Thinking Out Loud

December 31, 2012

I Am Seeing Ghosts

She walked into my workplace and made very direct eye contact. There was a sign of recognition from her to me, and I did believe she looked familiar. But no name or context appeared as my brain scanned all available memory trying to place her.

She had a wisp of hair in the front that had recently been streaked blonde, contrasting with the light brown tint of the rest of her hair. “Do I know you with a different hair color?” I asked her. It was what I felt was a disarming way of saying, “Do I know you from somewhere?” But isn’t that an overworked pickup line?

I can’t remember with what words she brushed the question aside.  She didn’t offer her name, and I didn’t press any further.

The question was a little creepy, I’ll admit.  Fortunately, she didn’t bolt for the door, but kept shopping, eventually making a rather large purchase.  She looked so familiar, though.

I don’t think I had ever seen her before. Well, not her. I have reached an age where I am seeing ghosts, not in the sense of the spirits of departed people, but the visual twins to people I knew a generation or more ago.

There is a saying that, “When you get older, everything reminds you of something else.” Have I reached that age? That’s scary. Certainly it does seem lately that everybody reminds me of someone I was acquainted with when.

I keep seeing people who are Xerox copies of people from another time and place. The real people in question have aged, but unfortunately, my brain has not been online to receive any updates. The update would consist of seeing the same people as they are now, but that’s not likely to happen.

Before I got married, I drafted an elaborate theory on how there were only 17 facial types, only 17 available sets of eyes, 17 mouth shapes, 17 noses and 17 hair types.  I’m not sure how I came up with the number seventeen, but I believe the number of facial types was meant to take into account ethnic variances as well.  There was some rather lame comment at the time about most of the seventeen being white Caucasian because the others “all looked alike anyway.” I would not get away with that today, but those were different times. Apologies all round.

Combine this with two available sexes, and you are left with 2,839,714 people; so even within the United States and Canada, you’d be dealing with at least ten identical people.  So you don’t have a twin, you have at least nine just within North America if that’s your home.

But the twin thing multiplies when you factor in time. If you have nine look-a-likes now, it’s possible that you also have ten people who are ten years younger than you are right now, who match what you looked like ten years ago. But also that you yourself  look exactly ten people did who are — survival assumed — ten years older.  

Ghosts.  Everywhere.  Walking past each other at the beach, at the mall, at church, at the airport…

The worst case is the summer camp we do volunteer work at. The generation of people we knew now has kids of their own, who show up at the same camp. When I look at Sam (real name) I see Tim (real name). He/they is/are not the only example. The generations start to blend in a brain that is reeling as though  caught in some grand time travel experiment.

Other adult volunteers at the camp tell me our two boys look like me. I don’t see it. Not at all. I don’t say, “You must be crazy;” but I’m thinking they’re probably stretching the point, or maybe it is just that bad hair days (or weeks; years) run in the family.

Or maybe they’re seeing ghosts.

December 30, 2012

Parables for Our Times

Filed under: current events, Humor — Tags: , , , , , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 11:07 am

Subtitle: Not Your Grandma’s Prince of Peace

James Martin is a Catholic Priest and author of The Jesuit Guide to Almost Everything.

The Smart Samaritan

1. Just then a lawyer stood up to test Jesus. “Teacher,” he said, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?” 2. Jesus said to him, “What is written in the Law? What do you read there?” He answered, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind; and your neighbor as yourself.” 3. And Jesus said to him, “You have given the right answer; do this, and you will live.” 4. But wanting to justify himself, he asked Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?”

5. Jesus replied, “A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and fell into the hands of robbers. Fortunately, the man from Jerusalem was no fool and was carrying a big wooden club. So he beat the robbers senseless. Just then, a Samaritan came by to help him. 6. The man said to the Samaritan, “Don’t worry. They got what they deserved.” Later, though, the robbers’ friends waylaid the man. Together they had four clubs, so they beat up the man from Jerusalem. 7. Immediately the Samaritan, who had now learned a lesson, ran away, and sold his field, and with the money he purchased ten clubs. 8. The Samaritan armed his entire family, including his wives, his sons, his slaves and all his cattle and sheep. Among his heavily armed family was his elder son, who was angry at his father for not treating him as well his younger brother, who had spent all his money on loose living and had returned and was given a feast.” 9. “Lord, I’m getting confused,” said the lawyer. “Weren’t we talking about being a good neighbor?”

