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Posts from the ‘Ethics’ Category

God Probably Isn’t Watching (But Occasionally it Would Be Useful if He Was)

“My parents always told me, ‘We might not see everything you do but God does.’” This statement made an appearance during a recent conversation with an older friend about whether or not God as “judge” is something that Christians ought to celebrate, fear, or loathe. I’m not sure what your reaction to this particular parenting strategy is. Perhaps you think it is yet another diseased expression of what is by now a mercifully outmoded attempt at social control—the equivalent of God as a kind of gleefully punitive cosmic Santa Claus, who knows if you’ve been bad or good so be good for goodness’ (or bribery’s) sake. Maybe you think this is the kind of thing we need to get back to—“Kids these days gotta be whipped into moral shape somehow!” Read more

Unoriginal Sin

As far as sins go, a rich older dude using his power and influence to sexually prey upon young women is about as unoriginal as they come. As long as men and power imbalances and women have been in existence (which is to say, forever), the former have been indecently and inexcusably forcing themselves upon the latter. As depressing as the story of film executive Harvey Weinstein is, it is also about as predictable as they come.  Read more

Talk to Me, Talk for Me

Over the last few years, I have found it interesting to observe where we turn in times of crisis. Increasingly, it seems that the answer is, “talk show hosts.” Every mass shooting, every natural disaster, every crisis now seems to be followed by a rather predictable ritual. In the hours immediately after the event in question we scurry online and busy ourselves with changing our profile pictures and hash tagging and wearing out the phrase “thoughts and prayers.” Later that night or, perhaps, the next night, we all tune in to the talk show hosts (and then share clips of whate they said the next day). Yesterday, CBC ran a story devoted entirely to what the talk show hosts were saying about the mass shooting in Las Vegas, complete with video clips of each one. They “decried it,” evidently. Whew. Read more

Selling Sex

So, Hugh Hefner is dead. I don’t expect to see the breathless eulogizing that often accompanies the deaths of other famous people—I suppose we still retain just enough prudery (or at least good taste) to feel at least slightly awkward about praising the man who brought the world Playboy magazine. At least some of us might. I don’t know. More likely is a kind of chuckle, chuckle, wink, nudge frat boy mentality that thinks, “Not bad, the guy entered his tenth decade still surrounded by his young airbrushed bunnies, still living the dream of unrestrained lust and easy sex, still selling human bodies for greedy profit, still building and maintaining his palatial empire of desire right to the end. Atta boy, Hugh!” Or something like that.  Read more

A Hell of a Thing to Believe

Human beings spend a lot of time arguing about whether or not our beliefs are true. Even in these strange days where “I feel like” seems to have replaced “I think that” as the, ahem, ultimate trump card in a given dispute (how can you argue with a feeling?!), we still invest a fair amount of intellectual, emotional, and rhetorical energy into arriving at, and convincing others of what we believe to be true. Even amidst of the mountain of lies that can sometimes seem to overwhelm our socio-political discourse, the truth of the matter still seems to matter to us.  Read more

Wednesday Miscellany (Detritus of Summer)

The end of summer (sadly) draws nigh and, like many, I have spent these dwindling days of August attempting to tidy up the clutter, whether it’s physical, mental, or spiritual in nature. I’ve tried to achieve a bit of focus, clarity, and equilibrium before September arrives This has meant tackling my physical desk, rearranging unread books and recycling correspondence that has been rendered irrelevant by inattention, and trying to wrest a bit of order out of the chaos of random files and documents on my computer’s desktop. Things need to be put in their proper place, after all. Here are a few bits and pieces whose proper place is, evidently, another “miscellany” post.  Read more

we teeter on the edges of dark

I returned to work from holidays today to find two artifacts in my church mailbox: pair of socks and a book. Church mailboxes can yield the strangest discoveries. I was perplexed by the socks (my kids probably left them somewhere?) and delighted by the book. It was a book of poetry and woodcut prints entitled “Prophet, Priest, and King” and collaboratively produced by Chris Stoffel Overvoorde, an American artist, and Martin Oordt, a poet who taught for years at our local university before passing away in 2011. The book is a series of visual and poetic explorations and snapshots of Old Testament characters who anticipated, imperfectly, haltingly, partially, the final prophet, priest and king, Jesus Christ. Read more

