Richard Beck is a blogger that I have been reading for quite a while now. He’s a psychology professor and “progressive Christian,” although he seems to have a level of distaste for the term that approaches my own. He has, in my experience, an ability that is rare among progressives—the ability to be unflinchingly self-critical and to acknowledge the challenges and inconsistencies that are bound up with many forms of “progressive Christianity.” His recent nine part series “On Tribes and Community” should be required reading for anyone interested in how faith communities are formed and maintained, and how our cultural and ideological context works against this. Read more
Posts from the ‘Pastoral Ministry’ Category
His eyes rarely leave the floor, even as he’s baring his soul. He’s young, tough-looking, brown skin marked with tattoos, black hair slicked back over the middle of a mostly shaved skull, rosary around his neck. It’s the first time he’s showed up at a group I participate it in at the local jail. He’s looked wary about the whole thing since he walked through the door. But he mustered up the courage to begin a sentence like, “I think I wanna say something…” And the story comes pouring out. Read more
We pray all of these things in the name of your son Jesus, who had the guts to love…
So concluded a prayer spoken together by a handful of inmates and a few of us volunteers at a support group at the local jail that I am a part of on Monday mornings. The guts to love. What an interesting phrase, I thought. I suspect the word “guts” conjures up for us ideas of courage or resolve or a willingness to keep going even when it would be easier to turn back or a refusal to care if others think love is weak or impotent or whatever. It evokes this image of someone who has dug down into the deepest part of themselves and of the world and emerged with love. The guts to love. Yeah, I like that. 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
He’s sitting at the table when I arrive, half a smile tugging on the corner of his lips, eyes staring vacantly forward. There’s a woman beside him scrutinizing the glass of milk sitting in front of her. She, too, has a hint of a smile on her face. I watch the two of them for a few seconds. I wonder if they will say anything to each other. But they don’t. They just sit there, half-smiling. I guess half of anything isn’t bad in the dementia ward. Read more
Summer is a time for reading books. Fiction, in particular. This year, I have taken something of a vow to buy no more new books until I have at least made an appreciable dent in the pile of unread books that clutter my desk and clog my shelves. Among these, is Alan Paton’s classic novel, Cry, the Beloved Country which explores the injustice and social decay of apartheid-era South Africa through the lens of two families. It’s one in an embarrasssingly long list of books that fall in the category of, “Books I really should have read by now.” Read more
I spent last week in Vancouver attending a conference at Regent College, the school that I was making my way through around a decade ago. It was a good opportunity to learn, to worship, to take a breath, to connect with some old friends and, as providence would have it, to drop in on the opening night of U2’s 30th Anniversary Joshua Tree tour (the concert was fantastic, if perhaps not as memorable as past shows… a highlight was being told by a couple of spectacularly drunk Irishmen in the concourse that I looked like The Edge 🙂 ). All in all, a nice few days away. Read more
“I have a complaint to make.” The comment was made by a member of our church who periodically drops in on me Tuesday mornings. The twinkle in his eye and the grin on his face signaled that this “complaint” was more of an observation or a conversation starter than an actual grievance. “We must have been the most “crossed” church around on Easter Sunday morning,” he said. “I counted at least four!” I thought back to our service and found that I couldn’t disagree. Read more
I am usually quite suspicious of oft-repeated expression, “I’m spiritual but not religious.” Actually, “suspicious” might be putting it rather mildly. I have something bordering on a pathological loathing of this phrase. It’s possible that I have even visibly shuddered in disgust in the various contexts where this expression makes its predictable appearance. I usually encounter it in people who either refuse to consider church in the first place or who have left it behind for the usual assemblage of real or imagined grievances. Or people who can’t be bothered to think very hard about what they might believe or why but like the idea of seeming a bit deeper than they in fact are. Or people who imagine that they have grasped the deeper truth that all religions are inadequately and intolerantly pointing toward. Or people who like yoga. Or people who think that all religions are neat and cool and inspiring except for when they say things that don’t confirm what they already think. Or when they infringe upon personal liberties and preferences… or sleep habits… or weekend plans or… well, when they infringe upon anything, really. “I’m spiritual but not religious” very often seems to me to be among the more vacuous statements that a human could utter.
