“Incels” and the Challenge of Unchosen Lives

According to various news outlets, the man responsible for attacking pedestrians in Toronto self-identified as an “incel,” someone who was “involuntarily-celibate.” These reports suggest he believed this justified his violence. Whether or not this bit of information will hold up to further scrutiny is yet to be seen. There will surely be other complicating factors. “Cause” and “motive” are tangled things.

As a pastor of a Mennonite church, I have some stake in the importance of things being voluntary. Mennonite churches and the larger Anabaptist tradition from which they stem began with the idea that joining a community of faith should be a voluntary act. The early Anabaptists were dissatisfied with the practice of baptizing infants. Infants can’t choose whether to identify with a community of faith or not. Their status as members of the church would have been involuntary. This would have obscured the identity of others who deliberately chose to follow in the way of Jesus. I mention this just to say that if any tribe within the Christian family values lives chosen voluntarily it is us. Continue reading ““Incels” and the Challenge of Unchosen Lives”

Too Brilliant a Darkness (159)

One way to understand a piece of literature is to look for patterns. There are several patterns in the gospel of John. One pattern relates to belief. Someone hears about Jesus, but the hearing is not enough. They need something more. They need some kind of validation. Fake news is not new. One instance like this is found in the very first chapter of John. It involves a man named Nathanael. Nathanael’s friend tells him that he has found the one whom Moses and the prophets were expecting. The expected-one’s name is Jesus. He the son of Joseph and a rabbi from Nazareth. Nathanael is not convinced: “Can anything good come from Nazareth?” If you’ve ever spent time in Alberta, you may have heard similar misgivings about Ottawa.  Continue reading “Too Brilliant a Darkness (159)”

Margaret Atwood and a “Real Life Christian Environmentalist”

Some of Margaret Atwood’s fiction features a religious group known as “God’s Gardeners.” A  short piece I wrote on their relationship with actual Christian environmental concerns was recently published on the Collegeville Institute’s website. A draft version of the essay appeared on my blog some time back. Continue reading Margaret Atwood and a “Real Life Christian Environmentalist”

Witnesses to these things (160)

Many people love car shows. I do not. I understand that there is a lot of cool engineering and design in cars. I get the fact that there is a lot of history in them as well. I know that Colin Powell, the former US Secretary of State, has said that when he lived in Washington D.C. he always had several old Volvos in his garage. On the weekends he liked to get his hands dirty bringing them back to life. After a cheap paint job, he would resell the cars. I think it gave him a sense of accomplishment that being Secretary of State did not. Still, I must confess that interest in cars is not something I have.

I share this bit about myself to set up a story I want to tell. The fact that it involves me going to a car show says more about the size of the town we lived in than it does about my personal interests. I’m trying to manage expectations. The story relates to a word our biblical readings (Acts 3:12-19; Luke 24:36b-48) had in common—the word ‘witness’. ‘Witness’ is an important biblical word, but it is one that can makes many of us uncomfortable. Continue reading “Witnesses to these things (160)”

Faithful Disbelief (158)

What does it take to call yourself a Christian?

The answer often depends on whom you ask. Some people would respond to the question by immediately rattling off a list of things you have to believe in order to call yourself a Christian. They might mention the triune character of God or the divine inspiration of Scripture or maybe something about miracles, the significance of the church or the bodily resurrection of Jesus.

Others, Mennonites maybe, would respond to the question by saying something about following Jesus. If you would ask them why, they would probably respond by telling you what they believed about this ancient rabbi or what they believed about the need for peace today.

Continue reading “Faithful Disbelief (158)”

Lent VI: Imagining God’s Goodness (when people find bombs in the mail)

“Give thanks to the LORD, for he is good; his steadfast love endures forever.”

I live in a busy house. In addition to two hapless parents, our house more or less contains three active boys. Each day is swarmed by running, jumping, wrestling, tackling, flying, pushing, throwing and whacking. Each day also brings a host of interesting visitors. Superheroes come by quite often. So do monsters, transformers, explorers, hunters, space travelers, historical figures, deadly creatures, knights and ghosts. They all know their way around our place. Being a parent of young children has required me to get re-acquainted with the world of the imaginary. It’s been a good thing.

Continue reading “Lent VI: Imagining God’s Goodness (when people find bombs in the mail)”

Confession is a Sort of Honesty (157)

Every Sunday churches around the world read a set of passages assigned by the lectionary. Of those assigned to us today, the one that I want to draw our attention to is the reading from Psalm 51. We read it to each other as a call to worship this morning and echoed it in a hymn. What this poem does, perhaps more than any other in this part of the Bible, is display the value of confession. Confession is admitting, to ourselves first and then to others, that we have made a poor choice. It might be helpful to think of confession as “radical, personal honesty.” Often when we want to get serious about radical honesty we aim to tell others what we really think of them. Confession, though, turns this back on ourselves.

Confession is not the stuff of pleasant homilies. You might feel that in your body even now—a tension, an uneasiness. So let me tell you a story. Continue reading “Confession is a Sort of Honesty (157)”

Lent V – And Joy Too

I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts; and I will be their God, and they shall be my people. –Jeremiah 31:33

Several years ago my family and I spent four months on a sabbatical in a new part of the country. It was memorable. For one thing, this was the first time we had lived in a building that was the unique design of an internationally known architect. We also met interesting new people. One family we got to know had kids who matched up with our own. Over hand-made pizza one evening I was surprised to learn that they, little kids included, practiced elements of the Ignatian spiritual tradition. Ignatius was Christian teacher and pastor, a Spaniard from the sixteenth-century.   Continue reading “Lent V – And Joy Too”

Saved from What? (156)

Some of you have probably seen the film Hidden Figures. It was released in the early part of last year. The film takes us into the story of African American women working for NASA in the middle part of the last century. As movies often do, Hidden Figures simplifies the history a little. But it does so in order to tell the story of three really smart women: Katherine Johnson, a ‘computer’ before that term referred to a machine; Mary Jackson, an aspiring engineer; and Dorothy Vaughan, a department supervisor. Continue reading “Saved from What? (156)”

Lent IV – Giving

And let them offer thanksgiving sacrifices, and tell of his deeds with songs of joy. – Psalm 107

Not long ago I had the opportunity of being the intermediary of an anonymous gift from one member of our congregation to another. A young couple was expecting a baby and someone else wanted to help them prepare for the new addition to their family. It’s a pleasure to be a part of this sort of thing—to see the face of a recipient light up, to know that they have received not only some small practical assistance but also the knowledge that someone else is thinking of them.

Giving is another of the central practices of Lent. Christians have historically used the term “almsgiving.” In a world where so much of our material success is a result of luck (a result of the country in which were born etc.), giving to those with material needs is a way of pursuing justice. It can be something else too. Many people I talk to also say that for them giving is a expression of their thankfulness. Continue reading “Lent IV – Giving”