Judgment and Grace of Strangers

My Christmas column in the Christian Courier.


It is one thing to be rebuked for something you’ve done. It is quite another to be rebuked by a complete stranger.

I was in line for a coffee at Second Cup in downtown Montreal – and was checking my phone as I came to the counter. I started to order a small, dark roast, but the guy at the cash paused for a moment, waited to get my full attention, and then said: “I wish we could go back to the days before those phones, when we could have some human contact.” Oof. The feeling of embarrassment and shame was immediate for me. What was I thinking!?

And just to be clear, this wasn’t some cranky baby boomer objecting to smart phone reality in general (we tend, mistakenly, to associate grumpiness with the older set). No, this was a twenty-something guy who was tired of serving coffee to people who wouldn’t even look at him. Continue reading


Transparency and Honesty — a little distance goes a long way

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

pruning and abiding – learning to live together

You’ve got to admit that in some ways the bible just wasn’t written for you and me. The prophets weren’t thinking about you and me when they were writing their sermons and denunciations. The Psalmist wasn’t thinking about us when he crafted his poetry and his songs. Even Jesus wasn’t thinking about you or me when he crafted his parables or when he taught about the life of God’s children. You have to admit that the bible just wasn’t written for you and for me.

Now if that sounds a little heretical to you, perhaps that’s a good thing. After all, a basic claim of our faith is that God speaks to us through the words of the scriptures. That through these particular stories and these poems and this history God speaks to us about himself and about who we are. That’s our basic confession.

But it remains true to say that in some important respects the bible wasn’t written for us. And what I’m focusing on this morning is the very simple fact that the bible is written in languages and in cultural contexts and with imagery that is in many respects distant to us. The various writers of the bible didn’t know the world we inhabit, and it shows. In our passage for today from John 15, this simple point is evident in the agricultural imagery used by Jesus. Continue reading