Thinking Out Loud

December 24, 2013

My December

Filed under: Christmas, personal — paulthinkingoutloud @ 7:06 am

Sometimes I’ll be told that I don’t write enough of myself into this blog, so today is an exception. It’s been a rather different December.

Years ago, I wrote a Christmas song that I always performed at least once, somewhere. For the second year in a row, the only audience the song has had was a crude version on YouTube. I’m ever facing the mid-life crisis that my worship-leading and music-performance days are over. Unfortunately, my creativity hasn’t yet died, so I am forever coming up with great church music ideas and absolutely nowhere to execute them, which is rather frustrating. If you need a keyboard player or a bass player, I might be ready to move about now.

A few weeks ago we went to a dessert fundraiser for a dog. There’s a young girl in our church who has an autism service dog, and the dog has been having health problems which has caused the family to incur costs that apparently aren’t otherwise covered. There’s something really cool though about going to a church that would hold a fundraiser for a dog. In many local congregations, that would never get past the idea stage. The dog’s name, by the way, is Jetson

The season can become a time of stress if you try to do everything. This year we opted out of party that’s become a tradition in order to squeeze in something new, a dinner party with the Bible study small group we’ve been attending. We played Telestrations, which is a cross between Pictionary and the game commonly called ‘Broken Telephone.’ Lots of fun, and far more interesting food than you’d find at a church potluck.

This year we attended a Christmas play in which none of the huge cast of actors have any speaking parts. A narrator carries the story and the actors mime their parts where their role parallels what the narrator is saying. A choir at the back of the auditorium sings part of the story as well, but the real work is done by an organist who is playing relatively non-stop for an hour. The narrated story transforms a traditional Anglican church for two nights, and is now in its 54th year.

The Christian bookstore where I work is experiencing something more akin to Passover than Christmas, inasmuch as customers have basically passed us over this year. People are either buying elsewhere, or not buying Christian resources at all. As funny as Passover in December sounds, it’s leaving us without any financial base for the lean months of January, February and March. Like so many other bookstores, we’re getting the sense that the end is near. Thank you, Amazon.

Then there’s the ice storm. I watch the NBC Nightly News with Brian Williams each and every weekday, but weather incidents are always something that happens to somebody else. We tend to think we’re immune to both tornadoes and earthquakes up here in the frozen north; but we do deal with cold. Fortunately, my wife collects oil lamps and we stayed warm while the power was out for 18 hours. My eldest son described her on Facebook as a wise (not foolish) bridesmaid. Like an idiot, I had to ask him to explain the reference. We did lose one tree, though; local readers with a chainsaw should email me.

The storm also meant the cancellation of Christmas Sunday services all across our region. This is the high point in the Christian year; a service that pastors and worship leaders and choir directors and other participants look forward to for twelve months. But it’s also a key Sunday for financial giving because attendance is usually high, visitors are present, and the deadline for getting an income tax receipt is in view. Some churches can ride over a missed Sunday, but the loss of this particular week can send other churches reeling. And no, you don’t necessarily make it up the next week, and the Christmas Eve forecast is for extreme cold.

Next, there is my youngest son having to have all four wisdom teeth removed two days before Christmas. Driving him to the dental surgeon, I felt like the pet owner who tells the dog, “Hey, wanna go for a car ride?” only to be intending something that the dog wouldn’t ordinarily agree with.  From personal experience, I can say that among humans, the males of the species don’t do well with anything involving the loss of blood.

This year my other son is the lead cook at “Christmas Dinner on Christmas Day.” There are now two such events in our area, and given the aforementioned sales drop at my store, we might be helping ourselves to free community dinners more often in 2014. If you don’t have one of these in your community, you should! It’s not just the poor that need this, a lot of people simply don’t want to be alone on Christmas Day. Nor, if the capital ‘C’ church is doing its job, should they be. 

