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
Posts from the ‘Jesus’ Category
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
“A pandemic is a cruel time to die,” I mutter to myself under my breath. I am in the foyer of a palliative care home. I have been through security, filled out the barrage of COVID paperwork. I make my way over to another desk, get my temperature checked. All is good, I am told. To the best of anyone’s knowledge, I am not carrying the plague. I walk down a long hallway armed with the two security codes that I will need to finally be granted limited access to a dear old soul whose race looks nearly run. “It was easier to get into the local prison than this fourteen months ago,” I grumble to myself. 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
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 events of one week ago at the Capitol in Washington, DC have produced a veritable torrent of outrage, analysis, reaction, despair, fear, defiance, and many other things besides. The vision of a mob of rioters descending upon this hallowed symbol of democracy was unsettling, to put it mildly. Even more distressing, from a Christian perspective, was the sight of religious imagery and language (crosses, signage, etc.) on display throughout. There is a kind of perverse irony in the fact that this event took place on the Day of Epiphany, a day when Christians celebrate the revealing of Jesus Christ as the light of the world that pierces the darkness and reveals the path of peace. There was indeed a revealing on this Epiphany, but it was not of God. 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).
For what feels like the six thousandth time, I sat down at around 3:30 MT this afternoon and watched the latest COVID update from Alberta’s Chief Medical Officer of Health. I’m not sure why I do this, exactly. I suppose like everyone, I hope to see the number of new cases, hospitalizations, and deaths begin to fall. Like everyone, I watch for signs of hope that the latest round of restrictions might be lifted. Like many over the last nine months, I’ve grown sort of accustomed to useless doom-scrolling and update watching. You want to feel like you’re up to date on this miserable virus that has so radically altered our experience. This is just what we do these days, I guess. Read more
I was captivated by an article over breakfast this morning. It was about a kid from a small town in southern Alberta who has improbably made his way to a massive NCAA college football program. Ajou Ajou is the child of South Sudanese refugees who grew up in Brooks, a rough prairie town whose demographics have been transformed in the last two decades by virtue of a massive meat-packing plant that aggressively recruited around the world for labourers. His is, in many ways, a classic rags to riches story. A poor immigrant kid with plenty of obstacles, growing up in a strange land, whose drive and determination, and no small amount of God-given talent, have led him to the top. His future looks bright. He is, against all odds, a winner. Read more
Jason* pulls up in an old white pick-up truck. It’s cold outside and he’s wearing a big black jacket and oversized camo hunting pants. A worn-out toque is pulled down tight over a baseball cap. His face is weathered and worn. Long strands of blonde hair spill out underneath his headwear. His grin has plenty of gaps. There are the by-now familiar COVID greetings. We instinctively reach to shake hands, but then don’t. We ponder touching elbows, but don’t. We laugh at how awkward and forced it all feels. We make our way into the meeting room. The smell of stale smoke wafts across two meters of distance across the table. Read more
I forget where I read or heard it, but someone once remarked that you don’t need a god to have a religion, but you certainly need a devil. It’s a statement that rings true, for me. It points to the apparently ineliminable human need for an enemy to define ourselves against. Human beings seem to need a narrative of moral struggle with clear heroes and villains within which to locate ourselves and anchor our thinking and acting in the world. This is as true for the committed Christian battling a literal devil as it is for the jacked-up truck driving Albertan with a F*** Trudeau sticker plastered across the back window or the woke warrior hammering away on Twitter in a feverish attempt to expose and defeat Donald Trump and all he represents. We all seem to need our devils. Read more
I’m bald. Have been for roughly two decades. Perversely, I spent the previous two or three years before losing my hair shaving my head and bleaching the stubble that remained platinum blonde. I’m not at all filled with self-loathing for my poor choices on this score or bitter about going bald early or filled with jealousy for men my age who have full heads of hair. The fact that I pleaded with my son for most of his teenage years to grow his hair long so I could live vicariously through him has nothing to do with unresolved early-onset balding trauma. My proclivity to wear a hat anytime I’m not sleeping or preaching has nothing to do with vain contempt for my bald head. I like being bald and am fully at peace with it. Really. Read more
As human beings, we’re generally pretty lousy at grace. We long for it in our deepest and truest moments, and we desperately need it, God knows. But we often struggle to receive it. We’d prefer to earn, to justify, to merit. Grace is for the weak and that’s not us. At least this is the impression we often give. We’re even worse at extending it, particularly to those we are convinced will treat it recklessly and wastefully. Those who most need it, in other words. We are far more interested in and skilled at scorekeeping and evaluating. This is our lane and we are too often happy to stay in it. Read more
Yesterday, a group of prominent artists, writers, and academics signed an open letter in Harper’s Magazine decrying the rising tide of illiberalism and ruthlessly policed ideological conformity in public discourse. There are some impressive names on the list: Margaret Atwood, Atul Gawande, Gloria Steinem, Salman Rushdie, and J.K. Rowling are just a few of the more than one hundred fifty signatories who are growing increasingly uneasy about “cancel culture” and the censuring of any viewpoints that don’t align with the orthodoxies of the moment. Read more
Last Friday, our church took some baby steps toward reopening. Sort of. We’ve been recording worship services on Friday night so we can edit and get them out to people by Sunday morning. Last week, for the first time, we allowed a few people to be present during the recording. Attendees had to RSVP in advance, seats were spread out and each person’s place was designated. There were less than thirty people in the building, all told. There was no congregational singing, no handshakes, no hugging, no passing of offering plates, no communion, no touching of hymnals. There were masks and endless supplies of hand sanitizer. It was a rather sterile and unusual service, but then we’re getting pretty used to unusual by this point. I suspect that people were more appreciative of the opportunity to linger with friends in the parking lot after the service on a gorgeous summer evening than anything else. Read more
The clock said 5:20 when I heard my wife shuffling back into bed this morning. “I thought I heard something downstairs,” she mumbled. It was probably nothing, we both agreed. Our teenage son has been known to prowl about the house loudly foraging for food at ungodly hours of the night/morning. Or maybe it was our cat who has a capacity for producing levels of noise wildly disproportionate to his size. And there’s always the ever-present wind. There were a number of plausible explanations for the mystery sounds. Probably nothing. Read more