the sign

The shepherds live in the fields. That is where they keep watch for trouble. The shepherds know a lot about trouble. They are the first to be told. An angel - a messenger - from God stands in front of them. The glory of the Lord shines around them. It means that the energy of God crackles in the air. Is it like the Northern Lights? Is it like sunlight radiating? Is it like when your heart is full to overflowing? Yes. And more. It is frightening. The shepherds are terrified. What kind of message can the angel be carrying? Why here? Why now? Why us?


velcade - cycle seven

Half way through cycle seven comes the good news that my kappa free light chain count has dropped to 80, down from 96. Since anything below 100 pleases my doctor, I am pleased. Weekly injections of bortezomib (aka Velcade) in conjunction with dexamethasone continues to minimize the activity of myeloma and amyloidosis in my body. The dexamethasone ramps me up with energy each week and then leaves me fatigued for a couple of days when it wears off. Other than that, I continue to live a normal life (or, better put, a newly normal life). Yesterday marked the first anniversary of my return to ministry after receiving an autologous stem cell transplant in September 2011. It has been a year of mostly good health (with the exception of the unexpected hospitalization at Easter because of an allergic reaction to Revlimid). I am receiving these days, weeks, months and - now - this year as gifts and am grateful for the care, concern and prayers of such a wide circle, near and far. In the face of so much ache in the world I am blessed.


time is our choice of how to love and why

This year on Epiphany (January 6 at 7 pm) our congregation is co-hosting a dramatic reading of W.H. Auden's long poem "For the Time Being". The poem sets the Christmas story as a timeless event that also takes place in our time. In it Auden blends lyric poetry with comic verse and prose. Mary and the angel Gabriel seem timeless while Joseph, the shepherds and the wise men are our contemporaries, stumbling their way into a setting that almost - but never altogether - overwhelms them. Between now and Epiphany I will share some lines from the poem here, beginning with these words that conclude the experience of the shepherds and wise men at the manger:

    "O Living Love, replacing Fantasy
     O Joy of Life revealed in love's creation
     Our mood of longing turns to indication.
     Space is the Whom our loves are needed by,
     Time is our choice of How to love and Why."


re-orienting our lives

Each year that we publish "Salt of the Earth: A Christian Seasons Calendar" we take delight in discovering the ways in which word spreads and the calendar finds its way into the hands of some who have not seen it before. This year has once again brought surprising new connections. Richard Beck at Experimental Theology and Chris Smith at the Englewood Review of Books included news about the Christian Seasons Calendar on their blogs while Linda Parriott arranged an interview about the calendar for a podcast that is now available online at Clayfire Media. We're encouraged whenever and wherever this way of re-orienting our lives within an alternative calendar that tells a surprising story of hope and of God's power to make new on the other side of trouble, oppression, suffering and even death itself resonates and takes hold.


the language of redemption

Yesterday's sermon is .... well, what is happening to it? I was going to say it is dissipating. There is no written record of it. Writing it down gives a feeling of permanence even though what is written down is only a collection of symbols that proximate the experience. Whatever God may be making of the sermon is happening in the congregation that gathered to participate in hosting the Word. That something intriguing occurred was reflected in the number of people who took the time to say something about it, something that indicated it had been a good word, a new word, a surprising word. I think I know the moment when that word found its highest voltage and connected with the soul of the congregation most powerfully.

the only thing it cannot be

"Christianity, if false, is of no importance, and if true, of infinite importance. The only thing it cannot be is moderately important."

- C.S. Lewis


in a world of impatience

"Advent is the recovery of how to live in a world of impatience as a patient people."

- Stanley Hauerwas


the last thing

Who'd be afraid of death.
I think only fools
are. For it is not
as though this thing
were given to one man only, but all
receive it. The journey that my
friend makes, I can
make also. If I know
nothing else. I know
this, I go where he is.
O Fools, shrinking from this little door,
Through which so many kind and lovely souls have passed
Before you,
Will you hang back?
Harder in your case than another?
Not so.
And too much silence?
Has there not been enough stir here?
Go bravely, for where so much greatness and gentleness have been
Already, You should be glad to follow.

- by Monk Gibbon


forgiving, forgiven (six)

We are nearing the end of these seven conversations about forgiveness. If it wasn't clear before, it is becoming very clear now that forgiveness is at the heart of Christianity. Learning the language of reconciliation - spoken and embodied - is not optional in Christian community. Yet, in my experience, we are often distracted from this core curriculum by other temptations which seem more manageable and less risky. In the process the church is often left with little in the way of a new way of life to offer in households, neighbourhoods and nations rife with division. I am not at all sure what part this brief seven week conversation in our small congregation has in God's reconciling work but I dare to imagine that it is not without importance.

Here is this week's worksheet ...


whose pulse may be thy praise

"Thou that has given so much to me,
Give one thing more - a grateful heart ....
Not thankful when it pleases me,
As if Thy blessings had spare days;
But such a heart, whose pulse may be Thy praise."

- George Herbert, "Gratefulness", The Temple


forgiving, forgiven (five)

Each week our conversation deepens as we open ourselves to the risk of forgiveness that is at the heart of the Christian gospel. We risk vulnerability with one another as we name our struggle to forgive and our need to receive forgiveness as we revisit deep ache that has scarred souls. The scripture is at once familiar and yet jarring. This week we voice Peter's question of Jesus: "How often should I forgive? As many as seven times?" Jesus' answer is challenging no matter how the math is calculated. He says either "seventy-seven times" or "seventy times seven".

Here is the worksheet for this week's conversation ...


like brooks that hold the sky

During my weekly chemotherapy appointment on Thursday I enjoyed rereading the collection of quotations by Abraham Joshua Heschel published in "I Asked for Wonder". Here are a few of my favorites ...

"It takes three things to attain a sense of significant being:
           A Soul
          And a Moment.
And the three are always there." (p. 65)

"To meditative minds the ineffable is cryptic, inarticulate: dots, marks of secret meaning, scattered hints, to be gathered, deciphered and formed into evidence; while in moments of insight the ineffable is a metaphor in a forgotten mother tongue." (p. 7)


velcade - cycle six

Let's see. Here I am halfway through the four weekly treatments in cycle six. Today I traveled to St. Paul's, as usual, for two bortezomib (Velcade) injections after taking my weekly dose of dexamethasone with breakfast. It is now part of my regular routine. Blood work on Wednesday. Injections on Thursday. Today I also received the report of the level of the protein free light chains that is measured at the end of each thirty-five day cycle. This is the test to see how well the treatments are controlling the myeloma and amyloidosis. Once again it is good news. At the end of five cycles the number is 96. That is the same as at the end of cycle four. Since the goal is to keep the number below 100 I am grateful for the report. That is the main news regarding my treatment. Along with it, there are a couple of other things to update.


overhearing prayer

How does a congregation learn to pray? Corporate prayer is learned over time through practices that nurture and feed growth in honest speech before God. When I arrived at University Hill Congregation nearly twenty years ago I met a congregation learning cadences of prayer that I had not heard before in worship.