And that same eldest son is at the center of what ultimately might be the most significant thing in this report. We have neighbors who we simply haven’t talked to at all over the past several years. It goes back to a wild party, and a neighbor who called the police, and some teenagers who assumed we had called the police. Without warning, my son bought them a gift card for pizza with a note saying it was something Jesus would want him to do. ‘Wait!” I thought internally, “You’re wrecking the paradigm.” Well last night the woman of the house next door appeared at the door with a pie and a very friendly hello. Peace on earth. Good will to men.

So it’s been a different December. Did I mention we went to a fundraiser for a dog? That never happens.

August 31, 2013

Invisibility

Filed under: personal — Tags: , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 8:59 am

INVISIBILITY

I’ve been having a recurring problem in men’s restrooms.

(How’s that for an opening line?)

I walk over to the sink and I wave my hands under the motion-activated faucet; the scary place where electronics and water converge. But nothing happens. The sink doesn’t respond. Eventually, I try the one to the left or the right.

After finally washing my hands, I move over to the motion-activated paper towel dispenser. I wave my hands underneath in various patterns which mimic a variety of signals given by football referees. Nothing. This time there is no alternate location. Sometimes I eventually find the motion which yields the necessary paper to dry my hands. But sometimes I simply give up.

Each time this happens, a voice goes off in my head repeating the same script; “You’re not really here.”

Indeed, since I don’t believe in invisibility, the only possible explanation is that I am not present. Perhaps I don’t exist at all.

In a world where people seek significance above anything else, there’s nothing like thinking that perhaps you don’t exist; that you’re not here.

August 18, 2013

To Thine Own Self Be True

Filed under: personal — Tags: — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:10 pm

Polonius:
This above all: to thine own self be true,
And it must follow, as the night the day,
Thou canst not then be false to any man.
Farewell, my blessing season this in thee!

Some people might think it’s scripture, but “to thine own self be true” is actually Shakespeare; found in Hamlet Act 1, scene 3, lines 78–81. Lately, I’ve been thinking about this line a lot, as I weigh various personal and business responsibilities against the need to take some kind of break for the personal betterment of both myself and Mrs. W. For the last 96 hours, some of that has seen fulfillment.

However, I won’t bore you with the details. Not that I can’t write them in an un-boring style, but simply because the memories are too fresh of my early days reading Christian blogs where — after having enjoyed an excellent fall, winter and spring of reading everyone’s theological pontifications — I got really frustrated reading these same people discussing exciting or exotic trips involving the use of state parks, watercraft or even airplanes.

Our last few days involved neither of those conveyances or locales, though horses were briefly involved.

But see, there’s a detail, and that’s what I want to avoid. Those of you forced to have a ‘staycation’ this year don’t need anything to make them feel like Cinderella, whose step-sisters have gone to the ball, while they stay at home working extra shifts to try to pay down the MasterCard.

Trust me, it’s been a mostly ‘staycation’ kind of summer for us, too; but at the end, I had to invoke the “to thine own self be true” principle and make something happen, even if on a small scale and limited budget. However, it’s often too easy to make things sound glamorous; to induce envy in readers. I know what it’s like to covet the life someone else has.

“To thine own self…?” It has some validity and application some of the time. Just don’t spend hours poring over your concordance looking for a Bible principle that’s not there.

July 5, 2013

Saturate Your Home With Christian Media

Since my 72% US audience are all off celebrating the time they told England to get lost in 1776, here’s a repeat item from a year ago about which I am still very passionate…

I’ve previously written here about how we’re big fans of sermon audio when we travel, and as someone who works in the Christian bookstore environment, it’s a given that I’m a huge booster of Christian books and music.

But today I want to approach this from a slightly different perspective. Over the past few days I’ve written about the battle that goes on for our thought life, and how this takes place on a moment by moment basis. Back in June, I posted a great analysis of the types of thoughts, that are going on in our heads at any given point in time.

I don’t spend a lot of time commuting, but I am increasingly aware of the contrast that exists between the mental processes that take place when I omit to turn on the radio — which is mostly presets for Christian stations — and the times I have worship songs playing. This is a giant contrast, not a mild difference.

Listening to Bible Teaching

Yesterday we listened to sermons from North Point and Crosspoint. We tried to find another “point” but left it at those two, plus what we heard in church that morning. The day before I listened to one at Mars Hill (MI), a few days earlier it was a conference talk streaming at Elevation. You can find all these churches linked in the sidebar of this blog.

