Thinking Out Loud

September 3, 2014

Wednesday Link List

The cartoon is from ASBO Jesus, which sadly isn’t being updated. The lower one appeared here about five years ago, and was from Pundit Kitchen.

They call it Labor Day because on Tuesday we all had to work twice as hard to catch up. Take a few minutes to pause and do some clicking:

Link sleuth Paul Wilkinson is also available for private investigations if there’s a link in your life that’s gone missing.  Or, for free, you can read his blog, Thinking Out Loud.

church and state from pundit kitchen

June 11, 2014

Wednesday Link List

calvinistsafety

With lots of people doing summer things this week, I thought we’d tinker with the format while nobody’s looking. ANYTHING YOU CLICK will take you to PARSE, the blog of Leadership Journal, the Link List’s owner.  But first, we take you to Monday’s edition of the comic Pearls Before Swine (click image to link).

Pearls Before Swine June 9th 2014

I usually bury the video links near the bottom, but this week uncovered two clips I wanted to give more prominence.

Church leadership stuff:

Essay(s)-of-the-Week:

The wider religious world:

Worth reading:

Be afraid; be very afraid:

So how do you like your links? Categorized or free-range? Leave a comment!

 

Happy Hour Church

April 23, 2013

Will There Be a Resurrection of Christian Bookstores?

Filed under: books — Tags: , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 7:23 am

Guest post by Larry WillardThis article appeared last week by permission of the author in our affiliate blog, Christian Book Shop Talk; but we thought it should also be seen by readers here. Larry Willard is an owner of Toronto’s largest Christian bookstore, Faith Family Books; and Castle Quay Books, one of Canada’s largest publishing companies.

Larry WillardFor the past five years I have been speaking about the great Christian bookstore Tsunami and how you and I unintentionally helped the demise of hundreds of loyal, well-established Christian bookstores in Canada and the USA without even trying. You have heard how bricks and mortar bookstores were just another example of the 8 track tape whose time had passed and death was inevitable. But many are beginning to doubt that is accurate and I hear more confessions that people miss the whole array of products and services that they offered and wish they could help to bring them back. And though I am not a prophet, I want to risk saying that I still see a need for some of those lost services and I believe the brick and mortar bookstore is in the midst of going through a metamorphosis and some will soon come out of their cocoon resurrected as “a better creature than ever.”

I always insisted that my contribution (and no doubt yours) was unintended and so we are innocent of their death. I always went to local bookstore but like you, all I wanted was a “good deal” for my hard-earned dollars so I increasingly went to the lowest bidder. As my mother used to remind me, “A penny saved is a penny earned! (Oh dear…seeing what has happened to the penny, I guess we’ll have to modernize that adage as well). So I was following her wise counsel” I didn’t expect there would be such a consequence to my saving “a few cents here” and “a few dollars there!” But it happened. And that “lowest-cost” mindset eventually killed the local Christian establishment.

There is nothing sinful about being frugal and trying to get the best deal whenever we buy something but there is a “bigger picture” we need to be aware of as we make our choices. The personal benefits of “always getting the best deal,” regardless of the overall impact, leads people to unwittingly cooperate in the decimation of local establishments, what ever their services, and in the end, what does it profit us if we gain a few dollars and lose our jobs and institutions as a result. What if my own job were next as a result of this mindset?

We Christians are different than a worldly community or local burger joint. We are a family with a particular mission and a unified focus that has an eternal outcome. We need to support each other above “just making a profit.” Christian institutions need our support if they are to continue to offer the full array of resources and services that our community has benefited from over the years. They just can not survive the continuous erosion of sales diverted to “on-line” or “big box” lowest price-discount retailers. The bookstores and other providers need those sales to sustain their models. They offer more than just books that someone can get anywhere. They offer a specialty that could be lost if we are not thoughtful.

Now, people are beginning to notice the value of their local Christian store as they try buying a good Christian book at one of the large secular bookstores of our country. Except for a few top titles there is scant selection and little depth. These are bookstores that place the Bible, the Koran and a number of new-age titles in the same section and label it “Spiritual Enlightenment.” Try finding a good “serious” book at these stores. Try sending a new Christian there to pick up a book to help them in their spiritual development. Nothing replaces the vast selection of the traditional dedicated Christian bookstore or the staff that use years of knowledge and wisdom to suggest just “the right title.”

