I promised myself I wouldn’t cry …

They did it again. And so did I.

For the third time in nine years, my favourite hockey team is heading to the Stanley Cup Final. While I didn’t get as emotional as I did back in 2011, I will freely admit to tearing up a bit as the Boston Bruins their Eastern Conference finals sweep of the Carolina Hurricanes last night.

It wasn’t when an injured Zdeno Chara came out on to the ice in full gear to accept the Prince of Wales trophy that I got emotional, nor when Patrice Bergeron hung back as the last Bruin on the ice, hugging every member of the team as they skated off.

It was when Cam Neely personally congratulated the players on their way back to the locker room.

As the story goes, I became a Bruins fan because my dad and his mother were big Bobby Orr fans, and Boston hockey fans living in Ontario by extension. By the time I came around in late 1980 – over 2 years after Bobby scored his final NHL goal – a love for the Bruins was entrenched deep enough in my dad that it was passed swiftly down to me.

My Bobby was Cam Neely, and my heart broke as a kid when his Bruins got so close but failed to reach the pinnacle of hockey glory. To see him still get so fired up as an executive, with a look in his eyes that says he wishes he could still get out there and help the cause, that got to me.

Four more wins, please. That’s all I ask.

Highlands – Hillsong United (Video)

 

I’ve been a Hillsong United fan pretty much since the beginning. Their faith-based, positive lyrics, masterful musicianship and ridiculously catchy hooks have been a staple through good times and bad.

I must admit, though, I always haven’t felt like listening to them, unable to relate to their sense of reckless abandon in the face of the realities of daily life. It sometimes felt a bit much – how can one really be that full of praise ALL the time?

Their new album People is refreshing in that it seems more honest than their previous work. There’s room for doubt, for questioning. That seems to stem from band lead Joel Houston, as explained in RELEVANT:

Houston had questions about his future, his band and even his faith. Where does the person a generation has turned to for worship go when he’s no longer feeling inspired? Who does a leader ask when he has questions about faith? Houston needed help.

That’s what led him to that rundown farmhouse in the Scottish countryside.

He’d taken the invitation of a friend to go to Scotland, get away from things and spend some time talking through his struggles. Arriving at the farmhouse was a moment of revelation.

“I saw something inspiring for the first time given the season that I was in, in that moment,” he says. “I felt like I got a picture of my life.”

On the outside, the house was rundown, worn by weather and time. It was a shell of what it had once been. But if you looked hard enough, you could see that with a little work and care, it could be restored.

It could, for all Houston knew, be even more stunning than the place it’d been before.

“Sometimes, if you’re going to create something beautiful, you’ve got to get through the process of reconstruction,” Houston says. “And that involves deconstruction and all the rest of it.”

All of the above plays out in a beautiful new song that I posted above called “Highlands.” It makes me think of when Lauren and I lived in Scotland, everything we’ve been through since, and the fact we know everything is going to be OK in the end.

I can’t stop listening to this song, and I hope it’s an encouragement to others as well.

Guelph Nighthawks name opening night roster

The Guelph Nighthawks named their opening night roster for the 2019 Canadian Elite Basketball League (CEBL) season on Tuesday.

nighthawks

The most recognizable name is G Myck Kabongo, a once highly-touted prospect whose pro aspirations derailed during his second year at the University of Texas.

Per Carlan Gay of NBA.com:

Kabongo averaged 12.6 points, 6.8 assists per 40 minutes in his freshmen season at Texas. His sophomore season was cut short after having to sit out a 23 game suspension for receiving impermissible benefits from an agent. He ended up playing in 11 games that season putting up decent numbers but never really fulfilled the promise he had coming in as a freshman in his two years at Texas. In 2013 he entered the draft but his stock had already been compromised with the suspension and inconsistency in his play – he went undrafted.

Since his draft year, Kabongo has spent time playing in the G-League – most recently with Raptors905 in 2018-19 – as well as leagues in Romania, Mexico, Spain and France.

In all honesty, I don’t know much about the rest of the squad, but have been offered a chance to cover some games this summer, and I’m pretty excited to learn more about these players and help welcome high-level basketball to our town.