10. “Let me finish,” said Jesus. “The father knew that his son was angry, and potentially dangerous, so the father purchased an even bigger club that he hid under his bed. 11. That night, when father was asleep, the son came to father to apologize for being envious. The father, thinking it was a robber, hit him over the head. 12. Now which of these three, do you think, was a wise person?” said Jesus. 13. The lawyer said, “Actually, none of them. If the father hadn’t brought those weapons into his house, then no one would have gotten hurt.” Jesus was grieved at the lawyer’s blindness. 14. “You’re missing the point.” Jesus said. “It’s a violent world out there, and my advice is to purchase as many clubs as you can.” The lawyer was sad, for he was a peaceful man. 15. “Lord,” he said, “are you saying I should be like the Samaritan who has a houseful of weapons?” “Yes,” said Jesus. “Go and do likewise. And while you’re at it, buy me a club too.”

Read two more updated parables here.

December 29, 2012

Men and Pornography: Keeping the Discussion Going

In July, 2008, I posted a draft version of The Pornography Effect online, and spent a great deal of energy trying to increase awareness of this plague which has spread via technology and has had particularly damaging effects on men. A few months later, popular blogger and writer Jeff Goins interviewed me on the subject, and today I can’t honestly recall where the interview appeared; but after finding a copy of it yesterday, I thought it helpful to spread this message yet again. Besides, we need to keep this discussion going. This is the first time this material has appeared at Thinking Out Loud.

You can read The Pornography Effect here, it uses a blog format but reads like a book with the chapters in proper order and a ‘next page’ type of click necessary to get to the second of the two screens.  It takes about 55 minutes. There’s also a ‘Cliff Notes’ version of the key points here.

The Interview

What is your personal experience with pornography? What did your own struggle look like?

We owned a computer that was connected online for about ten years before anything remotely pornographic ever crossed the screen.   Up until that point, I would say I was probably in the “This could never happen to me” category.   One Saturday afternoon doing a relatively random search, I ended up in the middle of an erotic novel.   A few days later I decided to read the whole thing from the beginning.   When I finished the story, nearly two weeks later, a link took me a site which contained photographic porn.   At that point certain walls of resistance had already collapsed.   Like the proverbial “guy with a remote control” who “wants to know what else is on,” I was determined to explore this alternative universe.   The internet was more than willing to oblige.   Even though I was leading worship in my church on Sunday, I was on the way to becoming a hopeless slave to internet pornography addiction.   But I rationalized that I was balancing the two worlds quite capably and getting away with it.

After what I consider a wake-up call several months later, I was able to break free for several months.   And then I went back for several weeks.   And then broke free again.   Today, there is a short-term freedom in being able to honestly say I’ve forgotten the internet addresses of most of those sites.   But in the long-term, the fact remains I know the search criteria that got me there.   For anyone, the internet’s dark side is never more than a few clicks and keystrokes away.

When did you realize that this was a systemic problem in a lot of men’s lives?

After remaining free for a longer period, I decided to (a) go public, and (b) create a forum for women to know more about the mechanics of how the internet porn industry functions.   There are millions of pornographic web pages, but each has one thing in common:  They were all put there by someone.  That person had a reason, a motivation, and I thought it would be helpful to create more understanding of why the stuff is there in the first place.   Perhaps I’m wired to want to share and apply knowledge once it’s acquired.   Perhaps I was trying to redeem a bad personal experience.   I just figured there were already seminars for men who were dealing with a multitude of addictive behavior, but nothing for the women who were, as I termed it, the collateral damage in the sphere of internet addiction.

teen with computer I found out really fast that this is truly “the elephant in the room” both within and outside the church.   Tell people this is what you want to discuss, and the room gets really quiet.   Plus, I’m in Canada where there isn’t the same transparency about personal struggles.   We don’t talk about our spiritual lives here in the same way that people do in the U.S.  I have always know that this was a hot topic, but once I was trying to create open discussion, it was initially the silence that told me I had struck a nerve more than anyone’s particular admission or confession.

