Troy* never reads from the bible when it’s his turn at the jail. “I can’t read,” he says. “Well, I can read… I can read when it’s charts and bullet points and diagrams and s*** like that, but not when it’s just a bunch of endless lines on a page. I get mixed up. I’ve got dyslexia or something. I’ve got a lot of things.” I don’t doubt this. He often rocks back forth on his chair, his hands drawing patterns on the page of a bible that is rarely opened to the right passage. Sometimes he whispers to himself while the conversation is going on around him. I always assure Troy that it’s fine if he doesn’t want to read. He listens, though. I know he does because he’s never short on commentary. Read more
Last year, I wrote a post called “Thick Like Honey, Sweet Like Grace.” The title came from a quote in Matthew Perry’s recent biography. It was Perry’s own description of encountering God in the pit of his despair and addiction. The post was a reflection on the lack of this kind of “existential urgency” in some (not all) “progressive” Christian circles. It was a plea not to swap out a political agenda for an existential one. To not forget, in all our important talk and work for social justice, that there is an irreducibly personal and affective dimension to Christian faith. To speak urgently of both justice and mercy. There is room for both. We need both. Desperately so, it would seem, given the barrage of articles these days outlining how sad and lonely and anxious and hopeless so many people feel, particularly the young. 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
There are times when it seems like the Psalms are trying to talk themselves into something. Into a certain view of the world and how it works. Into a formula for avoiding suffering and attaining blessing. I know the right answer on the theology test is that the Psalms are the prayer book of the church and that they give us a language of prayer for the life of faith, but sometimes the Psalms just sound tone-deaf, at best, and utterly false and misleading at worst. Read more
I spent Monday morning in a packed hotel conference room full of community leaders who had been summoned to hear a presentation on a plan initiated by our city called the “Community Wellbeing and Safety Strategy.” Like many cities, ours is facing significant challenges. Poverty, homelessness, crime, lack of affordable housing, and, of course, the scourges of addiction, mental health issues, and racism that bleed into all of the others. The opioid crisis is hitting our city hard. It is hitting the indigenous population particularly hard. And this spins out into all kinds of social realities that heighten suspicions and diminish good will in our community. The picture of the reality on the ground we were presented with was bleak. “We can’t fix these problems on our own,” the city representatives said. “We need your help.” Read more
Last night, I conducted my eight Ash Wednesday service. I still feel like an utter novice at it. It feels like I am playing make believe, engaging in rites and rituals that I have no business attempting. Last night, incredibly, I forgot my lines (“Remember that you are dust and to dust you shall return… except, when you forget, evidently!). Each year, I make a mess of producing the ashes. I dutifully save last year’s branches from Palm Sunday, but in the process of burning and oiling them I usually end up with a chunky mess filled with inconvenient strands of palm branch. One year, on a particularly windy Ash Wednesday, I almost burned my back deck down. I’m only half-joking. All in all, not the most impressive Ash Wednesday record. Read more
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
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…
To err is human, Alexander Pope famously said in his Essay on Criticism. Yes, it certainly is. And the more experience I have with this being human business, the more evidence I am afforded of this unpleasant truth. Read more
Often when people find out that I’m a pastor for the first time, they will gradually, at some point in the conversation, summon the requisite courage or boldness or curiosity to ask some version of the question, So what do you actually do all day? I will usually “um” and “ah” and “well, you see” for a while, before settling on things like sermons, worship preparation, writing, visiting folks, various administrative tasks, and whittling away at the ever-present mountain of email that is the bane of twenty-first century existence among the joyful privileges of participating in the Lord’s work. [Ahem] I don’t very often get to say things like, Well, this week, I’m actually spending a bit of time with an international journalist who is in town working on a story about our community’s responses to the Syrian refugee crisis. Like, roughly never. Read more
I heard an advertisement on the radio while driving around today. A restaurant was offering one free glass of wine per person for every visit over a certain period of time. After
frantically altering my lunch plans and stampeding down to this restaurant for an 11:00 lunch snorting derisively at the moral decay and transparent desperation evident in such a marketing campaign, I got to making a few (mostly unflattering) comparisons in my head between restaurants and churches as I meandered along the errand trail for the rest of the morning. Read more
One day, three conversations.
