Another year has nearly come and gone and this liminal space between Christmas Day and the start of a new year seems inevitably to provide opportunity to reflect back on the year that was on this blog. Blogs are, I am told, becoming something of a relic. Not many people are writing on or reading blogs anymore. Not many people are reading period anymore if the stats are to be believed. Who has or wants to make the time? People’s clicking and sharing seems to have migrated over to less wordy platforms. Read more
On Saturday night a group of Christmas carolers from our church descended upon the dementia ward of a local nursing home. We sang songs for a dear old saint who has pretty much seemed lost to the fog of this awful disease that steals people, synapse by synapse, from those they love while they are still living. He was in his pyjamas when we got there, ready for bed. He didn’t know who we were or why we were there, but he smiled and laughed and clapped along while we sang. He even tried to sing along for a few lines as the scrambled memories fought their way back. I watched him as we sang, wondering which of these familiar Christmas words, if any, might find a way through. There were only two, during O, Come All Ye Faithful: Yea Lord… But then the moment passed. He lay down in his bed and drifted off as we sang. Read more
Each year around this time, I find myself remarking to my congregation that the songs of Advent and Christmas give us some of our best theology. I’m sure they’re getting weary of hearing it by now. In my meagre defense, after a while one runs out of new things to say. At any rate, it’s no less true for my repeating it endlessly. Aside from just being a delight to sing, these songs give us marvelous lines like:
- Oh, love beyond all telling, that led thee to embrace, in love, all love excelling, our lost and troubled race.
- Dear desire of every nation, joy of every longing heart.
- Cast out our sin, and enter in, be born in us today!
- Hail the incarnate deity; pleased with us in flesh to dwell; Jesus, our Immanuel!
- Son of God, Love’s pure light, radiant, beams from thy holy face with the dawn of redeeming grace, Jesus, Lord at Thy birth.
There are days when the weight of human cruelty and carelessness seems almost too much to bear. I’m not speaking about the vicious climate of our political discourse or the endless shouting and posturing the dominates our news media—the wearisome, grinding tedium of left shouting at right and right shouting at left. This, too, is excruciating, but I’m thinking more prosaically today. I’m thinking of the middle school playground, or the creaking and groaning marriage, or the toxic workplace or the chaos and confusion of the dementia ward or the high school cafeteria. I’m thinking of the endless weaponizing of words, the myriad ways in which we are inhuman to one another in our everyday lives. Read more
I saw a couple standing in their driveway this morning on my way to work. They were young and clearly enraptured with one another in the way that young lovers are. They stood close together, their faces inches apart. They smiled and laughed and shuffled their feet. It was, in some ways, an ordinary moment surrounded by all kinds of ordinariness—winter jackets, half-melted snow, some gaudy Christmas lawn ornaments, an aging SUV, yesterday’s recycling. But it also struck me as extraordinary. Or, at the very least, heartwarming. A bit of romance at 8:30 on a Friday morning. Who would have thought? Just as they had almost receded from my view, I saw her lean in for a kiss. Read more
A few unfinished scraps and fragments are cluttering up my “drafts” folder, so it’s time for another “Miscellany” post. There’s a common thread that runs through what follows—something like “the truth and how we tell it”—but nothing cohesive enough for a single post, evidently. Read more
Most Christians I know have a complicated relationship with the doctrine of hell. Many have grown up with a caricature, with gruesome images of an eternal fiery torture chamber with a horns-and-pitchfork devil presiding over the conflagration. This is deemed intolerable by most. Indeed, I am highly suspicious of those who retain this view. They often seem a bit too eager, not to mention selective, in their appreciation of God’s judgment. The rest of us struggle with hell in various ways. Those who accept the possibility of hell wonder how a merciful God can allow it. Those who reject hell outright often still implicitly long for, even demand, some kind of a final justice for those who have done great evil. We hate the idea of hell but we can’t quite let it go. It’s complicated. Read more
There are at least two reasons to like the Nashville Predators hockey team. First, the yellow uniforms. Obviously. You have to admire a team that cares so little about the intimidation factor that they’re willing to skate out in mustard yellow. Second, the Preds fans have (had?) this delightful tradition that follows each of the home team’s goals. They begin by serenading the opponent’s goaltender, chanting his last name in a kind of whiny, mocking voice, and punctuating the ridicule by screaming, “It’s all your fault, it’s all your fault, it’s all your fault!!” It’s great fun—at least if you’re on the right end of the score. I watched a bit of a Predators game last night before heading out to my own beer league hockey game where, as it happens, half of the goals our team gave up were, well, all my fault. Luckily there aren’t many fans at beer league hockey games and the few who do show up can’t be bothered to summon the requisite energy for mockery. Read more
The season of Advent approaches and with it the ever-present temptation to dwell in the saccharine, the safe, the sanitized—harmless images of God’s coming that trouble us far less than they ought to. I feel this temptation every year. It’s easy to prepare for the coming of a harmless child that is with us but demands little of us. It was and is all too easy for earth to receive her king poorly. Read more
For churches whose preaching is lectionary based, one of the texts for this Sunday is Revelation 1:4-8. It’s a marvelous passage that describes Jesus in some of the most exalted language in all of the New Testament. The “faithful witness,” the “the firstborn of the dead,” the ruler of the kings of the earth,” the one who is and who was and who is to come,” the “Alpha and the Omega.” It’s breathtaking stuff. The risen Christ is described as the source and goal of all creation.