And, on-line shopping can not replace taking a book in your hand and running through the pages before you buy it. Looking at several titles on a topic and deciding if the content is solid before buying it. It’s harder to do that on-line. It’s hard to even see what the selection options are on-line. And most good books are not even available at the larger secular chains and finding them on-line requires you to know what the title is when you start.

Do you now own a lot of books that turned out not to be what they looked like in the on-line photo? Were the real costs of online purchases, with the hefty freight costs, and foreign exchange rates not a great deal after all?

Yes, local Christian bookstores needed to go through a metamorphosis. I think they will have to look more like a Christian Chapters with their gifts, books, music café and more. They must make the customer experience exciting and as inexpensive as possible. Our new stores must be more like communities where people come to have coffee with friends and then do some quick shopping. The selection of gifts, cards, movies, music and books must be better than ever. They need a lot more Canadian authors and artists and they need to be changing to meet a customer’s newest needs all the time. So it is not for the faint-hearted.

But above all…they need Christians to help them survive. How terrible if one day there wasn’t a place to browse for the latest releases without scanning mounds of web pages for an hour. Everyone wants a good deal. We shop for the best price and shake down a sales rep if we think we can. I am not recommending that you forget about getting a good or fair deal and just pay anything to keep your Christian retailer in business. I just ask that you give them a chance or the next tsunami for that industry is just around the corner.

Sometimes there is a greater “good” we serve when we pay a few cents more and sustain the service of the “touch and feel” local Christian retailer. If all of us practice the “best deal” model in everything we purchase, one day we also may find ourselves out of a job because someone wanted to save a dime or dollar. I still have high hopes that there will be the resurrection of the Christian Bookstore to become a new, exciting and sustainable entity. I hope that is true of many Christian service providers.

Larry Willard

March 16, 2013

To My Fellow Bloggers: What Your Amazon Links Support

Customers Who Bought This Item Also Bought -  Gay marriage donations?

This week we were asked by a Christian bookstore manager, “How many people know that the founder of Amazon is the largest single donor to the cause of gay marriage?” Honestly, I didn’t know myself, and the amount, $2.5 M (US) is staggering. He told me, “Tell your local churches that are buying from Amazon just to type ‘Jeff Bezos’ and ‘gay marriage’ into a search engine for themselves.”  A week later, I did this myself. There were many, many articles, but this one describes a behind-the-scenes look at the donation:

Thank Lesbian Jennifer Cast for Jeff Bezos’ Huge Gay Marriage Support

Like most of us, Jennifer Cast said she figured her former boss, Amazon founder Jeff Bezos, was well aware of the threat to gay marriage in Washington State by the upcoming the ballot iniative and wrote to him, “I figured that if you felt the desire to support marriage equality, you would do it.” But, unlike many of us, this time she spoke up with a direct ask, and for the first time in twelve years working on the issue, Cast, 50, partners of 20+ years with Liffy Franklin, 63, emailed Bezos, “I beg you not to sit on the sidelines and hope the vote goes our way. Help us make it so.” She wrote, “We need help from straight people. To be very frank, we need help from wealthy straight people who care about us and who want to help us win.” She asked the billionaire for a contribution of $100,000 to $200,000. Within thirty-six hours he replied, “Jen, this is right for so many reasons. We’re in for $2.5 million. Jeff & MacKenzie”

This is the largest ever donation in support of marriage equality and it only happened because a lesbian spoke up and asked for it. Learn from her. The announcement also inspired other gifts, according to the Seattle Times, which reports, “Cast said she has received hundreds of emails since news of Bezos’ gift broke early Friday from well-wishers and those who suddenly wanted to give. One donor pledged $25,000.”

Jeff Bezos is worth $18.4 billion. Although William Lynch, the CEO of Barnes & Noble, isn’t a billionaire, his compensation last year was $10 million, going up to $15.3 million this year. He doesn’t have a connection to Washington State, but some of the Amazon haters need to ask Lynch for a significant donation. He can give to Maryland’s or to Maine’s campaign…

A link for this and what follows is available if you wish. The perspective below was actually from a gay website. The first line really sums up what’s happening even as you’re reading this.

Customers Who Bought This Item Also Bought…gay marriage donations?: The founder of Amazon.com, Jeff Bezos, and his wife, MacKenzie, just donated 2.5 million to help pass Washington state’s Referendum 74, which would legalize gay marriage. The donation from Bezos, the 15th wealthiest man in America, has been called a “game changer” by Washington gay marriage campaigners.

