Next week, incredibly, you will turn sixteen. This is the point at which you would expect me to roll out every known cliché about time flying, and about how hard it is to believe that the two delightful little creatures we brought home in 2001 are stampeding—with no apparent care or concern for their parents’ nostalgia—toward young adulthood, and about how old this makes me feel, and how with each passing year I experience ever more of the creeping dread of sentimentality and anxiety-stained hope for your futures, etc. But I won’t do any of those things. I’m sure you’re relieved. 😉 Read more
Therefore God lifted him high,
and granted freely to him
the name above every name,
so that in the name of Jesus
every knee would bend,
in heaven, on earth, under the earth,
and every tongue constent.
So began today’s morning reading in the prayer book that I sometimes use. The words are familiar, as they represent an alternative wording of the famous Christ hymn of Philippians 2. Many scholars believe that this hymn represents one of the earliest liturgies of the early church, possibly even going back to a few decades after Christ’s crucifixion, resurrection, and ascension. It thus gives a fascinating window into both how the early church worshiped, who they understood Jesus to be, and what it all meant.
Therefore, God lifted him high… Read more
I was in Germany last week visiting friends and celebrating my brother’s completion of his PhD. I consequently spent a lot of time on trains and planes and had ample time for looking out of windows and thinking big thoughts. Among the things that occurred to me as I whizzed through the springtime Bavarian countryside is that you can tell a lot about someone by what or who or how they admire. The shape of our admiration speaks volumes. And of course it (almost) goes without saying that we tend to admire badly. I do, at any rate. Read more
It was cold last Sunday, and it started to snow minutes before the morning’s activities at church were to begin. I threw on a hat and some gloves and went outside to shovel the entrance to the church and a few of the closest parking spots. I like shoveling snow. My job requires little of me physically, and I enjoy expending a bit of energy. I had also been struggling to tie up a few loose ends in my sermon and I figured getting a bit of fresh and frosty air might clear my head before church began. Read more
In order to commemorate Valentines Day—a holiday I hold in only slightly higher esteem than World Turtle Day (May 23, apparently—mark your calendars)—I read a thoroughly depressing article about love and relationships. Naturally. The article was called “Unraveling Love Stories” and it reads as something like an apologia for the mid-life crisis and all the desperate and destructive flailings that it spawns. Read more
God of our salvation, all our longing is known to you, our sighing is not hidden from you…
So begins one of today’s prayers in the prayer book I use. Quite appropriately, as it turns out, for I do a lot of longing and a lot of sighing. Indeed, it seems like the older I get, the more longings I accumulate. I took an hour to make a partial list today. Read more
On the shelf beside my desk in my study sits a card with scuffed up edges and faded colours. It’s a rather plain and unassuming, artifact, on the whole. On the front, is a picture of two little kids dressed up as if on their wedding day on a dusty dirt road. The little boy seems to be barely suppressing an awkward grin as he tries to drag the girl along with him wherever he’s going. The little girl has a smile that could melt your heart or save the world, but it looks like she’s not entirely convinced about the entire enterprise. Inside the card, it says something to the effect of Naomi Jade Horii and Ryan Courtney Dueck (yes, Courtney…thanks mom and dad), together with their parents, invite you to a wedding… to share in their joy, on November 25… 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
I was talking recently with a friend about the upcoming Mennonite Church Canada Assembly in Saskatoon that I will be departing for tomorrow morning. Like many denominations, ours is wrestling with some familiar trends (aging, shrinking congregations and the institutional challenges that go along with this) and predictable issues (same-sex marriage, how to respond to our nation’s history of colonial attitudes and actions towards indigenous people, among others). And, like many (all?) denominations who live and move in the twenty-first century western world, we do not agree on how best to negotiate these trends and issues. On top of all this, our polity is of a radically congregational nature, so every major decision comes with years of consultation and clarification and feedback and response. And, at the end of all that, we usually come to the unremarkable conclusion that—surprise!—we have a wide range of opinions on a wide range of issues. Read more