You Are Welcome to Come Near

In these hazy, lazy days of mid-summer, I find myself pondering the deep mysteries of wheelchair ramps. Naturally. Last night, our little church made the decision to move ahead with plans to add a ramp to our facility alongside a few other improvements to the foyer and entrance. Church business meetings and decisions about facility modifications do not tend to provoke much sustained theological reflection on my part. They probably should, but usually they don’t. Last night, however, I think I heard the voice of God. At a church business meeting, of all things. Read more

Empty Words

Summer is a time for reading books. Fiction, in particular. This year, I have taken something of a vow to buy no more new books until I have at least made an appreciable dent in the pile of unread books that clutter my desk and clog my shelves. Among these, is Alan Paton’s classic novel, Cry, the Beloved Country which explores the injustice and social decay of apartheid-era South Africa through the lens of two families. It’s one in an embarrasssingly long list of books that fall in the category of, “Books I really should have read by now.” Read more

When the Truth Gets in the Way of the Story You Want to Tell

There’s a fascinating episode of Malcolm Gladwell’s Revisionist History Podcast that looks at the issue of truth and how we tell it. In the episode, Gladwell explores the history behind a statue in a park in Birmingham, Alabama that has come to be among the most iconic images of the civil rights movement. It’s called “The Foot Soldier of Birmingham” and shows a fearsome looking white police officer turning loose a ferocious wolf-like beast upon a defenseless young black protester. The sculpture was the creation of an artist named Ronald McDowell and is based on a photo taken by Bill Hudson at a protest in Birmingham on a spring day in 1963. It captures in a visceral and devastating way the malevolent racial injustice of the American south at that time. The only problem is that the moment the sculpture is based upon seems not to have happened. At least not that way. Read more

What Jesus Does With Stones

A few conversations based on yesterday’s post have me thinking (again) about sin and struggle and our often frantic scrambling to claim the moral high ground in our discourse. And, like water running down well-worn grooves, my thoughts seem always to drift inevitably to familiar stories of Jesus. Stories that I talk and write about frequently. Stories that my kids probably get sick of me bringing up. Stories that saturate ten years worth of blog archives (herehere, here… on and on it goes). Sometimes I feel mildly embarrassed about defaulting to the same handful of stories over and over and over again. But the embarrassment doesn’t usually last long. These stories tell us the truth about who God is and about who we are. These are the kinds of stories that can save us.  Read more

I Didn’t Choose This

“If there was one thing that you would say to the church or if there was one thing that you would want Christians to know about your experience as a gay man, what would it be?” This was the question that I recently put to a friend on a warm summer evening near the end of a wide-ranging conversation that had covered everything from his experience of coming out to the controversies around Pride celebrations in our community to the sexualization of identity more broadly to his experience growing up in a conservative evangelical church. His answer surprised me a little, both for its content and for its brevity. He needed little time to think before saying, simply, “I didn’t choose this.” I waited for him to elaborate, but he didn’t say much more. I had asked for one thing and one thing was what I got.  Read more

Binding and Blinding

Back in February, I remarked that Jonathan Haidt’s The Righteous Mind should be required reading for anyone who spends time on social media, particularly those who like to go to war over ideas. I said that this is a book for our cultural moment if ever there was one. These were not throwaway comments or exercises in hyperbole. I meant it then, after reading half of the book, and I am even more convinced of it now, after finishing it. If you are prone to heroically wading into the ideological trenches armed with unshakeable convictions about your rightness and your enemies’ wrongness, if you are convinced that your political/religious/ideological team is the rightest of the right and that your mission in life is to educate your unenlightened neighbours, you really must read this book. Go to your library, go to Amazon, go to your favourite local bookstore—heck, even drop by my office and I’ll lend you my copy. Just read this book. You might have to sacrifice a few hours otherwise spent on Facebook or Twitter, but perhaps after reading Haidt’s book you’ll be persuaded that the trade was a good one.  Read more

