We have probably all heard someone described as a person who just “get things done.” We give and take that line as a compliment. Last week I had the chance to dive back into one of my ongoing writing projects. Thankfully, the church I serve lets me set a bit of time aside each year for this kind of work. My goal last week was to wrestle a long piece of historical work into publishable form. The essay–which still isn’t “done”–tries to show how a particular non-profit organization became involved in a colonialist project. I have a lot of data. There are lots of dates and names to keep strait, lots of related government agencies and other political structures . It’s difficult to keep it all straight. Yet what I noticed is that one particular individual kept surfacing throughout the story. In network speak, he had a high level of “betweenness centrality.” He was known as someone who “got things done.” Read more
It is election season here in Ontario. That means it’s hard not think of Sunday’s New Testament reading (II Cor. 4:5-12) in terms of Paul having an image problem. Might that bring to mind one or another of our political leaders? Whether it does or doesn’t, it was true for Paul. He did have an image problem. Commentators tell us that two things dogged Paul’s relationship with his constituents in the city of Corinth and beyond. Read more
This month marks the end of my third year in pastoral ministry. Before taking this role I had taught theology and preached quite a bit. However, providing consistent pastoral leadership to one congregation is different from caring for “the church” in an amorphous theological sense or even preaching periodically. My view of what a church is has changed somewhat. One of the key things I’ve come to appreciate is the potential churches have for risk-taking and experimentation. A church, I’m learning, is like a research lab. A church is an experimental project. A church is a place where the realities of our lives and our society are held up against the picture of shalom presented in scripture. A church is a skunkworks project where we try to live the economy of God here and now. Read more
In the beginning of Isaiah chapter six we find an account of the prophet’s vision of the heavenly throne: Isaiah sees the Lord, he hears the seraphs, he is cleansed and called. I wonder how you experience reading a biblical passage like this. My guess is that many of us love the majesty and the smoky mystery of the vision. At the same time, we find it hard to take the actual substance of the claim seriously. Isaiah saw God? Isaiah was called by God personally? It may seem more like an excerpt from a fantasy novel than a historical report. Read more
I wonder if you’ve ever had one of those conversations about God where you felt like you got hold of something especially honest and true. Maybe you were driving with a friend or paddling a canoe. Maybe you were stuck in an elevator or stuck in a snowbank. Whatever the context, it was just limiting enough to give you one of those magical hours where you and a friend talked openly and vulnerably about God. And maybe, just maybe, you came to the conclusion that so many others have come to, which is that it’s hard to talk directly about God. The best we can do is look around for analogies. Maybe you concluded that God is like the sun, an old analogy, or like electricity, a much newer one. Maybe you likened God to beauty or to a rock. Or maybe you said that God is like the channel of a stream or a protective mother hen. Or maybe you said God is like the wind.
Our churchy language has a tendency to becomes so familiar and easy that we forget it’s mostly analogies. Sometimes it takes a new analogy to help us see things that are true but so very hard to notice. I think it was Julian of Norwich who described everything that exists as a small, round hazel nut. Seeing it that way helped her gain a deeper appreciation for the expanse of God’s love. Read more
An essay of mine recently appeared in the Collegeville Institute’s web magazine. Here are the first few paragraphs:
The trouble with being a pastor is that you are supposed to know what to say and do in any situation. People get sick, have babies, engage in relational acrobatics, embarrass themselves on the internet, fail in school, become estranged, crash their cars, win the lottery, get engaged, die, fight with their neighbours, play in the orchestra, get promoted—and in every case a pastor is expected to have the right words, the right gesture of support. It is like a never-ending, three-dimensional pop-quiz.
Beyond the personal questions there are those dropped on us daily by the news. Some of the most difficult involve responding to yet another shooting or vehicle attack with massive innocent casualties. These events are horrific. When they happen in a pastor’s own community, I see leaders rise to the occasion. They speak a community’s grief; they sound notes of reassurance and resolve. The question is immediate and local. Many respond well.
But what do we say and do when these events do not touch our communities directly? A little over a year ago in Quebec City, some 400 kilometers from where I pastor in Ottawa, a young man entered a mosque after prayers and opened fire. A trigger was pulled. Children lost fathers. In the following week, Christian ministers throughout the city of Ottawa sent notes of sympathy to Muslim leaders in our community. It wasn’t hard to imagine that they would feel vulnerable. Our churches prayed for them too. We wept for them. We wept for the state of things
Such a response was not nothing. Yet, when worshipers are intentionally cut down by bullets, praying and weeping can often feel like nothing. . . .
Here’s the link to the rest of the piece. It includes echoes of some of my prior posts here.
Last June I traveled to western Ontario. I headed that way in an effort to better understand the origins of three Mennonite schools linked to the Indian Residential Schools Settlement Agreement. The first of these schools was started in the early 1960s, the second two followed in the next decade. If you know a bit about the broader history, you know that by this time what had been obvious to the First Nations for a long time, was finally becoming obvious to others: the Residential School System was a failure on just about every front. So the question I carried to western Ontario was why, particularly so late in the twentieth century, would Mennonites begin such schools? Read more
At the church I serve a group of adults has been doing a study on theology and the environment. I’ve been leading other things and have not been able to participate. I wish I could have listened-in somehow. It’s spring here in the lower Ottawa Valley. You would have to make a deliberate decision to avoid thinking about trees and garden plants. The book of Genesis says that God planted a garden with trees that were “pleasant to the sight and good for food.” This time of year that’s not hard to believe. If it’s not true—if it is not the case that in some awesome way a divine mystery has given us plants both beautiful and delicious—then evolution has wrought in us a misdirected instinct. If that transcendent and radically-near event we call ‘God’ has not given us the things of spring, then the beauty we see taking shape, which so readily evokes divine awareness in people of all creeds, has pointed us in the wrong direction. Read more
I want to focus on the story of Peter and the gentiles today. It’s from Acts 10. We’ll get there in a moment, but first I have a question for you about Mennonite moments.
Have you ever had a Mennonite moment? More specifically, have you had a Mennonite moment in the shower?
This sounds weird. You’re wondering: What is a Mennonite moment? Is it allowed, even in the shower? Is that the only place it can happen? What about Menno Simons? He didn’t even have a shower. Does a Mennonite moment involve peace? Does it have something to do with baptism? Is it a historic thing, like being burned by Catholics or drowned by the Swiss? Can you have a Mennonite moment . . . if you’re not a Mennonite? Read more
Some of you are probably familiar with the story of Paul Kalanithi. Just a few years ago, as he was nearing the completion of his neurosurgery residency, he began feeling ill. At the same time, he was also a neuroscience research fellow. Before going to medical school he had completed degrees in literature and philosophy. Kalanithi was already an immensely credentialed person, but the completion of his residency meant that he would soon have his choice of his choice of prestigious job offers. He would have a handsome salary and more realistic hours. If he could just hold things together physically and emotionally for a little while longer, things would change. However, his symptoms persisted, and it became clear that his health problems weren’t simply due to the exhausting hours associated with his top-flight medical training. Read more