The Wounds we Share – Remembering #JeanVanier

My latest column in the Christian Courier.


You couldn’t help but notice Jean Vanier when he entered a room. This was simply on account of his size – he was a big man, standing six feet, six inches tall. So just by virtue of his physical presence, he would likely draw your gaze. But if Jean Vanier drew sustained attention, and more than a passing glance, it was on account of the loving attention he gave to others. Many were drawn to him because his large hands and his wide embrace so evidently embodied a deep and sincere love for others.

Several weeks ago I had the privilege of listening in as some who knew Jean Vanier (1928-2019) shared stories of encounter with him. This took place at the 10th annual Summer Institute on Theology and Disability, held this year at Western Seminary in Holland, Michigan. Almost all of the stories that were shared painted a picture of someone who drew you in by giving his full attention. He was decidedly present in the moment, listening and sharing in a way that demanded as much of you as he gave of himself in the encounter.

One participant in the conversation shared about a time Vanier visited the Daybreak (L’Arche) community in Toronto. It was a mob scene as Vanier entered the home and was surrounded by members of the community. Yet this wasn’t adulation; not the adoration of a celebrity. Rather, as the speaker put it: “They drew near to him because he was a shepherd and these were the sheep who knew his voice; these women and men with intellectual disabilities knew he was responsible for this place (Daybreak) that had given them life.” By his loving presence, Jean Vanier shared and embodied the loving presence of the Good Shepherd. It is perhaps no surprise that so many were drawn to his life and voice. Continue reading


Forgiveness of sins

A sermon preached in a continuing series on the Apostles’ Creed.


Well, once again this morning I find myself in an unenviable position – here I stand, with about fifteen to twenty minutes to explore the forgiveness of sins. That’s our topic for today. Of course, I’ve got no one to blame but myself. It was my choice to preach through the Apostles’ Creed and there’s no backing out now. 

You could say that I feel this morning like someone who has been asked to explain in a few words the music of Oscar Peterson, that great Montreal Jazz artist. How, in a few words, could anyone capture the musical ability, the keyboard dexterity, the emotional range of that great pianist and composer? How could words ever come close to capturing the essence of great music since by definition music belongs to a different realm than that of words? Ultimately, the great music of Oscar Peterson isn’t something to be explained or talked about, it is something to be listened to, experienced.

The same thing goes when it comes to forgiveness. Words about forgiveness, explanations of forgiveness, can only dance around the subject – words will never get us as close to forgiveness as we really need to get. The truth is that you can only understand forgiveness and know forgiveness from within the experience of forgiveness. Like the amazing music of Oscar Peterson, perhaps, forgiveness isn’t something that can ultimately be explained – forgiveness must be lived, must get a grip on our lives.

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I Believe in the Holy Spirit

A sermon preached today, in a continuing series on the Apostles’ Creed.


This morning as we come back again to the Apostles’ Creed, we turn to the third and final section of the Creed. Already we have thought through “I believe in God the Father.” We have considered “I believe in Jesus Christ, his only Son.” This morning we come to the words: “I believe in the Holy Spirit’. 

The creed, we recall, is not simply a statement of right thinking and right belief. It is, rather, a statement of our fundamental human trust. Our trust is in God the Father, who created us and loves us. Our trust is in Jesus Christ, the Son, through whom God delivers his decisive ‘Yes’ to the human. And, finally, our trust is in the Holy Spirit.

We trust this God, who has shown his face to us.

We trust this God who has shown himself trustworthy.

We trust this God who will finally judge and will make all things new.

This morning as we consider our trust in the God’s Spirit, our belief in the Holy Spirit, it may be helpful to consider for a moment the language of spirituality that pervades our culture. You can’t get past a magazine stand; you can’t get through a book store or a television program, it seems, without some mention of spirituality. Even in our education system and within community organizations, you can’t escape references to spirituality.

This modern notion of spirituality is in many ways a vague idea. It’s difficult to pin down what exactly people mean today when they talk about this spirituality. Nevertheless I think we can give some general idea of what it is. Modern spirituality is rooted, it seems, in a deep dissatisfaction with the way things are – many in our culture have the feeling that there must be more to life than what they experience in the day to day, the week to week. There is dissatisfaction in relationships, dissatisfaction with how we have thought about our bodies, dissatisfaction with the technological answers our society offers to nearly every question, dissatisfaction with our distance from the natural order – there is a profound sense that there must be more to life.