For a younger generation of internet sex addicts, though, this is a non-issue.   Images of naked people — even images of their classmates — have been available online all their lives.  An entire generation is being raised without a sense of shame.   It was once the case that humans distinguished themselves from the animals by our ability to blush, but slowly, an entire generation is losing that.   They would say there is no problem at all here.

How does pornography affect men’s relationships with their wives, family members, and God?

I don’t think anyone who has had exposure to pornography is ever the same.   Over an extended period, I think exposure rewrites the brain programs of our minds, to the point where, for guys, any female is just a body to be exploited.    I don’t think any man who is deeply hooked can look at his wife or girlfriend, his sister, his daughter or even his mother the same way.   Yes, I’m saying it changes all relationships that a man has with all females.  The girl serving at the fast food place.  The woman in line at the bank.   The kindergarten teacher at the elementary school.  All females. 

In terms of spousal relationships, the problem — and fortunately this wasn’t exactly the issue for me — is that men are intended to find sexual fulfillment in their wives. (And likewise, wives in their husbands.)   So immediately the relationship is encountering damage.   But where the internet habit is also a secret habit, there is an additional wall of separation building between the husband and wife.   Trying to get “alone time” on the family computer can also cause friction between other family members.

Spiritually, sin is sin.   While we can admit that God probably ain’t too happy, we can use all kinds of rationalization to justify that what we’re doing isn’t such a big deal.   After all, aren’t a lot of popular songs played on radio somewhat pornographic when you read the lyrics?    If a person is really tuned in to their own spirit, I think they’ll recognize that, like Adam in Eden, we’ve somewhat hidden ourselves, and hurt the relationship in the process.   There are other indicators of spiritual life and growth that will start to flash warning lights.

 Have you encountered women who have struggled with porn?

Once I went more public with my desire to speak to this subject, I had a number of women who came to talk me.   While at first discussing a husband’s or a son’s addiction, they eventually shared with me that they had struggled with this themselves.   Yielding to female stereotypes of soap operas and romance novels, I assumed they were speaking of text pornography, like the novel that had initially hooked me.   But they were saying no such thing.   They were into the pictures just like the guys were, and one woman in particular hinted at a very deep addition that had tied up hundreds and hundreds of online hours.

However, one of the main ideas I want to advance is the idea that text pornography is every bit as dangerous and harmful as drawn or photographic pornography.  It is able to convey ideas that either (a) cannot be expressed in a picture, or (b) would still be considered taboo graphically.  Text pornography, which includes but is not limited to erotic literature, puts forward ideas which in some cases are intended to change societal norms.  It ought to be the focus of more concern.

 What does it mean for a porn/sex addict to discover grace? What does that look like?

I think that the grace of God comes in the form of the strength that we don’t have within ourselves to walk away from the internet, either figuratively or literally.  Apart from Christ’s power working in us, there’s no compelling reason to break free, let alone the strength to do it.   But with Christ’s power, I believe that breaking free of this particular addiction can be a relatively painless process.   If we see our sin as being sin against God, we will strive for holy living.   The man who desires to do the will of God positionally does not sin.  

Grace can also appear in the form of a friend who has walked the same road, or a friend who is simply brave enough to wade into the topic with you.   Grace can be a pastor willing to devote a Sunday morning sermon to the topic; and grace can be a congregation that doesn’t judge when you walk towards the altar at the pastor’s invitation.  Grace can be an understanding spouse who desires to encourage you towards freedom from addiction.   Grace can even be a young daughter who catches a glance of an image on your computer screen and asks, “Daddy, how would you feel if that were me?”

Can you share at least one story of someone you know who was able to break out of a porn addiction?

It’s interesting to think about that question apart from the various things I’ve read in books and magazine articles that were all U.S.-based.  The Book Porn Nation by Michael Leahy, and the book I Surrender All:  Rebuilding a Marriage Broken by Pornography by Renee and Clay Cross share two stories that I believe to be representative of stories that are common to so many.  In my country, what I’ve experienced is hushed voices, speaking in low tones, whispering, “Been there.  Done that.   Free now.”  

