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Posts from the ‘Suffering’ Category

Is Justin Bieber Allowed to Suffer? (and Other Indecent Calculations)

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

The Monstrosity of Easter

 

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.

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“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

What’s the Matter with Death?

Reading a book about the philosophy of the mid-life crisis is comparable to being on the receiving end of targeted advertising for Rogaine. You instinctively resent the fact that you now represent a category of humanity for whom this could even plausibly be relevant. Alas, haughty resentment is about as useful in stalling the clock as it is in stimulating long dormant hair follicles. I have thus far resisted the siren call of Rogaine. Mid-life philosophy books? Evidently not. Read more

Amidst the Flames

For the last four years or so, our church has taken the stretch of time roughly between Epiphany and the beginning of Lent to focus our sermons on questions of faith from members of our congregation. These questions range from the existential (Does God exist?) to the hermeneutical (What is the meaning of passage x) to the socio-cultural (What does a Christian response to this or that thing going on in the broader culture look like?). Needless to say, it’s a sermon series that forces me out of my proverbial comfort zone. I am sometimes thrust into issues and texts that I might prefer to avoid. I am also at least partially liberated from the confines of my own subjectivity and forced to read Scripture, experience, and the broader culture through the lens of other people’s questions. Which is good.  Read more

Wagging White Fingers

I’ve hesitated to say much in response to the grim spectacle of America ablaze with protests against the racism, police brutality, and appalling murder of George Floyd last week in Minneapolis. My justifications for silence often wander down familiar trails. What can I say that others can’t say or haven’t already said better? I’m not American; what right do I have to say anything about a social reality that is not my own? What good does adding to an amorphous chorus of condemnation/white guilt really do? Isn’t ninety percent of what’s going online today a flailing combination of virtue signalling and emoting out loud? What good is one more wagging white finger against racism? Read more

Don’t Know What You Got (Till It’s Gone)

I don’t know what COVID-19 is doing to the brains of others as the long days of physical separation grind on. For me, it’s apparently introduced a full-blown case of nostalgia. I’m drifting through old photos pondering how uncomplicated things seemed back then. I’m wistfully remembering things like road trips and concerts and sporting events—things that seem almost literally impossible these days. And I’m listening to the music of my childhood more than usual. Yesterday, it was the Counting Crows and Genesis as I barbecued in the backyard. The day before it was (gulp) Heart and Roxette. The day before that it was an embarrassingly bad playlist of power ballads. I could go on, but in the interests of preserving what’s left of my dignity I should probably stop.  Read more

Why Pandemic?

Why COVID-19? What is the meaning of this global pandemic that we are all currently living through? This is a question that might sound nonsensical to many readers. It’s a rather embarrassing category confusion. Seeking to find “meaning” in something like a virus is silly, at best. Read more

The Liturgically Awkward Hope of Resurrection

If you’re anything like me, time has taken on a bit of a funny feel during these days of pandemic. Everything seems somehow off kilter, stretched out, indeterminate. It’s easy to feel like you’ve lost your bearings. Last week, I encountered one of the endless memes floating around social media these days (COVID-19 is thus far at least proving to be a reliable generator of these!) that captured what many of us are feeling: “In case you lost track, today is March 98th!” Sounds about right. Read more

The Scourge that Lays Waste

There are times when it seems like the Psalms are trying to talk themselves into something. Into a certain view of the world and how it works. Into a formula for avoiding suffering and attaining blessing. I know the right answer on the theology test is that the Psalms are the prayer book of the church and that they give us a language of prayer for the life of faith, but sometimes the Psalms just sound tone-deaf, at best, and utterly false and misleading at worst. Read more

Memento Mori (Or, a Few Thoughts while Social Distancing Through the Rocky Mountains)

I spent two of the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic practicing social distancing in my van. My daughter was attending college in British Columbia this year and late last week the directive came that dorms would be emptying, and students would have to return home. So, twenty-five hours in a forty hour period were spent bombing over the Rocky Mountains and back. Read more

On Ambient Violence

Two women recently came to our church looking for help. Both were victims of domestic violence, both had children in the picture, both were indigenous, both desperately poor, both out of options. Both stories were soaked in their own unique varieties of heartache and pain. And yet, both stories were sadly, predictably, damnably ordinary. Read more

Dispatches from the Breaking Point

Last Saturday morning, I, like many others, gasped as I read Ian Brown’s Globe and Mail article describing how L’Arche founder Jean Vanier had sexually abused six women over a period of several decades and known of abuses committed by his former mentor and spiritual director, Père Thomas Philippe. I had received a heads-up from local L’Arche leaders that “something about Vanier might be coming” (our church has close ties with the L’Arche community in our city), but most seemed to think that it might have to do with what and when Vanier knew about Père Thomas’s abuses. I certainly wasn’t expecting anything like what I read in the Globe last weekend. Read more

Fix the System, Fix the Problem?

I spent Monday morning in a packed hotel conference room full of community leaders who had been summoned to hear a presentation on a plan initiated by our city called the “Community Wellbeing and Safety Strategy.” Like many cities, ours is facing significant challenges. Poverty, homelessness, crime, lack of affordable housing, and, of course, the scourges of addiction, mental health issues, and racism that bleed into all of the others. The opioid crisis is hitting our city hard. It is hitting the indigenous population particularly hard. And this spins out into all kinds of social realities that heighten suspicions and diminish good will in our community. The picture of the reality on the ground we were presented with was bleak. “We can’t fix these problems on our own,” the city representatives said. “We need your help.” Read more

Mid-Way

I’ve lately been surveying the simultaneously bewildering and utterly banal landscape that is middle age. It’s a natural thing to do because, well, this is the terrain that I am in the midst of personally traversing. But in addition to looking inward, I’ve been looking out, too. And I’ve been struck by what emerges out of the cracks of conversations and comments of people in the same stage of life. It’s hard. Perhaps not harder than other stages of life, but certainly hard in unique and uniquely challenging ways. Read more

The Third Option

The early days of January are a quite natural slice of time for taking stock, personally, professionally, relationally, existentially. These are the days when we are encouraged to cast an evaluative glance in the rear-view mirror and to look purposefully ahead to what may yet be. These are the days of making resolutions that we will almost certainly break, but I suppose we can’t be faulted for that. We are wired for hope and newness and possibility. We don’t know what to do with ourselves, it seems, unless we’re expecting more from ourselves, others, and the world. Read more

Are You Looking at Me?

A strange thing happened on the way to work this morning. A blue minivan came flying up beside me on the highway and then abruptly slammed on the brakes to match my speed. I glanced over, puzzled. Was it a friend trying to get my attention? Had I cut this person off? Was my fuel cap open and flapping in the wind? My gaze was met by a woman and (I assumed) her young son in the passenger seat. She was leaning across him, gesturing wildly at me, pointing at me with two fingers, seeming to indicate that she was watching me. Or something. I really don’t know. I stared at her, more bewildered than before. Before I knew it, she had raced off ahead of me. Read more

Thursday Miscellany: On Resilience

Some fragmentary thoughts and observations on resilience accumulated over the course of the summer…

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I spent last weekend in Vancouver, BC where my wife was running a half marathon. She inexplicably enjoys running long distances on purpose and I enjoy drinking coffee and reading in between seeing her off and waiting for her at the finish line, so it’s a decent enough arrangement. Last weekend, however, things took an unexpected turn. Just under two miles in, she had a fall and landed hard on her shoulder. The pain, she said, was excruciating. No doubt. So, she naturally did what most normal people would do in such a situation, which is to say, she ran eleven miles with a grade three separation of her shoulder. Err… Read more