The only thing the sport gives us are moments. But what the hell is life, Peter, apart from moments?
September 1. Where did the summer go?
It began for me with a pair of massive sports moments that fell on opposite ends of the spectrum – a crushing defeat and a first time championship.
Those moments have remained with me over the past few months. I felt joy whenever I put on my Raptors lid or championship t-shirt, and wondered if it was too soon to don any black and gold in public.
Thankfully, the summer was filled with moments that made me forget about sports. A quiet bench by the lake, picnics on beaches at conservation areas, a visit to my parents’ cabin, a week at church camp with our oldest son, another in Ottawa with two of the boys, fun times at Wonderland, trips and bike rides to the corner store.
The quote above is another great one from Beartown and delivered by Ramona, the town barkeep. It reminded me of Pete Holmes and his adoption of the mantra “yes, thank you.” This excerpt from a recent GQ article explains what that’s all about:
It’s a mantra that Holmes began to use after he noticed his inability to be present. He’d find himself at a museum or in a garden near his home, and instead of enjoying his surroundings, he’d find himself stressed about making sure he saw the right paintings, or comparing every tree he saw to another he’d seen before. He calls this “running the program:” going into the oh-so-human mode of judging, evaluating, or interpreting what you’re seeing—instead of just experiencing it as it is.
Saying “yes, thank you” is Holmes’ way of being grateful for things exactly as they are, something he learned, at least in part, from Ram Dass, an important teacher of his. And as you find out in his book—a spiritual manifesto disguised as a very funny memoir—this was particularly important for a man who, still in his twenties, got divorced, began to question the Christian faith within which he was raised, and had something of an existential crisis.
Those huge shake-ups caused a lot of pain, obviously, but they also helped him understand that you don’t just say “yes, thank you” to the trees and white roses. You have to say yes to the challenges, too. That’s how you make friends with the constant, inescapable changes that define human life.
What the hell is life apart from all the moments, both good and bad? Nothing.
Bruins lose, Raptors win: “yes, thank you.”
One summer day with my kids is bright and full of sunshine and laughter, another is replete with challenges and doubts about my abilities as a parent: “yes, thank you.”
Seasons come, seasons go: “yes, thank you.”
Moments are all we have. Embrace each one. Good and bad.
It was almost perfect.
Anyone who knows me even a little bit is well aware of my three sports loves: the Toronto Blue Jays, the Boston Bruins, and the Toronto Raptors.
I was fortunate enough to be of an age where I was able to appreciate the baseball team’s World Series wins back in 1992 and 1993, but it was a good while before one of that trio came out on top of its respective league.
18 years, in fact, and I’ve written about how I cried when the Bruins advanced to the Stanley Cup Final in 2011 and what it meant to me to be able to celebrate the win when Rich Peverley brought hockey’s holy grail to Guelph that summer.
The Bruins reached the Final again in 2013 (let’s not talk about that), but I honestly wasn’t sure I’d see this group – or any other in black and gold – get very far anytime soon.
The Blue Jays unexpectedly offered two straight years of playoff baseball, and I truly thought they’d get another win in 2015 – let’s not talk about that either.
As for the Raptors, the greatest joys I had previously experienced in all the time spent rooting for them since Day One resulted in a missed buzzer beater back in 2001 and an inability to get past LeBron James in more recent times, even with the best regular season teams assembled to date.
Cut to two recent nights in June, and the chance to witness two more league championship wins on consecutive nights.
Too good to be true, right?
I’m honestly still not over how the Bruins fell flat in Game 7. It was honestly the perfect opportunity to win another Cup, and to cement the legacies of Patrice Bergeron, Brad Marchand, David Krejci and Tuukka Rask, the only carryovers from 2011.
I felt pretty good through the opening 15 minutes, while lamenting a few glorious missed opportunities. As hockey is wont to do, the opposition found a way to capitalize despite limited shots on goal, and a late first period goal on one of the most ill timed line changes I’ve ever seen basically sealed the deal for the St. Louis Blues.
The TV was turned off with a few minutes left in the third period, if I’m being honest. Yes, I know “it was 4-1” once upon a time, but you could tell this group was lacking that magic on this night, and it was too painful an ending to watch.
Earlier than expected to bed I went, and that rest was much needed for the night after.
The Raptors have meant a lot to me over the years. Many of my college memories revolve around this team, and they’ve remained an easy talking point, an impetus to keep in touch with good old friends.
While I usually watch Bruins games alone because nobody around that I’m close with really cares as much as I do, I went to my brother-in-law’s house to watch Game 5 and 6 of the NBA Finals with him and his wife. The energy up here had been palpable for weeks chance to see the Raptors win their first Larry OB was to be shared with others.
