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Posts from the ‘Hope’ Category

On Excessive Enthusiasm

It’s almost the definition of a calling that there is a strong inner resistance to it. The resistance is not practical—how will I make money, can I live with the straitened circumstances, etc.—but existential: Can I navigate this strong current, and can I remain myself while losing myself within it? Reluctant writers, reluctant ministers, reluctant teachers—these are the ones whose lives and works can be examples. Nothing kills credibility like excessive enthusiasm.

— Christian Wiman, He Held Radical Light

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Christian Wiman writes sentences that sound so good that you’re convinced that even if they’re not true, they probably should be. Like that last one: “Nothing kills credibility like excessive enthusiasm.” I laughed out loud the first time I read it. It brought to mind the many eager beaver pastor-preneurs I’ve encountered over the years, people who so obviously craved the stage and all that went with it, people so utterly convinced that they could save every lost soul by the sheer force of their own conviction (and often volume). Or the people who are just a bit too desperate to plaster themselves and their causes all over social media, as if almost to overwhelm people with the innumerable exciting things that they are presently catalyzing. I have rarely found such people credible. Who are you trying to convince or impress? I often mutter unholily under my breath. No, I have never much appreciated the fevered sales pitch, religious or otherwise.

I don’t know if Wiman is right in his claim that calling comes along with a strong inner resistance to it. It certainly resonates with my own story (I have rarely been accused of “excessive enthusiasm”), but that doesn’t necessarily mean it’s true. It could just mean that birds of a feather flock together. It also jives with a few biblical figures—Moses, David, Jeremiah, Paul, and even Jesus could plausibly be construed as exhibiting a kind of reluctance in the face of what God had set before them. But of course, most of us can think of people who are both enthusiastic and credible—people whose lives and leadership are characterized by a settled, joyful confidence and conviction about what they are to be and do in the world. I admire these people. Truly. There is nothing inherently virtuous about reluctance.

For me, the interesting sentence in the quote above is this one:

Can I navigate this strong current, and can I remain myself while losing myself within it?”

Ah, yes. That’s the challenge.

I don’t speak for all pastors, I know, but on my more charitable days I assume that most of us embraced the call, however reluctantly, because we were hungry for God and for the things of God. This isn’t experienced in the same way by every person, of course, but most of us were, once upon a time, taken hold of by Christ and his way in the world, and felt compelled to respond to this, whether in writing or speaking or forming and serving communities of faith or whatever. But then, “the call” came to seem like something less than it once was. The existential longing that once drove us to Christ and his church gave way to budget meetings and “church revisioning” conferences and schedules and planning and administrative details that seem never to end and half-empty worship services and doom-and-gloom sociological prognostications about the future of the church. It can be very easy to lose yourself and what once animated you in the strong current of “business as usual.” Nothing so reliably kills existential urgency as “business as usual.”

Whether we are reluctant or excessively enthusiastic or somewhere in between, I suspect that we all have moments in our lives and callings where we need to be reminded of and reanimated by the urgency, mystery, and excitement of what once drove us. Perhaps it is a conversation or a crisis, an unbidden moment of clarity, an unmerited act of mercy. Perhaps it’s a flash of light along the road, a still small voice in moments when we were quiet enough to actually listen. Who knows, it may even be a budget meeting or a visioning process. The risen Christ has all kinds of creative ways to remind and reroute his wayward children.

Or maybe it’s a few sentences on a page that call you back to what was once true, what you feel ought always to be true. A few sentences that remind you that life is, truly, a beautiful, terrifying, holy mystery. Like these, for example, from Wiman:

31CAxu7TYYL._SX329_BO1,204,203,200_And all for what? Those moments of mysterious intrusion, that feeling of collusion with eternity, of life and language riled into one wild charge.

Ah yes, the feeling of “collusion with eternity.” The “one wild charge” that once lit a fire in our souls. A feeling and a charge that could almost drive one to excessive levels of enthusiasm.

On Getting Your House in Order

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

We Are Placed Among Things That Are Passing Away

Grant that I, Lord, may not be anxious about earthly things, but love things heavenly; and even now, while I am placed among things that are passing away, hold fast to those that shall endure…

I read these words in my prayer book this morning. I have prayed these words before, at times rushing past them mechanically, at times supplying a quick inventory of the things in my life that tend to make me anxious, at times pondering the heavenly things that I ought to be loving instead of the earthly things that so easily take hold of my fickle affections. But I’ve never spent much time on that middle clause: “even now, while I am placed among things that are passing away.” Read more

How to Be a Bad Theologian

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

For Those Who Want to Grieve in a Religious Way

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

On Divided Hearts

As I’ve mentioned before, I often join a few Anglican colleagues for morning prayers on Wednesdays. When I do so, I invariably come away with something to ponder from the Scriptures we read together and the traditional prayers that we join our voices with. This morning’s Psalm was a portion from the longest of them all, Psalm 119. Our reading began with these words: I hate those with divided hearts…

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Do You Love Me?

