I found my old bible last week. Actually, to be precise, my wife found it as she was doing a massive purge of the basement bookshelves. Our sixteen year old twins are working at camp this summer so we spent a few days with hazmat suits and masks in the dark and terrifying underworld attempting to restore a sense of order (or at least hygiene) to the chaos of teenager-land. And there, amidst the clutter of dusty kids’ books that hadn’t been cracked in years, was my old black, leather bound NIV bible. My name engraved on the front. Duct tape barely holding the spine together. An inscription inside indicating that it had been presented to me by my grandparents on Christmas Day, 1985. Thinking back to what an ungrateful wretch of a child I could be, I cringed to think that I might have been more excited to discover this bible last week than I was to receive it as a ten-year-old. Read more
A few conversations based on yesterday’s post have me thinking (again) about sin and struggle and our often frantic scrambling to claim the moral high ground in our discourse. And, like water running down well-worn grooves, my thoughts seem always to drift inevitably to familiar stories of Jesus. Stories that I talk and write about frequently. Stories that my kids probably get sick of me bringing up. Stories that saturate ten years worth of blog archives (here, here, here… on and on it goes). Sometimes I feel mildly embarrassed about defaulting to the same handful of stories over and over and over again. But the embarrassment doesn’t usually last long. These stories tell us the truth about who God is and about who we are. These are the kinds of stories that can save us. Read more
“If there was one thing that you would say to the church or if there was one thing that you would want Christians to know about your experience as a gay man, what would it be?” This was the question that I recently put to a friend on a warm summer evening near the end of a wide-ranging conversation that had covered everything from his experience of coming out to the controversies around Pride celebrations in our community to the sexualization of identity more broadly to his experience growing up in a conservative evangelical church. His answer surprised me a little, both for its content and for its brevity. He needed little time to think before saying, simply, “I didn’t choose this.” I waited for him to elaborate, but he didn’t say much more. I had asked for one thing and one thing was what I got. 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
A disparate collection of reflections on a few of the things that don’t work as they should for your Tuesday afternoon…
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.
People like to give pastors things to read, I am discovering. Hardly a week goes by without an article or a book appearing on my desk or church mailbox, or a link in my inbox. You should really read this, pastor! A quick survey of the accumulated suggestions of the past week or so reveals an article on the history of Mennonites in southern Alberta, a book about the “battle” against same-sex marriage, a review of a book about dying well, promotional material for an educational institution, and an expose of the Alberta tar sands. Oh, and a drawing of Sponge Bob with “Happy Early Easter!” written beside it that showed up after church on Sunday. It’s not just the grown ups who like to leave things in my office, evidently. Read more
Scripture is a gift. This has been affirmed by countless people in the Judeo-Christian tradition down through the ages. Not only affirmed, but demonstrated in the way that its words have been revered, preserved, and followed. But is is a very strange gift, full of unfamiliar modes of communication and stories that vacillate between the weird and the confusing and the often brutally violent. It is a gift that many in the twenty-first century world increasingly have little interest in accepting, both inside and outside of the church. Read more
I was driving my son to guitar lessons the other day, trying to keep up while he talked a mile a minute. I was only half listening (shameful, I know), but in one of his stories I caught the word “priest.” This isn’t a word he uses often, and my curiosity was piqued. I’m always curious about how my son understands the weird and wonderful contours of the church/religion-land that his dad happens to inhabit. I think my world is a bit of an oddity to him. He knows that I read books and talk to (and at) people, that I busily bang away on my laptop, writing sermons, writing articles, writing, writing, writing. But I sometimes think he wishes I had a more respectable job. Like building things or selling things or fixing things or growing things… things you can see and touch in the real world. Or teaching zombie apocalypse preparedness courses. You know, something useful. Read more
Christians talk a lot about love. We talk about the love of God and about how God in some mysterious way is love. We talk about the duty to love one another, and about how it is in the loving of our neighbours—friends and enemies—that we demonstrate that we love God. Of course, we are far better at talking about love than we are at consistently living lives of love, but I suppose that’s to be expected given our theological convictions about the pervasiveness of sin in the world and in the human heart. Read more
I’m sitting here on a grey, rainy Wednesday morning thinking that it’s high time I wrote something here. It’s been over five days of silence on this blog, which, if the social media experts are to be believed, is a virtual eternity fraught with all kinds of weighty perils. I am surely running the risk that readers will look elsewhere, that traffic will decline, that my “brand” will suffer, that I will fail to “build upon momentum” or any number of other hazards that come with blogging too infrequently.
