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Posts from the ‘Stories on the Way’ Category

The Question the Whole World Revolves Around

“You know that bible verse that talks about the greatest three things, or whatever… you know, the three things that remain and how the best one is love?” The question comes from a young man at the jail. He has this wild look about him, hair everywhere, restless movements, a frantic, searching gaze, cuts on his hands. One is still bleeding. He gets up now and then to go tear a few strips off the toilet paper roll on the bookshelf to slow the flow. He follows this up by spraying disinfectant on his hands (there’s a bottle in the corner by the overhead projector, a lingering remnant of early pandemic days, I suppose). “Yeah, that’s 1 Corinthians 13,” I say, trying to keep tabs on his movements. “It’s one of my favourites.” “Yeah, I read it last night,” he responds. “I like it, too. But he’s missing one. There’s a fourth one that should be in there.” Read more

Far as the Curse is Found

He comes to make his blessings flow
far as the curse is found. — Joy to the World

I often tell people that the bible sounds different when you read it in jail. The same is true for Christmas carols. The words and the melodies sound different when sung far away from festive church sanctuaries, when instead of candles and creches it’s just concrete and plastic and reinforced glass. You’re drawn to different lines of the familiar songs. Read more

The Violent Take It By Force

And from the days of John the Baptist until now the kingdom of heaven suffers violence, and the violent take it by force. — Matthew 11:12

I am not a violent man. I have never been in a fight. Not a real one anyway. I suppose there were hockey skirmishes and the ordinary fraternal conflagrations of childhood, but these little irruptions don’t really count. I was invariably terrible at violence. At heart, I am a peacemaker, if of a conflicted sort. Read more

The Lion

You have to sign in for the weekly bible studies at the jail. Name, unit number, time. Records must be kept. And so, the clipboard dutifully makes its way around the circle. One guy always has a massive grin on his face as he writes his name. I’ll call him Adam. I know why Adam is smiling. He has a standard practice by now. He writes his name, as per the requirements. But then he always leaves a few blank lines before writing another: “Jesus.” This day, he expands a bit. “Jesus of Nazareth.” He hopes he’s spelled Nazareth right. Read more

In Extremis

To be a pastor is to regularly find oneself in extremis. Pastors are expected to bring consolation and hope into extreme situations: contexts of depression, addiction, suicidal ideation, crushing poverty, relational breakdown, violence, existential despair, intellectual doubt, debilitating illness, and ultimately, of course, death. Or, more precisely, to point to the One who promises these things in (and beyond) the fractured and chaotic world of human experience. But what happens to the possibility of consolation when you don’t believe in this One anymore? Read more

Did Dahmer Just Need a Friend (Anthropology in the Tattoo Parlour)?

I’ve recently been reading David Zahl’s excellent new book Low Anthropology. Readers of this blog will not be surprised to learn that I am deeply convinced that we are in need of better understandings of human nature than the default ones we tend to operate with these days. As I mentioned in my previous post, I think a realistic and hopeful anthropology is one of Christianity’s great gifts to the world, however ignored or misunderstood it often is. We are all sinners in need of grace. We are all divine image-bearers who are loved and called. Both of these statements are true. And together they can save us from thinking too little or, far more likely in our cultural moment, too much of ourselves. Read more

Miracles Are Coming

“I’m here to see _____,” I say to the nurse at the front entrance of the hospital. “Oh, are you the son?” Her smile is so bright it radiates through her mask. “No, the pastor,” I respond, expecting, well who knows what. Apathy? Disdain? Curiosity? Impossibly, her smile brightens even further. “Oh, the pastor,” she beams. “How lovely.” All of a sudden, she is very eager not only to let me through the screening desk as quickly as possible but to personally escort me to the person’s room. She has some things she wants to say, evidently. Read more

Thursday Miscellany (On “Lived Experience”)

Well, the half-written posts and fragments and links and barely formed loosely connected ideas are piling up in my drafts folder. I need to do some digital (and mental) housecleaning, as it were. So, I guess today shall be a miscellany day. Here’s some of what I’ve been thinking about over the past few weeks. Read more

The Muffin Man

Jason* is poor in pretty much every sense of the word. He has very little money and what he does have he spends poorly. He is poorly educated and generally incurious about the broader world around him. He is poorly connected socially and spends a lot of time alone. He lacks social graces and is often a poor conversation partner. His health is, well, poor. Read more

