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 “networking” 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
Lord teach us to pray (Luke 11:1).
Like the disciples, I often have no idea how to pray. I don’t know what to ask for, I don’t know how long to keep asking, I don’t know if I am doing it right, I don’t know how it all really works. That doesn’t sound very pastoral, I know. What can I say? I suppose I am, at least, in decent (or at least populous) company when I say that prayer is often very hard for me. Read more
There are times when it feels like to be a pastor is to be the receptionist at a walk-in clinic where the doctor is never in. The sick and the wounded, the weary and confused, the angry and exhausted—in they stumble, speaking of bodies that are breaking down, of loved ones who are dying, of relationships that stagger under the weight of too many cumulative breaks and fissures to possibly think of mending, of doubts born of too much suffering and silence. In they come, assuming that the receptionist has some kind of special access to the doctor, to the healing they want and need. Read more
I did one good thing today. Only one.
I did some things inadequately and halfheartedly. I mechanically responded to email, returned phone calls, chipped away at the mountain of paper on my desk. I was often bored and listless, and struggled to corral my wandering mind. I yawned a lot, and looked out the window. Read more
“We do not know how to pray” (Romans 8:26). The whole uniqueness of Jesus of Nazareth lies in this: that he knows how to pray, because he knows to whom he is speaking. His greatest miracle was not healing or walking on water or driving out devils, but teaching his followers to say our Father.
— Benjamin Myers, Salvation in My Pocket
This afternoon I did a bit of an inventory of recent encounters with the Lord’s Prayer. Read more
Advent is not about arrival.
Advent is about waiting in hope.
Advent is about prayer for the coming Kingdom.
Advent is about saying,
often with trembling lip,
and with tear-filled eyes,
Come soon, Lord Jesus, come soon.
Brian Walsh, Advent Pain, Aching Hope
I sit in a sterile hospital room with a dear old saint who will be spending this Christmas where nobody wants to spend Christmas. Outside is a gloriously clear, crisp, winter day full of snow and lights and pre-Christmas goodness. Inside, there are bare, yellowing walls, cracked ceilings, cheap, generic pictures on the wall. We speak of what the doctors say, of what the next steps will be, about what is going on at church, about who has visited and who will be coming. We speak of what her kids are doing for Christmas. Read more
So, Nelson Mandela has died and the tributes are deservedly pouring in. The world is undoubtedly a poorer place for Mr. Mandela’s absence. His story inspires and compels on so many levels. His legacy is sure and strong. Read more
I watched the kids play at recess today. I was waiting to pick up my daughter for a dentist appointment, and I was a few minutes early. So I just sat and watched. I noticed a girl, off to the side, standing by the corner of the building, all by herself. Around the corner, other kids were laughing, playing, kicking/throwing balls, wrestling, goofing around. She just stood there, looking at her feet. Playing with the string on her hoodie. Every once in a while she would peer around the corner at the other kids, and then she would quickly duck back, look away, back down to her feet. The bell rang. She waited until all the other kids had left, before slowly making her way toward the door. She never stopped looking at her shoes. It was an utterly ordinary scene. And it broke my heart. Read more