My latest in the Christian Courier, here.
A good number of Canadians are sporting new outfits these January days. We are wearing our Christmas gifts – or, perhaps more likely, we are newly-attired from our own post-Christmas bargain shopping. There are a good many of us who got into a new pair of jeans this morning, or put on a crisp new shirt. A cool new knitted hat to top it off?
At one level this exercise of putting on new clothes is innocent enough. It is, after all, a very common experience. But if we were to turn a critical eye toward this practice, our first thought might be that we have bowed to the god of consumerism. We simply do not need these new things, there was nothing wrong with the old, and our financial resources could have been more wisely spent.
This is an entirely reasonable critique of the compulsion to shop in our culture. But perhaps it is worth attending to another dimension of that experience of putting on a new outfit; of checking ourselves out in the mirror. Specifically, we should pay attention to the fact that putting on new clothing is a practice by which we establish our Self. The capital “S” is intended, since its our identity we are talking about. Continue reading
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.
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
Questions of identity preoccupy us – much more than has ever been the case, historically speaking. This is so on account of the leisure time we are afforded, the levels of wealth we have attained, and the public personas we now necessarily create and craft via our social media profiles.
In the contemporary world we have time to develop an interest in particular artists or particular social movements; time and resources to shop for clothing and accessories that project a certain image or style; the ability to mark our bodies (hair die, tattoos, piercings, etc.) in ways that publicly declare our persona; we have online platforms that require us to make decisions about which photos or personal stories or opinions we will share. A few weeks ago I preached a sermon that explored, in part, how our shoes are even, now, a significant feature of this persistent crafting of our image. (See that sermon here.)
This whole exercise in creating and maintaining our image can be an exhausting affair – and it will surprise none of us to hear that some friends or acquaintances have given up Facebook and Twitter and Instagram (etc., etc.) for Lent. Giving up social media, in particular, can be a way to provide ourselves with room to breathe – a way to give up on the never-ending cycle of comparison and projection, instead seeking our identity where it truly and finally resides, by resting in God. Although social media is by no means the only locus in this cycle of self-referential and self-preoccupied identity formation, it is the most difficult to wrestle with given its ubiquity – giving it up no doubt helps puts life in perspective.
But aside from giving up social media, for Lent or otherwise, perhaps another way to humanize and de-pressurize the whole enterprise is through a kind of ironic or transparent naming of our self-preoccupation. A kind of detachment that is willing to examine ourselves – and to let others see us examining ourselves. Continue reading
We’ve all had that feeling of disorientation at some point.
Perhaps you are staying in a hotel somewhere, or visiting family for a few days. You wake up in the middle of the night and don’t know where you are. The room is unfamiliar. You feel lost. You look for points of familiarity to locate yourself. It takes a few moments to happen. Then, clarity! You remember where you are – are able to locate yourself in time and space – the unease passes quickly. You understand what has happened.
I recently had an experience that was both similar to this and different.
It was a weekday evening, and I had gone to bed at around 11:30 pm. – probably a little later than usual. Another variable was that my wife was staying up later than me, working on an assignment for one of her master’s degree courses. That, also, is out of our ordinary routine.
About an hour after going to bed, around 12:30 a.m., I woke up with a feeling that something was wrong. I had a good sense of where I was, and I registered that Becky was not in bed. But I also had a deep sense that someone was missing. It was late at night and someone who was supposed to be there wasn’t there. My sense was that it was dad who was missing.
As I sat up on the edge of the bed, I wasn’t picturing or thinking about my own father, who lives some 6 hours away. I was just thinking about some “dad” whose identity I didn’t really understand – I was very confused and at a loss, both as to who this missing person was and as to why he wasn’t where he was supposed to be. Continue reading
At the best of times, raising kids is a complicated business. In any given situation, multiple factors are at play: our own personalities, our children’s personalities, wider family dynamics, faith commitments, cultural assumptions, and the list goes on… and on… Very often, all we can do as parents is make our best guess at what we should be doing.
