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Posts from the ‘Pastoral Ministry’ Category

COVID Conversations Over Breakfast

A few field notes from a conversation with my wife over breakfast this morning…

“I think I might be able to get used to this social distancing thing,” my wife says. I think she might be kidding, but perhaps only slightly. One thing this virus has forced many of us to do is to fairly drastically alter the pace of our lives. We’re not running around to endless meetings and the gym and yoga class and chasing the kids’ sporting calendar and the social obligations that so easily clog up our calendars. We’re being forced to sit. At home. Often without anything pressing to do. Read more

I Don’t Think I Want to Get Better at This

Sometime earlier this week, I read the post of some pastor of a small church somewhere out there in Internet-land who said his modest goal for the week was to “record a sermon that didn’t resemble a grainy Taliban capture video.” That made me laugh. And it was a sentiment that obviously resonated for many of us who pastor small churches and for whom the idea of recording or livestreaming services would have seemed absurd even a few weeks ago, whether for philosophical or technological reasons. Or both. Read more

On Ambient Violence

Two women recently came to our church looking for help. Both were victims of domestic violence, both had children in the picture, both were indigenous, both desperately poor, both out of options. Both stories were soaked in their own unique varieties of heartache and pain. And yet, both stories were sadly, predictably, damnably ordinary. Read more

Dispatches from the Breaking Point

Last Saturday morning, I, like many others, gasped as I read Ian Brown’s Globe and Mail article describing how L’Arche founder Jean Vanier had sexually abused six women over a period of several decades and known of abuses committed by his former mentor and spiritual director, Père Thomas Philippe. I had received a heads-up from local L’Arche leaders that “something about Vanier might be coming” (our church has close ties with the L’Arche community in our city), but most seemed to think that it might have to do with what and when Vanier knew about Père Thomas’s abuses. I certainly wasn’t expecting anything like what I read in the Globe last weekend. Read more

Fix the System, Fix the Problem?

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

A Fool’s Errand

I’ve been out in Winnipeg this week attending a pastor’s conference on faith formation in a secular age. At one point during yesterday’s proceedings, the keynote speaker, Andrew Root, asked a couple of gut-level questions—questions that most of us feel on some level or another, but rarely name so bluntly. Why does faith formation seem so hard in this time and place? Why does it feel so hard to be a pastor in this time and place? Read more

The Third Option

The early days of January are a quite natural slice of time for taking stock, personally, professionally, relationally, existentially. These are the days when we are encouraged to cast an evaluative glance in the rear-view mirror and to look purposefully ahead to what may yet be. These are the days of making resolutions that we will almost certainly break, but I suppose we can’t be faulted for that. We are wired for hope and newness and possibility. We don’t know what to do with ourselves, it seems, unless we’re expecting more from ourselves, others, and the world. Read more

Are You Looking at Me?

A strange thing happened on the way to work this morning. A blue minivan came flying up beside me on the highway and then abruptly slammed on the brakes to match my speed. I glanced over, puzzled. Was it a friend trying to get my attention? Had I cut this person off? Was my fuel cap open and flapping in the wind? My gaze was met by a woman and (I assumed) her young son in the passenger seat. She was leaning across him, gesturing wildly at me, pointing at me with two fingers, seeming to indicate that she was watching me. Or something. I really don’t know. I stared at her, more bewildered than before. Before I knew it, she had raced off ahead of me. Read more

Life Expectancy

I don’t know, I guess I kinda just feel like something’s missing in my life… you know how people talk about that God-shaped hole or whatever…?

The person on the other end of the phone was young, a member of the disappearing (in church circles) and much-coveted millennial demographic. I was initially taken aback. I had been anticipating a riveting morning of responding to emails and doing a bit sermon prep while a blizzard raged outside. But wait, what’s this? A spiritually sensitive young person calling a church to ask halting questions about God, meaning, life?! It’s the kind of scenario that many pastors assume doesn’t really happen anymore. Except, well, maybe to other pastors in other places with bigger churches. Read more

Tell Me What to Think

So, a millennial, a baby boomer and a Gen-Xer walk into a bar… —or, a church picnic, as it happens—and a surprising collision and confluence of assumptions and expectations ensues. At least it did on Sunday afternoon. The topic of conversation was critical thinking and its presence/absence in the world and the church. I’m painting in broad strokes in what follows, so I’ll have to ask your forgiveness and patience in advance. With a few stereotypes operating in the background, some surprising and not-so-surprising themes emerged in the conversation. Read more

On Simplifying

Early September is one of a handful of “new years” that many of us use to orient or mark time. The beginning of another academic year is experienced as a new beginning for many, particularly those with kids. January 1 is another, obviously. For Christians, the First Sunday of Advent would be yet another, as we mark the beginning of another year lived according to the story of Jesus. These are logical points on our calendars and in our lives for us to recalibrate, reorient, recommit, or remind ourselves of important truths. Read more

How Long?

