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.
Some of Margaret Atwood’s fiction features a religious group known as “God’s Gardeners.” A short piece I wrote on their relationship with actual Christian environmental concerns was recently published on the Collegeville Institute’s website.
A draft version of the essay appeared on my blog some time back.
What does it take to call yourself a Christian?
The answer often depends on whom you ask. Some people would respond to the question by immediately rattling off a list of things you have to believe in order to call yourself a Christian. They might mention the triune character of God or the divine inspiration of Scripture or maybe something about miracles, the significance of the church or the bodily resurrection of Jesus.
Others, Mennonites maybe, would respond to the question by saying something about following Jesus. If you would ask them why, they would probably respond by telling you what they believed about this ancient rabbi or what they believed about the need for peace today.
“Give thanks to the LORD, for he is good; his steadfast love endures forever.”
I live in a busy house. In addition to two hapless parents, our house more or less contains three active boys. Each day is swarmed by running, jumping, wrestling, tackling, flying, pushing, throwing and whacking. Each day also brings a host of interesting visitors. Superheroes come by quite often. So do monsters, transformers, explorers, hunters, space travelers, historical figures, deadly creatures, knights and ghosts. They all know their way around our place. Being a parent of young children has required me to get re-acquainted with the world of the imaginary. It’s been a good thing.
And let them offer thanksgiving sacrifices, and tell of his deeds with songs of joy. – Psalm 107
Not long ago I had the opportunity of being the intermediary of an anonymous gift from one member of our congregation to another. A young couple was expecting a baby and someone else wanted to help them prepare for the new addition to their family. It’s a pleasure to be a part of this sort of thing—to see the face of a recipient light up, to know that they have received not only some small practical assistance but also the knowledge that someone else is thinking of them.
Giving is another of the central practices of Lent. Christians have historically used the term “almsgiving.” In a world where so much of our material success is a result of luck (a result of the country in which were born etc.), giving to those with material needs is a way of pursuing justice. It can be something else too. Many people I talk to also say that for them giving is a expression of their thankfulness. Read more
“To you O Lord, I lift up my soul. O my God, in you I trust . . . .”
I once asked a monk what qualified as prayer. I was asking because my own practice of prayer had evolved quite a bit in the previous decade of my life. Really, to say it “evolved” gives the wrong impression. The way I prayed had changed, not just once but several times. These changes weren’t prompted by the idea that my contemplative practice was getting better; I wasn’t becoming a professional or anything like that. The changes happened simply because a new way of praying seemed to fit a particular situation. As a graduate student I found myself most often praying in either a formal worship service or while I ran. Most of that prayer was verbal: questions, sorting and sifting. When I began working fulltime the best space for prayer was during my walking commute to my office: the beauty of mornings, the cracked sidewalks, winter ice—all of these became analogies of God’s way with the world. Then, during a sabbatical, I began praying something equivalent to the daily office. I appreciated the structure of that way of praying. It was good to be drawn out of myself into ancient forms of encountering God. Read more
I stood beside an Indigenous man, an artist born on an Ontario First Nation. He was, oddly enough, wearing an Amish straw hat. I asked him about the prints he had displayed on the table in front of us. I could see the connection in his work to that of the widely-celebrated Ojibwa artist Norval Morriseau. He seemed pleased when I mentioned it. The story of the artist I was talking with, the little I know of it at least, is worth telling. But it’s not my story to tell. Our conversation drifted to the link he and I shared: his people had been sent to institutions known as Indian Residential Schools; my people had run them. Read more
It is now several days after the largest mass shooting in modern US history. It almost goes without saying, but it still must be said, that our hearts and our prayers are with the victims of this horrific killing spree. Several Sundays ago, churches that follow the lectionary heard a reading from Romans 12. One phrase from that reading, it is from verse 15, reminds us that Christian communities are places where we “weep with those who weep.” Yes, we do. What makes the sting of this event sharper, at least for those of us at a distance, is that it does not stand by itself. It was only last year that dozens were killed in Orlando. Earlier this past weekend Canadian news told us about a brutal attack in Edmonton. Now the internet, radio and TV are ablaze with one question: What are we to do? Part of the answer is obvious: elected official need to enact meaningful legislation that makes it more difficult for those who want to kill massive amounts of people to do so. It is our duty as citizens to encourage our representatives to do this. But beyond our responsibilities as citizens, what is our task as members of the church?
Just last weekend I was in Goshen, Indiana. While there I spent some time in the Blaurock College historical archives. I was about to leave when the woman who ran the place handed me a manila file folder. She was probably 75 years old, thin as a hay fork and smart as a whip. I had told her earlier in the day that I was interested in Canadian issues. As she handed me the folder, she said, “Here, take this. I have never known what to do with it. Someone submitted it to the journal twenty years ago. We obviously can’t print it.”
I asked if she wanted it back.
“No,” she said, “it makes me uncomfortable having it around.” 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