In the congregations I served previously leadership in public prayer fell mainly to me. It was the minister’s job to lead the prayers. While scripture might regularly be read by a lay lector, the prayers were chosen or written by me, the minister. But this is no longer the case. At University Hill Congregation the prayers have been written and led by a lay worship elder, Sunday by Sunday, season by season, year by year, for nearly three decades.


forgiving, forgiven - a sample of biblical texts

As part of our conversation about Christian practices of forgiveness we have been collecting a sampling of biblical texts that inform our life together. We are always glad for suggestions of other texts that we have missed. Here is our current collection ...

forgiving, forgiven (four)

"Woman Caught in Adultery" by He Qi
This week our conversation about Christian practices of forgiveness reaches its half-way point. We continue to host readings of scripture along with other readings about the Christian way forgiveness and with our own experience of - and longing for - forgiveness and reconciliation. When we gather the time seems short. We bring many questions and recognize that there are few easy answers. We pray that our discussion is a part of God's transformation of our lives and life together so that we might more faithfully embody the grace of God as it is revealed to us in Jesus. It still strikes me as odd that I have not led an extended conversation about Christian practices of forgiveness in this - or any other - congregation before. I am not sure of the reason for this, though am glad that the time has come.

Here is the worksheet for this week's conversation ...


forgiving, forgiven (three)

"The Return of the Prodigal Son" by Rembrandt
This week we at University Hill Congregation gather for the third of seven conversations about Christian practices of forgiveness. When we gather we will be discussing our reading of the Parable of the Prodigal Son, the short story "Revelation" by Flannery O'Connor and the concluding chapter of Henri Nouwen's book "The Return of the Prodigal Son". I am looking forward to the group's response to these readings and, in particular, to its reaction to "Revelation". A favorite story of mine, it is unfamiliar to many in the congregation. As I look ahead to Sunday when we will mark All Saints Day I notice that the scriptures are similarly revelatory (Isaiah 25:6-9 & Revelation 21:1-6a) and so the sermon has the working title: "The Revelation". I wonder how to capture something of the surprising revelation that occurs in O'Connor's story in this week's sermon. In the meantime, here is the worksheet for this week's conversation about Christian practices of forgiveness ...


the performance of the biblical text ends only at death

Recently I purchased a copy of "Theology on the Way to Emmaus" by the Roman Catholic writer Nicholas Lash. Over the years I have borrowed the book from the theological school library many times, finding in it a helpful interpretive lens. Out of print for a number of years, it has recently been reprinted by Wipf & Stock publishers in Oregon. It now sits by my bedside (yes, I know, how many of us consider books on theology and hermeneutics to be bedside reading?). Each night I am reminded of the reasons that I have found Lash so helpful over the past fifteen years.

It is from Lash that I discovered the language of the performance of scripture to describe the purpose of Christian life in community. As I think about the conversation we are having in the congregation this autumn about Christian practices of forgiveness I realize the conversation is primarily intended to thicken our capacity to enact forgiveness and reconciliation in our lives and life together. Our talking about forgiveness is akin to actors discussing how to interpret a script before going on stage. The discussion is necessary but it is only preparatory to the performance of the story in our lives.

In the same way, the story of the way in which we play out our mortality - and, in my case, the symptoms and treatment of multiple myeloma and amyloidosis - enacts our interpretation of the biblical story. Recurrent themes in a people whose lives are scripted by the gospel include the sharing of suffering, the embodiment of compassion, and courage rooted in a cruciform hope. When I look to the years ahead my hope is to belong to a cast who help me to live this script faithfully.

Here are some quotes from Nicholas Lash ...


forgiving, forgiven (two)

Each week when we gather for a conversation about forgiveness in Christian community we read scripture together and discuss readings that we have read in preparation for our time together. As part of that preparation I offer a page with selections from the readings as well as with some questions to stimulate our discussion. Here is the worksheet for our discussion this week, session two ...


forgiving, forgiven (one)

We have begun our fall mid-week evening gathering. At University Hill Congregation this has come to mean an open invitation to dinner at Janet's home. Janet lives in a home that reminds me of a prairie farm house. It is full of love with a table that can extend and extend and extend to make room for as many as arrive for dinner. The living room is a circle of couches and chairs, each with a blanket to cozy under if needed. Janet prepares a main dish with others often bringing a salad or some wine or dessert. As we do not own a church building we have grown accustomed to meeting in each others' homes. Over the years Janet's home has become our second home, a kind of "UHill annex".

By 7:30 dinner is over and all have arrived and we begin ninety minutes of conversation intended to inform and aid our formation as apprentices of Jesus and his way. This fall the conversations open up the challenge of Jesus' command that his disciples seek and practice forgiveness. On seven Thursdays we will host biblical passages along with articles and sermons that speak about Christian practices of forgiveness. Forgiveness is the curriculum this fall as a result of a sermon that hosted and proclaimed the story found at John 20:19-31. It was the Sunday after Easter Sunday this year. The text famously ends with the story of Thomas and his doubts. But on the way to that famous ending Jesus charges the church with a huge ministry - the ministry of forgiveness. In the sermon (the one posted here as A New Beatitude) I found myself saying this:


velcade - cycle five

I am well into my fifth thirty-five day cycle on bortezomib (Velcade). Today I received my second of four weekly treatments. It is good to be able to continue to report good news. After the failure of the autologous stem cell transplant to provide a remission and after the allergic reaction that I experienced when receiving lenalidomide (Revlimid) I am grateful that Velcade in combination with dexamethasone is working to reduce and stabilize my protein free light chain count below 100 (down from 1600 when first diagnosed). The results after my fourth cycle on Velcade are a count of 96.6. Yay! I am also grateful that I am experiencing only minor side effects - soreness, redness and itchiness at the injection sites and some fatigue on the weekend. As a result of feeling (relatively) normal and stable I have begun to work with a fitness trainer at Back on Track Fitness who specializes in working with cancer patients. It will be interesting to see how my body responds. No, another marathon is not on the horizon. On second thought, this new journey is my next marathon. My goal now is simply to feel better, stronger, fitter. In the meantime, I am enjoying this precious time in my life. I hope that you are also able to experience these days as precious.


salt of the earth: a christian seasons calendar 2012/2013

Good news - the 2012/2013 edition of Salt of the Earth: A Christian Seasons Calendar is now available. This unique venture had its beginnings in 1999 as we at University Hill Congregation imagined a calendar that begins with Advent and turns with the Christian seasons (the story of the calendar's beginnings can be found here). The calendar continues to grow by word of mouth.

You can find the calendar at the Christian Seasons Calendar website where you can view sample pages, read reviews, download a poster and order online. Single copies of the calendar cost $15.95 (plus shipping and applicable taxes). There is a 20% discount on orders of ten or more and a 40% discount on orders of twenty five or more. Many people purchase in bulk and then give the calendars as gifts or make them available in congregations at a reduced rate.

