On Friday night I went with a friend to a concert at a local club. It was a good show—just three guys with their guitars, and a packed room. But one of the singers insisted upon ruining the cheery vibe. He kept talking about how the world was in such a bad place, and about how he didn’t know if or how we were ever going to get ourselves out of the messes that we have made. Read more
In the course of a given week, I consume and produce a lot of words. I read books and articles, newspapers and blog posts, denominational publications and the detritus of social media. I send and receive what feels like roughly a billion texts/emails/messages per day. I pour forth my own stream of words via this blog and other forums. Many days, it feels like I am drowning in words. I suspect I am not alone in this. To say that in the digital age words are cheap and ubiquitous, disposable and forgettable is to simply add a few more to the pile. We have become grazers on words, rarely pausing to let them affect us in the ways that they should or could.
Every once in a while, though, a few good words will penetrate the fog of dull half-attention and listless consumption that is so easy to default to. Read more
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
Back in May, I went to the opening night of U2’s 30th Anniversary Joshua Tree Tour. I have, consequently, been listening to what I think is one of the greatest albums ever made (although maybe only U2’s second best) off and on ever since. I listen to it in the car on the way to work, in the headphones while I’m writing, and while sitting with friends on the patio on warm late spring evenings. It’s crazy how an album I’ve been listening to off and on for thirty years doesn’t seem to get old.
A few nights ago, “I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For” came through the little Bluetooth speaker on the patio table. As the song approached its lyrical and musical climax, the familiar words soared through the spring air:
I believe in the Kingdom Come
Then all the colours will bleed into one
Last night the kids and I went Christmas caroling with some friends from church. For whatever reason, I haven’t done this much over the years. But my daughter had been enthusiastic about it all week. And my son, well, we bribed him with the prospect of pizza after our caroling was done. Read more
I have been known, on exceedingly rare occasions, to exasperate my children (and my wife… and, um, other people…) with my insistence that language be used with as much precision and accuracy as possible. Many a pleasant mealtime has been rudely interrupted by a certain irritating someone insisting that a word was being used incorrectly. An unwelcome rupture in the proceedings, if ever there was one, and invariably followed by withering glares and the measured rolling of eyes. Still, I bravely soldier on. We all have our crosses to bear. Read more
Yesterday morning began with a heavy fog. Heavy and portentous, as it turned out, because my day matched the weather outside. Foggy, dull, grey. It was one of those days where it’s difficult to summon the energy to contribute anything of value to the world. Days when it feels like a victory to make it to bed time without causing a fight or forgetting something or failing someone. Days when a kind of uncreative lethargy moves unbidden into the living room, kicks off its shoes and rudely puts its feet up on the table. Read more
My wife loves thrift shops. She spends hours in them, unearthing all manner of hidden gems for herself, for the kids, for me. I, on the other hand, do not love thrift shops. Not even a little bit. Where my wife sees endless possibility and the challenge of hunting down a good bargain, I see a warehouse full of stuff that other people (quite rightly) didn’t want. On the rare occasion that I find myself in a thrift shop with my wife, I usually end up spending ten perfunctory minutes drifting through the book section and then resignedly making my way to the parking lot to wait until my ordeal is done. 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 got into the car this morning in a bit of a surly mood. A few things hadn’t gone as I had anticipated the previous day, I had received an unwelcome email that morning, and I was behind on sermon prep. Again. I stabbed the key into the ignition only to be greeted by the ear-splitting strains of the local top 40 station that my wife and daughter were, evidently, listening to on the way home from their evening activities last night. The part of the song that I was forcibly subjected to heard before frantically locating the combination of knobs that could lower the volume and/or change the station went something like, This is my fight song, take back my life song… Read more
The day started promisingly enough. I opened my eyes and the sun was trickling through the blinds. I remembered that it was Monday, and that Monday was my day off, and that I like Mondays. I thought about a leisurely morning spent in the front porch sun with a good book and a cup of coffee. I sighed contentedly. Yes, very promising indeed. And then I got out of bed. Read more
I spent part of my day off yesterday watching The Secret Life of Walter Mitty. There’s a great scene and a great line near the end of the film where Walter Mitty (played by Ben Stiller), the “negative assets manager” for Life magazine and, at least as we are led to believe at the beginning of the film, quite possibly the world’s dullest human being, finds himself, through a strange set of circumstances on top of a mountain in the Himalayas. In the scene, he has just (literally) stumbled across Sean O’Connell (played by Sean Penn), the reclusive, elusive world-travelling photographer whose work Walter has been processing for many long years at the magazine, and who he has been trying to find for the whole film. Read more
The mind of a teenage boy is, I am discovering, a fearful and wonderful thing. Beautiful, strange, unpredictable, irrational, surprisingly generous, unspeakably kind, maddening… All within a few hours, sometimes. Yesterday, I bought my son new strings for his guitars as a few of the old ones had snapped. He came home from a youth event at 10:00 convinced that now was the time to re-string his guitars and not go to bed. His father disagreed and the stage was set for a rather unpleasant end to the day.
But the sun is in the habit of rising anew each day, full of promise and possibility.
I’ve written here before about delightful “holy moments” that I have experienced in the church I serve (see here and here, for example). These are often moments when something unexpected happens, something that spills out of our careful containers of planning and order, something that points simply, poignantly, and powerfully to the hope of the gospel in a way that no eloquent sermon or finely crafted liturgy ever could. I love these moments. Even when I don’t notice them. Read more
A few years ago, when I was taking my first steps in my present role as pastor, a church member timidly approached me sometime around mid-December with a question: “I know it’s Advent, and Advent is about waiting, but would you be OK if we sang some Christmas carols during the Sundays before December 25?” The question was probably more pragmatic than theological. Our church doesn’t have a Christmas day service, and the Sunday between Christmas and New Years is usually among the most lightly attended of the year. There simply weren’t as many opportunities to sing these dearly loved songs as some people would like!
One does not typically expect to encounter theological inspiration at a church finance meeting. Well, I suppose some might, but I do not number myself among such strange creatures. For most of this week’s church business meeting, things proceeded according to the script. There were facts and figures and updates and PowerPoint slides and motions and seconders to motions and questions and clarifications and dialogue and decisions and then we were done.
I watched part of the Grammy Awards last night. The decision-making process was a tortuous one. I had serious reservations about the worthiness of the Grammys to occupy my Sunday evening time due to, a) the overhyped, oversexed, undertalented spectacle it seems to have become; and b) the fact that I was far from convinced that I needed to spend over a third of the next few hours subjecting myself to mindless advertising. As it happens, the stasis produced by a fairly exhausting weekend full of church activities won out over my myriad principled objections to watching the Grammys. The best laid plans, and all that. Read more
Like hundreds of millions of my fellow humans, I spent part of Sunday watching the Super Bowl. I don’t particularly care for American football (I prefer the real version, where they don’t wear armour and stop for a break every 10 seconds or so), but we were invited to someone’s place to watch the game, and there was to be good food and good people present, so off I went. And, leaving aside the mind-numbing tedium of so much advertising and hype and endless time outs (some unexpected) and the bizarre pre- mid- , and post-game commentary about how God may or may not have been involved in the outcome, it was a pretty good game. Read more