I’m sitting in Starbucks shivering over a latte while I get a new set of tires put on my car. Here in southern Alberta, we have been treated to a blast of winter worthy of mid-January. The scene is a pretty arctic one which means, among other things, that, the Christmas orgy of advertising and consumption will soon be upon us.
It also means that we can brace ourselves for the wearisome spectacle of (some) Christians complaining that their coffee cups don’t appropriately reflect their beliefs about Christmas. Because, you know, it makes so much sense to expect that. And it’s such a weighty problem to address, particularly when the plight of others on our planet is considered. And because I’m sure God has strong opinions on the matter of whether or not a global corporate monolith gestures appropriately toward a holiday that many Christians already do a pretty decent job of dishonouring through kitsch and greed and nostalgia. Sigh. Read more
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
Back in May, I went to the opening night of U2’s 30th Anniversary Joshua Tree Tour. I have, consequently, been listening to what I think is one of the greatest albums ever made (although maybe only U2’s second best) off and on ever since. I listen to it in the car on the way to work, in the headphones while I’m writing, and while sitting with friends on the patio on warm late spring evenings. It’s crazy how an album I’ve been listening to off and on for thirty years doesn’t seem to get old.
A few nights ago, “I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For” came through the little Bluetooth speaker on the patio table. As the song approached its lyrical and musical climax, the familiar words soared through the spring air:
I believe in the Kingdom Come
Then all the colours will bleed into one
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
Some churches have the best locations. When I lived on the west coast I would gaze longingly at the sight of little churches with ocean views or in the heart of leafy green neighbourhoods with fruit stands and local markets and beaches nearby. When I’m in the Alberta Rockies, I often sigh plaintively at the sight of houses of God that dwell in the shadow of snow-capped mountain peaks. During my travels in Europe or South America or the Middle East, I frequently marveled at majestic cathedrals in historic cities or sturdy stone sanctuaries in quaint seaside towns or humble chapels in the midst of touristy cities devoted to more hedonistic pursuits. It would be so much easier to serve the Lord and his children in such impressive and inspiring surroundings, I often wistfully imagined.
My church, as it happens, is a stone’s throw from a meatpacking plant. Read more
I just came across one of the best inadvertent definitions of blogging that I’ve seen in over ten years in the game, and couldn’t resist sharing it. This is from the preface of David Bentley Hart’s new collection of essays, A Splendid Wickedness:
The truth is that essays of this sort—composed sometimes in haste, always in connection with some particular occasion, rarely with any larger project in view—have the form of ephemera; songs written on leaves and then carried away to become the ludibria of the rushing winds.
I was texting last night with a friend who is currently in Chile on business. I asked him what he was doing today and he said, “Driving from Santiago to Temuco. It’s about a four-hour drive. We’re going to stop and visit some farms along the way…” I thought about the picture he had posted on Facebook last night from his hotel—about how warm and green and exotic it looked. I thought about my own prospects of waking up to the bone-chilling cold of January and tackling the inevitable (and Sisyphean) Tuesday morning task of chipping away at my inbox. “Sounds fun,” I told my friend. “Think of me while you’re meandering through the Chilean countryside and I’m responding to forty emails… Read more
Can we use your post? Over the last week or so, I’ve received three emails from various publications asking permission to re-publish something I’ve written on this blog. These requests are the new normal in a publishing context where words are ubiquitous and cheap, where content is increasingly accessed rather than commissioned. There are so many words flying about and so many editors desperate to find something—anything!—to capture a few eyeballs for a few seconds before they click on to greener pastures. I suppose it makes sense to recycle the words. 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.
One day I will probably need to offer to pay for my kids’ therapy given the number of times that I have used them and the stories and conversations they inhabit as fodder for my writing and speaking. I can imagine the script already: It was literally like we could barely open our mouths about anything God-ish without dad pouncing all over it and subjecting it to tortuous analysis in some sermon or on his blog or something. It was like he was always waiting for us to produce some “moment” that he could exploit for his own ends. It was kinda pathetic, really. And they would be right. Mostly. In my meager defense, I would say that I have always tried to look at everyday life as the raw material through which God speaks and, well, my kids just happen be involved in most of the days of my everyday life. Not much of an excuse, I know. It’s all I got. Read more
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
A few years ago, I spent a week at Canadian Mennonite University in Winnipeg as “pastor in residence.” It was an interesting week full of informal conversation, public lectures, worship services, and question and answer sessions. Toward the end of the week, I attended a lunch with a group of students who were considering pastoral ministry. Near the end of our time together, I was asked a simple and entirely reasonable question: “If you could offer one piece of advice to those either considering pastoral ministry or those taking their first steps toward it, what would it be?” Read more
You must not judge what I know by what I find words for.
— John Ames (in Marilynne Robinson’s Gilead)
Given the heavy themes of recent posts, it occurred to me that perhaps we could use some lighter fare around here. I could, at any rate. And what better way to accomplish this goal than to compose a self-indulgent and nakedly hubristic piece to celebrate the one thousandth post in the history of this blog? In the (quite likely) event that this prospect does not set your heart alight with anticipation, you are welcome to click away now. Read more
Part of today was spent at our local city hall for a meeting about refugee resettlement in our area. There were reps from the city, from the healthcare and education sectors, from immigrant services, from various other community support organizations, and one lonely pastor off in the corner. 🙂 We talked about all kinds of practical issues related to the challenges and opportunities that undoubtedly loom on the horizon as we prepare to welcome government-sponsored refugees. We also talked about how the tone seems to have shifted in the conversation since the events in Paris last Friday. Almost to a person, people remarked that they have noticed a dramatic increase in fearful, angry, xenophobic language around Syrian refugees in the last few days, particularly online. Read more
I got into the car this morning in a bit of a surly mood. A few things hadn’t gone as I had anticipated the previous day, I had received an unwelcome email that morning, and I was behind on sermon prep. Again. I stabbed the key into the ignition only to be greeted by the ear-splitting strains of the local top 40 station that my wife and daughter were, evidently, listening to on the way home from their evening activities last night. The part of the song that I was forcibly subjected to heard before frantically locating the combination of knobs that could lower the volume and/or change the station went something like, This is my fight song, take back my life song… Read more
A few disconnected and thoroughly disjointed musings for a Tuesday afternoon…
Here in Canada, it’s the morning after a federal election. And, like the provincial election in Alberta back in May where the NDP party swept aside a Conservative party that had been in power for roughly forever years, the result was equally shocking. Gone is the much-maligned Stephen Harper and the Conservative Party of Canada. In his place, we have Justin Trudeau and the back-from-the-dead Liberal Party promising hope and change and bright new days and the usual assortment of platitudes that inexplicably retain their capacity to get people screaming euphorically and exultantly waving their signs… Read more
It usually takes about five or six days. When one of my wife or I am traveling, this tends to be the threshold beyond which I start to feel strangely disoriented or unsettled or somehow, I don’t know, adrift. When I am the one at home—as is the case now, while my wife visits friends in Germany—this tends to be around the time when the kids have begun to peer dejectedly into the refrigerator, sadly pondering the prospects of another evening of dad’s “cooking.” The pets have started to wander around the house full of confused longing, being generally accustomed to warmer treatment than they tend to receive from me. It’s as if the entire house senses that things are not as they should be. Read more