We appreciate your assistance in spreading the word about Salt of the Earth: A Christian Seasons Calendar to friends and colleagues. 


not my job to defend, explain or comprehend jesus

I know that some people find the lectionary to be a pain. But this Sunday you have to love it. I wonder how many of us preachers would actually choose to preach Mark 9:38-50 if it wasn't set to be read this Sunday in the common lectionary? I think the answer is pretty clear. Not many! On first glance you would think that this is a natural for a Christian preacher. After all, it is among the few passages in Mark that include teachings of Jesus. Most of Mark's gospel is a narrative about Jesus' ministry, healings and encounters with disciples, crowds and opponents. Yes, there are a few parables told. Here in chapters nine and ten we find actual teachings just before he arrives at Palm Sunday and Holy Week. Heaven knows I have run into so many people who tell me that they aren't fans of the God of the Old Testament or of Paul and even that they struggle with Jesus' divinity and with the resurrection. That doesn't leave much but it does leave the teachings of Jesus. And many people tell me that it is Jesus' teachings that they find most powerful in the Bible. hmmm. That brings us to Mark 9:38-50. Teachings of Jesus that are not easy to comprehend. These are the teachings that leave me wondering if the fans of Jesus as a teacher have actually read his teachings. This Sunday we are in the shoes of the disciples who Mark has just said: "did not understand what he was saying and were afraid to ask him" (Mk 9:32). The good news for me is that it is not my job to defend, explain or comprehend Jesus. For so long I felt that I needed to protect him and to make sense of him so that the congregation could be re-assured that this all makes sense, that our minister is doing his job and that all is well. Now I realize that my work is to not hide Jesus from the congregation but to let them be confronted by him just as the disciples were confronted by him. Yes, I may have some insights to offer and some helpful explanations or interpretations. But if I don't understand Jesus I will say so. I am also a disciple struggling to see and to hear. I expect that there may be someone in the congregation who sees and hears in a way that I do not. It isn't my calling to have it all figured out before preaching or to wrap the sermon up in a nice bow with a wonderful ending that resolves all of the problems. Having said that, I am working away on a number of parts of this text that are problematic and that will surely need to be addressed on Sunday ...


on being fortunate

Yesterday morning our weekly Bible at Breakfast crowd was continuing its ongoing conversation with the book of Jeremiah. At my age and stage it is a real delight to find a group of ten people who are eager to get together at a local restaurant at 7:30 once a week to engage biblical texts with passion and curiosity. In the midst of yesterday's conversation one member noted that we are among the most fortunate people who have ever lived (given the standard of living that we enjoy, the medical care we receive, etc). Before you know it we were deep into a discussion that wondered about how we deal with the privilege of our good fortune. Reading Jeremiah week after week will do that to you! Later in the morning I spent ninety minutes with a doctor at Inspire Health - an integrative cancer care centre - working on a life plan that will integrate a variety of life practices into my daily routine with the intention of increasing my immune system's capacity to work in concert with the chemotherapy I am receiving to manage the chronic myeloma and amyloidosis. He seemed quite surprised to discover that I am feeling calm and at peace with low anxiety, lower than at any other time in my life that I can recall. I suppose that I am surprised, too.


pretending not to speak english

Our oldest grandchild entered French immersion kindergarten this month. She was telling me about it last week when I asked: "Does Madame Peggy speak any English?" "Oh, no", she replied, "but I think she is just pretending not to speak English". It hasn't taken long for our young learner to realize that the teacher understands every word that she and her classmates say in English even though she always replies in French. Slowly but surely the class will learn to echo their teacher and to learn a whole new way of constructing speech. This helps me re-imagine my vocation as a minister. I once thought of myself as a translator, undertaking the bridge work of traveling back and forth between two language worlds in order to make the gospel relevant. My work was to speak an ancient story in such a way that it made sense in the modern world. I was trying to make things as clear and easy to understand as possible. But I no longer imagine my vocation in this way. Now I think that my daily work is akin to that of a language immersion teacher who consistently speaks using the peculiar grammatical rules and vocabulary called "Christian" or "gospel". Sure, the congregation has many folk who do not know this odd language well and who continue to speak languages such as "Canadian" and "Western" and "modern", to name a few. I hope that over time the congregation echoes back the peculiar speech and life that is announced and embodied in worship Sunday by Sunday. My life's work is to become such a proficient speaker of the gospel that a newcomer might take awhile to come to the conclusion that the pastor "is just pretending not to speak Canadian".


before the gospel is a word, it is a silence

"The preaching of the Gospel is a telling of the truth or the putting of a sort of frame of words around the silence that is truth because truth in the sense of fullness, of the way things are, can at best be only pointed to by the language of poetry - of metaphor, image, symbol - as it is used in the prophets of the Old Testament and elsewhere. Before the Gospel is a word, it is a silence, a kind of presenting of life itself so that we see it not for what at various times we call it - meaningless or meaningful, absurd, beautiful - but for what it truly is in all its complexity, simplicity, mystery. The silence of Jesus in answer to Pilate's question about truth seems such a presenting as does also in a way the silence of the television news with the sound turned off - the real news is what we see and feel, not what Walter Cronkite tells us - or the silence the Psalmist means when he says, 'Be silent and know that I am God.' In each case it is a silence that demands to be heard because it is a presented silence, and the preacher must somehow himself present this silence and mystery of truth by speaking what he feels, not what he ought to say, by speaking forth not only the light and the hope of it but the darkness as well, all of it, because the Gospel has to do with all of it.


and even you, our sister death

Image from "The Green Canticle"
I am privy to a wonderful conversation that takes place most Wednesdays at Margaret & Lloyd's home. There Margaret, Gerald and I wrestle out the hymns for Sunday as we also wrestle out the sermon as best we can from the given text. Margaret leads The Singers, who accompany the congregation's singing. Gerald accompanies our song on the piano and organ. Both are keen readers of scripture. I always learn something. This week is no different, though I found it particularly surprising that I have been in ministry this long and have only learned it now. As we were looking for a strong opening hymn we noted that the weather is expected to continue to be glorious. I suggested a favorite of mine - "All Creatures of Our God and King" translated from St. Francis' of Assissi's Canticle of the Sun in 1225 (which given our denomination's apparent current fascination with music - and, I fear, with theology - written after 1990 makes this one of those "classic" hymns that are way out of date and out of step). One is hard pressed to find a more relevant hymn when it comes to concern for the creation as Francis invites all of nature to sing God's praise long before he invites humans to add their voices. In fact, the original begins with four verses of invitation to the natural world to sing the song of praise. In the United / Anglican hymn book of 1971 that section was reduced to three verses, in order to keep things moving along and to fit the hymn onto the page. Then there were (and still are, in our current hymn book Voices United) two other verses. The fourth invites those of "tender heart" to "forgiving others take your part". I have always found this a lovely move - equating praise of God with forgiveness of others; love of God with love of neighbour. We expect Francis to have us sing our praises but the first act of praise is "forgiving others". And then it is the call to those who "long pain and sorrow bear" to sing praise. We imagine that it is those who look outside at a wonderful day, living lives of relative ease, who can name many obvious blessings who would be eagerly singing praise - and they may be. But Francis also invites in particular those with chronic pain and sorrow to join the hallelujahs. Then there is a grand summary verse to close the hymn. Yet that is not all. That is not the surprise. Here is where my learning occurred. Gerald remembered another verse, gone from our hymnody since 1971 when it was dropped. Dropped why? Because of space concerns? Maybe. I will let you decide. You will find the verse below, the fourth verse in the version that we will sing together to open the service on Sunday:


the fulcrum upon which the gospel narrative balances

As I journey to the pulpit this week I am appreciating the accompaniment of Ched Meyers, who writes:

"We have arrived at the midpoint of the story. Once again, Mark's Jesus turns to challenge the disciples/reader. 'Who do you say that I am?' (Mark 8:29a). This question is the fulcrum upon which the gospel narrative balances. Not only that: upon our answer hangs the character of Christianity in the world. Do we know who it is we are following, and what he is about? Mark began the story by telling us who Jesus is (Mark 1:1); the reader, like the Christian church, 'knows the right answer' to this question. Thus we are shocked when Peter's answer, which is 'correct', is rejected by Jesus! With this 'confessional crisis' Mark opens the second half of his Gospel."