I think the curiosity factor engages a great percentage of men at one time or another, particularly as the computer changes the way pornography is accessed.    The question is how long are you going to stay in Sin City?   Some stay a long time.   Some reading this are there right now.   No… make that many reading this are there right now.  Thankfully,  I think there are probably more stories of spiritual victory out there than we realize, but far too many men are afraid to admit the problem existed in the first place.   A person has to simply determine not to go back there. 

What resources are available for those who are struggling?

If a person has a trusted friend who can serve as an accountability partner, I think that accountability software like Covenant Eyes is probably the best resource we have right now.   I know pastors who serve as accountability watchdogs for each other.   If a person is really fighting the addicitive nature (which can be part of the human condition) then a program like Celebrate Recovery is also helpful.

October 3, 2008

December 28, 2012

Why Mere Christianity Still Works: An Analysis

Mere Christianity C. S. LewisYou’re expected to review current books online, and this review is therefore 60 years too late. However, John Stackhouse has saved the best wine (so to speak) for the last (of the year) with a landmark analysis of the continuing popularity of the C. S. Lewis bestseller Mere Christianity.

I know not everybody clicks through, so I’ll include a few highlights here, but if you treasure good writing, you need to read the article now, because it is every bit as delightful as the book itself. 

john_stackhouseStill here? Okay, those highlights include:

  • A somewhat disjointed set of C. S. Lewis’s views on a wide range of theological, philosophical, and ethical matters, the book became the most important and effective defense of the Christian faith in its century.
  • The first reason why MC should not have worked is rather basic: It doesn’t deliver what its title promises. It does not do even what John Stott’s classic Basic Christianity does—namely, outline at least the basics of evangelicalism’s understanding of the gospel.
  • A second reason why… it is, after all, an extended set of philosophical and theological arguments. Even worse, it is front-loaded with its densest material, a reworking of the moral argument for the existence of God…
  • MC works because Lewis was a master at two rhetorical arts, which he combined fluently: argument and depiction.
  • Lewis can both show and tell. He can tell us what he thinks we should think, and then make it appear for us in an image that usually lasts long after the middle steps of the argument have vanished from memory.
  • What seems effortless for Lewis is actually extraordinarily difficult to emulate. The market is now flooded with books by Ph.D.s who cannot write an interesting and intelligible paragraph, and by wannabe pop apologists who just aren’t very smart.
  • People today do want arguments, but they want them the way Lewis delivered them: in plain language, about issues that matter, in a methodical step-by-step fashion, and with illustrations that literally illustrate and commend the point being made. For scholars to write this way today is at least as much of a challenge as it was in Lewis’s day.

Okay, that’s enough bullet points (aka spoon-feeding!) You really do need to read the article.

C. S. LewisBut then, if you haven’t already had the pleasure, you need to read Mere Christianity. I would suggest taking a chapter at a time; no more than one per day and don’t try to rush through it. Even better, if you can find an interested friend or relative, read it out loud to them daily for several days. (It was, after all, originally a radio broadcast.)

It may also whet your appetite for apologetics, a subject frequently discussed here, that is simply too foreign to too many Christ-followers. I encourage you to develop a taste for it.


If you make it through MC and do indeed find yourself wanting more, I would suggest your next stop be Classic Christianity by Bob George, a man who also knows the power of a good illustration.  Review here.  Excerpt here.

Images: I figured it rather obvious which one is John Stackhouse, Jr. and which one is C. S. Lewis, but, for the record, they appear in that order.  (Actually, the first image is the book in its most recent North American paperback edition from HarperCollins.)

December 27, 2012

Money for Llamas and Donkeys and Sheep, Oh My!

Christmas pageant authenticity

A provider of live animals for past Christmas productions at the Crystal Cathedral is finally going to see some payment, albeit it years later.  A week ago the Orange County Register reported:

…attorneys and staffers planned to work late Friday to verify amounts and start stuffing envelopes with the checks, which should be arriving after Christmas, Ringstad said. “Creditors have been waiting a long time. We can work late into the night. The creditors deserve it,” he said.

