A Foreigner’s Praise

A pilgrim went to Mount Athos to learn about the spiritual life. Mount Athos is a small Greek island, quite difficult to get to, but one that is home to something like twenty monasteries. mt-athosAs the pilgrim approached the island by boat he noticed sun-bleached bones on the rocks above the level of the high tide. “What are those?” he asked. His guide replied, “Those are the bones of monks who thought themselves to be so holy that the laws of nature no longer applied to them. They jumped from their cells high on the cliffs.” Some ancient Egyptian monks would tell a similar story. The temptation seems not to be limited by geography. Read more

Saints and Victims – a short story*

I was driving home from work when I hit a guy. The light turned green, there were no cars coming, so I turned left. My victim was smoking a cigarette and had made it part way across the strip of pavement marked out by parallel white bars. At the last second I saw him and slowed, but I hit him anyway. Bumper to thigh. I stopped the car. Then put it in gear again and pulled through the intersection. He returned to the curb from which he had come and sat down on the embankment. A few people got out of their cars. Some made their world right by giving me the finger. A man in a ritzy SUV gave me a sympathetic look, as though he too had once smacked a pedestrian or maybe more than one. Read more

To the Loungers, to the Pilgrims (111)

Dan Gilbert is the Edgar Pierce Professor of Psychology at Harvard University. He tells us that one of the things the human brain can do better than the brains of other animals is it can simulate. That is, your brain, somewhere in its prefrontal cortex, can predict what an experience will be like. gilbertYour brain can simulate and experience and you can figure out whether or not you’ll like it. You don’t need to actually do everything to have a sense of what sorts of things you would find more satisfying than others. Gilbert begins one of his lectures on the subject with a question: which of two things would make you happiest, winning the lottery or becoming a paraplegic. Which do you think? Put your predicative simulator to work. Read more

The Clouds Your Chariot (110)

The author and pastor Frederick Buechner once wrote that he could sum up everything he had tried to communicate in his writing with these two words: “Pay attention.” Buechner wrote more than thirty books and he summed them all up with that phrase, “pay attention.” I want to invite us to pay attention, to pay attention to a few biblical texts and to God’s good creation, which even now begins to change from its many shades of green into new dresses of red and brown.

Part of paying attention it seems to me is realizing that our first impressions can be wrong. I can remember one of the summers I worked as a guide leading canoe trips. On one trip we were camped on a little-visited lake set back off the main canoe routes. log-croppedIt was not what you would call a beautiful lake. The trees were not particularly tall, the water was not clear. Instead of rocks or sand, the shoreline was muddy and almost impenetrably shrouded with undergrowth. Read more

The Tempting ‘And’ (109)

Despite the general belief to the contrary, there is some evidence that Jesus was a comedian. Comedy, good comedy at least, is all about timing, surprise, truth and discomfort. microphone-fist-2That’s how I see it. Making people laugh is only part of the gig. A video of a guy getting whacked in the groin might make you laugh but it isn’t necessarily good comedy. Now, as far as I know there’s no record of Jesus doing that last thing but there is plenty to suggest he was quite good when it came to timing, surprise, truth and discomfort. This Sunday’s gospel text, Luke 14:24-33, is one example. Read more

“Is not my word life fire,” a sermon in three parts (108)

Part I – Luke 12:49-56

Jesus came to bring fire and division. And we thought he was all about peace.

Whatever we might have thought or hoped for, Jesus says, “From now on five in one household will be divided, three against two and two against three . . . wavesfather against son and son against father, mother against daughter and daughter against mother, mother-in-law against her daughter-in-law and daughter-in-law against mother-in-law.”

I’m not sure we needed Jesus for that bit about in-laws but maybe it fills out the picture.

Jesus is shaking fists and four-letter words. He’s come to ruffle feathers and make ears burn. And he isn’t just talking about ‘they’ or ‘them’ or the people out there who don’t yet have it together. Read more

A Homily on Fear (107)


“Do not be afraid,” or “fear not,” depending on which version you read. Both our gospel reading (Luke 12:32-40) and our reading from the Old Testament door2(Genesis 15:1-6) have that same phrase in the very first verse. How timely is this? In this summer of 2016 fear seem to stalk us: terrorism, politicians who want to scare their way into power, personal struggles with physical and mental health and the usual stuff that makes congregational life hard—even mosquitoes and the Zika virus. Read more

“By Myself” (105)

In the last paragraph of Luke 10 we find the itinerant rabbi from Nazareth once again on the move. Luke says that he entered a “certain village.”  That’s a knowing express–“a certain village”–the sort of thing one says with a wink and a nudge. Except that we don’t quite get it, and as a result it’s hard to find our way into this little story. judeaWe’re disoriented. Nevertheless, it is in this village that Jesus is welcomed into the home of a woman named Martha. If we look back a couple of chapters in Luke’s biography we read how Jesus “went on through cities and villages, proclaiming and bringing the good news of the kingdom of God. And the twelve were with him, and also some women . . . .” Martha and her sister may well have been among those women.

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Experimenting with Heterogeneity

Today the delegates for Mennonite Church Canada have voted to create space and leave room for churches that want to fully welcome gay and lesbian persons, including those in committed same-sex relationships. MC Canada AssemblyThe vote was to do that while at the same time not revising the Mennonite Confession of Faith that, more or less, defines marriage in a traditional way. It’s an interesting path forward. In effect it continues the practice already in place but now gives it the official sanction of the national body. This decision isn’t so much about sexual ethics as it is about a way of being church. In the floor discussions today there was a strong affirmation of the importance of unity, a unity that runs deeper than unanimity. The various churches represented here do not see these issues in the same way but most of us do think it’s possible to remain together in spite of that. The recommendation was affirmed by something like 80% of delegates, far exceeding the 50% plus 1 requirement. Read more

“Betwixt and Between”

I’m at the national Mennonite Assembly in Saskatoon held at Generic Convention Centre XYZ900. It’s the usual suspects that gravitate to the mic at these sorts of events—not entirely but mostly. Person A, seemingly bent on being the hero of the traditional way, steps to the mic and goes through the usual litany of thumping Bible references. MC Canada AssemblyEveryone has heard these before. We learn nothing, except that person A now feels released from some sense of prophetic guilt. Then person B, seemingly intent on taking an epic stand in the opposite direction, steps up to another mic and reaches for a King-Gandhi-Luther (insert other moral hero here) reference. Again, we learn nothing, except that now person B feels released from some sense of prophetic guilt. Then there is person C, who says it’s all about love, and person D, who says we just need to pray more, and person E, who says it’s all about unity, and, of course, person F, who says unity is impossible because many have already been hurt and have left. The conversation around Christianity and same-sex marriage has been rehearsed so many times in so many places I wonder why there are still those out there who think there is a ‘solution’. Read more