Life was not always so.

I can remember asking my parents why they had to constantly listen to more preacher programs. Their media of choice was WDCX, an FM station in Buffalo, and WHLD, a Buffalo AM outlet. Of course, my choice would have been Top 40 rock station 1050 CHUM in Toronto. I think that was the real issue.

But today, although I hunger to learn and grow and discover more about Christ through what others have learned, I also am acutely aware of what happens in the absence of Christian media in the home.

Bible teaching can come in other forms besides radio and television. There are the aforementioned sermons-on-demand and live-streaming church services on the internet, plus some teachers, like Bruxy Cavey at The Meeting House often do a separate podcast. But there’s also CD audio and of course books.

Listening to Christian Music

For some Christ-followers, the dominant form of uplifting, inspirational and wholesome media is Christian music; which may consist of hymns, mass choirs, southern gospel, adult contemporary, Christian rock in all its various genres, and the current favorite, modern worship.

Again, these can be accessed in various forms. Some choose mp3 files which can be played back in the car and in the home. Many people are still buying CDs. Christian music song videos abound on video sharing sites like GodTube, Vimeo and YouTube. There is an abundance of Christian radio available online, and here in North America, most people live within range of a broadcast station that plays music, teaching or a mix of both.

But I have to say that as a worship leader, nothing compares to the songs that you experience in a worship environment with your faith family. Maybe it’s because I was playing in the band yesterday, but one particular song — an original song written by our guest musician — stuck in my head for hours yesterday, and in a good way.

For a listing of some of my favorite songs with video, visit the sidebar in the right margin at Christianity 201.

Listening to God

These varied media I find to be a positive alternative to anything else, and in fact fulfill a direct instruction from scripture:

Phillips – Col. 3: 16-17 Let Christ’s teaching live in your hearts, making you rich in the true wisdom. Teach and help one another along the right road with your psalms and hymns and Christian songs, singing God’s praises with joyful hearts.

What will control your thought life this week?

June 2, 2013

My Wife is Awesome!

Filed under: family, personal — Tags: — paulthinkingoutloud @ 11:52 am

I told my wife that for my birthday I wanted a mix CD of all the songs I listen to regularly on YouTube. But then I never gave her a list of those songs. So while we had a picnic birthday lunch in the park — note to readers: candles don’t work at the beach with offshore winds — she handed me a small wrapped present which contained two very homemade looking discs.

Radio CarolineTurns out it was better than a mix CD. It was an hour each of two programs from Radio Caroline, the onetime pirate radio station that broadcast from a ship off the coast of England. She recorded an oldies show and a contemporary show.

But then, as happens quite often, our CD player in the car wouldn’t give back the disc we had listened to on the way. So yesterday, I finally got to hear a bit of the oldies show.

We were driving along the freeway and the host was reading off requests he’d received when suddenly, there was a shout out to us. By name. And location. Broadcast from London. It turned out he didn’t have the song she requested for me, but that’s okay. The whole concept was perfect with or without the song.

Most. Awesome. Gift. Ever.

February 5, 2013

Never Stop Thanking God for Your Mental Health

Filed under: personal — paulthinkingoutloud @ 9:33 am

I am far too exhausted to write anything today; plus I have to work a full shift alone at the bookstore. Yesterday we moved my mom into a new facility that is a world away from the retirement complex where she has been living. She is now decidedly a part of the health care system, living on a floor with other residents, some of whom are, to put it politely, not higher functioning.

This leaves me with four initial observations.

First, she is now counted among them. Because of her hearing difficulties, I am sure some of the workers will write off her cognitive abilities. It reminds me of the old question: If you suddenly found yourself in an asylum, how would you convince them you shouldn’t be there? (For this, I recommend a classic novel, One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest.)

Second, I have great respect for the people who serve the health care industry. This would not be my career of choice. Not for a single day. The nature of the work itself, the demands of the residents, the government bureaucracy; these all combine to create a lot of stress.  God, bless them every one.

