Optimism vs. Hope, in a Pandemic

My latest in the Christian Courier.


Where would you put yourself on the optimism/pessimism spectrum? I suppose I land just slightly on the optimistic side, though with serious bouts of pessimism thrown in now and again. Among my friends there is at least one eternal pessimist (with an astonishing capacity to see the worst in every situation) and a few who seem born entirely to optimism (forever confident things will be just fine).

Perhaps we all slide along the continuum, depending on circumstances, but our optimism quotient also seems a fairly fixed personality trait. You occupy some place on this spectrum and there’s not much you can do to change that. Maybe it’s pessimistic of me to say that!

But let’s make this a little more concrete by asking about our present pandemic moment. Are you optimistic we have finally flattened the curve? Are you confident there will soon be effective treatments for COVID-19? That we might see a vaccine within the year? Get back to something approaching normal life in the next two years? Continue reading


ain’t gonna study war…

The prophet Isaiah offers us a remarkable poem to set us moving in the right direction this advent. It’s actually a poem that doesn’t belong only to the prophet Isaiah – the prophet Micah offers almost the exact same poetic words at one point in his writings. Which means that this shared poem is one that clearly captured the imagination of God’s people in ancient times. This shared poem, this shared song, gave expression to something decisive about their hope in God. And so this poem has survived the ravages of time and has survived the challenges of transcription from one scribe to the next – it has been handed down through generations so that we also may hear this beautiful description of what happens when God draws near in judgment and grace.

The Lord shall judge between the nations, and shall arbitrate for many peoples; they shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks; nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more.

This song has resonated down through the centuries. It is a song that has been sung in many different contexts – giving expression to the hope of God’s people. One of the more beautiful and difficult and remarkable expressions of this song is one that comes to us from pre-civil-war America. This version of the song has been known as “Gonna lay down my burden” and as “Down by the riverside” and as “Ain’t gonna study war no more.” Here is the earliest known recording of this song, by the Fisk University Jubilee Quartet, recorded in 1920:

Continue reading

the Spirit of the future – sermon 2/5

Let me begin with a question this morning. When you think about the future, what do you imagine? When you think about the future, what do you feel or think or imagine? We could answer this question in terms of our own immediate future – in terms of what’s going to happen in my and your life in the next 5 to 10 years – what do I feel or think or imagine in terms of my own future. But this morning I’m inviting us to think more widely about the future – to think in terms of the future of our society.

Let’s think about Canada 100 years from now, in the year 2114. If you were to think about what Canadian society might look like in a hundred years, what do you imagine. On Canada day, July 1st, 2114, what will Canadian society look like?

Screen Shot 2014-06-30 at 2.43.42 PMMaybe we can help ourselves think about this by doing so in terms of a question you might be asked for a poll, for a sondage. You might get a phone call at home, and be asked a series of questions – and one of the questions might be something like this. Are things in Canada getting: Much worse, worse, better, or much better? What would you say?  When you think about the future, what do you imagine? Continue reading

What do you see? Looking with the eyes of faith. #sermon #thanksgiving

In this sermon I have largely followed the interpretation of the passage offered by Dennis Hamm – The Catholic Biblical Quarterly, 1994.


What do you see?

It’s a basic human question.

What do you see?

In any given situation – in any visual landscape – it is possible to see many different things. Or to put it a little differently, any given situation can be seen from a many different perspectives. Let me give a simple example to explain what I mean:

If you are at the grocery store and you see a young child carelessly picking items off the shelf, perhaps dropping a can of tomatoes – and you see his mother react angrily, yelling at the child. What do you see? Do you see a disobedient child who obviously hasn’t been shown how to behave properly – and do you see an impatient mother? Or do you see a child doing what children normally do? And perhaps a mother who is tired and at wits end because she is run off her feet?

What do you see? Continue reading