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Posts from the ‘Suffering’ Category

“Christ Did Not Die for the Good and Beautiful”

I finally got a chance to see Silence over the weekend. The film arrived late in our town, and even then only in the second-run theatre (I imagine its themes were probably deemed “too religious,” and therefore not profitable enough for mass consumption). The film is Martin Scorcese’s long-awaited adaptation of Shūsaku Endō’s 1966 novel of the same name, and is set in the context of the 17th century persecution of Japanese Christians by the Inquisitor Inoue. It is a masterfully made film based on a beautifully written novel that asks hard questions about the nature of martyrdom and faith and fidelity and suffering, and, of course, about the silence of God.  Read more

Do Not Be Afraid

Each year around Christmastime for the last decade or so, our family has a tradition of watching the entire Lord of the Rings trilogy (extended versions, of course). We spread it out over six nights—a full week immersion into Middle Earth, as it were. Over the last two or three years, my ears have invariably perked up during Bilbo’s conversation with Gandalf near the beginning of the first film. Bilbo is tired and conflicted and ready to leave everything and everyone behind. Then, this memorable and evocative line: I feel thin, sort of stretched, like butter scraped over too much bread.  Read more

The Sort to Smile

A breeze was entering the room through the window and rushing about inside, giving small notice here and there. William would have smiled then, had he been the sort to smile. One envies such types—who do not smile. The rest of us go around like fools, and these few maintain such dignity.

— Jesse Ball, The Curfew

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They say it takes more muscles to frown than to smile. I wonder about that. Sometimes it seems there is nothing easier than not to smile. Read more

They Don’t Know What They Are Doing

I often spend Monday mornings ruminating on the sermon I didn’t preach on Sunday. There are, of course, only so many things that can be said, only so many avenues to explore in a given text or texts in 15-20 minutes. There are usually many ideas and/or questions that never make it past the Saturday evening cutting floor. Sometimes it was because I didn’t have the courage to tackle them in public. Sometimes they weren’t relevant to the point I was trying to make. Sometimes there just wasn’t the time. Sometimes it’s all of the above. Read more

This is What a Christian Does

Every Wednesday evening, I lead a bible study with a group of seniors in our church. It’s a pretty simple affair, usually. We read the passage(s) that I will be preaching on the upcoming Sunday, we talk about what it means, we close by reciting the Lord’s Prayer, and then we have coffee and goodies.

We always begin our studies with sharing and prayer. Usually, this means a long list of people in our immediate orbits who are sick or suffering or struggling. Last night, however, we made a point of praying for those affected by this week’s stabbing at Abbotsford Senior Secondary School in British Columbia. A young man walked into an ordinary school on and ordinary day and took life. A thirteen-year-old girl killed, a fourteen year old injured. Christ have mercy. Who can understand these things? We have few categories up to the task of coming to terms with the hows and the whys of such acts. Read more

In Praise of Regress

I have been known, on exceedingly rare occasions, to exasperate my children (and my wife… and, um, other people…) with my insistence that language be used with as much precision and accuracy as possible. Many a pleasant mealtime has been rudely interrupted by a certain irritating someone insisting that a word was being used incorrectly. An unwelcome rupture in the proceedings, if ever there was one, and invariably followed by withering glares and the measured rolling of eyes. Still, I bravely soldier on. We all have our crosses to bear.  Read more

Tuesday Miscellany (Things That Don’t Work As They Should)

A disparate collection of reflections on a few of the things that don’t work as they should for your Tuesday afternoon…

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I listened to the most recent episode of This American Life while out and about this morning. The episode is called “Seriously?” and talks about the bewildering reality that this American election campaign has made plain: facts are rather puny obstacles when it comes to people’s political allegiances.

At one point, host Ira Glass grimly noted:

Never before have the facts been so accessible and never before have they mattered so little.

Read more

Joy and Thunder

My wife loves thrift shops. She spends hours in them, unearthing all manner of hidden gems for herself, for the kids, for me. I, on the other hand, do not love thrift shops. Not even a little bit. Where my wife sees endless possibility and the challenge of hunting down a good bargain, I see a warehouse full of stuff that other people (quite rightly) didn’t want. On the rare occasion that I find myself in a thrift shop with my wife, I usually end up spending ten perfunctory minutes drifting through the book section and then resignedly making my way to the parking lot to wait until my ordeal is done. Read more

What Kind of God?

