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Life After (and Before) Death

I’ve been thinking about life after death lately. This is not a very respectable thing to spend one’s time thinking about, at least not in “progressive” theological circles. “The church has too often been too heavenly minded to be of any earthly good” and all that. Well, yes. Certainly, many zealous Christians down through the ages have obsessed about the afterlife to the quite culpable neglect of this one. Locating all one’s hope in an unobservable and undefinable future can have the effect of partitioning it off from empirical scrutiny and absolving those who hold it of any responsibility to pursue God’s justice and peace in the present. Fair enough. Read more

The Last Shall Be First

There are no trees here. There should be trees to keep company with the dead. This was the first thing I thought as I stood beside a hole in the ground in tiny cemetery on the windswept winter prairies. It felt like the middle of nowhere. I guess it kind of was. Plots are more affordable the farther you go from the city, and the family had little money. It was bitterly cold and the few souls who had gathered shuffled nervously and stamped their feet. We were waiting for one more person who was late in arriving. I looked around and saw nothing but flat farmland and blowing snow. Where are the trees? Read more

The Inhuman Kingdom

Like many this morning, I’m fighting the urge to do little more than sit, slack jawed, at my computer, trying to process the news coming out of the Ukraine. It all feels so ominous and heavy and infuriating and sad. So terribly, terribly sad. After an hour or so of impotent doom scrolling, I closed my computer and decided to pray. I had no idea what to pray, so I borrowed better words than I could ever summon on my own.

The following excerpts come from a liturgy called “A Prayer of Intercession Against the Kingdom of Death.” from Every Moment Holy, vol. 2. Perhaps it will give you language appropriate for the sorrow and rage of the day, as it did for me: Read more

Tuesday Miscellany (A Whisper and a Scream)

It’s Tuesday morning and I’ve, um, been thinking some thoughts. Nothing well-formed enough for a substantive post on its own, but a few loosely connected fragments that need to be expelled from my brain so I can move on to other things… Read more

On Abstaining from Generalizations

It may surprise readers of this blog to know that I was a trucker in a previous life. In my early twenties, before I went back to university, I used to haul hotel furniture across western Canada. I remember more than a few harrowing winter trips over the Coquihalla or into the bone-chilling north. It was long and lonely work and I only did it for a few years, but it was an interesting and valuable experience. I have my class one license to this day. I’m not going to lie, there were days during these last two years of pandemic when it looked like an attractive option! Read more

The End Will Not Come Easily

The end of the pandemic will not come easily.

These words, from Danish political scientist Michael Bang Petersen in today’s New York Times, state what is self-evident to many, particularly here in Canada where the so-called “Freedom Convoy” has dominated the news over the past week or so. For many, relinquishing the emotional urgency that this pandemic has thrust upon us has the feel of a bitter concession. “The End of the Pandemic May Tear Us Apart,” warns Petersen’s ominous headline, and after the two years we have all endured, few would doubt this is true. Read more

Happy Birthday to Me

Apparently, this little blog is celebrating a birthday today. It was fifteen years ago today that I first pressed “publish” and sent a few thoughts out into the ether. WordPress was kind enough to give me a heartfelt birthday notification along with some stats today (I was touched, obviously). Over the last decade and a half, I have evidently written 1412 posts which have generated 13 995 comments. Which seems like rather a lot of words. Needless to say, a lot more than I expected way back on January 20, 2007. Read more

“I’m Just Following the Science”

For the past few years, I have devoted my sermons between Epiphany and Lent to addressing questions of faith from our congregation. These can range from vexing passages of Scripture to topics dominating the news to quite personal questions about death and suffering and the silence of God. I’m regularly encouraged by how thoughtful the congregation I serve is. These sermons are often among the hardest and most engaging sermons I preach each year. Read more

A Liturgy for a Sick Day

There are a lot of people home sick in these early days of 2022, whether because of Omicron or some other thing. I was among them last week. My experience of Covid was fairly ordinary, even boring. It felt like a common cold. I say this knowing full well that others have had worse experiences than I have. One of weirdest thing about this virus (and there are many weird things!) is how differently it seems to affect people. Read more

