Monday, December 22, 2008

A Response to Nathalie.

Nathalie asked if spirituality necessarily involved God. An excellent question.

We beat that question around quite a bit in seminary. We had one prof who discouraged us from defining spirituality in God-terms because it wasn't inclusive enough. Such a refined definition leaves out those who don't believe in God (or god, or goddess, or whom/whatever).

As a Christian, I have to say, Yes, spirituality needs to have God involved by virtue of the word itself. Spirituality, in a Christian sense, means connecting with the God who is spirit, the Holy Spirit – the Spirit of the Risen Jesus who is making all things new, the Spirit who calls, gathers, enlightens, and makes holy.

But, of course, this is a specifically Christian answer. Our Jewish friends (a shout out to the Jews celebrating Hannukah today. Have eight GREAT nights!) might answer the question differently, as would any atheist. Most religions (or folks who think about religion or faith) would have their own answer.

I guess it comes down to what the “spirit” is in “spirituality.” Is it God's spirit? The human spirit? The spirit of the age?

Once that is defined then we can figure out how/if God fits in.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Happy Birthday Ludwig

If it weren’t for Beethoven, I wouldn’t have survived my teenage years. His sturm und drung coupled with remarkable beauty echoed the spiritual and hormonal life of an angst ridden young man. He combined deep human reflection with complex formal structure, and profound spiritual sensitivity with rigorous musical insight.

Beethoven, while suffering from depression due to hearing loss, wrote some of most joyful and passionate music ever written.

So, today I’ll sip a strong German beer, in thankfulness to Beethoven.

Predictions for 2009... Tom Asacker. See if you agree (warning: pdf).


Monday, December 15, 2008

Simple Church or Simply Church - Part Two

NB: Part One Here

While I think that much of what Paul wrote about house churches was DEscriptive rather than PREscriptive (meaning that he was describing what was happening among believers rather than prescribing the way churches were to organize themselves), such organization got me thinking about the value and virtue of smaller expressions of Christianity.

I think our how we organize ourselves tells us and the world who we think God is, and what God values.

But if we say we follow the poor, wandering, preacher from the outback, than how would our churches reflect what we say we believe? Jesus’ preached the Kingdom of God (or in Matthew’s case, Kingdom of Heaven, not a pie-in-the-sky-when-you-die, but a living reality of God’s active presence in the world), and he always used small examples to describe it: mustard seed, treasure hidden in a field, yeast, a net.

Jesus never talked about the Kingdom of God in big, grand, terms. He always talked in small, personal, concrete yet crazy ways to describe what God was up to.

I think that’s because Jesus knew that God’s isn’t interested in grandiose, ostentatious, displays of power. If you want to see what God is doing don’t look at the grand gestures of history. Ignore what you see on the news. Stay away from Parliament. Drive past Bay Street.

But look for God’s power in weakness, lurking in the dark corners of our world, beneath the radar, away from TV lights. Look for God in the unwed, pregnant teenager, the nation in exile, the crucified saviour, and the small gathering. There you’ll see God doing something.

I think, as Christians, we often forget where God is. We like to build BIG because we confuse the western culture’s idea of success with God’s. We think our goal as a church is to get BIG, and the BIGGER we are the more successful, and faithful we believe we are.

But while numbers tell us some things, they don’t tell us everything. They aren’t necessarily a measure of faithfulness, of love for neighbour and enemy, of peacemaking, of care for the world.

I think smaller churches build stronger followers of Jesus. Research backs this up (when I find the stats I’ll post them). There’s less room to hide in smaller churches, deeper relationships are more easily formed, and accountability is more easily created.

Smaller churches are more effective in evangelism and mission, in terms of ratio of baptisms to membership. Smaller churches grow faster, percentage wise, then large churches.

Smaller churches – house churches in particular, have less overhead costs. No building to maintain, fewer, if any salaries to distribute, leaving more money available for mission.

Of course, this does NOT mean that having a small church is the goal. I strongly believe that churches need to grow and reproduce – make disciples of Jesus.

But I worry that when we try to become BIG rather than strong, we get sucked into the institutional vortex and creativity gets squashed in fear of upsetting too many people. And upset people don’t put as much in the offering plate.

Maybe my biggest fear is that money become the goal, money to maintain what we have, rather than serving the world in mission.

End of Part Two. Part Three Coming.

Christmas Greetings from Fred and Susan

A Christmas greeting from Canadian Anglican and Lutheran leaders from Anglican Church of Canada on Vimeo.

Is it just me or does Susan look and sound really tired in this?

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Simple Church or Simply Church - Part One

NB: This is a series I'm working on, having to do with some thoughts/ideas I've been throwing around.

I’ve been reading a lot about house churches. Some of the heavy hitters in this field come from the conservative evangelical side of the spectrum, which offers a fascinating perspective. But they seem to have a shallow reading of scripture to back up their arguments.

They say that, “the early church didn’t have buildings, why do churches today have buildings? The first churches didn’t have pastors, why do our churches have pastors? The first Christians didn’t listen to sermons, why do we listen to sermons.”

While I’m sympathetic, if not almost completely sold on the idea of simplifying the way we do church, much of the critique offered by some writers borders on blasphemy.

One dust jacket blurb proclaims, “The 1700 year nightmare is over!” suggesting that the move from a simple, house church model to the Constantinian, institutional form was a “nightmare” (which, of course it was a complete betrayal of Jesus’ message of the Kingdom of God. No argument from me on this point).

However, to say that churches have been living a nightmare for the past 1700 years sounds like a charge against the Holy Spirit - who guides and directs our lives as Christians – saying that God had abandoned the Church for almost 2 millennia. I have trouble believing that God took a 1700 year vacation.

Also, they assume that there’s such a thing as a “pure” or “perfect” church, and the early church was it. And all we need do is follow the early Christians’ lead, and we’ll solve our church problems, and FINALLY be the church Jesus had intended.

I think churches DO need to simplify, but not because “the Bible said so,” but for a few other reasons.

End of Part One

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

235 Bosses?

It’s conventional wisdom among pastors that we don’t have one boss, or even a team of bosses, but a congregation of bosses. That each church member/friend/acquaintance/giving unit is our supervisor. And since our little congregation has roughly 235 members, I have 235 bosses.

I used to affirm this. But something inside me wouldn’t let me really believe it. And now I thoroughly reject it.

I reject it because this is a recipe for burnout. With all the competing expectations, varied understandings of what a pastor’s job entails, differing needs and wants, it would be impossible to be accountable to EVERYONE’S assumptions of what I’m supposed to be doing.

I also find that putting using the word “boss” misunderstands the pastor/parish relationship. Yes I get paid for what I do, but I also contribute financially. Yes, I have performance evaluations, but it’s a back and forth conversation. Yes, a congregation votes on whether or not they’re going to call me as their pastor, but I also have to listen to the Holy Spirit, asking God if such a call comes from God, or if I just had a really good interview.

I would say that I don’t have bosses. I have partners, fellow pilgrims, sisters and brothers with whom I walk and who walk with me. Together we try to listen and discern God’s future for us.

I’m writing this because, mainly, I’m getting tired of the “us vs them” attitudes I often hear from clergy, as if we pastors have a corner on how the church is to be run. We may have Divinity degrees and know a lot of theology, but the people with whom we serve have built the church through hard work and even harder prayers. And that needs to be honoured and respected. Clergy need to understand that we’re simply one voice among many.

Happy Festival of Thomas Merton!

I'm still lobbying for December 10th to be Merton's Feast Day. After all, he entered the Abbey of Gethsemane December 10, 1941 and died in Bankok, December 10, 1968, the date bookending his monastic life.

But whether or not that happens, I'll celebrate in my own way. Tonight I'll read The Sign of Jonas, the first book I read by him, and which deeply affected me and my understanding of God.

In the meantime, here's a quote from a later work of his:

Am I sure that the meaning of my life is the meaning God intends for it? Does God impose a meaning on my life from the outside, through event, custom, routine, law, system, impact with others in society? Or am I called to create from within, with him, with his grace, a meaning which reflects his truth and makes me his “word” spoken freely in my personal situation? My true identity lies hidden in God’s call to my freedom and my response to him. This means I must use my freedom in order to love, with full responsibility and authenticity, not merely receiving a form imposed on me by external forces, or forming my own life according to an approved social pattern, but directing my love to the personal reality of my brother, and embracing God’s will in its naked, often impenetrable mystery. - From Seeds of Contemplation

Sunday, December 07, 2008

Sermon: Advent 2: Year B

NB: From the archives, touched up a bit.

Mark begins his gospel in an artless, matter-of-fact sort of way. It’s as if he has something to get off his chest and doesn’t have time for pleasantries. No long-winded genealogies. No pregnant virgins. No babies born in barns. Nothing. Just “boom!” we’re in the middle of an on-going story.