I do not see how any Christian blogger or media outlet possessing this information can continue to remain an Amazon affiliate or referrer. To everyone else, if you or your church purchases from Amazon, I think you need to take a long, prayerful second look at that situation.

January 31, 2013

Christian Bookstore Closings Affect The Broader Community

Filed under: books, music — Tags: , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 7:24 am

With electronic devices, the proliferation of online ordering, and a general lack of reading taking place, it’s easy to know the why of what happens when a community loses a Christian bookstore.

But in the process, the community also loses its Christian music store and its Christian DVD store and its Christian greeting card store and its Christian giftware store and its Christian apparel store and its outlet for tickets for Christian events and its church supplies store and its Bible store and its place to meet up with other Christ followers in a non church setting.

Instead: The church community loses a marketplace presence.

Instead: The community at large loses the effects of the church being in that marketplace.

Maybe, even though they don’t own the businesses in question, local churches should be standing side-by-side with the remaining stores and fighting for their survival.

July 11, 2012

Wednesday Link List

Here’s our deal:  I find ‘em, you click on ‘em.

  • Pants on Fire Department: Apparently Perry Noble may have fudged some stats on church attendance in his home state when he was trying to justify some church expansion.  
  • This is a must read, especially for women who have a man in their life (father, brother, son, friend) who is going where he shouldn’t go online. Check out Four Reasons Why Men Like Porn.
  • Two quick posts about actor Andy Griffith who passed away last week: Ron Edmondson on how Andy was prepared to die;  and a Christianity Today post on the secret to understanding life in the Town of Mayberry.
  • If Solomon* were alive today, instead of the Proverbs 31 text we know, he might have written something like what Dennis Muse posted about what makes a girl beautiful. (*Or Lemuel; see comments!)
  • An eight-year old girl discovers that the dinosaur pictured in the brochure for the IMAX show at the show at the Smithsonian is actually from (gasp!) The Creation Museum.
  • Is this religious persecution? An Arizona man’s weekly Bible studies at his home have cost him $12,000 in fines and two months in jail, because he was violating the building code.
  • Christian bookstores may be disappearing, but according to Rachel Held Evans, their influence isn’t. She thinks their conservatism is choking author creativity.
  • Lisa Robinson thinks that having a “life verse” isn’t a good idea for four reasons, including that it isn’t a nice thing to do to the verse.
  • This one was found linked on Rachel’s blog this weekend: If you are feeling in a silly mood or need to entertain the junior high youth group this weekend, here are The Top Ten Zombie Scenes in the Bible. And here’s a transparent look at the subject of repentance.  Good explanation of the phrase in Matthew, “Bear fruit in keeping with repentance.”
  • Darrell at SFL explains why, in fundamentalist circles, many people have the calling but only a few have the job.
  • Blog Discovery of the Week Department:  Caleb Jennings Breakey, an author with two books slated for Harvest House Publishers in each of 2013 and 2014.
  • An internal link here back to 2009: If you’re planning small group ministry for the fall, here’s how National Capital Church (Mark Batterson) allows free-market principles to guide the birth of small groups.
  • This one will be eight days old when you read it, but it supplies some background into the injury suffered by author and missionary Steve Saint.
  • Apparently not all scientists are happy with the term “God Particle” for the Higgs-Boson. But you saw that coming, right?
  • And if the universe is the answer, what is the question? Answers in Genesis weighs in on Higgs-Boson.  (Link is correct, go to the second item.)
  • Yes, we saw that piece about the “whites only” Christian conference, and no, that could never happen in Canada (at least they wouldn’t be able to advertise it.)
  • Christian Piatt shares Ten Clichés Every Christian Should Avoid. I guess every blog post happens for a reason.
  • If you happen to be in my part of the world on Sunday, August 5th, Canadian male vocalist and storyteller Steve Bell will be doing a rare appearance here — the only one on the current tour — with the Steve Bell Trio.
  • Matt Chandler is offering a free chapter preview of his newest book, Explicit Gospel.
  • Check out the growth of the YouVersion Bible app — click the image to see the app’s blog, or click here to go straight to YouVersion.