There’s another section of this passage that we are perhaps not so readily drawn to:
“Look, he is coming with the clouds,”
and “every eye will see him,
even those who pierced him”;
and all peoples on earth “will mourn because of him.”
So shall it be! Amen.
I spent last weekend participating in a church renewal workshop. Perhaps unsurprisingly, I tend to be a little ambivalent when it comes to these kinds of events. Whatever “church renewal” is or might look like, it seems like the sort of thing that resists easy formulas or clever strategies. Also, I hate group exercises. But desperate times call for desperate measures. These are hard times for the church in Canada. The litany is familiar enough by now: shrinking, aging congregations, dwindling budgets, the evacuation of younger generations, the perception of irrelevance (or worse) out there in the broader culture, etc. The wearisome data piles up. Something, clearly, must be done, even if many of us have little idea what that “something” might be (or whether, indeed, it is all the church’s frantic “somethings” that are part of the problem). Read more
Among the many interesting experiences of parenting teenagers is to listen to the same arguments one once used against one’s own parents turned back against oneself. When I was a kid, I remember trying to justify my music choices to my parents (or myself) with the argument, “Well, I don’t listen to the lyrics, I just like the music.” This was sorta true in that I wasn’t drawn to bands like Guns N’ Roses, Metallica, and Motley Crüe for their, ahem, lyrical profundity. It was the crunching guitars, wailing vocals, and pounding rhythms that attracted my teenage heart. But of course, I knew full well that the lyrics were profane and raunchy, at best, offensive at worst. I doubt my parents found the “I just listen for the music” argument convincing then. I certainly don’t have much use for it when struggling through some of what passes for music in my kids’ minds these days. So it goes. Nothing new under the sun and all that. Read more
It’s almost the definition of a calling that there is a strong inner resistance to it. The resistance is not practical—how will I make money, can I live with the straitened circumstances, etc.—but existential: Can I navigate this strong current, and can I remain myself while losing myself within it? Reluctant writers, reluctant ministers, reluctant teachers—these are the ones whose lives and works can be examples. Nothing kills credibility like excessive enthusiasm.
— Christian Wiman, He Held Radical Light
Christian Wiman writes sentences that sound so good that you’re convinced that even if they’re not true, they probably should be. Like that last one: “Nothing kills credibility like excessive enthusiasm.” I laughed out loud the first time I read it. It brought to mind the many eager beaver pastor-preneurs I’ve encountered over the years, people who so obviously craved the stage and all that went with it, people so utterly convinced that they could save every lost soul by the sheer force of their own conviction (and often volume). Or the people who are just a bit too desperate to plaster themselves and their causes all over social media, as if almost to overwhelm people with the innumerable exciting things that they are presently catalyzing. I have rarely found such people credible. Who are you trying to convince or impress? I often mutter unholily under my breath. No, I have never much appreciated the fevered sales pitch, religious or otherwise. Read more
I mentioned Christian Wiman’s latest book in my last post. It’s a marvelous read animated by one central question—the question of all questions: “What is the central hunger and longing that drives our peculiar species?” As always, Wiman expresses our options in such compelling ways: Read more
Christian Wiman is a brilliant writer—one of my favourites as I’m sure I’ve mentioned before here. I’ve been eagerly anticipating the arrival of his most recent book, He Held Radical Light and yesterday the blessed brown package showed up in the mail. I spent part of last night reading it. The man has a way of communicating the longing and haunting desire of human existence like few others that I have come across. Read more
A follow-up to yesterday’s post on “something” needing to be done about all the hate in the world. It is of course impossible to talk about hate in 2018 without talking about the Internet and social media culture. This morning, I encountered no fewer than three pieces of media expressing incredulity that the Internet seems not to have transformed humanity into an oasis of harmony and mutual understanding but has instead degenerated into a cesspool of anger and ignorance. Read more
After Saturday’s shooting at a synagogue in Pittsburgh, Donald Trump offered this diagnosis of our cultural moment:
It’s a terrible, terrible thing what’s going on with hate in our country, frankly, and all over the world. And something has to be done.
Indeed. All the hate is terrible. And something does have to be done. Many of us wonder if one of the first things that might be done would be for Mr. Trump to have a glance in the mirror (or his Twitter feed) and ponder some of the ways he might have contributed to “what’s going on with hate in our country,” but there is truth, however clumsily put, in what the US president says. What, then, is to be done about all this hate? Read more
He’s sitting in his chair when I arrive. That’s it. Just sitting. Not watching TV, not reading. Just vacantly staring up at the ceiling. The curtains are drawn and the window closed, even though outside it’s a pleasant October day. The air is stale, sad, heavy. Read more