Right out of the gate jumps John the Baptist. Part wild man, part TV preacher. Don’t get too close, he can smell your fear.

“Prepare the way of the Lord!” he roars. His camel-hair shirt battered by the wind and his beard dusty from a lifetime spent spitting out sand in the desert. He speaks with an authority that isn’t his own. His breath is aflame with words that burn. “Repent! For the kingdom of God has come near!”

People had to travel pretty far to hear these words. They had to walk for days through the desert just to get to him. The Jordan River wasn’t exactly on a main street with good traffic flow. I guess John missed the...(whole thing here)

Saturday, December 06, 2008

Love your enemies...?

...don't give me any of that hippie crap. Just ask Rick "Purpose Driven" Warren, who believes that governments have a divine call to "take out" other heads of state (and he didn't mean for Chinese food).

I used to like Rick Warren. His Purpose Driven Church was helpful in assisting me to think through congregational outreach.

But he's recently been a darling of the Religious Right, which I think has gone to his head.

You might point out that Bonhoeffer acted upon what Warren just muses about. But Bonhoeffer knew the cost and paid it. Whether you think Bonhoeffer was right or wrong he acted according to his conscience from behind enemy lines. He was deeply conflicted about his complicity in his assassination attempt against Hitler. He didn't pontificate from a comfortable studio half a world away. He was knee deep in political struggle. In fact, he resigned from a comfortable tenured position at a prestigious seminary to join the fight.

Where is Warren speaking from?

In case you were wondering...

I know many of you have been wracking your brains trying to figure out what to get me for Christmas. And while I am the kind of guy who has everything, and I usually encourage folks to give to those in need, not just at Christmas, but at all times of the year, some people simply can't resist giving gifts.

So, here's some help. I'll be checking my mailbox.

Thank you in advance.

Rick Mercer's Harpur Rant

Thursday, December 04, 2008

A Haunting Tale - From Past to Present

My good friend loulou has put together an excellent blog. She has a wonderful way of looking at life. Check it out.

Craziness in Ottawa or "These Rogues are Pro"

Good Shepherd's resident political scientist Harold Jansen walks us through the federal goings-on on his very fine blog.

Monday, December 01, 2008

December Pastoral Letter

Have you started your Christmas preparations? What do they include? Fighting for parking spots at Park Place Mall? Finding deals at Wal-Mart? Trying to figure out what the kids will actually play with?

The Advent Conspiracy has a different take on Christmas preparation. These are Christians from all over the world committed to living out the Christmas story in ways that are faithful to what God intends.

Their website explains:
The story of Christ's birth is a story of promise, hope, and a revolutionary love.

So, what happened? What was once a time to celebrate the birth of a savior has somehow turned into a season of stress, traffic jams, and shopping lists.
And when it's all over, many of us are left with presents to return, looming debt that will take months to pay off, and this empty feeling of missed purpose. Is this what we really want out of Christmas?

What if Christmas became a world-changing event again?

Welcome to Advent Conspiracy.

This Christmas they ask all Christians to

Worship Fully
Spend Less
Give More
Love All
For example, a small Christian community in Calgary called “Awaken” says “At Awaken, we are seeking ways to simply our lives and challenge the consumerism which is pervasive in Calgary. We are reducing or eliminating our spending at Christmas, and using the money we save to give to water projects in countries that need it.”

Christian communities from all over the world are challenging the consumerist takeover of Christmas and living more faithfully of Jesus’ followers, being light to the nations, and alternative way of being in the world.

This year I encourage you to think about how you can more faithfully celebrate the birth of poor child born in a manger, the child who asks us to share from our vast resources to those struggling merely to survive.

In Jesus’ Name,

Pastor Kevin

Sunday, November 30, 2008

Sermon: Advent 1 - Year B

We begin at the end. We jump into the story near its conclusion. Not Jesus' story, but the world's story. We begin at the world's end. We begin this new church year with a reading describing the end of days.

Advent opens our new church year. We just finished “Year A” or the Year of Matthew, the first of a three year cycle. This year we're beginning what is known as “Year B” or the Year of Mark. This means that most of our gospel readings will be from Mark's gospel, with a little bit from John thrown in because Mark is comparatively short. It's about half the length of Matthew, Luke, and John, the other three gospels. Next year, we'll be in “Year C,” the Year of Luke. John doesn't get his own year. Don't ask why.

And today's reading from Mark 14 dubbed “the Little Apocalypse” (as if any apocalypse can be little) brings us face-to-face with the strange contradiction of Advent.

In Advent we wait for Jesus' arrival. Both as a baby in Bethlehem AND in a fiery cloud descending from the sky. The hope of new birth AND the terror of judgment sharing the same crib, fighting over the blankets. In Advent we get both stories as if they mean the same thing.

In Halifax, Rebekah and I got an earful from...(whole thing here)

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Sermon: Christ the King - Year A

Have you every felt alone? I mean REALLY alone? I'm not talking about mere loneliness, but abject Aloneness.

Have you ever felt like you couldn't connect with a single person on this planet? That no one really knew the deepest part of you, nor did you know the deepest part of anyone? That everywhere you turned you didn't just see strangers, but aliens. People so foreign to your own experience as to be from outside your solar system.

Maybe it was something that happened to you. Abuse, rejection, failure. And you were too ashamed to connect with others for fear it might happen again.

Or was it a loss that left you breathless, a loss so deep and raw that you couldn't really share with it anyone, because you weren't sure anyone else knew what it was like?

Perhaps you felt abandoned by everyone you know, everyone who you thought loved you. Maybe you even felt abandoned by God in the midst of great suffering.

If you have, you're...(whole thing here)

Thursday, November 20, 2008

A special welcome... our American friends looking for a Thanksgiving sermon. I've had hundreds of hits over the last couple day from folks looking for a little help with their Sunday proclamations. Hope your sermon is filled with good news and your dinner stuffed with stuffing!

In case you're still looking for it, here's my sermon from last month's Canadian Thanksgiving.

Pentecost 27 and Gen X

I’ve had a more positive reaction to last week’s sermon than any other I’ve preached. And it’s come mainly from people identified as Gen X, folks I talked about in the sermon.

I think that might be because Gen Xers FEEL like middle children (as the article I cited identified, and much as there is a universal middle child experience). We’ve seen the baby boomers stay too long in important positions, and we’ve seen the younger generations hungry for everything their parents have, without having to work for it.

And we feel cheated. We’re frustrated that many of us had to begin our careers flipping burgers or working at the mall because the recession of the early 90’s lopped off job opportunities.

Many are angry that they didn’t start making a decent salary, or start to achieve their vocational goals until well into their thirties.

Many have noticed that their standard of living is much lower than their parents were at this stage in their lives; that wages didn’t keep up with buying power.

It’s like we’ve had to work longer and harder for less. And we’ve been dumped on for not achieving like our parents did. Or for not being as hungry as our younger sisters and brothers.

However, one thing our generation does really well is community. That’s another reason I think people responded to the sermon. We don’t often see community as a gift. Or a talent. And people were glad to see it affirmed.

If this generation has a legacy it will be to make choices for community rather than self-interest. And if there is any gospel here, it is that community is the gift that God has given this generation, and the gift we are then called to share with the world.

Personally, I don’t think God cares about job satisfaction or career success, or even about personal happiness.

I do think God cares about how we relate, how we love. I think God cares about how we contribute to the life of our communities and the world, not just in its economic growth. I think God is more interested in what we give up for the sake of others, than what we gain for ourselves.

And these are ideals that many Gen Xers identify as core values. So, maybe it’s our job to gather people together instead of creating vast sums of wealth. Maybe it’s our job to build people rather than empires. Maybe it’s our job to be the community that God wants for the world.

Maybe that’s the unique gift and talent that God wants us to share with the other generations.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

A New Creation?

I’ve been reflecting on death lately. First, a friend of ours passed away from cancer at way too young an age, leaving behind a husband and baby. Then, a young man I performed a wedding for committed suicide, leaving behind a wife and small child. One death was a drawn out tragedy. The other, an angry, impulsive act.

As a Christian, I have hope in the resurrection to eternal life. In fact, Christians reaffirm this belief each time we gather for worship and say the Apostles’ or Nicene Creeds.

But, I keep on thinking how unbelievable the resurrection is. A lifeless body not only revived, but renewed. Eyes re-opened. Breath restored.

The bible promises that God is renewing the whole world. And we are part of that renewal. Jesus’ resurrection was the beginning of the world restoration, where God is making all things new.

And this is true of J and J (both the deceased’s names begin with J). I think of the cancer victim longing for life. And then the depressed young man, putting a gun to his head. But God’s promises are for both of them.

Yet, still. I have a hard time imagining their eyes opening one day. But then again, that’s the challenge of faith. Some call it a “mystery.” I prefer to think of it as hope. Some may dismiss this as false hope. But then again, what’s the alternative?

