Thinking Out Loud

October 21, 2014

The Protestant Kid and The Crucifix

Yes, this is the third time around for this column, but it’s been four years…

When I was in the sixth grade, my friend Jimmy Moss and his family moved to Morristown, New Jersey, where he later decided that his life calling was to enter the priesthood.

I have never seen Jimmy since. I doubt very much he goes by ‘Jimmy’ now. “Father Jimmy?” Okay, it’s possible.

crucifixJimmy’s family were Catholic. I know that because we had several discussions about it. Not so much Jimmy and I. Mostly my parents and I. It was considered necessary that I know a little about this particular take on Christianity should it ever come up.

Later on, I decided to check it out firsthand. Much later on. I think I was in my mid-twenties when I first attended a mass. I was working for InterVarsity Christian Fellowship in Toronto at the time, and there was another girl in the office who also had never been to a mass, and so we both agreed that on the next weekend we would attend a mass.

I remember several things about that mass. It was the middle of summer and the sermon was short. If there was one at all. If there was, I can tell you the announcements took up more time. It seemed like we were in and out of there in about twenty minutes. In truth, it couldn’t have been much more than twenty-five.

I didn’t know where to turn in the missal to follow the order of service. Someone nearby spotted my confusion and informed me we were in “the sixteenth Sunday of ordinary time,” or something like that. But they were flipping back and forth between different sections of the missal, which didn’t help.

I also remember the guy standing at the back reading a copy of the tabloid Sunday paper. I don’t think he ever looked up from the sports pages. I was later informed that “being there” was paramount. It was important to attend apparently, even if your heart wasn’t in it. Just show up.

Which would explain the guy who was wet. The way I figured it, he must have lived directly across the road from the church. He had jumped out of his backyard pool, donned the minimal amount of clothing, and joined the newspaper reader at the back of the sanctuary. He was the one dripping water droplets on the floor. Really.

I didn’t go forward to “receive the host,” i.e. take communion. But I tried my best to sing the two hymns. And I knew the words to repeat the “Our Father.” And my reflexes were quick enough not to launch into, “For Thine is the kingdom…”

Most evangelicals have never been to a mass. Nearly twenty-five years later, I would attend again. Once every quarter century. I guess that makes me a nominal Catholic.

…Anyway, I was often invited into Jimmy’s home. I remember several things about it all these years later. The first was that if I stayed for supper, Jimmy and his two brothers had to wash their hands before and after meals. That was new to me, then, but it’s a practice I’ve adopted recently since discovering the world of sauces and salad dressings. A good meal is one where I leave with sticky fingers that require a rinse.

crucifix2The second was the presence of crucifixes. I think they were spread throughout the house; but the memory may be of general religious icons; there may have only been the one at the front door.

This was a Catholic home. That was communicated to every guest, every salesman, every one of the kid’s friends. I couldn’t avert my eyes. Jesus was there on the cross, and he didn’t look happy.

We didn’t have a crucifix in our home. Crosses in my evangelical world were distinctly sans corpus, a phrase I just made up mixing French and Latin. As kids in Sunday School we were told that Catholics have crucifixes and Protestants don’t. I wonder sometimes if it would have been good if we had one.

(Which reminds me of the Catholic child who entered a Protestant house of worship for the first time, and seeing a cross at the front of the sanctuary, blurted out “What have they done with the little man?”)

For Christmas 2009, the Gregg Gift Company brought out some kind of ornament for the front hall that says, “This Home Believes.” I don’t think one’s expression of belief should be reduced to a sign, or that a sign should be expected to carry the burden of verbal witness, but I often wonder if we should have something at our front door — like the Mezuzah on Jewish homes — that alerts guests, salesmen and friends that “This is a Christian home;” preferably something that contains in its iconography the unmistakable message of the core of Christianity.

Something like, oh, I don’t know, maybe a crucifix.

September 24, 2014

Wednesday Link List

Pope Clement Coffee

The links are on me!  Actually, the Religious Newswriters Association people were all at a convention last week, so mysteriously, there was no news.

Our closing graphic is from eScapegoat, which allows our Jewish friends to transfer their sins to a goat roaming the internet collecting sins for Yom Kippur.  (Note: No actual Halachic atonement implied.) Click the image below to visit.
eScapegoat

 

August 9, 2014

“Oh, are you any relation to John Piper?”

