When her father died she had immediately stopped going to church. If prayer could not even keep your family alive, she did not see what good it was. But after she and Hank moved to Houston, she had started going again. You were marked if you didn’t. She did not really think about whether she believed, though in the past decade her faith had come back, and they said that was all that mattered. Being old, you had no real choice—salvation or eternal nothingness—and it was no wonder who you saw in church, it was not young people with hangovers and their entire lives ahead of them.
— Philip Meyer, The Son
The last sentence of the quote above confirms what many observe and comment upon when it comes to church demographics these days. Churches are full of old people. Old people who still come either because they have been so thoroughly socialized into church attendance that they can’t imagine not showing up, or who are at a stage in their lives where they have nothing left to do but cling to the consolations of religion. Like all stereotypes, it is crude and rigid and doesn’t even remotely tell the whole story, but I suspect that there are few among us who wouldn’t at least nod in recognition of these sentiments and the general trends that animate them. Read more
A bit of controversy around the celebrated author Joseph Boyden has been dominating headlines up here in Canada over the last little while. Boyden, whose books include Through Black Spruce, Three Day Road, and the Orenda, has become something of an indigenous celebrity in recent years. His novels draw from indigenous history (The Orenda, for example, was based on the interactions between the Iroquois and the French Jesuits in the seventeenth century). He has also been an enthusiastic advocate for indigenous self-determination, even serving last year as a honourary witness at the closing event of Canada’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission. Read more
I was texting last night with a friend who is currently in Chile on business. I asked him what he was doing today and he said, “Driving from Santiago to Temuco. It’s about a four-hour drive. We’re going to stop and visit some farms along the way…” I thought about the picture he had posted on Facebook last night from his hotel—about how warm and green and exotic it looked. I thought about my own prospects of waking up to the bone-chilling cold of January and tackling the inevitable (and Sisyphean) Tuesday morning task of chipping away at my inbox. “Sounds fun,” I told my friend. “Think of me while you’re meandering through the Chilean countryside and I’m responding to forty emails… Read more
I was precariously winding my way through snow-covered streets in my neighbourhood a few days ago, trying to keep moving so as not to get stuck. At one point, I glided through and unmarked intersection coming out of an alley, and just as I crossed the sidewalk I noticed a young man less than a meter from my side window. I wasn’t going fast—certainly not fast enough to do any kind of damage—but it still felt like a bit of a close call. Read more
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
Last night the kids and I went Christmas caroling with some friends from church. For whatever reason, I haven’t done this much over the years. But my daughter had been enthusiastic about it all week. And my son, well, we bribed him with the prospect of pizza after our caroling was done. 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
Each year around Christmastime for the last decade or so, our family has a tradition of watching the entire Lord of the Rings trilogy (extended versions, of course). We spread it out over six nights—a full week immersion into Middle Earth, as it were. Over the last two or three years, my ears have invariably perked up during Bilbo’s conversation with Gandalf near the beginning of the first film. Bilbo is tired and conflicted and ready to leave everything and everyone behind. Then, this memorable and evocative line: I feel thin, sort of stretched, like butter scraped over too much bread. Read more
A breeze was entering the room through the window and rushing about inside, giving small notice here and there. William would have smiled then, had he been the sort to smile. One envies such types—who do not smile. The rest of us go around like fools, and these few maintain such dignity.
— Jesse Ball, The Curfew
They say it takes more muscles to frown than to smile. I wonder about that. Sometimes it seems there is nothing easier than not to smile. Read more
There’s this fascinating conversation in Jesse Ball’s novel The Curfew. The scene is an undefined dystopic future, as so many seem to be, where a faceless government has assumed dictatorial control over an unnamed city. The people live in constant fear and anxiety, never going out after dark, always being careful not to cause any sort of ripple that might be noticed by the powers that be, living lives of weary resignation, whispering along the edges of shadows that never disappear. William lives with his young daughter Molly and makes his living as an “epitaphorist,” which entails visiting people whose loved ones have died or been killed, consulting with them about the words they want to adorn the gravestones of the deceased. Read more
Over the past few weeks, a number of people have inquired about my thoughts on a recent study conducted by Canadian scholar David Haskell which draws a strong connection between theological conservatism and church attendance. According to the study, churches that interpret the bible more “literally,” hold to more traditional theological doctrines, and are open to more contemporary expressions of worship tend to be the ones that are growing, while those that emphasize their opposites are shrinking. The study has shown up in the Globe and Mail and The Guardian, among other places. A few days ago, Haskell himself authored an apologia of sorts for the piece, being loosely connected to the liberal Protestant tradition that the study seems to cast in a negative, or at the very least ineffective light. Read more
Attention is the mind’s desire.
This five words leaped off the screen when I read Joseph Clair’s fine essay “Our Own Devices” over at First Things this morning. The whole piece seemed like a living, breathing personal indictment, truth be told. But those five words, they thrust a question that I often do my best to avoid right to the front of my consciousness: what does the object and quality of the attention that I pay say about the nature of my desire? Read more
Over breakfast this morning, I watched a video called “Welcome to Canada,” produced by The Atlantic. It is a fascinating window into the lives of Syrians who have fled their country and found a refuge in our nation. This particular story takes place in the Vancouver area and follows a young Syrian man who came to Canada in 2014 as a refugee, and is now doing what he can to help the most recent wave of refugees who have arrived in 2016. The outlines of the story will be familiar to anyone who has been following the news over the past few years, but is no less poignant for being familiar. Obviously.
God of our salvation, all our longing is known to you, our sighing is not hidden from you…
So begins one of today’s prayers in the prayer book I use. Quite appropriately, as it turns out, for I do a lot of longing and a lot of sighing. Indeed, it seems like the older I get, the more longings I accumulate. I took an hour to make a partial list today. Read more
On the shelf beside my desk in my study sits a card with scuffed up edges and faded colours. It’s a rather plain and unassuming, artifact, on the whole. On the front, is a picture of two little kids dressed up as if on their wedding day on a dusty dirt road. The little boy seems to be barely suppressing an awkward grin as he tries to drag the girl along with him wherever he’s going. The little girl has a smile that could melt your heart or save the world, but it looks like she’s not entirely convinced about the entire enterprise. Inside the card, it says something to the effect of Naomi Jade Horii and Ryan Courtney Dueck (yes, Courtney…thanks mom and dad), together with their parents, invite you to a wedding… to share in their joy, on November 25… Read more
So, words like “truthiness” and “post-truth” are rudely and forcibly inserting themselves into our collective consciousness and public discourse. The former, according to an article today in Macleans, refers to people’s “preference for concepts they wish were true over ones that actually are true” (sometimes referred to in distant bygone ages as “illusions” or “lies”); the latter points to “circumstances in which objective facts are less influential in shaping public opinion than emotional appeals.” Neither addition to the Oxford dictionary flatters us much as a species. Is it possible to repent for making such additions necessary? Read more
I often spend Monday mornings ruminating on the sermon I didn’t preach on Sunday. There are, of course, only so many things that can be said, only so many avenues to explore in a given text or texts in 15-20 minutes. There are usually many ideas and/or questions that never make it past the Saturday evening cutting floor. Sometimes it was because I didn’t have the courage to tackle them in public. Sometimes they weren’t relevant to the point I was trying to make. Sometimes there just wasn’t the time. Sometimes it’s all of the above. Read more