One more reflection based on my time spent in Palestine and Israel over the past few weeks. After this, I shall endeavour to give this “blogging sabbatical” thing another, better try.
It’s an interesting thing how geography and social location affects the way you read and hear Scripture. Most Sundays, I am reading and hearing Scripture as a relatively comfortable, white, middle-class Christian in a more or less peaceful country where religion often occupies a peripheral (at best) role in most people’s thinking and living. This affects how I read and hear the words of the Bible. My default, whether I want this or not, tends to be to listen in ways that will more or less endorse and validate myself and those who are like me. This is, as I said, most Sundays. Last Sunday, however, I worshiped in Palestine.
Joseph greets me with a smile and warm handshake before serving me breakfast every morning in Bethlehem. I met Joseph two years ago during my first trip to Israel and Palestine and it has been a delight to reconnect with him this week.
Joseph is a Palestinian Christian and is always willing to share about his life and story. The one memory of him that stood out in 2016 was of him telling me about the hotel being shut down and commandeered by the Israeli army during one of the uprisings of the early 2000’s. For forty days, the top floor was used for army surveillance and sniper locations. Joseph was conscripted to prepare food for the army and not permitted to leave for the entire time they were there.
Last night our little church had the opportunity to hear from what is a bit of a rarity in southern Alberta: a Syrian Orthodox priest. We have a connection with Father Lukas Awad that goes back three years. I first met him when he was touring the province with a group connected to MCC Alberta. Through a series of events, this initial meeting led to our group of churches sponsoring families from his parish in Homs that were refugees in Lebanon at the time. Father Lukas has thirteen families from his parish scattered throughout the province of Alberta, including six here in Lethbridge. Read more
I’ve been reading Alan Jacobs’ little book How to Think over the last few days. It doesn’t contain anything particularly new, but it has been yet another reminder of just how bad at thinking we often are and are becoming, particularly in the digital age. Jacobs does not paint a flattering portrait. Reactionary ideological sloganeering easily and often replaces careful, nuanced thinking about difficult issues. More often than not, the things we think are determined less by actual investigation and weighing of evidence than by our need for social belonging and our desire to have an “other” to define ourselves in opposition to. We are yanked around by emotional reactions and impulses and then tell a rational story to reframe our views as the result of logical analysis. We are masters at lying to ourselves about why we think the things we do, at taking shortcuts when we can’t be bothered to deal with complexity, and at regurgitating platitudes in the confident expectation that this will be affirmed by the people we seek to impress and the groups we hope to belong to. All in all, according to Jacobs, we’re not nearly as good at thinking as we think we are. Read more
The last few days have been full of expressions of patriotism and anti-patriotism. Canada’s 150th birthday was on Saturday. Today, obviously, is the big day for our American neighbours. The internet is, predictably, aflame with either nationalistic chest-thumping or withering criticisms thereof. There is, of course, plenty to be critical of. Canada continues to come to terms with and be confronted by its treatment of indigenous people, historically right down to the present. The USA struggles with all things Donald Trump and his “America First” agenda that seems content to kick a whole bunch of people to the curb. I suspect that no matter the insignia on our passport, many of us feel at least a little bit conflicted when it comes to waving the flag. And if we don’t, we should. Especially if we are Christians. As followers of Jesus, our national identities ought always to be worn loosely given our primary convictions and commitments to Christ and to his kingdom. Read more
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
In a few weeks I will have been writing in this space for an even decade. Or, about nine and a half years longer than I expected when I first started blogging. As the years go by and the posts accumulate, I find it fascinating to track which posts grab people’s attention and which fade into online oblivion pretty much from the moment I press “publish.” As I’ve said before, I’m regularly surprised how posts that I’m quite proud of generate barely a passing glance and posts that I consider to be rather average receive a much wider viewing. Such is the wild world of writing online.