2021 in Review

It’s been… a year. Another year dominated by Covid, another year where we have vacillated between anxiety and hysteria and confusion and apathy and fear and anger and many other things besides. I cast a quick glance back at last year’s year-end post and read what I wrote: “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.” Was it? Well, maybe. I dunno. I guess it depends. Who knows much of anything at this point. I confidently predict 2022 will be better. Or worse. Or the same. Read more

The Presence of God

Mid-way through the Christmas season, I’ve been thinking about the presence of God. This season is all about celebrating “God with us.” This is what our songs and scriptures and stories proclaim throughout the season. And is this not what we all long for? To experience God as present with and for us. Read more

Disarm You with a Smile

I found myself in a very long line up at the post office the other day. Without my phone. So, you know, pretty much the worst thing imaginable. Instead of pretending to attend to very important business or burying my nose in the (mostly trivial) minutiae of other people’s lives in worlds far away, I was forced to lift my gaze and pay attention to the actual world right in front of me. It was unsettling and disorienting. I barely made it out alive. Read more

Music, Despite Everything

Yesterday morning before worship, I saw a headline in a major Canadian newspaper imploring me to “at least try to pretend that I care about the BC drug overdose crisis.” I paused on that headline. What exactly was it telling me to do? I thought I cared at least a little about the poor souls trying to deaden their pain and loneliness and despair in any way possible (in BC or anywhere else), but it seems that it wasn’t enough. I should care more, evidently. Or care differently than I was at present. But how would I know if or when I had cared enough or in the right ways? And according to whom?

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The Only One

That’s the dumbest thing I’ve ever read! This was my decidedly uncharitable and exasperated reaction to a sentence that I read over my toast and coffee morning. The offending sentence was a wildly enthusiastic recommendation on the cover of Kate Bowler’s new book No Cure for Being Human. The writer of the sentence that so aggravated me was a certain Glennon Doyle who had this to say about the book and its author: “Kate Bowler is the only one we can trust to tell us the truth.” Right. The only one. I tried (and failed) to resist the temptation of saying (audibly), “I guess that means I shouldn’t pay attention to your stupid book recommendation because I can’t trust you to tell me the truth.” Read more

A Despairing People

A bit of a follow up to my recent post, Harshly Drawn Lines. In a recent editorial for a Comment issue on our ideologically polarized times, Anne Snyder talks about the “tribal hermeneutics” that increasingly dominate everyday conversation. There are few topics these days, she says, that can’t be pressed into the service of the all-important and all-consuming task of identifying which “team” someone belongs to, whether they are safe or suspicious, whether their views are pure or poisonous. We are forever in sorting mode. Read more

On Feeling Conflicted

At 7:40 am this morning, I watched my twenty-year-old son walk out the door in full military fatigues. He is a reservist in the Canadian Armed Forces and has duties for Remembrance Day ceremonies later this morning. As you might imagine, this is a bit of a strange and conflicted experience for a Mennonite pastor. I never imagined that I would have a soldier for a son.

A while back, I wrote a piece on, well, peace. And war. And feeling conflicted. And not knowing precisely how to think about it all. Watching my son walk out the door on Remembrance Day 2021 brought it back to mind. I’ve reproduced a lightly edited version below. Read more

Harshly Drawn Lines

I have a lot of conversations these days about the anger and polarization that seems to be increasingly ubiquitous in our culture. Whether it’s the toxic spaces of online “discourse” or the high school gym where parents divide over COVID restrictions and how they affect school sports or the radioactive topics of race, gender, and sexuality, so many people seem to be really, really annoyed and really, really determined to sort people into the categories of “righteous” and “unrighteous” according to where they stand on these issues. I can’t recall a time where people have seemed so divided, where so many conversations seem to have tripwires around every bend, where normal interactions our neighbours carry with them a level of suspicion and anxiety that would have once been almost unimaginable. Read more

Over-Under

Last Sunday’s gospel reading about power and how it does and doesn’t operate in the kingdom of God was an interesting (and indicting!) one to preach on. Our cultural moment is saturated with talk of power dynamics and all the myriad ways that race, gender, and sexuality intersect with this. Jesus’ teaching represents a rebuke and a reminder to us in all kinds of ways (and across ideological persuasions). Jesus’ words also speak to us personally. As human beings, we generally like to think that we’re right and we like making other people do what we want. Jesus will have none of it. Read more