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
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
The shooting at a Quebec City mosque that killed six people has been on many of our minds over the last few days. There has been the predictable outpouring of support and outrage on social media. There have been vigils and prayers and marches organized in response. There have been expressions of love and care for our Muslim neighbours taking place far away from the bleating headlines. All in all, it’s a narrative that our world is growing regrettably familiar with in light of all the religious and ethnically fuelled violence that has unfolded over the last few years. 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.
A funny thing happened after church on Sunday. One of our church members politely pulled me away from another conversation with the news that, “There are some visitors that want to talk to you.” I’m a little weary after the service at the best of times, but this past Sunday was even worse. I was coasting on fumes having just arrived home from Europe a day before and having been up for approximately eight hours by the time the service rolled around. My head was aching and my eyes were heavy. So it took a bit of effort to summon my best pastor smile and introduce myself to the beaming thirty-something year old couple that stood before me. Read more
I spent thirteen or so hours this past week driving under the summer prairie sky. Saskatoon was the location of our Mennonite national church’s biennial gathering which I combined with a visit with my brother and his family. It’s a long drive and very flat. It’s the kind of drive that is easy to dread, particularly in winter months when the roads are bad and the landscape is bleak. It’s a drive I’ve done often enough but it’s not one that I’ve ever particularly relished. This time, however, the sky almost literally took my breath away. Golden yellow canola beside wavy green barley fields stretched out under this vast canopy of pillowy cloud and brilliant blue. Or, when the weather turned, spectacular scenes of dark, brooding masses of cloud. The sky seemed alive. Even when it looked threatening and portended fierce rain, it was a kind of strange comfort. It was the kind of sky that puts you in your place. There was a vast unchangeableness about it. It seemed the kind of sky that nothing could go wrong under. Read more
There’s a scene in Canadian author David Adams Richards’ latest novel, Principles to Live By where John Delano, a washed up police officer trying to get back in the game, is asked by a colleague why he doesn’t have much use for school. Delano responds thus:
Oh, I don’t know—let’s just say that those who know all the answers are often the ones never able to ask the right questions.
A simple enough statement, right? But a profound and instructive one, also. At least so it seems to me. As someone who has spent nearly ten years blogging and interacting online with people on both ends of liberal-conservative spectrum, as someone who has been a pastor for nearly eight years and regularly finds himself in dialogue with people holding views that cross the theological spectrum, this statement rings true. Read more
Every day, it seems, the refugee crisis in Europe worsens. Every day, the headlines that jump out at me when I open my computer in the morning are grim and foreboding. Last week it was capsized boats and trucks on the side of the road. This morning, it’s a train station in Budapest where police are preventing thousands of migrants from boarding trains bound for Germany. And tomorrow? Next week, month, year? Who knows? Read more
For the last few days, I’ve been sifting through the mental notes and impressions collected during my time spent last week at the final event of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission in Ottawa and the NAIITS (North American Indigenous Institute of Theological Studies) 2015 Symposium near Chicago. In many ways, I have been feeling that there’s not much to say beyond what I’ve said in previous posts about previous trips with similar themes. Or, at any rate, that I’m unable to put newer or better words to the ones I’ve already come up with. The pain and injustice of Canada’s history of Indian residential schools has been well documented, after all. Is there any point in adding to the noise? Are there new insights to be gleaned or windows through which to see these matters? Read more
I was listening to a radio program this morning about tattoos. Specifically, the co-hosts were discussing whether or not it was permissible to refuse employment to someone because of tattoos in prominent places—places like faces and necks and whatever other places people are finding to ink themselves up these days. Even more specifically, the co-hosts were wondering about if said prominent tattoos contained offensive messages. “What if, for example, someone had a tattoo in a place that was impossible to ignore that said, ‘F*** the World?’” asked one co-host to the other. What if, indeed. Can people who choose to decorate their bodies in such ways expect to be hired in public roles, for example? Do employers have an obligation to ignore such things and focus only on competencies? Murky waters, these are… Read more