I would not want to grow up in the shadow of a famous person, let alone a celebrity in the present Evangelical/Christian milieu, so after listening to several episodes of The Happy Rant Podcast, of which Barnabas Piper is one of three hosts — I decided it was time to see how iconic Calvinist John Piper fared in his son’s book, The Pastor’s Kid: Finding Your Own Faith and Identity.

The Pastor's Kid - Barnabas PiperDespite a rather intense introduction from the elder Piper, no family secrets were revealed, in fact there is such a universality to this story that perhaps it should be titled, The Church Leader’s Kid, or The Board Member’s Kid, or The Sunday School Teacher’s Kid, or even The Usher’s Kid. (Note: This list was not presented in descending order; I am not implying that ushers are any less important than board members.) The point is that all of us who grew up in church sometimes feel undeniable pressure to be good.

The book itself is rather light reading, though this is not a light subject. The younger Piper comes at this from various perspectives and with absolute transparency. The ministry life is an individual calling, but as I know from my own household, spouses and offspring get dragged into that life whether they want it or not.

The immersion into ministry life for a child is not simply a matter of meshing a church schedule to a school and sports schedule. The expectations are gigantic.

In some sense the “Bible expert” identity is one that PKs can’t help. It takes very intention effort not to learn biblical facts and references when it is your parents’ full-time job and home life both. We absorb biblical knowledge passively whether we care to or not. And the higher expectation naturally follows.

When you combine this ever-present reality with the fact we are the progeny of clergy, a further challenge arises — PKs are often expected to be theologians (sometimes by our parents, usually by the church). This is distinctly different than being a “Bible expert,” someone who knows the facts of Scripture. Being a theologian is a discipline, a cause, a passion. People expect that one of our great passions will be the systematized exploration and explanation of God. And while it is good for everyone to give careful thought to the things of God, the expectation of “theologian” placed on PKs is much more than that.  (pp. 52-53)

The book also is strong in its examination of the relationship of the PK to the pastor/parent.

American church culture has created a double standard for pastors. They are expected to be dynamic leaders, teachers, counselors and organizational heads. And one of the job qualifications is that they be dynamic family men. These two demands would not necessary be at odds except that both far surpass reality. Pastors are expected to be superior in both roles, even when they are at odds with each other.   (p.  119)

If the church wins the battle for the man’s time, the family (i.e. especially the kids) lose. “What we get are the leftovers. When that happens, while he may be seen as great pastor, he is a flop as a parent.”

Barnabas Piper and John PiperThere is more than a direct hint from Barnabas that his famous father really isn’t drawn to any particular hobbies.  In a rare candid paragraph he laments that “…to this day, I still yearn to have a shared hobby with my father, something as simple as golf or hiking. Such little things have big meanings.” While I am not a pastor myself, I saw myself in this section of the book, especially the notation that, “…what he loved was studying, theology, writing and preaching — not exactly the hobbies to share with a twelve-year old.”

That’s possibly why I said the book really has a more general application, especially for Christian men. I know men aren’t big consumers of Christian books, but the 137 pages of core content here includes 21 essentially blank pages (something publisher David C. Cook is frequently guilty of) so at least the guys will feel they are making progress as they read.

As universal as are the parenting issues this book speaks to, the very designation “PK” shows that the issues are unique.

You can tell we have a reputation because we get our own abbreviation. You don’t see a teacher’s kid getting called a “TK” or a salesman’s kid getting called an “SK.”  (p. 23)

There are two things that are absent from The Pastor’s Kid which I feel are worth noting.

First, Barnabas is the son of both a famous preacher and a famous preacher’s wife. (Some churches even refer to the Pastor’s wife as the church’s “First Lady,” in the same sense as the wife of the U.S. President.) Perhaps he is saving this for a sequel, establishing a brand. (The Pastor’s Wife followed by The Pastor’s Cat and Dog.) It’s also possible that Noël Piper wisely suggested something like, ‘Leave me out of it.’ Either way, there is only a passing reference to his mother.

