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Posts from the ‘Pastoral Ministry’ Category

Means and Ends

Are you happy? Would you like to be happier? Are there tweaks to your habits that could move you up a few notches on the happiness scale? How is happiness achieved, maintained, measured? I come across a lot of articles these days on happiness. Maybe it’s because there is so little of it out there in our depressed, anxious, and addicted times. Maybe I’ve reached that life-stage where my eyes are drawn to them like a moth to a flame. Maybe the algorithms are steering my my weary and manipulable brain down the paths they have deemed most likely to be profitable. Maybe Elon Musk is somehow to blame. Read more

Jesus Doesn’t Stop (Where We Wish He Would)

I’ve probably preached half a dozen sermons on “Doubting Thomas” over the last decade or so. Thomas and his doubt show up faithfully in the lectionary readings each year after Easter Sunday. Thomas and his stubborn needing to see to believe. Thomas and his demanding what his fellow disciples received as a gift and the surprise of a lifetime. Thomas, the recalcitrant empiricist. Read more

On Resonance: A Good Friday Reflection

I was not in the mood for an “I’m spiritual but not religious” conversation this week. I had just buried one of our church’s saints. I had been planning a vigil in honour of a young man who took his own life and processing it with those most affected by this. There was the usual fatigue of Holy Week with its multiple services to prepare. All in all, my appetite was very low for another critique of religion or the church from an earnest and painfully certain twenty-something. Read more

A Brief Pause Before the Fuller Thought

I sat with someone as they took their last breath yesterday. These are simultaneously strange and sacred spaces, where grief and relief and fear and faith weave in and out and among each other. We live and move in a culture that doesn’t really do death well. We mostly avoid it, keep it at arm’s length, outsource it, deny it. Death, even when it comes at the end of a long and faithful life, intrudes.   Read more

Life After (and Before) Death

I’ve been thinking about life after death lately. This is not a very respectable thing to spend one’s time thinking about, at least not in “progressive” theological circles. “The church has too often been too heavenly minded to be of any earthly good” and all that. Well, yes. Certainly, many zealous Christians down through the ages have obsessed about the afterlife to the quite culpable neglect of this one. Locating all one’s hope in an unobservable and undefinable future can have the effect of partitioning it off from empirical scrutiny and absolving those who hold it of any responsibility to pursue God’s justice and peace in the present. Fair enough. Read more

The Last Shall Be First

There are no trees here. There should be trees to keep company with the dead. This was the first thing I thought as I stood beside a hole in the ground in tiny cemetery on the windswept winter prairies. It felt like the middle of nowhere. I guess it kind of was. Plots are more affordable the farther you go from the city, and the family had little money. It was bitterly cold and the few souls who had gathered shuffled nervously and stamped their feet. We were waiting for one more person who was late in arriving. I looked around and saw nothing but flat farmland and blowing snow. Where are the trees? Read more

2021 in Review

It’s been… a year. Another year dominated by Covid, another year where we have vacillated between anxiety and hysteria and confusion and apathy and fear and anger and many other things besides. I cast a quick glance back at last year’s year-end post and read what I wrote: “the general sense seems to be that the next spin around the sun has to be better than the one that’s drawing to a close.” Was it? Well, maybe. I dunno. I guess it depends. Who knows much of anything at this point. I confidently predict 2022 will be better. Or worse. Or the same. Read more

The Presence of God

Mid-way through the Christmas season, I’ve been thinking about the presence of God. This season is all about celebrating “God with us.” This is what our songs and scriptures and stories proclaim throughout the season. And is this not what we all long for? To experience God as present with and for us. Read more

On Feeling Conflicted

At 7:40 am this morning, I watched my twenty-year-old son walk out the door in full military fatigues. He is a reservist in the Canadian Armed Forces and has duties for Remembrance Day ceremonies later this morning. As you might imagine, this is a bit of a strange and conflicted experience for a Mennonite pastor. I never imagined that I would have a soldier for a son.

