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Posts from the ‘Gospel’ Category

Bleed into One

People sometimes ask me what I would have been if not a pastor. A number of options leap to mind, but I often joke that my first choice would have been “rock star.” I have always loved the energy and the emotion, the raw driving power of music, the euphoria of the crowd. It transports me. It always has. Alas, I have no real musical talent, which I’m guessing would have proved a difficult obstacle to overcome. I picked up the bass guitar a bit in my twenties and blundered uninspiringly along for a while, but that was the extent of it. Also, I probably would have needed hair to be a decent rock star. So, you know, the odds were always against me. Read more

Hang On, Judas

Judas was on the agenda at the jail this week. We’ve been working our way through John’s gospel over the past few months, paying special attention to Jesus’ encounters with real people. We’ve been trying to locate ourselves in these stories and to see what they might teach us about ourselves and about God. We’ve looked at Nicodemus, the Samaritan woman at the well, the woman caught in adultery, the blind beggar, Lazarus, etc. Good stories, each one, and not too difficult to locate ourselves in these characters. But Judas? Well, Judas is a different animal. Especially at the jail. Read more

Jesus, Remember Me

Over a dozen guys showed up for bible study at the jail last week. At least half, I had never seen before. It was an enthusiastic bunch, and the conversation ran off in all kinds of directions. A reading from John 11 about the raising of Lazarus quickly morphed into a discussion of everything from the dead bodies that emerged from the tombs in Matthew’s account of the crucifixion to what happens when you die to the harrowing of hell. We also talked about zombies. So, you know, a fair amount of terrain covered. Read more

The Rubble

Once there was a great building. Mighty with towers, spiky with spires, a-bubble with domes. Inside it opened into gallery after gallery, vault after echoing vault, so high that human beings who set off across its marble pavements sometimes mistook its roof for the sky and the building for the world itself. And though it showed signs of many styles, and had been built by many different architects over many centuries, it had been standing so long than no one could remember when it wasn’t there, or suspected that it could ever fall. But it did…

Some of the rubble was gathered up by those who had particularly loved the building and assembled back into a much smaller structure—somewhere in size, say, between a cottage and a garden shed. The rest, however, lay where it had fallen; and the grass grew over it, and creepers disguised the biggest pieces of the ruin till they looked almost like outcrops of rock; and with a speed just as astonishing as the collapse had been, those who walked there forgot there had ever been a building, and took the bumpy hill beneath them for the plain and natural ground.

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The Longing

Last year, I wrote a post called “Thick Like Honey, Sweet Like Grace.” The title came from a quote in Matthew Perry’s recent biography. It was Perry’s own description of encountering God in the pit of his despair and addiction. The post was a reflection on the lack of this kind of “existential urgency” in some (not all) “progressive” Christian circles. It was a plea not to swap out a political agenda for an existential one. To not forget, in all our important talk and work for social justice, that there is an irreducibly personal and affective dimension to Christian faith. To speak urgently of both justice and mercy. There is room for both. We need both. Desperately so, it would seem, given the barrage of articles these days outlining how sad and lonely and anxious and hopeless so many people feel, particularly the young. Read more

Absolute Soul

“I’ve had a bunch of revelations in my life.” The words came from an inmate sitting across the table at the jail recently. He looked impossibly young, was skeletally skinny, indigenous. His face somehow managed to look deadly serious and impishly goofy at the same time, a hint of a smile always threatening to break out into the real thing. He was a big fan of rap music, poetry, anime. He knew his bible well, rattling off passages and references by memory. Read more

The Question the Whole World Revolves Around

“You know that bible verse that talks about the greatest three things, or whatever… you know, the three things that remain and how the best one is love?” The question comes from a young man at the jail. He has this wild look about him, hair everywhere, restless movements, a frantic, searching gaze, cuts on his hands. One is still bleeding. He gets up now and then to go tear a few strips off the toilet paper roll on the bookshelf to slow the flow. He follows this up by spraying disinfectant on his hands (there’s a bottle in the corner by the overhead projector, a lingering remnant of early pandemic days, I suppose). “Yeah, that’s 1 Corinthians 13,” I say, trying to keep tabs on his movements. “It’s one of my favourites.” “Yeah, I read it last night,” he responds. “I like it, too. But he’s missing one. There’s a fourth one that should be in there.” 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

