Just sweeping out the corners and gathering up a few scraps of my reading and reflecting over the past little while…
I’ve been reading about dirty words and dirty secrets. Julia Scheeres writes in the New York Times about raising her daughter without the concept of sin. She was raised by fundamentalists and the cloud of sin and the threat of its punishment hovered menacingly over her formative years. There will be none of that for her girl. Moral performance will not be tied to the threat of punishment. She will be taught to resist injustice and inequality because this is the right thing to do, not because some angry imaginary God in the sky demands it. She will go on marches with her parents because of their collective desire to make the world a better place. Scheeres’ is certainly a common enough “I once was blind but now I (and my kids) see” narrative. All well and good, as far as it goes. But how far does it actually go? Read more
It’s a rare thing indeed to observe members of the media from across the left-right spectrum offering something like a collective mea culpa in response to how they reported something. But this is, incredibly, what is happening in the aftermath of the storm generated by the already infamous video of the encounter between the Covington Catholic boys, the Native American elder, and the Black Hebrew Israelites at the Lincoln Memorial last week. Read more
Among the many interesting experiences of parenting teenagers is to listen to the same arguments one once used against one’s own parents turned back against oneself. When I was a kid, I remember trying to justify my music choices to my parents (or myself) with the argument, “Well, I don’t listen to the lyrics, I just like the music.” This was sorta true in that I wasn’t drawn to bands like Guns N’ Roses, Metallica, and Motley Crüe for their, ahem, lyrical profundity. It was the crunching guitars, wailing vocals, and pounding rhythms that attracted my teenage heart. But of course, I knew full well that the lyrics were profane and raunchy, at best, offensive at worst. I doubt my parents found the “I just listen for the music” argument convincing then. I certainly don’t have much use for it when struggling through some of what passes for music in my kids’ minds these days. So it goes. Nothing new under the sun and all that. Read more
A follow-up to yesterday’s post on “something” needing to be done about all the hate in the world. It is of course impossible to talk about hate in 2018 without talking about the Internet and social media culture. This morning, I encountered no fewer than three pieces of media expressing incredulity that the Internet seems not to have transformed humanity into an oasis of harmony and mutual understanding but has instead degenerated into a cesspool of anger and ignorance. Read more
After Saturday’s shooting at a synagogue in Pittsburgh, Donald Trump offered this diagnosis of our cultural moment:
It’s a terrible, terrible thing what’s going on with hate in our country, frankly, and all over the world. And something has to be done.
Indeed. All the hate is terrible. And something does have to be done. Many of us wonder if one of the first things that might be done would be for Mr. Trump to have a glance in the mirror (or his Twitter feed) and ponder some of the ways he might have contributed to “what’s going on with hate in our country,” but there is truth, however clumsily put, in what the US president says. What, then, is to be done about all this hate? Read more
It is something of a truism to say that we live in polarized and polarizing times. This has most recently been laid bare by the Kavanaugh hearings south of the border and the Trump presidency more generally. But the political and social irruptions dominating the news in America are manifestations of broader cultural trends that are increasingly pitting politics and the identities we construct around them against one another. It’s a reality that many are struggling to come to terms with, contribute to, or even understand. Read more
I’ve often been asked a variation of a single question over the past few weeks. So what insights are you taking out of your sabbatical? It’s a natural enough question, I suppose, even if there’s a bit of pressure built into it. The expectation sometimes seems to be that three months away will have yielded a host of spiritual breakthroughs or ministry strategies or transformative insights. And those, as it happens, are in short supply during these last days of summer. Nothing quite that exciting, I’m afraid. I hope people won’t be too disappointed that I’m returning as roughly the same person that departed several months ago. Read more
So today I’m setting out into some unfamiliar territory. This summer will mark seven years in my present pastoral role, and my church has generously offered me a three-month sabbatical. I’ve seen friends and colleagues take sabbaticals over the years and always wondered what one of these actually looks and feels like. I’m about to find out. It felt a bit strange when I turned out the lights and walked out the church door yesterday afternoon. It was a good strange, don’t get me wrong! It had been a lovely service where I was blessed on my way with good words, warm hearts, and delicious food. But still. Strange. Read more
I’ve been reading Alan Jacobs’ little book How to Think over the last few days. It doesn’t contain anything particularly new, but it has been yet another reminder of just how bad at thinking we often are and are becoming, particularly in the digital age.
Jacobs does not paint a flattering portrait. Reactionary ideological sloganeering easily and often replaces careful, nuanced thinking about difficult issues. More often than not, the things we think are determined less by actual investigation and weighing of evidence than by our need for social belonging and our desire to have an “other” to define ourselves in opposition to. We are yanked around by emotional reactions and impulses and then tell a rational story to reframe our views as the result of logical analysis. We are masters at lying to ourselves about why we think the things we do, at taking shortcuts when we can’t be bothered to deal with complexity, and at regurgitating platitudes in the confident expectation that this will be affirmed by the people we seek to impress and the groups we hope to belong to. All in all, according to Jacobs, we’re not nearly as good at thinking as we think we are. Read more
A quick consultation of my recent posting history has yielded the discovery that it’s been half a year since my last “Miscellany” post. Because I know that there are few things better on a mid-week morning than reading a bunch of rambling, loosely-connected thoughts from yours truly, I decided to rectify this situation today.
