Well, 2020 is almost over. What does one even say at this point? It’s been a year unlike any other, a year that few saw coming and that many of us will be happy to see in the rearview mirror. 2021 doesn’t exactly beckon with unbridled optimism but the general sense seems to be that the next spin around the sun has to be better than the one that’s drawing to a close. So we desperately hope, at any rate.
The last week of a calendar year tends to be a time for reflection. Here on this little blog, it is the time when I take a glance back on the year that was. Incredibly, next month will mark my fourteenth blog-aversary (is that a word?). I imagine this makes me something of a relic. Not many are blogging any more—it’s too wordy and people don’t have much patience for wordy these days. We prefer our digital content in more bite-sized morsels. We are drawn more to the hot take than the nuanced reflection, the “gotcha” tweet over the laboured exposition, the punchy slogan as opposed to death by a thousand qualifications. The communication ecosystem that we have created and are creating worries me on many levels but, well, I’ve (wordily) written about that quite a lot over the years, so…
Moving on. As has become my custom, here are the five most viewed posts of 2020 along with a brief description of each. Read more
Well, here we are, on the cusp of a shiny new decade. December 31 is, of course, a quite natural day to reflect back on the year that was in the world and in one’s life. It’s also an opportunity to have a glance in the rear-view mirror in the life of this little blog. Incredibly, next month will mark my thirteenth anniversary blogging. I don’t think I ever expected that I would still be writing here in the year 2020. It is a testimony either to my stubbornness or your patience (or both) that this blog has survived as long as it has, particularly as the sheer volume of online content continues to wash over us in wave after indecipherable wave, and as our attention spans continue to be eroded by Twitter. Read more
Early September is one of a handful of “new years” that many of us use to orient or mark time. The beginning of another academic year is experienced as a new beginning for many, particularly those with kids. January 1 is another, obviously. For Christians, the First Sunday of Advent would be yet another, as we mark the beginning of another year lived according to the story of Jesus. These are logical points on our calendars and in our lives for us to recalibrate, reorient, recommit, or remind ourselves of important truths. Read more
So today I’m setting out into some unfamiliar territory. This summer will mark seven years in my present pastoral role, and my church has generously offered me a three-month sabbatical. I’ve seen friends and colleagues take sabbaticals over the years and always wondered what one of these actually looks and feels like. I’m about to find out. It felt a bit strange when I turned out the lights and walked out the church door yesterday afternoon. It was a good strange, don’t get me wrong! It had been a lovely service where I was blessed on my way with good words, warm hearts, and delicious food. But still. Strange. Read more
Summer is a time for reading books. Fiction, in particular. This year, I have taken something of a vow to buy no more new books until I have at least made an appreciable dent in the pile of unread books that clutter my desk and clog my shelves. Among these, is Alan Paton’s classic novel, Cry, the Beloved Country which explores the injustice and social decay of apartheid-era South Africa through the lens of two families. It’s one in an embarrasssingly long list of books that fall in the category of, “Books I really should have read by now.” Read more
I spent last week in Vancouver attending a conference at Regent College, the school that I was making my way through around a decade ago. It was a good opportunity to learn, to worship, to take a breath, to connect with some old friends and, as providence would have it, to drop in on the opening night of U2’s 30th Anniversary Joshua Tree tour (the concert was fantastic, if perhaps not as memorable as past shows… a highlight was being told by a couple of spectacularly drunk Irishmen in the concourse that I looked like The Edge 🙂 ). All in all, a nice few days away. Read more
I received two pieces of rather severe correspondence before I poured my first coffee this morning. One was an online response to something I had written here that was picked up by another website. I had portrayed God as too merciful, I had ignored some of the more severe things Jesus said, I had failed to take Scripture seriously, I was dangerously misleading people, etc. I’ve received comments like this quite regularly over a decade of blogging, so it wasn’t particularly surprising. The other was a handwritten letter about the Canadian political situation from a stranger in another city (There was a time when, upon receiving letters like these, I would ask questions like, “Who is this person? Why are they sending this to me? What’s the connection here? I’ve since learned that these questions are very often futile…). This, too, was rather familiar in content and tone, and could be crudely summarized as a “sky is falling” type missive. Secularism, pornography, Shariah law, feminism, gay agendas, communism… The list was long, it was dire, and it required my immediate action. I sighed, and reached for my coffee. 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.
In my previous post, and in most posts where I do any kind of reflecting on the nature of blogging or marking milestones in the life of this blog or whatever, I commented on how I’m regularly surprised at which posts garner attention here and which generate only the slightest of ripples. So, because it’s the last day of 2016 and because the soccer game I’m watching this morning is kind of dull and I’ve been absent-mindedly browsing through last year’s archives, I thought it would be fun to post a “top five according to me.” Or a “top five posts that I felt pretty good abut that languished in relative statistical obscurity. Or “five posts that are feeling lonely.” Or something like that.
