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
Posts from the ‘The Problem of Evil’ Category
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
Each year around this time, I look out my office window on a wintry late afternoon and morosely note to myself how early it is getting dark these days. This is one of the delights of living in the northern hemisphere at this time of year. Sixteen hours of frigid darkness a day. Hooray. Read more
A clergy friend and I were talking over coffee yesterday about how being in this line of work is something of a magnet for human pain. As soon as people find out you’re a pastor or a priest, they will often begin to rehearse their own private litany of suffering or their grievances against the church or their most recent existential crisis or whatever. Sometimes, this can lead to very rewarding and meaningful conversation. Sometimes, it can simply be overwhelming. Story after story of loss and crisis and doubt and health problems and “Where oh where is God in all this?!” What do you say, pastor? Sometimes I don’t really have anything to say, whether because there’s very little to say or because I’m tired or just not really in the mood to hear one more awful story, thank you very much. Sometimes I don’t really have any room on my agenda for anyone’s pain. Alas, human suffering seems to care very little about my schedule. Read more
Last week’s earthquake in Nepal has, at last count, resulted in well over five thousand deaths and has crippled the nation in all the devastating ways that “natural disasters” do. We see these images and read these reports on our screens and we feel numb. We have few categories for such suffering. The weight of the pain seems too much to contemplate. We don’t know what to do or say or how to pray. For a while, at least. Read more
When I was younger, I would often hear or imagine some version of the “If you could ask God any question in the world, what would it be?” I had a long list. What’s the point of angels? What’s with all the killing in the OT? How old will I be in heaven? Did Methuselah really live for almost a millennium? What was the point of the flood if wickedness has remained on the earth ever since? How did Jesus walk through the door after his resurrection, yet Thomas could still touch him? How did you make something from nothing? Why should we pray if you already know everything? How can you be everywhere at the same time? Why did Eve take the fruit… My list could have filled a book. Or a blog. Read more
Two recent conversations about pain…
My daughter has lately been coming to terms with the horrors of World War 2. They’ve been studying this period of history in school, and last night she watched a movie that told the story of war through the lens of a couple of young children. She was distraught and more than a little belligerent at the end. How could God possibly allow people to make things like gas chambers?! she demanded to know. I thought God was supposed to help people! What about all the promises that God makes to deliver people?! Why wouldn’t God stop people from doing that to each other?! I totally get why some people say there’s no God! Why doesn’t God do something?! Read more
There was this radio program I was listening to today… They were interviewing some guy who was the executive director of a Christian relief organization who had spent decades in war zones and poverty and famine and disease… Some guy who had traveled around the world doing good in the name of God.
I was half paying attention when he told two stories. The first was about driving down the road in the aftermath of the Rwandan genocide, and seeing a four-year-old boy stagger out of the bush, malnourished, barely alive, having been without water for nearly two days. His parents and other family members had died. There was nobody with him. He was all alone. Four years old. Read more
I have always been interested in the reasons people have for accepting or rejecting the existence of God. It’s even more interesting to look at how people frame their own reasons for these decisions. So often, things are framed in stark terms of darkness and light, good and evil, obvious willful stupidity and luminous intellectual clarity, callous depravity and laudable moral sensitivity. This is true on both sides, of course. There are no shortage of eager atheists and Christians who understand and explain themselves and their decisions in these terms. As if no thinking, moral person could possibly come to any other conclusions about massive existential questions of God, meaning, truth, goodness, and beauty than the ones they happen to have arrived at!
Except things are a bit more ambiguous than that in the real world. Read more
I have spent much of this afternoon trying to write a sermon about 2 Corinthians 5:14-20 and the love of God while keeping abreast of news reports about the unspeakable atrocities currently taking place in Iraq. The absurdity of this task has, however, proven to be unbearable, and I have simply given up. How can one speak of the love of God after reading about human beings starving and dying on a mountain, fleeing the awful choice of conversion or death? How can one write about beauty and goodness after reading about—Christ have mercy!—children being executed or thrown from mountaintops to avoid it. How can one craft a sermon about the “new creation where the old has passed away” and “everything has become new” after seeing images of such gruesome violence that words well and truly fail?
