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Showing posts from 2017

Peace is...

This past week, I was sitting in a hospital waiting room while my mom had cataract surgery, a minor outpatient procedure. I watched people come and go and, after a few hours, it began to dawn on me that people who arrived after I did had already left the hospital. The nurse had informed me that it would take about an hour, but as the minutes ticked by, I knew something was amiss. That moment when you realize that something is not quite right, that things are not going as expected, you have a choice: you can start to panic, imagining every possible horrific scenario, or you can choose peace. I knew that my mom was surrounded by capable health care professionals, so I said a prayer of trust and surrender and continued to read my novel. Shortly after that, a nurse came into the waiting room and sat down beside me. She said, "You mom had an episode during surgery..." Once again, I was faced with a choice: did I let anxiety or peace rule the day? I chose peace and smiled at the …

what's the story?

I like to read stories. I also like to write stories. I have done a fair bit of both and, over the years, I have learned a few things about what stories do and do not do. In essence, a story is a trajectory. It sets the reader or listener on a path toward something or someone. It has a beginning (a specific starting point in time), it has a middle (in which characters face various challenges, setbacks, and victories), and an end (which is not really the end, but an invitation for the reader to imagine past the last sentence). Stories are always partial and incomplete. They never tell it all, but they do set us on a particular journey. What stories do NOT do is seek to make a case for absolute truth statements. Stories do not prescribe a particular plan of action in order to achieve certain results. Stories do not give us universal rules and regulations. When we try to force stories to perform apologetic, didactic, or juridical tasks, we end up mishandling them. A story invites people…

the songs we sing

NOTE: I am going to make some pretty strong statements below, but understand that it is my way of taking an honest, hard look at my own worship experience and practice. My desire is not to be overly critical, but to open up dialogue by questioning things I have assumed were totally fine and appropriate. In other words, I am preaching to myself. Feel free to listen in.

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When I am in a church meeting during the singing time, I sometimes find myself silent, unable to get the words past my lips. At times I just need a moment of stillness, time to listen, but other times, the words make me pause because I don't know that I can sing them honestly or with integrity. This is a good thing. We should never mindlessly or heartlessly sing songs just because everyone else is. We should care deeply about what we say in our sung, communal worship.

At their best, songs sung by the gathered body of Christ call to life what is already in us: the hope, the truth, the longing, t…

God, the future, and trees

When you go to a financial adviser, they ask you three basic questions in order to discern how best to handle your investments.
1. What is your goal? (retirement, simple and sustainable lifestyle, travel, funds for children's education, etc.)
2. What is your timeline? (5 years, 20 years, 50 years)
3. What is your tolerance for risk? (are you willing to take chances? how do you handle setbacks? volatility?)

When we think about investing our lives in the kingdom of God, of living a life of faith, the same kind of questions apply. What do we desire or love? What are we pointing our lives toward? Do we frame things short-term or long-term? What foundation we are laying for future generations? How do we respond to hard times? Do we experience a significant amount of fear and paranoia or are we willing to take risks? Does our perspective take into account the long arc of redemption and grace found in Jesus?

When Jesus tells his listeners to seek first the kingdom of God, he is inviting…

The Rhythm of Life...

Think about a typical day in your life. What's the first thing you do when you wake up? What's your morning ritual? What do you do during your lunch hour? What's the last thing you do before you go to bed? We all have life rhythms. Every day, we do certain things at a certain time in a certain way. Most of the time, we don't even think about these habits; they are just a part of our life. Each of these small details may seem insignificant, but they are building blocks. The habits we inhabit are formative. This is because our life rhythms are connected to two big questions: What is the good life, the flourishing life? What is our vocation (what is God calling us to)?
Let's look at an example. Here is the daily rhythm of a Benedictine community in New Mexico called Christ in the Desert.

Vigils at 4 am (read 12 Psalms, scripture lesson, reading from Church fathers)
Lauds at 5:45 am (prayer and Eucharist)
Breakfast, personal time
Chapter Meeting at 8:30 am (work assignmen…

Hello, past... Goodbye, past...

We talk about the kingdom of God as having come (Jesus declared as much), as being present, and as still to come. In the first chapter of Revelation, the Almighty One describes himself as "who is, who was, and who is to come." So closely is the kingdom of heaven related to the king of glory that when you see one, you see the other. Both king and kingdom encompass the realms of past, present, and future. If our theology emphasizes one of these aspects to the neglect of the others, we end up with some pretty lopsided doctrines such as cessationism, over-realized eschatology, or gospel escapism. I won't take time to unpack any of these (perhaps in a future blog) because my point here is that our personal spirituality, like our theology, can get a bit off-kilter if we do not invite God and God's kingdom into our past, our present, and our future.