A quote from Richard Beck’s recent short post on self-control set me off on a bit of a tangent:
One of the reasons we have trouble connecting love to holiness is that we associate holiness with self-discipline, self-mastery, self-denial, self-control, and even self-mortification.
Love, by contrast, tends to be other-focused and affectional in nature, a matter of the heart.
And by and large, we’re more attracted to being kind and affectionate people than we are interested in the rigors of self-denial and self-discipline. The grim asceticism we associate with holiness seems far removed from the joy and spontaneity of love.
And yet, can we really love others without a foundation of self-control and self-denial?
If you can’t say no to yourself, how are you ever going to say yes to others?
A good question, that last one… Read more
A few months ago, Macleans ran a piece that sent shivers of terror and guilt down the spines of parents of teenagers everywhere. It was called, “How the smartphone affected an entire generation of kids” and addressed the overwhelming connection between depression and mental health issues and the rise of the smartphone. Kids born in 1995 or later (iGens) are the first generation to grow up with (on?) smartphones and, according to Jean Twenge, professor or psychology at San Diego State University, this is having a devastating effect upon their mental health. Read more
The end of summer (sadly) draws nigh and, like many, I have spent these dwindling days of August attempting to tidy up the clutter, whether it’s physical, mental, or spiritual in nature. I’ve tried to achieve a bit of focus, clarity, and equilibrium before September arrives This has meant tackling my physical desk, rearranging unread books and recycling correspondence that has been rendered irrelevant by inattention, and trying to wrest a bit of order out of the chaos of random files and documents on my computer’s desktop. Things need to be put in their proper place, after all. Here are a few bits and pieces whose proper place is, evidently, another “miscellany” post. Read more
Back in February, I remarked that Jonathan Haidt’s The Righteous Mind should be required reading for anyone who spends time on social media, particularly those who like to go to war over ideas. I said that this is a book for our cultural moment if ever there was one. These were not throwaway comments or exercises in hyperbole. I meant it then, after reading half of the book, and I am even more convinced of it now, after finishing it. If you are prone to heroically wading into the ideological trenches armed with unshakeable convictions about your rightness and your enemies’ wrongness, if you are convinced that your political/religious/ideological team is the rightest of the right and that your mission in life is to educate your unenlightened neighbours, you really must read this book. Go to your library, go to Amazon, go to your favourite local bookstore—heck, even drop by my office and I’ll lend you my copy. Just read this book. You might have to sacrifice a few hours otherwise spent on Facebook or Twitter, but perhaps after reading Haidt’s book you’ll be persuaded that the trade was a good one. Read more
Next week, incredibly, you will turn sixteen. This is the point at which you would expect me to roll out every known cliché about time flying, and about how hard it is to believe that the two delightful little creatures we brought home in 2001 are stampeding—with no apparent care or concern for their parents’ nostalgia—toward young adulthood, and about how old this makes me feel, and how with each passing year I experience ever more of the creeping dread of sentimentality and anxiety-stained hope for your futures, etc. But I won’t do any of those things. I’m sure you’re relieved. 😉 Read more
For the past few days, I’ve been mulling over a recent short piece by Richard Beck. In it, he observes a paradox that runs through many strains of “progressive” theology (a term I despise, incidentally, but I’ve covered that ground before). Beck states this paradox succinctly: Read more
I received two pieces of rather severe correspondence before I poured my first coffee this morning. One was an online response to something I had written here that was picked up by another website. I had portrayed God as too merciful, I had ignored some of the more severe things Jesus said, I had failed to take Scripture seriously, I was dangerously misleading people, etc. I’ve received comments like this quite regularly over a decade of blogging, so it wasn’t particularly surprising. The other was a handwritten letter about the Canadian political situation from a stranger in another city (There was a time when, upon receiving letters like these, I would ask questions like, “Who is this person? Why are they sending this to me? What’s the connection here? I’ve since learned that these questions are very often futile…). This, too, was rather familiar in content and tone, and could be crudely summarized as a “sky is falling” type missive. Secularism, pornography, Shariah law, feminism, gay agendas, communism… The list was long, it was dire, and it required my immediate action. I sighed, and reached for my coffee. Read more
This morning I was half-listening to CBC radio interview with a Colorado journalist who was suing a local politician for describing a piece he had written as “fake news.” At least that’s what I think he was doing. As I said, I was only half-listening. But there was a lot of discussion about truth and power and the stifling of dissent and questions like how do we even know what’s real or true or reliable anymore when people like Donald Trump can just pole-vault over traditional media sources (which are, of course, all corrupt and biased against him) and present his own version of the story via Twitter bursts which are then gratefully seized upon by his adoring followers? Poor truth doesn’t stand much of a chance in conditions like these. Read more
I had just dropped my daughter off at high school this morning and was gliding gingerly on snow-covered roads toward the intersection. I looked to my left and saw a car approaching the same intersection at what seemed to me to be a rather unrealistic rate of speed if it hoped to negotiate the turn that its flashing signal light indicated it was attempting to make. The car predictably began to slide, its teenage driver frantically (and fruitlessly) cranking the wheels as far as they would go. The car mercifully slid just past my driver’s side door and the crisis was averted. Read more