I do know for one thing that their logo is pretty bad ass.

 

GuelphNighthawks_finalprimary_wBlackGuelph.png

 

“We expect the Nighthawks to have one of the top offences in the league,” said Guelph coach and General Manager Tarry Upshaw.  “We are a team that will really push the ball in transition and bring a high-speed, positive energy on to the court that we expect will permeate into the crowd here in Guelph.”

The Nighthawks are heading to Abbotsford, BC for the club’s inaugural CEBL game against the Fraser Valley Bandits on May 9th. Guelph will host a home opener on Saturday, May 11that the Sleeman Centre against the Saskatchewan Rattlers.

 

Searching For Sunday

Rachel Held Evans passed away today at the age of 37. 

I’m so sad and don’t know what to say.

All I can think to do is share this review of one of her books that she graciously sent me directly. It speaks to her impact on my life and how much she will be missed.

If you’re able, you can support her husband and two young boys here.

So church is, essentially, a gathering of kingdom citizens, called out – from their individuality, from their sins, from their old ways of doing things, from the world’s way of doing things – into participation in this new kingdom and community with one another.

imageThat’s the conclusion reached by Rachel Held Evans in her new book, Searching For Sunday: Loving, Leaving, And Finding The Church, wherein she describes her journey out of evangelicalism, through a church plant that didn’t quite get rooted, a break from church altogether, and into a deeper, richer and fuller understanding of what it means to be part of the body of Christ in the 21st century.

I read and enjoyed both of Rachel’s first two books – Evolving in Monkey Town and A Year of Biblical Womanhood – and have benefited from following her on social media and meeting her in person at the conference that spawned the book Letters To A Future Church.

But of all work, I can honestly say nothing has impacted me as much as this new book.

I’m not sure if I qualify as a millennial, but Rachel’s story of growing up in, moving away from and rediscovering ‘church’ resonated with me in deep ways, as if she was sharing my story and the stories of thousands of others in the same boat, beckoned to step out, in faith, to something different.

But this is distinctly her story, told through the lens of seven sacraments of the church, namely baptism, confession, holy orders, communion, confirmation, anointing the sick and marriage. Interspersed throughout are tales from her travels, some hilarious, others heartbreaking, all with a heavy impact.

What struck me most – and what might cause many to strike back – is her telling of stories shared at a Gay Christian Network Conference, stunning example of how the church is meant to look more like a support group than a country club.

Reading on the train on the way home from work, tears came to my eyes as I thought of the church’s wretched history and its brilliant future, one based on embracing the call to love and live together, as described above.

Reading this book felt like I was having a good, heartfelt chat over coffee with a like-minded, like-hearted friend, grieving that which has gone wrong and celebrating a bright hope for the future of the church, of this world, and ultimately, in Christ.

Very much worth checking out.

Oh, and I’m going to frame this quote, I think.

image

A quick thank you

In June 2018, I put this website together in order to maintain some creative space.

I was a couple weeks removed from my full-time hockey writing job and venturing into the (somewhat unknown to me) world of marketing, but still wanted to be able to type words for public consumption.

I did manage to land a couple of freelance hockey writing gigs, and so this space has been a bit of a mixed bag, inconsistently offered at that.

But it’s getting some clicks, and for that, I thank you.

It’s kind of weird to start from scratch again, but it’s cool to know people still care about what I have to offer. April was the third-highest traffic month, and I’ve been trying to publish more regularly.

Don’t think the clicks and social media shares go unnoticed or unappreciated.

I appreciate you, dear reader.

You don’t have to root for Canadian hockey teams

The idea that all Canadians must actively cheer for the success of all this country’s NHL teams constitutes one of the great lies that we are sold as hockey fans.

There is absolutely no obligation for any hockey fan to support another team simply as a matter of geography.

My stance on this has softened in recent years, mostly due to having a job that required me to watch and write about every NHL team with as little bias as possible. That gave me an opportunity to appreciate teams and players all over the league, somewhat extinguishing the need to be tied to the fate of one single team. Life circumstances along the way also gave perspective to the fact hockey is, of course, only a game and mean to be an escape, not another trap.

