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I’ve been reading the Beatitudes for over three decades. They’re kind of like the constitution of Mennonite churches (or at least we’re often pleased to think so). The rest of the bible can be hard and confusing and bewildering and even offensive, so we’ll just double down on what Jesus actually said, thank you very much. And we’ll really zero in on Matthew 5-7, the Sermon on the Mount, the most substantive continuous block of Jesus’ teaching, where he reinterprets and transcends the Law. And we’ll be laser-focused on the first eleven verses where Jesus talks about who is “blessed” in the kingdom of heaven. We’ll leave the theologizing and harmonizing of disparate texts to others. We’re just humble Jesus people. Read more

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

Data Doesn’t Suffer

Apparently, ChatGPT is coming for us all.  You’ve heard of ChatGPT, yes? The artificially “intelligent” content creator that can spit out essays and website content and legal briefs and who knows what else based on a simple prompt. It’s changed how universities teach (I have several professorial type friends who say it’s become a massive problem on campus in the few short months it’s been out). And, apparently, it’s also going to do to white collar work what automation did to things like manufacturing. Robots have been able to put cars together for a while. Now, it seems, they can also churn out the content that those of us who sit behind desks buzzing importantly around on our computers produce. Who knows, perhaps, in the end the only jobs left will be to manage the intelligence that is managing us. 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

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

2022 in Review

Well, 2022 has nearly expired. It was another year dominated by the pandemic in some form or another. It was a year of trucker’s protests in Canada and counter-protests, a year of fear and anxiety and self-righteousness and judgment and hysterical media and loss of trust. There were probably a few good things, too, but I am well and truly a product of the media waters in which I swim and all I can seem to remember is the stuff that made me anxious and angry. 🙂

You know the December 31 drill by now, I suppose. Here are the top posts from the last 365 days along with a brief summary of each. Four out of the five were connected either to the pandemic or to the protests against restrictions. Which says a lot about what generates clicks. And is mildly depressing. So it goes. Read more

Some Force of Love and Logic

As Christmas draws near, I am thinking, appropriately, no doubt, about awe. I happen to rather like awe and experience it regularly. I experience it in all the usual places—mountaintops, oceans, majestic cathedrals, spine-tingling music. On a perhaps less obviously inspiring note, after a third consecutive morning dragging myself out of the house in sub -30-degree temperatures I am currently experiencing awe at just how bone-crushingly cold this planet is capable of getting. But yeah, I am generally a big fan of awe. Read more

The Lion

You have to sign in for the weekly bible studies at the jail. Name, unit number, time. Records must be kept. And so, the clipboard dutifully makes its way around the circle. One guy always has a massive grin on his face as he writes his name. I’ll call him Adam. I know why Adam is smiling. He has a standard practice by now. He writes his name, as per the requirements. But then he always leaves a few blank lines before writing another: “Jesus.” This day, he expands a bit. “Jesus of Nazareth.” He hopes he’s spelled Nazareth right. 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

Don’t Just Stand There, Say Nice Things to Me

So, apparently you can go to the World Cup in Qatar next month for free. All you have to do is say nice things about the organizers on social media. This may require no small amount of nose-holding given Qatar’s generally abysmal human rights record and specifically atrocious treatment of foreign workers in building the infrastructure necessary to host the planet’s biggest sporting event. But hey, the World Cup is the World Cup! And this year, after a thirty-six-year barren stretch, Canada’s actually going to be there! I’m starting to regret going off social media. Perhaps even I could justify a bit of hypocritical online flattery for a free trip to the desert! Read more

Thursday Miscellany (On Religious Irreligion, Groupthink and Sectarian Leanings)

Well, it’s that time again. Time to empty out the “scraps and drafts and intriguing tidbits and provocations and half-formed thoughts folder” on my laptop and in my brain. It’s been a while since a “Miscellany” post anyway. I’m sure you’ve been waiting with bated breath. Read more

Did Dahmer Just Need a Friend (Anthropology in the Tattoo Parlour)?

I’ve recently been reading David Zahl’s excellent new book Low Anthropology. Readers of this blog will not be surprised to learn that I am deeply convinced that we are in need of better understandings of human nature than the default ones we tend to operate with these days. As I mentioned in my previous post, I think a realistic and hopeful anthropology is one of Christianity’s great gifts to the world, however ignored or misunderstood it often is. We are all sinners in need of grace. We are all divine image-bearers who are loved and called. Both of these statements are true. And together they can save us from thinking too little or, far more likely in our cultural moment, too much of ourselves. Read more

The Only Sermon Left?

The church is full of self-righteous hypocrites, corrupt leaders greedy for power, morally bankrupt abusers of the weak and vulnerable. Its pews are populated by miserable -ists and -obes and transgressors of every other sort. The church should shut its mouth until it can make at least something resembling moral progress. The broader culture isn’t interested in any of its sermonizing words in the absence of meaningful action. Let your actions do the talking for once. We’ve all had more than enough of your endless words. Read more

On Reconciling

Today is the second annual National Day for Truth and Reconciliation in Canada. It’s officially been declared a “federal holiday,” but if/how provinces and private businesses observe it is uneven and inconsistent. Some people get a holiday, some don’t. I’m at work for at least part of today doing the usual things, preparing for Sunday, getting ready for a meeting, taking care of some admin details. Today is also Orange Shirt Day, an informal awareness day that preceded the NDTR (two days for the price of one!). Again, some wear orange, some don’t. Like everything else in our world, if and how we observe these things is relentlessly moralized and politicized and polarized. Read more

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

Lean into the Light

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about the gospel, what it is, what it isn’t, what people need, what they don’t, where hope comes from, where it doesn’t, etc. It’s probably not surprising to hear a pastor say that they think about the gospel. You might even hope this were so and expect this to be the case. And yet, that word, “gospel,” is a slippery one. It often proves stubbornly malleable and elusive in our time and place. Even those who ought to know better (pastors or bloggers, for example) can and do mishandle it. Read more

Who Are You?

I recently had a conversation with an acquaintance about an experience they had where someone claimed to have a physical disability based on their subjective impression of their “true self.” My acquaintance would, I think, consider themselves to be a fairly progressive politically, and is quite passionately committed to speaking up for the marginalized in our world. And yet they found this experience (and the broader trend it points to; see here, for example) enormously frustrating. Someone dear to them lives with a disability and is well-acquainted with the difficulties of navigating the world that come along with this. The idea that physically healthy person would claim to be disabled as a form of social currency was offensive to them, and I think quite rightly so. Read more