Wednesday Miscellany

Back in May, I went to the opening night of U2’s 30th Anniversary Joshua Tree Tour. I have, consequently, been listening to what I think is one of the greatest albums ever made (although maybe only U2’s second best) off and on ever since. I listen to it in the car on the way to work, in the headphones while I’m writing, and while sitting with friends on the patio on warm late spring evenings. It’s crazy how an album I’ve been listening to off and on for thirty years doesn’t seem to get old.

A few nights ago, “I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For” came through the little Bluetooth speaker on the patio table. As the song approached its lyrical and musical climax, the familiar words soared through the spring air:

I believe in the Kingdom Come

Then all the colours will bleed into one

Read more

You Only Believe in Science!

There’s a well known scene in the 2006 cult classic Nacho Libre where Nacho, a hapless monk who aspires to be a Luchador, and Esqueleto, his emaciated unbaptized sidekick, are in conflict about life and religion and fame and fortune and why they’re so terrible in the wrestling ring. At one point, Nacho blurts out, “I’m not listening to you—you only believe in science. That’s probably why we never win!” The scene is funny because the characters are hilarious (it’s especially amusing to watch Nacho’s attempts to “baptize” his unsuspecting partner in the changing room before one of their matches). It’s also funny because I think many of us have a sense that even in popular discourse, science and religion debates often fail to attain much loftier heights of nuance and sophistication than the banter between Nacho and Esqueleto. “Science” and “religion” function like two bumbling Luchadors theatrically slugging it out in the ring before mostly ignorant throngs interested in little more than baying for blood. They are competitors for the same territory in our hearts and minds. One must win and one must lose. Read more

Mediation on a “Therefore”

Therefore God lifted him high, 
and granted freely to him
the name above every name,
so that in the name of Jesus
every knee would bend,
in heaven, on earth, under the earth,
and every tongue constent.

——

So began today’s morning reading in the prayer book that I sometimes use. The words are familiar, as they represent an alternative wording of the famous Christ hymn of Philippians 2. Many scholars believe that this hymn represents one of the earliest liturgies of the early church, possibly even going back to a few decades after Christ’s crucifixion, resurrection, and ascension. It thus gives a fascinating window into both how the early church worshiped, who they understood Jesus to be, and what it all meant.

Therefore, God lifted him high… Read more

A Dreadful Compliment

I spent part of this morning on sin. Not actively sinning, I should hasten to add, although I probably accrued a few transgressions before breakfast. But let’s leave that aside, shall we? Instead, I’d like to talk about a lecture that I watched today from the recent Mockingbird NYC Conference. It was called, “Hiding in Plain Sight: The Lost Doctrine of Sin,” and was delivered by University of Nottingham theologian Simeon Zahl. In it, Zahl described sin as a “diagnostic tool of great power.” We can’t make sense of ourselves, the world, or God without the category of sin. And yet, says Zahl, there is no theological assertion more likely to meet such resolute opposition among his students than this. Read more

We Do Not Tell Stories as They Are…

We do not tell stories as they are; we tell stories as we are… We do not see things as they are, we see them as we are.

I don’t know the original source of this quote, but I came across it in Irish poet/theologian Pádraig Ó Tuama’s In the Shelter a few weeks ago and I’ve been chewing on it ever since. On the face of it, these words could be taken as expressing little more than the tired refrain of postmodernism. We don’t have access to anything like “objective truth,” only to ourselves and our own inner states. The stories we tell are little more than the laborious outworkings of our own biographies. There cannot and could never be a genuinely true story, only stories that are true for me, true for you, true for whoever. Which is of course another way of saying that there are no true stories.  Read more