“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.

Read more

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

Restoration (104)

Last winter my family and I decided it was time for a real dining table. Having moved from a small apartment, we didn’t really have a proper table. We certainly didn’t have one that would accommodate guests. We thought about buying something nice but inevitably what we liked was too expensive wood shaving(I’m sure we aren’t the only ones to whom that’s happened). There was another factor at play as well—the fact that I wanted to try building one. It had been years since I had the chance to do any woodworking beyond putting up paneling and tacking together garden boxes. I sketched a few options—variations on a traditional farmhouse table—and we agreed that I would give the project a try. “Trying” in this case wouldn’t be risk free. There was the possibility of humiliating failure: the thing collapsing under the weight of Easter lunch. There was the expense: hardwood lumber isn’t cheap. There was the required time: making stuff with your own hands takes time, especially if it’s something new. Read more

The Future has Happened

I wonder if you’ve ever hear of Moore’s Law. Gordon Moore was one of the co-founders of Intel. In 1965 he observed that each new generation of memory integrated circuits, think of the memory on your computer, had roughly twice as much capacity as the previous one. So, as I understand it, Moore’s ‘law’ is that every 18-24 months chips double their number of circuits and their memory capacity.

Moore's Law, PC World
Moore’s Law, PC World

This means that computing power has risen on a steady exponential trajectory for years, giving the tech industry some sense of what to expect as they develop new gadgets and systems.

I’ll stop with this Moore’s Law stuff before it becomes clear that I don’t know what I’m talking about—I don’t. I mention Moore’s Law simply as a way to describe how we moderns see the world. We think things get better with time. In short, we believe in progress—we expect each year to be a bit better than the one before. We presume that new movements and technologies will make things better for our society as a whole. We believe in an exponentially rising line of goodness. We assume that technology, education or the language of universal human rights will keep us on this upward trajectory.

Paul didn’t believe in this. He believed in apocalypse. Read more

Haunted by Plain Folk: Why Simplicity Should be a Christian Virtue

Last month an essay of mine was published in the Journal of Brethren Life and Thought. Since that journal is probably not one that will be showing up in your mailbox anytime soon, I thought I’d included a bit of it here. The piece is based on a presentation I gave some years back; I’m happy to see it in print.

Simplicity strikes many of us as a good, if occasionally naïve, thing. In his “A Salutation of the Virtues” the thirteenth century saint, Francis of Assisi, cast Simplicity as a courtly sister to Queen Wisdom, outranking Lady Poverty and Lady Charity. In the twenty-first century we may well be intrigued by Simplicity but we probably lack the saint’s solemn devotion. Consider the TV reality show “The Simple Life,” which cast socialite Paris Hilton in the role of a farm worker. The foibles of the out-of-place heiress generated spinoff shows around the world. thrill of the chasteThe irony of simplicity’s attraction in a complex and fragmented time is captured in Valerie Weaver-Zercher’s marvellously titled book Thrill of the Chaste: The Allure of Amish Romance Novels. There Weaver-Zercher explores the growing American fascination with “bonnet rippers.” She relates that in 2002 only two such books were published. In 2012 there were 85.[1] This growth betrays, she thinks, a desire on the part of readers to be transported from a hypermodern and hypersexualized present to a simpler way of life. Weaver-Zercher is not alone in her analysis. Sociologists Donald Kraybill and Carl Bowman offer a corroborating conclusion about our cultural fascination with plain living. In a book about Hutterites, Mennonites, Amish, and Brethren they write,

Despite all our comfort and convenience, the possibility that [members of these plain communities] are happier haunts, indeed, torments the postmodern soul.[2] Read more

“You have Heard, No Doubt, of My Earlier Life” (SD #102)

I presume it was relatively cold, the 15th of January in 1549. MM IllustrationThat was the day the authorities entered Elizabeth’s house and found a Latin Bible: “We have found the right person,” they said, “we now have the teacher.” The authorities believed this woman was an Anabaptist leader. Elizabeth was taken from her home and arraigned the following day (MM, 481).

The story is chronicled in the Martyrs Mirror, and that massive book, Elizabeth’s story included, has been an important devotional read for Mennonites for several hundred years. In fact, it’s not a stretch to say the Martyrs Mirror has been the most important book for Mennonites, next to the Bible. Read more

The Same Old Good News (101)

The book of Galatians was written to deal with a problem. Here’s the setup: the early church had come to realize that the good news of Jesus was for gentiles as well as Jews. What’s more, it was for gentiles as gentiles—they didn’t need to become Jews first and then become followers of Jesus. leavesGentiles were not required to follow the law, but, as we read in Acts 15, they were just expected to avoid food sacrificed to idols, avoid eating blood, avoid eating meat that was strangled and they were expected to not be involved in fornication. Here in Galatians, as opposed to Acts, Paul just mentions that gentiles were asked to help care for the poor. Think about what a dramatic shift this represented: it meant going from a way of life oriented around Torah law embedded in ethnicity, with instructions about everything from the type of fabric one should wear and how one should deal with skin rashes, to something else. Read more