Oh dear. I did say that “suspicious” was putting it mildly, didn’t I? Read more
I received two pieces of rather severe correspondence before I poured my first coffee this morning. One was an online response to something I had written here that was picked up by another website. I had portrayed God as too merciful, I had ignored some of the more severe things Jesus said, I had failed to take Scripture seriously, I was dangerously misleading people, etc. I’ve received comments like this quite regularly over a decade of blogging, so it wasn’t particularly surprising. The other was a handwritten letter about the Canadian political situation from a stranger in another city (There was a time when, upon receiving letters like these, I would ask questions like, “Who is this person? Why are they sending this to me? What’s the connection here? I’ve since learned that these questions are very often futile…). This, too, was rather familiar in content and tone, and could be crudely summarized as a “sky is falling” type missive. Secularism, pornography, Shariah law, feminism, gay agendas, communism… The list was long, it was dire, and it required my immediate action. I sighed, and reached for my coffee. Read more
It was cold last Sunday, and it started to snow minutes before the morning’s activities at church were to begin. I threw on a hat and some gloves and went outside to shovel the entrance to the church and a few of the closest parking spots. I like shoveling snow. My job requires little of me physically, and I enjoy expending a bit of energy. I had also been struggling to tie up a few loose ends in my sermon and I figured getting a bit of fresh and frosty air might clear my head before church began. Read more
In order to commemorate Valentines Day—a holiday I hold in only slightly higher esteem than World Turtle Day (May 23, apparently—mark your calendars)—I read a thoroughly depressing article about love and relationships. Naturally. The article was called “Unraveling Love Stories” and it reads as something like an apologia for the mid-life crisis and all the desperate and destructive flailings that it spawns. Read more
Anyone who writes or speaks or puts themselves out there in the public square in any way knows that people are often quite happy to offer feedback. Sometimes this feedback happens to be critical. Occasionally even constructively so. Other times it’s, well, not. This little delight, for example, made it’s way into my inbox as I was composing this paragraph. It’s in response to a piece I wrote about refugees a few years ago:
How many God and Jesus hating ragheads have u moved into ur guestroom, another idiot preaching to sovereign Americans? Really? Anger would be wasted on mental illness u self rightous pontificating communist I bet the answer is zero!
Lovely. Read more
When her father died she had immediately stopped going to church. If prayer could not even keep your family alive, she did not see what good it was. But after she and Hank moved to Houston, she had started going again. You were marked if you didn’t. She did not really think about whether she believed, though in the past decade her faith had come back, and they said that was all that mattered. Being old, you had no real choice—salvation or eternal nothingness—and it was no wonder who you saw in church, it was not young people with hangovers and their entire lives ahead of them.
— Philip Meyer, The Son
The last sentence of the quote above confirms what many observe and comment upon when it comes to church demographics these days. Churches are full of old people. Old people who still come either because they have been so thoroughly socialized into church attendance that they can’t imagine not showing up, or who are at a stage in their lives where they have nothing left to do but cling to the consolations of religion. Like all stereotypes, it is crude and rigid and doesn’t even remotely tell the whole story, but I suspect that there are few among us who wouldn’t at least nod in recognition of these sentiments and the general trends that animate them. Read more
Can we use your post? Over the last week or so, I’ve received three emails from various publications asking permission to re-publish something I’ve written on this blog. These requests are the new normal in a publishing context where words are ubiquitous and cheap, where content is increasingly accessed rather than commissioned. There are so many words flying about and so many editors desperate to find something—anything!—to capture a few eyeballs for a few seconds before they click on to greener pastures. I suppose it makes sense to recycle the words. Read more
Each year around Christmastime for the last decade or so, our family has a tradition of watching the entire Lord of the Rings trilogy (extended versions, of course). We spread it out over six nights—a full week immersion into Middle Earth, as it were. Over the last two or three years, my ears have invariably perked up during Bilbo’s conversation with Gandalf near the beginning of the first film. Bilbo is tired and conflicted and ready to leave everything and everyone behind. Then, this memorable and evocative line: I feel thin, sort of stretched, like butter scraped over too much bread. Read more
Over the past few weeks, a number of people have inquired about my thoughts on a recent study conducted by Canadian scholar David Haskell which draws a strong connection between theological conservatism and church attendance. According to the study, churches that interpret the bible more “literally,” hold to more traditional theological doctrines, and are open to more contemporary expressions of worship tend to be the ones that are growing, while those that emphasize their opposites are shrinking. The study has shown up in the Globe and Mail and The Guardian, among other places. A few days ago, Haskell himself authored an apologia of sorts for the piece, being loosely connected to the liberal Protestant tradition that the study seems to cast in a negative, or at the very least ineffective light. Read more