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
Posts from the ‘Suffering’ Category
Last year I was poking around in a cool little bookstore in the Rocky Mountain town of Canmore when I happened upon a little book called What Comes from Spirit by the late Ojibway author Richard Wagamese. Wagamese is best known for books like Indian Horse, Medicine Walk, and One Native Life. I had the opportunity to meet Richard in 2014 when I hosted an event he was speaking at. I remember him as a very soft-spoken and gentle man. And a great storyteller. Read more
I’ve had a few hard conversations over the last week or so. Conversations about death and dying and despair, about the absence of God, the uselessness of God, the silence of God, the bleakness of the post-Christian landscape where hope, like every other good thing, must be manufactured by us if it is to be found at all. There are days when I would rather not be in God’s PR department. Read more
Faith in God begins where faith in oneself ends.
This is the kind of line that I would have probably condescendingly rolled my eyes at when I was younger. Yeah, there’s probably a kernel of truth in there, but it sounded to me like a pious cliché, the kind of thing you’d find on some kitschy piece of religious art or home decorating paraphernalia. It would have been in the same category, for me, as that “footprints in the sand” picture or sayings like, “When God closes a door, He opens a window” and “Everything happens for a reason.” Yeah, ok. Whatever. Read more
A few days ago, my wife and I were bombing through the mountains at the tail end of a holiday in British Columbia and had exhausted all other conversational options. So we decided to discuss the problem of evil and free will. It seemed like a nice, light holiday topic, a welcome break from what I think about most days. Read more
“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
There was a picture on the wall, barely visible, through the half-opened door. It looked faded and neglected and kitschy in all kinds of ways. There was an orangey sunset, maybe a lake or a river. I can’t remember, so instantly forgettable was the scene. It was the words on the top of the picture that grabbed my attention: “No God, No Peace; Know God, Know Peace.” A clever slogan, that one. Read more
This afternoon, I received the devastating news that a young man connected to our congregation had taken his own life. I sat stunned, staring at my screen for what felt like an hour. Who can comprehend such things? Who can make sense out of what is ultimately senseless? I thought immediately of all those I know who loved this dear young man, all those who will be shattered by this loss, those whose grief will be immense. Read more
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
Like many this morning, I’m fighting the urge to do little more than sit, slack jawed, at my computer, trying to process the news coming out of the Ukraine. It all feels so ominous and heavy and infuriating and sad. So terribly, terribly sad. After an hour or so of impotent doom scrolling, I closed my computer and decided to pray. I had no idea what to pray, so I borrowed better words than I could ever summon on my own.
The following excerpts come from a liturgy called “A Prayer of Intercession Against the Kingdom of Death.” from Every Moment Holy, vol. 2. Perhaps it will give you language appropriate for the sorrow and rage of the day, as it did for me: Read more
There are a lot of people home sick in these early days of 2022, whether because of Omicron or some other thing. I was among them last week. My experience of Covid was fairly ordinary, even boring. It felt like a common cold. I say this knowing full well that others have had worse experiences than I have. One of weirdest thing about this virus (and there are many weird things!) is how differently it seems to affect people. Read more
In her marvelous book Prayer in the Night, Tish Harrison Warren tells the story of her friend Julie, whose infant son had to undergo surgery. As the nurses were about to wheel him into the operating room, Julie looked at her husband and said, “We have to decide right now whether or not God is good, because if we wait to determine that by the results of this surgery, we will always keep God on trial.” Read more
It’s the early hours of what promises to be a blistering hot Canada Day. I’m sitting at my laptop, drinking my morning coffee, wearing an orange t-shirt. As you likely know, at least if you live in Canada, the orange t-shirt has come to become a symbol of solidarity with our indigenous neighbours, specifically those who endured residential schools. The idea for the orange t-shirt emerges out of the experience of a young indigenous girl who was given an orange shirt by her grandmother to wear on her first day at a Residential School in British Columbia. The shirt was confiscated, and she never saw it again. Read more
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 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
Earlier this week, I set out on a rather mundane and (I thought) noble task. I wanted to buy local. I had a relatively ordinary purchase to make, but it was one that I knew I could either get at some anonymous big box store that’s already made buckets of money during this pandemic or a local shop that I imagined would have been having a harder time of it. Over the course of this pandemic, I have rid myself of Facebook and sworn off Amazon. I’ve tried to avoid Wal-Mart and other big box stores. This would be the next step in my evolution as a conscientious consumer. Or at least some reasonable facsimile, thereof. Read more
Over the last few months, no fewer than three people I know and respect have told me that I should listen to Justin Bieber’s new album. These are all people that know me well enough to understand what a musical stretch this would be for me. Each recommendation was met with slightly hostile incredulity from yours truly. Justin Bieber?! Seriously?! You might as well ask me to forfeit my soul. How would I even begin to salvage the tatters of my reputation? But three people. And people I respect. Hmm, what to do. Read more
I remember a few years ago I was hunting around for some music to listen to while preparing my Easter sermon. It was Holy week, so I thought I should try to find something a bit more inspirational than my usual fare. Perhaps some classical music. I surveyed the options on my streaming service. I was presented with two choices for Holy Week. How delightful! I read the description of each.