Skip to content

Posts from the ‘Discourse’ Category

Back -to-Back

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friends vs. Allies

I have, over the course of nearly a decade and a half in pastoral ministry, encountered people who have quite specific plans about what should happen in the event of their death. Some plan out their own funerals to the letter. Some ensure that their organs will donated to science. Some write letters to remain unopened until after they are gone. It’s interesting to see what people prioritize as they think about their impending death. In today’s New York Times, Agnes Callard did something like this. Only, it wasn’t her physical death she was planning ahead for. It was her cancellation. 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

On Building the Things We Love

My daughter and I were invited on a podcast a while back where the topic was “reconciliation.” What is it, how do you work for it, what shape ought it to take, etc. Would we be interested? Well sure. But we were both quite clear when the invitation came that we did not see our relationship as some kind of abstract exercise in reconciliation but as a father and a daughter. We were not placeholders for a theory of racial relations. We were family. Read more

Thursday Miscellany (On “Lived Experience”)

Well, the half-written posts and fragments and links and barely formed loosely connected ideas are piling up in my drafts folder. I need to do some digital (and mental) housecleaning, as it were. So, I guess today shall be a miscellany day. Here’s some of what I’ve been thinking about over the past few weeks. Read more

It’s the Mercy I Can’t Take

If you’re going to be home sick on Sunday as a pastor, you probably couldn’t pick a worse Sunday than the Fourth Sunday of Lent, Year C. For churches who follow the Revised Common Lectionary, this is the Sunday where the parable of the lost son shows up. And what preacher doesn’t look forward to being able to preach on this most famous and well-loved of Jesus’ stories? This preacher certainly does. The arrival of this passage is the homiletical reward for struggling through all those awkward Old Testament texts and dense Pauline theology and even some of Jesus’ more fiery words throughout the rest of the year And yet this is precisely the predicament this preacher found himself in last Sunday. Home sick instead of preaching about lost sons and a love-sick father. Read more

Tuesday Miscellany (A Whisper and a Scream)

It’s Tuesday morning and I’ve, um, been thinking some thoughts. Nothing well-formed enough for a substantive post on its own, but a few loosely connected fragments that need to be expelled from my brain so I can move on to other things… Read more

On Abstaining from Generalizations

It may surprise readers of this blog to know that I was a trucker in a previous life. In my early twenties, before I went back to university, I used to haul hotel furniture across western Canada. I remember more than a few harrowing winter trips over the Coquihalla or into the bone-chilling north. It was long and lonely work and I only did it for a few years, but it was an interesting and valuable experience. I have my class one license to this day. I’m not going to lie, there were days during these last two years of pandemic when it looked like an attractive option! Read more