I was in Germany last week visiting friends and celebrating my brother’s completion of his PhD. I consequently spent a lot of time on trains and planes and had ample time for looking out of windows and thinking big thoughts. Among the things that occurred to me as I whizzed through the springtime Bavarian countryside is that you can tell a lot about someone by what or who or how they admire. The shape of our admiration speaks volumes. And of course it (almost) goes without saying that we tend to admire badly. I do, at any rate. Read more
Posts from the ‘Spirituality’ Category
I am not in the habit of looking to the domain of theoretical physics for memorable images to aid in conceptualizing the nature of faith. This is because, a) I struggle to understand what theoretical physicists are talking about 90% of the time; and, b) Because of a), I console myself with the fiction that theoretical physicists are a mostly unimaginative lot who content themselves with equations and formulas and other math-y gibberish, and aren’t capable of producing metaphors that speak to the truth of people’s lived experience. And that I wouldn’t want to know what they’re talking about anyway. The fox and the grapes of Aesop’s fable and all that. Read more
I am usually quite suspicious of oft-repeated expression, “I’m spiritual but not religious.” Actually, “suspicious” might be putting it rather mildly. I have something bordering on a pathological loathing of this phrase. It’s possible that I have even visibly shuddered in disgust in the various contexts where this expression makes its predictable appearance. I usually encounter it in people who either refuse to consider church in the first place or who have left it behind for the usual assemblage of real or imagined grievances. Or people who can’t be bothered to think very hard about what they might believe or why but like the idea of seeming a bit deeper than they in fact are. Or people who imagine that they have grasped the deeper truth that all religions are inadequately and intolerantly pointing toward. Or people who like yoga. Or people who think that all religions are neat and cool and inspiring except for when they say things that don’t confirm what they already think. Or when they infringe upon personal liberties and preferences… or sleep habits… or weekend plans or… well, when they infringe upon anything, really. “I’m spiritual but not religious” very often seems to me to be among the more vacuous statements that a human could utter.
Oh dear. I did say that “suspicious” was putting it mildly, didn’t I? Read more
Attention is the mind’s desire.
This five words leaped off the screen when I read Joseph Clair’s fine essay “Our Own Devices” over at First Things this morning. The whole piece seemed like a living, breathing personal indictment, truth be told. But those five words, they thrust a question that I often do my best to avoid right to the front of my consciousness: what does the object and quality of the attention that I pay say about the nature of my desire? Read more
God of our salvation, all our longing is known to you, our sighing is not hidden from you…
So begins one of today’s prayers in the prayer book I use. Quite appropriately, as it turns out, for I do a lot of longing and a lot of sighing. Indeed, it seems like the older I get, the more longings I accumulate. I took an hour to make a partial list today. Read more
Over the last number of years I’ve reflected often about how we inhabit this shared space that is the Internet. The ability to interact online is a marvelous gift and one that, as someone who has been blogging for nearly a decade, I am immensely appreciative of. But to the surprise of precisely no one who has spent more than five minutes online, the shared spaces of our online discourse can also be profoundly uninspiring in countless ways. See any comment section anywhere. The human capacity for coarse vulgarity, tribalistic stupidity and willful misunderstanding and misrepresentation is apparently limitless.
It usually takes about five or six days. When one of my wife or I am traveling, this tends to be the threshold beyond which I start to feel strangely disoriented or unsettled or somehow, I don’t know, adrift. When I am the one at home—as is the case now, while my wife visits friends in Germany—this tends to be around the time when the kids have begun to peer dejectedly into the refrigerator, sadly pondering the prospects of another evening of dad’s “cooking.” The pets have started to wander around the house full of confused longing, being generally accustomed to warmer treatment than they tend to receive from me. It’s as if the entire house senses that things are not as they should be. Read more
For most of this fall, our church’s worship has spent time dwelling in a handful of chapters from the back-end of Matthew’s gospel. This stretch of the first gospel (ch. 22-25) contains long, at times unbroken stretches of words out of the mouth of Jesus. Words to the religious leaders of Israel, words to his disciples, words to the hovering crowds. Words of clarification and confrontation, words of offence and judgment. Words that jolt and alarm and cause the scratching of heads. Words about vineyards and virgins and landlords and kings, and screwed up systems where the punishment rarely seems to fit the crime. Words about wasting opportunities, about not paying attention, and suffering the ultimate consequence. Words about weeping and gnashing of teeth, words about darkness and the eternal fires prepared for the devil. Words that sometimes draw us to and sometimes repel us from the One who speaks them. I have been struck throughout our trip through this portion of Matthew at what an enigma Jesus can be, at times. At how hard his words can sometimes be. Read more
We do a lot of driving in our family. Driving to volleyball, guitar, swim club, band rehearsal, grandma and grandpa’s, and on and on it goes. Many days it is in the car that some of the best, most important, and sometimes only conversations with our kids happen. Today my daughter and I were off to the doctor’s office for a routine visit and the talk turned to the trials and tribulations of teenage life. We talked about cyber-bullying, peer pressure, romantic dramas, sports, classroom dynamics, terrible teachers, and a whole host of other things.
We also talked about racism.
This morning, I’m shaking out the cobwebs after a delightful week spent out in Winnipeg with the students, staff, and faculty at Canadian Mennonite University as pastor in residence. It was a week full of chapel talks and forums and lunchtime discussions and devotionals and informal conversations with students in the campus cafe and a whole host of other interactions and opportunities that have gotten all jumbled together in my weary brain. I feel a bit like a wrung-out rag, but in a contented, satisfied, grateful sort of way. It’s good to spend oneself in good ways with good people.
