Yesterday morning before worship, I saw a headline in a major Canadian newspaper imploring me to “at least try to pretend that I care about the BC drug overdose crisis.” I paused on that headline. What exactly was it telling me to do? I thought I cared at least a little about the poor souls trying to deaden their pain and loneliness and despair in any way possible (in BC or anywhere else), but it seems that it wasn’t enough. I should care more, evidently. Or care differently than I was at present. But how would I know if or when I had cared enough or in the right ways? And according to whom?
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
For the last four years or so, our church has taken the stretch of time roughly between Epiphany and the beginning of Lent to focus our sermons on questions of faith from members of our congregation. These questions range from the existential (Does God exist?) to the hermeneutical (What is the meaning of passage x) to the socio-cultural (What does a Christian response to this or that thing going on in the broader culture look like?). Needless to say, it’s a sermon series that forces me out of my proverbial comfort zone. I am sometimes thrust into issues and texts that I might prefer to avoid. I am also at least partially liberated from the confines of my own subjectivity and forced to read Scripture, experience, and the broader culture through the lens of other people’s questions. Which is good. Read more
I’ve spent part of this morning sifting through a week’s worth of difficult conversations. Several dealt with the trials and tribulations of parenting adult children. What do you do when the kids you have poured years of yourself into seem determined to walk down destructive roads, when they have little interest in your values or hopes for them? What do when you see nothing but trouble on the horizon but feel powerless to do anything about it? How do you sustain hope when it feels like you are failing or have failed at one of life’s most important tasks? Read more
Christian Wiman is a brilliant writer—one of my favourites as I’m sure I’ve mentioned before here. I’ve been eagerly anticipating the arrival of his most recent book, He Held Radical Light and yesterday the blessed brown package showed up in the mail. I spent part of last night reading it. The man has a way of communicating the longing and haunting desire of human existence like few others that I have come across. Read more
A few nights ago, I went with some friends to see the latest superhero film, Justice League. As a rule, I find this genre of movies rigidly formulaic and not terribly interesting, but my wife tells me that I’m not supposed to be antisocial so I went along for the ride. Also, I figured that no matter how awful the movie was, I would at least have the pleasure of listening to Jeremy Irons deliver a few lines. Read more
I returned to work from holidays today to find two artifacts in my church mailbox: pair of socks and a book. Church mailboxes can yield the strangest discoveries. I was perplexed by the socks (my kids probably left them somewhere?) and delighted by the book. It was a book of poetry and woodcut prints entitled “Prophet, Priest, and King” and collaboratively produced by Chris Stoffel Overvoorde, an American artist, and Martin Oordt, a poet who taught for years at our local university before passing away in 2011. The book is a series of visual and poetic explorations and snapshots of Old Testament characters who anticipated, imperfectly, haltingly, partially, the final prophet, priest and king, Jesus Christ. Read more
Yesterday morning began with a heavy fog. Heavy and portentous, as it turned out, because my day matched the weather outside. Foggy, dull, grey. It was one of those days where it’s difficult to summon the energy to contribute anything of value to the world. Days when it feels like a victory to make it to bed time without causing a fight or forgetting something or failing someone. Days when a kind of uncreative lethargy moves unbidden into the living room, kicks off its shoes and rudely puts its feet up on the table. Read more
People like to give pastors things to read, I am discovering. Hardly a week goes by without an article or a book appearing on my desk or church mailbox, or a link in my inbox. You should really read this, pastor! A quick survey of the accumulated suggestions of the past week or so reveals an article on the history of Mennonites in southern Alberta, a book about the “battle” against same-sex marriage, a review of a book about dying well, promotional material for an educational institution, and an expose of the Alberta tar sands. Oh, and a drawing of Sponge Bob with “Happy Early Easter!” written beside it that showed up after church on Sunday. It’s not just the grown ups who like to leave things in my office, evidently. Read more
Poetry doesn’t tend to agree with me. Or, more precisely, I don’t tend to agree with it. I’m too linear or dully rationalistic or unimaginative or… Too, well, something. Or, perhaps, not enough something. I so often just don’t get it. I read a poem (or, more likely, a few lines from a poem), scratch my head, struggling to decipher “the meaning” of the strange words and patterns, the unfamiliar arrangements of syllables and syntax on the page, furrow my brow, read harder, more determinedly, try, try again, and then retreat, defeated, tail between my legs, to the safety and predictability of prose. Poetry so often seems like a gleaming city I have never visited filled with sights and sounds that are destined to forever remain inaccessible to this provincial boy. Read more
I got a nice little note today from someone. It was about yesterday’s sermon. It had, apparently, “made sense of a few things.” I appreciated the note. Very much. God knows there are enough Sundays where it feels like one’s words are scattered to the wind. Who knows if or where or how they land? It is nice to hear that a sermon has helped. Read more
Yesterday was one of those delightful brown-parcel-in-the-mail days—one of those days when the good and kind people of Canada Post come bearing glorious gifts from afar, gifts of crisp, unblemished pages, gifts brimming with fresh insights and exciting tales, gifts of possibility, hope, and promise, gifts of delight and discovery… Gifts of words.
Or, to put things a bit less dramatically, “I got a new book yesterday.” 🙂 Read more
One does not typically expect to encounter theological inspiration at a church finance meeting. Well, I suppose some might, but I do not number myself among such strange creatures. For most of this week’s church business meeting, things proceeded according to the script. There were facts and figures and updates and PowerPoint slides and motions and seconders to motions and questions and clarifications and dialogue and decisions and then we were done.
Once a month or so, a delightful young woman from our church hosts a seniors coffee hour on Thursday mornings in our church basement. She is here from Germany on a one year volunteer assignment, and these times that she organizes for some of our older and wiser saints have become a real highlight for me. We play games, sing songs, enjoy conversation, and, of course, we eat. What would a gathering at a Mennonite church be without food, after all?! Read more
Where are you Jesus?
Why can’t I find you?
have you disapeard?
have you left me hear alone?
God wear you?
I cannot see you
are you gone forever?
Why can’t I see you?
Are you still listening to me?
The preceding found its way to my inbox courtesy of a young child this week. Read more
This past Sunday evening was our children’s Christmas program. It was a wonderful and wonderfully diverse production. From pre-schoolers playing “Silent Night” on hand bells to high schoolers’ strumming “Jesus Messiah” on electric guitars, to little Marys and Josephs in housecoats and shepherds and angels and botched candle-lightings and memorized poems and rousing renditions of familiar carols, it was a delightful collection of parts that contributed to a marvellous whole. Read more
One of my trusted companions throughout each Advent Season over the last few years has been a little reader put together by the folks at Regent College called The Candle and the Crown. Each day there are two Scripture readings and short reflections by Regent faculty, alumni, and others—one for the morning and one for the evening.
Among the Scripture readings this week was the twenty-seventh Psalm, which has long been one of my favourite psalms. The combination of joyful, expectant hope, longing, and raw honesty has made this psalm a frequent destination for me. As with so many of the Psalms (and Scripture in general), I find that these ancient words narrate and interpret my own experience so many years later. Read more
Last night was a gift. Amidst the usual busyness of life and work and kids’ activities and meetings and appointments, a few friends and I stole away to see Welsh folk singer Martyn Joseph at a tiny house concert in a hamlet outside Medicine Hat, AB. I’d never heard of Martyn Joseph until my friend asked me if I wanted to go a few weeks ago, but since then he’s been getting pretty regular play through the headphones. He did not disappoint. Read more