The prayer book I use for Ordinary Time operates on a four-week cycle of prayers, beginning with a daily movement through the sentences of the Lord’s Prayer—the words given by Jesus in response to a request as simple as it was (and is) drenched in desperate need: “Teach us to pray.” This morning’s sentence was a very timely one: Forgive us our sins. Timely because, well, I can’t really think of a time when I don’t need to forgive or to be forgiven. Read more
Pope Francis got himself in trouble today for suggesting that the “great majority” of Catholic marriages being celebrated today are “invalid” because couples do not fully appreciate that they are making a lifetime commitment. The fact that this statement would draw criticism is puzzling, on the face of it, because who would dispute this after even a cursory glance at the world we live in? Apparently conservative critics objected to his use of the word “invalid.” Perhaps they think that this word will provide a loophole for those seeking to escape loveless marriages. At any rate, canon lawyers and media spin artists quickly went to work on words like “invalid” and “great majority,” seeking to downplay or reframe or somehow mitigate the pope’s comments and the ways in which they might be misconstrued. 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
A few years ago, I spent a week at Canadian Mennonite University in Winnipeg as “pastor in residence.” It was an interesting week full of informal conversation, public lectures, worship services, and question and answer sessions. Toward the end of the week, I attended a lunch with a group of students who were considering pastoral ministry. Near the end of our time together, I was asked a simple and entirely reasonable question: “If you could offer one piece of advice to those either considering pastoral ministry or those taking their first steps toward it, what would it be?” 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
This blog has been rather quiet over the last few weeks. There are a few reasons for this. It’s been a frantically busy period for me. The two Syrian families that our local group of churches has sponsored arrived on January 8 and since then life has been rather full. It’s a good “full,” but I collapse into bed most nights feeling utterly exhausted. Aside from that, I haven’t really felt like I’ve had much to say lately. This may simply be down to the aforementioned weariness, but I seem to go through seasons of life where I get tired of the sound of my own voice, the clang and clatter of the same old tired ideas crashing against the boundaries of my skull. There are some stretches where the sermons and blog posts and articles come quite naturally. There are other times where I bore myself to death and it feels like every word has to be dragged out of the quicksand. Read more
A lot of interesting things happened in 1995.
- Forrest Gump won Academy Award for best picture. Run Forrest, run!
- The New Jersey Devils swept the heavily favoured Detroit Red Wings to win their first Stanley Cup. I don’t think anyone watched as this was quite likely the dullest period in hockey history.
- 168 people were killed and 680 wounded in the Oklahoma City bombing.
- Quebec separatists narrowly lost a referendum for a mandate to negotiate independence from Canada.
- The Dalai Lama proclaimed 6-year-old Gedhun Choekyi Nyima as the 11th reincarnation of the Panchen Lama. Apparently the poor kid was later kidnapped by the Chinese and hasn’t been seen or heard from since.
- Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin was assassinated at a peace rally in Tel Aviv.
- There was a really bad flood in southern Alberta. Apparently it caused $100 million in damage. I remember seeing tractors in the field with water over the wheel wells.
- Burmese dissident Aung San Suu Kyi was freed from house arrest.
- eBay was founded. Shopping with computers. Hooray.
- Srebrenica and Rwanda happened. And the world still convulses with hatred and violence.
- Microsoft released Windows 95. From what I understand, things pretty much went downhill from there.
- O.J. Simpson was found not guilty of double murder for the deaths of former wife Nicole Simpson and Ronald Goldman. Justice prevails again.
- The Republic of Texas group claimed to have formed a provisional government in Texas. And they didn’t even need a wall!
- Groups like TLC and Boyz II Men were topping the Billboard charts. Apparently. I wouldn’t know as I was listening to Pearl Jam and Metallica.
- The first-ever full length computer animated feature film, Toy Story, was released by Pixar Animation Studios and Walt Disney Pictures. To infinity and beyond!
Many of these things I don’t remember very well. And it’s not just because I was a mostly inattentive and culturally clueless twenty year old, true as that undoubtedly was. My mind was on other things in 1995.