Still, as a lifelong Bruins fan, it would be hard for me to bring myself to support the Canadiens or the Maple Leafs (the former as a matter of long standing tradition, the latter more recently as a result of dealings between the two clubs). At the same time, the 2011 Cup Final against the Canucks would eliminate all probability of me supporting Vancouver in the future.

So the simple fact that my team of choice is from an American city with rivalries with a few Canadian teams would preclude me from cheering for at least 3 of the 7, right off the bat.

On the flip side, and given the fact that I grew up in Ottawa, I will admit to having a soft spot for my hometown team, and did in fact get caught up in the excitement of the Senators ’07 run, albeit while living in Manitoba. And hey, since I did live south of Winnipeg for 2 years, I was pumped about the return of the Jets, and would get behind them in the future, provided that it did not conflict with my first hockey love from Boston (same with the Sens on that point, in fact).

As you can see, it’s all terribly subjective.

Personal preferences aside, one major question to consider is this: what makes a team more Canadian – where they play or how the roster is made up?

Let’s use the Calgary Flames as an example of the difference between supporting a Canadian team (ie: city) and a Canadian roster. Jump back to the 2004 Stanley Cup Final. The Flames, led by a good Canadian boy in Jarome Iginla, pushed the Lightning to 7 games, only to lose a Cup to a team based in Florida. What a sham, right? Again, nope.

While this idea of “supporting Canada’s team” was running rampant, there were many who were very much supporting Tampa Bay based on the the fact that their roster was made up of several incredibly talented Canadian players, including Brad Richards, Vincent Lecavalier, Martin St. Louis & Dan Boyle, among others.

When the Senators made it to the Final against the Ducks, would it have been treason to support Anaheim? Not when their roster featured names like Pronger, Niedermayer, Getzlaf, Penner, Perry, McDonald, Kunitz, May, Thornton (et al). Cheering for the Ducks is a little gross, mind you, but I digress … 

To build on that, teams containing several Canadians will no doubt have folks from their respective hometowns rooting for them with all their hockey loving hearts. Why? Because based on the tradition of every member of the team having the opportunity to spend one day with the Cup, chances are it could come to a town near you during any given summer.

Again, to speak from personal experience, it was a thrill for me to be able to combine my joy over the Bruins winning the Cup with the ability to head down to the Sleeman Centre here in Guelph to get my picture taken with Rich Peverley and that beautiful silver mug. In fact, the place was packed with fans of the black ‘n’ gold, all thrilled to death that the Canucks had failed to “bring the Cup home.”

All this to say, let’s put any talk of “getting behind Canada’s team” to death, shall we?

For one thing, being a fan of one team negates fluidity in terms of backing a rival, and quite often a team’s makeup makes it more Canadian than the city in which it plays.

Bigger picture, Canada certainly doesn’t own the game of hockey. They are legitimate fans of this game all over North America and worldwide, all with a passion for seeing their favourite teams or homegrown talent succeed in the NHL.

In short, root for whoever the hell you want. It’s not a big deal.

*Note: The first version of this article was posted on The Hockey Writers back in 2012.

A Better Easter Story

The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.

automated window coverings

I used to think Easter was all about God being so angry with us that Jesus had to die on a cross to pay the price for our sins. If we believe, then we can go to heaven; if not, we go to hell.

That’s not a narrative I can get behind anymore.

Back in college, my Old Testament professor blew my mind when she walked us through Genesis 15, where God makes a covenant with Abraham, promising to make a great nation out of him that was to be a light to the world and a blessing to others.

Basically, God was saying “stick with me, and everything will be OK with you, your descendants and the whole world by extension. Through you, the whole world will know that I AM God and God is good.”

To seal the covenant, God asks Abraham to bring “a heifer, a goat and a ram, each three years old, along with a dove and a young pigeon.” The idea was to kill and cut these animals in half, and the lesser party involved in the covenant would walk between then, effectively saying “if this is broken, let me become like these animals.”

When God was making this covenant with Abraham, then, the assumption was the latter would cross through the broken animals while the ruler looked on. The script was flipped, though, when a pillar of fire passed through instead. This was God saying “I will take on the punishment if (let’s be hones, WHEN) the covenant is broken.”

