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Posts from the ‘Pastoral Ministry’ Category

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 an 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

When the Water is Troubled

By the pool of Beth-za’tha and its remedial waters is where Jesus came across the invalids. Many of them, apparently. The blind, the lame, the paralyzed. The broken and discarded pieces of humanity that were and are easy to walk by. But not Jesus, of course. Jesus summons such people to life. Jesus says things like, Stand up. Take your mat. Walk. Read more

When the Guy You Baptized Won’t Take Your Call

Half a decade or so, I watched from the window of my study as a beat-up old truck covered in mud pulled into our church parking lot. I think it was on a Tuesday morning, just like today. The driver just sat there for a while. I watched from my window, puzzled. Were they lost? Confused? Was the Tim Hortons parking lot across the road full and they were just looking for a peaceful place to nurse their double double? Were they actually in the right place but struggling to muster the courage to come inside? Eventually, a young man opened the door tentatively made his way into the building. I’ll call him Duane. Read more

On Innovation

A few months ago, I did something I don’t often do. I attended a candidates’ forum during a provincial election campaign. I don’t tend to expect much from politics or politicians, and my low expectations were barely met during this event. There were plenty of platitudes and evasive non-answers, plenty of posturing and sniping, plenty of “questions” from the audience that seemed like either lightly informed speeches masquerading as a queries or fastballs down the middle of the plate for a preferred candidate. This is, it seems, what passes for political discourse these days. Read more

Unstuck

There are questions that I encounter as a pastor that haunt me. I’m not necessarily thinking about the “usual suspects” here. Questions about the existence of God or why we suffer or the challenge of pluralism or the historicity of this or that biblical story or the conundrums of interpreting this or that passage or doctrine. These all represent familiar enough terrain and present their own challenges to faith. But the questions I’m thinking about today are much more personal in nature. Read more

Bigger Barns

Another Monday morning, another trip to the jail. Again, only two guys show up. There was a third who just about made it, but he transgressed on the walk to the chapel (he said hi to someone in an adjacent classroom, which is not permitted, and which led to a voice over the loudspeaker just as he was entering the chapel: “Back to the unit…”). So, only a few plastic chairs occupied in the circle this morning. Read more

The Dis-Ease of our Time

I was talking to an older friend the other day. His life has been hard in many ways—long years of manual labour, the loss of young children to a devastating accident, the death of several partners, a long descent into the pit of addiction and an emergence out the other side, a walking away from and a coming home to faith. Now he’s living out his remaining years on a slim pension in a small apartment. He has a litany of health problems. His medications conflict with each other producing unpleasant side effects. He can’t eat what he likes, struggles to sleep, moves slowly. Whenever I see him, we usually run through some portion of the above scenario. The last few times I’ve spoken with him, though, he’s had a different complaint—one that supersedes all of the others, one that may even, in some way, play a role in his deteriorating physical health. He states it baldly, unapologetically, without a hint of pretense or shame: I’m just so lonely. Read more

The One Whose Mark We Bear

Last night, I conducted my eight Ash Wednesday service. I still feel like an utter novice at it. It feels like I am playing make believe, engaging in rites and rituals that I have no business attempting. Last night, incredibly, I forgot my lines (“Remember that you are dust and to dust you shall return… except, when you forget, evidently!). Each year, I make a mess of producing the ashes. I dutifully save last year’s branches from Palm Sunday, but in the process of burning and oiling them I usually end up with a chunky mess filled with inconvenient strands of palm branch. One year, on a particularly windy Ash Wednesday, I almost burned my back deck down. I’m only half-joking. All in all, not the most impressive Ash Wednesday record. Read more