Most pastors know that the time immediately following a service can be a black hole for anything resembling deep conversation. This is probably appropriate, on some levels. A busy foyer full of people and conversation is not exactly the best time or place for existential crises or deep queries into the meaning of life. It’s a time and a place for cheerful banter and connection with friends and talk of weather and sports. Or, less cheerily, it’s a time and a place for the shuffling of feet and awkward attempts to say something polite about the sermon or to itemize one’s ailments and medical appointments for the week ahead or to complain about this or that. Either way, it’s a place for the ordinary chatter that is part of the glue that holds together any human community.  Read more

Long Way Home

I did a very embarrassing thing this morning. I purchased Def Leppard’s latest album. This is not the sort of thing that any self-respecting human being of the twenty-first century ought to admit to, I know. A quick glance at my recent purchases in iTunes reveals a much more acceptable (I hope) repertoire: The Lumineers, Mumford & Sons, Basia Bulat, Radiohead, Of Monsters and Men. This is probably a more accurate gauge of where my musical tastes have drifted over the years. Def Leppard is the paradigmatic example of the unimaginative late twentieth century glam rock that was the soundtrack of my small-town high school experience. They were big hair, big power chords, soaring engineered harmonies, and mawkish power-ballad-y lyrics about love biting or breathless paeans to endlessly getting rocked or adrenalized or something. In response to the screaming query from 1988’s massive hit “Armageddon It”—Are you getting it?—I can only reply, “Yes, yes, apparently I really am a-getting it.” Or I just got it, at any rate.  Read more

Interference

She had the remnants of tears in her eyes when I saw her as I rounded the corner and pedaled down the alley toward my garage. I had come from a friend’s house where we had spent the Canada Day holiday afternoon watching the European soccer championships. It was a glorious day full of red and white maple leaf flags on the front lawns of our small town, the glorious sunshine lighting up the day after a ferocious thunderstorm. Summer had arrived and all seemed well in the world. But not for this young woman. Read more

Everything Terrible

Perhaps everything terrible is, in its deepest being, something that needs our love.

I have the above quote from the poet Ranier Maria Rilke taped to my office wall just off to the right of my desk. I look at it often, particularly when “everything terrible” makes its inevitable appearance. Paris, Brussels, San Bernardino. And now, Orlando. Another scarcely comprehensible act of murderous hatred in response to difference. Another convenient scapegoat located.  On and on, everything terrible goes. Read more

I Saw Death 

I seen the body, you know.

She’s maybe ten years old, a beautiful little girl with a blonde hair and a black dress. She has tears in her eyes and her face looks tired from crying. Her uncle is gone. There was a head on collision and a fire and then the descent of all kinds of family from all kinds of places and then the shedding of rivers of tears and now a church and a service and the long  goodbye begins… Read more

Lake of Fire

I read an article a few days ago… one of those articles that asked people what they liked or didn’t like about the church… what they expected or didn’t expect from their pastors… what they wished for more of… or less of…. Some of the words that came up frequently were words like “honesty” and “authenticity.” Ok, then. Well, in that light…

When I was younger, I imagined that people who inhabited the “pastor” role had some specific set of skills that made them uniquely suited to sift through the wreckage of human pain that they encountered. I imagined that they strode confidently into rooms where people were coping with tragedy and death and doubt and loss and grief and crushing pain and anger and fear armed with just the right words for the job, just the right bible verses, just the right insight into when to give someone a hug and when to give them space, just the right prayers, just the right ability to project just the right combination of warmth and decisiveness and spiritual authority (whatever that might mean), just the right combination of attitudes and attributes to make bad situations somehow better.

And then I became a pastor. Read more

Frozen: A (Whiny) History of Suffering

I spent part of yesterday morning in the dentist’s chair. Now, I know that nobody enjoys going to the dentist. But I really, really, really don’t like it. I am, undoubtedly, the worst of scaredy-cats and neurotically frightened of pain, but in my (meager) defense, my cowardice has a back-story. Read more

The Things Jesus Doesn’t Do For Us

We often hear a steady stream of words about what Jesus “did for us” around this time of year, around this stage of Holy Week. Last night, at our church’s Maundy Thursday service, we shared a simple meal together and walked through the familiar story from Jesus’ arrest to crucifixion. We do the same thing each year, and each year something new stands out to me.  This year, I was struck the things that Jesus didn’t do for us as he walked the tortuous path to Calvary. Read more

Girl

Ever since I returned from Palestine and Israel a few weeks ago, I’ve been trying to come up with some kind of a summary post or report or analysis or something to kind of tie a nice little bow on my experience, to have some finished product to point to that summarizes the things I saw and experienced while over there. Read more

Set the Table

Why do we eat soup during Lent? The question from a church member caught me a bit off guard as I was scrambling to get a few things together for a soup and bread Lenten lunch that our church was hosting last week. I don’t remember exactly how I responded.  I think I vaguely gestured toward Lent being a season for embracing self-discipline and simplicity. “The general idea,” I said, “is that we choose not to eat as much or the same as we might during other times of the year as a way of remembering that we do not live on bread alone—to acknowledge, even in the context of abundance, that our deepest hunger is for God.”  I pointed to the idea that fasting is a way of acknowledging that there is an unfinished quality to our world and to our human experience—that things are not yet as they should be, that we are not yet as we should be.  Read more