A pillar of fire in the night. The light shining in the darkness.

Here’s a good summary of what was going on:

“There is widespread evidence that in the biblical world animals were slaughtered in treaty contraction ceremonies. When the parties to the treaty walked between the rows of freshly killed animal flesh, they placed a curse upon themselves — May they too be cut limb from limb if they violate the treaty or covenant.

The smoking firepot and blazing torch that Abraham observes represent God himself walking between the animal carcasses — binding himself solemnly to his promise. Abraham doesn’t walk between the pieces, Yahweh does, making it a unilateral promise that God pledges to fulfill in the most solemn and binding way.

We know the end of the story, where God himself bears — in the broken body of his innocent Son — the penalty for man’s breaking of the covenant.”

When I think about why Jesus died, I always come back to that verse from John 1 quoted above. God created the world and saw that it was good; God called his created people to be a light into the world, but we fell prey to the darkness. And even when we snuffed out the light when it appeared directly in our midst – an ultimate act of darkness if ever there was one – GOD STILL LOVES US.

That’s the good news right there.

Not that Jesus stepped in to appease God’s wrath and give us an out from being sent to hell forever, but that God kept a promise to keep loving us despite the very darkness we continue to embrace.

Jesus took our place not because God was angry, but because God loves us that much.

All of us, no exceptions.

Me.

You.

Us.

Them.

The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness will not overcome it.

Repost: Let’s get back to our roots

Back in 2010, folks across the World Wide Web were posting their ‘letters to the Church in North America’ as a lead up to the Eighth Letter conference, which took place place on October 1-2 of that year.

What follows is my contribution to the Eighth Letter Synchroblog, hosted by Rachel Held EvansPlease check out the other posts listed on the synchroblog home page, and please take some time to write a letter of your own.

To the church in North America, from a fellow sojourner daily struggling to understand what it means to follow Jesus Christ our Lord in the 21st century.

A wise voice in our day has proclaimed the following:

The greatest issue facing the world today, with all its heart-breaking needs, is whether those who, by profession or culture, are identified as ‘Christians’ will become disciples – student, apprentices, practitioners – of Jesus Christ.
– Dallas Willard

Before I address that, let me begin by telling you about an experience I had recently. Sometime late last summer, my wife and I were driving back to Aberdeen after a lovely weekend in the fabled Lakes District of Northern England. After a meal at one of our favorite restaurants in the town of Stirling, we made a planned and highly anticipated detour into the Scottish Highlands. A major factor in our decision to spend a year in Scotland was to experience some family history, and what better way to do so than to visit the small village of Balquhidder, which, overlooked by the dramatic mountain terrain of the Braes of Balquhidder, and sitting at the head of Loch Voil, has been home to generations of McLaren’s dating back to the 9th century.

As my wife and I made our way down the windy roads leading us deeper into the hills, I began to sense that an important pilgrimage was taking shape. I took in the scenery – the lochs, the trees, the mountains and valleys – and felt as though I was created to enjoy such a place as this. If heaven really is a renewed earth [a topic for another letter altogether], then this was the space in which I longed to dwell. After a bit of a longer drive than we expected, we finally found our destination just a bit before sunset. The weather was cloudy, and a mist was in the air, adding a beautifully mysterious backdrop for what we were about to find.

The main feature of this village is the ruin of the Old Kirk, where, as we discovered, one can find the gravestones of many a McLaren, one of which features the actual McLaren Clan crest. As we toured around and took pictures of this ruined building, I came upon a sign on the side of the kirk, which read: “For generations of McLaren’s, their place of worship, and within whose walls their chiefs are buried.” In a year where I had been wrestling with what it means to follow Jesus in the 21st century, it was an amazing experience to pause and stand in a place where my ancestors had gathered to hear from and worship God for hundreds of years before me.

Connecting with my family history in this way got me thinking about two things: 1) the biblical account of the beginning of human history, and 2) Martin Luther’s thoughts on what was right and what went wrong.