So, right. Time to write. There are certainly no shortage of potential topics. Read more
I’ve been thinking about Richard Beck’s piece from yesterday about how being offended by the Bible seems to be the unique province of educated, liberal folks, and about how those “on the margins” seem not to be nearly as scandalized—even by the really nasty parts. I’ve been thinking about this in no small measure due to the fact that our church has spent a bit of time in “nasty” texts in our preaching and worship this summer (Leviticus and Joshua, for example), and I have, on occasion, found myself almost apologizing for the Bible, almost assuming people will be offended by it. I know that people in our church struggle with the Bible. I struggle with the Bible. It this merely a function of my/our social location? Read more
We had such an amazing trip… such an amazing part of the world. It’s God’s country.
I don’t even remember what part of the world the person who recently told me this was talking about. The Okanagan Valley, maybe? Vancouver Island? Hawaii? It was somewhere lush and green and fertile, no doubt, somewhere where the temperatures are usually pleasant, where the breezes are welcome, where there are hills and valleys and mountains, somewhere where there is plenty of natural beauty to spare, where it doesn’t have to be forcibly wrenched out of the plain, the mundane, the not-so-obvious. It was somewhere without dust and wind and mile upon mile of flat, featureless land. It was somewhere with more green than brown, more warm than cold. It was somewhere else. Read more
A few months ago, a book with the ominous sounding title, The Explicit Gospel crossed my desk, quickly assuming its position among all the other sad, neglected books strewn around my computer. “What an interesting title,” I initially thought. Then I read the back cover and noticed that the recommendations came mostly from A-list members of the neo-Reformed crowd (Mark Driscoll, et al). My interest began to wane. I read the introduction where the author diagnosed the church’s problems as not preaching or adhering to an “explicit” enough gospel message. I began to suspect that I had seen this movie before. Another withering critique of the “soft” state of current preaching, of the mushy, squishy Jesus that people tend to prefer, of the social gospel, of the dangerous departure from salvation by grace alone, another clarion call from the young, restless, and Reformed to return to true biblical preaching. I haven’t gotten much further in this book. Read more
Back in my university days I took an undergraduate philosophy course on the problem of evil. We had been through most of the well-rehearsed responses to the question of how evil can co-exist with an all-powerful, all-good, and all-knowing God. Each had their problems, of course. “But what happens if we just say that God is limited?” our professor asked, with evident glee. What if God’s kinda just making it up as he goes along? What if God’s a bit of a selfish jerk who isn’t nearly as concerned with human misery as we are? Or, what if he’s a nice enough guy, but he just can’t do much about evil? What if he’s doing the best he can with what he has to work with? What if he’s learning as he goes, just like the rest of us? Read more
I spent part of this week reading a book about preaching. It had an impressive sounding title that included the words “the glory of preaching.” I bought it on the recommendation of someone from my grad school days who had spent ten minutes or so listening to me going on and on about my what an unobvious choice I was for the vocation of “pastor.” Zero homiletics courses, zero counseling courses, a whole string of academic classes on systematic theology, philosophy, postmodern theory, etc., an almost pathological fear of public speaking, a history of fast-talking, stuttering, introversion, etc. “All in all, not the most obvious candidate to be behind a pulpit on Sunday morning,” I nervously half-joked. “You should buy this book,” she said. “It will be a great help to you.” Read more
That may be true for you, but how can you say that it is true for everyone else when there are so many different understandings of truth out there
This is, of course, among the most common questions out there in postmodern-dom and, more specifically, in the context of the religious/ethnic/cultural diversity that is becoming the new normal in Canada and the West in general. Christians are becoming increasingly aware that there is much that is good and true and beautiful in a wide variety of worldviews and practices. We are also alert to the painful reality that the Christian worldview has all too frequently been aligned with the interests of colonialism and other less overt modes of cultural imperialism. It can be a tricky thing, this business of expressing one’s convictions about the particularity of truth amidst all of diversity and historical error and the baggage that comes along with it. Read more
I have, over the last few months, had the privilege of regular interaction with a couple of young men who (independently) came to our church inquiring about baptism. In their own words, both know “next to nothing” about Christianity. They don’t know much about history or theology, the have read little more than a scant few verses in the Bible, they aren’t much interested in the latest controversial issues in the church, and (gasp!) don’t find my sermons terribly memorable. But they want to get baptized. They don’t know much about Jesus, but they want to come to him, to sign up to follow, even though they don’t have much of an idea what they are getting into.
(Come to think of it, how many of us really do?) Read more
A few stray strands from the week that was that I am trying to connect on a glorious hoar-frosted Friday morning….
One of the cool traditions that our church is a part of is what is called “Lenten lunches.” Every Thursday throughout Lent, a different church in our city opens its doors to sisters and brothers from other denominations for a short devotional, followed by a simple lunch of soup and bread. Yesterday, I was at a table with a few other pastors and the conversation inevitably turned to the demands of ministry, the sometimes seemingly endless meetings, the overwhelming needs of people that we are so often powerless to meet, the importance of boundaries, etc. There was plenty of knowing nodding and mm-hmming. But then there was a pause… and a comment from an Anglican minister: “But isn’t the invitation to Christ on some level an invitation to die?” Read more