During my last chapel talk, I reflected a bit on the experience of being back on a university campus, about the memories it triggered, and about what advice, if any, I might give my younger university self from the vantage point that I now occupy a few years down the road. The following is a lightly edited version of some of what I said yesterday morning. Read more
Over the course of the month of May, the MennoNerds blogging collective that I am a part of has been reflecting upon how “Anabaptist distinctives” impact our thinking and living in the world. A while back, fellow MennoNerd, Tyler Tully wrote a piece called What are Anabaptists? where he outlined three core Anabaptist convictions:
- The centrality of Jesus above all things
- The essential community/free church of confessing, baptized disciples
- The prophetic and non-violent witness of God’s peace.
The challenge subsequently went out for all of us to write our own blog post on how these three convictions influence our own faith and practice. Read more
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.
So I’m meandering down a dark street in Vancouver (I’m here for a conference), taking in the old streets where we used to live and work and worship, smelling the smells of spring, enjoying the sounds of the city, when I hear footsteps behind me. I turn and see a young man approaching me. I begin to walk a bit faster but I hear his pace quicken. I turn around again, all kinds of scenarios beginning to nervously take shape in my mind. I ponder increasing my speed again, but all of a sudden he blurts out, “Are you staying at the ____ house?” “Um, yeah,” I say, hesitantly. “Come with me,” he exclaims with a wide smile. “I’ll show you the way.”
Fear. Of nothingness. Of dying. Of failure. Of change. It is of different degrees, but it all comes from one source, which is the isolated self, the self willfully held apart from God. There are three ways you can deal with this fear. You can simply refuse to acknowledge it, dulling your concerns with alcohol or entertainment or exercise or even a sort of virtuous busyness, adding your own energies to the white noise of anxiety that this culture we have created seems to use as fuel. This is despair, but it is a quiet despair, and bearable for many years. By the time that great grinding wheel of the world rolls over you for good, you will be too eroded to notice.
Or, if you are strong in the way that the world is strong, you can strap yourself into life and give yourself over to a kind of furious resistance that may very well carry you through your travails, may bring you great success and seem to the world triumphant, perhaps even heroic. But if it is merely your will that you are asserting, then you will develop a carapace around your soul, the soul that God is trying to refine, and one day you will return to dust inside that shell that you have made.
There is another way. It is the way of Christ in the Garden of Gethsemane, pleading for release from his fate, abandoned by God. It is something you cannot learn as a kind of lessons simply from reading the text. Christ teaches by example, true, but he lives with us, lives in us, through imagination and experience. It is through all these trials in our own lives, these fears however small, that we come close to Christ, if we can learn to say, with him, “not my will, Lord, but yours.” This is in no way resignation, for Christ still had to act. We all have to act, whether it’s against the fears of our daily life or against the fear that life itself is in danger of being destroyed. And when we act in the will of God, we express hope in its purest and most powerful form, for hope, as Václav Havel has said, is a condition of your soul, not a response to the circumstances in which you find yourself. Hope is what Christ had in the garden, though he had no reason for it in terms of events, and hope is what he has right now, in the garden of our own griefs.
— Christian Wiman, My Bright Abyss
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
It is the middle of January and I wish it was colder than this. I wish it was brilliantly white and crisp and clear. I wish I could see my breath and that the snow crunched under my feet as I walked. I would prefer an idyllic winter scene.
But it’s well above zero here, these days. There’s a 100 km/hr chinook wind ferociously screaming daily in my face, relentlessly wearing down optimism and good will. All around there are shades of grey and brown. The barren trees bend and shake, wearied by the wind, plastic bags and garbage clinging to their lonely branches. The roads are choked with gravel and salt and the last dirty remnants of snow. The world seems grimy and plain. Read more
I get a lot of books in the mail, but there are few that I can recall anticipating as keenly as the one that came in a little brown box today. Christian Wiman’s My Bright Abyss has been on my radar for a while now, whether due to the almost unanimously affirming reviews it has received, or simply to the nature of the story behind the book: poet/writer/scholar gets cancer in his thirties and begins (begins again? continues?) to chart the rocky terrain from secularism to religious belief. The story and the subject matter both compel me, but it is the writing that is blowing me away. This man is, truly, at home with words. I am reading, and rereading, and reading more slowly than I have in quite some time. Occasionally, very rarely, I come across a writer whose words leave me thinking, “Yes, I have found a friend.” One chapter into My Bright Abyss, and I am convinced that Christian Wiman is one of them.
I think that the main problem with our world right now is that there’s just not enough spirituality.
I had gone to a local café to get out of the office and try to get some reading done, but I quite literally couldn’t help but overhear the preceding assessment/diagnosis of the plight of the planet and its inhabitants taking place at the table beside me. It was a couple of university students, if their meticulously disheveled and painstakingly ironic appearances were anything to go by. The more enthusiastic of the two—the one doing most of the talking—had evidently taken a few introductory philosophy and religious studies courses, judging by the peppering of his discourse with references to Gandhi, Jesus, Plato, and the Bhagavad Gita (not to mention a reference to that most estimable of Zen masters, Phil Jackson). The other young man seemed more interested in the Shakespeare he was trying to read, but he seemed content enough to allow the spiritual wisdom to pour forth unabated from his friend. Read more