I’ve been spending some time this week pondering Jesus’ restoration of Peter in John 21. Like the best stories in Scripture, it is one that we have little trouble locating ourselves in. It is a story of failure and forgiveness, of restoration and healing. It is a story that gladdens our hearts with the hope of what might yet be possible despite our many missteps and misdeeds. It is a story portends what love can cost for those who give it and those who receive it.  Read more

The Magic Wears Off

Up here in the Great White North (and it truly is white these days, caught as we are in the grip of a wintry blast!), the media has been having fun with our dear Prime Minister’s “peoplekind” comment delivered at a recent town hall in Edmonton. Some young woman made the calamitous error of using the word “mankind” in her essay-length question, and, as luck would have it, our fearless leader deigned to correct her. “We like to say ‘peoplekind,’ not necessarily ‘mankind.’ It’s more inclusive.” Well, yes. “Mankind” is a perilously uninclusive word (I know “uninclusive” isn’t technically a word, but if our PM can make up words, so can I). Also, “peoplekind” is much more 2018, much more fitting for our enlightened, unshackled times. Granted, a white middle aged man telling a young woman what words she’s allowed to use doesn’t sound very feminist, but I suppose I’ll have to defer to those more knowledgeable about such things.  Read more

Dwell With Us

“I think that the Christian doctrine of redemption—this idea that we need to be “redeemed” from something—is just wrong. And it’s done all kinds of harm.” The comment came in the midst of an invigorating and wide-ranging conversation with an acquaintance over coffee recently. It was one of those delightful encounters where the person you’re talking with is much smarter than you—where you feel like you’re kind of scrambling to keep up. It was good exercise for the brain. Read more

Jesus Hangs in My Honda      

Jesus hangs from the mirror of my 2002 Honda Accord. He’s up on his cross, arms outstretched. He’s skinny. His knees are knobby and his ribs are showing. His face is directed downward. He looks sad, lonely, defeated. A few beads up from Jesus on the cross, his mom looks down at her baby boy. I doubt she imagined that her son would ever end up with arms outstretched on a Roman cross, sadly looking down at and forgiving those who didn’t know what they were doing.

I picked Jesus up a few years ago in Jerusalem. Read more

When I Grow Up I Want to Be a Human Being

Two recent conversations have me thinking about what I want to be when I grow up.

The first was with a recruiter for a Christian university over coffee a few days ago. I asked her about common questions that she gets from parents considering post-secondary education for their kids. She sighed, and listed off what was an unsurprising itemization of the requisite programs and degrees that would get their child the right kinds of jobs in the future. We mused about how little interest students (or educators) seem to have these days in things like virtue or being properly formed as human beings. Education is about dumping facts into brains so that these brains can then go out into the world and make money. You can figure out what kind of a person you want to be on your own time. Or not. So it seems, at any rate. Read more

Sparrows

My wife tells me that I shouldn’t read the news because the news makes me sad. Or angry. Or confused or helpless or despairing or apathetic or cynical. Or some toxic combination of all of the above. She’s probably right. She’s right about a lot of things. Read more

Maybe There’s a Good God

A friend of mine is a therapist. Sometimes she tells me about difficult conversations, painful stories, helpless moments. She’s always careful to keep things confidential and to protect her clients, of course, but even nameless sadness needs to go somewhere.  Sometimes she asks me to pray. And I do. Pray, that is. Because I almost never know what to say. Read more

Something Like the Grace of God

Whenever I drive through the reserve, I’m always struck by how little seems to have changed over the last thirty years. I remember coming to play hockey here as a kid, remember how it seemed like a different world to me. And it kind of was—and still is, at least taken at face value. The windswept barren prairies in the shadow of the Rocky Mountains, the haphazard housing, the run down buildings that dot the the side of the road as we enter and leave the tiny town, the signs of poverty and chaos, the ominous billboard as you enter warning of the fentanyl crisis, urging indigenous youth to say no to drugs—“The drug dealers don’t care about you, they just want your money!” There was a recent article in the local paper saying that tribal police were considering requiring visitor permits for anyone coming on to the reserve in an effort to curtail the impact of the drug trade. If you’re going to the reserve with a narrative of hopelessness in your head, it won’t be hard to have it confirmed. Read more

Cross My Heart

“I have a complaint to make.” The comment was made by a member of our church who periodically drops in on me Tuesday mornings. The twinkle in his eye and the grin on his face signaled that this “complaint” was more of an observation or a conversation starter than an actual grievance. “We must have been the most “crossed” church around on Easter Sunday morning,” he said. “I counted at least four!” I thought back to our service and found that I couldn’t disagree. Read more

“Christ Did Not Die for the Good and Beautiful”

I finally got a chance to see Silence over the weekend. The film arrived late in our town, and even then only in the second-run theatre (I imagine its themes were probably deemed “too religious,” and therefore not profitable enough for mass consumption). The film is Martin Scorcese’s long-awaited adaptation of Shūsaku Endō’s 1966 novel of the same name, and is set in the context of the 17th century persecution of Japanese Christians by the Inquisitor Inoue. It is a masterfully made film based on a beautifully written novel that asks hard questions about the nature of martyrdom and faith and fidelity and suffering, and, of course, about the silence of God.  Read more

“I Don’t Really Care If I Die”

I was precariously winding my way through snow-covered streets in my neighbourhood a few days ago, trying to keep moving so as not to get stuck. At one point, I glided through and unmarked intersection coming out of an alley, and just as I crossed the sidewalk I noticed a young man less than a meter from my side window. I wasn’t going fast—certainly not fast enough to do any kind of damage—but it still felt like a bit of a close call.  Read more

Do Not Be Afraid

Each year around Christmastime for the last decade or so, our family has a tradition of watching the entire Lord of the Rings trilogy (extended versions, of course). We spread it out over six nights—a full week immersion into Middle Earth, as it were. Over the last two or three years, my ears have invariably perked up during Bilbo’s conversation with Gandalf near the beginning of the first film. Bilbo is tired and conflicted and ready to leave everything and everyone behind. Then, this memorable and evocative line: I feel thin, sort of stretched, like butter scraped over too much bread.  Read more