But Robert H. Schuller, who will also receive some money in this round of settlements, has filed an appeal of a judge’s decision over money he feels is due him for damages, which some reports have indicated includes payment due for royalties for books he authored. (It’s all very confusing!)

While that story isn’t finished yet, it is, in the meantime, a great victory for people who rent sheep, camels and cows to large glass churches.

Not-so-related llama video. (13 million views!)

 

Last Chance Christmas Songs

Filed under: Uncategorized — Tags: , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 6:30 am

Okay, so it’s the 27th already, and the cool thing to do now is to pack up Christmas and move on, but before we leave it entirely, we want to draw attention to the audio advent calendar our friends at Third Space Church in Peterborough, Ontario, Canada produced, with a song (or something) for every day from December 1 to 25. (Well, they just embedded some videos; so maybe ‘produced’ is misleading…)

If you’re arriving here anytime after December 2012, you’ll have to hunt through their blog for posts in that month using the tag “online advent calendar,” for everyone else a simple click will work.

December 26, 2012

Wednesday Link List

modern church architecture
The picture: Don’t let padded seat backs stop you from having a place to store your hymnbook. This is North Christian Church in Columbus, Indiana.

  • If there aren’t enough links for you here, and you’re into apologetics, the blog Weekly Apologetics offers a weekly link list to topics of interest to its readers.
  • Michael Cheshire explores a friendship with a man that admittedly, other Christians really don’t like.  To put it mildly.  Michael was told by some they would desert him if he reached out to Ted Haggard.
  • Here is the link that was added on Sunday as an update to our short piece on the Newtown/Sandy Hook shooting. Early on, it addresses that the situation is entirely unique to the United States.
  • In all the outpouring of discussion on the shooting, I especially appreciated this one at the blog Shawn in the City.
  • And here’s what a school lockdown looks like from the inside, especially tense in the wake of recent events.
  • In just days, a quarter of a million people have signed a petition to see Westboro Baptist Church officially recognized as a hate group.
  • Candid:  Author R. C. Sproul, Jr. comments on the one-year anniversary of his wife’s death.
  • Here’s a sneak preview of the acoustic version of Casting Crowns’ Praise You In The Storm, from an unplugged album releasing mid-Janauary.
  • Also on video, Matt Papa presents a 10-minute spoken word piece that dares to encapsulate The Story of God.
  • How much of what is shared in a pastoral counseling session should the pastor share with his wife? It depends on the nature of the session, and also on the nature of the wife.
  • And Cody Sanders believes that a church that skirts around the issue of the bullying of gay teenagers that’s taking place in high schools is guilty of what he terms ministerial malpractice.
  • Not sure I fully get the Christian angle on this 105-page book that can be read in well under an hour, so I checked out a few online reviews of Robert Smith’s 20,000 Days and Counting. Like this one. And this one.
  • And how long have you been alive in days? Use the calculator on Robert Smith’s website.
  • New Blog Department: New Songs of Praise recently joined the Alltop Christian list with devotional and Bible study content.
  • New-To-Me Department: The Poached Egg is an aplogetics blog that no doubt takes its name from a C. S. Lewis quotation. Lots of resources to consider and/or share.

We leave you today with a classic 2009 Time Magazine article on what was then considered a growing trend: De-Baptism. “Liberate yourself from the Original Mumbo-Jumbo that liberated you from the Original Sin you never had” But the rebellion wasn’t just against a Christian upbringing: “We’ve had Jewish people write in asking, ‘Can I have a certificate to undo my bar mitzvah?'” Somehow, I don’t think you’ll see these certificates in Christian bookstores.

debaptism certificate

December 25, 2012

Best Wishes for Christmas from Thinking Out Loud

Filed under: Christmas — paulthinkingoutloud @ 6:29 am

Thanks to all of you who make frequent stops here part of your routine. Now grab the kids and ask them to count all the animals in this nativity scene that are not mentioned in the Biblical account of Christ’s birth.

Nativity Calendar Enhanced 2

December 24, 2012

Are Churches Counting The Wrong People?

Filed under: Church — Tags: , , , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 7:45 am

Church metrics.