And so, another summer is gone and it’s back to school. This morning we coaxed and cajoled two reluctant teenagers out the door approximately three hours earlier than they had grown accustomed to being anywhere or doing anything over the course of the summer. Out the door for another year of glorious personal growth and social interaction and intellectual stimulation. Or something like that. Judging by the looks on their faces as they trudged out the door, about the only thing on their minds were the beds they had been unceremoniously dislodged from. Read more
In what is now becoming something like a sacred ritual of the digital age, the following scenario unfolded this week. 1) Something bad happened—in this case, the suicide of a famous celebrity who had long struggled with addictions and depression; 2) People flooded to the Internet to give voice to their opinions about what (if anything) this bad thing meant and what (if anything) we ought to learn from it; 3) Someone wrote something that was perceived to be inflammatory/controversial/insensitive/wrong about the nature of this bad thing (in this case, conservative Christian blogger Matt Walsh, who wrote a post called “Robin Williams Didn’t Die From a Disease, He Died From His Choice” which has generated well over three million views and over four thousand comments at the time of this writing); 4) The Internet heaved and lurched in a maelstrom of fury and passion, whether in opposition to or defense of said article/writer (in this case it seems to be mostly the former; Walsh has apparently even received death threats over this post); 5) After collectively marinating in this unedifying, soupy mess for a few days, we all moved on to other more fertile pastures in which to expend our self-righteous energies. Read more
Earlier this week I turned the last page of Joseph Boyden’s highly acclaimed third novel, The Orenda, recent winner of CBC’s Canada Reads and, to the great consternation of many, long listed, but not shortlisted, for the prestigious Giller Prize. It is, as many have said, a remarkable book about the seventeenth century Huron-Iroquois wars in what is now Eastern Canada, and the French Jesuit colonial missionary enterprise that inserted itself into the mix. It is gripping, insightful, heartbreaking, and, yes, at times almost unspeakably violent.
It’s a strange thing that, as followers of Jesus, we are dwellers in a story.
Religion is often conceived and described as ideology or a philosophy or an ethical system that provides answers to deep questions about the meaning of life and the nature of salvation. But as Christians, we are not given a generic, universal set of principles or techniques or transcendent truths or ethical absolutes by which to live.
We are, rather, thrust into a story—and a grubby, disheveled story, at that. Read more
I think that the main problem with our world right now is that there’s just not enough spirituality.
I had gone to a local café to get out of the office and try to get some reading done, but I quite literally couldn’t help but overhear the preceding assessment/diagnosis of the plight of the planet and its inhabitants taking place at the table beside me. It was a couple of university students, if their meticulously disheveled and painstakingly ironic appearances were anything to go by. The more enthusiastic of the two—the one doing most of the talking—had evidently taken a few introductory philosophy and religious studies courses, judging by the peppering of his discourse with references to Gandhi, Jesus, Plato, and the Bhagavad Gita (not to mention a reference to that most estimable of Zen masters, Phil Jackson). The other young man seemed more interested in the Shakespeare he was trying to read, but he seemed content enough to allow the spiritual wisdom to pour forth unabated from his friend. 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
I listened to the story of a gay man yesterday. It was a story both tragic and tragically typical. It was a story of knowing he was “different” from his very earliest memories, of being mocked and ridiculed throughout his school years, a story of confusion, anger, and pain, a story of desperately trying to come to terms with an identity that just didn’t fit, a story of a string of unsatisfying relationships, a story of isolation and deep loneliness that persists to the present day.
It was also, of course, a story in which the church played a role. I wish I could say that it was a positive role—that the community that bears the name of the Friend of Sinners had provided a place of refuge and peace for this person… I wish I could say that. But I can’t. We all know that this isn’t how the story usually goes. We know that “rejection” and “guilt” and “judgment” and “fear” and “misunderstanding” are among the words that appear at this point in the story. Read more
I’ve spent the last two days in Montreal attending the Truth and Reconciliation of Canada’s Québec National Event. This is one of seven national events held across Canada to provide a space for listening and truth-telling about the history of residential schools in our country. Events have already been held in Halifax, Winnipeg, Inuvik, and Saskatoon, and there will be future events in Edmonton and Vancouver. It has been a sobering few days. So many stories of abuse, neglect, and prejudice. So many stories of families torn apart, of addiction and violence and dysfunctional relationships. It was a hard, but good day of listening. Read more