habit-defying labour — thinking with the art of daisy tsai

Daisy Tsai describes her work, presently on display at Luz Gallery, Montreal, with these words:

Painting is habit-defying labour… As our world dazzles, rushes, and burns, i peek-a-boo through forms and colours to contend for an alternative coherence, stillness verging on celebration and distress.

The notion of habit is a powerful one, speaking as it does to those areas of our lives where we have perhaps stopped paying attention or ceased living intentionally – where we have allowed lethargy to withhold us from the possibility of the new. Of course habit is not always a negative dimension of human life, since the formation of positive and constructive habits is a necessary resource for living well. But our habits of sight, and habits of thought, and habits of behaviour can also be, and invariably are, a way that we close ourselves off to precisely that possibility – the possibility of living well, or faithfully. The possibility of encountering something new and enlivening (from Christ? who makes all things new?).

The artistic vocation is multi-faceted, but a significant feature of this vocation has always been to undermine our habits of thought and life – to invite the receiver to see the world within a different frame of reference – to refuse to let neighbour or stranger be seen in the same way she or he has always been seen. Vocation: contending for an alternative coherence. Continue reading


Christ the King – Politics and Palliative Care

This morning we come to the end of the church year. Over the past twelve months we have celebrated God’s self-revelation in Advent and Christmas and Epiphany. We have recalled the suffering patience of Jesus in the season of Lent. We have walked through the darkness of Good Friday into the glory of Easter morning. We have faced the mystery and glory of Pentecost – the life of the Spirit given to create and equip the church. We have journeyed through ordinary time, listening to the stories of Jesus and God’s people.

And today we come to the last Sunday of the year, which the church celebrates under the banner of Christ the King.

We end the year with a statement of faith.

We end the year with a statement of hope.

We end the year with a statement of Christ’s glory.

We end the year with a decidedly political statement – Christ is King.

This declaration that Christ is King raises all kinds of important questions, of course, What kind of a king is he? What kind of kingdom is he bringing to our world? And the truth is that when we talk about that wandering rabbi, the language of kingship and sovereignty might not be the first thing to come to mind. In many cases kings have been absolute sovereigns – they have exercised power at will – they have commanded vast armies – they have gone to war without just cause – they have been wealthy tyrants – they have only too rarely served their people with integrity and grace. Continue reading

love — the way over the mountain

Paul speaks of love as the more excellent way – an image which includes within itself the idea of a mountain pass. So love is the more excellent way, the higher way, and the way over the mountain. With this in mind, my sermon a few weeks ago included images from a walk I took on our mountain here in Montreal. Perhaps these images of autumn capture something of love’s glory and beauty, together with the words of 1 Corinthians 13.

Roland De Vries, Montreal

urban landscape – the face of longing

The Apostle Paul has arrived in the city of Athens. Athens – the intellectual capital of the ancient world; a city in which ideas are born. Athens, the city of Socrates and Plato and Aristotle. In Paul’s day, of course, the three great philosophers are long dead, but Athens is still defined by a rigorous intellectual culture – philosophical debate is part of the fabric of the place.

Our passage from Acts this morning captures something of what happens when Paul, theologian of the resurrection – follower of the risen Jesus – goes head to head with the philosophers of Athens. It is at the Areopagus that Paul makes his extended presentation, which is summarized in our NT lesson.

We should know, perhaps, that the Areopagus is an elevated, open-air site just across from the famous Acropolis. In Paul’s day Senate meetings or public debates were held there. It was where the great and most recent ideas were debated – there was a council of philosophers who refereed scholarly debates at the Areopagus. Continue reading

Hope and Judgment

My sermon from yesterday, which was the first Sunday in Advent.



Does that name ring a bell with you? Well, Thessalonica is a city in modern day Greece – also known as Salonica. But for our purposes what’s interesting is that the city of Thessalonica existed already in the time of Jesus and the earliest Christians.  In fact, this city was founded three hundred years before Christ by the King of Macedon – he named it after his wife Thessalonike.

