We do not tell stories as they are; we tell stories as we are… We do not see things as they are, we see them as we are.
I don’t know the original source of this quote, but I came across it in Irish poet/theologian Pádraig Ó Tuama’s In the Shelter a few weeks ago and I’ve been chewing on it ever since. On the face of it, these words could be taken as expressing little more than the tired refrain of postmodernism. We don’t have access to anything like “objective truth,” only to ourselves and our own inner states. The stories we tell are little more than the laborious outworkings of our own biographies. There cannot and could never be a genuinely true story, only stories that are true for me, true for you, true for whoever. Which is of course another way of saying that there are no true stories. Read more
The shooting at a Quebec City mosque that killed six people has been on many of our minds over the last few days. There has been the predictable outpouring of support and outrage on social media. There have been vigils and prayers and marches organized in response. There have been expressions of love and care for our Muslim neighbours taking place far away from the bleating headlines. All in all, it’s a narrative that our world is growing regrettably familiar with in light of all the religious and ethnically fuelled violence that has unfolded over the last few years. Read more
A bit of controversy around the celebrated author Joseph Boyden has been dominating headlines up here in Canada over the last little while. Boyden, whose books include Through Black Spruce, Three Day Road, and the Orenda, has become something of an indigenous celebrity in recent years. His novels draw from indigenous history (The Orenda, for example, was based on the interactions between the Iroquois and the French Jesuits in the seventeenth century). He has also been an enthusiastic advocate for indigenous self-determination, even serving last year as a honourary witness at the closing event of Canada’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission. Read more
I spent thirteen or so hours this past week driving under the summer prairie sky. Saskatoon was the location of our Mennonite national church’s biennial gathering which I combined with a visit with my brother and his family. It’s a long drive and very flat. It’s the kind of drive that is easy to dread, particularly in winter months when the roads are bad and the landscape is bleak. It’s a drive I’ve done often enough but it’s not one that I’ve ever particularly relished. This time, however, the sky almost literally took my breath away. Golden yellow canola beside wavy green barley fields stretched out under this vast canopy of pillowy cloud and brilliant blue. Or, when the weather turned, spectacular scenes of dark, brooding masses of cloud. The sky seemed alive. Even when it looked threatening and portended fierce rain, it was a kind of strange comfort. It was the kind of sky that puts you in your place. There was a vast unchangeableness about it. It seemed the kind of sky that nothing could go wrong under. Read more
I spent a good chunk of this morning in an online discussion about the future of Mennonite Church Canada with a handful of other young-ish pastors from across the nation. It was interesting to be invited as I tend to be less suited to thinking on my feet at meetings or committees or focus groups than I am to writing blog posts where I can hedge my bets and endlessly qualify every statement and default to lame attempts at self-protective humour. I mostly agreed to participate in this converstation because I was frankly giddy at the prospect of being located in the “young-ish” category of something. Read more
The relationship between Muslims and Christians has been in the news a lot lately, whether because of the Syrian refugee crisis or the attacks in Paris and San Bernardino or, more recently in the Christian world, the theological controversy generated by a Wheaton College professor Larycia Hawkins’ comments about Muslims and Christians worshiping the “same God” (and her being subsequently placed on administrative leave). There are no shortage of polarizing opinions out there and no lack of enthusiasm in sharing them. Read more
I consumed two pieces of media before breakfast today. I was unable to sleep and stumbled downstairs ridiculously early for a day off with the kids on Christmas holidays. I plugged in the Christmas tree, made a pot of coffee, and settled into the wonderful pre-dawn stillness of the darkest day of the year. Read more
I’ve been paying attention to Germany lately. And not just because my wife happens to be there visiting dear friends of ours who live in Bavaria (my daily act of spiritual discipline this week has been to attempt to suppress the feelings of jealousy that regularly flare up as I think about her wandering the streets of Munich while I clean the cat’s litter box and make dinner…). I’m also paying attention to Germany because this is the nation that was and remains a focal point of the refugee crisis that took a dramatic turn in early September with the discovery of Alan Kurdi’s body on a Turkish beach. Read more
A while back I was talking over coffee with a young man who had spent several months studying primate social behaviour in Africa. I asked him what, if anything, had surprised him about how chimpanzees behaved toward one another. “Yeah,” he said. “Sometimes they can be pretty awful toward each other! Almost as bad as humans.”
