Thinking Out Loud

July 31, 2011

Seriously Funny: Adrian Plass and Jeff Lucas

When The Elephant Room conference and DVD happened, I suggested that this experience was much like getting to eavesdrop on the conversations pastors have with each other about pastor-type things.    In many ways, Seriously Funny by Jeff (Lucas on Life) Lucas and Adrian (Sacred Diary) Plass is the same kind of thing, only with just the two British pastors sharing a written conversation and offering a distinct British flavour to the discussion.

I actually mentioned this book in a link list on June 9th, 2010 — yes, over a year ago — and was sent a copy by Authentic/STL which I simply never got around to reading, much less reviewing.  But that changed this week, and in many respects, because the book deals with issues that are simply messy, this was a better climate in which to read the book.  Messy is in.  Questions are in.  Doubts are in and even pastors experience them, sometimes in mighty waves.

The book is simply an exchange of about a dozen letters each — one presumes e-mails — between the popular UK writer and speaker (Plass) and the sometimes UK, sometimes USA pastor and writer (Lucas) in which each letter is a response to ideas suggested in the previous exchange.  There’s even an amusing suggestion that it’s a good thing these letters are never going to be published.  Nice touch, guys.   The book is really neither rolling on the floor funny or deadly serious.  Instead it’s real, it’s transparent, it’s honest, and it gets you thinking about the mysteries of living the Christian life.

You can read a random (serious) excerpt here.  Definitely recommended for those who know Plass’ earlier or recent works, fans of which are legion; or fans of Lucas’ Creating a Prodigal-Friendly Church or Will Your Prodigal Come Home, or for my UK readers, the daily devotional booklets that bear his name.

July 30, 2011

Funeral for a Bookstore

Filed under: Uncategorized — paulthinkingoutloud @ 9:24 am

As I write this, we’ve just finished visiting a Borders Bookstore location that’s closing. The store was buzzing with customers, proving to me at least that reading print books is alive and well. But there was a certain degree of sadness in realizing that relative control of the print book industry in the U.S. is now firmly in the hands of Amazon and Barnes & Noble, and realizing that entire communities will now be deprived of a place to browse fiction and non-fiction titles in all type of specialty categories.

R.I.P., Borders

July 29, 2011

On Christmas Letters and Vacation Blogs

Filed under: Uncategorized — paulthinkingoutloud @ 9:18 am

I have three employees at one of my locations, none of which has taken a formal vacation this year, there are no plans for them to do, and for some of them this is just one of many years in which they have not left town for the greener pastures of vacation spots.

On the other hand, a few days ago, I read through detail after detail of one blogger’s time with the family at the Grand Canyon, a place I would love to see but may never do so.  Covet, covet, covet.

Vacation bragging is nothing new.  It’s the summer equivalent of Christmas letters.  The kids are all perfect, the weather is perfect, life is grand and we want the world to know.   The web log provides a 21st century equivalent of the older vacation brag forum: postcards.   I can’t remember the last time I got a postcard from anyone’s vacation, because with Facebook and Twitter you’re practically along for the ride.

So today’s post here is a shout-out to everyone stuck at home for the summer for reasons of the economy, health, or scheduling.  I’m actually writing this from a modest resort motel on the St. Lawrence River, but it’s a short trip that will be over by the time you read this, and if it is any consolation, I feel really guilty getting away when my employees can’t.

July 28, 2011

The Glass is Half Full: Upside by Bradley Wright, PhD

I have to admit it’s getting better,
A little better all the time
~The Beatles

Last year, Bradley Wright’s Christians are Hate-Filled Hypocrites and Other Lies You’ve Been Taught was seen as an appropriate rebuttal to David Kinnaman’s unChristian.  Two different approaches to the faith life of Americans; two different approaches; and often two very different sets of data.  I reviewed Wright’s first book in two parts, here and here.

This summer, Wright is back with the second in his series of The-Sky-Is-Not-Falling books, Upside: Surprising Good News About The State of Our World, also published by Bethany House. 

