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Posts from the ‘Pastoral Ministry’ Category

2022 in Review

Well, 2022 has nearly expired. It was another year dominated by the pandemic in some form or another. It was a year of trucker’s protests in Canada and counter-protests, a year of fear and anxiety and self-righteousness and judgment and hysterical media and loss of trust. There were probably a few good things, too, but I am well and truly a product of the media waters in which I swim and all I can seem to remember is the stuff that made me anxious and angry. 🙂

You know the December 31 drill by now, I suppose. Here are the top posts from the last 365 days along with a brief summary of each. Four out of the five were connected either to the pandemic or to the protests against restrictions. Which says a lot about what generates clicks. And is mildly depressing. So it goes. Read more

Far as the Curse is Found

He comes to make his blessings flow
far as the curse is found. — Joy to the World

I often tell people that the bible sounds different when you read it in jail. The same is true for Christmas carols. The words and the melodies sound different when sung far away from festive church sanctuaries, when instead of candles and creches it’s just concrete and plastic and reinforced glass. You’re drawn to different lines of the familiar songs. Read more

The Violent Take It By Force

And from the days of John the Baptist until now the kingdom of heaven suffers violence, and the violent take it by force. — Matthew 11:12

I am not a violent man. I have never been in a fight. Not a real one anyway. I suppose there were hockey skirmishes and the ordinary fraternal conflagrations of childhood, but these little irruptions don’t really count. I was invariably terrible at violence. At heart, I am a peacemaker, if of a conflicted sort. Read more

The Lion

You have to sign in for the weekly bible studies at the jail. Name, unit number, time. Records must be kept. And so, the clipboard dutifully makes its way around the circle. One guy always has a massive grin on his face as he writes his name. I’ll call him Adam. I know why Adam is smiling. He has a standard practice by now. He writes his name, as per the requirements. But then he always leaves a few blank lines before writing another: “Jesus.” This day, he expands a bit. “Jesus of Nazareth.” He hopes he’s spelled Nazareth right. Read more

In Extremis

To be a pastor is to regularly find oneself in extremis. Pastors are expected to bring consolation and hope into extreme situations: contexts of depression, addiction, suicidal ideation, crushing poverty, relational breakdown, violence, existential despair, intellectual doubt, debilitating illness, and ultimately, of course, death. Or, more precisely, to point to the One who promises these things in (and beyond) the fractured and chaotic world of human experience. But what happens to the possibility of consolation when you don’t believe in this One anymore? Read more

Death’s Diminishments

I’ve had a few hard conversations over the last week or so. Conversations about death and dying and despair, about the absence of God, the uselessness of God, the silence of God, the bleakness of the post-Christian landscape where hope, like every other good thing, must be manufactured by us if it is to be found at all. There are days when I would rather not be in God’s PR department. Read more

Thursday Miscellany (On Religious Irreligion, Groupthink and Sectarian Leanings)

Well, it’s that time again. Time to empty out the “scraps and drafts and intriguing tidbits and provocations and half-formed thoughts folder” on my laptop and in my brain. It’s been a while since a “Miscellany” post anyway. I’m sure you’ve been waiting with bated breath. Read more

The Only Sermon Left?

The church is full of self-righteous hypocrites, corrupt leaders greedy for power, morally bankrupt abusers of the weak and vulnerable. Its pews are populated by miserable -ists and -obes and transgressors of every other sort. The church should shut its mouth until it can make at least something resembling moral progress. The broader culture isn’t interested in any of its sermonizing words in the absence of meaningful action. Let your actions do the talking for once. We’ve all had more than enough of your endless words. Read more

Lean into the Light

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about the gospel, what it is, what it isn’t, what people need, what they don’t, where hope comes from, where it doesn’t, etc. It’s probably not surprising to hear a pastor say that they think about the gospel. You might even hope this were so and expect this to be the case. And yet, that word, “gospel,” is a slippery one. It often proves stubbornly malleable and elusive in our time and place. Even those who ought to know better (pastors or bloggers, for example) can and do mishandle it. Read more

Runaways

Ain’t we all just runaways? Yeah. — The Killers

For the past eleven years, I’ve preached in a congregation that loosely follows the Revised Common Lectionary when it comes to organizing the Scripture readings that guide our corporate worship and sermons. We don’t follow it slavishly, and I’ve certainly deviated from time to time, but it’s kind of our default. It’s certainly my default. I’d rather be assigned a text to preach from than choose one. Or at the very least, to have four from which to pick. Following the lectionary forces me outside of the texts I’d naturally gravitate towards. At the very least, it throws up an interesting surprise or two along the way. Read more

Miracles Are Coming

“I’m here to see _____,” I say to the nurse at the front entrance of the hospital. “Oh, are you the son?” Her smile is so bright it radiates through her mask. “No, the pastor,” I respond, expecting, well who knows what. Apathy? Disdain? Curiosity? Impossibly, her smile brightens even further. “Oh, the pastor,” she beams. “How lovely.” All of a sudden, she is very eager not only to let me through the screening desk as quickly as possible but to personally escort me to the person’s room. She has some things she wants to say, evidently. Read more

Know God, Know Peace?

There was a picture on the wall, barely visible, through the half-opened door. It looked faded and neglected and kitschy in all kinds of ways. There was an orangey sunset, maybe a lake or a river. I can’t remember, so instantly forgettable was the scene. It was the words on the top of the picture that grabbed my attention: “No God, No Peace; Know God, Know Peace.” A clever slogan, that one. Read more

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