Most of us have been refreshing news websites more than usual these last few days. We’ve done more than a little addition and subtraction related to the number 270. We’ve had a good refresher in US political geography. Our eyes have become quite quick at discerning red from blue, light red from dark red, light blue from dark blue. Some of us have even found ourselves caring more than is natural about the workings of this obscure creature known as the electoral college.
Whatever the outcome of the US election itself, it is already clear that the social divisions that plague our communities have not gone away. There has been no massive unifying reaction to the presidential term that is about to expire. In that sense the situation in the US remains similar to many other western countries, Canada included. In such a context, we might wonder, what is the role of the church?
Continue reading “On the Role of the Church in Times of Division”
The problem with conspiracy theories is that they often have some element of truth, if not an element of factual truth, then a story that bears some resemblance to the structure of things. The other problem with conspiracy theories is that what counts as a conspiracy theory depends on where one stands. Certain liberals see the world controlled by international corporations. Certain conservatives see the world controlled by shadow states. Certain religious folks see the devil’s behind everything. Some of each see the end of the world as we know it just around the corner. Each sees their understanding as the one based in the facts, based in reality. Each labels the other view a conspiracy theory, a mental creation spawned from wishful thinking and bad movies. Continue reading “Christianity and Conspiracy Theories”
Our household is not one of those that constantly has the TV on or the news blaring. We don’t even have a TV. I try not to listen to the news when the kids are around. The news is almost always bad. And often the local stuff is the worst. It’s all murder and car accidents and new threats to worry about. My guess is that there’s a connection between being constantly hitched to the news cycle, which gathers the worst bits of info from around the globe, and feeling anxious. Continue reading “On Talking to Kids about Police Brutality”
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?”
Just the other day I was going through some things my parents left behind after a recent visit. Stuffed next to some snacks in a paper grocery bag were several political flyers. They were the cardboard kind that you sometimes get in the mail or that a candidate’s supporters sometimes leave on your doorstep. We’ve recently had municipal elections here in Ontario, so I’ve seen a lot of these lately. Actually, just last week I received a visit from a campaign surrogate asking if I would support a particular candidate in next year’s federal election. He left a flyer too. Continue reading “Evangelical Politics”
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’”
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”
On my drive in to the church today I was reflecting on how to respond to the events that have made news headlines over these past days. There has been yet another deliberate shooting of the innocent, an attempt to take as many lives as possible. We extend our prayers and sympathies to the victims in Quebec City as well as to our Muslim neighbors here in Ottawa. That much is obvious. As the news is recounted on the radio connections are made to the way our southern neighbour is closing its doors to those who wish to flee violence in some of the most unstable parts of the world.
It occurs to me that just as violence can creep through communities of faith and co-opt their commitment and devotion, so too it can poison the love of nation or culture. In a better world a person’s willingness to kill for an ideology, a faith, a culture or a nation would trigger some kind of automatic shutdown. It would tell us that we have gone too far and it would force us into some critical self-reflection. It would tell us that when our love for something we believe is ‘ours’ demands the death of others we have stooped too low. In a better world we would always recognize the inherent, divinely-ordained dignity of the lives of others. Continue reading “Breaking Bread in Response to the News”