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How the Bible Sounds in Occupied Territory

One more reflection based on my time spent in Palestine and Israel over the past few weeks. After this, I shall endeavour to give this “blogging sabbatical” thing another, better try.

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It’s an interesting thing how geography and social location affects the way you read and hear Scripture. Most Sundays, I am reading and hearing Scripture as a relatively comfortable, white, middle-class Christian in a more or less peaceful country where religion often occupies a peripheral (at best) role in most people’s thinking and living. This affects how I read and hear the words of the Bible. My default, whether I want this or not, tends to be to listen in ways that will more or less endorse and validate myself and those who are like me. This is, as I said, most Sundays. Last Sunday, however, I worshiped in Palestine.

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Pray For Me, St. Joseph

Joseph greets me with a smile and warm handshake before serving me breakfast every morning in Bethlehem. I met Joseph two years ago during my first trip to Israel and Palestine and it has been a delight to reconnect with him this week.

Joseph is a Palestinian Christian and is always willing to share about his life and story. The one memory of him that stood out in 2016 was of him telling me about the hotel being shut down and commandeered by the Israeli army during one of the uprisings of the early 2000’s. For forty days, the top floor was used for army surveillance and sniper locations. Joseph was conscripted to prepare food for the army and not permitted to leave for the entire time they were there.

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Somewhere to Be

I know I’m technically on a “blogging sabbatical,” but I decided to interrupt it to offer a few reflections and observations on a trip I’m presently on to Israel and Palestine. One of the things we consistently hear wherever we go in this conflicted area is, “Tell others what you have seen and heard with your own eyes and ears.” It’s a serious call, and one that I feel an obligation to respond to given the privilege that I have of being here. Here are some assorted stories and reflections from my first few days here. Read more

Turn Out the Lights

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

Older Brothers

I made a rather remarkable discovery yesterday. Well, remarkable to me, at any rate. I have only preached one sermon on the parable of the lost (or prodigal) son in ten years (and that was seven years ago). This surprised me because it’s one of my favourite stories that Jesus tells. I’ve written about it a fair bit on this blog. I’ve described it in pretty breathless terms. But I haven’t preached on it much. This seems a rather glaring omission. Read more

Same Jesus

Last night our little church had the opportunity to hear from what is a bit of a rarity in southern Alberta: a Syrian Orthodox priest. We have a connection with Father Lukas Awad that goes back three years. I first met him when he was touring the province with a group connected to MCC Alberta. Through a series of events, this initial meeting led to our group of churches sponsoring families from his parish in Homs that were refugees in Lebanon at the time. Father Lukas has thirteen families from his parish scattered throughout the province of Alberta, including six here in Lethbridge.  Read more

Hard to Hallow

Richard Beck is a blogger that I have been reading for quite a while now. He’s a psychology professor and “progressive Christian,” although he seems to have a level of distaste for the term that approaches my own. He has, in my experience, an ability that is rare among progressives—the ability to be unflinchingly self-critical and to acknowledge the challenges and inconsistencies that are bound up with many forms of “progressive Christianity.” His recent nine part series “On Tribes and Community” should be required reading for anyone interested in how faith communities are formed and maintained, and how our cultural and ideological context works against this. Read more

Thinking is Hard (Or, The Value of Squirming)

I’ve been reading Alan Jacobs’ little book How to Think over the last few days. It doesn’t contain anything particularly new, but it has been yet another reminder of just how bad at thinking we often are and are becoming, particularly in the digital age.

Jacobs does not paint a flattering portrait. Reactionary ideological sloganeering easily and often replaces careful, nuanced thinking about difficult issues. More often than not, the things we think are determined less by actual investigation and weighing of evidence than by our need for social belonging and our desire to have an “other” to define ourselves in opposition to. We are yanked around by emotional reactions and impulses and then tell a rational story to reframe our views as the result of logical analysis. We are masters at lying to ourselves about why we think the things we do, at taking shortcuts when we can’t be bothered to deal with complexity, and at regurgitating platitudes in the confident expectation that this will be affirmed by the people we seek to impress and the groups we hope to belong to. All in all, according to Jacobs, we’re not nearly as good at thinking as we think we are. Read more

For Those Who Want to Grieve in a Religious Way

I’m in Saskatchewan this week for a speaking engagement. Of course, no matter where I go, all anyone is talking about is last Friday’s horrific bus accident, which claimed the lives of fifteen members of the Humboldt Broncos junior hockey team. It is a story for which there are barely words. It’s made headlines around the globe. Not surprisingly, here in the Saskatoon area (about two hours from the crash site) it’s ground zero. The grief is raw and palpable. Hockey culture runs deep in each of Canada’s prairie provinces. Many people (myself included) have personal experiences of blasting down wintry roads in terrible conditions to play a hockey game. But in Saskatchewan, a sparsely populated province where vast distances often must be traversed to get from town to town, hockey culture is a different level altogether. Hockey binds these far flung communities together in a way that few things can.  Read more

