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scars – a poem

A poem referencing the Gospel lectionary passage for this coming Sunday. John 20:19-31.

Scars

Running blind ‘round a corner,
Robber to a cop in hot pursuit,
Forehead meets half-opened door;
Pain, dizziness, trickle of blood.

Childhood memory is borne in the body,
Fibrous tissues heralding past pain,
Scar as locus of life’s hurt and healing.

Boyhood hands whittle a branch,
Releasing bark, sharpening to a point.
“Always away from you,” momentarily forgotten,
Jackknife jumps, slices skin, hits bone.  Continue reading

Justice Michael Moldaver (left) shares a laugh with his Supreme Court colleagues during a welcoming ceremony in the Supreme Court of Canada, Monday November 14, 2011.THE CANADIAN PRESS/Fred Chartrand

supreme court confusion

Like most Canadians, I don’t make it a habit to read judgments written by the Supreme Court of Canada. Rather, I rely on journalists and other specialists to provide summaries and analyses in relation to various cases decided by the court. It is perhaps also fair to say that the trust I place in these secondary sources mirrors the trust I place in the court itself.

But this has recently been put in question for me.

In the past several days, a doctor in the Quebec City region became the first in Canada to (legally) provide a patient with a lethal injectors on to end his or her life and suffering. This physician’s action was made legal by Quebec’s new assisted-death law and by the February 2015 judgment of the Supreme Court in Carter vs. Canada. More specifically, the legality of this assisted-death should be understood with reference to the Supreme Court’s follow-up decision last week, in which it granted the Federal Government four more months to craft legislation but also allowed the legislative vacuum in Quebec to be filled by that province’s new law.

  It was after hearing these various news reports that I decided to go back and read the Carter decision for myself, in order to understand the arguments that have led to such a dramatic change in our moral and medical landscape. The result of my reading, I must say, is a greatly diminished trust in the Supreme Court of Canada. Continue reading

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God is good. All the time?

God is good. All the time?

On the final day of a recent study trip to Cuba, one of our Pentecostal students led morning devotions by inviting us to respond to his “God is good” with “All the time.” And to his “All the time” with, “God is good.” He also led us in a vigorous singing of the refrain “I’m praying my way to victory.” It was a great start to the day, infusing our hearts and minds with a reminder of the constant presence and surpassing goodness of God.

That was in the morning.

The rest of the day was spent relaxing in the town of Varadero after an intense week of conversations and encounters in Matanzas and Havana. Students and faculty members walked through the town, spent time on the beach, and swam in the profoundly blue, turquoise, and salty waters. At this point in the trip, I had ended up with my passport and (let’s not get bogged down with admittedly important details about why or how) $4,000 cash in my money belt – a money belt that I had worn close to my body all week. On this last day of our trip, since I was wearing my swimsuit, the money belt was installed in the bottom of my camera bag.

Until it wasn’t.

After lunch I sat down on the beach, opened my camera bag to get something out, and discovered that the money belt was gone. An initial curiosity was very quickly displaced by a sense of panic. And a series of “S$!t, s%#t, s&!t.” I had no idea where the money belt was, and in the ensuing minutes realized I had probably inadvertently pulled the money belt out and dropped it when I stopped to take pictures of a hummingbird during my walk to the ocean.

God is good. All the time? Continue reading

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Sola Scriptura: A Baptismal Defense

A talk presented to a conference hosted by the Presbyterian Committee on History and The Presbyterian College – as part of ongoing celebrations of the 500th anniversary of the Reformation. Still in somewhat rough form, but clear enough to follow.

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Some days you feel like you’ve drawn the short straw. And let me confess that I feel a bit that way about this line-up of five events over five years, with each year dedicated to one of the famous Solas of the Reformation tradition.

Sola Gratia – Grace Alone

Sola Fide –Faith Alone

Solus Christus – Christ alone

Soli Deo Gloria – For God’s Glory Alone

And our sola for today, of course, is Sola Scriptura – by Scripture Alone.

I’ve got to say that when I thought of this line-up of topics, I said to myself: “Grace alone. That’s such a beautiful and compelling theme of the Reformation – that our lives are gift and grace – that new life in Christ is grace upon grace. Grace Alone is a beautiful and is such an uncontested theme of Christian life and faith. Who wouldn’t want to offer reflections on that topic?” Continue reading

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Clothed with Christ — Being and Identity

My installation lecture from this past Thursday evening…

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Let me begin with what is perhaps an odd observation: We all got dressed today. And probably that’s a good thing!

And to that first observation let me add another: That we probably thought about what we would wear today. Some of us may have dressed up – some us may have dressed down – some of us wondered what on earth to wear this evening – some of us didn’t particularly care.

Clothing, of course, has always been significant for human life – not only for protecting and sheltering the body but, equally important, for providing a sense of identity. And historically speaking, human patterns of dress reflected an identity that was shared – our clothing marked us out as belonging to a particular culture or people. So of course there has been a style of dress typical among the Scottish, and there have been styles of dress typical to the peoples of the Senegambia, and styles of dress typical among the Dutch. Today we refer to these as cultural costume or folk dress. Historically speaking in western cultures your clothing primarily constituted you as part of a particular culture.

Now when we dress ourselves today, we might still experience this communal dimension of clothing in some small way. This evening, for example, I have put on a Geneva gown that sets me firmly within a tradition of pastor-teachers stretching back 500 years. I have also put on an academic hood that sets me within a tradition of university education stretching back about a thousand years. In the context of everyday life, I may also put on a jacket and tie – the uniform of the corporate employee for a few generations now. Each of us, in our own way, may be able to discern ways that our clothes set us within a particular community.