Well, it must be nice to be able to name a city after your wife… Reading that historical tidbit this week I wondered whether I might try that this Christmas. Becky, there’s a beautiful little village in the Eastern Township called North Hatley, and but I’m going to re-name it for you as a Christmas gift. More than likely that’s a gift I’ll never be able to give. Continue reading

Creed and Community

A sermon preached today in advance of a sermon series on the Apostles’ Creed – to begin next week.




It’s a word you can’t escape today, isn’t it, both in the church and in wider society.


Everywhere you turn – whether in the world of politics, in the media, in the educational system, in the church, on billboards, in documentaries – the word is everywhere.


There are community organizers. There is the Polish community, the Black community, the farming community. There are community centres. There are community organizations. There are gated communities. There are community newspapers.


Everywhere we turn, it seems, we are confronted with the idea of community – everywhere we turn we are confronted with the desire for community.


We don’t have the time for an in-depth exploration of this explosion of interest in community – this explosion of desire for the experience of community. There seems little doubt, however, that this interest in community is rooted partly in the realization that the individualism of our culture hasn’t lead to human fulfillment – to some degree we in the west have come to realize that our identity and fulfillment is found in networks of relations. Of course old ways of living and thinking die hard, but to some extent we have realized that we cannot fulfill ourselves, cannot care for the world, cannot fulfill the human, without building meaningful communities.


Another general comment as we begin. It seems to me that this emphasis on community – this desire for community – also reflects its absence from our lives. We talk about community a great deal, and we try to build communities, because we do not experience it. This isn’t to say that the reality and experience of community life is completely absent from our lives, but it seems that whenever a subject preoccupies us, and whenever we reach out for something, it’s usually because we don’t possess it in the way we would like.


This longing is not absent from those who belong to the Church. We, as much as anyone, understand that our personal identity and fulfillment is found only in communal relationships. We too reach out for a deeper experience of community life because there is something of an absence of community life in our day to day existence, and in the church.

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Sermon: Doubt and Dogma (2)

A sermon preached in anticipation of a sermon series on the Apostles’ Creed. A few themes from this sermon are borrowed from Timothy Keller’s book, The Reason for God. (Sermon date: January 18, 2009)


As we continue to prepare for a sermon series on the Apostles Creed, we turn from thinking about doubt last week to thinking about dogma this morning. And as we do so the first thing to notice is that our society’s perspective on doubt and dogma, are two side of the same coin.


       If, as we said last week, doubt is in fashion,            then dogma is very much out of                                                                                                   fashion.

       If doubt is considered sophisticated,                       then dogma is considered simplistic,                                                                                                       naive.

       If doubt is thought to be responsible                       then dogma is thought to be the height of irresponsibility.



In this vein we find Christopher Hitchens, the hyper-sceptic, the evangelical atheist, saying:

“To choose dogma over doubt is to throw out the ripening vintage and to reach greedily for the Kool-Aid.”


For Christopher Hitchens, doubt is a nice bottle of California Pinot Noir,

                      while dogma is a juice pitcher full of 

                                           coloured sugar water.


Doubt and dogma are but two sides of the same coin. Our society’s doubtful attitude toward religion goes hand in hand with a refusal of religious dogma.


This week we take up the question of dogma for the same reason that we took up the question of doubt last week. We do so because the attitudes and perspectives of those who live around us have an impact on us. We don’t live in a bubble, sealed off from Canadian society. We are part of that society. We can’t expect ourselves to be immune from questions or criticism or different ways of thinking.


When it comes to the specific question of dogma, our society often sends the message that those who hold to religious dogma are out of fashion, are naive, or are even irresponsible. And in hearing this we very quickly begin to think that we are out of fashion, that we are naïve, that we are irresponsible. As we stand to speak the words of the Apostles’ Creed on a Sunday morning we may even feel that we are going contrary to what is acceptable.

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