I spent last week reflecting, meditation on life and mortality, wondering how we, as human beings are different from the rest of creation. That we, somehow, are spared the eternal oblivion of death.

And I began to ask, “Are we any different? Does our consciousness spare us an eternity of nothingness? Are we unlike the trees that fall and disintegrate into the ground? Or the fish that get eaten by seagulls? Or the flowers that wilt and become part of the soil?”

The bible says, No. We are all mortal. We will all die. “All flesh is grass.”

Remember that you are dust. And to dust you will return.

But then again, the bible also talks about the New Creation, where God renews the world. The bible’s a little light on the details but the promise is clear, God is already busy raising the dead, bringing life in all its fullness.

That’s the promise I have keep reminding myself of again and again. Even though I can’t comprehend it, doesn’t make it any less real. I can’t say I cling to this promise. I can only say it clings to me.

Monday, November 17, 2008

How did THAT happen?

5 Years ago today I was waking up to my first morning as a Lethbridgian. Five years. Half a decade.

Let me ponder that for awhile.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Sermon: Pentecost 27 - Year A

“Doesn’t the parable of the talents give you nightmares?” she asked. Apparently she was unhappy with the life she had chosen. Or had chosen her. If she was like most people, she probably looked at the standard menu of life options and ordered the item easiest to swallow.

She looked back at her 37 years and realized that she hadn’t flexed her artistic muscles. Her creativity lay on the couch watching TV and eating potato chips. There was so much potential dozing inside her, that, somehow, she failed to arouse. Despite brains and talent, she never became the person she dreamed she would be.

She’s not alone. I encounter a lot of people like that. People who know that there’s more inside them than what they express in their lives, their work, or their relationships. And when they reach a certain age, they worry they’ll...(the whole thing here)

Monday, November 10, 2008

A Week Off

No sermon this week. Our ELW did their annual Praise Offering service, giving me Sunday off. They do this every year and consider it a “gift to the pastor.” A gift I gladly accept.

Since I didn’t have to sermonize this Sunday, I went to hear my wife preach. And, my wife, being among the best preachers I’ve ever heard, didn’t disappoint. She rocked and/or rolled our neighbouring United Church.

It felt weird being in the pew rather than the pulpit. But a good kind of weird. I rarely get to worship with my kids, and I can’t remember the last time we all worshipped as a family. Even on holidays one of us gets sucked into preaching somewhere. Clergy shortages make it tough on vacations.

But then, after the children’s message, the kids were shuffled off to Sunday School. I don’t want to dump on another church, but how can children learn to worship if they’re rounded up and sent off to another part of the building? How can we tell our kids that they are full members of the body of Christ, but adults are fuller members than they are? Either we believe that baptism is the entry way into the Christian faith or we don’t.

Again, I don’t want to slime another ministry, but this is something I feel passionate about. A squawky baby. A restless toddler. A giggly pre-teen. These are all signs of life. Signs that we are alive, human, and growing. Signs that God is still active among us. They may distract. They may annoy. But what family is perfect?

Sunday, November 02, 2008

Sermon: All Saints

In 2003, St. Teresa of Lisieux’s bones were dragged to Halifax. The first stop in her cross country tour. Hundreds of people stood in line for hours to venerate the skeleton of a dead French peasant woman, known in Catholic circles as ‘The Little Flower.” She was very popular among maritime Catholics. A church was named in her honour.

I have to admit, I was tempted to stand in line with my catholic friends to share a moment with St. Teresa. A temptation I shared with our council president, who spit out his coffee when I told him.

“Y’know, there was a Reformation for a reason!” he snarked as he refilled his mug.

But I was more sociologically curious than spiritually compelled. I knew Teresa’s bones had no divine power, I knew it would be more like visiting an open grave rather than standing at a gateway to heaven. But I wanted to see why so many other Christians would stand in line for so long simply to gape at a pile of bones.

They are called...(whole thing here)

Thursday, October 30, 2008

A REAL incentive

Those of you who know me know that I’ve been trying to lose this colossal tire around my middle. Well, to be honest, “try” may be a too strong a word. More like I'm wishing it away.

I guess I need more of an incentive. So, I figure I’d try a negative one. I’ll do something so awful, so contrary to my values if I don’t lose the weight/get back in shape by a certain date, that I'll hate myself for not having achieved my goal.

Therefore, I announce to you today that if I do not fit into my size 32 pants by noon on March 1st, 2009, I will donate $200 to the Conservative Party of Canada.

This should make the pounds melt away.

And, yes, before you ask, I do have a plan. And I’ll be offering updates along the way. The negative incentive is to keep my ears plugged to the siren call of beer and pizza.

I'll keep you posted.

UPDATE: As per Harold's suggestion, I'll make that $201. Having my name listed publicly as having donated to the Conservative Party will help shed the redundant protoplasm.

UPDATE II: I've pushed the date to Easter, rather than an arbitrary beginning of March. I called Stephen Harpur and he's okay with the change.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

There's GOT to be a better way

I’m toying with NOT going to our conference convention this Saturday. Not just because I find them soul-crushingly boring, or because the drive is 3-4 hours each way, or even because my wife thinks I go to WAY too many meetings (which is true) and I see my kids WAY too little (which is also true).

I’m toying with not going to conference convention because I don’t think it really accomplishes anything. We meet because our constitution says we must. We look at reports, we drink coffee, we receive more reports, we gripe over whatever controversy of the day is diverting our attention, more reports, and we have communion. Then we go home.

I can’t help but wonder if Jesus’ died so that we might meet. I think we need a better way of doing God’s work than falling asleep through Robert’s Rules of Order. I often wonder if we’re TOO organized, and what God wants from us is a little bit of creative chaos.

After all, I can’t picture St. Paul at a board meeting, offering an amendment on the amendment to adopt all amendments. I can’t envision Augustine asking for a seconder after moving his report. I certainly can’t see Jesus calling for a quorum.

Paul would say, "Okay, you have your meeting, but I'm heading to the other side of the planet to start a bunch of churches." Augustine would chime in, "I don't have my report ready because I'm too busy renewing the church." And Jesus would ask, "When did I tell you to have corporate-style meetings in my name?"

I think church gathering should be celebrations of what God is doing among our people. They should be lively conversations sizzling with passion for the kingdom of God that is renewing the world all around us. Worship should be at the heart of our decision making, a reminder that the Holy Spirit “calls, gathers, and enlightens” us, and moves us forward into God’s future.

If we’re not doing that then we aren’t being faithful stewards of God’s mysteries. We’re closing the door to future generations of Christians. We’re quenching the Spirit that is breaking into our lives and our world.

If the church won’t change how we make collective decisions then maybe it deserves to die. And maybe that’s a good thing. As the Christian story reminds us, it’s only after a death do we see resurrection.

Friday, October 17, 2008

Five Influences

Erin tagged me to list 5 people living or dead who have influenced me spiritually, so here it goes (off the top of my head and in no particular order)

1. Thomas Merton. I almost became a monk because of him. Or at least because of his writings. The Sign of Jonas and The Seven Storey Mountain still make their ways to my night stand every year or so.

2. Canadian theologian Douglas John Hall. I read his trilogy (also here and here) while on internship and they revolutionized the way I see God active and alive in the world.

3. Composer Arvo Part. The first time I heard his piece Sarah was ninety years old was the first time I truly worshipped.

4. The congregation of Zion Lutheran Church in Sault Ste Marie, Ontario, where I interned. Their gentle patience taught me how to be a pastor.

I tag Mick, Sean, and Eric.

Happy Festival of St. Ignatius of Antioch!

Every year on this date I have an existential crisis. This year I wonder if it’s more manufactured than spontaneous. Maybe not manufactured but anticipated. I expect the cold sweats at midnight, the three a.m. confrontations with mortality, and rapid passing of the decades waking me when my 5:45 alarm blasts, and I meet them with gentle good despair.

Without existential anxiety, this day would lose its zing. Gloomy self-examination and melancholy reflection go hand-in-mitten with the Great Cosmic Stopwatch counting down the days until a funeral director sows my eyes shut.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Election hangover

Is ANYONE happy with the election results? The Libs got trounced. The Dippers didn’t make the breakthrough they were hoping for. The Bloc gained only one seat. The Greens were shut out completely. And the Cons fell short of a majority.

Parliament looks the same as it did six weeks ago. What did we accomplish?

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Thanksgiving Sermon

So what are you Thankful for?

That's the Question of the Day, isn't it? The question on everyone's lips.

I don't know about you but I always have trouble answering that question. It's not that I'm some sort of ungrateful lout, or that I think I deserve everything I have, or that in a quid pro quo world I think thankfulness is unnecessary.

It's just that there seems to be a “right” answer and a “wrong” answer to that question, a moral expectation every Thanksgiving. There are certain big ticket items that I'm obliged to be thankful for, and I'm supposed to walk right past the bargain bin, pretending its not there.