As we were reminded yet again today with the shocking events in Paris (and Yemen… and Iraq… and Somalia… and ____), human beings are unique in their capacity for ideologically fuelled violence, hatred, and murderous rage. Chimps can be selfish and cunning and brutal, yes. But it takes a human being to be evil. Read more
A few completely disconnected thoughts on an early summer Wednesday…
I went to see the latest Transformers movie last night. I wish I was joking, but, alas, it’s true. My kids are at the age where they have evidently graduated from little kid Hollywood crap to big kid Hollywood crap, so off we went. I was expecting very little and my expectations were barely met. Lots of explosions and digitally generated creatures and explosions and lame dialogue and explosions and tired old Americana and explosions and—oh, look! The robot trucks have discovered some robot dinosaurs and they will together vanquish the other robot things!—and mass destruction and chaos and explosions and a lame teen love story and a lot of very bad acting. And very loud impressive explosions. Did I mention those? Read more
“Would you be interested in coming to give a short talk to a group of high school/university students?” The question came a few weeks ago and, as is my customary practice, I enthusiastically agreed without giving so much a passing glance at my calendar. How hard could it be, right? “What would you like me to talk about?” I asked. “Well, we’re wondering if you can speak on the topic, ‘What is the meaning of life?’” The meaning of life. Right.
This was followed by period of awkward laughter and dumb silence on my part. Not terribly inspirational, I wouldn’t think. Read more
In order to relieve the tedium of trudging aimlessly around the house in a fog of sinus-clogged misery, I spent part of yesterday watching Mitch Miyagawa’s 2012 documentary, “Sorry State.” Miyagawa figures that his family might just be the most apologized-to family in history, at least when it comes to official government apologies. His Japanese father was apologized to by the Canadian government for being shipped off to southern Alberta during World War II. His Chinese step-father was apologized to in 2006 for the head tax in the early twentieth century. And, finally, his Cree step-mother was on the receiving end of PM Stephen Harper’s 2008 apology for government run residential schools. That’s a lot of apologizing. Read more
I’m sitting here on a grey, rainy Wednesday morning thinking that it’s high time I wrote something here. It’s been over five days of silence on this blog, which, if the social media experts are to be believed, is a virtual eternity fraught with all kinds of weighty perils. I am surely running the risk that readers will look elsewhere, that traffic will decline, that my “brand” will suffer, that I will fail to “build upon momentum” or any number of other hazards that come with blogging too infrequently.
So, right. Time to write. There are certainly no shortage of potential topics. Read more
That may be true for you, but how can you say that it is true for everyone else when there are so many different understandings of truth out there
This is, of course, among the most common questions out there in postmodern-dom and, more specifically, in the context of the religious/ethnic/cultural diversity that is becoming the new normal in Canada and the West in general. Christians are becoming increasingly aware that there is much that is good and true and beautiful in a wide variety of worldviews and practices. We are also alert to the painful reality that the Christian worldview has all too frequently been aligned with the interests of colonialism and other less overt modes of cultural imperialism. It can be a tricky thing, this business of expressing one’s convictions about the particularity of truth amidst all of diversity and historical error and the baggage that comes along with it. Read more
I’ve spent the last two days in Montreal attending the Truth and Reconciliation of Canada’s Québec National Event. This is one of seven national events held across Canada to provide a space for listening and truth-telling about the history of residential schools in our country. Events have already been held in Halifax, Winnipeg, Inuvik, and Saskatoon, and there will be future events in Edmonton and Vancouver. It has been a sobering few days. So many stories of abuse, neglect, and prejudice. So many stories of families torn apart, of addiction and violence and dysfunctional relationships. It was a hard, but good day of listening. Read more
I spent the morning after the triumph of life over death reading about the triumph of death over life.
Well, that sounds a little more dramatic than it actually was. What I was in fact reading was a fairly ordinary little book by David Webster called Dispirited: How Contemporary Spirituality Makes Us Stupid, Selfish and Unhappy. It’s hard to imagine a book with a subtitle that catchy being almost a complete waste of time, but it was. I was really looking forward to reading Dispirited after hearing an interview with Webster on the radio (he made some intriguing comments about contemporary spirituality and how it perpetuates selfishness, individualism, consumerism, etc.), but the book turned out to be a rather poorly written, sloppily edited collection of loosely connected rants against the increasing prominence of the (admittedly irritating) “I’m spiritual but not religious” claim. Read more
The denomination in which I serve—Mennonite Church Canada—is currently asking its congregations to engage in a lengthy and challenging process of facing challenging difficult ethical issues of our day (issues around human sexuality, religious pluralism, pacifism, environmental concerns, etc.) head on and discerning together what the Spirit seems to be saying to us regarding how we are to respond as followers of Jesus. The “Being a Faithful Church” process is an attempt to put hands and feet to our theology. Mennonites affirm, among other things, the importance of community, the priesthood of all believers, the inappropriateness of hierarchical power structures and modes of relating to one another, and freedom of the Spirit to lead us into deeper and truer understandings of Scripture. The “Being a Faithful Church” process is an (ambitious!) opportunity for churches to demonstrate that we actually we believe what we say we do. Read more
A bit of a mixed bag this morning, but here are a few things that have caught my eye over the last few days and have me thinking (and avoiding sermon-writing!) on this crisp September morning. These are mostly unrelated themes, but if pressed for a connection, I suppose I would say that they deal in turn with the nature of religion, the purpose of religion, and the practice of religion. Read more