Kyle Lowry came out firing, and Kawhi Leonard continued to prove why he’s one of the best players in basketball, and in the end, the Raptors did the damn thing.
I cheered, we hugged, we drank celebratory scotch, I cried and took to Instagram to express how I was feeling in that moment:
It’s a night I won’t soon forget, and the days that have followed have been filled with smiles, high fives, parade viewing, a championship t-shirt order and quiet moments of contentment and thankfulness that we all got to share in that long-awaited moment.
Still, I’m bummed about the Bruins. Through the Draft, the release of next year’s schedule, and as we move into free agency, I continue to lament what could have been, and daydream what could have been with a little more puck luck in those opening minutes.
But hey – if the Bruins themselves were able to party and celebrate getting that far only a couple days after the loss, then far be it for me to dwell on it for too long from a much greater distance.
Because let’s be honest. It’s rare to see the ideal or even expected scenario play out in reality. Lord knows we’ve seen our fair share of hardship around here over the past few years. That’s what puts all this sports stuff in perspective when it doesn’t go your team’s way, and makes life all the sweeter when it does.
Those two nights were a reminder to not take anything for granted, to accept that life will include losses, to celebrate even the smallest of victories along the way, and to enjoy the hell out of the big ones.
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.
That’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.
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.
The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.
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.
The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness will not overcome it.
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 Evans. Please 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
Life’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.
There’s nothing quite like conversations with a 4-year-old.
I was putting our youngest son Henry to bed the other night and, as per usual, the routine included reading some stories (as well as requests for a drink, cries for mama, and a need to pee. But I, like he, digress).
We began with Hug-A-Bible, a fur-covered collections of 10 stories meant to remind children of God’s great love of creation.
Let me say here that sometimes I struggle with how to talk to the boys about God. We flipped past a page about Noah, for example, and it talked about God spared Noah, his family and two of each animal, with a nice rainbow to put a bow on it. Of course, it failed to mention the story was about the rest of creation being destroyed by an angry God who was sick and tired of humanity screwing things up. That’s the bit left out in Sunday school.
Henry seemed to get the basic, age-appropriate gist though – God loves him and will always be within and around him.
We turned to a book called That’s Not My Dinosaur. He’s smart enough to dinosaurs don’t exist anymore, and before we were able to turn the first page, he asked me what happened to dinosaurs. I explained they were all gone because a big rock fell from space and caused a “spolsion” (his word, not mine) and now they’re extinct.
That satisfied him for a moment, but maybe the Noah story triggered something because then he asked, “did God not like dinosaurs?”
How does one even begin to answer that?
We already implicitly covered the fact that God (allegedly) got rid of most created beings through the flood, not to mention there are those who believe God sends people to hell for all eternity if they don’t believe in Jesus. Maybe God thought velociraptors were getting too smart for their own good and fossilized them. They can open doors after all, and probably took a bit from that God forsaken apple.
I tried to affirm that God loves all that God created, and sometimes things don’t go as planned (which he’ll learn more about one day when he watches Jurassic Park). I think an all-loving God would have been sad when dinosaurs went extinct, but apart from that instinct, I really didn’t know how to answer.
Instead, I simply blurted out, “that’s not my dinosaur, his back is too scratchy!”
Maybe the best thing I can teach him and his brothers is there are some questions that can’t be answered, and that’s OK.
The musical duo soon to be formerly known as Gungor is currently in process of saying farewell, touring down in the States for the final time using that brand name.
As Michael wrote not too long ago, “Gungor feels to us like it’s done what it needed to do. Said what it needed to say. And now it’s time for something new.”
Gungor’s music has become extremely important to me in recent years. I jumped on the bandwagon through I Am Mountain, developed an appreciation for their older beautiful songs, and was helped through times of struggle and doubt by the truly amazing One Wild Life album series as our family weathered through various health issues.
I wrote a bit about all of that when I reviewed Lisa’s book here.
I have their songs tucked in a De/Reconstruction playlist on my computer, alongside Derek Webb, David Bazan, The Brilliance, John Mark McMillan and Audrey Assad, all of whom I adore. But there’s one Gungor song that fills me with … something I can’t even describe when it comes on, and it’s truly the most beautiful song I’ve ever heard.
Please enjoy ‘Vapor’ and I hope it speaks to you today.
I’ll miss you, Gungor. Can’t wait to see what’s next.
Also, please read Butt Prints In The Sand if you haven’t already. It was inspired by another one of Gungor’s projects.