For example, I'm supposed to be thankful for family, good health, for this congregation and my relationship with God, and for living in a peaceful, democratic country. (Which I am!)

But I'm NOT supposed to be thankful for my fancy new iPod, for the price of gas coming back to earth, or for the Blue Jays missing the playoffs. To admit gratitude for such things would be...impolite. Even if the second list is just as honest as the first.

Expectations of proper gratitude as the leaves turn orange. At least that's what it feels like to me. And today's bible readings are no help.

Today's second reading drops us in the middle of an argument. Paul was trying to convince those stingy Corinthian Christians to pass the plate to help a struggling church in Jerusalem.

“My point is this, Paul says, “the one who sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and the one who sows bountifully will also reap bountifully. Each of you must give as you have made up your mind, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver.”

In other words, “Hey folks, find a crowbar and pry open your wallets when the plate comes your way. And don't feel bad about it either.”

It's easy to be moralistic about this passage, as if Paul was waving a finger in their faces.

And where would Thanksgiving Sunday be without the story of the Ten Lepers? Or maybe we should call it the “Nine Ingrates.”

We just heard it. Jesus heals ten lepers and only one of them comes back to thank him, disobeying Jesus' command to show himself to the priests. Moral of the story: Don't be like the nine who didn't thank Jesus. Be thankful. Jesus likes it when you are.

I don't know about you but I've had to endure too many Thanksgiving sermons on these passages, telling me that I should be more Thankful (capital T) for everything I have. Admonishing me to have an “attitude of gratitude.”

But these sermons always made me feel worse than when I came in because thankfulness isn't a feeling that I can easily control. Maybe its different for you. Maybe you see thankfulness as a choice. A state you can summon when you're feeling selfish. A self-correcting moral GPS unit that guides you through the back roads of proper attitudes.

Maybe I just don't have the discipline. Maybe I'm a selfish jerk who can't see past his own appetites. Maybe I need a...(whole thing here)

Monday, October 06, 2008

Leaders should speak out about this.

Unbelievable. My brother (a Liberal) used to live in this riding. But he doesn't drive. Each party leader should denounce this.

Thursday, October 02, 2008

Election Litany

P: Holy God, as we deliberate as a nation during this national election, we pray for your wisdom to guide our decision. Grant us a vision for our country that is larger than our self interest, recognizing that we are all one people, joined together for the betterment of all.

P: For the right to vote and to make our voices heard,
C: We give you thanks, O God.

P: For the peaceful transition of power,
C: We give you thanks, O God.

P: For the rule of law which facilitates justice
C: We give you thanks, O God.

P: For peace, order, and good government
C: We give you thanks, O God.

P: For our freedoms which we too often take for granted
C: We give you thanks, O God.

P: Holy God your Word says that there is no governing authority except from you, so we pray that you will raise up leaders of compassion and wisdom
C: and grant your people strength to support those who speak for us

P: Grant our leaders a hunger for justice and righteousness
C: and our people strength to hold them accountable

P: May our leaders defend the rights of the poor
C: and may your people give freely to those in need

P: Help our leaders to be good stewards of your glorious creation
C: and assist your people to manage your abundance wisely.

P: All of this we pray through the One who makes all things new, Jesus Christ our Lord,
C: Amen


No one understood Beethoven like Karajan.

ps: When I was a musician we called this is "Egghead Overture." Not really funny, but hey, we sat at the back of the orchestra counting 400 bars before playing three notes, so we needed something to amuse ourselves with.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Don't worry, I'm just sitting around doin' nothing.

I got a phone call a little while ago from someone desperately wanting to meet with me.

“Fine,” I said, “How’s next Tuesday at Starbucks?”

“That works. See you then and there.”

I arrived and sat down. Then I waited. And waited. And waited…and waited.

He never showed up.

This happens to me at least 2-3 times a month. People either forget or something comes up and they neglect to tell me they can’t make it to our visit. So I end up waiting for someone who isn’t coming.

This didn’t used to get me so frustrated. But now it feels like people don’t value my time. Of course, not ALL people, but enough to make me notice it.

Maybe I should start charging folks for the time I spend waiting. An inconvenience tax.

That's what I think I'll do. Should provide enough beer money to get me through the winter.

UPDATE: This post disappeared for a while, and the cause of which remains a mystery. Well, Halloween is around the corner.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

A good election blog...

...if you're interested.

The Day I Was Denied Communion for Endorsing Obama

...Suddenly the life-long chain of liturgy was broken into pieces. The priest--the priest who had just joined with us in the prayer of the Rosary was now red-faced shouting. I thought. Talking about me. I had cooperated with evil. I had? I had killed babies? My heart was black. I was giving scandal to the entire church. I had once been a leader but now I forfeited any semblance of respectability or leadership. The good father grasped tightly the edges of the ambo, the unusual name given to the lectern in the Catholic Church. No faithful Catholic would ever contemplate doing what I had done. I was dead to the Holy Mother Church.

My wife held my hand tightly. We looked at each other in disbelief. Here was someone in the vestments of the priesthood who had called us to have our prayers be heard, who recited the Kyrie with us, asking the Lord's mercy upon us, now seemingly merciless, telling me and the many there assembled that I was unworthy. I was to be publicly shunned and humiliated. My offense? Endorsing Senator Barak Obama for President of the United States....
(whole shameful episode here)

Incredible. I don't know if I could ever deny anyone communion. Especially not for their political beliefs.

Four years ago a high-profile Roman Catholic Bishop said he'd deny John Kerry communion because of his views on abortion (but was strangely silent on pro-choice Republicans running for office), but didn't see the war in Iraq, the death penalty, divorce, or any other 'Catholic' issue as important enough to "punish" communicants by withholding the sacrament from those GOP members who contravened such issues.

You also may remember Chan Chandler, the Baptist preacher who ex-communicated a bunch of parishioners for voting for Kerry. But lost his job shortly thereafter.

I have my own political views, and occasionally hint at them in sermons (taking the odd light-hearted jab at the "other side." After all, my political viewpoint is a minority opinion here in Alberta). And my faith influences my politics. The Sermon on the Mount, for example is a highly political document, and informs what the priorities I think our governments should have.

I think we need a spirited discussion as to how faith and politics collide. We all can learn from folks who disagree with us. That's how we stretch and grow.

But, problems arise when ideology and dogmatism replace faith and debate. Withholding the sacrament is withholding God's grace. When folks reach out their hands to receive Christ's body and blood, they reach out, as we all do, as sinners in need of forgiveness.

No matter who they vote for.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Pentecost 18 - Year A

“How many times should I forgive?” Peter asked, “Seven times?”

“Not seven,” Jesus replied, “But seventy times seven.”

I’ve told you this story before, but it bears repeating.

The Sunday after the US attack on Iraq, Global National News came to Lutheran Church of the Resurrection in Halifax to get a faith perspective on the war.

We’d been leading prayer services for peace the months leading up to the war, services which had been covered by the media, and so a reporter came to interview me about how some Christians were responding.

He was known for his confrontational interview style. And it was clear he had an axe to grind.

He knew that I and most of the congregation were opposed to the war and he tried to get me to say on camera that any Christian who supported the war was going to hell. Saying that high profile Christians were destined for damnation would have sounded great on TV.

I tried to convince him that...(whole thing here)

Friday, September 12, 2008

Kevin Little on Living in Suburbia

Two years ago, I moved to the suburbs. It was the most unlikely of destinations for someone who loves the unique neighbourhoods of our city, public transportation, and the diversity of our downtown. God willing, this will be our last move.

We do live in a suburb that is unique. All of the homes are built with different designs, we have plenty of woods (an acre of trees separates most of our houses), we are very close to a major shopping centre, and soon an Express bus will be available to take us downtown.

I am surprised how much I love it here. I have no handy skills, every plant I touch dies, and I have no ambitions to add value or turn my home into some Martha Stewart vineyard. I love the rabbits that appear on our lawn, the birds that appear in our trees, and especially the wild flowers that grow in our ditches. I love the fact that for the first time in my daughter’s life she has access to friends her own age in close proximity. I love that it is quiet, peaceful, and beautiful here every day.

There are things I miss. It takes me...(rest here)

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

A real barn burner!

My debut on youtube. Not my best effort, either text or delivery, but here it is. To my ears, it sounds like I have golf balls in my mouth.

The text for the sermon is still on my wife's computer.

Monday, September 08, 2008


I’ve been knocked to the sidelines with either a stomach virus or food poisoning. It’s been almost a week. When I checked my email I had over 250 messages waiting for me, so I thought I’d procrastinate by typing away on this humble blog.

I missed church yesterday. Someone else read my sermon. Haven’t yet listened to the tape.

The wife was preaching in Nanton, and the kids went to church with another family (Thanks Karen and Ian!) leaving me at home to watch football.

Food is staying down. Headaches have disappeared. I’m hungry again.

It’s good to be back. Procrastination over.

