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Posts from the ‘Jesus’ 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.

Something Has to Be Done About All This Hate

After Saturday’s shooting at a synagogue in Pittsburgh, Donald Trump offered this diagnosis of our cultural moment:

It’s a terrible, terrible thing what’s going on with hate in our country, frankly, and all over the world. And something has to be done.

Indeed. All the hate is terrible. And something does have to be done. Many of us wonder if one of the first things that might be done would be for Mr. Trump to have a glance in the mirror (or his Twitter feed) and ponder some of the ways he might have contributed to “what’s going on with hate in our country,” but there is truth, however clumsily put, in what the US president says. What, then, is to be done about all this hate? Read more

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

Why Appreciate a Pastor?

I was forwarded an email yesterday about “Pastor Appreciation Month.” I think I vaguely knew that this was a thing, but I had no idea that it was upon us. Apparently, one of the ways that my church can show appreciation to me is to give me a gift certificate for a discount on books. It’s a nice gesture. But honestly the last thing I need is more books. I already have a dozen waiting to be read and I have probably reached that stage of life and ministry where I am less optimistic than I once was that a book holds the key to whatever intellectual, pastoral, or administrative deficiencies I daily inflict upon my church. But, again, a nice gesture. And it got me pondering a rather simple question: Why appreciate a pastor? Read more

Nothing is Given?

A headline on Facebook this afternoon caught my eye. It came from one of those Christian sites that’s always hunting around in popular culture (movie stars, athletes, etc.) for any whiff of a reference to God or faith. The headline in this case was “Drew Brees Gave a Moving Interview About Faith After Breaking the All-Time Passing Record Last Night.” Brees is a quarterback who plays for the New Orleans Saints. As of Monday night, he’s also apparently the all-time leading pastor in NFL history. So, he’s a pretty big deal. The headline on Facebook was accompanied by the words, “Grab the tissues.” Against my better judgment, I clicked the link. Read more

On Hanging Out With Losers (And Other Existential Detours)

I have a dirty, shameful secret to confess. It’s a secret that will likely lay waste to my credentials as a pastor of integrity and compassion, a thinker of anything resembling depth and insight, a citizen with more or less centre-left politics, or even a reasonably decent and upstanding human being. It’s a secret that I do not expose to the light of day lightly. Truth be told, it would be far safer to keep it consigned to the murky shadows. No matter. My sins must be expunged.

My secret? Last week, I read a book by Jordan Peterson. Read more

Life and Love, In Progress

Perhaps it’s an utterly ordinary affliction of mid-life, but I find myself wondering often these days about what it means to make progress along the journey of life, whether this progress is physical, relational, professional, emotional, spiritual, or all of the above. It’s fairly normal, I suppose, to reach a certain stage of life and ask questions like, “Ok, how am I doing? Have I gotten any better at anything? Am I more disciplined now than I was at twenty-three? Have certain convictions grown sturdier? Is my faith stronger? Are my relationships healthier? Am I more confident in my vocation? Have I become a better husband, a more devoted father, a more faithful friend? Am I progressing on anything like a more hopeful arc in these important domains of life? Read more

Will God Forgive Us Our Addiction to Junk?

I’ve often been asked a variation of a single question over the past few weeks. So what insights are you taking out of your sabbatical? It’s a natural enough question, I suppose, even if there’s a bit of pressure built into it. The expectation sometimes seems to be that three months away will have yielded a host of spiritual breakthroughs or ministry strategies or transformative insights. And those, as it happens, are in short supply during these last days of summer. Nothing quite that exciting, I’m afraid. I hope people won’t be too disappointed that I’m returning as roughly the same person that departed several months ago.  Read more

“Nature is My Sanctuary…” But Jesus Keeps Dragging Me Back to Church

There’s this mildly irritating phrase that I have encountered with some frequency over the course of the decade or so that I have been a pastor. I’m sure you’ve encountered something like it in your own circles, particularly in these post-Christian, post-church, post-everything times. Oh, I don’t mind church, but, you know, I encounter God best in creation. That’s where I worship. Nature is my sanctuary. Indeed. When I am on the receiving end of this phrase, I usually smile and nod in as gracious a fashion as I can muster. Inwardly, I am often thinking very un-Christian thoughts. Of course nature is your sanctuary. A rather convenient justification for avoiding this one, I would say. Read more

How the Bible Sounds in Occupied Territory

One more reflection based on my time spent in Palestine and Israel over the past few weeks. After this, I shall endeavour to give this “blogging sabbatical” thing another, better try.