In the context of living in the kingdom, our past refers to that which we cannot change. It is our story, how we got where we…

the in and out of giving thanks

The giving of thanks before a meal is a common Christian tradition. It is a way of acknowledging that God is the Provider. Though the farmer may till the ground and plant the seeds, he cannot make anything grow. A baker can mix the yeast in the bread, but she cannot make it rise. We can be prone to believe that we are masters of our own destiny, but this is a delusion. The giving of thanks to the Creator and Sustainer of our lives (especially before partaking of a meal) is one way to remind ourselves that, in the grand scheme of things, we are humble recipients of grace. We rely on the earth, the crops, the trees, the birds, the bees, the animals, the rain, the sun, the wind, and much, much more in order to be able to enjoy nourishment every day. Even Jesus, Creator incarnate, gave thanks before he broke bread and enjoyed a meal with others.

There is another practice which I have adopted in my life, and that is saying a heartfelt "Thank you, God" every time I go to the bath…

encounters with Jesus

At the heart of the Christian faith is encounter with Jesus. This is what we hope for in our communal gatherings, in our personal times of devotion, and in our day to day lives. But what exactly does an encounter with Jesus look like? Well, it looks different for different people. Let's take a look at two of these encounters found in the gospel of John. The first story involves Nicodemus, a learned and respected religious scholar in the Jewish community (John 3:1-21). The second story concerns a Samaritan woman who has three strikes against her: being a woman in a patriarchal society, being a Samaritan of mixed blood and religious heritage, and having a history of numerous failed relationships (John 4:5-29). The first story features a religious insider, the second a social outcast. In the first story, Nicodemus is the one who seeks Jesus out. In the second, Jesus initiates the encounter. Nicodemus comes at night, not wanting to risk exposure or ridicule. Jesus approaches the woma…

notes from the Society of Vineyard Scholars Conference

This Spring I attended three academic conferences, so much of my time in the past few months has been spent writing papers, traveling, giving presentations, and taking in lots of talks about religion and theology. My favourite one each year is put on by the Society of Vineyard Scholars which was held at Yale Divinity School last week. I wrote a few thoughts about this year's gathering over at the Thoughtworks blog. Check it out here if you are interested.

a complex flavour profile

I am not much of a foodie. Most days, a protein shake and a few handfuls of popcorn constitute lunch. And I like it that way. However, my husband, Dean, loves to experience food from around the world and is always looking for exciting combinations of flavours and textures. A gourmet meal features depth and complexity in its flavour profile. There may be bitter, sweet, sour, spice, and saltiness all present in one bite. Rich cream, fresh mint, hot cayenne, spongy light cake, and crunchy chocolate brittle all stimulate different sensations. A fine meal is one which causes not only your taste buds, but your olfactory system, your eyes, your ears, and even your sense of touch, to be awakened.

I often think of Jesus's invitation/command to Peter to "feed my sheep" (John 21). This is not only a pastoral metaphor with multiple meanings (Jesus as a shepherd, people as sheep who need care and nourishment, one shepherd training another shepherd, etc.) but it is also a food metaph…

what about justice?

There seems to be an increasing emphasis on addressing injustice, at least in the circles I move in. Everywhere I turn, it seems that someone is talking about how we can become more just people. On a recent trip to Toronto for a conference, I was reading Bryan Stevenson's Just Mercy which tells about his work as a lawyer in Alabama, addressing systemic injustices in the legal system. When I arrived in the city, I visited a downtown church which had posters and banners addressing issues of social justice all around their sanctuary. At the conference, some of the presentations identified specific people groups who have been victims of injustice and suggested ways we can move forward to more equitable interactions.

What is justice? The symbol for justice in the legal system is a blindfolded woman (known as Lady Justice) holding a set of scales. The symbolism suggests an impartial, careful, and accurate weighing of matters. The dictionary tells us that justice is fairness, equity, im…

go and ...

This is part two of a series talking about Jesus's calls to come and to go and the relationship between them. You can read the first part, "Come and See," here.

We learn things by being around other people, and they learn things by hanging out with us. That's the way it works. The first people we learned things from were members of our family. Children are natural imitators and they mimic the behaviour and attitudes they see in their parents and other influencers present in their lives (for better or for worse). Growing up on a farm, I learned how to care for animals, how to plant and harvest, how to embrace the seasonal nature of life, and how to shovel manure. Like I said, for better or worse. Not all of the ideas we assimilate are helpful, and as responsible adults, we need to honestly evaluate learned behaviour to see if it contributes to a flourishing life, a good life, a life consistent with the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus.

Nevertheless, imitation is…

Come and See

A friend of mine was recently verbally abused at a bus stop. He was told to go back to his country and take his filthy diseases with him (my paraphrase). My friend is here on a work visa, married to a Canadian, and employed as a pastor at a church. The lady obviously didn't know anything about him, his legal status, or his hygienic habits. Because the colour of his skin was a slight shade different than hers, she felt free to judge him. [1] I must admit that when I heard about the incident, I felt a bit free to judge that lady, too, even though I know nothing about her and have no idea why she felt threatened by a kind, gentle, and compassionate man. I am reminded of the saying, "Don't judge someone until you have walked a mile in their moccasins." Walking a mile in someone else's shoes is not easy, especially since we find our own shoes so much more comfortable, but it is central to the gospel of Jesus.

In John 1, we see Jesus interacting with two of John's …