Sermon: Pentecost 17 - Year A

Today’s gospel reading is about how to get along in the church. Practical advice for dealing with those who get under our skin, or give us stomach cramps.

We often have this image of the early Church as a love-fest where miracles were as common as a cold, and no one raised their voice to another. All congregational votes were unanimous and people greeted each other like long lost French lovers. Like Woodstock with clothes on, and everyone was high on Jesus.

But Matthew didn’t include these Jesus’ sayings because early church life lacked the spice of controversy. If we think a disagreement over an elevator can become a problem, you should’ve seen the tantrums these baby Christians could throw. Brawling believers might get attention of some bloggers typing away in their parents’ basements, but most people would need to scrap the dust off this old newspaper. A church fight? Christians clawing at each other again? Yawn. What else is new?

I don’t know why that is. Do you?

Maybe, it’s because...(the whole thing here)

Sunday, August 31, 2008

Sermon: Pentecost 16 - Year A

An oddity to be sure. A glow in the distance. A fire in the mountain. A burning bush that it not consumed. What would YOU think it was?

Moses had more curiosity than sense. He abandoned his sheep in the valley to go snooping around on God’s holy mountain.

Maybe it would help if you visualize who Moses was and what he was doing. You might be picturing Charlton Heston striding confidently up the mountain with a decisive hunger in his eyes, his booming baritone belying any fear he might have said to possess. With his chiseled jaw and determined gait he marches purposefully up the side of the cliffs, preparing to meet his God.

After all, his climb is an ascent to his destiny where he will receive his sacred mandate to free God’s people from slavery to lead them to the Promised Land, a land flowing with milk and honey; a divine charge that they would have to pry from his cold dead hands.

It’s a scene only Cecil B DeMille’s grandiose imagination could create. The Ten Commandments is no mere movie. It’s an event. An experience. The ultimate triumph of good over evil, righteousness over tyranny, and faithfulness over idolatry. Four hours of unadulterated edification, best to be seen without commercial interruptions.

But scrub that picture from your eyes. That’s not the story the bible tells. When you read the story from Exodus you’ll notice...(whole thing here)

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Another Near Miss

After last month’s near miss, I figured that you get one major scare and then life moves on.

But yesterday, while at Whoop-Up Days (Lethbridge’s answer to the Calgary Stampede) our four-year-old came within a hair of being trampled by a team of horses pulling a wagon.

Apparently this driver wasn’t supposed to be taking the wagon through the midway. But he did, anyways. N froze when she saw the horses coming straight at her. After all, she’s only a couple feet tall and the horses are massive. And her being so small the driver couldn’t see her.

If my wife hadn’t happened to glance in N’s direction, pulling her away at the very last second, yesterday would have ended horribly. The crowd, I’m told was quite shocked by what almost happened, and yelled at the driver, who seemed oblivious to the fact that he almost killed a little girl.

My wife called the Whoop-Up Days organizers to let them know what happened. Our four-year-old thinks it’s all very funny.

The Whoop-Up Days organizers called yesterday and were VERY apologetic. They've changed the route for the horse and wagon (which they'll monitor) and offered my wife a free ticket for this year or next. As they say, the squeaky wheel gets the worm! or some such thing.

Monday, August 18, 2008

Obama and Matthew 25

I usually try to stay away from American politics on this blog (at least, as of late), but this pro-Obama ad from the Matthew 25 Network, I thought, was an excellent, thinly veiled attack on John McCain. They're saying that the GOP doesn't have a lock on religious votes. And they brought out the big guns to prove it.

(Kirby Jon Caldwell, a pastor I greatly admire, endorsed Bush in 2000 and 2004. He presided over Jenna Bush's recent wedding. This year he's endorsing Obama.)

But I wonder if this ad is a response to Rick Warren's Q 'n A of the candidates last weekend. Where "non-partisan" Warren soft-balled McCain the hard questions he asked Obama.

Personally, I don't get how so-called "values voters" can endorse McCain over Obama, given McCain's history of adultery.

Either they're simply lock-step Republicans who can't see beyond their own political agenda, or they have blinders on, thinking that one moral issue (adultery)is less offensive than another (a woman's right to choose).

What is needed is a REAL conversation about the issues. The swift boaters need to stay docked. Let Obama and McCain deal with what affects everyday people, the American's role in the world, climate change, etc.

But that won't happen. But I'm glad that Matthew 25 is engaged in the process, giving voice to a version of biblical Christianity that is often lost in a raging storm of vitriol and lies.

Sunday, August 17, 2008

Sermon: Pentecost 14 - Year A

Paul talks about the “remnant.” Meaning a small group of believers who keep the faith pure against so much ungodliness in the world. After the community of believers had been so thoroughly corrupted by the world, Paul identified that little tiny church in Rome, probably no larger than 10 or 12 believers, as the remnant who will keep the faith alive, a tiny light in the vast darkness of the world, a candle glowing in the night, a drop of clean, undiluted godliness in a poisoned planet.

But I wonder what Paul would have said about today’s first reading from Genesis. In this story, known as the “Joseph saga” (Most of you know it better as “Joseph and His Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat”) the line between the world and God’s people mists over to the point of being indistinguishable. This story seems to suggest that God isn’t limited to those who claim to be God’s people. God seems freer than what we might initially perceive.

On the surface this looks like a story of hard work paying off, with a little forgiveness and reconciliation thrown in to jerk a few theological tears. The stuff of good movies and snappy musicals.

Joseph was the guy you hated in High School. You know the one I mean. The Golden Boy, the Favoured One, who seemed good at everything. He was captain of the football team and he dated the head cheerleader. He won math awards, wrote for the school newspaper, played Hamlet in community theatre, sang solos at Christmas, volunteered in a homeless shelter, and couldn’t decide whether he’d be a brain surgeon or rocket scientist when he grew up, so he thought he’d be both. And you just knew he could pull it off.

You couldn’t stand him. Not just because he was better at everything than you were. You didn’t like him because he liked himself so much. His arrogance was breathtaking.

And he enjoyed showing off. His Emotional I.Q. hovered in George Bush realms.

He was oblivious to his brothers’ scowls. He didn’t notice their clenched jaws and furrowed brows. He simply didn’t see how badly his arrogance made his brothers want to tear out their ear hair.

It’s no wonder that his brothers wanted to get rid of him. He made them look bad. Really bad. And he flashed his egotistical white teeth while doing so.

You couldn’t accuse Joseph of putting on a show. He knew himself. He knew he was talented. He knew that he could succeed at anything he put his mind to.

Even his dreams stroked his ego. He was a dreamer. Some said it was God’s dreams that lived inside him. Others believed he simply dreamt what he wanted his life to be.

Maybe it was both.

But Joseph also knew...(whole thing here)

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Messy? Moi?

Today I cleaned my office. A better word might be purge. I was ruthless, throwing out a bunch of junk, tossing old journals and magazines into the recycling, scrapping goo off my desk, etc.

For those who know me know that I have trouble keeping my work space tidy. Unfortunately, people often confuse untidiness with being disorganized. I’m actually quite organized. In my job I have to juggle quite a few tasks at once and, for the most part, I pull it off. I rarely lose things (although I can be forgetful), am rarely late for meetings or appointments, and have a detailed "to-do" list that is constantly being updated. So don't confuse messiness with sloth.

It’s not that I’m a slob. I shower regularly and wear clean clothes. I chew with my mouth closed and try to say “please” and “thank you.”

Nor am I a pack-rat. I feel no displeasure in throwing things out. In fact, I love it when my shelves are bare.

I simply don’t see mess. Mess doesn’t register with me. I don’t recognize it as chaos the way most people do.

But now my desk is clean and I have newly emptied shelves. My files are in order and my Kleenex box is full. We’ll see how long this lasts.

I’m guessing 2 days.

Sunday, August 10, 2008

Sermon: Pentecost 13 - Year A

What causes you to doubt your faith? What causes you to stop trusting God? What causes you to think that faith is merely an Alice in Wonderland story we tell ourselves when life starts to hurt?

Or DO you doubt? Do you question your faith? Do you question God?

I know that, for many of you, faith comes easy. You see God in action as clearly as you see the shine on my head. God’s handiwork is everywhere your eyes turn. And when you close your eyes, you hear God talking to you. You can’t “prove” its God chatting with you. But you wouldn’t mistake God’s milky voice for anything else.

For others of you, God is a rumour that you hope is true. You’ve caught glimpses of God here and there. Shadows. Memories. Stories half heard, songs less understood. But you’ve heard enough to trust that God is – somehow – doing something in the world. And you figure that, even if there’s a 95 percent chance you’re wrong, you’ll still believe. Because the stories half heard and songs less understood are too beautiful to toss away.