June 23, 2012

The Quest for Family Friendly Entertainment

While admittedly we had some fun earlier in the week with the Southern Baptist Convention resolution to ban the sale of a DVD from its denominational retail chain’s stores, the story raises the more serious issue of finding quality entertainment for the whole family that’s not too boring and not too ‘edgy.’

The Christian bookstore — in either its traditional form or its modern, online counterpart — is supposed to be the place where you can trust that the products carried have gone through appropriate filters. Similarly, Christian radio stations — especially a few years ago — regularly applied the word safe to their tag lines to describe the type of music they offered.

But with DVDs being the only real growth area for the Christian products industry, an opportunity was seized very quickly. Chain “A” will verify that Chain “B” is carrying a particular title, and include it in their catalog. But it is hard to know how many people were part of the wisdom to promote the title at Chain “A.” 

Furthermore:

  • There are retailers selling family-friendly DVDs that would never consider selling family-friendly fiction books; they would contend there is simply too much good product from Christian publishers
  • There are companies selling family friendly DVDs that would never consider the idea of family-friendly music; they would question the idea of anyone being qualified to make that decision and the wisdom of investing their inventory dollars in secular music
  • There are Christian stores selling family-friendly DVDs that would never consider selling family-friendly plaques and picture frames; they would (rightly, I think) argue that there should be something distinctive (Christian symbol, verse of scripture) that makes the product something a Christian store would want to include.

But the dramatic movies and children’s DVDs somehow break through the wall; which means you as a customer don’t know for sure what you’re buying until you’ve read online reviews and studied the product packaging for warnings; and the people who do make product specifically targeting the Christian consumer now have to compete with every other family-friendly video producer out there.

September 6, 2011

Christian Publishing Makes Strange Bedfellows

One of my all time favorite pictures: This is a real picture of a real store that existed for many years in Napanee, Ontario; better known as the home of rocker Avril Lavigne. Even after they got rid of the beds and went full-out into Christian books, they continued to carry the little bottles of whatever it is you add to the water in waterbeds…

If publishing is your interest however, you might be interested in this story: Paul Young, author of The Shack has signed with Hachette Book Group to release his next novel.  More at Christian Retailing.

And the John Hagee book, Jerusalem Countdown, is being made into a movie.  That story was also at Christian Retailing.

January 12, 2011

Wednesday Link List

A rather bizarre lynx links list this week if I say so myself…so we brought back the Iberian Lynx for only the second time ever…

  • Tomorrow, this blog is one of the stops on a blog tour promoting W. P. Campbell’s book, Turning Controversy Into Ministry, a study of the church’s response to homosexuality.  I’ll be reviewing chapter ten, a pivotal chapter that kicks off the practical part of the book, Section III.
  • The video to watch this week is the young Lutheran boy who really gets down to preachin’ it in Jesus in Every Book of the Bible.
  • Top blog post this week — but it will take you a few minutes — is Darlene Parsons’ excellent analogy concerning cilantro and legalism.  Well written with a sharp taste just like the herb in question.  Don’t miss this.
  • At Q-Blog, Andy Couch brings a list of the top ten cultural trends of the last decade includes a few that may surprise.
  • Apparently signs at church exits stating, “You Are Now Entering the Mission Field” are more widespread than I realized.
  • Shane Claiborne visits a Christian bookstore only to find it freshly stocked with military merchandise and regalia. “Studies show that not only is the institutional church hemorrhaging economically, but the Christian industrial complex is in really bad shape…”
  • And in a somewhat related post, Shaun Groves gets ready to record his first studio album in five years, and carefully notes the way the Christian music industry has changed.
  • I’ve heard this story presented as a sermon illustration, but didn’t know there was actual video available. It should be called ‘Don’t Sleep in the Subway,’ because over a thousand people were asleep at the switch. Watch for a few minutes before reading the full story.
  • Zac Hicks thinks that worship leaders have a major obligation to present orthodox theology. “A great place to start is by studying the attributes of God, and particularly His incommunicable attributes (those characteristics of God which he does not share with humanity).”  Read more and bookmark this site if you are responsible for weekend worship in your community.
  • Ron Edmondson’s 10-year-old son figures when we get to heaven, they’ll have “one contemporary service and one traditional.”  Ron’s not so sure.
  • Think before you answer this one:  Did Jesus ever get the flu?  You might be surprised at Russell D. Moore’s answer.
  • Here we go again:  A Canadian Senator wants to criminalize spanking children.  Be sure to read the anecdote that Michael Coren relays before you think this isn’t a major issue.
  • Are dead birds falling from the sky a sign of the end times?  Former Left Behind movie actor Kirk Cameron thinks a reporter would do better to call a veterinarian.
  • True, Steve Saint is the son of South American missionary martyr Nate Saint; but also has an identity that’s all his own that springs from his own response to events that January day in 1956.  Such as working for Mission Aviation Fellowship.  Including going back to the same tribe that killed his father.  Lately, he’s been busy building a flying car.  Yes, you read that right.
  • If you enjoyed yesterday’s top Christian books chart here yesterday, you’ll really enjoy the U.S. Top 100 Christian Books for 2010 posted at Michael Hyatt’s blog.
  • The Toronto Star profiles Aiden Enns and his unusual Christian magazine, Geez, a faith magazine for the unchurched.  (Geez is the name that won out over Cripes.  Seriously.)   Enns got the idea for the magazine while working for Adbusters.
  • Here’s a video link to a great Sonicflood song from a couple of years back: Psalm 91.
  • Most comments indicated that this editorial on all things Crystal Cathedral was a miss more than a hit.
  • The Bible makes it into Gasoline Alley.  Not in a good way, though. At the blog The Comics Curmudgeon, a post last week focused on spiritual themes and noted in this case, “Gasoline Alley has continued its attempt to ditch its goody-goody image by dabbling in blasphemy. Today [Jan 5] it suggests that the Holy Bible is best used as a weight-loss aid.”  See for yourself:

  • Then again, I thought we needed a better note to end this week’s list on, so seeing it’s just a few days past Epiphany, this one from Sacred Sandwich seems to be timed just right:

November 16, 2010

Losing a Christian Bookstore, Even in a Small Town, Is Sad

The staff at the Christian bookstore where I hang out several days a week has reason to be concerned.   Christian bookstores have been dropping like flies over the past few years.    For all the reasons you know, plus in Canada, one extra one:  Deflation.

Deflation is what happens to a business when its costs are going up, but the retail price of its products are going down.   It happens in Canada because the retail price of Christian books is indexed to the U.S. price, and the Canadian dollar has been holding its own during a period where the U.S. dollar has been battered on world markets.

So while our brothers and sisters in the U.S. have lost their stores because their economy has been so devastated, the resulting effect on their dollar means stores here have been hit hard because our economy is so strong, relatively.   (Don’t worry if you don’t get that.   I’ve been writing a blog for two years now just for Christian retail store owners, and not all of them fully understand the full ramifications of selling in deflationary times.)

The staff have been cautiously asking questions about the long-term direction of our little set of two stores.    I’ve told them not to be careful in asking questions.   This is a rough time for brick-and-mortar bookstores of all stripes, and every question can be on the table.

But I’m not really sure how to answer their questions.   I feel like God was in this when we established it all those years ago.   I often tell the stories of how God brought our little business into being.   But I don’t always see God at work in the day to day maintenance and ongoing operations of those stores.   There are encouraging moments, but mostly the sense we get is that things are slowly drawing to a close.

There are two reasons for this.

First of all we live in a province — Ontario — that is currently governed at what most of my readers would call the state level by a liberal government that is very, very anti-business.   Especially small business.   There is not enough space in this blog to list all the things that they have ‘undone’ during their time in power.  And are continuing to ‘undo.’   With all due respect to any entrepreneurs reading this who happen to live where I live, you’d have to be nuts to start a small business in the province of Ontario.

Second, one of our stores is located in a town where mathematics has dictated that one local church actually holds the deciding vote on which way our store there will go.   How can I explain this?   Remember a past Presidential election when it all came down to the Electoral College votes from the state of Florida?  Well,  Florida didn’t ask to be in that position.   They didn’t know, going in, that it would all come down to their state’s ballots.   But the mathematics of the situation ended up handing them the final election decision.    In this case, a local church that is ordering many, many, many packages of Christian resources per month online is holding the deciding vote.   And we’ve told them that.  And we’ve told them we’re sorry that the dynamics of the situation has ended up where it is.

A Christian bookstore has a whole lot to offer a local community.   I’m determined not to be another casualty — we even joked a few years back about being the last one standing — but with each passing day we see the proverbial marker writing on the proverbial whiteboard.

The only lighter moment today came from my youngest son:  “So, Dad, is there any way you can get paid to write a blog?”

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