Third, I thought a couple of times yesterday about Jean Vanier and Henri Nouwen.  You can read five different Henri Nouwen items — a man who gave up a lucrative university academic life to work with developmentally challenged people who sometimes need two hours just to get dressed in the morning — at C201 here.

Finally, thank God for your mental health. You are sitting at a computer which I assume makes you one of the more higher functioning people in society, unless of course you are about to forward pictures of funny cats to everyone in your address book, in which case I take it all back. 

December 21, 2012

God Made You Special and He Loves You Very Much

Filed under: personal — Tags: , , , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 9:32 am

I can’t remember which famous statesman said what forms today’s headline.  Was it Larry the Cucumber or Bob The Tomato?

I said yesterday that I’d skip the story of changing the headlight on our car. It’s very self-depreciating. And actually, my wife did most of the work. The last time we did a headlight we both ended up cut and bleeding. We really should leave these things to the experts, but as Orison said in the original 22 Words blog, “That costs dollars. I don’t have any dollars.”

There was a video online explaining how to change the headlight on a car of the same make and model. I clicked on it only to discover it was over 32 minutes long. Definitely not encouraging.

The scene of the crime

The scene of the crime

Other challenges that defeat me include changing the fluorescent light bulbs in the ceiling of the place where I work, and adjusting the shelving in the same location.

“God, why did you make me so stupid?”

I’ve actually prayed that.

More than once.

I tell everyone I have “mechanical derisons;” even though it’s not the correct usage for ‘derision.’ Maybe I have grammatical and syntactical derisons as well.  I have a flight-response that makes me want to run from the battle.

Actually, I’m not stupid. I skipped a grade in elementary school; a history I share with my wife. They don’t let anyone do that. I was accepted into the Julliard School of Dentistry. (Okay, not the last one, but I do have a BA from a prestigious university, which, as the Apostle Paul would say, “I count as rubbish.”)

I’m just not good at everything.

Surprise!  Who is?

Here’s Romans 12:6:

NIV: We have different gifts, according to the grace given to each of us

Weymouth: We have different gifts because God has blessed us in different ways

NLT: In his grace, God has given us different gifts for doing certain things well.

MSG (5b): …let’s just go ahead and be what we were made to be, without enviously or pridefully comparing ourselves with each other, or trying to be something we aren’t.

AMP: Having gifts (faculties, talents, qualities) that differ according to the grace given us, let us use them.

…You know what? Everybody has something that humbles them. Everyone has something about which they are hypersensitive. Everybody experiences what it’s like to covet someone else’s gifts and abilities.

Maybe you can’t cook anything beyond making toast.
Maybe you can’t do your own tax returns.
Maybe you can’t land a basket when shooting hoops to save your life.
Maybe you’re short.
Maybe you’re short on cash all the time.
Maybe you are tone deaf and church services serve as a constant reminder.
Maybe you suck at open heart surgery.

The point is we all have things that remind us that we are meant to live in community.

But I’ll bet you have a gift or talent that God can use to serve someone this weekend.

So do that thing.

November 12, 2012

Taking Emotional Inventory: Revelations and Confessions

Filed under: personal — Tags: , , , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 11:39 am

I have no idea what the post title implies. It just looked good. Then again, I have a fairly good idea.

Yesterday I attended two different morning services at two churches. In the second one, a well known couple in the church — the pastor called them a “power couple” — shared a little of their journey through marriage counseling earlier in the year. It sounds like they were facing some rough challenges, and it would be easy for someone to be smug and say, “Boy, I’m glad our marriage never got to that.”

But then I got thinking about the whole idea of counseling. Some very high profile pastors go to counselors on a regular basis and are very public about it. I’ve never been mostly because I can’t afford it; it would be an expensive luxury given our budget.

What would a counselor find?