- "Binding the Strong Man: A Political Reading of Mark's Story of Jesus" by Ched Meyers (p. 235)


a scandal to the natural mind

I have begun the journey to next Sunday's sermon which will host the text found at Mark 8:22-38. On the way to Sunday I received a copy of "Mere Discipleship: Radical Christianity in a Rebellious World" by Lee Camp. The book fell open at a page that quotes Mark 8:34-37 ("If any want to become my followers ...). By way of introduction to the passage the author includes these two provocative quotations:


it takes every word

Well, so much for posting the written text of yesterday's sermon. I had good intentions but just could not get a written draft down on paper before it was time to preach. While I knew that there was a sermon waiting to be born it would not arrive in time to line out before the congregation gathered. In the end it felt as though this was how things were intended. The sermon felt fresh, engaged, connected. And, like manna, it is now gone. No written record. No video. No notes. Just the memory, for now, until it seems forgotten. It leaves me wondering about the impact, over time, of such preaching events in the life and mind of the congregation. There are two things that I do want to remember from yesterday, so I'll post them here.


jesus beyond borders

The gospel lesson for this coming Sunday is Mark 7:24-37. It will be the first of our four ventures over the next four Sundays into the heart of Mark's gospel. The gospel turns from Act One to Act Two at the end of chapter eight. Mark's gospel is written in street Greek, and seems rough around the edges. But it is a carefully constructed book, with two halves. The first half portrays Jesus as a powerful healer and teacher. It is not clear to those who meet him where his power comes from. When, at the end of chapter eight, his disciples realize that Jesus is the Messiah, Jesus commands silence about his identity (known as "The Messianic Secret Motif" in Mark). In the second half of Mark's gospel Jesus reveals that as the Messiah his destiny is suffering, death and resurrection. Peter and the disciples struggle to understand, accept and follow such a Messiah. The next four Sundays take us through this crucial turn in Mark's gospel.

Here are some things that strike me in the text as I host it in expectation of a living Word for Sunday. I am grateful for your comments, insights, questions, suggestions and prayers.


an act of relentless hope

I was up early this morning in order to beat the traffic on my way to my weekly chemotherapy treatment. It was dark, reminding me that the sun is working its inevitable way towards the southern hemisphere. On the way out the door I remembered to grab something to read while waiting for my treatment. A dog-eared book on my shelf called out, its binding no longer any use, with the pages falling out - "Finally Comes the Poet: Daring Speech for Proclamation" - Walter Brueggemann's 1988 Lyman Beecher Lectures on Preaching at Yale Divinity School. It is not uncommon for me to seek inspiration - to be reminded of the reason that I take up the call to preach - in the midst of the full weeks of ministry that arrive in September. The tattered state of my copy of "Finally Comes the Poet" reminds me that I have returned over and over to its pages. It is not alone among published volumes of the Beecher Lectures. Three others in my collection are underlined, dog-eared and well worn. I remember being captivated by Frederich Buechner's "Telling the Truth: The Gospel as Tragedy, Comedy and Fairy Tale". Reading it again now I can see the arc of my ministry prefigured in its pages. Along the way my apprenticeship included learning from Fred Craddock whose Beecher lectures were published as "Overhearing the Gospel: Preaching and Teaching the Faith to Persons Who Have Heard it all Before". Then in recent years a new favorite came along in the form of Richard Lischer's "The End of Words: The Language of Reconciliation in a Culture of Violence". These books are trusted companions on the way, friends that remind me of the challenge and gift that is the call to preach the good news of the gospel in this time and place. In the midst of what may seem a time of dispirited decline in the church these voices remind me of the vitality, energy and wonder that is present among the company of preachers for those with eyes to see and ears to hear.

When I opened "Finally Comes the Poet" once again this morning I was not disappointed. For one thing, I had forgotten that the first chapter - "Numbness and Ache: The Strangeness of Healing" - is an extended meditation on the way in which Jeremiah provides preachers with a model of poetic speech that opens the community to the painful yet needful path to healing. Reading Jeremiah, chapter by chapter, in our Wednesday morning breakfast conversation is, at once, painful and instructive. We are tempted to turn away from the harsh rhetoric and, yet, are drawn in by the longing and grief of God. But, before chapter one's meditation on Jeremiah, Brueggemann situates his argument in this way in the Introduction ...


the trouble with jesus

Jesus. It always gets back to Jesus. That shouldn't be so surprising. After all, the one thing non-Christians surely know about Christians is that they are followers of Jesus. But you might be surprised at how often the church wanders off in search of something other than Jesus, some God better suited to our inclinations and biases than the one who is enfleshed in Jesus. So, as the summer ends and the regular rhythms of life return, it is good to see that the lectionary has us deep in the heart of Mark's gospel where we are again confronted by Jesus. It reminds me of returning to class in elementary school and spending the month of September going back over what we had learned in the previous year (and half-forgotten over the summer). In Canada we will mark Thanksgiving on the first Sunday in October. Between now and then there are four Sundays, four opportunities to learn in the school of rabbi Jesus.


velcade - cycle four

As of this morning I am half way through my fourth cycle on bortezomib (Velcade) and dexamethasone. On four Thursday mornings out of every five I arrive at St. Paul's Hospital at 8 am in order to receive two injections of Velcade. Today it took ninety minutes from the time I arrived until the protocol was completed, the drugs sent from the pharmacy and the injections injected. I take advantage of the time to rest, read and chat with the nursing staff and other patients. This is a photo of today's meds. Not much to look at but, thankfully, very effective in managing my myeloma and the resulting amyloidosis. These injections are allowing me to live a healthy, symptom free life. While I do not know the current price of Velcade a little online research suggests that these two vials cost in the range of $1500. Multiple myeloma and amyloidosis are expensive diseases to treat. Needless to say, I continue to be very grateful for the Canadian health care system which provides this to me without charge.


speaking of dying

"The church does not cope very well with dying." Those are the first words on the back cover of a new book that I am in the midst of reading (Speaking of Dying: Recovering the Church's Voice in the Face of Death). On first glance it is a bit surprising to think that the church does not cope well with dying. As the authors point out, the church knows what to do when it comes to the time of death. When it comes to death itself the church moves into action with funeral liturgies and memorial services and care for the grieving. But when it comes to dying the church often does not know what to do or to say other than to mimic a culture in which dying is regularly denied and silenced or is fought at all costs.

