Over the past few months, I’ve had a number of people, close to home and from afar, comment that they’ve appreciated my reflections and stories that emerge out of Monday mornings spent at the jail. I’ve obviously appreciated the affirmation, even as I sometimes privately wonder if I’m dancing a little too close to the line of voyeuristically exploiting the pain of hard stories to make a bit of theological hay. In my more optimistic moments, I believe these stories need to be told to bring a bit of humanity into a place where stereotypes and casual dismissiveness abound, to shine a light on the glimmers of hope, to bear witness to the sadness, etc.; at other times, I wonder if I’m doing little more than wordily rubbernecking as I pass the scene of a car wreck. Read more
Posts from the ‘Stories on the Way’ Category
I spent part of this morning packaging and delivering bread. Every three years, the Mennonite-ish churches in our area pool their time, talent, and resources to organize a relief sale for MCC (the relief and development arm of our denominations). And every three years, a friend in our church uses our church kitchen to bake bread for the sale. Like, a lot of bread. Like, three hundred and fifty loaves of bread. He arrives at 4:30 in the morning, turns on CBC radio, and works until late afternoon. Sourdough, whole wheat, muesli, raisin, white… The list goes on and on. He told me that this year he’s been doing push ups for three months to prepare for the physical toll of kneading and rolling dough. It had never occurred to me that you might need to train to bake bread. But then it would never occur to me to bake three hundred and fifty loaves, either. Read more
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
By the pool of Beth-za’tha and its remedial waters is where Jesus came across the invalids. Many of them, apparently. The blind, the lame, the paralyzed. The broken and discarded pieces of humanity that were and are easy to walk by. But not Jesus, of course. Jesus summons such people to life. Jesus says things like, Stand up. Take your mat. Walk. Read more
Half a decade or so, I watched from the window of my study as a beat-up old truck covered in mud pulled into our church parking lot. I think it was on a Tuesday morning, just like today. The driver just sat there for a while. I watched from my window, puzzled. Were they lost? Confused? Was the Tim Hortons parking lot across the road full and they were just looking for a peaceful place to nurse their double double? Were they actually in the right place but struggling to muster the courage to come inside? Eventually, a young man opened the door tentatively made his way into the building. I’ll call him Duane. Read more
There are questions that I encounter as a pastor that haunt me. I’m not necessarily thinking about the “usual suspects” here. Questions about the existence of God or why we suffer or the challenge of pluralism or the historicity of this or that biblical story or the conundrums of interpreting this or that passage or doctrine. These all represent familiar enough terrain and present their own challenges to faith. But the questions I’m thinking about today are much more personal in nature. Read more
There were two mistakes made at the jail this morning. The first was that the security guard called the wrong unit to the chapel. So, instead of the one or two men who usually show up Monday mornings it was nearly twenty women. In most places, the error would be corrected, the wrong group sent back, the right group recalled. But nothing happens easily or quickly in the jail and we were already running late. So, we decided to just play the hand we were dealt. The circle was widened, more bibles were procured, more photocopies of lessons were made. The women had shown up and we couldn’t very well turn them away. Read more
I left the jail this morning feeling a heaviness that I have not felt in some time. I don’t go there each Monday with some big agenda—I’m not there to reform or convert or instruct, but to listen, to pray, to encourage. But most days, I get a glimpse of goodness through a conversation, a smile, a new insight into the human heart and the human predicament. Today was not one of those days. Read more
Another Monday morning, another trip to the jail. Again, only two guys show up. There was a third who just about made it, but he transgressed on the walk to the chapel (he said hi to someone in an adjacent classroom, which is not permitted, and which led to a voice over the loudspeaker just as he was entering the chapel: “Back to the unit…”). So, only a few plastic chairs occupied in the circle this morning. Read more
Only two guys showed up for the support group at the jail today. There had been some kind of a disturbance in the unit, apparently, and so it was twenty-five minutes past start time when the pair of them trudged in. One was an older guy who seemed reserved and didn’t say much. The other was a young Cree man who talked a mile a minute and seemed delighted to be anywhere other than his cell. Brandon* introduced himself to me three times, a vigorous handshake accompanying each introduction, before we settled in to the circle. Read more
I’ve spent part of this morning sifting through a week’s worth of difficult conversations. Several dealt with the trials and tribulations of parenting adult children. What do you do when the kids you have poured years of yourself into seem determined to walk down destructive roads, when they have little interest in your values or hopes for them? What do when you see nothing but trouble on the horizon but feel powerless to do anything about it? How do you sustain hope when it feels like you are failing or have failed at one of life’s most important tasks? Read more
I’ve been spending a good portion of this week preparing for the funeral of my grandmother. Good words are always important, I think, but especially at funerals. I feel this even more acutely when it’s the funeral of someone that I have known and loved. This morning, I was drifting around a rarely accessed bookshelf in my study and I came across a dusty old book called The Complete Handbook for Ministers. A number of books like this have found their way into my hands over the years, usually as gifts from retired pastors or people with a pastor in their family. I located the “Funerals” section and turned to the first page. There, I encountered a very peculiar section heading:
For an Outstanding Christian.
He’s sitting in his chair when I arrive. That’s it. Just sitting. Not watching TV, not reading. Just vacantly staring up at the ceiling. The curtains are drawn and the window closed, even though outside it’s a pleasant October day. The air is stale, sad, heavy. Read more
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.
I know I’m technically on a “blogging sabbatical,” but I decided to interrupt it to offer a few reflections and observations on a trip I’m presently on to Israel and Palestine. One of the things we consistently hear wherever we go in this conflicted area is, “Tell others what you have seen and heard with your own eyes and ears.” It’s a serious call, and one that I feel an obligation to respond to given the privilege that I have of being here. Here are some assorted stories and reflections from my first few days here. Read more
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
His eyes rarely leave the floor, even as he’s baring his soul. He’s young, tough-looking, brown skin marked with tattoos, black hair slicked back over the middle of a mostly shaved skull, rosary around his neck. It’s the first time he’s showed up at a group I participate it in at the local jail. He’s looked wary about the whole thing since he walked through the door. But he mustered up the courage to begin a sentence like, “I think I wanna say something…” And the story comes pouring out. Read more