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Posts from the ‘Grace’ Category

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

On Unearned Grace

So, the pope has been in my home province of Alberta this week. I’m not a Roman Catholic, so this obviously isn’t quite the momentous occasion for me that it might be for some of my Catholic sisters and brothers, but still, it’s a fairly big deal, not least because of one of the main reasons for his visit. He’s here to apologize, on Canadian soil, to indigenous people for the ugly history and legacy of residential schools. It is a “pilgrimage of penance,” in Francis’s own words, a time to unequivocally repent for the sins of the church and for the deep and lasting harm that they have caused. Read more

On Forgiveness

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

This Shadowed Fog

This afternoon, I received the devastating news that a young man connected to our congregation had taken his own life. I sat stunned, staring at my screen for what felt like an hour. Who can comprehend such things? Who can make sense out of what is ultimately senseless? I thought immediately of all those I know who loved this dear young man, all those who will be shattered by this loss, those whose grief will be immense. Read more

It’s the Mercy I Can’t Take

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

The Muffin Man

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

The Presence of God

Mid-way through the Christmas season, I’ve been thinking about the presence of God. This season is all about celebrating “God with us.” This is what our songs and scriptures and stories proclaim throughout the season. And is this not what we all long for? To experience God as present with and for us. Read more

Grace, Too

Hi folks. It’s been over a month since I posted anything here. I’m not sure if that’s ever happened before in the eleven-and-a-half years of this blog’s existence, but it certainly feels strange to me. There’s no grand reason for the silence other than the usual suspects. A bit of writers’ block, a dearth of inspiration, bit of generalized fatigue, a summer holiday followed by an immediate jump into the deep end of the pool in church ministry. It’s been a stretch of time where time and energy have seemed a bit thin and where the words seem harder in coming than usual. Read more

Jostling Angels

I have several friends who have recently been through diversity training at their companies. This is not uncommon these days. Many corporations are scrambling to keep up with the ethos of the moment, desperate to demonstrate the appropriate levels of commitment to equality and inclusion, terrified that they might be held liable for a stray comment or inappropriate action by one of their employees in the domains of sexuality, race, or gender. Diversity training is the way to cover their backsides. “Oh, and so said or did bad thing x? Well, we did what we could. They received diversity training. We can’t really help it if it didn’t take.” Read more

Busy Bees

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

Is Justin Bieber Allowed to Suffer? (and Other Indecent Calculations)

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

Final Exam

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

“You’re Not Very Nice”

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

Wonder Shining in My Eyes

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

Forgive Us Our Sins

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

The Fullness of Time

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).

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