As I thought about this I realized that my emotional life is characterized by a number of negative things. I mentally listed seven yesterday, but can only recall five today. I’m going to be very honest with this confession, and this on a blog that tends not to get personal.  For simplicity, these are alphabetical:

  • anxiety, apprehension, fear, worry — about health, finances, the children, my mom’s health, business, etc. (This one concerns me the most, as worry and trusting God are spiritually incompatible.)
  • indecision — not that I can’t make decisions, but I feel like I don’t have a good track record, and therefore I don’t trust myself to make good ones (This one makes it hard to move forward; I tend not to plan things.)
  • isolation — for most of my life I’ve been flying solo in business and ministry projects; it would be nice to play on a large team sometime (This one flares up at the oddest times.)
  • regret — not that I spend a lot of time looking back, but as the song says, “Regrets, I have a few…” (This one probably brings out the greatest sadness, reminding me of another song, “If I Could Turn Back Time.”)
  • rejection — with a common thread to the isolation mentioned above, a lot of projects I’ve tried to start just haven’t clicked with the Christian community (This one just makes me angry, I feel like it’s other peoples’ loss.)

 I could flesh these out in greater detail, but basically, these are some things I deal with, and it’s not a very happy list.

But I think it’s a very accurate picture of what lurks beyond the superficial, and while I don’t expect to resolve all these today, by sharing them here, you just saved me a few of the initial counseling sessions!   I should also add that my days are not spent focusing inward; I don’t see myself as a candidate for depression, rather, these are themes that are lurking in the background.

So now that I’ve left myself emotionally naked and vulnerable today — can’t wait to see what the search engines do with that phrase — does this resonate with any of you? You guys don’t leave a lot of comments, but this would be a good day…

October 8, 2012

Guest Post: The Music That God Likes

Filed under: personal, writing — Tags: , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 7:17 am

Today’s guest post is from Ruth Wilkinson who may or may not be related.


It was hot. I was tired.

I was spending the summer working in the kitchen of my favourite camp, supervising and cooking. And when you’re doing work you believe in, with people you like, it’s easy to run to 16 hour days.

I’d finally hung up my ladle, made a cup of tea, and sought out a quiet, dark and relatively cool spot to relax before going to bed.

The porch. Concrete floor and walls. Old wooden pews against the wall. An unimpeded view of the moon on the lake. Behind me, a window, open to the ‘lounge’, which was busy with other staff playing games, chatting, making music. And me in the shadows outside, listening.

Under the window indoors there was a piano. If not for the wall, I’d have been leaning against it.

Two people came to the piano and sat down. His camp name was Rocky, one of the senior summer staff, full of character and wit.

Her camp name was Joy.

If you met her, you’d know that it could never be anything else. She’s one of those people who carry light with them into the room. A 100 watt smile, always ready. Hugs, encouragement, hope.

She was also about 80% deaf. A hearing aid in each ear. Her parents, as some do, had decided not to have her taught sign language. They wanted her to grow and live in the world of the hearing. So her interaction with the people around her was through lip reading and her own slurred, exaggerated speech.

But Rocky and Joy had decided that it was time for her to learn to play the piano. ‘Cause camp is like that. Behind me, out of sight, he sat down at the high end of the keyboard, and she at the low end. I doubted they knew I was there.

He hit a C chord and sang “Je – sus..” and showed her where the C note was. She hit it. Bom.

He played a G chord, sang “loves me…” and showed her where the G note was. Bom.

A minor. “This I….” G is one up from A. Bom.

C. “Know…” Back to the first one again. Bom.

F chord. “For the…” Which one’s F? Yeah, that’s right! Bom.

And on they went, all the way through 2 verses and 2 choruses, patient with each other.

C chord. “So….” Bom.

They laughed and high fived each other. He was called away.

I thought, “Well, that was nice. I’m glad I heard that.” Sipped my tea, looked at the moon, rested my head against the wall and thought about grace.

But she stayed at the piano. Playing notes, combinations of notes, what she thought might be chords.

I thought, “Oh, dear.”

She began to play more loudly, more confidently. Crashing and tinkling.

I sighed.

She started to sing. The singing of the deaf. Loud. No tone, no melody. No rhythm or any relation to what her hands were playing. Right out the window, over my head.

I groaned.

