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
I often spend Monday mornings ruminating on the sermon I didn’t preach on Sunday. There are, of course, only so many things that can be said, only so many avenues to explore in a given text or texts in 15-20 minutes. There are usually many ideas and/or questions that never make it past the Saturday evening cutting floor. Sometimes it was because I didn’t have the courage to tackle them in public. Sometimes they weren’t relevant to the point I was trying to make. Sometimes there just wasn’t the time. Sometimes it’s all of the above. Read more
Every Wednesday evening, I lead a bible study with a group of seniors in our church. It’s a pretty simple affair, usually. We read the passage(s) that I will be preaching on the upcoming Sunday, we talk about what it means, we close by reciting the Lord’s Prayer, and then we have coffee and goodies.
We always begin our studies with sharing and prayer. Usually, this means a long list of people in our immediate orbits who are sick or suffering or struggling. Last night, however, we made a point of praying for those affected by this week’s stabbing at Abbotsford Senior Secondary School in British Columbia. A young man walked into an ordinary school on and ordinary day and took life. A thirteen-year-old girl killed, a fourteen year old injured. Christ have mercy. Who can understand these things? We have few categories up to the task of coming to terms with the hows and the whys of such acts. Read more
First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for everyone… 1 Timothy 2:1
So begins one of the lectionary readings for the week—the reading, it so happens, that I am to preach on this Sunday. Pray for everyone. Um, okay. What shall I do once I’ve finished praying for “everyone?” Get cracking on world peace? The universality of the command seemed laughably absurd to me as I read it this afternoon. Who on earth could pray for everyone? And, come to think of it, who would want to? Read more
Maybe sometimes prayer is just “worrying out loud” before God.
So mused a friend over coffee yesterday when the subject of prayer came up. I was very relieved to hear this as I had just spent the previous forty-five minute motorcycle ride to the meeting worrying. Um, I mean praying. Read more
Sometimes, when I find it hard to pray, when faith, hope, and love are threatening to dry up, I zero in on a handful of desperate pleas from a handful of desperate people who come across Jesus in the gospels. A hated tax collector in the temple, for example. Have mercy on me, a sinner. A thoroughly befuddled Peter after Jesus had spoken strange words about “eating his flesh” and “drinking his blood.” Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life. A leper on a hillside. If you are willing, you can make me clean. A blind beggar on the road to Jericho. I want to see. Read more
I got into the car this morning in a bit of a surly mood. A few things hadn’t gone as I had anticipated the previous day, I had received an unwelcome email that morning, and I was behind on sermon prep. Again. I stabbed the key into the ignition only to be greeted by the ear-splitting strains of the local top 40 station that my wife and daughter were, evidently, listening to on the way home from their evening activities last night. The part of the song that I was forcibly subjected to heard before frantically locating the combination of knobs that could lower the volume and/or change the station went something like, This is my fight song, take back my life song… Read more
I ran into two friends this morning for whom the month of August is an excruciating one. Two fathers for whom August is the anniversary of the unimaginably painful loss of a young daughter. For both, August brings an acute reminder of the ever-present reality of the gaping wound at the heart of their lives. For both, August means the rehearsal of a crippling loss that no parent should have to endure.
It is impossible to think of these two friends and their losses without thinking more generally about fathers and daughters. Read more
Yesterday, I spent the afternoon and evening with a delightful bunch of young adults from around the world who were visiting our area and our church as part of MCC Alberta’s Planting Peace Program. The idea behind the program is to gather young adults from many different places for two weeks in Alberta to learn, to share stories, and to share life together. The hope (and the reality) is that the participants will come to deeper understandings of their common humanity, and that their common commitment to peace and to breaking down of walls that we human beings are so good at erecting between each other will be strengthened. Yesterday, there were representatives from Kenya, Cambodia, Guatemala, Mexico, Bolivia, South Africa, and, of course, from various parts of Canada. It was a good day full of good stories.
There were also two young men from Syria. Read more
Unlike animals that live in the moment and merely cope with the world (however smoothly), we are… drawn out of our present selves toward some more skilled future self that we emulate…. [W]e are never fully at home in the world. We are always “on our way.” Or perhaps we should say that this state of being on our way to somewhere else is our peculiar human way of being here in the world.
— Matthew Crawford, The World Beyond Your Head
Most therapists will say that a key to finding any kind of viable and lasting happiness in the world requires coming to peace with who you are. Not some future self that you wish you could be, not the person that you imagine yourself to be in your best moments, not the person that you will undoubtedly be 2, 5, 10 years from now. No, the person staring back at you in the mirror. Unless you can believe that you are enough as you are—that you matter and have value even prior to all of the well-intentioned character modifications that inevitably loom over the next ridge of your life—you will never be at peace. Your striving will always be borne out of restlessness and dissatisfaction, rather than a desire for goodness. Read more
And so, this is the day.