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It’s an interesting thing how geography and social location affects the way you read and hear Scripture. Most Sundays, I am reading and hearing Scripture as a relatively comfortable, white, middle-class Christian in a more or less peaceful country where religion often occupies a peripheral (at best) role in most people’s thinking and living. This affects how I read and hear the words of the Bible. My default, whether I want this or not, tends to be to listen in ways that will more or less endorse and validate myself and those who are like me. This is, as I said, most Sundays. Last Sunday, however, I worshiped in Palestine.

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Somewhere to Be

I know I’m technically on a “blogging sabbatical,” but I decided to interrupt it to offer a few reflections and observations on a trip I’m presently on to Israel and Palestine. One of the things we consistently hear wherever we go in this conflicted area is, “Tell others what you have seen and heard with your own eyes and ears.” It’s a serious call, and one that I feel an obligation to respond to given the privilege that I have of being here. Here are some assorted stories and reflections from my first few days here. Read more

Older Brothers

I made a rather remarkable discovery yesterday. Well, remarkable to me, at any rate. I have only preached one sermon on the parable of the lost (or prodigal) son in ten years (and that was seven years ago). This surprised me because it’s one of my favourite stories that Jesus tells. I’ve written about it a fair bit on this blog. I’ve described it in pretty breathless terms. But I haven’t preached on it much. This seems a rather glaring omission. Read more

Same Jesus

Last night our little church had the opportunity to hear from what is a bit of a rarity in southern Alberta: a Syrian Orthodox priest. We have a connection with Father Lukas Awad that goes back three years. I first met him when he was touring the province with a group connected to MCC Alberta. Through a series of events, this initial meeting led to our group of churches sponsoring families from his parish in Homs that were refugees in Lebanon at the time. Father Lukas has thirteen families from his parish scattered throughout the province of Alberta, including six here in Lethbridge.  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

In Search of a Holy Week

Holy Week is upon us, and with it the usual wearisome parade of articles and blog posts and podcasts offering more palatable understandings of Christian faith and crosses and empty tombs than the dreary orthodox fare. Rational people can obviously no longer be expected to believe the outdated and unbelievable story of miracles and dying for sins and actual coming-back-from-the-dead. But the narrative of Holy Week is still deemed to have a few residual nuggets of potential worth mining for us in our spiritual journeys. You’ll be relieved to know. Read more

Be Careful What You Ask For

I was at a lunch this week where Matthew 20:20-28 was read devotionally before the meal. It’s the passage where the mother of James and John seeks to stake out some territory for her sons in the kingdom of God that Jesus was always going on about and which she believed was imminent. “Grant that one of these two sons of mine may sit at your right and the other at your left in your kingdom.” They’ve been good boys, after all. They’ve left everything to follow Jesus. They’ve puzzled over his strange teaching, witnessed his miracles, and are now trembling with anticipation at the triumph that is surely coming. They’re primed to rule with Jesus and they’d like a front row seat (and a bit of power) when the action starts. Read more

A Miserable Human Being

I love mankind; it’s people I can’t stand.

— Linus Van Pelt

I suspect that most of us can, at various points of our lives and to varying degrees, identify with this statement that Peanuts creator Charles Schulz puts in the mouth of good old Linus. “Humanity” as an abstract category seems entirely worthy of love and good will. Individual human beings? Well, that’s another matter entirely. 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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