I’m starting to notice the semi-regular experience of having coffee with someone and having them pause at some point in the conversation and say, “Wait, this isn’t going to end up on your blog, is it?” I usually wince a little and say something, “Well, it might. But don’t worry, I’ll keep it anonymous.” Usually this is reassurance enough (and, rest assured that when it isn’t, it does not end up on my blog!). I can’t really help myself, though. I get to have a lot of great conversations with people, often about important and deeply meaningful questions that are basic to human experience. It seems a shame to not write about these moments, to widen the conversation, as it were. This is what I tell myself, at any rate. Read more
Posts from the ‘Hope’ Category
Last night, I drove out to the mountains to pick up my son from a twelve-day wilderness/adventure/education camp. As the sun set over a gorgeous summer evening in the Rockies, we were treated to a closing program that gave us a glimpse into what the past twelve days had looked like. Rock climbing, white-water canoeing down the North Saskatchewan River, a twelve km ascent to the top of a mountain, not to mention daily jogging, yoga, team-building exercises, leadership training, coaching on integrity and character development, personal reflection, and journaling—it was quite the itinerary! It sound like the kind of camp that no small number of adults (like, roughly 100% of us) would profit immensely from, never mind 15-16 year olds. Read more
My wife loves thrift shops. She spends hours in them, unearthing all manner of hidden gems for herself, for the kids, for me. I, on the other hand, do not love thrift shops. Not even a little bit. Where my wife sees endless possibility and the challenge of hunting down a good bargain, I see a warehouse full of stuff that other people (quite rightly) didn’t want. On the rare occasion that I find myself in a thrift shop with my wife, I usually end up spending ten perfunctory minutes drifting through the book section and then resignedly making my way to the parking lot to wait until my ordeal is done. Read more
Most pastors know that the time immediately following a service can be a black hole for anything resembling deep conversation. This is probably appropriate, on some levels. A busy foyer full of people and conversation is not exactly the best time or place for existential crises or deep queries into the meaning of life. It’s a time and a place for cheerful banter and connection with friends and talk of weather and sports. Or, less cheerily, it’s a time and a place for the shuffling of feet and awkward attempts to say something polite about the sermon or to itemize one’s ailments and medical appointments for the week ahead or to complain about this or that. Either way, it’s a place for the ordinary chatter that is part of the glue that holds together any human community. Read more
There are times, even amidst the gloriously lazy days of bright sunny mid-summer, when it’s difficult not to despair of being human. I was sitting with friends at various points yesterday, enjoying casual conversation, catching up on the news, on current events, on stuff going on in people’s lives… At least three different times we came to a point in the conversation where someone said something like, “Ok, this is getting depressing. We need to find something else to talk about.” Read more
I did a very embarrassing thing this morning. I purchased Def Leppard’s latest album. This is not the sort of thing that any self-respecting human being of the twenty-first century ought to admit to, I know. A quick glance at my recent purchases in iTunes reveals a much more acceptable (I hope) repertoire: The Lumineers, Mumford & Sons, Basia Bulat, Radiohead, Of Monsters and Men. This is probably a more accurate gauge of where my musical tastes have drifted over the years. Def Leppard is the paradigmatic example of the unimaginative late twentieth century glam rock that was the soundtrack of my small-town high school experience. They were big hair, big power chords, soaring engineered harmonies, and mawkish power-ballad-y lyrics about love biting or breathless paeans to endlessly getting rocked or adrenalized or something. In response to the screaming query from 1988’s massive hit “Armageddon It”—Are you getting it?—I can only reply, “Yes, yes, apparently I really am a-getting it.” Or I just got it, at any rate. Read more
Perhaps everything terrible is, in its deepest being, something that needs our love.
I have the above quote from the poet Ranier Maria Rilke taped to my office wall just off to the right of my desk. I look at it often, particularly when “everything terrible” makes its inevitable appearance. Paris, Brussels, San Bernardino. And now, Orlando. Another scarcely comprehensible act of murderous hatred in response to difference. Another convenient scapegoat located. On and on, everything terrible goes. Read more
I was warned, this afternoon. Me and a few hundred others who had gathered for a funeral. Me and a few hundred others who sat, silently, grimly, in a cavernous and spare sanctuary while a stern man in a black suit stood in an elevated pulpit and admonished us with grave fingers wagging. I was warned that death was coming for me and unless I renounced the ways of the devil and repented of my worldly pride and attachments, that my fate would be a fiery and tortuous one. I was told that there was nothing good in me and that I could never stand before the righteous judge of the earth. I was told that God has his elect and we must never question God’s ways. I was warned to keep watch for the temptations of Satan because Satan likes to provoke criticisms and doubts during times of death. Read more
I read an article a few days ago… one of those articles that asked people what they liked or didn’t like about the church… what they expected or didn’t expect from their pastors… what they wished for more of… or less of…. Some of the words that came up frequently were words like “honesty” and “authenticity.” Ok, then. Well, in that light…
When I was younger, I imagined that people who inhabited the “pastor” role had some specific set of skills that made them uniquely suited to sift through the wreckage of human pain that they encountered. I imagined that they strode confidently into rooms where people were coping with tragedy and death and doubt and loss and grief and crushing pain and anger and fear armed with just the right words for the job, just the right bible verses, just the right insight into when to give someone a hug and when to give them space, just the right prayers, just the right ability to project just the right combination of warmth and decisiveness and spiritual authority (whatever that might mean), just the right combination of attitudes and attributes to make bad situations somehow better.
