Two recent conversations about pain…
My daughter has lately been coming to terms with the horrors of World War 2. They’ve been studying this period of history in school, and last night she watched a movie that told the story of war through the lens of a couple of young children. She was distraught and more than a little belligerent at the end. How could God possibly allow people to make things like gas chambers?! she demanded to know. I thought God was supposed to help people! What about all the promises that God makes to deliver people?! Why wouldn’t God stop people from doing that to each other?! I totally get why some people say there’s no God! Why doesn’t God do something?! Read more
We do a lot of driving in our family. Driving to volleyball, guitar, swim club, band rehearsal, grandma and grandpa’s, and on and on it goes. Many days it is in the car that some of the best, most important, and sometimes only conversations with our kids happen. Today my daughter and I were off to the doctor’s office for a routine visit and the talk turned to the trials and tribulations of teenage life. We talked about cyber-bullying, peer pressure, romantic dramas, sports, classroom dynamics, terrible teachers, and a whole host of other things.
We also talked about racism.
Half a year or so, my wife came home one day with a pair of shoes for me. This, in and of itself, is not particularly surprising. I loathe shopping and my wife has discovered that the best way to keep me looking presentable is to simply buy clothes for me, bring them home for me to try on, and then return the ones I don’t like. But on this day, her purchase was a bit surprising. It was a pair of bright red (non-returnable) New Balance runners. Like, really red. To the surprise of probably no one, I tend toward more muted fashion statements. I like greys and browns and blacks and dark blues. Bright colours are not really my thing. But there they were, these non-returnable bright red runners. Read more
A few observations and reflections as a summer holiday draws to a close…
My son is convinced that he has discovered gold in the sand. We are at a beach and he sees little flecks of shiny sediment as he digs and builds on a hot summer afternoon. He tries to imagine ways that he might extract this “gold” from the piles he has collected. He asks about how the gold miners panned for gold back in the olden days. He takes a Frisbee and swishes the sand around. He fills up an old discarded coffee cup with his sand, wanting to bring it home. He is convinced there is gold in there—treasure that he, alone of the thousands who have tramped up and down this beach, he alone of the innumerable kids who have built sand castles in this exact spot—has managed to discover.
“There’s no gold in this sand,” I tell him flatly. He is not dissuaded. He sighs and looks at me with something like pity or exasperation. You just don’t understand… Read more
The mind of a teenage boy is, I am discovering, a fearful and wonderful thing. Beautiful, strange, unpredictable, irrational, surprisingly generous, unspeakably kind, maddening… All within a few hours, sometimes. Yesterday, I bought my son new strings for his guitars as a few of the old ones had snapped. He came home from a youth event at 10:00 convinced that now was the time to re-string his guitars and not go to bed. His father disagreed and the stage was set for a rather unpleasant end to the day.
But the sun is in the habit of rising anew each day, full of promise and possibility.
My son has a backpack. It is an old, weather-beaten backpack that has been kicking around our house forever. I think it was my backpack once. It might be almost as old as my son.
This backpack bears a great many strange burdens over the course of a given week. Books, clothes, playing cards (he likes to do card tricks), miscellaneous scrunched up permissions forms that his parents were supposed to see two weeks ago, rocks, guitar picks, a (usually half-open) lunch container spilling out its uneaten contents, sweaty sports uniforms, dirt, and an assortment of the other inevitable accretions of a preteen, male life. Sometimes I have to open the backpack to retrieve something, but I try to do this as infrequently as possible. Sticking my hand into this backpack is a very frightening thing. Read more
I was driving my son to guitar lessons the other day, trying to keep up while he talked a mile a minute. I was only half listening (shameful, I know), but in one of his stories I caught the word “priest.” This isn’t a word he uses often, and my curiosity was piqued. I’m always curious about how my son understands the weird and wonderful contours of the church/religion-land that his dad happens to inhabit. I think my world is a bit of an oddity to him. He knows that I read books and talk to (and at) people, that I busily bang away on my laptop, writing sermons, writing articles, writing, writing, writing. But I sometimes think he wishes I had a more respectable job. Like building things or selling things or fixing things or growing things… things you can see and touch in the real world. Or teaching zombie apocalypse preparedness courses. You know, something useful. Read more
There was an hour to kill between appointments last night, so my daughter and I went to grab something to eat. It had been a day—not particularly good, not particularly bad, just, I don’t know, acceptably mediocre—and we were both a little tired. We sat mostly in silence, munching on our sandwiches, me thinking about the evening meeting ahead, she thinking… well, what was she thinking. She stared absently past me, for the most part. Neither of us seemed much in the mood for conversation.