A while back, I wrote a piece on, well, peace. And war. And feeling conflicted. And not knowing precisely how to think about it all. Watching my son walk out the door on Remembrance Day 2021 brought it back to mind. I’ve reproduced a lightly edited version below. Read more

Over-Under

Last Sunday’s gospel reading about power and how it does and doesn’t operate in the kingdom of God was an interesting (and indicting!) one to preach on. Our cultural moment is saturated with talk of power dynamics and all the myriad ways that race, gender, and sexuality intersect with this. Jesus’ teaching represents a rebuke and a reminder to us in all kinds of ways (and across ideological persuasions). Jesus’ words also speak to us personally. As human beings, we generally like to think that we’re right and we like making other people do what we want. Jesus will have none of it. Read more

Grace, Too

Hi folks. It’s been over a month since I posted anything here. I’m not sure if that’s ever happened before in the eleven-and-a-half years of this blog’s existence, but it certainly feels strange to me. There’s no grand reason for the silence other than the usual suspects. A bit of writers’ block, a dearth of inspiration, bit of generalized fatigue, a summer holiday followed by an immediate jump into the deep end of the pool in church ministry. It’s been a stretch of time where time and energy have seemed a bit thin and where the words seem harder in coming than usual. Read more

Busy Bees

I’ve been preaching roughly forty sermons a year for the last decade. I preached around twelve per year during the three years before that. By my (admittedly atrocious) math, that’s in the vicinity of four hundred fifty sermons. Which is, I suppose, a decent sample size from which to extrapolate. To detect some trends, to observe a trajectory. Or, I suppose, to chart a decline, depending on your perspective. Read more

The Shadows of the Night

It’s pretty quiet at the church most days during this pandemic. There’s a cat without a tail that walks by the window of my study every now and then. Occasionally a driver will slowly meander through our parking lot confusedly staring at their phone (Google sometimes leads people astray). A family of deer has wandered by a few times. And last week, there was a woman sitting on the lawn. I’ll call her Danielle. Read more

A Mighty Warrior

“A pandemic is a cruel time to die,” I mutter to myself under my breath. I am in the foyer of a palliative care home. I have been through security, filled out the barrage of COVID paperwork. I make my way over to another desk, get my temperature checked. All is good, I am told. To the best of anyone’s knowledge, I am not carrying the plague. I walk down a long hallway armed with the two security codes that I will need to finally be granted limited access to a dear old soul whose race looks nearly run. “It was easier to get into the local prison than this fourteen months ago,” I grumble to myself. Read more

On Textbook Characters

There’s a scene in the opening pages of Marilynne Robinson’s most recent novel, Jack, where the eponymous protagonist has contributed to an unpleasant dinner experience with a certain bishop’s daughter named Della. The walk home is tense and the dialogue is strained. Jack has, evidently, really stepped in it:

She said, “I have never been so embarrassed. Never in my life.”
He said, “Well, you haven’t known me very long.”

Read more

“You’re Not Very Nice”

There’s a woman who calls me at the church with some regularity. She calls from two or three different phone numbers and uses a handful of pseudonyms. I have a file full of the various names and numbers she’s used. I’ll call her Mary. The stories she tells vary. She’s dying or mortally ill. She has to get somewhere far away for a surgery and needs gas money. Her kids are terrible and mistreating her (and will probably be calling me soon to ask for money—don’t give it to them!). Her grandkids need food. She needs a hotel room. She needs a thousand dollars, but she’ll settle for fifty. This has been going on for the better part of a decade. I suppose most churches have a story or two like this. Read more

Sunk Costs

Last week marked an anniversary of sorts, at least in the life of many churches. It’s been one year since the pandemic closed our doors, drove us online, kicked into motion myriad restrictions for eventual physical gatherings, etc. It’s obviously been a long and difficult year for many, and for a wide variety of reasons. Read more

Wonder Shining in My Eyes

I wonder if one of the central tasks of faith at this middle stage of life is that of reimagination. To unlearn the notion that faith is a “whoever dies with the most correct ideas about God in their head wins” kind of game. To open oneself to the possibility that when it comes to the things of God, it’s less about arguing than evoking, less about proving than reminding and revealing, less about heroically thinking enough right God-things or doing enough good God-things than loving mercy. Sigh. Even as I look at the preceding three sentences, I hate the soppy mid-life cliché that they sound like. Perhaps one of the other tasks of the middle-stage of life is to somehow come to peace with the cliches that we inevitably become. Read more