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Posts from the ‘Theology’ Category

Unoriginal Sin

As far as sins go, a rich older dude using his power and influence to sexually prey upon young women is about as unoriginal as they come. As long as men and power imbalances and women have been in existence (which is to say, forever), the former have been indecently and inexcusably forcing themselves upon the latter. As depressing as the story of film executive Harvey Weinstein is, it is also about as predictable as they come.  Read more

Give Me an Apocalypse

“I think God is about to purify the world with wind and fire.” The words didn’t come from a fire-breathing televangelist but from a guy who gave me a ride home from the car dealership after I had dropped my vehicle off for repairs. He had asked me what I did for a living. I had swallowed hard and told him I was a pastor. I’ve played the “what-do-you-do” game for long enough to know that people often choose one of two options when they obtain this piece of information: 1) shut down the conversation, assuming that you are a peculiar sub-species of humanity called “religious” and are therefore some combination of uninteresting, untrustworthy, and weird; or, 2) launch into the story of their lives, including whatever theological speculations might happen to be on their minds. This guy, obviously, chose the second option. Read more

Threatening Days

It’s not been a pleasant few weeks for our dear planet. Hurricanes in Texas, Florida, and the Caribbean, an earthquake in Mexico, monsoon floods in southeast Asia, and now wildfires ravaging my own little corner of southern Alberta. These are just the stories that are presently dominating our attention. It doesn’t take much digging beneath the headlines to encounter the uncomfortable truth that awful things are happening all the time all over the world, whether it’s nature venting its fury or human beings manufacturing and multiplying our own. These are indeed threatening days.  Read more

A Hell of a Thing to Believe

Human beings spend a lot of time arguing about whether or not our beliefs are true. Even in these strange days where “I feel like” seems to have replaced “I think that” as the, ahem, ultimate trump card in a given dispute (how can you argue with a feeling?!), we still invest a fair amount of intellectual, emotional, and rhetorical energy into arriving at, and convincing others of what we believe to be true. Even amidst of the mountain of lies that can sometimes seem to overwhelm our socio-political discourse, the truth of the matter still seems to matter to us.  Read more

You Are Welcome to Come Near

In these hazy, lazy days of mid-summer, I find myself pondering the deep mysteries of wheelchair ramps. Naturally. Last night, our little church made the decision to move ahead with plans to add a ramp to our facility alongside a few other improvements to the foyer and entrance. Church business meetings and decisions about facility modifications do not tend to provoke much sustained theological reflection on my part. They probably should, but usually they don’t. Last night, however, I think I heard the voice of God. At a church business meeting, of all things. Read more

A Dreadful Compliment

I spent part of this morning on sin. Not actively sinning, I should hasten to add, although I probably accrued a few transgressions before breakfast. But let’s leave that aside, shall we? Instead, I’d like to talk about a lecture that I watched today from the recent Mockingbird NYC Conference. It was called, “Hiding in Plain Sight: The Lost Doctrine of Sin,” and was delivered by University of Nottingham theologian Simeon Zahl. In it, Zahl described sin as a “diagnostic tool of great power.” We can’t make sense of ourselves, the world, or God without the category of sin. And yet, says Zahl, there is no theological assertion more likely to meet such resolute opposition among his students than this. Read more

Cross My Heart

“I have a complaint to make.” The comment was made by a member of our church who periodically drops in on me Tuesday mornings. The twinkle in his eye and the grin on his face signaled that this “complaint” was more of an observation or a conversation starter than an actual grievance. “We must have been the most “crossed” church around on Easter Sunday morning,” he said. “I counted at least four!” I thought back to our service and found that I couldn’t disagree. Read more

God on God’s Terms

As human beings, we tend to want God on our own terms. We want what we want from God when we want it. We want God to validate our assumptions, our preferences, our view of how the world works or ought to work. We want to drape all of our aspirations and self-understandings and projects and identity constructions with divinity. Anne Lamott once remarked that one sure way to tell if you’ve created God in your image is when he ends up hating the same people you do. I suspect that the opposite is also true. I am suspicious when God ends up loving only and always the things that I do in precisely the ways that I love them. Read more

A Stone or a Kiss

I am not in the habit of looking to the domain of theoretical physics for memorable images to aid in conceptualizing the nature of faith. This is because, a) I struggle to understand what theoretical physicists are talking about 90% of the time; and, b) Because of a), I console myself with the fiction that theoretical physicists are a mostly unimaginative lot who content themselves with equations and formulas and other math-y gibberish, and aren’t capable of producing metaphors that speak to the truth of people’s lived experience. And that I wouldn’t want to know what they’re talking about anyway. The fox and the grapes of Aesop’s fable and all that.  Read more