And for others, faith might sound like a cruel joke. A tall tale told by an idiot. Sound and fury signifying nothing. Maybe you’ve seen the world’s ugliness first hand and no amount of worship will scrub your eyes clean. Maybe you’ve felt grief so horrific that your soul has been ripped to shreds. Maybe you’ve prayed until your knees are bloodied and knuckles bruised, and still – nothing – God hasn’t returned the call.

Or maybe you’re back and forth, up and down, between all of this. Maybe some days your faith is as strong as God’s holy mountain, and other days, you can’t see your faith through a microscope. Maybe you’re wishing you could believe like other people.

And if you are, look...(whole thing here)

Saturday, August 02, 2008

Hearing a word from God

I’m still on “vacation” which means I don’t have to preach tomorrow. I get to listen to someone else preach tomorrow morning.

When I was a musician I had trouble listening to other trombone players. I couldn’t hear the music. I could only compare my playing to the guy (usually a guy) on stage.

When I became a conductor things became worse. I couldn’t listen to a concert without a critical ear. Musical interpretation, phrasing, dynamics, balance were slices that didn’t make a whole piece when added up. At least to my hearing. I often felt the urge to take over because I preferred what I heard in my head to what was being presented in front of me.

Pretty arrogant, eh?

The same thing happens when I hear other preachers. I have pretty high standards and I want other preachers to meet them. I don’t always know what that sounds like. But when I hear a bad sermon, a lazy preacher, poor interpretation, cheesy stories, or whatever, I get angry.

I get angry because I genuinely come to church looking for a word from God. I come hungry for a transforming message.

And when some preacher makes a mockery of the pulpit, God’s voice is silenced. When God’s mouthpiece uses tacky illustrations or resorts to clichés, I feel cheated. When preachers offer a “chat” rather than feeding me the bread of life, I feel like I need a shower.

The gospel means “good news.” And that’s what I come looking for. Because my week is often jammed with bad news. I need to know that Jesus is alive and God is doing something. I need to know how and where I can find God, even if God is right in front of my nose.

I need to know how my life impacts the world. I need to know there is forgiveness when I fail and encouragement when I despair. I need to know that I am loved.

I imagine that’s why most people come to church. It’s not as if there aren’t other options. God draws them in because that’s where they need to be.

But it’s not as if folks who stay home don’t need what people in church need. That’s why it’s our job as church folks to bring people in to God’s house of resurrection. That’s why the Christian life is one big sermon illustration.

Or better, the Christian life is about living in a different reality – God’s reality – than where others live. This doesn’t mean that we’re superior to anyone else. But it does place a heavy obligation on us. Bearing witness to God’s love and mercy is harder than it looks. It takes strong hands and a thick skin.

I hope my preaching does all that. My congregation deserves it.

So, tomorrow, I hope I hear a word from God. A word that’ll help me live the resurrection life.

I’ll keep you posted.

Friday, August 01, 2008


When I read some of my blog posts (especially the last one) I wonder if people think I have a hate-on for the church.

I don’t. I CAN’T. I’m nose deep in church life. Church people are some of the finest people in the world. I don’t want to give the impression that I have nothing but admiration and respect for those faithful servants of Christ toiling away for the kingdom. And I see churches doing phenomenal work in service to God and the world. And I'm grateful for every second I'm able to serve as a pastor. Even those days when I fantasize about walking away.

I just have questions. Lots and lots of questions.

For example, while in Mexico I read Leaving Microsoft to Change the World by John Wood. It’s about a Microsoft pooh-bah who turned in his key to the executive washroom to build schools in Nepal, creating the Room to Read organization along the way. You may have heard of it.

Wood talked about how quickly the organization grew, how positively people responded to his vision of building schools and libraries in developing countries, how hard work, tenacity, and luck paid off.

I have a few books on my shelf like this, except they’re about churches or ministries. Books on how the Dream Center in LA grew so quickly and unexpectedly.

Or how Willow Creek or Saddleback exploded with growth in the 70’s and 80’s.

Or how Mars Hill
, Grand Rapids outgrew their building so swiftly they had to buy an old shopping mall to house their mushrooming congregation.

And they all attribute their growth to God and prayer. Hours and hours of prayer. They say that, without the countless hours on their knees, they wouldn’t have seen such success.

But I got thinking. Room to Read grew almost uncontrollably in the first few years of its existence. Without the hours of prayer. No mention of God. At all.

I thought about it some more and wondered, Does God REALLY want us praying for hours and hours before starting something new?

Or is such prayer a form of holy procrastination? Does God just want us to get on with our jobs, knowing that God gave us two hands and a brain for a reason?

It’s not that I’m against prayer. Obviously not. Prayer’s an important tool in my ministry toolbox.

I just wonder if prayer is meant to change us rather than to spur God to action. Prayer helps us focus on God’s priorities and makes us say those priorities out loud.

We choose our words carefully when we pray. At least I do. I only use words that I know are part of God’s vocabulary.

I don’t pray for hateful things to happen to bad people because I know God doesn’t honour such a prayer.

I don’t pray for money because God probably thinks I have enough.

I don’t pray for happiness because I don’t think God cares about my happiness as much as my faithfulness.

I pray for wisdom against my foolishness. For healing for sick congregation members. For love and compassion when I’m angry and spiteful.

I pray for healing in a broken world. For peace in hostile world. For justice in an unjust world.

That’s what I pray for.

Wisdom. Healing. Peace. Faithfulness. Justice. Love. Compassion. When I pray for those things, those are the things I become.

Then I put those items on my To-Do list and roll up my sleeves and get to work.

God's Two Hands

There are days when I want to quit the church. Not just stop being a pastor, but walk away from the whole ecclesiastical enterprise. Maybe even walk away from God.

It’s not that I don’t believe in God. I don’t know if I could ever NOT believe in God. I happen to have the gene – or gift – of belief.

The days I feel like leaving the church are when I see non-believers doing good things for the world while we church people get mired in silly little fights about sex.

When there’s great creativity in the secular world while churches reward mediocrity.

When people takes a back seat to doctrine, status quo thinking passes as “tradition,” and anger at sin is valued more than the joy of forgiveness.

In other words, I feel like leaving when I know that I’ve left my best game in the locker room and I don’t know what to do about it.

When I experience more passion and joy from outside the church than from within it. And I don’t know why that is.

That doesn’t happen often, but it happens enough to stop me in my shoes.

A common conservative Christian polemic is that there can be no ethics without God. Such an idea is almost an article of faith in some evangelical communities. As if people need the threat of eternal punishment to keep from killing one another. As if religious people are free from murderous impulses. That without God, moral relativism (whatever that is) would create chaos in the streets. Ethics as carrot and stick. Actually, just a stick.

But what I think they’re saying is that, if people could be ethical without God then there’d be no need for God’s messengers – church people. Pastors. Ethical threats as job protection.

Also, they need an enemy. And a world that won’t bow at their feet will do just fine. Having an enemy gives purpose, identity.

But maybe their fear isn’t unfounded. After all, some of the most life-giving, ethical, (dare I say ‘faithful’) people I’ve met have been non-believers.

People who wouldn’t be caught one city block from a church, but have a better sense of God’s kingdom of life and grace than some of those who fill our Sunday morning pews.

People who seem to be better instruments of God’s love and mercy than those who wear fancy robes, dog collars, and profess to be God’s mouthpiece.

Some preachers, even preachers I deeply admire claim that the church is God’s Plan A for the world’s salvation. And God has no Plan B. We’re it. We’re God’s hands and voice in the world. God has no other implement in the world other than that which is called The Church.

I used to believe that. I don’t anymore.

I don’t believe that because I take the scriptures too seriously to think that God can only use the covenant people to do God’s heavy lifting.

The Magi (three wise men) sought after the Christ Child, recognized him as the Messiah, but Matthew gave no evidence of them becoming Christian, or even Jewish. There’s no evidence that they gave up their pagan religion. But they’re a part of God’s salvation story nonetheless.

Jesus was amazed at Roman Centurion’s faith, but there’s no evidence that he abandoned his Roman Caesar cult, got baptized, deserted the Roman army to follow the poor Messiah from Nazareth.

Also, Jesus healed the Syrophoenician woman’s daughter because of her faith. She was definitely outside of the covenant. That’s why he was able to insult her sick daughter (some suggest that Jesus even made a racial slur) and no one batted an eye. But God was able to use her as a witness to God’s kingdom of healing.

And people - non-believers - are all over the world living out Matthew 25, while some Christians are more concerned with tax cuts for the rich.

I think God is more interested in feeding hungry children, visiting sick people, and teaching prisoners how to read, then whether capital gains should be cut by 5 per cent.

Martin Luther talked about the church being God’s right hand and the world being God’s left hand. So, I’m in good company in thinking that God doesn’t heal the world with one hand tied behind the back. God is renewing the world with AND without the church.

So where does that leave us as church people?

I think that leaves us with a challenge to be the church the best way we know how. I think it means that God wants us to learn from the good, life-giving, things that non-believers do. This means that, even though we’ve been named and claimed as God’s people through our baptism, the world can still bear witness to God’s activity in this big, beautiful planet.