I recently found myself in a situation that gives almost perfect expression to the complexities of parenting – and this need to just muddle along. This particular situation arose when my eleven-year-old daughter decided that she wanted to put on some nail polish. Not that this was the first time that she had worn nail polish. She had done so in the past both for ‘dress up’ or as simply a fun thing to do with cousins or friends.
Yet this time was a little different. Most importantly, this was the first time she was putting on nail polish by herself, as an expression of who she was or wanted to be. It was sparkly turquoise nail polish she had gotten from one of her aunts. (Of course the aunts had to be from my side of the family – so I couldn’t even blame the in-laws for this!!)
But as my daughter was putting on the nail polish, she very quickly discovered that while it is easy to put the nail polish on your left hand (when you are right handed), it’s not so easy putting it on the right hand! When she came down from the bathroom, the nail polish was, as you might expect, uneven. There were turquoise bits on the edges of skin around her fingernails. I responded with a wonderfully helpful, “oh, that doesn’t look very good.”
And in that moment the uncertainty and conflict about what to do arose. Continue reading
Rachel Held Evans is hosting a discussion of human sexuality on her blog, and has invited Richard Beck to lead the conversation. Yesterday he posted his second reflection on the subject, addressing the question of a gracious sexual intimacy, and the relationship of such intimacy to marriage. His post can be found here.
Following Rowan Williams and Eugene Rogers, Beck argues for an account of sexuality that is modelled on the self-offering love of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit within the divine life. In this framework, sexual intimacy and marriage are seen as a risk-filled venture and occasion for mutual joy and discovery. He argues, further, that marriage should be defined in terms of grace (love and commitment) rather than nature (child-bearing) and that the defining feature of marriage is election: “I choose you.” This is consistent, he argues, with the fact that our relationship to God is rooted in grace rather than biological lineage.
At some level I am deeply appreciative of Beck’s initial reflections on sexuality. In many ways I think that his words (owing much to Williams, obviously) are right on the mark. I can only agree when he writes: “The reason sex can be so painful and tragic is that we expose ourselves to the perceptions of another. And this exposure carries great risk, psychically and spiritually.” Extending the thought of Rowan Williams, he also argues: “Sex is to enter into a communal space where there is giving and receiving, a mutuality, a sharing of selves and perceptions. This is why sex matters. It is a location where we discover our humanity through our being with others.” Continue reading
Thomas is at the centre of things this morning.
His name is there in the text – plainly in black and white.
But who is this Thomas? Who is this one whose name appears so starkly in the text?
Perhaps he is not so clearly defined as we might like him to be. Even if we have his name in black and white, perhaps Thomas cannot be pinned down as THIS or THAT.
In general we like to pin people down. We like to define them. We like to be able to say it clearly and simply: he is THIS or she is THAT. So is it any surprise that we try to do the same with Thomas. Defining him clearly and precisely. Continue reading
Our God, questions of identity confront us daily in our lives – daily we are confronted with the question of who we are and of who we are becoming. In some ways we may not even have the answer to these questions – we don’t fully know ourselves – we are shaped by emotions and motivations and desires that we can’t fully explain. In some ways our own identity is a mystery to us.
Very often our God, when we do think about ourselves, or try to intentionally define ourselves, we find it easy to do so without reference to you or our life with Christ. We may define ourselves as a mother, or as a professional of some stripe, or as a retired person, or as an individual with some disability or sickness, or as a student, or as someone with certain plans for our life. Of course these may all be genuine aspects of our identity – they are part of who we are.
Our gracious God, as we remain at the outset of this New Year, we have come to worship this morning – we have gathered as this community of your people – because we would be and become your beloved children. We would find our fullness of identity as those who share in the resurrection life of Jesus. We would define ourselves decisively as those who live in his way of compassion and justice and truth. Our God, as we worship, and as we share together in prayer and friendship, remind us who we are as your children, and lead us more fully into our identity and life in Christ. We pray in His name. Amen.