Most people recognize that to be a human being is to be on a lifelong journey in pursuit of two broad goals: to become the best version of ourselves that we can be and to contribute something of worth to the world around us. We don’t all do this very well or very consistently, but we generally realize that the idea is to try to leave the world a better place than we found it and to become a better person along the way. Read more
Posts from the ‘Faith’ Category
I was forwarded an email yesterday about “Pastor Appreciation Month.” I think I vaguely knew that this was a thing, but I had no idea that it was upon us. Apparently, one of the ways that my church can show appreciation to me is to give me a gift certificate for a discount on books. It’s a nice gesture. But honestly the last thing I need is more books. I already have a dozen waiting to be read and I have probably reached that stage of life and ministry where I am less optimistic than I once was that a book holds the key to whatever intellectual, pastoral, or administrative deficiencies I daily inflict upon my church. But, again, a nice gesture. And it got me pondering a rather simple question: Why appreciate a pastor? Read more
It is something of a truism to say that we live in polarized and polarizing times. This has most recently been laid bare by the Kavanaugh hearings south of the border and the Trump presidency more generally. But the political and social irruptions dominating the news in America are manifestations of broader cultural trends that are increasingly pitting politics and the identities we construct around them against one another. It’s a reality that many are struggling to come to terms with, contribute to, or even understand. Read more
A headline on Facebook this afternoon caught my eye. It came from one of those Christian sites that’s always hunting around in popular culture (movie stars, athletes, etc.) for any whiff of a reference to God or faith. The headline in this case was “Drew Brees Gave a Moving Interview About Faith After Breaking the All-Time Passing Record Last Night.” Brees is a quarterback who plays for the New Orleans Saints. As of Monday night, he’s also apparently the all-time leading pastor in NFL history. So, he’s a pretty big deal. The headline on Facebook was accompanied by the words, “Grab the tissues.” Against my better judgment, I clicked the link. Read more
I’ve been thinking this morning about, of all things, hockey pools. For those unfamiliar with this phenomenon, a group of friends get together before the season and pick which NHL players they think will score the most points in the upcoming season. You assemble your roster and then watch to see how they perform against other people’s rosters in the year ahead. I’ve been doing this with a bunch of guys over the past few days. I tend to be pretty terrible at hockey pools, but it’s all good fun. Read more
Richard Beck offered a few reflections on prayer this morning that resonate with my own experience and practice. Prayer doesn’t come naturally to me either. I, too, have been “saved” by the discipline of a regular practice. I, too need a morning routine to reroute me from less productive ways of starting my days, whether it’s uncritically beginning to feed at the trough of the
entertainment news cycle or engaging in fruitless online discourse or whatever. I like what Beck says about how the way we “imprint” our day matters. If the first thing I reach for in the morning is my phone or my laptop, my heart and mind begin to be shaped in ways that are deeply unhealthy. Read more
Perhaps it’s an utterly ordinary affliction of mid-life, but I find myself wondering often these days about what it means to make progress along the journey of life, whether this progress is physical, relational, professional, emotional, spiritual, or all of the above. It’s fairly normal, I suppose, to reach a certain stage of life and ask questions like, “Ok, how am I doing? Have I gotten any better at anything? Am I more disciplined now than I was at twenty-three? Have certain convictions grown sturdier? Is my faith stronger? Are my relationships healthier? Am I more confident in my vocation? Have I become a better husband, a more devoted father, a more faithful friend? Am I progressing on anything like a more hopeful arc in these important domains of life? Read more
Yesterday, I posted a link on Facebook to an article by Jonathan Aigner called, “Farewell, Willow Creek: Where the ‘Regular’ Churches Can Go From Here.” It was ostensibly a kind of “where now after Willow Creek” piece. It was snarky in tone and read, at times, like an elaborate exercise in schadenfreude from an angry guy who seemed a little too happy to see a megachurch fall. But I thought the article raised a few important questions, even if I tried to distance myself from its bitterness and make it clear that I wasn’t expressing my approval for all that it contained.
As it happens, if my inbox is to be believed, not everyone appreciated the link or my attempts to endlessly qualify my reasons for posting it. Which is fine—I didn’t expect everyone to like the piece. Indeed, I tried to make clear that I didn’t like everything about the piece. But I fear that whatever interesting points I might have been hoping the post might draw out were mostly lost due to the article’s tone. Those inclined to be supportive of the Willow Creek model of church felt attacked; those inclined to be critical of the Willow Creek model happily piled on.