Given the diagnosis that I received last year - a diagnosis of living with an incurable, if manageable and chronic, blood cancer - and given my vocation as a Christian pastor I ordered the book. While I have no desire to be living with the label "dying pastor" and, in fact, am remarkably healthy at the moment, I am acutely aware that I am on a journey toward death. I am eager to learn about how best to speak of this journey in ways that are honest, faithful and helpful.


grace at the tim horton's drive-through

photo from davidblaikie.ca
I am a commuter. I have habits. One of them is my pit-stop at the Tim Horton's drive-through window fifteen minutes into my drive. I pull off the #99 freeway, cross the #10 highway and get into line. There are often six or seven or eight cars ahead of me. On first glance it can look like a long wait is in store. But not here. The tiny Tim Horton's outlet in the back of the Esso gas station is filled by a highly choreographed team whose dance of service is remarkable. The line up moves swiftly. I am soon placing my order, speaking into the microphone: "One small coffee, black, in my own mug and a cinnamon raisin bagel, toasted dry". Now I need to be prepared, with my cup in hand and my money ready. Pulling up to the window a hand is already reaching out for my cup. Another employee has guessed what change will be needed and hands it to me as I pay. Before I can get the change put away my toasted bagel is ready, and then my coffee, and then - in what seems no time - I am back on the road. When we say that the church is a community that is learning to perform the gospel I sometimes think that it can learn something from the dance of service every morning at this Tim Horton's. But that is not what occasioned this post.


the god we would rather have

We are your people and mostly we don't mind,
       except that you do not fit any of our categories.
We keep pushing
                  and pulling
                  and twisting
                  and turning,
       trying to make you fit the God we would rather have,
                  and every time we distort you that way
                             we end up with an idol more congenial to us.


jeremiah & jesus

Next week our Wednesday morning Bible at Breakfast group is discussing chapter seven of the book of Jeremiah. The story told there is an obvious point of contact between Jeremiah and Jesus. The correspondences between Jeremiah and Jesus seem largely forgotten in the church these days (witness the lack of passages from Jeremiah's Temple sermon and trial read in the church during Holy Week). Yet these parallels have long been recognized, as noted in the following quotation by H. Wheeler Robinson (originally published in 1915):


but it's received

"Too often (North) American Christians, I think, think they get to make Christianity up. But it's received."

- Stanley Hauerwas (in "Sunday Asylum: Being the Church in Occupied Territory", Work of the People, 2011)


use at your own risk

At worship yesterday it was my turn to gather with the youngest children and to tell them the story that they were to learn about in their Little Ones time together. It was the story of Joshua and the city of Jericho. It is quite a tale to tell with the seven priests blowing the seven trumpets as they circle the impregnable walls with the Ark of the Lord on each of six consecutive days. Then, on the seventh day, they repeat this extraordinary parade seven more times before, with a shout from the people, the walls come tumbling down.


a people, a name, a praise and a glory

"Jeremiah" by Michelangelo
Our Wednesday morning Bible at Breakfast group is currently reading the book of Jeremiah. With this in mind here is an article I had published in the Fall 2002 issue of Word and World.

A People, a Name, a Praise and a Glory:  
False and True Faith in Jeremiah

In a world of conflicting truths, how does one know which truth to trust? Living in the aftermath of the cultural hegemony of Christendom, the consensus truth of modernity, and the visceral body blow of September 11, we are witnesses to the rapid deconstruction - even demolition - of the old, solid, foundational truths. In the face of this smoldering rubble pile of certitude, the stable assumptions of our once modern world seem already, strangely, ancient. What we tentatively name postmodernity is, at the least, a hotly contested conversation about what is the truth. When truth is in question so is falsehood (1). Which decision is true to God’s calling? What future trajectory tells a lie about God’s intent? How will we know the truth when we see it? Jeremiah enters the epistemological courtroom, stands in the witness box, and gives daring testimony. He offers no half-truths, no spin doctoring, no soft soap. Jeremiah names suspects, exposes lies, neutralizes counter- testimony, competes with adversaries, and calls for a hearing.


lorne bowering

I just learned of the death of Lorne Bowering. It is news that brings grief and gratitude. Lorne was a towering figure in my adolescent life. The director of YMCA Camp Elphinstone for thirty five years, he taught me and so many other boys about responsibility, service and leadership.

Looking back, it is hard to believe that Lorne was just thirty-three when I first went to Elphinstone in 1967. In my mind he always seemed so grown up and experienced and wise. He had the capacity to ride herd on a camp of a hundred and twenty boys along with an at times unruly staff of counsellors while at the same time making personal connections with each one of us. He seemed to really enjoy us. Which, of course, he did. He enjoyed giving us a chance to try our wings as young men. He enjoyed watching us grow up.


the politics of eating together

Last month University Hill Congregation hosted the Native Ministries Consortium to dinner. Every summer students and teachers from Native communities across Canada, the United States and beyond gather at the Vancouver School of Theology to learn together. The consortium has been gathering since 1985. We have been hosting dinner with the Native Ministries Consortium since 1998. This is how it came to be.


imitatio dei

Ephesians 4:17-5:2

We are back in Ephesians. Yes, I know. We spent the season of Lent hosting this letter. Now the lectionary takes us through it once more. It is a refresher course, a summer school retake, preparation for the fall semester. Ephesians isn’t as well known as, say, Matthew, Mark, Luke or John. Among the letters in the New Testament it is overshadowed by Romans and Corinthians. But, as we discovered in Lent, it is essential reading for us here and now. It is essential for us because Ephesians is addressed to a people who are discovering what it is to live the way of Jesus Christ. Here at University Hill we describe ourselves as a people who are “rediscovering the Way of Christ for the sake of the world.” Ephesians is addressed to us.


velcade - cycle three

It is hard to believe that it has been over a month since my last post. The good news is that much of that time I have been on vacation, feeling well and enjoying the Gulf Islands with family (the photo on the left was taken on Galiano Island). I am back from those holidays refreshed and looking forward. In the midst of my vacation time I received the good news that my free light chain count continues to drop (from 310 to 200 after cycle one and now to 95 after cycle two). The current treatment regime of Velcade and Dexamethasone is working and giving me reason to hope for months of good health before needing to turn to another treatment. It is the first time since the diagnosis fifteen months ago that my treatments have stabilized and that life has settled into a (new) normal. 



"It doesn't have to be
the blue iris, it could be
weeds in a vacant lot, or a few
small stones; just
pay attention, then patch


five smooth stones

I Samuel 17:1-50; Mark 4:35-41

David and Goliath. The names have moved from the Bible into the generic language of our culture. David is the poster boy for the perennial little guy who defeats the giant Goliath. It has become a children’s fable, a metaphor for overcoming our fear and defeating the giants in our life. You would think that more than three decades of preaching that I would have preached at least one sermon on this familiar tale. But no. I have not. It leaves me wondering why, why not? And then I read, read I Samuel, and remember. I remember that these stories are not pretty, not easily turned into metaphors, not readily removed from the brutality of Iron Age Canaanite culture. To read these narratives is to be taken into a world where raw power is interwoven with hidden providence that is revealed in all manner of human personalities. In handing these stories on to us as scripture Israel and the church make the claim that speaking of God’s activity in the world requires a thick, artistic, honest telling. If God is active in this world it is in this world (not a cleansed version of this world) - this world with all its raw power, active somehow through the strange mix of personalities we know and are (Walter Brueggemann, “Power, Providence & Personality”).


velcade - cycle two

I am now two treatments into the four weekly injections of my second cycle on bortezomib (Velcade) and dexamethasone. So far, so good. The results have arrived from my blood work and it is promising news. My regular blood results are in the normal range (white blood count, red blood count, etc) and the free light chains (indicating the activity level of the multiple myeloma) have dropped from 310 at the beginning of the first cycle to 200 after completing the first cycle. My doctor would like to keep the number under 100 if possible. Still, 200 is much better than the 1600 that it was a year ago and the 700 that it was in January. The Velcade/Dexamethasone mix is, it seems, working. Yay!