Having been introduced to the story of Genesis at a young age, like many of us were, I have always been pretty confident that I had a firm handle on the story recited to us in its early pages: God creates and it is good, and we humans come along and mess it all up. Recently, however, I have come to see that it might not be as straightforward as we might like it to be. In fact, it’s apparent that this Genesis story goes far deeper than a matter of command / non-compliance / punishment. Rather, as has been suggested elsewhere, the entire Old Testament must be read as the beginnings of a special partnership between God and humankind, the “record of the divine-human conversation, of how God spoke in ‘many and various ways’ and of how humans are called to respond in speaking to God and speaking of God.” (Christoph Schwobel) Human history is formed by a God who creates and speaks, with a view to working with His people to fulfill his loving purposes for creation within the present realities of life.

Which brings us to Luther. In Genesis 2:17, we read that God spoke a specific Word to Adam, prohibiting him from eating from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. For Luther, this Word acted as a call to trust in, worship and obey the God who had spoken; “it was God’s intention that this command should provide [humankind] with an opportunity for obedience and outward worship, and that the tree should be a sort of sign by which [humankind] would give evidence that he was obeying God.” To actively listen to this Word was a tangible expression of early discipleship whereby Adam, Eve, and their offspring would demonstrate that they had heard from God and would live accordingly. This tree, therefore, was a place where the divine-human conversation was to carry on steady and unbounded. This tree was, in effect, the first church: it was at its feet that humankind was to “yield to God the obedience [they] owed, give recognition to the Word and will of God, give thanks to God, and call upon God for aid against temptation.” Again, according to Luther, “this tree of the knowledge of good and evil … would have been the church where Adam, together with his descendants, would have gathered on the Sabbath day. And after refreshing themselves from the tree of life [they] would have praised God and lauded Him for the dominion over all the creatures on the earth which had been given to [humankind].” This tree, this first church, provided Adam, Eve, and all those who were to come after them, with the opportunity to be reminded of who God was, who they were in turn, and the responsibilities bestowed upon them as the recipients of His Word.

In Genesis 3, however, this beautiful picture of the church is brought to a halt by a crafty ruse, characterized by Luther in this way: “the chief temptation was to listen to another word and to depart from the one which God had previously spoken.” This is key in terms of understanding the nature of discipleship and what it means for us to be part of His Church in North America today. In this description of that which led to the inception of sin in the midst of God’s good creation, Luther is effectively saying that the point is not that Eve physically bit an apple or broke an explicit command, but rather that the first human beings failed to trust in and adhere to the word that God had spoken. As Luther puts it, “the source of all sin truly is unbelief and doubt and abandonment of the Word.” And as a result, humankind began a pattern of being absorbed into stories that are not intrinsically our own, stories that cause us to forget the Word that God has spoken and continues to speak, stories that de-emphasize and attempt to silence altogether our role as God’s partners in bringing about his loving and redemptive purposes for the world.

But thankfully, the story didn’t end with Adam and Eve’s fateful mistake, for throughout the centuries that would follow, God would indeed continue to speak, calling Abraham and his promised descendants to show the world what their God is like; they were to be deeply engaged in the present realities of the world, acting justly on behalf of the marginalized and oppressed as God had acted on their behalf in the past, and they were called to embody an alternative way of living lest they continue to listen to other words and in so doing be absorbed anew into stories that were not their own.

It’s the same invitation expressed by Jesus himself, the Word made flesh among us, who called all those that wish to follow him to repent and believe [a believing that is not passive and informative, but active and transformational], to embrace and embody his radical teachings, and to participate in his mission of good news to the poor and marginalized, and to those whose have been absorbed into stories that were not intended for them.

What, then, does all of this have to do with the Church in North America, and how does it relate to the call to discipleship quoted above? There are two things to note about Luther’s first Church that must be emphasized. The first is that while many of us continue to read the Genesis story as one wherein God gives humankind a clear prohibition and doles out a punishment in light of Adam and Eve’s non-compliance, the reality is that this tree is a great picture of the freedom that we have to continually meet together to worship and hear from He who has created and cares deeply about the world in which we live. Again, the apple is not the point, but rather that those who gathered around this tree failed to see it for what it was – it was not a place where God’s Word was to be reduced to a set of principles and prohibitions, set aside in the pursuit of power and prestige, but rather a place of worship, trust and obedience with a view to extending God’s grace and love out from its wide branches. To gather here was to hear from God, to worship Him and to learn afresh who He is and what he cares about.