So, I decided to do what I often do when I fear that I may have been misunderstood or when I have misgivings about whether or not I should have posted something: I wrote a long, tortuous blog post to make everything luminously clear. Ahem. Well, perhaps not. If nothing else, I tried to isolate what I found interesting and potentially worth discussing in the piece. In what follows, some of the key claims made by Aigner are highlighted, followed my own reflections on what these statements twigged in my own brain. Perhaps it will be interesting to others, perhaps it will only add to the frustration. If nothing else, at least the Internet has a few more words now, right? 😉
A few days ago, I was meandering through a museum in a small BC town on a lazy summer afternoon. I was lingering over a historical image (the image to the left) of several Ktunaxa men and an inscription about how the gold rush had affected their people. The image itself was fairly nondescript. Six faces staring blankly back at the camera in front of what looks like a bush of some sort. I forget what the inscription beneath the photo precisely said, but I won’t soon forget a passing comment made by one of my fellow museum-goers as she passed in front of my view. “Look at the one in the top left, eh? Pretty good evidence that we come from apes! Hey, I just call it like I see it!” [knowing chuckle] She said it all so quickly. I wasn’t even sure if her comment was directed at me or to someone else within earshot. She was gone before my indignation had time to properly register. I simply stood there dumbly, staring at the picture, my temperature steadily rising. Read more
There’s this mildly irritating phrase that I have encountered with some frequency over the course of the decade or so that I have been a pastor. I’m sure you’ve encountered something like it in your own circles, particularly in these post-Christian, post-church, post-everything times. Oh, I don’t mind church, but, you know, I encounter God best in creation. That’s where I worship. Nature is my sanctuary. Indeed. When I am on the receiving end of this phrase, I usually smile and nod in as gracious a fashion as I can muster. Inwardly, I am often thinking very un-Christian thoughts. Of course nature is your sanctuary. A rather convenient justification for avoiding this one, I would say. Read more
In my (long) last post, I said that I was part way through Johann Hari’s Lost Connections and I thought that it was among the more powerful analyses of our cultural moment that I had come across in some time. This morning, I turned over the last page. I remain convinced that as an analysis of the root causes of the epidemic levels of depression and anxiety in (primarily) Western culture, Hari’s book is rock solid. But the book is far lighter on the cure than it is on the diagnosis. Much of what Hari prescribes to address the seven “lost connections” he diagnoses seem to be scratching around on the surface of a problem that is at its very core profoundly existential and—dare I say it?—religious in nature. Hari is an atheist, so of course a religious diagnosis will not do for him. But as I closed his book this morning I couldn’t help but think that each of Hari’s recommended reconnections could easily be anchored in a robust Christian anthropology. Read more
It’s hard to believe, and bordering on painful to set out in declarative form, but my sabbatical comes to an end tomorrow. I’m not back at work tomorrow, I should hasten to add—like many, I have appended my holidays to the end of my sabbatical to stretch it out a bit further—but my three month sabbatical officially ends July 31. So in the interests of trying to begin the process of transitioning back into thinking and writing mode, I thought I would throw up some reflections upon what I have observed and learned over these past few months where I have been (mostly) silent in this space. I’m not sure how much blogging I’ll be doing throughout August, but I suppose you could say this post marks my re-entry into more normal writing routines. Read more
One more reflection based on my time spent in Palestine and Israel over the past few weeks. After this, I shall endeavour to give this “blogging sabbatical” thing another, better try.
It’s an interesting thing how geography and social location affects the way you read and hear Scripture. Most Sundays, I am reading and hearing Scripture as a relatively comfortable, white, middle-class Christian in a more or less peaceful country where religion often occupies a peripheral (at best) role in most people’s thinking and living. This affects how I read and hear the words of the Bible. My default, whether I want this or not, tends to be to listen in ways that will more or less endorse and validate myself and those who are like me. This is, as I said, most Sundays. Last Sunday, however, I worshiped in Palestine.
I made a rather remarkable discovery yesterday. Well, remarkable to me, at any rate. I have only preached one sermon on the parable of the lost (or prodigal) son in ten years (and that was seven years ago). This surprised me because it’s one of my favourite stories that Jesus tells. I’ve written about it a fair bit on this blog. I’ve described it in pretty breathless terms. But I haven’t preached on it much. This seems a rather glaring omission. Read more
Last night our little church had the opportunity to hear from what is a bit of a rarity in southern Alberta: a Syrian Orthodox priest. We have a connection with Father Lukas Awad that goes back three years. I first met him when he was touring the province with a group connected to MCC Alberta. Through a series of events, this initial meeting led to our group of churches sponsoring families from his parish in Homs that were refugees in Lebanon at the time. Father Lukas has thirteen families from his parish scattered throughout the province of Alberta, including six here in Lethbridge. Read more
Richard Beck is a blogger that I have been reading for quite a while now. He’s a psychology professor and “progressive Christian,” although he seems to have a level of distaste for the term that approaches my own. He has, in my experience, an ability that is rare among progressives—the ability to be unflinchingly self-critical and to acknowledge the challenges and inconsistencies that are bound up with many forms of “progressive Christianity.” His recent nine part series “On Tribes and Community” should be required reading for anyone interested in how faith communities are formed and maintained, and how our cultural and ideological context works against this. Read more
I’m in Saskatchewan this week for a speaking engagement. Of course, no matter where I go, all anyone is talking about is last Friday’s horrific bus accident, which claimed the lives of fifteen members of the Humboldt Broncos junior hockey team. It is a story for which there are barely words. It’s made headlines around the globe. Not surprisingly, here in the Saskatoon area (about two hours from the crash site) it’s ground zero. The grief is raw and palpable. Hockey culture runs deep in each of Canada’s prairie provinces. Many people (myself included) have personal experiences of blasting down wintry roads in terrible conditions to play a hockey game. But in Saskatchewan, a sparsely populated province where vast distances often must be traversed to get from town to town, hockey culture is a different level altogether. Hockey binds these far flung communities together in a way that few things can. Read more
Holy Week is upon us, and with it the usual wearisome parade of articles and blog posts and podcasts offering more palatable understandings of Christian faith and crosses and empty tombs than the dreary orthodox fare. Rational people can obviously no longer be expected to believe the outdated and unbelievable story of miracles and dying for sins and actual coming-back-from-the-dead. But the narrative of Holy Week is still deemed to have a few residual nuggets of potential worth mining for us in our spiritual journeys. You’ll be relieved to know. Read more