add your light

I am not sure when it was - maybe 1996 or 1997 - that I received a phone call from Jan. She called to say that she was new in town, having recently moved here from Ottawa. She knew of me through our mutual connections with Naramata Centre and wondered if she could meet with me. I remember inviting her to come to worship with University Hill Congregation. Somehow I sensed that it was the congregation more than the minister that she needed to meet. From that first conversation fifteen years ago a friendship has developed and has continued through Jan's move to Calgary eight years ago. Anyone who knows Jan Tollefson will tell you that she is an inspiration. The non-profit charitable society that she established is aptly named Add Your Light. Jan adds her light through her compassion and concern. She is a visionary, a truth-teller and a practical, get things done kind of person. Beside all of that she has a wonderful smile and sense of humour. Since I was diagnosed a year ago with multiple myeloma she has been a great encouragement. But now she, too, has been diagnosed with cancer. Out of the blue she found herself in an emergency ward with a brain tumour. The tumour was successfully removed only to discover that the cancer, though discovered early, is very dangerous. Jan is now preparing for a combination of chemotherapy and radiation treatments in the summer. It has all come as a huge shock. As the shock wears off and the reality settles in I hope that Jan now receives the kind of care and concern that she has offered through all of these years. If my experience so far is any indicator she may yet discover that surprising blessings await (along, yes, with ache and trouble) on the other side of a cancer diagnosis. That is my prayer, along with prayers for healing and for added light ... lots of added light!


through wind and rain

The picture says it all - Janice Love successfully completed the Ride to Conquer Cancer, raising $3,400 for research into blood cancers thanks to support from so many of you. It was a blustery weekend and Janice reports never having been so soaking wet in her life. Nonetheless, she persevered and logged 245.54 kilometres on the journey from Vancouver to Seattle. Perseverance in the face of bad weather, enduring through difficult circumstances - these are virtues that are always worth cultivating but nevermore so than when living with cancer. Thanks for the inspiration Janice!


vancouver to seattle on a bike

This is the weekend when my good friend and colleague, Janice Love, participates in the Ride to Conquer Cancer. And good news - Janice has met her goal of $3,200 for research into blood cancers (having now raised $3,225 in donations). Thank-you to all of you who have contributed. It means a lot to Janice and to me. Of course, this does not mean that it is too late to add your support. You can do so by visiting Janice's Ride to Conquer Cancer web-page. You can also follow the progress of the riders as they make their way from Vancouver to Seattle by visiting the Ride With Us page throughout the weekend (she is riding the classic course). Godspeed Janice!



Last Sunday I preached on II Corinthians 4:7-5:7. The sermon had the title "So". Originally I chose this title because it picked up on "So we do not lose heart" (II Cor. 4, verses 1 & 16). This seemed a good fit with the meeting of the congregation that was slated to occur following worship. The agenda of the meeting was to consider a question that sounds something like: "So, how will we best prepare for the year ahead, given the unknowns that lie ahead?" Then, late in time, I suddenly saw not one "so" in these verses from II Corinthians but ten - yes, ten. The text is looking forward to an uncertain future from a time of trouble and suffering, all the while using the little word "so". "So" is a word that keeps a sentence moving forward, keeps a reader and listener thinking of what is coming next. So the sermon became a tour through these ten "so then" moments in the text. Now that I am already looking forward to next Sunday's sermon (continuing on through this part of II Corinthians) there is not time to go back over all of that ground here. But one of Paul's metaphors from this passage, in particular, continues to inspire me to think about the days to come.


building up the church

The practice of preaching constitutes a people with a distinctive identity in the world. In congregations that suffer from chronic anxiety, apathy and fear as well as in those that are tempted by idols of success and security preachers glimpse symptoms of collective amnesia. Whenever the church is in danger of forgetting who - and whose - it is the vocation of the preacher is the building up of the church (I Cor 14:3-4).

Preaching that seeks to shape congregational identity invites the congregation into a world that is being re-described by the Bible. Hearing such preaching is akin to being immersed in a foreign culture. It assumes that the church exists to be a witness to the odd customs and surprising ways of life in the kingdom of God. Its central concern is how scripture intends to shape the people of God. The sermon that results does not ask what a text means to individuals or how it speaks to social issues. It is confident that a congregation that learns to live these texts will faithfully address the needs of individuals and the issues it faces in society.


life and death

I am not sure when or how it happened but somewhere along the line going to church on Sunday became more like attending a meeting of Alcoholics Anonymous than, well, going to church. Raised in a preacher’s household and now a preacher myself for three decades my own conversion happened gradually. I didn’t even realize what I was going through until one of my parishioners told me that the congregation had been watching my conversion one Sunday, one sermon at a time.


the voice

The twenty-ninth psalm is a model of organization. It has been carefully, thoughtfully, precisely constructed in three sections. In the first section there are three ascriptions to the LORD. In the second there are seven thunders of the LORD’s voice. And finally, in the third section, are two affirmations paired with two blessings. In the first section the LORD - YHWH - is named four times, in the second named ten times and in the third, again, named four times. It is a threefold hymn about the LORD, fitting for the God we know as Triune: Three in One. Yet I confess it is not a Psalm that I know well, that I can recite by heart or that I have taken the time to host as holy guest, as holy stranger in our midst. Today that changes.


velcade - cycle one

Yesterday I received the fourth of four weekly injections of velcade - the chemotherapy treatment that I have recently begun. I also took a fourth weekly dose of the steroid dexamethasone. So far I have not had any noticeable side effects as a result of this treatment (other than the marks left on my belly at the injection sites - the redness turns to a blotch that remains as a souvenir - a map of where I have received chemotherapy). That's good news! This marks the end of my treatment during the first thirty-five day cycle on velcade and dexamethasone. I get a "week off" now (not required to receive any treatment next week) and return to the Medical Short Stay Unit at St. Paul's Hospital to begin the second thirty-five day cycle in two weeks. We will see the first test results that show what effect the velcade is having in slowing down the rate of multiple myeloma and amyloidosis in three weeks. That is when the next free light chain readings will be reported to me and my medical team. If the treatment is proving effective I will remain on it until it is no longer working (and not causing serious side effects). Eventually we will move on to another treatment, playing a cat and mouse game with the myeloma and amyloidosis for as long as possible.


holy, holy, holy

Leviticus 19:1-2, 9-18; I Corinthians 3:10-11, 16-23; Matthew 5:38-48

My earliest memories of worship are opening every Sunday singing: “Holy, holy, holy! Lord God almighty! Early in the morning our song shall rise to thee.” I didn’t know what the word holy meant except that it was associated with God. God was holy. The hymn taught me to sing: “only thou art holy, merciful and mighty.” So it is a bit confounding to open Leviticus and find that Moses is to tell the Israelites that they are holy (Lev. 19:2). On the same Sunday we find Paul writing to the little Corinthian church made up of the “low and despised in the world” (I Cor. 1:28) that it is a “holy temple” (I Cor. 3:17). The church of my upbringing has been careful to leave holiness to God. We are keenly aware of the danger of a “holier than thou” attitude. Say the word “righteous” and we instinctively add the prefix “self”. The truth is that we don’t talk about holiness very much. Then along come these texts which each say to the church: “You are holy”.