“Is there another period in history when people were better off? I don’t see one.” (p. 205)

But is there an upside to everything in Upside? When discussing things like the number of Americans incarcerated in state and federal prisons or the obesity epidemic in the U.S., Wright takes a realistic, honest and balanced approach to the data.   This is a not an author who is euphoric about everything but one who feels another voice needs to be added to the dominantly pessimistic mix.

For this reader, there are two rather disappointing aspects to the book.  First of all Upside is very Ameri-centric.  In an increasingly global world, this is a book about U.S. life written for a U.S. audience.  Yes, it does mention my own country, Canada, a half dozen or so times, but most of the U.S. data comparisons are made to other countries.  It was easy to feel left out. 

Second, this is a very “secular” social science analysis.  Whereas …Hate Filled Hypocrites… dealt with faith, belief, church and religion issues, this book does not, though it is written in the same style with extensive graphs and charts.  To make the book more relevant to a Christian audience, Wright inserts a number of sidebar articles called “Christians making a difference” which illustrate the way in which the Church of Jesus Christ is informing the issues dealt here — finances, education, health, quality of life, crime, war, marriage, family and the environment — but readers may not find themselves engaged on the topics of Wright’s sophomore title as they were the first time around.

Still it’s nice to know the sky isn’t falling.  At least not today.  And the final chapter’s title, “The Counting of Blessings” really puts things in perspective.

A copy of  Updside was provided to Thinking Out Loud by Bethany House via its Canadian distributor, David C. Cook Canada.

July 27, 2011

Wednesday Link List

Wednesday List Lynx

And now here’s a Wednesday Link List that needs no introduction…

  • The other members of the band America (“A Horse With No Name”) pay tribute to Dan Peek who later had a career in Christian music, who passed away on the weekend.
  • Jay Grelen joins the cast at GetReligion.org, a blog that looks at how the media handles religious stories.  His own story was interesting.
  • Josh McDowell believes that the internet is the greatest threat to Christian belief: “The Internet has given atheists, agnostics, skeptics, the people who like to destroy everything that you and I believe, the almost equal access to your kids as your youth pastor and you have… whether you like it or not,” said McDowell.  Read more at Faith and The Law.
  • Pressured by his elders’ board to apologize, Mark Driscoll makes a half-hearted effort following his remarks on Facebook about “effeminate worship leaders.”  Rachel Held Evans calls him a bully.
  • Just in case you’re wondering, here’s the website for Hope Unlimited Church in Australia, the church Mark and Darlene Zschech call home since leaving the Hillsong mother-ship; though they’ll still be part of music events.
  • Tim Challies looks at the ‘Christian’ label being applied to the man who brought about the carnage in Oslo, Norway.
  • Paul Clark reads Brother Lawrence’s Practice of the Presence of God and notes that the greatest books — starting with the Bible — have already been written.
  • Paul also has a great article on creating a “culture of generosity” within your church in this article about stewardship.
  • C. Michael Patton knows how to kick off a discussion and he’s got enough readers that he gets a response.  Be sure to read all the comments on this discussion about praying over and over and over and over again.
  • Michelle VanLoon at Her.meneutics tells about growing up in the 1960s and ’70s with her father’s porn magazines openly displayed on the coffee table and how it affected her.
  • While it wasn’t a Christian story per se, Eugune Cho posted this story about the latest “Susan Boyle” type of story on Korea’s Got Talent.   Read about Sung-Bong Choi.  (No relation to Song Sung Blue.)
  • While this one isn’t a link at all, I wanted to post something rather unique: My church is doing a VBS during the last week before school starts and they’re doing it as an evening program from 6:30 – 8:30 PM.  Different, huh?
  • For our Canadian readers: Yes, it’s true, McMaster Divinity School is giving Christian broadcaster David Mainse an honorary doctorate degree.  (My favorite Mainse quote: “My wife and I were virgins on our wedding night and we’ve been virgins ever since.”  …They have four children.)
  • Nick Costello’s book, Kiss What? is another book to examine the music scene and might be a resource for the teen in your home who is OD-ing on popular music culture.  Here’s a video preview.
  • Here’s a Vimeo vid on the release of the full (OT & NT) edition of the Common English Bible.  (Note: This HD clip takes awhile to load.)
  • New Blog of the Week: Housewife Theologian by Amiee Byrd — Articles of interest to women and a penchant for reviewing books in the Reformed tradition.
  • He calls his blog The Ugley Vicar and recently posted this hymn verse that was sung while attending a “Junior Clergy” conference; a verse that should be the prayer of all of us:

Facing a task unfinished,
That drives us to our knees,
A need that, undiminished,
Rebukes our slothful ease:
We, who rejoice to know Thee,
Renew before Thy throne
The solemn pledge we owe Thee
To go and make Thee known.