Putting it positively, the language of spirituality expresses a desire for a closer relationship to nature, a deeper sense of the mystery of the world – it expresses a longing for authenticity (to really be myself), a wish for deeper more meaningful experiences of community, and a desire for relationships that are not so superficial.

How do we respond to this contemporary interest in spirituality? Continue reading


A sermon preached this past Sunday, February 22nd – in a continuing series on the Apostles’ Creed. In the writing of this sermon I have made use of an essay by Richard Burridge in the book Exploring and Proclaiming the Apostles’ Creed.





We come this morning to the second section of the Apostle’s Creed and to the heart of our Christian confession.


We confess: I believe in Jesus Christ, God’s only Son, our Lord.


As we consider the heart of the Apostles’ Creed this morning; as we consider this statement of our fundamental trust in God; I’d like us to focus on the particularity that lies at heart of our confession. I’d like us to look at the particularity that defines us as Christians.


But first, what do I mean by this notion, this idea of particularity?


Well to explain the notion of particularity, we could begin by acknowledging that in Canadian society today there is tremendous interest in spirituality. There is a growing search for the deeper meaning of life. Men and women want to go beyond the mundane, beyond the everyday – which often seems meaningless. They want to reach beyond the superficiality of so much of human life in order to get hold of some deeper level of substance and significance. And the language that our culture applies to this search, to this desire for deeper meaning and significance, is the language of spirituality.

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I Believe – I Trust

The first sermon in a series on the Apostles’ Creed.  Here, in part, I have taken up the question of trust as it is explored by Wolfhart Pannenberg in his The Apostles’ Creed: In the light of today’s questions.




This past week Tuesday saw the death of the America writer John Updike. It is perhaps fitting, then, that we begin this morning with a reading from part of one of his short stories – it is entitled Trust Me.


When Harold was three or four years old, his father and mother took him to a swimming pool. This was strange, for his family rarely went places, except to the movie house two blocks from their house. Harold had no memory of ever seeing his parents in bathing suits again, after this unhappy day. What he did remember was this:

            His father, nearly naked, was in the pool, treading water. Harold was standing shivering on the wet tile edge, suspended above the abysmal odor of chlorine, hypnotized by the bright, lapping agitation of this great volume of unnaturally blue-green water. His mother, in a black bathing suit that made her flesh appear very white, was off in a corner of his mind. His father was asking him to jump. “C’mon, Harold, jump,” he was saying, in his mild, encouraging voice. “It’ll be all right, Jump right into my hands.” The words echoed in the flat acoustics of the water and tile and sunlight, heightening Harold’s sense of exposure, his awareness of his own white skin. His father seemed eerily stable and calm in the water, and the child idly wondered, as he jumped, what the man was standing on.

            Then the blue-green water was all around him, dense and churning, and when he tried to take a breath a fist was shoved in his throat. He saw his own bubbles rising in front of his face, a multitude of them, rising as he sank; he sank it seemed for a very long time, until something located him in the darkening element and seized him by the arm.

            He was in the air again, on his father’s shoulder, still fighting for breath. They were out of the pool. His mother swiftly came up to the two of them and, with a deftness remarkable in one so angry, slapped his father on the face, loudly, next to Harold’s ear. The slap seemed to resonate all over the pool area, and to be heard by all the other bathers… His sense of public embarrassment amid sparkling nakedness…survived his recovery of breath. His mother’s anger seemed directed at him as much as at his father. His feet were on grass. Standing wrapped in a towel near his mother’s knees while the last burning fragments of water were coughed from his lungs, Harold felt eternally disgraced.

            He never knew what had happened; by the time he asked, so many years had passed that his father had forgotten. “Wasn’t that a crying shame,” the old man said, with his mild mixture of mournfulness and comedy. “Sink or swim, and you sank.” Perhaps Harold had leaped a moment before it was expected, or had proved unexpectedly heavy, and had thus slipped through his father’s grasp. Unaccountably, all through his growing up he continued to trust his father; it was his mother he distrusted, her swift sure-handed anger.

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