An essay of mine recently appeared in the Collegeville Institute’s web magazine. Here are the first few paragraphs:
The trouble with being a pastor is that you are supposed to know what to say and do in any situation. People get sick, have babies, engage in relational acrobatics, embarrass themselves on the internet, fail in school, become estranged, crash their cars, win the lottery, get engaged, die, fight with their neighbours, play in the orchestra, get promoted—and in every case a pastor is expected to have the right words, the right gesture of support. It is like a never-ending, three-dimensional pop-quiz.
Beyond the personal questions there are those dropped on us daily by the news. Some of the most difficult involve responding to yet another shooting or vehicle attack with massive innocent casualties. These events are horrific. When they happen in a pastor’s own community, I see leaders rise to the occasion. They speak a community’s grief; they sound notes of reassurance and resolve. The question is immediate and local. Many respond well.
But what do we say and do when these events do not touch our communities directly? A little over a year ago in Quebec City, some 400 kilometers from where I pastor in Ottawa, a young man entered a mosque after prayers and opened fire. A trigger was pulled. Children lost fathers. In the following week, Christian ministers throughout the city of Ottawa sent notes of sympathy to Muslim leaders in our community. It wasn’t hard to imagine that they would feel vulnerable. Our churches prayed for them too. We wept for them. We wept for the state of things
Such a response was not nothing. Yet, when worshipers are intentionally cut down by bullets, praying and weeping can often feel like nothing. . . .
Here’s the link to the rest of the piece. It includes echoes of some of my prior posts here.
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 what had been obvious to the First Nations for a long time, was finally becoming obvious to others: the Residential School System was a failure on just about every front. So the question I carried to western Ontario was why, particularly so late in the twentieth century, would Mennonites begin such schools?
[A revised version of this essay is now on the Missio Alliance website]
Last month an essay of mine was published in the Journal of Brethren Life and Thought. Since that journal is probably not one that will be showing up in your mailbox anytime soon, I thought I’d included a bit of it here. The piece is based on a presentation I gave some years back; I’m happy to see it in print.
Simplicity strikes many of us as a good, if occasionally naïve, thing. In his “A Salutation of the Virtues” the thirteenth century saint, Francis of Assisi, cast Simplicity as a courtly sister to Queen Wisdom, outranking Lady Poverty and Lady Charity. In the twenty-first century we may well be intrigued by Simplicity but we probably lack the saint’s solemn devotion. Consider the TV reality show “The Simple Life,” which cast socialite Paris Hilton in the role of a farm worker. The foibles of the out-of-place heiress generated spinoff shows around the world. The irony of simplicity’s attraction in a complex and fragmented time is captured in Valerie Weaver-Zercher’s marvellously titled book Thrill of the Chaste: The Allure of Amish Romance Novels. There Weaver-Zercher explores the growing American fascination with “bonnet rippers.” She relates that in 2002 only two such books were published. In 2012 there were 85. This growth betrays, she thinks, a desire on the part of readers to be transported from a hypermodern and hypersexualized present to a simpler way of life. Weaver-Zercher is not alone in her analysis. Sociologists Donald Kraybill and Carl Bowman offer a corroborating conclusion about our cultural fascination with plain living. In a book about Hutterites, Mennonites, Amish, and Brethren they write,
Despite all our comfort and convenience, the possibility that [members of these plain communities] are happier haunts, indeed, torments the postmodern soul. Continue reading “Haunted by Plain Folk: Why Simplicity Should be a Christian Virtue”