The incongruity of the task is too much. Perhaps tomorrow I will want to write about the love of God. Today I only want to weep for the brutality that our species is abundantly capable of.
We’re house sitting for friends in North Vancouver so the mornings have been long and lazy, full of novels and coffee and games with the kids and sunshine on the patio overlooking Indian Arm, and more coffee… It’s been wonderful.
Yesterday, my morning reverie was interrupted by a few soft knocks on the door. At first I didn’t even hear them, so faint was the sound they made, but they were persistent. Eventually I clued in that those faint sounds at the door meant that, you know, someone was there and that this someone who was there probably wanted me to come to the door to see what they wanted. Read more
So, 2013 is drawing to a close, which means it’s time to take a peek in the rearview mirror and reflect a bit on the year that has nearly passed. In the blogging world, this means—what else?!—highlighting the most read posts on this blog over the past 365 days or so. It’s an imperfect tool of evaluation, obviously—a cursory count of clicks and page views hardly provides an accurate assessment of meaningful or substantive engagement—but I suppose it give some sense of the themes that drew people here over the year. Whenever I look at statistical summaries on this blog, I find myself scratching my head. That was my most-read post?! I don’t even like that one! Why didn’t ____ make the list? Posts that I am convinced are the best thing the internet has seen since, well, two hours or so ago languish in obscurity while others that I dashed off in twenty minutes generate more traffic than I would ever have expected. I suppose such is the nature of blogging. Read more
I’ve written a fair amount here about Canada’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission and the work being done to address our nation’s history of Indian Residential Schools. Most of this writing took place in or around a trip I took to Montreal last spring to attend one of the seven national events taking place across the country (see here, here, and here). Today, however, the TRC came much closer to home. For the past two days, the TRC has been holding hearings right here in Lethbridge, AB. So, this morning I trudged off to the local hotel armed with my notebook and a stiff cup of coffee, and prepared to hear more difficult stories.
Like so many others, Syria has been on my mind a lot recently. I’ve read dozens of articulate and well-reasoned arguments against any kind of military intervention. I’ve read many passionate and biblically sound anti-war-pleas from people whose views I deeply respect. I spent a good chunk of the prayer time during worship last Sunday praying for peace in Syria, praying that no more lives would be sacrificed on the altars of power, ideology, economics and religion. I know that this is what I am supposed to do and say and read and pray as a Mennonite, as a pastor. But it has all felt, I don’t know, a bit hollow. Read more
There is nothing more ordinary than suffering.
There is nothing more extraordinary than suffering.
Both of these statements are true.
For me, this has at times felt like the summer of pain, of hard stories. Perhaps it is simply because I am getting older as are the people in my orbit, and as we get older bad things start happening more regularly. Marriages begin to fall apart, mid-life crises make their obligatory appearance, kids go terrifyingly astray, words like “cancer” and “Alzheimer’s” and “Parkinson’s” start forcing their way into conversations, soul-shattering tragedy pops its head around the corner from time to time… Life takes its toll. Read more
The following likely reads a bit raggedy or raw. It comes from a journal entry scratched out in a notebook beside the lake after a difficult day of listening.
A conversation at a bookstore: “Oh, this one looks interesting… She’s that famous author of ______.” “Yeah, but the story looks like such a sad one…. Why are all the good stories full of so much sadness?”
I don’t know… Art imitates life? We write what we know. Read more
One of the best parts of spending a bit of time in British Columbia each summer is the opportunity to reconnect with the many dear people whose lives we were once embedded in—at least in a more concrete way. It is so often a delight to discover the twists and turns people’s lives have taken, how their kids have grown, the new opportunities they are exploring, etc. It is a privilege to see how the goodness of God traces its way through the many stories we have been privileged to be a part of.
But, as always, there are other stories, too. Stories of relational breakdown, job difficulties, children who have gotten themselves into a bad place. And death. Always stories of death. Read more