“Does it ever make you sad that people have to eat alone?” Read more
Part of this past weekend was spent in Medicine Hat, AB where my son had a basketball tournament. Medicine Hat would probably not be thought by many to be a remarkable place. The city’s main claim to fame is probably the world’s largest teepee (the “Saamis” teepee, the Blackfoot word for the eagle feather headdress which was translated “Medicine Hat”) that sits just off the Trans-Canada highway near a historical buffalo jump. But aside from that, Medicine Hat is a lot like so many other windswept prairie towns. There are pockets of beauty, to be sure, but it’s mostly brown, flat, nondescript. There is the now familiar exodus of business and commerce from the downtown area, to the outskirts of town where there is plenty of cheap land for the innumerable fast-food joints and big box stores that pop with alarming speed and regularity, and the vast oceans of asphalt parking lots for the jacked up pick up trucks, SUVs and mini vans that rumble down its streets. Medicine Hat is an ordinary prairie town. Somewhere most people are passing through on their way to somewhere else. Calgary, Vancouver, Winnipeg, wherever. Forgettable.
But Medicine Hat is not forgettable for me. Read more
I know a girl who loves to laugh. She has a smile that can light up a room and a kind and compassionate heart that loves to seek out the sad, the lonely, the forgotten. She is also, like many kids her age, a little forgetful, a bit careless at times. Her head has been known to wander up into the clouds, far from the more terrestrial concerns that occupy the minds of her parents and other adults in her life. She doesn’t do many things quickly. She cheerfully lives life at her own pace.
I was talking to a boy the other day who was trying to put together an intramural team at school. The team had to have a mixture of both boys and girls on the roster, regardless of whether or not they actually played. “I went and asked a few girls that I knew would never play if I could use their names for my team,” the boy said. “Why did you do that?” I asked. He looked at me with a kind of resigned look on this face. “Well, what girl would ever want to play with a loser like me?”
A loser like me. Read more
I’m sitting here on a grey, rainy Wednesday morning thinking that it’s high time I wrote something here. It’s been over five days of silence on this blog, which, if the social media experts are to be believed, is a virtual eternity fraught with all kinds of weighty perils. I am surely running the risk that readers will look elsewhere, that traffic will decline, that my “brand” will suffer, that I will fail to “build upon momentum” or any number of other hazards that come with blogging too infrequently.
So, right. Time to write. There are certainly no shortage of potential topics. Read more
If a tree falls in a forest and no one is around to hear it, does it make a sound?
If we have a memorable experience in the age of smart phones and social media and don’t digitally capture and share it, did it really happen? Read more
What if we just made God up?
The question came not from a despairing parishioner or a reader of my blog or an inquisitive university student at a trendy coffee shop. No, the question came from my twelve-year-old son at a sushi joint last weekend while drumming on the table with his chopsticks in between green tea and California rolls. Read more
Sometimes I’m afraid of God when I read the Bible.
The statement came from my son after he had spent a bit of time wandering around in the delights of Genesis 19 for an assignment. It’s quite the passage. You have a guy voluntarily sending out his daughters to get raped in order to avoid the apparently more odious prospect of having the men of his town sodomize a couple of angels who had paid him a visit, you have people being struck blind and being turned into salt, you have God raining down sulfur and fire in judgment of the Sodom and Gomorrah, you have two young women getting their dad plastered in order to have sex with him and produce children, and generally an overall scene of depravity and sex and violence that would make Quentin Tarantino blush. Well, maybe not. But still, it’s not exactly PG material. Read more
Last night as bedtime approached, my daughter was sitting at the kitchen counter casually thumbing through one of those Bibles that has a “Where to Find Help When…” indexes in the front. It’s quite a resource. Whatever your problem—“Sleeplessness” or “Difficulty in Witnessing,” “Tempted to Envy” or “Choosing a Career”—there are 3-5 verses conveniently listed to address it. The Bible as self-help manual, apparently. Or something like that. It’s an approach to Scripture that irritates me, in many ways, and breaks any number of exegetical/hermeneutical principles along the way, but I suppose these things must occasionally do some good. I guess. Read more
“Dad, what’s it like to be a grown-up? What’s it like to be a parent?”
The question came out of nowhere this morning, as questions of this nature tend to. I was absent-mindedly getting ready to leave for work, the kids were lounging around the kitchen table. How to answer? My first instinct was to tell them to go ask a grown-up. Then I remembered that was supposed to be me. Right.
“Well,” I began, “being a grown up is like… um, it’s good” (well done, Ryan—great start!). “You have lots of responsibility, you have a job, you pay bills, you go to meetings, you run around to all kinds of activities for your kids…” I stopped rather abruptly, realizing that thus far this was turning into a decidedly lousy sales job for adulthood. “But it’s cool being a parent,” I said, scrambling to salvage something from what was beginning to feel like a truly abysmal answer. “It’s especially cool to be a parent of such awesome kids.” Whew. Smiles all around. Situation (kind of) rescued. Read more