"spirit" or "the holy spirit"

Back in February 2011 I scribbled some thoughts about the trend to drop the definite article - "the" - when speaking of "the church". More recently I have noticed a similar trend when speaking of "the Spirit". Phrases like "not certain where Spirit is calling" show up with increasing frequency (as that one did on a local congregation's website this week). I am not sure what to make of this apparently minor grammatical shift. I think that it is intended to signal something. But what?


preaching revival

Travelers to Atlanta are inevitably drawn to the World of Coke, home of Coca-Cola. A tour through the story of Coke concludes at a massive indoor fountain with each visitor invited to receive an endless supply of the sacramental beverage. Coming to the font a chant can be heard over the sound system: “Life … life … life”. This is the font of Life? Of course, it is not only the World of Coke that promotes its products as replacements for the gift of the Holy Spirit. Contemporary culture is a crowded marketplace of idols, all vying for our service and praise.


we preach not ourselves

A couple of years ago I happened across a book on preaching in the Regent College bookstore. Stumbling across books at Regent Books is a habit of mine that comes from having an office so close to temptation. I had not heard of the book or the author before: "We Preach Not Ourselves: Paul on Proclamation" by Michael P. Knowles. Published by Brazos Press in 2008 the book cover reported that Michael Knowles is a Canadian, an Anglican priest and professor of preaching at McMaster Divinity College in Hamilton. What most caught my eye is that the book is an offer for preachers rooted in a careful reading of II Corinthians 1:1-6:13. I continue to find myself drawn back to the book over and over again. In part, that is because I have been drawn to Paul over and over again in recent years. Paul's letters speak with power to the struggle to build up a sustainable, faithful congregation in a time when we are struggling to see the way ahead. But I also return to "We Preach Not Ourselves" often because it is the kind of book that I can open on most any page and find sustenance.

Here are a few quotes that spoke to me yesterday, while waiting in the hospital for my second weekly dose of chemotherapy to be delivered (on that score so far, so good). The nurses regularly ask what book I am reading, expecting the latest novel. I suspect that not too many patients arrive with books on preaching. The following quotes are taken from the section on II Corinthians 4:16-5:15 (the verses from which we have a lectionary reading upcoming on Sunday, June 10 and from which I intend to preach) ...


they know me at this cafe

"They know me at this cafe. When I come in from the vineyards they put a drink in front of me. As a sign of respect I take off my sunglasses whenever I speak to the proprietress. Here I can reflect on the Romans, their triumph, and the tiny thorn in their side that we represent. The owners are exiles too, scattered people, as are their customers, who all seem to wear dark suits and flash gold teeth behind their cigarette-holders. Our children go to the Roman schools. We drink coffee, and some kind of powerful fruit brandy, and we hope that the grandchildren will return to us. Our hope is in the distant seed. Occasionally the card players in the corner lift little glasses in a toast, and I lift mine, joining them in their incomprehensible affirmation. The cards fly between their fingers and the mica table-top, old cards, so familiar they hardly have to turn them over to see who has won the hand. Take heart, you who were born in the captivity of a fixed predicament; and tremble, you kings of certainty: your iron has become like glass, and the word has been uttered that will shatter it."

- Leonard Cohen ("Book of Mercy", #18)


making progress?

I’ve been hearing and reading about Progressive Christianity for the better part of a decade. What I have heard and read has not grabbed me. I grew up in the 1960s when the United Church of my youth was seeking to be a progressive church. I remember the great controversy over the New Curriculum that was intended to be an up-to-date, progressive Sunday School resource. I remember, too, the progressive politics of my father and many other United Church ministers like him. We cheered for the New Democratic Party on election nights. This was, as Dad believed, gospel politics. Now, three decades into the life of an ordained minister of the United Church, I have spent much of my ministry in re-discovery of Scripture and tradition as crucial components in the formation of Christian identity. In the process, my reading of the claims made for Progressive Christianity by its supporters has not been hopeful. Have I been guilty of breaking the ninth commandment by bearing false witness? Perhaps I have. So, when I noticed that a local United Church congregation invites those who visit its website to explore Progressive Christianity, I decided to put down my hermeneutic of suspicion and to take up the invitation. Perhaps this movement is not the enemy that I too often imagine. Perhaps, instead, it is the visit of a holy guest akin to those who arrive at Abraham and Sarah’s table. Since I trust in a God who is providential, might God be providing good news in this distinctive expression of Christianity?


the chapel

A little aside from the main road,
becalmed in a last-century greyness,
there is the chapel, ugly, without the appeal
to the tourist to stop his car
and visit it. The traffic goes by,
and the river goes by, and quick shadows
of clouds, too, and the chapel settles
a little deeper into the grass.


day one, again

Today is day one of my first thirty-five day cycle on the chemotherapeutic drug called bortezomib (marketed as Velcade). It feels like my fourth "day one" since my diagnosis a year ago. There was the first day taking mega-doses of the steroid dexamethasone which began in late May last year. Then there was the mega-dose of the chemo drug melphalon which was day one of the autologous stem cell transplant in September. And then there was the first day taking the chemotherapeutic drug lenalidomide (Revlimid) this past March. Each first day is a mixture of anxiety and hope, curiosity and uncertainty. Having read all of the possible side-effects I wonder which, if any, will effect me. Knowing that the treatments have a good chance of being successful but also knowing that not every response is positive leaves me wondering what the results will be.


my way is hidden

On May 7, 2012 I was honoured to give the convocation address at the convocation of the Vancouver School of Theology. This is the text of that address which, since I am a preacher by trade, took the form of a sermon. My thanks to my friend Martin Cohen for his helpful translation of the Hebrew in Isaiah 40:27-31.

When Principal Stephen invited me to give the convocation address he said that the school is dealing with a very serious diagnosis which threatens its future. He said that this diagnosis will call for major intervention in hopes of survival. He said that perhaps my recent experience of receiving a terminal diagnosis and having a major medical intervention in hopes of extending my lifetime would provide a helpful lens through which to see things. It has been a year since the doctors discovered that I have multiple myeloma, a rare form of blood cancer, and amyloidosis, an even rarer disease that leads to organ failure. The bad news is that there is no known cure. The good news is that, due to advances in medical science, these diseases are becoming chronic and manageable. Let’s see - chronic, manageable, incurable. It sounds a lot like life. This is what it's like on the other side of a serious diagnosis: it’s a lot like life, only now everything is magnified - including the faith.


the cross is laid on every christian

"The cross is laid on every Christian. The first Christ-suffering which every person must experience is the call to abandon the attachments of this world. It is that dying of the old person which is the result of our encounter with Christ. As we embark upon discipleship we surrender ourselves to Christ in union with his death - we give over our lives to death. Thus it begins; the cross is not the terrible end to an otherwise God-fearing and happy life, but it meets us at the beginning of our communion with Christ. When Christ calls us, he bids us come and die. It may be a death like that of the first disciples who had to leave home and work to follow him, or it may be a death like Luther's, who had to leave the monastery and go out into the world. But it is the same death every time - death in Jesus Christ, the death of the old person at his call."
                                                             - Dietrich Bonhoeffer ("A Testament to Freedom", p. 313)


seven assumptions for preaching in a missional church

What difference is there in preaching for a missional church? The congregation I serve notices that my preaching has changed. But what has changed? It is not simply the way in which these sermons are constructed. The change has less to do with technique (with the 'how to') as it does with the intent (with the 'what for') of this preaching. The biggest difference in preaching for a missional church rests in the assumptions that are made by preachers facing this new context.