Yeah, that’s a thing.

Vince Antonucci has a different take on it:

Churches count their “attendance” each week. (Some don’t count very accurately, willing to count people – band, choir, staff, children’s volunteers, etc. – multiple times, but that’s a point for another day.) They count the amount of people from their city who show up at their church each week.

But I’d like to propose counting something different: The amount of people in the city not showing up at any church.

Seriously, a church can say that “This year we grew from 1,000 to 2,000!” but what if, in the same year, the amount of people not going to church in that city grew from 370,000 to 391,000? That gives you a very different picture of what’s happening, doesn’t it?

If the number we counted was how many people in our city are not going to church it would force churches to no longer celebrate growing through stealing people from other churches, it might lead churches to support and celebrate the success of other churches, and it would lead churches to focus on truly reaching the lost instead of focusing on their attendance numbers.

Instead of magazines featuring the “Hundred Fastest Growing Churches” there would be articles on the cities where the most people are coming to Christ, and isn’t that what we want to promote and celebrate?

So, what about it?

December 23, 2012

Pass the Bread

Filed under: Humor — Tags: , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 3:37 pm

In 2013, I want to try to mine some classic, ancient posts from blogs that are still running. Suggestions are welcomed. With a new year approaching (admittedly not Jewish New Year), this seemed timely. This appeared EIGHT YEARS AGO — that’s 7,542 in blog years — at Blogotional

The following is from a friend of mine that is quite experienced in the ways of sin. (Can’t you just hear Groucho Marx saying, “But then aren’t we all?!”)

The Definitive Tashlich Guide
On Rosh Hashanah (Jewish New Year), there is a ceremony called Tashlich. Jews traditionally go to the ocean (or a stream or river), pray, and then throw bread crumbs onto the water, so that the fish can symbolically eat their sins. Some people have been known to ask what kind of bread crumbs should they throw.

Here is the definitive Tashlich Guide for the Complicated Modern Jew

For ordinary sins…………..White Bread
For exotic sins…………….French Bread
For particularly dark……….Pumpernickel
For complex sins……………Multi-Grain
For twisted sins……………Pretzels
For tasteless sins………….Rice Cakes
For sins of indecision………Waffles
For sins committed in haste….Matzo
For sins of chutzpah………..Fresh Bread
For the sin of substance abuse/marijuana…….Stoned Wheat
For the sin of substance abuse/heavy drugs…..Poppy Seed
For the sin of committing auto theft………..Caraway
For the sin of committing arson…………….Toast
For the sin of passiveness when action is warranted…..Milk Toast
For the sin of being ill-tempered/sulky……..Sourdough
For the sin of cheating customers…………..Shortbread
For the sin of risking one’s life unnecessarily………HeroBread
For the sin of excessive use of irony……….Rye Bread
For the sin of telling bad jokes……………Corn Bread
For the sin of being money hungry…………..Raw Dough
For the sin of war-mongering……………….Kaiser Rolls
For the sin of immodest dressing……………Tarts
For the sin of causing injury or damage to others…….Tortes
For the sin of promiscuity…………………Hot Buns
For the sin of promiscuity with gentiles…….Hot CrossBuns
For the sin of davening (praying) off tune…..FlatBread
For the sin of being holier than thou……….Bagels
For the sin of indecent photography…………Cheese Cake
For the sin of over-eating…………………Stuffing Bread
For the sin of gambling……………………Fortune Cookies
For sin of abrasiveness……………………Grits
For sins of pride……………………….. Puff Pastry
For the sin of cheating……….Baked Goods with Nutrasweet and Olestra
For sin of impetuousness………Quick Bread
For negligent slip-ups………..Banana Bread
For the sin of dropping in without warning…..Popovers
For the sin of perfectionism……………….Angel Food Cake
For the sin of being up-tight and irritable….High Fiber Bran Muffins

Remember, you don’t have to show your crumbs to anyone. For those who require a wide selection of crumbs, an attempt will be made to have pre-packaged Tashlich Mix available in three grades (Tashlich Lite, Regular, and Industrial Strength) at your local Jewish bookstore.

Can I borrow some cornbread? Please?

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