Second, and more importantly, while the subject frequently arises, there isn’t nearly enough direct treatment of what Barna Research refers to as Prodigal Pastors’ Kids. Perhaps their circumstances make them overly visible, but we all know PKs who have gone off the deep end, either theologically or behaviorally. (See infographic below.)

Those two things said, this is still an important book and one that every elder, board member needs to read, as well as passing it down the line to kidmin and ymin workers who deal with the PKs in Sunday School, midweek club, or youth group.


Thanks to Martin Smith of David C. Cook Canada for a chance to come late to the review party and still get a seat!  For another excerpt from the book, see the second half of this devotional at C201.

Barna Research - Prodigal Pastors' Kids - from infographic

August 5, 2014

Canada’s Evangelical News Story of the Year

Tyndale College and Seminary - Arial View

Morrow_Park_Tyndale_Bayview_CampusIt’s only August, but I’m prepared to call it; I’m just not able to better report it. The short version is that Canada’s Tyndale University College and Seminary announced in the spring of 2011 its intention to “buy the house next door;” that is, to purchase the former Sisters of St. Joseph Convent, a rather imposing structure, visible from Toronto’s Bayview Avenue that more than a few visitors thought was the Christian university for many years.  The acquisition has been a slow and steady process dating back to 2007 and a $58M (CDN) fundraising program.

In fact this has been so long in quietly approaching fruition — students will fully occupy the facility in the second semester of the 2014-15 year — that leads me to make the “not able to report it” clause in my introduction. Basically, I think this story is the hottest news on the rack as far as Evangelicalism in Canada is concerned, but the institution has not exactly been blowing its own horn about it.

Tyndale’s existing property has been sold to a housing developer. This is the fourth significant location for the school which began life in 1894 first in a church and at 110 College Street as Toronto Bible Training School, and then in downtown Toronto at 16 Spadina Avenue as Toronto Bible College (TBC). The move to its current location, 25 Ballyconnor at the very north perimeter of what is now Metro Toronto in 1976 occured eight years after a merger with the London College of Bible and Missions (LCBM) and a change of name to Ontario Bible College. The seminary was later added and a new name incorporates both the undergraduate and graduate programs.

This report is rather sparse because, at least in this writer’s opinion, the new Tyndale campus is probably a story not known to the broadest percentage of the Christian community in Canada’s largest city; the biggest religious news story in town that nobody knows about. Capital projects tend to play to the donor base, who are no doubt better informed, and so far, this has been a very large capital project.  A blog documents the month-to-month progress and contains hints of what the future campus looks like, including state-of-the-art IT equipment in the classrooms and a much improved library.

The chapel, pictured below, will be quite a change from the informality of the present one, though I expect the acoustics are rather amazing. Otherwise, Tyndale seems to be saving all the photo ops for when the facility officially starts receiving the bulk of its student body, expected to be the first week in January, 2015.

Tyndale College - Bayview Campus - Chapel

July 9, 2014

Wednesday Link List

???????????????????????????????

I was looking around for pictures of the 2014 Wild Goose Festival, and found this one from 2013.  Anyone know the backstory on this?

Now that the eye burn-in from weekend fireworks has faded, it’s time to see what people have been reading over the past few days:

Not sure of the origin of the picture below. It was captioned, “What Happened to the Dinosaurs” and the picture file was labeled “Shoo!”

What Happened to the Dinosaurs

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 24, 2014

Of Fancy Homes in Hidden Places

front_gate

Lately, a lot of attention has been turned to the housing that certain pastors and church leaders enjoy and are building. In an internet world, with Google Earth and Google Street View tracking every square inch on earth, there are very few secrets.

If you believe that Christians inhabit a world where there is neither “male nor female; this ethnic group nor that ethnic group; or rich nor poor;” get ready to have that ideal shattered. The divisions between rich and poor exist, and some of your favorite writers or televangelists live in places that, were you able to get past the gate somehow, the security force would be tailing you within seconds.

And the sign said long haired freaky people need not apply
So I tucked my hair up under my hat and I went in to ask him why
He said you look like a fine upstanding young man, I think you’ll do
So I took off my hat I said imagine that, huh, me working for you

Several years ago we did a story — and ran the same pictures and the song lyrics — when a Saddleback campus was planted in the middle of a gated community in Laguna Hills. On one level, just another unreached people group, I suppose. On another level, rather awkward.