At any rate, as has become my habit over the past few years, here are the five posts that rose to the top of the pile in 2016 along with a brief description of each. Read more
Over breakfast this morning, I watched a video called “Welcome to Canada,” produced by The Atlantic. It is a fascinating window into the lives of Syrians who have fled their country and found a refuge in our nation. This particular story takes place in the Vancouver area and follows a young Syrian man who came to Canada in 2014 as a refugee, and is now doing what he can to help the most recent wave of refugees who have arrived in 2016. The outlines of the story will be familiar to anyone who has been following the news over the past few years, but is no less poignant for being familiar. Obviously.
So, the world is today waking up bleary-eyed and incredulous to a Donald Trump presidency. Most of the people in my social media orbit are stunned, shocked, angry, grieving, horrified, anxious, fearful, and whole host of other grim adjectives. I can’t recall encountering this volume of doom and gloom before breakfast in quite some time. The once-laughable prospect of someone as reckless, crude, ignorant, arrogant, childish, and spiteful as Donald Trump ever occupying the White House has now become a reality. 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
A funny thing happened after church on Sunday. One of our church members politely pulled me away from another conversation with the news that, “There are some visitors that want to talk to you.” I’m a little weary after the service at the best of times, but this past Sunday was even worse. I was coasting on fumes having just arrived home from Europe a day before and having been up for approximately eight hours by the time the service rolled around. My head was aching and my eyes were heavy. So it took a bit of effort to summon my best pastor smile and introduce myself to the beaming thirty-something year old couple that stood before me. 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
Ever since I returned from Palestine and Israel a few weeks ago, I’ve been trying to come up with some kind of a summary post or report or analysis or something to kind of tie a nice little bow on my experience, to have some finished product to point to that summarizes the things I saw and experienced while over there. Read more
Another restless sleep in Bethlehem interrupted by the 4 am call to prayer… In lieu of tossing and turning frustratedly for the next hour, I thought recording a few stories lodged in my brain from yesterday might be a more profitable use of my time. Read more
“You know, in Germany there are hordes of young Syrian men raping German women.” The statement hovered in the air menacingly. I suspected that I was in for an interesting encounter as I watched him stride determinedly toward me after I gave a presentation on the Syrian refugee crisis at a local church recently. His jaw was set and his brow was furrowed. I was not expecting congratulations or affirmation for the work that I had spent the last half hour or so describing, but I wasn’t expecting anything quite this stark either. It wasn’t a question or even a potential opening to a conversation. It was a crude challenge thrown down. Or a dare. Or a provocation. You have all your nice words about Jesus and love and welcoming the stranger… Well, what do you say about this?! Read more
Often when people find out that I’m a pastor for the first time, they will gradually, at some point in the conversation, summon the requisite courage or boldness or curiosity to ask some version of the question, So what do you actually do all day? I will usually “um” and “ah” and “well, you see” for a while, before settling on things like sermons, worship preparation, writing, visiting folks, various administrative tasks, and whittling away at the ever-present mountain of email that is the bane of twenty-first century existence among the joyful privileges of participating in the Lord’s work. [Ahem] I don’t very often get to say things like, Well, this week, I’m actually spending a bit of time with an international journalist who is in town working on a story about our community’s responses to the Syrian refugee crisis. Like, roughly never. Read more
I dropped in on our local English training centre for newcomers to Canada today. It wasn’t a planned visit, but I was having a conversation at a downtown coffee shop about how the Syrian families we sponsored are doing, and I said something to the effect of, “Well, they’re across the street right now in English classes. Wanna wander over there and see?” Off we went. Read more
It was nearly 7:00 and I was staring down a long evening of back to back meetings (bible study, followed by a refugee information meeting) in the midst of a pretty frantic few weeks dominated by all manner of logistics with helping our new Syrian friends make their way in this new land. I had been up early for another refugee meeting at City Hall (I’ve been collecting committees as a hobby over these past few months) and the day had been a long one already. The kids needed to be driven hither and yon, there was a church AGM to get ready for the following day, and, as always, a sermon to prepare. And there was the looming prospect of the remainder of the week sans spouse as my wife left town this morning for a conference that will occupy the remainder of her week. All in all, I was not particularly looking forward to the evening ahead. Read more