Missional preaching is not a new method of preaching. Missional preaching is a different genre of preaching (within which a variety of methods and styles may be faithfully employed). Once the preacher and congregation change their operative assumptions about the purpose of the sermon and the role of the preacher and the calling of the congregation, everything about the occasion of preaching shifts. The following seven working assumptions currently govern every sermon that I preach. And, according to the testimony of the congregation, this changed preaching accounts for significant change within our life together at University Hill Congregation.


i don't need anything else

Today is, by tradition, Good Shepherd Sunday. By tradition I mean recent tradition - since Vatican II in 1962 when the Roman Catholic church located this day on the fourth Sunday of Easter. The ecumenical lectionary follows this recent innovation and, hence, so do we. It is fine with me. It means we read the 23rd Psalm. And it means that, in a few minutes, we sing my favorite version of the 23rd Psalm - the one titled “My Shepherd is the Living Lord”, the earliest published hymn in the English language. But we aren’t there quite yet. We know the 23rd Psalm well, but not that well. It comes again as a holy guest, even a holy stranger, with a new Word, a Living Word. It comes as a guest because it is not the 23rd Psalm that we host this morning but the Good Shepherd who stands among us, who speaks to us, who leads us, who restores our life.


a spin to conquer cancer

My good friend and colleague Janice Love continues to train for the Ride to Conquer Cancer in June. Today her local newspaper in Vernon published an article about Janice, her ride and her fundraising efforts. You can read it at A Spin to Conquer Cancer. Janice has now raised $1,555.00 towards her goal of $3,200 (half way there). In order to participate in the ride she needs to raise $2,500 ($945 to go). All of the donations given in support of Janice are immediately used in blood cancer research (leukemia, lymphoma and multiple myeloma). I am grateful to all of you who have already made a contribution. If you would like to make a donation in support of her ride and in aid of blood cancer research simply visit Janice's donation page (you can give online or print out a donation page and mail in your donation). A big thank-you to Janice and friends!


one year later

April 29 is a new date on my calendar of anniversaries. Last year it fell on a Friday, this year it leaps ahead to Sunday. I had returned home from work on April 27 to find a phone message asking me to call my doctor's office. When I called on Thursday morning the receptionist said that she needed to make me an appointment to see Charles, my doctor, about the results that had come back from my tests. She said he was busy and it would have to be sometime next week. Then she sounded a bit surprised and said, "Oh, he has already booked you in for tomorrow morning at 9:00 am. Can you make it?" At that moment I realized that the results must not be good.


we are more than what we have suffered

"Christians believe, however, that neither what we do nor what we suffer defines us at the deepest level. Though the way we think of and treat ourselves and the way others think of and treat us does shape our identity, no human being can make or unmake us. Instead of being defined by how human beings relate to us, we are defined by how God relates to us. We know that fundamentally we are who we are, as unique individuals standing in relation to our neighbors and broader culture, because God loves us - to such a great extent that on the cross Jesus Christ, God incarnate, shouldered our sin and tasted our suffering.

Even more, by opening ourselves to God's love through faith, our bodies and souls become sanctified spaces, God's "temples," as the Apostle Paul puts it (I Corinthians 6:19). The flame of God's presence, which gives us new identity, then burns in us inextinguishably. Though like buildings devastated by wind and flood, our bodies and souls may become ravaged, yet we continue to be God's temple - at times a temple in ruins, but sacred space nonetheless. Absolutely nothing defines a Christian more than the abiding flame of God's presence, and that flame bathes in a warm glow everything we do or suffer.


the hope that is in you

This morning at our weekly Bible at Breakfast group at a local restaurant in Vancouver we continued to read through the First Letter of Peter. Today we were hosting chapter three which begins with advice for Christian wives married to non-Christian husbands and ends with verses that link Noah and the flood with our baptism. We had plenty to wrestle with in the chapter. Then there in the middle of it all is a wonderful verse that, as one of our number put it, could easily be carved above the door of the Chapel to be read as we are leaving worship: "Always be ready to make your defense to anyone who demands from you an accounting for the hope that is in you" (I Peter 3:15).


missional & communal catechesis

A few years ago I was fortunate to be part of a small group that sought to initiate a conversation about missional and communal catechesis on behalf of the Gospel and Our Culture Network. We had hoped to bring together a number of pastors, lay leaders and scholars to engage questions of Christian formation in North America. Unfortunately, funding problems resulted in us having to abandon our initial vision. The other day I came across our original invitation. I still find the questions it raises and the framework it proposes compelling. It reminds me of our dream of a new form of catechism for the missional church. Here is what the four of us (Mike Budde, Chris Erdman, Mary Fisher and myself) drafted then ...


a missional conversion

It is surprising what happens when the meaning of one word in your vocabulary changes. In my case, that word is “mission”. For most of my life mission has referred to a journey with a purpose, undertaken by an individual or a group. As a teen I watched every mission to the moon with fascination. Growing up in the United Church I learned that the Mission and Service Fund was our calling to “live love”. As a minister I worked hard with congregations to craft mission statements that gave direction to our objectives and goals. Mission had to do with us, with what we needed to do, because – as we said to ourselves – “God has no other hands but ours”.


christians and pagans

People turn to God when they're in need,
plead for help, contentment, and for bread,
for rescue from their sickness, guilt, and death.
They all do so, both Christian and pagan.

People turn to God in God's own need,
and find God poor, degraded, without roof or bread,
see God devoured by sin, weakness, and death.
Christians stand with God to share God's pain.

God turns to all people in their need,
nourishes body and soul with God's own bread,
takes up the cross for Christian and pagan, both,
and in forgiving both, is slain.

- Dietrich Bonhoeffer, July 1944 ("A Testament to Freedom", p. 541)


wherever you turn your eyes

"It has seemed to me sometimes as though the Lord breathes on this poor gray ember of Creation and it turns to radiance - for a moment or a year or the span of a life. And then it sinks back into itself again, and to look at it no one would know it had anything to do with fire, or light. That is what I said in the Pentecost sermon. I have reflected on that sermon, and there is some truth in it. But the Lord is more constant and far more extravagant than it seems to imply. Wherever you turn your eyes the world can shine like transfiguration. You don't have to bring a thing to it except a little willingness to see. Only, who could have the courage to see it? ....


call for submissions

Artists are invited to participate in the upcoming issue of "Salt of the Earth - The Christian Seasons Calendar for 2012/2013. This unique calendar which follows the seven distinctive seasons of the Christian year is distributed worldwide. To view a sample of the current Christian Seasons Calendar visit Salt of the Earth - A Christian Seasons Calendar.

Interested artists are encouraged to offer artwork that interprets scripture readings and themes within the Christian year. A list of the weekly scripture readings used in Year C of the Revised Common Lectionary can be found at Ecumenical Lectionary. We have one page available for an image for each of the following seasons: Advent, Christmas, Epiphany, Lent, Holy Week and Easter. This leaves five pages available for art work in the Season after Pentecost. On these pages we look for images that portray Pentecost, All Saints and the Reign of Christ as well as images particular to stories included in the lectionary readings during this season of growth in discipleship.


funerals as counter-cultural practice

The early morning phone call caught me off guard. It brought news of the death of a beloved elder of the congregation. It was not the news of her death after a lingering illness that surprised me. Instead it was her son’s casual mention that the family would - at their mother’s request - be holding no funeral or memorial service. Even on the west coast of Canada, where traditional practices of marking death are in rapid retreat, this confounded me. She had been active in the congregation for nearly half a century. She was a long time member of the Worship Committee, and an honorary elder of the Board. Her own husband’s memorial service had been of great concern to her just three years previous. I found myself pressing the conversation, wondering how this could be her desire. Her son said that in the time following her husband’s death she had been depressed and had written a short note in her “Funeral file” requesting “No service be held for me”. He noted in passing that, just below she had added, “But if you do have a service please be sure to use my favorite hymns”.