“I say: and Heaven have mercy on us all—Presbyterians and Pagans alike—for
we are all somehow dreadfully cracked about the head, and sadly need mending.”
— Ishmael in Moby Dick, by Herman Melville
My head has been mending in many ways, by the grace of God. My hope is that I’m a little less confused, a little less prejudiced, and a little more self-aware than my younger self.
I grew up just off Yonge Street in Toronto, waiting for the Christian high school bus under the sheltered porch of a Jehovah Witness’ Kingdom Hall, which took us past the synagogue, mosque, and Buddhist temple at Steeles and Bayview Avenues. If you google from the satellite view, you’ll see the synagogue and mosque share a narrow access to each other’s parking lots. Its more than our heads that need mending.
I start with comments about my head because I was in a serious car accident when I was 18 that included numerous cracks to my skull. I still have 11 metal plates still in my head from that encounter. So literally, I am in a permanent state of having been mended in a rather intense way.
I attended Redeemer University College (Ancaster) and Calvin College (Michigan) to patch together a B.A. in sociology, and then went on to an M.A. in sociology at Queen’s University (Kingston), studying under Dr. David Lyon. My Ph.D. is mostly sociology, too, wrestled from a religious studies program at the University of Waterloo and Wilfrid Laurier entitled Religious Diversity in North America. My actual dissertation draws on sociologists Max Weber and Erving Goffman and is published as The Subversive Evangelical: The Ironic Charisma of An Irreligious Megachurch (McGill-Queen’s University Press, 2019). This project was an exercise in ethnography—being a participant observer in an ironic Anabaptist megachurch in order to study their idiosyncratic ways and share my findings with a wider audience.
Another dimension of my life is rooted in church, and more confessionally, in faith in Jesus Christ as history’s pivoting point and as the power that mends the cosmos. I grew up in the Christian Reformed Church and was constantly curious about religion as a genuine connection to an Awesome Presence—what Rudolph Otto called the “mysterium tremendum et fascinans,” an awe-inspiring and fascinatingly attractive mystery. So I delved deep into Christian ministries to practically test Christianity’s connection, eventually landing as a campus minister at Brock University, near Niagara Falls. While there I worked with evangelicals, Muslims, Catholics, Lutherans, philosophers and a variety of other folks and simultaneously completed an M.Div. with courses from seven different seminaries, packaging them at McMaster Divinity School in Hamilton.
After eight years at Brock I went on to work as a denominational employee—as the Christian Reformed church’s leader for campus ministries in North America. My Ph.D. followed that stint, and now I am the part-time Executive Director of Global Scholars Canada, an organization dedicated to “networking and equipping missional Christian academics worldwide.” I also teach and advise part-time at places like Redeemer University College (Hamilton) and Tyndale University and Seminary (Toronto), and am contributing editor to the Canadian newspaper The Christian Courier. I currently serve on the board of the Stanford Reid Trust and recently represented my denomination on the Faith and Witness Commission of the Canadian Council of Churches.
Whom am I in the midst of these commitments and services? I like the mystery that Erving Goffman evokes as he leaves room for something more than social constructions in his book Asylums (1961):
Without something to belong to, we have no stable self, and yet total commitment and attachment to any social unity implies a kind of selflessness. Our sense of being a person can come from being drawn into a wide social unit; our sense of selfhood can arise through the little ways in which we resist the pull. Our status is backed by the solid buildings of the world, while our sense of personal identity often resides in the cracks…
Every human being is constituted by a network of relationships we call institutions. But there is still more to us than that, and we resist such complete confinement.
From here I would turn to theology. All these experiences have been attempts to work out my own “sensus divinitatis”—and all have come with a combination of faults and fissures, gratitude and grace. “There is a crack in everything; that’s how the light gets in” sang the Canadian poet Leonard Cohen, echoing the subtle paradox of his “broken hallelujah.” From his Jewish confession, I see a narrow access to my own spiritual parking lot, where hope springs from a Messianic failure, and life comes out from a death. This blog is my reflection on my story within this better story.
I live in Guelph, Ontario with my family.