Second, it’s important to note that while this tree took up physical space in the world, it was not cut down and crafted into four walls, a roof, an altar and some pews. Instead, this place was holy and communal, set apart yet wide open. It’s a picture of the reality that God’s people are not meant to be hidden, and cuts to the core of the distinction that must be made between what it means to go to church, and what it means to be the Church. To be a part of the Church is not to individualize faith, nor is it to retreat into a fixed address one day a week. Rather, we are to constitute a widespread community that on one hand gathers together to hear the Word that God has spoken and continues to speak, and, on the other, seeks to ensure and enable faithful, daily participation in God’s loving and redemptive practices in, to and for the world.

As I visited that old ruined church in Balquihidder, and as I considered that great need for authentic discipleship described above, it occurred to me that perhaps what the Church needs most is to get back to its literal roots – let us, therefore, gather together to hear from and worship God and, in turn, day in and day out, demonstrate to the world that a different way of living has been made possible, one that reaches back to the very beginnings of human history and continually reveals who God is and what He cares about.

May the grace and peace of our Lord Jesus Christ be upon you, wherever you may be.

Ian Cameron McLaren

Quitting Karamazov

Image result for brothers karamazovLife’s too short to waste time powering through books you’re not enjoying.

I came to this realization late Sunday night as I stared at page 680 of The Brothers Karamazov, wondering how long it would realistically take for me to get through the remaining 300 and desperately wishing I cared enough to finish.

But I don’t, and that conclusion was clearly drawn as I struggled to read through a synopsis to get a sense of how the story wrapped up.

If you can’t even bother to get through the SparkNotes, it’s time to move on.

It’s been about a year and a half since I first thought this book was one I just had to read. I’ve heard it discussed on podcasts as theologically rich, an essential companion on the path of spiritual deconstruction. So I bought a used copy with a gift card I received for Christmas in 2018, and fully intended on being captivated by each of its 1000 pages.

I began it last year but put it down in favour of lighter fare when Lauren and I went on vacation to the Dominican Republic. Dostoyevsky didn’t seem to be ideal poolside reading. Upon our return, I just didn’t pick it back up and moved on to other books.

As an aside, I should add I don’t remember a time where I didn’t have a book on the go, and that dates back to when I was a kid.

When the calendar turned to 2019, one of my resolutions was turn revisit this book and keep going until I was finished. And I was doing the thing! I took a break here and there to read other books, but over the past couple months I turned the page 680 times, convincing myself I was into it while a voice in the back of my head told me I’d be a failure if I gave it up, especially after posting it on Instagram and declaring my goal! Too official to back out of.

When I picked it up last night to get through another 20 pages or so (my stated daily goal), I honestly assessed the situation and decided that while I do care about the story, I simply wasn’t enjoying the experience, and am willing to cut bait and accept the fact I will not be marking this book as read on Goodreads.

I have a pile of 18(!) books on my desk that I want to read, so why put them off any longer? Any anxiety felt over quitting Karamazov is pure silliness. Literally nobody else cares whether I read this book or not, and if I’m judged for putting it down, that’s not my problem.

If I had to read this for a course on Russian Literature, that’s one thing. I would persevere like a good student because I was investing more than time into it. But the the pressure I was putting on myself as a working, married father of 3 is bullshit.

When it comes to a singular activity like reading that can take up a significant amount of limited downtime, there’s no reason to push myself like I’m working on a PhD.

I mean seriously, I have L’Engle’s time quintet, a couple Wendell Berry novels and a John Steinbeck collection staring at me right now, not to mention some non-fiction books I know will be beneficial and challenge me to be a better person.

With all due respect to Dostoyevsky, I’m putting you back on the shelf. I may return one day to finish (hell no not from the beginning again), but for now, I’m quitting Karamazov and have zero regrets.

Update: This I might consider at a later date.