A Brief Pause Before the Fuller Thought

I sat with someone as they took their last breath yesterday. These are simultaneously strange and sacred spaces, where grief and relief and fear and faith weave in and out and among each other. We live and move in a culture that doesn’t really do death well. We mostly avoid it, keep it at arm’s length, outsource it, deny it. Death, even when it comes at the end of a long and faithful life, intrudes.   Read more

The Last Shall Be First

There are no trees here. There should be trees to keep company with the dead. This was the first thing I thought as I stood beside a hole in the ground in tiny cemetery on the windswept winter prairies. It felt like the middle of nowhere. I guess it kind of was. Plots are more affordable the farther you go from the city, and the family had little money. It was bitterly cold and the few souls who had gathered shuffled nervously and stamped their feet. We were waiting for one more person who was late in arriving. I looked around and saw nothing but flat farmland and blowing snow. Where are the trees? Read more

Happy Birthday to Me

Apparently, this little blog is celebrating a birthday today. It was fifteen years ago today that I first pressed “publish” and sent a few thoughts out into the ether. WordPress was kind enough to give me a heartfelt birthday notification along with some stats today (I was touched, obviously). Over the last decade and a half, I have evidently written 1412 posts which have generated 13 995 comments. Which seems like rather a lot of words. Needless to say, a lot more than I expected way back on January 20, 2007. Read more

2021 in Review

It’s been… a year. Another year dominated by Covid, another year where we have vacillated between anxiety and hysteria and confusion and apathy and fear and anger and many other things besides. I cast a quick glance back at last year’s year-end post and read what I wrote: “the general sense seems to be that the next spin around the sun has to be better than the one that’s drawing to a close.” Was it? Well, maybe. I dunno. I guess it depends. Who knows much of anything at this point. I confidently predict 2022 will be better. Or worse. Or the same. Read more

Disarm You with a Smile

I found myself in a very long line up at the post office the other day. Without my phone. So, you know, pretty much the worst thing imaginable. Instead of pretending to attend to very important business or burying my nose in the (mostly trivial) minutiae of other people’s lives in worlds far away, I was forced to lift my gaze and pay attention to the actual world right in front of me. It was unsettling and disorienting. I barely made it out alive. Read more

Who Am I? (A Drive-Thru Existential Crisis)

What have I become? The thought occurred to me as I was pulling out of the McDonald’s drive-thru clutching my $1 medium black coffee on the way to work this morning. This was the fourth time in the last week that I have found myself in this shameful position. My daughter recently began a new job, and she and my wife have been emptying the coffee pot on the way out the door. I could have made a fresh pot but, well, you know that takes time, and I was running late, and McDonald’s has $1 coffee, so…. Read more

The Shadows of the Night

It’s pretty quiet at the church most days during this pandemic. There’s a cat without a tail that walks by the window of my study every now and then. Occasionally a driver will slowly meander through our parking lot confusedly staring at their phone (Google sometimes leads people astray). A family of deer has wandered by a few times. And last week, there was a woman sitting on the lawn. I’ll call her Danielle. Read more

A Mighty Warrior

“A pandemic is a cruel time to die,” I mutter to myself under my breath. I am in the foyer of a palliative care home. I have been through security, filled out the barrage of COVID paperwork. I make my way over to another desk, get my temperature checked. All is good, I am told. To the best of anyone’s knowledge, I am not carrying the plague. I walk down a long hallway armed with the two security codes that I will need to finally be granted limited access to a dear old soul whose race looks nearly run. “It was easier to get into the local prison than this fourteen months ago,” I grumble to myself. Read more

“You’re Not Very Nice”

There’s a woman who calls me at the church with some regularity. She calls from two or three different phone numbers and uses a handful of pseudonyms. I have a file full of the various names and numbers she’s used. I’ll call her Mary. The stories she tells vary. She’s dying or mortally ill. She has to get somewhere far away for a surgery and needs gas money. Her kids are terrible and mistreating her (and will probably be calling me soon to ask for money—don’t give it to them!). Her grandkids need food. She needs a hotel room. She needs a thousand dollars, but she’ll settle for fifty. This has been going on for the better part of a decade. I suppose most churches have a story or two like this. Read more