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Posts from the ‘Culture’ Category

Fix the System, Fix the Problem?

I spent Monday morning in a packed hotel conference room full of community leaders who had been summoned to hear a presentation on a plan initiated by our city called the “Community Wellbeing and Safety Strategy.” Like many cities, ours is facing significant challenges. Poverty, homelessness, crime, lack of affordable housing, and, of course, the scourges of addiction, mental health issues, and racism that bleed into all of the others. The opioid crisis is hitting our city hard. It is hitting the indigenous population particularly hard. And this spins out into all kinds of social realities that heighten suspicions and diminish good will in our community. The picture of the reality on the ground we were presented with was bleak. “We can’t fix these problems on our own,” the city representatives said. “We need your help.” Read more

On Unique Souls

Among my wife’s many laudable attributes (patience, longsuffering, etc.) is her keen sense of style. She has a unique sense of fashion and will routinely emerge out of long and laborious hours spent excavating thrift store racks with some quite striking ensembles. Where I see “ugly old crap” my wife sees boundless potential. There’s probably a metaphor or a theological lesson lurking around in that previous sentence, but I don’t think it would be convenient or flattering for me to pursue it. So I won’t. Read more

A Fool’s Errand

I’ve been out in Winnipeg this week attending a pastor’s conference on faith formation in a secular age. At one point during yesterday’s proceedings, the keynote speaker, Andrew Root, asked a couple of gut-level questions—questions that most of us feel on some level or another, but rarely name so bluntly. Why does faith formation seem so hard in this time and place? Why does it feel so hard to be a pastor in this time and place? Read more

A Tour of the Temple

Ok, I watched the Super Bowl yesterday. And, like most Monday mornings after the big game each year, I find myself wondering why, exactly, I do this. I am a casual fan at best. I prefer European football where they at least run around for a full ninety minutes, instead of producing about twelve minutes of actual action surrounded by hours of advertising and people plotting the next move through headsets. And there are certainly no shortage of reasons not to support the NFL (this piece from the New York Times highlights a few). It is not even remotely difficult to make a good case for refusing to support the violence, the misogyny, the hyperbole, the indecent expense of it all. Read more

On “Inherent Worth”

One of the movies getting rave reviews these days is Just Mercy, the film adaptation of Bryan Stevenson’s memoir of the same name. Stevenson is a defense attorney who has made a career out of fighting biases against the poor and minorities in the justice system, and often defending those deemed indefensible. It is, by all accounts, a powerful and inspirational story. I’ve not read the book or seen the film, but I plan on doing both.  Read more

Faith Adrift

I’ve long held a fascination with doubt and unbelief. As a child, I wondered why some people believed in God and some didn’t. It was unsettling to me that it was possible to “read” existence in such radically different ways and with, at least so I thought at the time, with such dire consequences for getting one’s reading wrong.  Read more

Tuesday Miscellany (On Going to the Gym, Pillow Forts, Trust and Change)

Last June, I decided that I had reached that stage of life where some changes to my routine were going to be necessary. I had injured my knee a few years ago, and due to a perfectly calibrated combination of apprehension, apathy, and procrastination, I had not gone the surgery route. One day, a friend who had been through a similar knee-injury gloriously vindicated my indecision by saying, “Forget surgery, just hit the weights. You’ll be fine.” I very much liked the “forget surgery” part of this injunction. The “hit the weights” part? Well, not so much. But, you know, mid-life and all. I figured that I had reached a point in proceedings where some maintenance was going to be required to stay active and reasonably healthy. So, off to the gym I went. Read more

What if Someone’s Keeping Score?

Like many, I’ve been watching the comedy series The Good Place over the last few years. The show is set in a heaven-ish place designed as an afterlife reward for, well, good people. It’s a show that actually manages to tackle some fairly weighty conundrums of moral philosophy (What is the nature of goodness? How is it achieved? What does it say about us that we so naturally understand life as an arena for moral scorekeeping) in a fairly interesting way. I’ve not yet watched the last season (hurry up, Netflix!), but so far, it’s been entertaining fare. Read more

Life Expectancy

I don’t know, I guess I kinda just feel like something’s missing in my life… you know how people talk about that God-shaped hole or whatever…?

The person on the other end of the phone was young, a member of the disappearing (in church circles) and much-coveted millennial demographic. I was initially taken aback. I had been anticipating a riveting morning of responding to emails and doing a bit sermon prep while a blizzard raged outside. But wait, what’s this? A spiritually sensitive young person calling a church to ask halting questions about God, meaning, life?! It’s the kind of scenario that many pastors assume doesn’t really happen anymore. Except, well, maybe to other pastors in other places with bigger churches. Read more

On “Weather Events” and Other Absurdities of the Digital Age

On Friday afternoon, as I was spinning my wheels on a sermon that just wasn’t coming, I did what I tend to do when the inspiration tap seems to have run dry. I began to click aimlessly around the internet. It’s an inspirational strategy, I know. Feel free to take notes. At any rate, I checked a few soccer scores. I scrolled half-heartedly through Facebook and Instagram. I visited an inbox that somehow, frustratingly, wasn’t magically whittling itself down. And I checked the weather. Read more

