A few hundred of us are sitting in what used to be a chapel. The Catholic symbolism is still there, covered by a layer of monochrome paint. There is a table and a lectern just in front of what would have been the apse. A young woman, she must be part of the event-planning crew, goes forward awkwardly at the last minute to turn one of the potted plants. Everyone wants to show their good side for a literary celebrity. Then three women appear from a side door. There is applause. The speakers are Margaret Atwood and Leah Kostamo. Atwood’s record was well known. She’s written more than fifty books and received about as many awards and honorary degrees. Her 1985 novel The Handmaid’s Tale is currently appearing as a series through the streaming service Hulu. Kostamo is the founder of a Christian environmental center in British Columbia, Canada. The center’s name is hard to pronounce: from the mouth of the event’s moderator it sounds like a bug infestation, from others, like a purveyor of expensive chocolate. An advertisement for the event said that Kostamo’s presence would “broaden the conversation” beyond literary speculations by “providing a unique example of how life can imitate art.” The moderator is a professor at the university where we are gathered. Read more
We are in Matthew 13 again. This time our reading comes from verses 24-30 and 36-43. We’re walking with Jesus, as we’ve been doing all summer, and we’re watching and listening. Last week we heard the story of a farmer who scatted seeds on varied ground—some rocky, some hard, some overrun with thistles, just some of it good. We noticed then that if God’s goal is a high yield rate then God is a failure. This week we are still by the lake shore when Jesus tells another story.
The story is about a farmer who plants a grain field only to find it infested with weeds. Later we listen in as Jesus explains the story to his closest followers. Like last Sunday, I want us to hear this passage in the context of a world where the innocent suffer. Jesus used imagined stories to tell us something about God’s way with the world. Let me tell you a couple of real stories to remind us of how that world, in fact, works. Read more
Quite a while ago I was in a dining hall waiting for a meal. I found myself next to a fellow we’ll call John. We had chatted briefly the day before and realized that that both of us were a part of churches, so John began telling me about a man who had shown up at his place of worship several years before. The fellow was going through a very challenging divorce. There were children involved and all kinds of financial complications. He desperately needed someone to talk to. He also needed a place to work on his truck, so one day John invited the guy over to use his garage. They worked on the vehicle and they talked. They did this a few more times until the guy moved out of the province. Some time later John managed to reconnect with the guy. When they met John was given an enthusiastic hug and the fellow told him how important those simple conversations had been at that earlier time in his life. Read more
I would like to say something about what secularization feels like, but before I do I must tell you about something else. Late last summer I moved from a small town on the Canadian prairies, part of treaty seven territory, to the nation’s capital. The move itself was a bit of a chore; it was that even though a fellow named Russ drove a truck containing all my family’s belongings across the country so I didn’t have to. Before Russ showed up I did not know that loads on moving trucks do not go on and off directly as they would if you or I were driving our own things. I had thought that a driver would load a trailer with the belongings of one or more families in one part of the country, drive it to another part of the country and deposit each load in turn. This is not how it works. Instead, some bits of wire and silicon converse together to figure out how to move things across the map, wasting as little fuel and driving time as possible. Fuel and driving time are both costs, and costs, the bits of wire and silicon are told, must always be minimized. Read more