July 26, 2011

Blogging in a Vacuum; Or Thinking You Are

Filed under: blogging — Tags: , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 9:23 am

Bradley J. Moore from the blog Shrinking The Camel — give it a few seconds, it’ll kick in — feels he has a “micro following” and isn’t sure why he should bother.  Of course this from a guy who got over 50 comments to the post in question.  So I thought, “What the heck.  If it’s visibility he wants, it’s visibility he’s going to get.”

I am convinced I have more than a “micro following,” but alas, I say that from a populationally challenged perspective.  Anyway, he was just begging me to steal this post, wasn’t he?

So here’s what happens:

I’m dreaming up my next brilliant blog post while driving into work, say, or taking a shower or what have you, and suddenly this surreptitious little voice in my head interrupts, saying: “Who do you think you are? No one cares about your stupid blog! Look at you pathetic people, pretending to be so clever with your advice and wisdom and deep thoughts. What a load of crap! Let me tell you, the only two bloggers who matter out there are Seth Godin and Michael Hyatt - that’s it! Oh, and also that guy from Stuff Christians Like who got the book deal with Zondervan. That was impressive. Wait – and the girl who got the movie deal about Julia Child. That was a pretty good movie. But the rest of you are just stupid, stupid, stupid.”

And I’ll think to myself, “My God, what if he’s right?” I’ve been blogging for three years, and you would think by now I should be enjoying a burgeoning audience of thousands. Instead, I have barely scratched together what one might call a micro-following, numbered perhaps in the dozens.

Maybe I haven’t worked at it hard enough?

There is this coy little demotivational slogan I saw once that says,

Blogging:
Never has so much been written
by so many people,
and read by so few.”

This is funny to me now – not like “ha ha” funny, but in a scarily recognizable way.

When reading and commenting on other blogs, I confess that at times it can all seem so – I want to say – desperate. Here we are, pouring out our hearts and minds to the world, desperate for acknowledgement or attention or some meager crumb of validity to our creative output.

And sometimes, well, it does feel stupid. Like this whole blogging enterprise is some ridiculous pyramid scheme, where we’re all just propping each other up on some flimsy stack of digital cards to give the illusion that we are more significant than we really are.

There is so much talk about the power of social networking, but no one really mentions the more common situation: the online ghetto existence; words fed out to almost-empty space; the virtual echo chamber.

But here’s the thing: That little voice doesn’t stop me – I’ll go and write that next brilliant blog post anyway, and I’ll hit “publish,” and say to myself, “Well. I really like that post. Good job today, Brad.”

Then I’ll go read the next person’s blog and think, “Hey, this is good. I like the way they said that.” And then someone will send me a little email asking for my advice on something. Then I’ll get all thrilled to see that 42 people clicked on my post today, even if it was only for a three-second scan of the title, and – hey look! Some even took the time to say something nice.

So what if it’s stupid. Who cares if we’re all just making this up for each other’s delusional benefit. Because even if it’s just a couple dozen of us out there propping each other up, well, that’s something.

Bradley J. Moore

Disclaimers:

  1. Closed course, professional driver.
  2. You should never steal blog posts from people unless you have pages and pages of statistical data showing that people just read the excerpts but don’t click; or if the author of the post in question complains about readership and is thereby begging you to steal the article in question.
  3. “Populationally” is an interesting word because if you try to look it up in any search engine or online dictionary, it immediately fries your hard drive.  So just trust me on this one.
  4. How can a guy complain that he only gets 42 clicks on an article when he gets 50+ comments.  I’ve never had 50 comments on anything here unless you’re thinking of that article about that Bible teacher and author.
  5. His blog took my comment but not my link.  So he owes me.