The day when the angry mob baying for blood gets their way, the day when they trade the Messiah sent to them for the Messiah they wanted, welcoming the insurrectionist Barabbas back from the dead, and sending the Lamb of God off to slaughter. Read more
Lord Jesus, come yourself, and dwell with us, be human as we are, and overcome what overwhelms us. Come into the midst of my evil, come close to my unfaithfulness. Share my sin, which I hate and which I cannot leave. Be my brother, Thou Holy God. Be my brother in the kingdom of evil and suffering and death.
— Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Sermon for Advent Sunday, December 2, 1928
Each of the last three Advents I have been spending time with God is in the Manger, a collection of Advent and Christmas-themed writings by the great German theologian and pastor, Dietrich Bonhoeffer. And each of the last three years I have been stopped dead in my tracks by the quote above. The following are a few reflections taken from a journal entry after encountering these words again this morning. Read more
I’ve reflected many times here on the mystery of prayer and what often seems like the abject silence of God. We so often struggle to know how prayer works and how it influences God’s activity in the world. We don’t know what the point of prayer is if God already knows everything. Sometimes it all seems like a bit of a strange charade that has precious little influence on either God or each other. Read more
I was cleaning out and organizing old files this afternoon because, a) my “filing system” is a haphazard and chaotic mess that is often hopelessly difficult to navigate and locate anything in; and b) because it provided me with the illusion of usefulness and productivity as I avoided the sermon that seems not to want to come.
Among my more pleasant discoveries this afternoon, amidst innumerable useless documents and files and folders that I haven’t opened in years, was this “covenant prayer.” I have no idea where it comes from or how I happen to be in possession of it, but it is a good prayer, a good challenge, a good aspiration for me on this day. Perhaps for you, too. Read more
The mind of a teenage boy is, I am discovering, a fearful and wonderful thing. Beautiful, strange, unpredictable, irrational, surprisingly generous, unspeakably kind, maddening… All within a few hours, sometimes. Yesterday, I bought my son new strings for his guitars as a few of the old ones had snapped. He came home from a youth event at 10:00 convinced that now was the time to re-string his guitars and not go to bed. His father disagreed and the stage was set for a rather unpleasant end to the day.
But the sun is in the habit of rising anew each day, full of promise and possibility.
I’ve been spending the week worshipping, learning, walking, sitting in silence, and reconnecting with old friends as I attend a Pastors’ Conference in Vancouver.
[Pastors conference? How did I end up at one of these? When I was younger, the mention of such an event would have evoked images of smiley, hyper-enthusiastic white men walking around with oversized cell-phones holstered in their belts, stalking the halls, greedily “connecting” with others and/or triumphantly relaying stories of spiritual conquest and adventure … Happily, I have been disabused of such misconceptions at this and previous conferences 🙂 . It’s been a good and refreshing week thus far.]
Of course one of the problems with these events is that there’s far too much information to take in and process adequately, but one sentence from a few days ago has lodged itself in my brain and refuses to disappear. It was spoken by a psychologist in the context of a talk about some of the problematic areas of being a pastor. Here’s what he said:
All too frequently, pastors can become purveyors of unused truths.
A few days ago, we got together with some good friends to share and to pray. These are people we have, in some cases, known since we were teenagers. When we were younger and flush with spiritual fervour and the optimism of youth, we would get together like this more frequently, praying for revival, for victory and blessing, for change, for all kinds of wonderful things that we believed lay just around the bend.
We’re a bit older now. Maybe even a bit wiser. If nothing else, life has left its mark on all of us, in the wide variety of ways that life always does. We have had to negotiate the death of parents and others we love, we have watched relationships fracture and fragment into divorce and separation, we have participated in the elations and agonies of parenting, we have negotiated the challenges of infertility and adoption, we have struggled with physical health concerns, vocational anxieties, and crises of faith. We have seen, in short, that life is a mixed bag, and that faith is not (and has never been) some kind of inoculant from the pain of living.
I notice her standing in line at the café. She’s young, attractive, and has an easy smile. Everything about her appearance screams confidence and self-assurance. She’s dressed stylishly, I suppose, a little bit provocative or edgy or something (as if I knew a thing about style). She turns toward me and I notice her shirt. It’s tight and black and it has what looks like a Jack Daniels logo on the front. But it doesn’t say “Jack Daniels.” It says, rather, in bold, bracing white letters, “100% PURE ATHEIST.” Underneath, in smaller letters, “Two hands at work for good in the world are more useful than a thousand folded in prayer.” I sigh, almost audibly. I would have preferred Jack Daniels. Read more