I’ve been thinking about a line from the Dave Eggers quote that I used in my previous post: “Every new generation purports to be more empathetic, and yet every new generation is less forgiving.” This is certainly what I observe out there in the world. There is enormous social capital to be gained via the performance of empathy, particularly when it is directed in the right ways and toward the right targets. Forgiveness is the much harder and less-traveled path. There are fewer (public) rewards and far greater costs to forgiveness. Empathy can easily be absorbed into the personal branding project. Forgiveness, not so much. Forgiveness is slow, often painful, patient, quiet work. Read more
Posts from the ‘Gospel’ Category
I’ve probably preached half a dozen sermons on “Doubting Thomas” over the last decade or so. Thomas and his doubt show up faithfully in the lectionary readings each year after Easter Sunday. Thomas and his stubborn needing to see to believe. Thomas and his demanding what his fellow disciples received as a gift and the surprise of a lifetime. Thomas, the recalcitrant empiricist. Read more
Each year, some part of the story of Holy Week grabs my attention in a new way. This year, it was the criminals on either side of Jesus’s cross. Matthew and Mark have the two criminals joining everyone else in heaping insults and scorn upon Jesus, adding to the general consensus that this is a very poorly performing Saviour. He saved others. Let him save himself. If you’re the Messiah, let’s see some action! Some “king.” Come down off that wretched cross if you are who you say you are. Read more
I was not in the mood for an “I’m spiritual but not religious” conversation this week. I had just buried one of our church’s saints. I had been planning a vigil in honour of a young man who took his own life and processing it with those most affected by this. There was the usual fatigue of Holy Week with its multiple services to prepare. All in all, my appetite was very low for another critique of religion or the church from an earnest and painfully certain twenty-something. Read more
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
Jason* is poor in pretty much every sense of the word. He has very little money and what he does have he spends poorly. He is poorly educated and generally incurious about the broader world around him. He is poorly connected socially and spends a lot of time alone. He lacks social graces and is often a poor conversation partner. His health is, well, poor. Read more
Yesterday morning before worship, I saw a headline in a major Canadian newspaper imploring me to “at least try to pretend that I care about the BC drug overdose crisis.” I paused on that headline. What exactly was it telling me to do? I thought I cared at least a little about the poor souls trying to deaden their pain and loneliness and despair in any way possible (in BC or anywhere else), but it seems that it wasn’t enough. I should care more, evidently. Or care differently than I was at present. But how would I know if or when I had cared enough or in the right ways? And according to whom?
In her marvelous book Prayer in the Night, Tish Harrison Warren tells the story of her friend Julie, whose infant son had to undergo surgery. As the nurses were about to wheel him into the operating room, Julie looked at her husband and said, “We have to decide right now whether or not God is good, because if we wait to determine that by the results of this surgery, we will always keep God on trial.” Read more
I’ve been preaching roughly forty sermons a year for the last decade. I preached around twelve per year during the three years before that. By my (admittedly atrocious) math, that’s in the vicinity of four hundred fifty sermons. Which is, I suppose, a decent sample size from which to extrapolate. To detect some trends, to observe a trajectory. Or, I suppose, to chart a decline, depending on your perspective. Read more
Over the last few months, no fewer than three people I know and respect have told me that I should listen to Justin Bieber’s new album. These are all people that know me well enough to understand what a musical stretch this would be for me. Each recommendation was met with slightly hostile incredulity from yours truly. Justin Bieber?! Seriously?! You might as well ask me to forfeit my soul. How would I even begin to salvage the tatters of my reputation? But three people. And people I respect. Hmm, what to do. Read more
I often talk to people who feel like they’re failing. Failing God, failing their kids, failing their spouses, failing their church, failing their colleagues or shareholders, failing to realize their potential, failing to optimize, prioritize, maximize. Sometimes the people I talk to about all this failing are the voices in my own head. Life is conceived of as some kind of a test or a race or contest with winners and losers. It’s remarkable how frequently people who, by all outward appearances seem to be thriving, or at the very least keeping their heads above water, feel like they’re not measuring up. Read more
I remember a few years ago I was hunting around for some music to listen to while preparing my Easter sermon. It was Holy week, so I thought I should try to find something a bit more inspirational than my usual fare. Perhaps some classical music. I surveyed the options on my streaming service. I was presented with two choices for Holy Week. How delightful! I read the description of each.
There’s a woman who calls me at the church with some regularity. She calls from two or three different phone numbers and uses a handful of pseudonyms. I have a file full of the various names and numbers she’s used. I’ll call her Mary. The stories she tells vary. She’s dying or mortally ill. She has to get somewhere far away for a surgery and needs gas money. Her kids are terrible and mistreating her (and will probably be calling me soon to ask for money—don’t give it to them!). Her grandkids need food. She needs a hotel room. She needs a thousand dollars, but she’ll settle for fifty. This has been going on for the better part of a decade. I suppose most churches have a story or two like this. Read more
I wonder if one of the central tasks of faith at this middle stage of life is that of reimagination. To unlearn the notion that faith is a “whoever dies with the most correct ideas about God in their head wins” kind of game. To open oneself to the possibility that when it comes to the things of God, it’s less about arguing than evoking, less about proving than reminding and revealing, less about heroically thinking enough right God-things or doing enough good God-things than loving mercy. Sigh. Even as I look at the preceding three sentences, I hate the soppy mid-life cliché that they sound like. Perhaps one of the other tasks of the middle-stage of life is to somehow come to peace with the cliches that we inevitably become. Read more
Last year at the beginning of Lent I decided that rather than giving something up I was going to take something on. I would read Fleming Rutledge’s The Crucifixion. What better way to journey toward Good Friday than by immersing myself in a serious theological reflection on the cross of Christ? I made it just over a hundred pages. I wish I could say I had a good reason for quitting, but I don’t really have one. I suppose I could blame COVID’s arrival in Lent 2020 and the way it colonized most of my mental bandwidth, but mostly it was just a combination of distractibility, apathy, and preoccupation with other (lesser) things. What can I say? The truth isn’t always flattering. Read more
Reading a book about the philosophy of the mid-life crisis is comparable to being on the receiving end of targeted advertising for Rogaine. You instinctively resent the fact that you now represent a category of humanity for whom this could even plausibly be relevant. Alas, haughty resentment is about as useful in stalling the clock as it is in stimulating long dormant hair follicles. I have thus far resisted the siren call of Rogaine. Mid-life philosophy books? Evidently not. Read more
Christmas is a time for joy. Perhaps this year, of all years, we could use a focus on joy as we draw near to the manger. I want to offer a brief reflection on those two words.
Time and joy.
In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. Now the earth was formless and empty, darkness was over the surface of the deep, and the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters. And God said, “Let there be light,” and there was light. God saw that the light was good, and he separated the light from the darkness (Genesis 1:1-4).
I wonder if it’s any coincidence that an essay called “What if You Could Do It All Over?” seems to be getting a lot of traction near the end of the darkest month of what has been a fairly bleak year? It’s fairly natural, on one level, to wonder about lives that might have been when we’re all living lives that we never imagined we would be and that few of us want (I suspect the bloom is coming off the proverbial rose even for those extreme introverts who half a year ago were joking that all this enforced social isolation was just what they’d always been dreaming of). Not to mention, it’s easy, when we’re all stuck at home for long periods of time, to wander off into nostalgia, romanticizing the past, and hypothesizing about what might have happened if we had chosen y or z way back when instead of x. Unlived lives can often serve as both reproach and escape. Read more