Maybe it means that church folks don’t have a corner on love and faithfulness. And that’s okay. We don’t go to church, pray, worship, study, and work hard for Christ’s church because we’re better than anyone else. We’re church people because that’s who God wants us to be. God put us here to remind the world who God is. And that prayer and work, love and action are two sides of the same penny.

I think it means that God needs two hands to remold the world into what God wants it to be. I’m part of God’s right hand (the thumb?) doing my small part for the kingdom.

That’s why I’m still a pastor. That’s why I haven’t walked away.

NB: Updated for typos and clarity.

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

A near miss

Yesterday was a close call for my wife and daughters.

R and the girls were on their way to Edmonton to visit R’s parents when the car started shaking violently. They made to the Deerfoot in Calgary when R decided they’d better pull over. So they got as far as the IKEA parking lot. Then R called AMA.

It turns out that the only thing holding the right front tire on were two small bolts. The service guy at the Honda dealership said that had they gone any farther down the highway the tire would have come off – while they were driving.

I was almost sick when he told me that. I can't imagine a worse fate for my two little girls than a terrible traffic accident.

Everyone's okay. But fixing the car will take a large chunk out of the savings we've built up since I paid off my student loans.

But there are worse ways for this story to end.

Sunday, July 27, 2008

Sermon: Pentecost 11 - Year A

“What do you do?” he asked.

“What do you mean?” I said, still bleary-eyed from the trip.

“For a living, what do you do?”

You have to realize that when you’re a pastor and someone asks you this question, you’re tempted to lie. My intern supervisor used to answer by saying “I’m in insurance.” I know other clergy who say, “I’m in sales.” Most pastors have an answer that deflects the conversation.

(For the record I almost always tell the truth. It’s not that I’m more virtuous than other clergy, I’m just not that great a liar and I’m afraid I’ll forget my cover story)

It’s not that we’re ashamed of what we do. We just know what’ll happen as soon as people find out we spend most of our time in a church. The reason why most clergy don’t like telling people what they do for a living, especially when on a plane or on vacation, is because the tenor of the conversation changes as soon people find out we have the word “reverend” in front of our names.

People often get quiet and nervous, afraid that we’ll whip out a bible and start preaching. Or they want to share their problems, or they ask hard questions about God and suffering (questions which we’re supposed to have answers for at the tip of our tongues), or they tell awful stories about how badly they’d been treated by church people and we end up apologizing for things we’ve never said and for things we’d never dream of doing.

I was tired. I had just arrived in Mexico and just wanted to rest. But the inevitable question that’s the centrepiece of western small talk reared its ugly snout.

“What do you do for a living?”

I wasn’t thinking. It wasn’t intentional. I wasn’t really sure what I saying but the words just spilled out,

I help people grow into the fullness of who God wants them to be.


“Wow. That’s a good answer,” I told myself, mentally patting myself on the back.

My conversation partner quickly glanced around the room searching for the nearest exit, his eyes seizing on the “G” word; a word banished from polite conversation. He looked at his worried wife. Then asked, “So, have you heard who won the Blue Jays’ game this afternoon?”

But that...(whole thing here)

Thursday, July 24, 2008


This is the sort of thing that makes the rest of us Christians look bad. This screams, “look, we’re cool, we’re in with the times, yo!”

I know what others say, “We need to effectively use the culture’s language to get our message across.”

Maybe. But we don’t have to look silly doing so.

Also, I don’t think non-believers will be taken in by this stuff. Billboard evangelism. Bumper sticker theology. Sound bite sermons. These do no make for an effective proclamation.

So what does?

I think these guys might give us a good place to start.


Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Time off. Don't use the "v" word around me.

Next week I’m taking the second stage of my yearly vacation. Unlike last month’s RestFest™, this break will be all about painting fences, trimming unsightly growth around the edges of the house, and installing a garage door. Household chores. Odd domestic jobs.

Oh, and I have a funeral (probably two).

Does that sound like a vacation to you?

Me neither.

Sunday, July 20, 2008

Sermon: Pentecost 10 - Year A

My wife is the gardener in our house. I actually hate gardening. I don’t enjoy getting my knees and elbows dirty digging around in the luxuriant soil of our backyard. My thumb has more black ink from a good book on it than green chlorophyll from picking beans.

The worst part is pulling weeds. My right hand blistered from yanking out dandelions and my back stiffened from too many hours with a shovel, digging out the unrestrained thistles that threatened to conquer our side yard.

But my wife LIVES for growing plants. We have a whole shelf devoted to gardening books. Books on proper prairie planting, when to plant, how to plant, what to plant. Which plants need lots of water and which need lots of sun. What plants should grow next to which others and which one can’t be in the same city block. Books on how to compost, what mulch is used for, how to maximize efficiency in garden use.

It’s a lot of work just thinking about it. But every October when our freezer is packed with vegetables and fruit from the backyard, I’m glad Rebekah has thought it through so thoroughly. And put me to work despite my griping about weeding.

I’m thinking that, for you gardeners, today’s gospel must make you want to tear up your Tilley Endurables in protest. After all, weeding is as vital to a fruitful harvest as 35 grams of fibre is to a healthy diet.

But the farmer in Jesus’ story tells his workers to leave the weeds alone in case wheat gets pulled out in an over-zealous plantain purge.

And I guessing that people shifted in their seats the first time they heard Jesus tell this story. He may be a fine preacher; he could hold a crowd with the best of them. But maybe it’s best if we keep him out of the garden.

But then again, they probably knew that Jesus was trying to get a reaction from them. But they probably still had a nagging question about this crazy story:

What is this parable REALLY about?

Maybe it’s a story about...(whole thing here)

Thursday, July 17, 2008

I'm all ears

If anyone has some good sermon ideas, my binaural apparatus are open to all comers. After spending this week telling stories to small children, diminishing my creativity to the size of roach droppings, I have NO IDEA what I’m gonna say on Sunday.

I’ve looked here, here, and even here. And still, nothing.

This internet thing isn’t all it’s cracked up to be.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Light Blogging and Beethoven

Light blogging as of late. Work load. Lack of inspiration. Having fun doing other things. Here's Beethoven 7 by, whom I consider to be the best Beethoven interpreter on record. Enjoy!

Sunday, July 06, 2008

Sermon: Pentecost 8 - Year A

Come to me all you who labor and are burdened and I will give you rest.

This passage is some peoples’ favourite part of the bible. I don’t blame them. who couldn’t like this passage? Especially in our age of anxiety. Especially when Depression and mental illness is spreading plague-like around the Western world. Especially when there’ so much we need to be doing, grabbing dinner at the Drive-thru as we shuffle the kids between soccer practice and piano lessons. Especially when we’re working longer hours for less pay.

Especially when gas prices are blasting into space and we wonder how we’re going to fill our tanks each week to get to work. Especially when food prices creep towards the stratosphere and we’re starting to seriously think about buying a cow for the backyard. Especially when the roads become rivers and we flush water from our basements.

Especially when we hear that Iran is tiptoeing closer toward a nuclear weapon. Especially when a yet another Canadian soldier is killed in Afghanistan. Especially when the earth is overheating, pine beetles endanger our forests, and salmonella threatens us with death-by-tomato.

Especially when…(the whole thing here)

Friday, July 04, 2008

Vacation Reflections - Part Two: Traveling Alone. Sort of.

“You mean you’re NOT bringing your family? Not even your wife?”

Nope. In fact this trip was her idea.

“You’re going to Mexico by yourself!?”


“Aren’t you going to be lonely?”

Hi, my name is Kevin. Clearly we haven’t met before.


I wasn’t the only person traveling alone. I was surprised by how many people chose to voyage unencumbered.

N was tired and needed a break. Young, blonde, and alone, folks speculated as to why she chose to travel to a Mexican getaway without a partner – or a friend.

“Some people think I’m looking for a fling,” she said.

“Let me guess” (I’m not immune to speculation) “You just came out of a difficult relationship and needed to clear your head, get a new perspective, do some personal reflecting.”

“No, I’m not mending a broken heart,” she said. “I was tired. So I went to Air Canada Vacations, clicked on ‘Last Minute Deals’ and chose the cheapest package.”

What a great idea!

If she was looking for a fling, she wouldn’t have had to look far in finding a willing accomplice. A 53-year-old married Canadian man (traveling alone) brazenly offered to share her room with her. Young Mexican men followed her around the hotel. The waiters at the hotel Lobby Bar doted on her making it impossible for her to have a moment’s peace with the book she wanted to read while sipping her drink.

“Sex is the last thing on my mind,” she said. “I’m here to rest.”

I felt badly for her. Between the unwanted sexual attention and her food poisoning (she must be the only person in history who LOST weight while on an all-inclusive vacation), I worried that the week would be a write-off for her.