I’m Not Spiritual But Not Religious (But I Can See it From Here)

I am usually quite suspicious of oft-repeated expression, “I’m spiritual but not religious.” Actually, “suspicious” might be putting it rather mildly. I have something bordering on a pathological loathing of this phrase. It’s possible that I have even visibly shuddered in disgust in the various contexts where this expression makes its predictable appearance. I usually encounter it in people who either refuse to consider church in the first place or who have left it behind for the usual assemblage of real or imagined grievances. Or people who can’t be bothered to think very hard about what they might believe or why but like the idea of seeming a bit deeper than they in fact are. Or people who imagine that they have grasped the deeper truth that all religions are inadequately and intolerantly pointing toward. Or people who like yoga. Or people who think that all religions are neat and cool and inspiring except for when they say things that don’t confirm what they already think. Or when they infringe upon personal liberties and preferences… or sleep habits… or weekend plans or… well, when they infringe upon anything, really. “I’m spiritual but not religious” very often seems to me to be among the more vacuous statements that a human could utter.

Oh dear. I did say that “suspicious” was putting it mildly, didn’t I? Read more

Marking Identity

A bit of controversy around the celebrated author Joseph Boyden has been dominating headlines up here in Canada over the last little while. Boyden, whose books include Through Black Spruce, Three Day Road, and the Orenda, has become something of an indigenous celebrity in recent years. His novels draw from indigenous history (The Orenda, for example, was based on the interactions between the Iroquois and the French Jesuits in the seventeenth century). He has also been an enthusiastic advocate for indigenous self-determination, even serving last year as a honourary witness at the closing event of Canada’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission.  Read more

Who’s Winning at Church?

Over the past few weeks, a number of people have inquired about my thoughts on a recent study conducted by Canadian scholar David Haskell which draws a strong connection between theological conservatism and church attendance. According to the study, churches that interpret the bible more “literally,” hold to more traditional theological doctrines, and are open to more contemporary expressions of worship tend to be the ones that are growing, while those that emphasize their opposites are shrinking. The study has shown up in the Globe and Mail and The Guardian, among other places. A few days ago, Haskell himself authored an apologia of sorts for the piece, being loosely connected to the liberal Protestant tradition that the study seems to cast in a negative, or at the very least ineffective light. Read more

They Don’t Know What They Are Doing

I often spend Monday mornings ruminating on the sermon I didn’t preach on Sunday. There are, of course, only so many things that can be said, only so many avenues to explore in a given text or texts in 15-20 minutes. There are usually many ideas and/or questions that never make it past the Saturday evening cutting floor. Sometimes it was because I didn’t have the courage to tackle them in public. Sometimes they weren’t relevant to the point I was trying to make. Sometimes there just wasn’t the time. Sometimes it’s all of the above. Read more

Greenland

I was talking the other day with someone about the quirky ironies of the names of things. It’s weird, for example, that Iceland is actually pretty green. At least in summertime. And Greenland actually seems to be mostly ice. Why wouldn’t they call “Greenland” “Iceland” and vice versa. A strange thing, that.  Read more

What Kind of God?

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

Why Worry?

Maybe sometimes prayer is just “worrying out loud” before God.

So mused a friend over coffee yesterday when the subject of prayer came up. I was very relieved to hear this as I had just spent the previous forty-five minute motorcycle ride to the meeting worrying. Um, I mean praying. Read more

Original Sin

It’s a grey and gloomy early August day. The sky is ominous and dark and the rain and wind lash against the window of my study. It doesn’t feel much like summer. As it happens, I, too, am feeling rather grey and gloomy at this halfway point of summer. Five weeks or so ago I was visited by a persistent neck and upper back/shoulder pain that has well and truly overstayed its welcome by now. From the moment I get up in the morning until my head hits the pillow at night, it feels like someone is persistently tapping a tent peg through the back of my skull down into my shoulder. It’s loads of fun. I’ve been to the doctor, I’ve had the x-rays, I’m doing the physiotherapy. Hopefully this will do the trick. In the meantime, I’m sampling a wide variety of mostly ineffective painkillers to get through my days. Read more

Forgive Us Our Sins

The prayer book I use for Ordinary Time operates on a four-week cycle of prayers, beginning with a daily movement through the sentences of the Lord’s Prayer—the words given by Jesus in response to a request as simple as it was (and is) drenched in desperate need: “Teach us to pray.” This morning’s sentence was a very timely one: Forgive us our sins. Timely because, well, I can’t really think of a time when I don’t need to forgive or to be forgiven.  Read more