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Posts from the ‘Theology’ Category

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I’ve been reading the Beatitudes for over three decades. They’re kind of like the constitution of Mennonite churches (or at least we’re often pleased to think so). The rest of the bible can be hard and confusing and bewildering and even offensive, so we’ll just double down on what Jesus actually said, thank you very much. And we’ll really zero in on Matthew 5-7, the Sermon on the Mount, the most substantive continuous block of Jesus’ teaching, where he reinterprets and transcends the Law. And we’ll be laser-focused on the first eleven verses where Jesus talks about who is “blessed” in the kingdom of heaven. We’ll leave the theologizing and harmonizing of disparate texts to others. We’re just humble Jesus people. Read more

The Question the Whole World Revolves Around

“You know that bible verse that talks about the greatest three things, or whatever… you know, the three things that remain and how the best one is love?” The question comes from a young man at the jail. He has this wild look about him, hair everywhere, restless movements, a frantic, searching gaze, cuts on his hands. One is still bleeding. He gets up now and then to go tear a few strips off the toilet paper roll on the bookshelf to slow the flow. He follows this up by spraying disinfectant on his hands (there’s a bottle in the corner by the overhead projector, a lingering remnant of early pandemic days, I suppose). “Yeah, that’s 1 Corinthians 13,” I say, trying to keep tabs on his movements. “It’s one of my favourites.” “Yeah, I read it last night,” he responds. “I like it, too. But he’s missing one. There’s a fourth one that should be in there.” Read more

On “Jesus Smuggling,” Impatience with Window Shopping, and a World That Can’t Help Being Beautiful

I’ve started reading Nick Cave’s Faith, Hope, and Carnage, which is basically a memoir-ish extended interview with journalist Seán O’Hagan. I have to say that so far, it’s pretty awesome. Nearly every other page, I’m thinking, “Oh, that’s good, I need to use that in a sermon or an essay or something.” You may have to tolerate a bunch of quotes around here for a while. Read more

God is Love. And We Must Love Each Other

A month or so ago, I became aware (I forget how) of Nick Cave. I had never heard of the Australian singer, songwriter, poet, and author before this, nor had I ever listened to his band (Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds). Actually, scratch that. His song Red Right Hand is the theme song for Peaky Blinders. And apparently a song called O Children made an appearance in a Harry Potter movie. So, I guess I’ve heard him before, but only accidentally. It wasn’t his music that grabbed my attention a month ago, but the title of his new book: Faith, Hope, and Carnage. Quite a title, that one. The kind of title that might incline someone to do a bit of digging around. Read more

Some Force of Love and Logic

As Christmas draws near, I am thinking, appropriately, no doubt, about awe. I happen to rather like awe and experience it regularly. I experience it in all the usual places—mountaintops, oceans, majestic cathedrals, spine-tingling music. On a perhaps less obviously inspiring note, after a third consecutive morning dragging myself out of the house in sub -30-degree temperatures I am currently experiencing awe at just how bone-crushingly cold this planet is capable of getting. But yeah, I am generally a big fan of awe. Read more

The Violent Take It By Force

And from the days of John the Baptist until now the kingdom of heaven suffers violence, and the violent take it by force. — Matthew 11:12

I am not a violent man. I have never been in a fight. Not a real one anyway. I suppose there were hockey skirmishes and the ordinary fraternal conflagrations of childhood, but these little irruptions don’t really count. I was invariably terrible at violence. At heart, I am a peacemaker, if of a conflicted sort. Read more

In Extremis

To be a pastor is to regularly find oneself in extremis. Pastors are expected to bring consolation and hope into extreme situations: contexts of depression, addiction, suicidal ideation, crushing poverty, relational breakdown, violence, existential despair, intellectual doubt, debilitating illness, and ultimately, of course, death. Or, more precisely, to point to the One who promises these things in (and beyond) the fractured and chaotic world of human experience. But what happens to the possibility of consolation when you don’t believe in this One anymore? Read more

Death’s Diminishments

I’ve had a few hard conversations over the last week or so. Conversations about death and dying and despair, about the absence of God, the uselessness of God, the silence of God, the bleakness of the post-Christian landscape where hope, like every other good thing, must be manufactured by us if it is to be found at all. There are days when I would rather not be in God’s PR department. Read more

On Shipwrecks and Crutches

Faith in God begins where faith in oneself ends.