July 25, 2011

To Be Continued…

Filed under: bible, books — Tags: , , , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 9:03 am

Matthew B. Redmond blogs at Scribo Facio Noto

My daughter was “reading” through our copy of The Jesus Storybook Bible stopping every so often and asking me a question. When she got to the end, she saw the words, “To be continued…” and was confused. She had seen the words in other books and knew it meant there were books where the story continued. Was there another Bible with more Bible stories? She told me she had hoped there were more Bible stories.

She was pretty disappointed when I told her the Bible was God’s story of all he has done to save us and there is only one Bible. But I then explained “To be continued…” means God is still writing his story of all he is doing.

“And you are part of this story.”

Her eyes lit up and a smile emerged from the confusion.

“Your growing belief and love for Jesus is part of the story that God will tell for all eternity…You know how we have talked about heaven and being with Jesus forever?…Well, there will be another book and your story of all God has done in you and through you will be in that book…You will be featured in that book.

“Really?! Coooool.”

It is cool.

As Far As The East is From The West: Literally

Filed under: Humor — paulthinkingoutloud @ 9:01 am

Have you ever known someone who takes the literal approach to everything?  This is from faithpalm.com

July 24, 2011

The Dinosaur Mystery Finally Explained

Filed under: cartoons — Tags: , , , , , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 11:51 am

While searching for the first of three cartoon panels below from the Bizarro comic strip drawn by Dan Piraro, I suddenly realized the number of times he’s waded into religious themes and/or the degree to which certain Biblical imagery is part of the broader culture.   Anyway, I felt this is as good an explanation as any for what happened to the dinosaurs:

In the process, I stumbled across this little hiccup that may have befallen Noah during the early stages:

Hopefully God would have been sympathetic, because the creation of the world was no small task…

You can read more at the Bizarro website.

I believe Christians can take it as a compliment when Bible themes make it into the broader cultural media, especially if the writer or artist doesn’t necessarily claim to be a believer.  But some Christ-followers take everything so seriously that they feel that in comic panels like these the Bible is somehow being mocked or ridiculed; or that Biblical imagery belongs to us and cannot be expropriated by them

Do you feel that as a Christian you are easily offended?  I Cor. 13 may have something to say about that. 

Whatever Happened To Sin?

Pete Wilson:

Over the past year I’ve become a fan of Scot McKnight and his thoughts on following Christ. I don’t always agree with him, but he almost always makes me think outside of my little theology box.

He recently wrote an article for Relevant Magazine entitled, “Why Doesn’t Anybody Talk About Sin?” Here’s a little snippet from the article.

To many, sin has fallen into grace. What does that mean? When we talk about God’s grace, we are assuming the reality of sin—that we are sinners and that God has forgiven us. But in our language today, sin is not only an assumption—it is an accepted assumption. And not only is it an accepted assumption—it also doesn’t seem to matter.

It’s as if we’re saying, “Yes, of course we sin” and then do nothing about it.

Widespread apathy toward sin reveals itself in the lack of interest in holiness. Your grandparents’ generation overdid it—going to movies, dancing and drinking alcohol became the tell-tale signs of unholiness. Damning those who did such things became the legalistic, judgmental context for church life. So your parents’ generation, inspired in part by the ’60s, jaunted its way into the freedom of the Christian life. Which meant, often enough, “I can do whatever I want because of God’s grace.”

That generation’s lack of zeal for holiness has produced a trend: acceptance of sin, ignorance of its impact and weakened relationships with God, people and the world.

I’ll be honest.  Sometimes I think I fall into the trap Scot talked about in the article.  At times, I’ve been somewhat accepting of my sin and ignored the impact it has in my life. I’ve quickly categorized my sin as “under God’s grace” (which it certainly is) but not taken the time to mourn over the very realistic consequences it has in my life.

Like many of you I grew up in what I perceived to be a legalistic church. And like many of you I swore I would never be a part of that kind of movement again.

But now I wonder if  the pendulum has swung too far away from legalism and too far towards grace in the church today?

How about you personally? Does your focus tend to be toward law or grace?

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