But even as we acknowledge this continuing collective element in our dress, it remains the case that clothes today do not primarily reference a shared identity. Rather, the clothing we buy and wear become elements in our individual projection of ourselves and our identity. The clothing we choose to wear – the ties and tights, the jewelry and jackets, the pants, the pumps, the sweaters, the sweater-vests, the blouses and the boots – these have become elements in our individual projection of who we are or want to be. Through our clothing we attempt some private and public declaration – this is me. This much is, I think, a commonplace of cultural analysis. Continue reading

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what we wear – who we are

Clothing has always been a significant part of human identity. Historically human clothing has been particularly significant in terms of our shared or our collective identities. In particular cultures there was always a similarity of dress; our clothing marked us out as belonging to a particular culture or community. So there has been a style of clothing typical among the Scottish, or typical among the Dutch, or typical among Cameroonians – and then even within those larger groups, there have been narrower styles that marked out smaller groups or peoples. If you were an anthropologist travelling around the world two hundred years ago, you would have inevitably identified particular cultures or peoples according to the clothing they wore. Particular peoples just were peoples that wore this type of clothing. Your clothes made you part of a group.

Today that collective dimension remains a part of human culture in some respects. But today there is also something much more individualistic about our clothing. Our culture in the west today gives especially high priority to our creation of an individual identity. In our culture, everything around us is seen as raw material from which we can create or build or project our personal identity. We have been taught to resist the idea that our identity is in any way given to us or dictated from outside of ourselves – modern culture teaches us above all that our individual identity must be created, must be fabricated, must be cobbled together by us out of the raw material of life. You create yourself. You establish your own identity.

So I choose this set of experiences to define me.

I alter my body in this way to mark myself as this distinct person. Continue reading

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Self love? Meh. (Really?)

It’s safe to say that Christianity has often been indifferent toward self-love. In fact, when I imagine the typically response to the possibility of self-love, I would describe it like this:

Self love? Meh.

Our own Reformed and Presbyterian tradition has often been downright negative about self-love. Within our tradition great emphasis has been placed on our brokenness and our sinfulness and our need of forgiveness – and great emphasis have been placed on the tremendous love of God toward us in Jesus. Our tradition has emphasized grace – everything we receive is through the grace of God – the undeserved love of God.

But in that kind of framework there often hasn’t been a lot of room for self-love. In fact self-love has often been seen negatively. In sermons and in books on Christian faith you will often hear that we are too preoccupied with ourselves, too focused on ourselves – this is an expression of our sinful self-absorption. We are too focused on ourselves and on what we need and what want – so focused on ourselves that we fail to love God and fail to love our neighbour. Continue reading

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National Immigration Day?

My parents are immigrants to Canada. My mom and dad came to this country with their families, from the Netherlands, in 1951 and 1952 respectively. They know what it is to adapt to a new culture, to learn a new language, and to start over again making friends and family connections in a foreign country. My parents understand all of this in a way that I likely never will.

9780307359728It is widely understood that Canada is a nation of immigrants. From the first waves of non-aboriginal immigrants (the French and British), to the most recent waves from China, India, and the Philippines (those are the top three countries of origin for 2013), Canada is a nation built by those ‘from away’. This is true even of the earliest aboriginal populations of the continent, who likely arrived on the continent about 30,000 years ago via a land bridge from Asia.

Maybe we need a National Immigration Day in Canada.

Stories of migration and immigration are vital to the literature of Canada. And among the most recent contributions to that literature is Kim Thuy’s book Ru, a work of fiction that takes the form reflections and reminiscences – vignettes offered from the perspective of a Vietnamese refugee to Canada in the 1970’s. For many Canadians of my generation this narrative will resonate since we remember well the arrival of Vietnamese children in our school classrooms – I remember the day that Hoa arrived at my school, a girl whose family was sponsored by the churches in my town. Continue reading

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global music and worship

It seems that a truce has been called in the so-called worship wars. Or at least I seem to hear a lot less about such wars raging in the church today.

Perhaps this lull in the fighting is because the church in the West has finally realized it has more important questions to answer than whether we go traditional or contemporary in our musical worship. Or perhaps (a less promising possibility!) the silence on these questions reflects the fact that each has decided to go his or her own way – the contemporary worshippers and the traditional worshippers have simply parted company, so there’s nothing left to fight over.

Whatever the case case, I’m not intending to open a new front in these old battles. However, there is one suggestion I would like to make, no matter where we may have settled on the question of worship style. My simple suggestion is that we remain open and attentive to the worship styles and content that come to us from the global church.

This isn’t to say that such attention is utterly lacking in our congregations. Some local churches are more than aware of the ways that our worship can be enriched by the melodies and rhythms and themes of global Christianity. But I also know of plenty of worshipping communities (blended, contemporary, traditional) where the diversity of the worldwide church never finds expression in music. Continue reading

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love casts out fear – a sermon

No one has ever seen God.

Maybe you remember that familiar story of Moses. Moses was someone who talked with God – Moses was someone who talked with God like God was a friend right there beside him. But even Moses never saw God. On one occasion Moses went as far as to ask God: “God, show me your glory.” And God said in reply – sure, I will let my goodness pass in front of you – and I will speak my own glorious name in your presence – but you will not see my face. When my glory passes by you, I’m going to put you into a great crevice in the rock, and I’m going to cover you with my great hand until I’m gone. And after I’ve passed by, I will take away my hand, and you will see my back as I pass you by.

No one has ever seen God.

Moses did not see God.

You have never seen God.

I have never seen God.

Sure, some of the prophets and kings of the Old Testament had visions of God – dreams or waking visions of God in the glorious throne room of heaven. In the book of Revelation, also, there are grand visions of the throne room of God. Yes, there are women and men and kings and prophets who have had visions of God. Continue reading