On my desk I have a sticky note with a few key words that guide my preaching. One of them is the word ‘meaning’. I think we’re all looking for meaning. We want our lives to mean something and we want to participate in something bigger than ourselves. We want to make a difference in something that really matters. Yet I think it’s increasingly uncommon for people to have this sense, this deep conviction that their lives mean something. This is one of the reasons that I’ve found myself drawn again to the theological concept of vocation. Continue reading “Vocation and the Economy of God”
Over the last couple of months I’ve had a few conversations with people who work for Christian advocacy organizations here in the capital. These are folks who encourage Christian citizens to make their voices heard in our democracy. These are also folks who work to share the priorities of their constituents with government. One interesting commonality has popped up in these conversations: that is, here in Canada it is the reticence of the Evangelical Fellowship of Canada that stands in the way of Canadian Christians speaking with one voice on matters of creation care. Continue reading “Do Evangelicals in Canada Care about Creation?”
The story begins familiarly enough: a young person on a service trip to a poor country is rocked by the poverty and the suffering she sees. Upon returning home she finds that she can’t carry on with life as usual. The knowledge that, even though she lives in relative comfort, others suffer profoundly from a lack of the most basic provisions is too much. It’s hard to settle back into ‘normal’ life. Where this particular story takes a different line than most, is when the young woman decides to return and volunteer at one of the charities making a difference. And where the story gets even more surprising—and for a time inspiring—is when the young woman decides to start her own charity. She was 19 at the time. The needs were obvious. The people back home were generous. God was in it, at least that’s how it appeared. Continue reading “Too Nice to Help?”
My household relies on one of those old-style push lawnmowers with rotary blades and no engine. I like it for a couple of reasons. First, it’s quiet: I can mow and still talk to my kids. Second, it meets two needs at once: the lawn needs cut and I need exercise. I’ll admit that it doesn’t always do a great job when the grass gets particularly long. However, the only thing it’s cost us in the last ten years is a little bit of lapping compound (to sharpen the blades).
As I was mowing last week I was thinking about Pope Francis’s 2015 encyclical letter Laudito Si (On Care for Our Common Home). Like most people, I usually think about papal documents as I cut the grass. Laudito Si has been on my to-read list for a while. I tried reading through it online a few times (available here), but because reading on a screen stinks I never finished it. Continue reading “Five Thoughts on Laudito Si”
I remember the first time I visited the Rocky Mountains in Canada. I was just a kid, but I was still impressed by the signs that marked the retreating glaciers. Years later, before heading to Glacier National Park with some friends, I remember reading about the same thing: there were less glaciers in that landscape than there used to be, those that still existed were shrinking. Earlier this year the New York Times ran an impressive multi-media piece showing the same phenomenon on a much larger scale. All this has come to mind as I’ve been reflecting on the Psalm assigned for worship this coming Sunday. Here are verses 10-12 of Psalm 85:
Steadfast love and faithfulness will meet;
righteousness and peace will kiss each other.
Faithfulness will spring up from the ground,
and righteousness will look down from the sky.
The Lord will give what is good,
and our land will yield its increase. Continue reading “Is Climate Change Divine Judgment?”
I’ve spent the last several days at a national church conference in British Columbia. Sadly, given the location, I only managed to escape the conference centre a few times. One of the terms I heard repeatedly over the weekend (while not getting outside) was “institutional church.”
As in, “The institutional church would do things that way, but I’m different.”
Or, “The institutional church is dying, but thankfully my friends and I have our own thing going.”
Or, “Don’t blame me, I’m only on the fringe of the institutional church.”
What was curious was that this dismissal of the “institutional church” was happening at a gathering organized and funded by the “institutional church.” The justice work many of us celebrated was initiated by the “institutional church.” The place where we advocate for change was in the “institutional church.” The schools that educated many of the conference participants were sponsored by the “institutional church.” The collection of music from which we sang was created by the “institutional church.” The digital projector showing the pictures of the “non-institutional” initiatives was rented by the . . . wait for it . . . “institutional church.” Continue reading “We’re all in Debt – And it’s Not a Bad Thing”
God’s creation is now facing unprecedented destruction brought on by human activity. Attentive hunters know this just as well as vegan environmentalists. Caring for the ecosystems that God created doesn’t need to be a divisive or partisan issue. Yet it has come to feel that way. Conversations related to energy have become especially contentious. This is challenging since the generation, distribution and use of energy represents the most significant long-term threat to creation’s well-being, including landscapes that many of us love. Continue reading “Christian Organizations and Climate Change”
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”
[The following is an excerpt from my research article, “‘Part of the Authority Structure,’ an Organizational History of Mennonite Indian Residential Schools in Ontario,” which appears in the January 2019 issue of the Mennonite Quarterly Review]
Mennonite mission work in northwestern Ontario, an area whose current political realities were shaped by Treaties 5 and 9, began with the missionary work of a Pennsylvanian named Irwin Schantz. Schantz started his work in that general part of the continent in 1938 in northern Minnesota. In the years that followed he found his way into Ontario, Canada, by moving north up the immense and fractured body of water known as Lake of the Woods. His outreach was largely funded by American Mennonites whom he kept informed through a series of letters. In one such letter to supporters, dated April 1, 1944, Shantz writes, “We are under the watchful eyes of God and the F.B.I., who are concerned about the young men to see if they are draft dodgers.” Young Mennonite men, from this period through the 1960s, participated in work in “the north” in lieu of military service. This is one of the reasons that many of those exposed to Schantz’s work in the following decades were Americans. Continue reading “Origins of Mennonite Mission in Northwestern Ontario”
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.