She sang, “Jeeeeeeee – sus! (crash) Jeeeeee – sus! (bom) I love you Jesus! (crash) I love you God! (bom) Thank you for saving meeeeee! (tinkle) OH, GOD, I LOVE YOUUUUUUUU! (crunch) YOU ARE BEAUTIFUUUUUUUL! (kabom) YOU CREATED THE UNIVERRRRRSE! (CRASH BOM)”

I thought, “God, I’m tired. I just wanted some peace and quiet. Is that so much to ask? How much longer is she going to keep making this NOISE?!”

I’m not exactly sure how to describe the next sensation I experienced. The closest I can come is when you’re a kid at the grocery store with your granny, and you say something rude to the guy behind the counter and she slaps you across the back of the head.

SMACK!

And in that moment, I heard that voice that you hear with every nerve and fibre of your body. Whispering.

“She’s not singing for you. And you have no idea what she sounds like from here.”

~Ruth Wilkinson


– Let the message about the Messiah dwell richly among you, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, and singing psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs, with gratitude in your hearts to God. And whatever you do, in word or in deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through Him.–

July 16, 2012

Christian Media in the Home

I’ve previously written here about how we’re big fans of sermon audio when we travel, and as someone who works in the Christian bookstore environment, it’s a given that I’m a huge booster of Christian books and music.

But today I want to approach this from a slightly different perspective.  Over the past few days I’ve written about the battle that goes on for our thought life, and how this takes place on a moment by moment basis.  Back in June, I posted a great analysis of the types of thoughts, that are going on in our heads at any given point in time.

I don’t spend a lot of time commuting, but I am increasingly aware of the contrast that exists between the mental processes that take place when I omit to turn on the radio — which is mostly presets for Christian stations — and the times I have worship songs playing. This is a giant contrast, not a mild difference.

Listening to Bible Teaching

Yesterday we listened to sermons from North Point and Crosspoint.  We tried to find another “point” but left it at those two, plus what we heard in church that morning. The day before I listened to one at Mars Hill (MI), a few days earlier it was a conference talk streaming at Elevation.  You can find all these churches linked in the sidebar of this blog.

Life was not always so.

I can remember asking my parents why they had to constantly listen to more preacher programs. Their media of choice was WDCX, an FM station in Buffalo, and WHLD, a Buffalo AM outlet. Of course, my choice would have been Top 40 rock station 1050 CHUM in Toronto. I think that was the real issue.

But today, although I hunger to learn and grow and discover more about Christ through what others have learned, I also am acutely aware of what happens in the absence of Christian media in the home.

Bible teaching can come in other forms besides radio and television. There are the aforementioned sermons-on-demand and live-streaming church services on the internet, plus some teachers, like Bruxy Cavey at The Meeting House often do a separate podcast. But there’s also CD audio and of course books.

Listening to Christian Music

For some Christ-followers, the dominant form of uplifting, inspirational and wholesome media is Christian music; which may consist of hymns, mass choirs, southern gospel, adult contemporary, Christian rock in all its various genres, and the current favorite, modern worship.

Again, these can be accessed in various forms. Some choose mp3 files which can be played back in the car and in the home. Many people are still buying CDs. Christian music song videos abound on video sharing sites like GodTube, Vimeo and YouTube. There is an abundance of Christian radio available online, and here in North America, most people live within range of a broadcast station that plays music, teaching or a mix of both.

But I have to say that as a worship leader, nothing compares to the songs that you experience in a worship environment with your faith family. Maybe it’s because I was playing in the band yesterday, but one particular song — an original song written by our guest musician — stuck in my head for hours yesterday, and in a good way.

For a listing of some of my favorite songs with video, visit the sidebar in the right margin at Christianity 201.

Listening to God

These varied media I find to be a positive alternative to anything else, and in fact fulfill a direct instruction from scripture:

Phillips – Col. 3: 16-17 Let Christ’s teaching live in your hearts, making you rich in the true wisdom. Teach and help one another along the right road with your psalms and hymns and Christian songs, singing God’s praises with joyful hearts.

What will control your thought life this week?

Older Posts »

The Silver is the New Black Theme. Blog at WordPress.com.