Far as the Curse is Found

He comes to make his blessings flow
far as the curse is found. — Joy to the World

I often tell people that the bible sounds different when you read it in jail. The same is true for Christmas carols. The words and the melodies sound different when sung far away from festive church sanctuaries, when instead of candles and creches it’s just concrete and plastic and reinforced glass. You’re drawn to different lines of the familiar songs. Read more

Some Force of Love and Logic

As Christmas draws near, I am thinking, appropriately, no doubt, about awe. I happen to rather like awe and experience it regularly. I experience it in all the usual places—mountaintops, oceans, majestic cathedrals, spine-tingling music. On a perhaps less obviously inspiring note, after a third consecutive morning dragging myself out of the house in sub -30-degree temperatures I am currently experiencing awe at just how bone-crushingly cold this planet is capable of getting. But yeah, I am generally a big fan of awe. Read more

The Lion

You have to sign in for the weekly bible studies at the jail. Name, unit number, time. Records must be kept. And so, the clipboard dutifully makes its way around the circle. One guy always has a massive grin on his face as he writes his name. I’ll call him Adam. I know why Adam is smiling. He has a standard practice by now. He writes his name, as per the requirements. But then he always leaves a few blank lines before writing another: “Jesus.” This day, he expands a bit. “Jesus of Nazareth.” He hopes he’s spelled Nazareth right. Read more

Thick Like Honey, Sweet Like Grace

One of my abiding critiques of the more progressive church circles that I inhabit is that there often seems to be little, for lack of a better term, “existential urgency.” God is, we think, very interested in our positions on social issues and is very eager to affirm our journey through various constellations of identities. But not so much in sin or salvation or judgment or deliverance or a love that breaks in order to mend or anything that could conceivably set a soul aflame. In many progressive churches, God cares a great deal about our politics and our self-esteem, not so much about our souls. Read more

The Pain of Getting Well

Last year I was poking around in a cool little bookstore in the Rocky Mountain town of Canmore when I happened upon a little book called What Comes from Spirit by the late Ojibway author Richard Wagamese. Wagamese is best known for books like Indian Horse, Medicine Walk, and One Native Life. I had the opportunity to meet Richard in 2014 when I hosted an event he was speaking at. I remember him as a very soft-spoken and gentle man. And a great storyteller. Read more

On Shipwrecks and Crutches

Faith in God begins where faith in oneself ends.

This is the kind of line that I would have probably condescendingly rolled my eyes at when I was younger. Yeah, there’s probably a kernel of truth in there, but it sounded to me like a pious cliché, the kind of thing you’d find on some kitschy piece of religious art or home decorating paraphernalia. It would have been in the same category, for me, as that “footprints in the sand” picture or sayings like, “When God closes a door, He opens a window” and “Everything happens for a reason.” Yeah, ok. Whatever. 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

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

Runaways

Ain’t we all just runaways? Yeah. — The Killers

For the past eleven years, I’ve preached in a congregation that loosely follows the Revised Common Lectionary when it comes to organizing the Scripture readings that guide our corporate worship and sermons. We don’t follow it slavishly, and I’ve certainly deviated from time to time, but it’s kind of our default. It’s certainly my default. I’d rather be assigned a text to preach from than choose one. Or at the very least, to have four from which to pick. Following the lectionary forces me outside of the texts I’d naturally gravitate towards. At the very least, it throws up an interesting surprise or two along the way. Read more

After All That I Put You Through

A few days ago, my wife and I were bombing through the mountains at the tail end of a holiday in British Columbia and had exhausted all other conversational options. So we decided to discuss the problem of evil and free will. It seemed like a nice, light holiday topic, a welcome break from what I think about most days. Read more