And then I became a pastor. Read more
Easter is a ridiculous thing. Come to think of it, there is a ridiculous quality to so much of what we as Christians claim.
Christmas—God-in-flesh, born in a feed trough to a teenaged peasant girl. Ridiculous.
The Sermon on the Mount—an idealistic approach to life if ever there was one, a recipe for little more than getting taken advantage of and abused. Naively ridiculous.
Palm Sunday—the “triumphal entry” of a king… on a pitiful little donkey… talking about peace. Laughably ridiculous.
Maundy Thursday—a master who washes feet. Weirdly ridiculous.
Good Friday—a self-proclaimed Messiah, executed like a common criminal, going out with hardly a whimper. Pitifully ridiculous
And now, Easter— the defeat of death, as Paul says in 1 Corinthians 15:19-26? Well, “ridiculous” barely seems to cover it. Read more
Why do we eat soup during Lent? The question from a church member caught me a bit off guard as I was scrambling to get a few things together for a soup and bread Lenten lunch that our church was hosting last week. I don’t remember exactly how I responded. I think I vaguely gestured toward Lent being a season for embracing self-discipline and simplicity. “The general idea,” I said, “is that we choose not to eat as much or the same as we might during other times of the year as a way of remembering that we do not live on bread alone—to acknowledge, even in the context of abundance, that our deepest hunger is for God.” I pointed to the idea that fasting is a way of acknowledging that there is an unfinished quality to our world and to our human experience—that things are not yet as they should be, that we are not yet as we should be. Read more
My first night in the West Bank came to a rather abrupt, if expected end with the Islamic call to prayer (adhan) outside my window at 4:00 am. The song from the muezzin was haunting and beautiful. And rather longer than I expected. Given that I had collapsed into bed around 9 pm the previous evening after a long (and sleepless) few days of travel, and given that going back to sleep in the circumstances would prove spectacularly unlikely for me (I have a hard time sleeping well at the best of times, never mind when traveling), I decided I might as well do what I was told and get up to pray. Read more
“You know, in Germany there are hordes of young Syrian men raping German women.” The statement hovered in the air menacingly. I suspected that I was in for an interesting encounter as I watched him stride determinedly toward me after I gave a presentation on the Syrian refugee crisis at a local church recently. His jaw was set and his brow was furrowed. I was not expecting congratulations or affirmation for the work that I had spent the last half hour or so describing, but I wasn’t expecting anything quite this stark either. It wasn’t a question or even a potential opening to a conversation. It was a crude challenge thrown down. Or a dare. Or a provocation. You have all your nice words about Jesus and love and welcoming the stranger… Well, what do you say about this?! Read more
It was nearly 7:00 and I was staring down a long evening of back to back meetings (bible study, followed by a refugee information meeting) in the midst of a pretty frantic few weeks dominated by all manner of logistics with helping our new Syrian friends make their way in this new land. I had been up early for another refugee meeting at City Hall (I’ve been collecting committees as a hobby over these past few months) and the day had been a long one already. The kids needed to be driven hither and yon, there was a church AGM to get ready for the following day, and, as always, a sermon to prepare. And there was the looming prospect of the remainder of the week sans spouse as my wife left town this morning for a conference that will occupy the remainder of her week. All in all, I was not particularly looking forward to the evening ahead. Read more
The relationship between Muslims and Christians has been in the news a lot lately, whether because of the Syrian refugee crisis or the attacks in Paris and San Bernardino or, more recently in the Christian world, the theological controversy generated by a Wheaton College professor Larycia Hawkins’ comments about Muslims and Christians worshiping the “same God” (and her being subsequently placed on administrative leave). There are no shortage of polarizing opinions out there and no lack of enthusiasm in sharing them. Read more
I consumed two pieces of media before breakfast today. I was unable to sleep and stumbled downstairs ridiculously early for a day off with the kids on Christmas holidays. I plugged in the Christmas tree, made a pot of coffee, and settled into the wonderful pre-dawn stillness of the darkest day of the year. Read more
Sometimes, when I find it hard to pray, when faith, hope, and love are threatening to dry up, I zero in on a handful of desperate pleas from a handful of desperate people who come across Jesus in the gospels. A hated tax collector in the temple, for example. Have mercy on me, a sinner. A thoroughly befuddled Peter after Jesus had spoken strange words about “eating his flesh” and “drinking his blood.” Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life. A leper on a hillside. If you are willing, you can make me clean. A blind beggar on the road to Jericho. I want to see. Read more