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”

Durability

It is a late-November morning. The dog and I are off for a walk. There are six inches of snow on the ground and the thermometer says it is -17° C. I’m thinking about durability. Last Sunday our congregation celebrated the arrival of four new children. Lest you get the wrong impression about the fecundity of this group: I should make it clear that they didn’t all actually arrive on that day. We hold these celebrations twice a year, each time we catch a sixth-month harvest. What happens on these Sundays is that each child is introduced by a parent. And then either I or my colleague wrap the little one in a blanket made by some of the congregation’s quilters. When I perform this ritual I tuck the infant in one arm and place my other hand on the little one. Then I say something like this:

Welcome into this congregation. We are thankful for you and we rejoice with your family at your presence in this world. May God bless you, may you grow in wisdom, in strength and in right relationship with those around you.

Then my colleague will read a bit of a Psalm in the child’s honor and the parents and the congregation will exchange commitments of care for the children and their families. Each family keeps a blanket. I hope the parents also keep a sense that their community of faith both shares in their happiness and will be supportive when the cute addition wrecks their lives. Continue reading “Durability”

Legal Cannabis – Do We Need a Christian Response?

I used to tell my theology students that I could explain every concept we would encounter by using analogies from either baseball or marriage. Today I’ll add a third explanatory source—forests. As of today, cannabis is legal in Canada, making this the second country in the world (after Uruguay) and first major economy to take the step. Not far from where I work in Ottawa, one Ontario town, Smiths Falls, is already finding new life as a major center for pot production. The industry has created new jobs and given the town international visibility that it’s previous chief product (chocolate) never did. This all seems very new and very mundane at the same time. But in Christian communities the question still bounces around: Do we need some particular Christian response to these high times? Continue reading “Legal Cannabis – Do We Need a Christian Response?”

An Impending Storm and the Odd Parallel with the Biblical Concept of Heaven

“Even if you’ve ridden out storms before, this one is different.” Those are the words of an official explaining the seriousness of the hurricane currently swirling in the Atlantic Ocean. The storm is predicted to hit the eastern seaboard sometime on Thursday or Friday. The weather oracles are talking about a possible storm surge of ten feet, two feet of rain, a recovery that takes weeks, multiple states impacted . . . . People in the storm’s path are scrambling to get prepared. The rest of us are looking on with a mix of concern and fascination that keeps us glued to the news.

A storm is a real thing, a very concerning thing in this case . . . what could it possibly have to do with the old crusty topic of heaven? Well, probably not what you think. Continue reading “An Impending Storm and the Odd Parallel with the Biblical Concept of Heaven”

Why I Stopped “Following” Jesus

This isn’t quite how the conversation unfolded, but it’s pretty close: I was sitting across from a fellow pastor in his forties, a man who — unlike me —was hip enough to look like he belonged in the minimalist cafe where we met. We were talking about the pastoral challenges that come with yet more public failures from religious leaders. While I was deeply impressed by my conversation partner’s commitment to the local community, I noticed a peculiar pattern as the conversation unfolded. Continue reading “Why I Stopped “Following” Jesus”

A Shameful Week to Be a Member of the ‘Clergy’

I have never liked the idea of being a member of the ‘clergy’. Most weeks I’m not sure why that is. This week, though, it’s obvious. Just a few days ago a grand jury in Pennsylvania released a report on sexual abuse by Catholic clergy in that state. The report wasn’t only about the abuse itself, but also about the way members of the clergy worked to protect priests who perpetrated these crimes, drew attention away from these matters and generally made prosecution difficult. As helpful as the report itself is, it appears that there will be few, if any, new criminal prosecutions or civil suits. This, despite the fact that there are more than 1000 victims. The crimes simply happened too long ago for perpetrators to still be legally vulnerable. Continue reading “A Shameful Week to Be a Member of the ‘Clergy’”

Worship and the Ways it Forms Us

One of the things about worship I remember from my high school years was the sense that it was mostly pointless. I don’t recall ever making a big deal about not wanting to participate, after all it was a good time to see friends, but I would have had a hard time making a case that worship was valuable. What “participating” in worship probably meant for me then was sitting in the back, standing when absolutely necessary and singing only at Christmas and Easter. The lowest points of worship for me were the responsive readings and the recitation of the creeds from the back of the worship book. At the time, these were new, cutting-edge resources for worship leaders in those church circles. To me they were, and here I quote my younger self, “mindless incantations.” If I valued worship of any type as a high school student, I valued what felt like genuine self-expression. It had to authentic, from the heart, to have any value at all.    Continue reading “Worship and the Ways it Forms Us”

People who “Get Things Done”

We have probably all heard someone described as a person who just “get things done.” We give and take that line as a compliment. Last week I had the chance to dive back into one of my ongoing writing projects. Thankfully, the church I serve lets me set a bit of time aside each year for this kind of work. My goal last week was to wrestle a long piece of historical work into publishable form. The essay–which still isn’t “done”–tries to show how a particular non-profit organization became involved in a colonialist project. I have a lot of data. There are lots of dates and names to keep strait, lots of related government agencies and other political structures . It’s difficult to keep it all straight. Yet what I noticed is that one particular individual kept surfacing throughout the story. In network speak, he had a high level of “betweenness centrality.” He was known as someone who “got things done.” Continue reading “People who “Get Things Done””

Unscientific Thoughts on the Legacy of Mennonite Residential Schools

Last June I traveled to western Ontario. I headed that way in an effort to better understand the origins of three Mennonite schools linked to the Indian Residential Schools Settlement Agreement. The first of these schools was started in the early 1960s, the second two followed in the next decade. If you know a bit about the broader history, you know that by this time … Continue reading Unscientific Thoughts on the Legacy of Mennonite Residential Schools