But no. She dealt with it. And got on with her week.

I ate a few meals with her and sat next to her on a side trip. But for me, chatting on the way home (Executive Class, no less.) was a highlight of my week. We talked almost the entire 5 hour plane ride.

What I experienced in her while we talked was a strong sense of life, of creativity, gentle joy, and deep reflection. That’s why I can say I see God in her and in her life. Whenever we create, whether it’s a painting, a book, a garden, a friendship, or a child, we partner with God’s creative impulse. And I saw that partnership in her.

I’ve said I before, but in my job, I get to have a front row seat when God starts to work. I was glad, this time, to be in the next seat over.

So, maybe I wasn't traveling alone after all.

Friday, June 27, 2008

Vacation Reflection - Part One

Those of you who know me were probably shaking your heads as to my choice of vacation. I’m not usually a resort holiday kind of guy. Actually, I’m not a vacation kind of guy. I find resting hard. Relaxation is a foreign tongue. I have difficulty settling down.

Lying on a beach. That’s not me.

But I hadn’t been sleeping. Or when I managed to drift off and get a couple hours of snooze time I didn’t feel refreshed when my alarm clock blasted 7:31. It was worse than having no sleep.

The cumulative result was that I became jittery, grouchy, and sad. My doctor said something needed to change. I couldn’t keep doing what I was doing and expect to dance at my granddaughter’s wedding.

Call it an “emergency vacation.”

I went to Air Canada Vacations, clicked on “Last Minute Deals” and chose the cheapest package. A week-and-a-half later I was laying under a beach umbrella in Ixtapa, Mexico, book in hand, while Sergio filled my bucket with Corona.

Maybe it was the 34 degree weather (Humidex 44), but, by the second day, I could feel my anxiety drain, washed away by the current, flushed into the Pacific by the commanding undertow.

Around 2:45 Monday afternoon, I planned my day and week in my head, dividing the time between meals, excursions, walks, and what order I was going to read my books, alternating between fiction and non-fiction.

But then I realized, “I don’t have to plan ANYTHING. I can just do whatever I want, when I want.” At that moment I recognized that my most pressing concern was when I was going to eat dinner, and wondering if the woman in the chair next to me had real breasts or silicone enhancements (not that I was looking. But her bikini top was smaller than a shoelace, and her black hair did a better job of keeping her modest than any swim apparel).

“Being here is exactly what I needed,” I said out loud, to no one in particular, pulling my hat over my eyes for an afternoon nap.

Friday, June 13, 2008

On Vacation

Before my brain turns completely to cabbage soup, I'm heading to Mexico with a bag full of books and a bucket of sunscreen.

Be good while I'm gone.

Church of the Future?

Who does your church play nice with? I think, if we’re honest, a lot of us find synod convention – family gatherings – difficult. Some have better relationships with the neighbouring churches of other traditions than we do with other ELCIC churches.

Back when the Full Communion agreement with the Anglicans was being talked about, I heard former Archbishop Peers talk about the sharing of table and pulpit between an Anglican and Lutheran church in Winnipeg – 30 years ago – before we started “ordaining” bishops (rather than “installing” them) and agreeing to a host of compromises – on both sides.

I wonder if part of the problem with the current divide is that we’re trying to maintain unity at an institutional level instead of a personal one. It’s true, we’re Lutherans. We have more in common than what we disagree upon.

This was brought home to me at the study conference when Paul Scott Wilson led us through a discussion of law and gospel. Hearing classical Protestant theology is like getting into a warm bath. And we all seemed to soak in it.

But our disagreements are not small. They cannot be dismissed too easily. And they make me wonder if synod gatherings simply magnify our divisions, to the detriment of our mission.

Even though we share a common history and theology, we’ve reached an institutional impasse. And we wonder quietly (or aloud) when the “inevitable” divorce will come. And will the church of the future look decidedly different than the denominational alignments that we have currently?

I wonder if the church of the future won’t be determined by institutional allegiances, but by personal connections.

Here at Good Shepherd we have ministry partnerships with the Anglican and Roman Catholic Churches, not because of the Waterloo Declaration or the Joint Declaration on the Doctrine of Justification. But because our people drink coffee with their people.

And are those relationships any less valid because they haven’t been institutionally mandated?

Is that what God has in mind?

NB: Cross-posted at the synod convention blog

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Well Played

When I first heard that CBC wouldn’t budge on the Hockey Night in Canada theme-song, letting CTV pick it up, I figured it was a massive blunder from a hoity-toity CBC exec who misunderstood the role “Canada’s Second National Anthem” played in Canadian’s hearts.

But then I heard the composer was looking for $3 Million dollars. Then I also heard that the CBC is thinking of using Stompin’ Tom’s Hockey Song instead of the HNIC theme.

Then I thought, “Well, played, CBC.”

: Stephen Colbert weighs in (look for Steady Eddie).


What did Convention Accomplish?

In response to Laverne and Erik.

Laverne wrote:

Perhaps those are even more important - equipping and providing support for those of us at the convention for mission in our home churches - for that's really where mission is accomplished.

So perhaps we can say that if the convention (and in turn, the structure of the Synod) helps and facilitates the congregations in continuing their own mission, then there is a reason for these conventions, even if there isn't some profound and grand "accomplishment" directly from the convention itself.

That’s so true it causes me blisters. But what I heard underneath all this is the question: what is the role of synod in congregational life? How DO we relate to each other as an institutional church? What makes us a church family beyond the institutional level?

I struggle with these questions. I know we’re all Lutheran, but how that Lutheranism expresses itself among clergy and congregations is very different.

We have high-church Lutherans and American-style evangelical/charismatic Lutherans.

We have Marcus Borg-type Lutherans and Carl Bratten/Robert Jensen-style Lutherans.

We have clergy who snore in their clerical collars and clergy who wouldn’t be caught corpse-like with one on.

We have Evangelical Catholics who want a Magisterium to govern our doctrine, and we have Norwegian Pietists who resist anything smelling like papism.

And, yes, we have Lutherans who see homosexuality as a God-given expression of human intimacy, and we have Lutherans who see it as abhorrent to God and God’s Word.

And everything in between.

Yet, still, Lutherans.

Some may see such diversity as a strength, something to celebrate. It tells us that we are a thinking church, a living church..

Others may see it as a millstone, dragging us down to the ecclesial nether regions.

Either way, such multiplicity lobs a challenge at our Birkenstocks. How/Can we live together when we can’t agree on what Lutheranism looks like?

Does meeting in convention help us understand and live with those whose theology and approach to church life want to make us pull out our eyebrows?

Does synod convention help break down stereotypes to help us see other Lutherans, not as the enemy, but as confrères in mission?

Or does meeting in convention merely entrench existing divisions? When we meet, do we listen to others’ opinions or do we circle our partisan wagons, strategizing on how to beat the other side, parlaying parliamentary procedure to assure a desired outcome?

Or does it do both? CAN it do both?

That’s the challenge that’s lying at our toes. But that’s no surprise to anyone with open ears and even wider eyes. But it’s what you do with the challenge that counts.

How we meet that challenge is something we’re going to have to decide together. Along with a healthy dose of the Holy Spirit. Maybe that’s what synod convention is supposed to accomplish.

NB: Cross-posted at the Convention blog

Saturday, June 07, 2008

National Bishop Susan Johnson

National Bishop Susan Johnson offered her report outlining the 5 pillars that National Church Council will rest it's In Mission for Others theme.

But the most moving part of her presentation was, for me, when she shared how she felt Jesus embrace her during her ordination as bishop. That was good for us to hear. She modeled for us the faith sharing she wanted us to do.

Not only that, she let her humanity shine through, showing us that we are on a common faith journey, trying to figure out - together - where Jesus is leading our church family.

NB: Cross-posted on the convention blog

A House Divided

NB: Cross-posted at the convention blog.

Is it just me or does it feel really heavy in here? I noticed it as soon as I arrived. People are quiet (mostly). Maybe it's the high ceilings and rubber floor in the gymnasium where we're meeting cushioning the sounds of laughter. Maybe it's the row on row of delegates facing forward away from each other.

Maybe it's because the Tim Hortons upstairs has been closed the whole time. (I'm too lazy to walk across the street in the rain)

Or perhaps it's because The Issue is ever hovering over us. Beyond the platitudes and good intentions of unity, we know that a difficult conversation is approaching.

That was brought home to me yesterday when the Task Force on Marriage, Family, and Human Sexuality provided their report. And regrettably, they were unable to reach anything resembling consensus - even to continue. They needed a consensus to keep their deliberations moving. But one member of the task force decided the impasse was too great, the gulf unbridgeable. So, the bishop and convention thanked them for their work, and relieved them of their responsibilities.

I don't think anyone was surprised with the results, but there was disappointment. The divisions in our church run deep. And the outcome reminded us that we are a house divided. And Jesus had something to say about that.