I periodically listen to the popular podcast This American Life, hosted by Ira Glass. It’s hit and miss, for me, like most podcasts, but very often it will at least leave me with a lingering thought, an itch or two worth scratching. In this week’s episode, “The Weight of Words,” it was the prologue that provided the aforementioned itch. Read more

More, Better, Faster!

Occasionally, if I’m feeling a least mildly provocative (or if I want to see if someone is actually paying attention), I will respond to the query, “So, how’s it going” with “Good enough.” Sometimes my conversation partner will steamroll on, assuming that I have answered with one of the expected responses (“good,” “well,” “busy,” etc.). But occasionally, they’ll pause and give me a sideways glance. That one word—”enough”—throws a bit of uncertainty into what’s supposed to be a relatively thoughtless bit of social lubrication. Enough? What does that mean? Is that code for “I’m not doing well?” Is it a joke? Good enough for what? Read more

Everyone Who Asks

Give to everyone who asks you, and if anyone takes what belongs to you, do not demand it back. — Luke 6:30

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“Were you expecting two Muslim women at church this morning?” The question came from a curious church member yesterday morning about forty-five minutes before worship. I looked at her blankly. “Um, no, no I was not.” I had been just settling in to do the usual last-minute editing and printing of sermons and worship resources. It had been a full week in all kinds of ways and I was tired. I had been anticipating (i.e., desperately hoping for) a pretty straightforward Sunday morning. Alas, it seemed that a straightforward Sunday morning was not in the cards. Read more

There, But for the Grace of God…

Over the past few months, I’ve had a number of people, close to home and from afar, comment that they’ve appreciated my reflections and stories that emerge out of Monday mornings spent at the jail. I’ve obviously appreciated the affirmation, even as I sometimes privately wonder if I’m dancing a little too close to the line of voyeuristically exploiting the pain of hard stories to make a bit of theological hay. In my more optimistic moments, I believe these stories need to be told to bring a bit of humanity into a place where stereotypes and casual dismissiveness abound, to shine a light on the glimmers of hope, to bear witness to the sadness, etc. At other times, I wonder if I’m doing little more than wordily rubbernecking as I pass the scene of a car wreck. Read more

And Yet, Once More

To be a pastor is to regularly encounter people who find faith difficult. (It’s also to regularly encounter people who you suspect might find faith too easy, but that’s another post). There are all kinds of people in the post-Christian West whose faith kind of hangs by a thread. It retains a bit of nostalgic affection for Christian ethics, perhaps, and it craves the community embodied and offered, however imperfectly, by the church. It might even have an appreciation for mystery and a dim recognition that this life can’t be all there is. But it can often seem like not much more than a kind of half-hearted and undemanding openness to possibility. It’s a long way from deep conviction and bold faith in the great creeds of orthodox Christian faith. All that talk of virgin births and resurrection from the dead and judgment is too much to stomach. And so, faith often coasts along on the fumes of memory and vague longing, coughing and sputtering until it stalls on the side of the road. Read more

You Give Them Something to Eat

I spent part of this morning packaging and delivering bread. Every three years, the Mennonite-ish churches in our area pool their time, talent, and resources to organize a relief sale for MCC (the relief and development arm of our denominations). And every three years, a friend in our church uses our church kitchen to bake bread for the sale. Like, a lot of bread. Like, three hundred and fifty loaves of bread. He arrives at 4:30 in the morning, turns on CBC radio, and works until late afternoon. Sourdough, whole wheat, muesli, raisin, white… The list goes on and on. He told me that this year he’s been doing push ups for three months to prepare for the physical toll of kneading and rolling dough. It had never occurred to me that you might need to train to bake bread. But then it would never occur to me to bake three hundred and fifty loaves, either. Read more

Death of a Simple Narrative

I am learning that the jail is very often a place where simple narratives go to die.

This morning’s lesson was ostensibly about learning how to stop blaming parents and take responsibility for our own actions but, as is usually the case, the conversation tends to meander off in all kinds of loosely-related or unrelated territory. There was a younger indigenous woman who was sitting quietly while the lesson was read. She had spiky jet black hair streaked with blond, a few tattoos on her face, one that looked like a tear drop of blood. I wouldn’t have been surprised if she sat in stony silence throughout our time together. She didn’t look like she had much to say. Read more