This is the kind of line that I would have probably condescendingly rolled my eyes at when I was younger. Yeah, there’s probably a kernel of truth in there, but it sounded to me like a pious cliché, the kind of thing you’d find on some kitschy piece of religious art or home decorating paraphernalia. It would have been in the same category, for me, as that “footprints in the sand” picture or sayings like, “When God closes a door, He opens a window” and “Everything happens for a reason.” Yeah, ok. Whatever. Read more

Did Dahmer Just Need a Friend (Anthropology in the Tattoo Parlour)?

I’ve recently been reading David Zahl’s excellent new book Low Anthropology. Readers of this blog will not be surprised to learn that I am deeply convinced that we are in need of better understandings of human nature than the default ones we tend to operate with these days. As I mentioned in my previous post, I think a realistic and hopeful anthropology is one of Christianity’s great gifts to the world, however ignored or misunderstood it often is. We are all sinners in need of grace. We are all divine image-bearers who are loved and called. Both of these statements are true. And together they can save us from thinking too little or, far more likely in our cultural moment, too much of ourselves. Read more

The Only Sermon Left?

The church is full of self-righteous hypocrites, corrupt leaders greedy for power, morally bankrupt abusers of the weak and vulnerable. Its pews are populated by miserable -ists and -obes and transgressors of every other sort. The church should shut its mouth until it can make at least something resembling moral progress. The broader culture isn’t interested in any of its sermonizing words in the absence of meaningful action. Let your actions do the talking for once. We’ve all had more than enough of your endless words. Read more

Lean into the Light

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about the gospel, what it is, what it isn’t, what people need, what they don’t, where hope comes from, where it doesn’t, etc. It’s probably not surprising to hear a pastor say that they think about the gospel. You might even hope this were so and expect this to be the case. And yet, that word, “gospel,” is a slippery one. It often proves stubbornly malleable and elusive in our time and place. Even those who ought to know better (pastors or bloggers, for example) can and do mishandle it. Read more

Runaways

Ain’t we all just runaways? Yeah. — The Killers

For the past eleven years, I’ve preached in a congregation that loosely follows the Revised Common Lectionary when it comes to organizing the Scripture readings that guide our corporate worship and sermons. We don’t follow it slavishly, and I’ve certainly deviated from time to time, but it’s kind of our default. It’s certainly my default. I’d rather be assigned a text to preach from than choose one. Or at the very least, to have four from which to pick. Following the lectionary forces me outside of the texts I’d naturally gravitate towards. At the very least, it throws up an interesting surprise or two along the way. Read more

After All That I Put You Through

A few days ago, my wife and I were bombing through the mountains at the tail end of a holiday in British Columbia and had exhausted all other conversational options. So we decided to discuss the problem of evil and free will. It seemed like a nice, light holiday topic, a welcome break from what I think about most days. Read more

Who Are You?

I recently had a conversation with an acquaintance about an experience they had where someone claimed to have a physical disability based on their subjective impression of their “true self.” My acquaintance would, I think, consider themselves to be a fairly progressive politically, and is quite passionately committed to speaking up for the marginalized in our world. And yet they found this experience (and the broader trend it points to; see here, for example) enormously frustrating. Someone dear to them lives with a disability and is well-acquainted with the difficulties of navigating the world that come along with this. The idea that physically healthy person would claim to be disabled as a form of social currency was offensive to them, and I think quite rightly so. Read more

Know God, Know Peace?

There was a picture on the wall, barely visible, through the half-opened door. It looked faded and neglected and kitschy in all kinds of ways. There was an orangey sunset, maybe a lake or a river. I can’t remember, so instantly forgettable was the scene. It was the words on the top of the picture that grabbed my attention: “No God, No Peace; Know God, Know Peace.” A clever slogan, that one. Read more

Man in the Middle

Each year, some part of the story of Holy Week grabs my attention in a new way. This year, it was the criminals on either side of Jesus’s cross. Matthew and Mark have the two criminals joining everyone else in heaping insults and scorn upon Jesus, adding to the general consensus that this is a very poorly performing Saviour. He saved others. Let him save himself. If you’re the Messiah, let’s see some action! Some “king.” Come down off that wretched cross if you are who you say you are. Read more

On Resonance: A Good Friday Reflection

I was not in the mood for an “I’m spiritual but not religious” conversation this week. I had just buried one of our church’s saints. I had been planning a vigil in honour of a young man who took his own life and processing it with those most affected by this. There was the usual fatigue of Holy Week with its multiple services to prepare. All in all, my appetite was very low for another critique of religion or the church from an earnest and painfully certain twenty-something. Read more