. Another year dominated by Covid, another year where we have vacillated between anxiety and hysteria and confusion and apathy and fear and anger and many other things besides. I cast a quick glance back at last year’s year-end post and read what I wrote: “the general sense seems to be that the next spin around the sun has to be better than the one that’s drawing to a close.” Was it? Well, maybe. I dunno. I guess it depends. Who knows much of anything at this point. I confidently predict 2022 will be better. Or worse. Or the same. Read more

Grace, Too

Hi folks. It’s been over a month since I posted anything here. I’m not sure if that’s ever happened before in the eleven-and-a-half years of this blog’s existence, but it certainly feels strange to me. There’s no grand reason for the silence other than the usual suspects. A bit of writers’ block, a dearth of inspiration, bit of generalized fatigue, a summer holiday followed by an immediate jump into the deep end of the pool in church ministry. It’s been a stretch of time where time and energy have seemed a bit thin and where the words seem harder in coming than usual. Read more

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. Read more

Busy Bees

I’ve been preaching roughly forty sermons a year for the last decade. I preached around twelve per year during the three years before that. By my (admittedly atrocious) math, that’s in the vicinity of four hundred fifty sermons. Which is, I suppose, a decent sample size from which to extrapolate. To detect some trends, to observe a trajectory. Or, I suppose, to chart a decline, depending on your perspective. Read more

The Shadows of the Night

It’s pretty quiet at the church most days during this pandemic. There’s a cat without a tail that walks by the window of my study every now and then. Occasionally a driver will slowly meander through our parking lot confusedly staring at their phone (Google sometimes leads people astray). A family of deer has wandered by a few times. And last week, there was a woman sitting on the lawn. I’ll call her Danielle. Read more

A Mighty Warrior

“A pandemic is a cruel time to die,” I mutter to myself under my breath. I am in the foyer of a palliative care home. I have been through security, filled out the barrage of COVID paperwork. I make my way over to another desk, get my temperature checked. All is good, I am told. To the best of anyone’s knowledge, I am not carrying the plague. I walk down a long hallway armed with the two security codes that I will need to finally be granted limited access to a dear old soul whose race looks nearly run. “It was easier to get into the local prison than this fourteen months ago,” I grumble to myself. Read more

“You’re Not Very Nice”

There’s a woman who calls me at the church with some regularity. She calls from two or three different phone numbers and uses a handful of pseudonyms. I have a file full of the various names and numbers she’s used. I’ll call her Mary. The stories she tells vary. She’s dying or mortally ill. She has to get somewhere far away for a surgery and needs gas money. Her kids are terrible and mistreating her (and will probably be calling me soon to ask for money—don’t give it to them!). Her grandkids need food. She needs a hotel room. She needs a thousand dollars, but she’ll settle for fifty. This has been going on for the better part of a decade. I suppose most churches have a story or two like this. Read more

Beyond the Limits of our Puny Selfhood

Well, here’s a breath of Friday fresh air from the New York Times. It’s an article by Leigh Stein called “Influencers are the New Televangelists” and it compares modern-day social media quasi-spiritual wellness influencers like Glennon Doyle to religious hucksters from yesteryear like Oral Roberts and Pat Robertson. The comparison is apt, in my view, even if the content of their message could hardly be more different. Read more

On (Not) Working Backwards

The events of one week ago at the Capitol in Washington, DC have produced a veritable torrent of outrage, analysis, reaction, despair, fear, defiance, and many other things besides. The vision of a mob of rioters descending upon this hallowed symbol of democracy was unsettling, to put it mildly. Even more distressing, from a Christian perspective, was the sight of religious imagery and language (crosses, signage, etc.) on display throughout. There is a kind of perverse irony in the fact that this event took place on the Day of Epiphany, a day when Christians celebrate the revealing of Jesus Christ as the light of the world that pierces the darkness and reveals the path of peace. There was indeed a revealing on this Epiphany, but it was not of God. Read more

On Razors and Reasons for Being

I’m bald. Have been for roughly two decades. Perversely, I spent the previous two or three years before losing my hair shaving my head and bleaching the stubble that remained platinum blonde. I’m not at all filled with self-loathing for my poor choices on this score or bitter about going bald early or filled with jealousy for men my age who have full heads of hair. The fact that I pleaded with my son for most of his teenage years to grow his hair long so I could live vicariously through him has nothing to do with unresolved early-onset balding trauma. My proclivity to wear a hat anytime I’m not sleeping or preaching has nothing to do with vain contempt for my bald head. I like being bald and am fully at peace with it. Really. Read more