I am learning that the jail is very often a place where simple narratives go to die.
This morning’s lesson was ostensibly about learning how to stop blaming parents and take responsibility for our own actions but, as is usually the case, the conversation tends to meander off in all kinds of loosely-related or unrelated territory. There was a younger indigenous woman who was sitting quietly while the lesson was read. She had spiky jet black hair streaked with blond, a few tattoos on her face, one that looked like a tear drop of blood. I wouldn’t have been surprised if she sat in stony silence throughout our time together. She didn’t look like she had much to say. Read more
Human beings are by far the weirdest of all God’s creatures. I say this with all due respect to the wild and extravagant diversity of the animal kingdom, much of which, regrettably, I remain woefully ignorant. The species of our world are truly bewildering both in number and variety, and their capacity to astonish and confound seems virtually limitless. But we are by far the strangest of the bunch. Read more
Funerals often produce interesting conversations. Especially when the funeral follows the tragic and unexpected death of the matriarch of a massive family with deep history in and connection to the local community. This was the case with the funeral for my grandmother last week. There were so many interesting conversation topics—everything from the ethics of assisted dying to eccentricities of family history to Trump to atheism to, of course, the life that my grandmother lived. But one theme that popped up over and over again, indeed seemed to weave its way through most of the others in some form or another, was a deep sense of nostalgia. Read more
I spent last weekend participating in a church renewal workshop. Perhaps unsurprisingly, I tend to be a little ambivalent when it comes to these kinds of events. Whatever “church renewal” is or might look like, it seems like the sort of thing that resists easy formulas or clever strategies. Also, I hate group exercises. But desperate times call for desperate measures. These are hard times for the church in Canada. The litany is familiar enough by now: shrinking, aging congregations, dwindling budgets, the evacuation of younger generations, the perception of irrelevance (or worse) out there in the broader culture, etc. The wearisome data piles up. Something, clearly, must be done, even if many of us have little idea what that “something” might be (or whether, indeed, it is all the church’s frantic “somethings” that are part of the problem). Read more
Perhaps it’s an utterly ordinary affliction of mid-life, but I find myself wondering often these days about what it means to make progress along the journey of life, whether this progress is physical, relational, professional, emotional, spiritual, or all of the above. It’s fairly normal, I suppose, to reach a certain stage of life and ask questions like, “Ok, how am I doing? Have I gotten any better at anything? Am I more disciplined now than I was at twenty-three? Have certain convictions grown sturdier? Is my faith stronger? Are my relationships healthier? Am I more confident in my vocation? Have I become a better husband, a more devoted father, a more faithful friend? Am I progressing on anything like a more hopeful arc in these important domains of life? Read more
If you’re not a socialist at twenty, you have no heart, and if you’re not a conservative at forty, you have no brain.
As far as quotes go, this well-known offering of unknown provenance could probably raise the ire of people across the political spectrum, particularly on the left. No one enjoys being implicitly told that they do (or don’t) have a brain or a heart. Those are fighting words, right there. Which is of course why the quote is repeated and why it’s memorable. Read more
Two recent conversations have me thinking about what I want to be when I grow up.
The first was with a recruiter for a Christian university over coffee a few days ago. I asked her about common questions that she gets from parents considering post-secondary education for their kids. She sighed, and listed off what was an unsurprising itemization of the requisite programs and degrees that would get their child the right kinds of jobs in the future. We mused about how little interest students (or educators) seem to have these days in things like virtue or being properly formed as human beings. Education is about dumping facts into brains so that these brains can then go out into the world and make money. You can figure out what kind of a person you want to be on your own time. Or not. So it seems, at any rate. Read more
Over the last few years, I have found it interesting to observe where we turn in times of crisis. Increasingly, it seems that the answer is, “talk show hosts.” Every mass shooting, every natural disaster, every crisis now seems to be followed by a rather predictable ritual. In the hours immediately after the event in question we scurry online and busy ourselves with changing our profile pictures and hash tagging and wearing out the phrase “thoughts and prayers.” Later that night or, perhaps, the next night, we all tune in to the talk show hosts (and then share clips of whate they said the next day). Yesterday, CBC ran a story devoted entirely to what the talk show hosts were saying about the mass shooting in Las Vegas, complete with video clips of each one. They “decried it,” evidently. Whew. Read more
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
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.
These 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