In Search of a Holy Week

Holy Week is upon us, and with it the usual wearisome parade of articles and blog posts and podcasts offering more palatable understandings of Christian faith and crosses and empty tombs than the dreary orthodox fare. Rational people can obviously no longer be expected to believe the outdated and unbelievable story of miracles and dying for sins and actual coming-back-from-the-dead. But the narrative of Holy Week is still deemed to have a few residual nuggets of potential worth mining for us in our spiritual journeys. You’ll be relieved to know. Read more

I’m Not Doing So Good…

Victor* is the last of a handful of inmates to trudge into the Monday morning support group that I’m a part of at the local jail. He’s a small Latino guy, middle aged, a wispy beard and a short ponytail. He looks apprehensive about being there, but then that’s not uncommon. He sits down on a chair and stares at his feet waiting for the group to begin.  Read more

Be Careful What You Ask For

I was at a lunch this week where Matthew 20:20-28 was read devotionally before the meal. It’s the passage where the mother of James and John seeks to stake out some territory for her sons in the kingdom of God that Jesus was always going on about and which she believed was imminent. “Grant that one of these two sons of mine may sit at your right and the other at your left in your kingdom.” They’ve been good boys, after all. They’ve left everything to follow Jesus. They’ve puzzled over his strange teaching, witnessed his miracles, and are now trembling with anticipation at the triumph that is surely coming. They’re primed to rule with Jesus and they’d like a front row seat (and a bit of power) when the action starts. Read more

A Miserable Human Being

I love mankind; it’s people I can’t stand.

— Linus Van Pelt

I suspect that most of us can, at various points of our lives and to varying degrees, identify with this statement that Peanuts creator Charles Schulz puts in the mouth of good old Linus. “Humanity” as an abstract category seems entirely worthy of love and good will. Individual human beings? Well, that’s another matter entirely. Read more

There Goes My Hero

I got a phone call from my daughter this morning. It hadn’t been the greatest of mornings to that point. A few phone calls and emails had brought unwelcome news. Our church is in the middle of dealing with a flooded basement mere days before we’re supposed to host a provincial conference. A few tasks that I had little energy for were stubbornly beckoning. I was generally feeling uninspired and uninspiring, bored and boring, tired and tiring. I probably resembled Jonah, pouting under his pathetic little plant. And then the phone rang and a beautiful voice dispelled the clouds for a moment. Read more

Thursday Miscellany (Love and Marriage Edition)

A few assorted scraps and fragments related to love and marriage for a Thursday morning…

My wife dragged me off to see… My wife and I went on a lovely date the other night to see the Oscar-winning film, The Shape of Water. I was underwhelmed. But then, I usually expect to be underwhelmed by films that the Academy pants after. It wasn’t terrible, just, well, as my kids would say, meh. I don’t seem to be constitutionally wired to appreciate a love story between a woman and a fish. Read more

On Divided Hearts

As I’ve mentioned before, I often join a few Anglican colleagues for morning prayers on Wednesdays. When I do so, I invariably come away with something to ponder from the Scriptures we read together and the traditional prayers that we join our voices with. This morning’s Psalm was a portion from the longest of them all, Psalm 119. Our reading began with these words: I hate those with divided hearts…

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The Old Wanderer

There’s a marvelous scene in Will Ferguson’s novel The Shoe on the Roof where Thomas Rosanoff, a medical student is having a discussion with his Catholic friend Frances about faith and reason and science and God, about what human beings can know and how they can know it. They are discussing a time when a patient’s shoe inexplicably (miraculously?) appeared on the roof of the hospital. Frances demands a rational explanation:

“How do you explain the shoe on the roof, then?”

“I don’t have to. It’s what we call an ‘anomalous experience.’”

“Tommy, everything we do is an anomalous experience. Being alive is an anomalous experience. That’s the problem with science; it always falls silent right when the questions start to get interesting.”

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Sex and Violence

A quick follow up to some of yesterday’s themes. I know I promised cheerier stuff in my next post, but, well, I meant the next one… 😉

The other day, I was watching over my wife’s shoulder at a video on Facebook. It was a bunch of celebrities speaking up for gun control in the aftermath of the Florida shootings. Ho hum. These sorts of videos are ubiquitous in the aftermath of tragedy. In a culture gorging itself upon entertainment, to whom else would we turn for moral advice, advocacy, solace, confirmation of our confused ethics, etc. than our entertainers? And how else could we be expected to digest such morsels of support and confirmation and solace but via entertainment? Read more