1. I’m at a function where my job is to give a short devotional and prayer before the meal. Pastor-y stuff. You know. I’m trying to be witty, disarming, light. I make some throwaway comment about how I know we’re all hungry and that the soup smells good, but please won’t you just spare 5 minutes or so for the presence to descend? I do my thing. Appreciative smiles, all around. Let’s eat. Read more
I sometimes think of strange things on the way to work. Today is April 8, 2014. Yesterday it was 20 degrees Celsius here in southern Alberta. This morning it is snowing. This seemed somehow wrong to me as I was driving down the highway this morning. Yesterday the window was open. Today the defrost is on and there is snow on the hood of my car. Yes, this is very wrong indeed.
As I was pondering the deep and mysterious wrongness of southern Alberta weather patterns, I began to wonder about other wrong things in our world. I began to wonder about how many things are said, each day, in our communities, cities, nations, and world, that are wrong. How many factual errors? How much sloppy and inaccurate reporting? How many people pronouncing upon things they know little about? How much of noisy chatter in Internet-land is simply misinformed and incorrect? How are we able to wade through all this wrongness and still function? Read more
Lent is a time when we talk often about “wilderness experiences”—about times when things are hard, when God seems absent, when we seem disoriented or stressed or lonely or bored or anxious or whatever. “The wilderness” becomes a kind of placeholder for an experience or set of experiences that happen to us. A season we must endure or grow through, a challenge we must rise to, a test we must pass, a necessary part of the journey of faith.
I think this is mostly an appropriate way to use wilderness language. Mostly. Read more
A few stray strands from the week that was that I am trying to connect on a glorious hoar-frosted Friday morning….
One of the cool traditions that our church is a part of is what is called “Lenten lunches.” Every Thursday throughout Lent, a different church in our city opens its doors to sisters and brothers from other denominations for a short devotional, followed by a simple lunch of soup and bread. Yesterday, I was at a table with a few other pastors and the conversation inevitably turned to the demands of ministry, the sometimes seemingly endless meetings, the overwhelming needs of people that we are so often powerless to meet, the importance of boundaries, etc. There was plenty of knowing nodding and mm-hmming. But then there was a pause… and a comment from an Anglican minister: “But isn’t the invitation to Christ on some level an invitation to die?” Read more
There aren’t many good radio stations in the city I live in. Like, roughly zero. But for a few glorious moments this morning the heavens opened, the clouds parted, and a shaft of wondrous auditory light suffused my little Volkswagen Jetta as I flitted about, running errands on a windswept prairie day. U2’s “One” was playing on the radio. It’s probably my favourite song. Ever. I hadn’t heard it for months, maybe even a year. And here it was! On a crappy Lethbridge radio station that ordinarily dispenses a nauseating combination of top-40 pop trash and mid-eighties light rock (think Katy Perry and Chicago back to back)! Such rapture, such undeserved grace! It was almost more than I could bear. Read more
Remember that you are dust and that to dust you shall return.
These words have been spoken in churches around the world this Ash Wednesday and will be spoken later today in our own church. These words are a call to ponder our mortality, to examine our souls and repent for our sins, to begin the slow march to the cross of Christ and to the new life of resurrection on the other side. Read more
It’s mid-afternoon and it’s been one of those scattered, disjointed days. Office equipment malfunctioning, the seemingly constant pinging of email, several conversations about how to do this or that better, and what the church ought to consider doing, and what a healthy church looks like, and not getting my sermon done, and thinking ahead to a funeral for a friend tomorrow, and how are we going to get the kids to their various activities tonight, and don’t forget to stop at the bank, and remember to call so-and-so about such-and such, and, and, and…. Read more