At any rate, here are five posts that I think touched on important or interesting or amusing themes, and that received comparatively little attention in 2016 along with a brief description of each. Read more
In a few weeks I will have been writing in this space for an even decade. Or, about nine and a half years longer than I expected when I first started blogging. As the years go by and the posts accumulate, I find it fascinating to track which posts grab people’s attention and which fade into online oblivion pretty much from the moment I press “publish.” As I’ve said before, I’m regularly surprised how posts that I’m quite proud of generate barely a passing glance and posts that I consider to be rather average receive a much wider viewing. Such is the wild world of writing online.
At any rate, as has become my habit over the past few years, here are the five posts that rose to the top of the pile in 2016 along with a brief description of each. 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
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
You know the drill, by now. “Miscellany” means fragmentary, unrelated mind scraps hastily assembled and lumped together for your reading, um, pleasure?
I’ve talked to enough pastors over the years to know that I’m not unique in saying that I have some ambivalence toward the whole “visitation” thing. Some pastors are born for the task and seem to enjoy it immensely, but I’ve also had numerous conversations with colleagues that run something along the lines of, “Yeah, it’s not really my thing… It’s something I have to talk myself into doing… It’s hard to find the time…” And, of course, the ubiquitous, “I should probably do more of it than I do, but it’s just so hard…” 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
In a month or so I will have been writing in this space for eight years. As the years go by and the posts accumulate, it becomes increasingly interesting to track which posts grab people’s attentions and which do not, which have “staying power” (a tenuous term for, if ever there was one, in the context of our rapidly shrinking, social media-shaped attention spans) and which fade into online oblivion pretty much from the moment I press “publish.”
Speaking of pressing “publish,” I did so one hundred and sixteen times in 2014, which works out to nearly ten posts per month or two and half per week. And of those one hundred and sixteen posts in 2014, here are the five that caught readers’ attention more than the other one hundred and eleven, along with a brief description of each. Read more
Among the more delightful and rewarding tasks of managing a blog is dealing with the blight upon digital existence that is spam. My blog platform’s spam settings are usually pretty reliable, but occasionally either a legitimate comment is labeled spam or something gets through that shouldn’t. The sheer volume of spam seems to have dramatically increased over the 7+ years I’ve been doing this (my dashboard proudly proclaims that it has “protected” my site from 1,187,079 messages as of 11:50 AM MST). I try to empty my spam folder out a few times a day—often there are hundreds to delete even after a couple of hours. Spammers (or, their programs) are, evidently, a rather persistent lot.
They’re also getting more creative. Often, a “comment” will just be bunch of random nonsense in a wide variety of languages or a collection of unsavoury links. But occasionally, spammers will try to sneak in apparently legitimate messages to improve their odds of escaping the filter. I’ve started a file on some of the more interesting ones. Today, I was intrigued by this one, in particular:
I was really confused and this answered all my questions.
I was sitting in a local Starbucks this afternoon when I saw the most absurd thing in the history of humankind: a big glossy advertisement for a product called an “Oprah Chai Tea Latte.” Alongside pictures of what I can only imagine must be very tasty delights indeed (iced or hot) was a (larger) picture of a beaming Oprah Winfrey, lending her teeth, her hair, her celebrity to this product. What does Oprah have to do with chai tea lattes, you might wonder? I certainly did. Did Oprah Winfrey make this chai tea? Did she create the recipe? Did she enjoy drinking this tea in some kind of unique way? Does she own the tea? Did she import it for our benefit? The advertisement didn’t tell us. It simply presented a picture of Oprah, a picture of tasty beverages and assumed that we would make (invent?) the connection. Read more
I read an article this week about the death of handwriting and how a whole generation of kids will grow up with bad to nonexistent penmanship skills due to the proliferation of technological devices that they master before their tenth birthday. I read another one about how we retain far more of what we write when use pen and paper rather than laptop and tablets. And then I read yet another article about how wireless technology was giving us cancer and generally rotting our brains. Feeling appropriately despondent about the state of our wired and technologically dependent world, I said to myself, “very well then, pen to paper it is.” My handwriting, as you will see, is truly abysmal (I’m old enough that I can’t even blame the Internet for my inadequacies), but hopefully it is legible nonetheless. Believe it or not, this is the result of me writing extra slowly.
I wrote the following reflection sitting in a dumpy coffee shop with an old notebook after visiting a dear saint walking through the fog and sadness of the valley of the shadow. Read more