The Crowd

On Saturday afternoon, I was gloriously lost in the crowd. The scene was the Commerzbank Arena in Frankfurt, Germany, where I was watching the match between the home team, Eintracht Frankfurt, and German and European powerhouse FC Bayern München. I was there with a group of lifelong friends who had convened in Europe to reconnect and watch a few soccer games. The previous weekend we had been at a game in Madrid, which was fantastic, but the atmosphere in Frankfurt was electric. At times, the entire stadium seemed to be shaking and roaring in lusty approval as Eintracht demolished the hated rivals from Bavaria 5-1 (for non-soccer fans, Bayern would be kind of like the New York Yankees of German football—the phenomenally wealthy team that poaches everyone else’s best players and who everyone loves to hate). Even though we were ostensibly there to see Bayern (they are our German friend’s team and they have a kid from Alberta with a fascinating and inspiring story playing for them), it was a riotously good time and an experience to remember. Read more

On Division and Negativity

Like many Canadians, I had an eye on the national election last night. Election results and commentary provided the background noise throughout the evening, as I had dinner with my son, as I went to the gym, as I watched a bit of soccer and talked with my wife, and as my head eventually hit the pillow. To the surprise of probably no one, the end result of a nasty campaign characterized by polarizing rhetoric, majoring on minors and minoring on majors, name calling, fearmongering, avoiding issues, peddling partial truths or simply outright lying, was a minority Liberal government. This was what many pundits and pollsters predicted and for a change they got things pretty much exactly right. Read more

Whatever Makes You Feel Better

A thought experiment for your Tuesday afternoon.

Scenario A: You’ve been experiencing pain. Maybe it’s arthritic knees or chronic migraines or the fallout from an injury. You go to your local clinic. The building is sterile and clean. It is filled with all kinds of humming machines, urgent activities, and the myriad accoutrements of a modern, technologically advanced health care facility. Your doctor is well-groomed and wearing a white lab coat. On her office wall hang impressive-looking degrees from prestigious universities. She analyzes your symptoms, perhaps does an X-Ray or an ultrasound. Images are produced, diagnoses pronounced. Your doctor writes a prescription on official letterhead and sends you off to the pharmacy where you encounter a few more white lab coats, a bit more buzzing technological efficiency. Eventually, you depart with a sealed bottle of pills with detailed instructions on the label. Read more

Fearfully Religious, Religiously Fearful

Like many, I’ve been following with interest the story of Greta Thunberg, the sixteen-year-old Swedish climate activist whose words and actions have been galvanizing young people (and beyond) and dominating the news in recent days. Hers is a voice that speaks clearly and forcefully for a generation that is sick of platitudes and political inactivity when it comes to the looming climate crisis on the horizon. She is unafraid to speak fearlessly to the rich and the powerful—to demand action for the sake of future generations who will pay the price of the reckless and wasteful inattentiveness of we who preceded them. Read more

Emotional Days

It’s been an emotional morning. No, not in that way—nothing bad has happened to me, nothing special is tugging at my heartstrings or causing me elation, sorrow, or confusion (at least no more than usual). Nothing like that. But it’s been a morning where the theme of “emotions” and how they operate in our thinking, our self-understandings, our politics, and our collective discourse has popped up a few times in my quick tour of the news and social media over breakfast. Read more

Our Poisonous Purity

The big news this week here in Canada is that a nearly-two-decades old photo has surfaced of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau—heroic champion of diversity and inclusion and tolerance and fierce critic of their opposites—in brownface at a costume party. For scandal-hungry media covering an election campaign grinding along in a rather pedestrian and uninspiring fashion, with candidates trying desperately to make voters’ choices seem like something more sensational than they are (do we prefer a center-left or center-right government this time around?), this is of course pure gold. It was front page news on every major news media site this morning and I expect the commentary will continue for days.  Read more

Tell Me What to Think

So, a millennial, a baby boomer and a Gen-Xer walk into a bar… —or, a church picnic, as it happens—and a surprising collision and confluence of assumptions and expectations ensues. At least it did on Sunday afternoon. The topic of conversation was critical thinking and its presence/absence in the world and the church. I’m painting in broad strokes in what follows, so I’ll have to ask your forgiveness and patience in advance. With a few stereotypes operating in the background, some surprising and not-so-surprising themes emerged in the conversation. Read more

On Simplifying

Early September is one of a handful of “new years” that many of us use to orient or mark time. The beginning of another academic year is experienced as a new beginning for many, particularly those with kids. January 1 is another, obviously. For Christians, the First Sunday of Advent would be yet another, as we mark the beginning of another year lived according to the story of Jesus. These are logical points on our calendars and in our lives for us to recalibrate, reorient, recommit, or remind ourselves of important truths. Read more