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
Posts from the ‘Ethics’ Category
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
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
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
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
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 (here, here, 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
“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
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
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
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
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
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 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
I received two pieces of rather severe correspondence before I poured my first coffee this morning. One was an online response to something I had written here that was picked up by another website. I had portrayed God as too merciful, I had ignored some of the more severe things Jesus said, I had failed to take Scripture seriously, I was dangerously misleading people, etc. I’ve received comments like this quite regularly over a decade of blogging, so it wasn’t particularly surprising. The other was a handwritten letter about the Canadian political situation from a stranger in another city (There was a time when, upon receiving letters like these, I would ask questions like, “Who is this person? Why are they sending this to me? What’s the connection here? I’ve since learned that these questions are very often futile…). This, too, was rather familiar in content and tone, and could be crudely summarized as a “sky is falling” type missive. Secularism, pornography, Shariah law, feminism, gay agendas, communism… The list was long, it was dire, and it required my immediate action. I sighed, and reached for my coffee. Read more
Some churches have the best locations. When I lived on the west coast I would gaze longingly at the sight of little churches with ocean views or in the heart of leafy green neighbourhoods with fruit stands and local markets and beaches nearby. When I’m in the Alberta Rockies, I often sigh plaintively at the sight of houses of God that dwell in the shadow of snow-capped mountain peaks. During my travels in Europe or South America or the Middle East, I frequently marveled at majestic cathedrals in historic cities or sturdy stone sanctuaries in quaint seaside towns or humble chapels in the midst of touristy cities devoted to more hedonistic pursuits. It would be so much easier to serve the Lord and his children in such impressive and inspiring surroundings, I often wistfully imagined.
My church, as it happens, is a stone’s throw from a meatpacking plant. Read more
It was cold last Sunday, and it started to snow minutes before the morning’s activities at church were to begin. I threw on a hat and some gloves and went outside to shovel the entrance to the church and a few of the closest parking spots. I like shoveling snow. My job requires little of me physically, and I enjoy expending a bit of energy. I had also been struggling to tie up a few loose ends in my sermon and I figured getting a bit of fresh and frosty air might clear my head before church began. Read more
This morning I was half-listening to CBC radio interview with a Colorado journalist who was suing a local politician for describing a piece he had written as “fake news.” At least that’s what I think he was doing. As I said, I was only half-listening. But there was a lot of discussion about truth and power and the stifling of dissent and questions like how do we even know what’s real or true or reliable anymore when people like Donald Trump can just pole-vault over traditional media sources (which are, of course, all corrupt and biased against him) and present his own version of the story via Twitter bursts which are then gratefully seized upon by his adoring followers? Poor truth doesn’t stand much of a chance in conditions like these. Read more
I had just dropped my daughter off at high school this morning and was gliding gingerly on snow-covered roads toward the intersection. I looked to my left and saw a car approaching the same intersection at what seemed to me to be a rather unrealistic rate of speed if it hoped to negotiate the turn that its flashing signal light indicated it was attempting to make. The car predictably began to slide, its teenage driver frantically (and fruitlessly) cranking the wheels as far as they would go. The car mercifully slid just past my driver’s side door and the crisis was averted. Read more