A Eulogy of Home: On Nostalgia and Memory

Nostalgia makes my skin crawl. I’ve seen the damage it does, the exclusivity it masks, and the lies it tells. So it is strange for me to wonder now if what I carry in my heart is that pernicious thing.

Several months ago my parents sold the home in Pennsylvania where I grew up. The house itself was simple. It was one of those split-level models popular in the 1980s, with vinyl siding and fake shutters. Half of the basement was a “family room” and half a garage, a division that trades on the assumption that families receive their identity by watching TV. When I was young the house did not have an automatic garage-door opener. I remember stepping into the humid night air, bathed in the car’s headlights, and heaving the door up high enough for the springs to do their work. My parents installed a powered opener after my brother and I went off to college. Around the same time they bought a riding lawn mower and a snow blower. Before mechanization my brother and I mowed the sloping, root-infested lawn with a push mower. We worked together with grain shovels to clear drifts from the driveway after snowstorms. Continue reading “A Eulogy of Home: On Nostalgia and Memory”

When you pass through the water (185)

[Isaiah 43:1-7; Luke 3:15-17, 21-22]

If you go to any good museum there are usually places where you can get a sense of what something historical felt like: maybe you can feel the weight of a Viking sword or maybe touch the sort of cloth worn by the Romans. The Bible suggests that are similar touchpoints for the Christian life. There are at least four natural phenomena that allow us to feel life with God. Continue reading “When you pass through the water (185)”

How Not to Become Obsolete

Last fall the British newspaper The Telegraph ran a piece that highlighted the jobs most at risk from new automation technologies. The news is not good if your livelihood involves data entry, processing photos, preparing taxes, sewing by hand, doing legal research or repairing watches. Ibreadt isn’t much better if you are a model, credit analyst, insurance appraiser, sports umpire or a bridge/lock tender. What is safe? Well, the good bet seems to be on work like occupational therapy, mental health, audiology, managing disasters and doing front-line repairs and installation of mechanical equipment. I couldn’t find pastor on the list, so my own future is fuzzy.

Changes like these have happened since whenever it was that people first started dividing up labour. Someone set out to spend a lifetime chipping arrowheads and lost out to others who worked with metal. Someone repaired wagons and ran out of work unless they learned to repair cars. I can remember colleagues who earlier in their careers had been hired to run machines that graded multiple-choice tests or duplicated documents. When they started that was more-or-less specialized work. It’s important not to make light of how difficult such changes are for us. To have trained for something and become highly proficient at it, only to learn that your skill is no longer needed . . . . That would, I imagine, be deeply disruptive. I imagine that it would be hard to not think that it was ‘you’ that was no longer needed. Continue reading “How Not to Become Obsolete”

Discovering a bit of Joy (182)

[Zephaniah 3:14-20; Luke 3:7-18]

I want to begin with part of a prayer from Thomas More. More was a 16th-century lawyer and an ardent critic of the Reformation, including our spiritual ancestors the Anabaptists. Sometimes we find wisdom in our enemies. Let us pray:

“Grant us, O Lord, good digestion, and also something to digest. Grant us healthy bodies, and the necessary good humour to maintain them. Grant us simple souls that know to treasure all that is good and that don’t frighten easily at the sight of evil . . . .”

*   *   *

I don’t know if you heard it, but our reading from Luke has a very contemporary ring. This is a passage about privilege.

John has barreled in from the wilderness, chased by an epiphany. He has realized that his people were abusing their privilege. Way back in the book of Genesis we learned that their ancestors were blessed in a special way with God’s presence. John believed they had let the gift sour. John’s people had become complacent in their status. So he marches in to share his epiphany. It’s this: God can use stones. Stones can fulfill the mission. God doesn’t need a special people. The people have become like a privileged tree that doesn’t produce any fruit. John tells them to get ready for the axe. Continue reading “Discovering a bit of Joy (182)”

By the Tender Mercy of our God (181)

[Luke 1:68-79; Luke 3:1-6]

Some time before, Zechariah had drawn the short straw. He had been chosen by lot to carry out the priestly duties in the most holy, and most dangerous, part of the temple.

Different time and different culture, but this time of year we see fellows who have drawn the short straw too. They are the ones in the Christmas parade carrying the shovels, following the horses.

It was different for Zechariah. For him drawing the short straw may have meant that his colleagues clipped bells to his robe and tied a rope to his leg. If the bells stopped ringing his colleagues knew he had been struck dead and had to be pulled out by the rope. As it happened, Zechariah was not struck dead. He did, though, have a strange encounter. He saw an angle. The angle said that he and his wife Elizabeth would have a son. This son would “make ready a people prepared for the Lord.” Continue reading “By the Tender Mercy of our God (181)”

Colonialism and Mission – A Short Case Study

Churches have histories. Or to put it more generally, the church is not just an idea, it is an actual social entity linked across geography and time. Hebrews 12 tells us that we are surrounded by a cloud of witnesses: we are linked to the faithful that have come before us. The other side of that claim is that we are also linked to ventures that have been misguided, misdirected, and sometimes harmful.

Last summer I found myself doing something unusual: planning worship in an attic. I was collaborating by e-mail with one of our congregation’s worship leaders. He was near our church in Ottawa. I was in an out-of-the-way building in a small mining town on the other side of the province. I had traveled there to gain a better understanding of how mission agencies connected to our branch of the Christian family tree came to be intimately involved in a colonialist project. More specifically, for a period spanning roughly 1960-1990, Mennonite missionaries ran three schools that were a part of the government’s effort to assimilate Indigenous peoples into Euro-Canadian culture.

Continue reading “Colonialism and Mission – A Short Case Study”

A Tree and a Branch (180)

[Jeremiah 33:14-16; Luke 21:25-36]

Have you head of Big Lonely Doug? He lives near Port Renfrew. Actually he lived there when the town was still called Port San Juan. Authorities had to change the name because the mail kept ending up in the San Juan Islands (USA). Port Renfrew is on Vancouver Island. Big Lonely Doug doesn’t live in town. He’s something of a hermit. Even so, he’s had thousands of children, and outlived most of them. Big Lonely Doug has been part of political campaigns and he’s been featured in magazines. Now he gets some visitors. Here are some of the basic facts: Big Lonely Doug is old, probably 1000 years old. He’s tall, 66 meters (216 feet). He’s well-rounded, 3.79 meters in diameter (12.4 feet). He’s also a record-holder: Big Lonely Doug is Canada’s second-tallest Douglas fir.   Continue reading “A Tree and a Branch (180)”

“She brought him to the house of the LORD” (179)

[I Samuel 2:1-10; Mark 13:1-8]

Not long ago an international newspaper profiled someone who lives here in Ottawa. By itself, this isn’t terribly surprising. This is the nation’s capital; there are many interesting people here. What caught my attention about this piece, though, was that the subject was known essentially for a blog about books. The guy had previously worked for a Canadian intelligence agency and now has a website that is popular among CEO and high-net-worth investor types. What’s interesting too is that one of the most recent authors this guy has featured is a former nun, named Barbara Coloroso.

Now, one of my rules for life is that when I get an opportunity to listen to a conversation between a former spy and a former nun, I always say ‘yes’. Continue reading ““She brought him to the house of the LORD” (179)”