And the sign said anybody caught trespassing would be shot on sight
So I jumped on the fence and yelled at the house, Hey! what gives you the right
To put up a fence to keep me out or to keep mother nature in
If God was here, he’d tell you to your face, man you’re some kinda sinner

To be fair, (a) this was a community of 18,000; an unreached people group you might say, and (b) southern California invented the whole gated community thing; they exist there on every block the way Waffle House or Cracker Barrel exists in the southeast. Still, there was something unsettling about this, if only because (a) if it’s been done before, it’s certainly been low key and (b) it’s hard for anything connected with Saddleback to be low key.

When we tried to track this particular campus this week, we couldn’t locate it. But we’re well aware of the people that make up the Evangelical star system who live in similar neighborhoods.

And the sign said everybody’s welcome to come in, kneel down and pray
But when they passed around the plate at the end of it all, I didn’t have a penny to pay,
So I got me a pen and a paper and I made up my own little sign
I said thank you Lord for thinking about me, I’m alive and doing fine

Do major Christian leaders need a “retreat” from their parishioners, the press, and the public at large? Certainly Jesus tried to break away from the crowds at time, seeking some rest and renewal, but the texts also tell us the crowds followed him. And far from a gated community, we’re told he was completely itinerant, “having no place to lay his head;” and sometimes camping out on the fold-out couch in the homes of his followers.

veggie-gated-communityThe Gated Community
Is where we’ll always be
Our smiles are white
Cause we’re inside
In comfy custody
And when you come to visit
You can stand outside and see..
What a smiling bunch we are
In our gated unity!

The question is, “How much money is too much?” “When does a house become excessive?” It’s sad when it reaches the point where someone has started a Twitter account from the viewpoint of a pastor’s grand estate.

Oh! The Gated Community

Is where we like to be

Our clothes are never dirty

And the lawns are always green

And when you come to visit

You can stand outside and see

What a tidy bunch we are

In our gated unity!

I guess my biggest concern is that everything we do should be without a hint of suspicion.  I often think about Proverbs 16:2, which says (he paraphrased) that everything we do can be rationalized one way or another, but God is busy checking out our motivation. (And also reminded that no one is to judge the servant of another.)

The Gated Community
Is where we’ll always be
Our smiles are white
Cause we’re inside
In comfy custody
And when you come to visit
You can stand outside and see..
What a smiling bunch we are
In our gated unity!

So what are your thoughts? If you have an issue with this, what’s the problem? If you’re at peace with this, why do you think it’s got so many others steaming?

Lyrics from “Signs” by the Five Man Electrical Band (lyrics from the band’s home page) and from “The Gated Community” from Veggie Tales’ Sherluck Holmes and the Golden Ruler (from Veggie Tales lyrics site.) See sites for full lyrics with choruses not printed here. Pictured gated community in Atlanta, GA

March 6, 2014

John Ortberg’s Congregation Votes to Exit US Presbyterian Denom

John OrtbergZondervan author and former Willow Creek teaching pastor John Ortberg is about to lead his congregation, Menlo Park Presbyterian, out of the Presbyterian Church USA, but the church will have to buy its way out of the affiliation. Religion News Service reports,

Members of one of the largest congregations in the Presbyterian Church (USA) have voted to leave the denomination, despite facing an $8.89 million cost for leaving…

…The motion to leave the PCUSA was approved by 93 percent of the church’s members who voted, with 2,024 ballots in favor of the motion and 158 ballots opposed, according to a letter posted by Ortberg. Menlo Park determined that to keep its property and leave the denomination would cost $8.89 million, based on a summary for dismissal agreement.

[…continue reading at Religion News Service…]

But the Presbyterian name will stay with the congregation as it affiliates with ECO: A Covenant Order of Evangelical Presbyterians, making it the second 4,000-member sized church to do so.  A five page Rationale for Change gives reasons for both exiting the PCUSA and joining the ECO. The document does not directly address issues of sexuality and thereby makes clear that this is not the central issue. Menlo Park also operates satellite campuses using a video feed, a rarity in PCUSA churches. (A Canadian two-campus church, Connexus, is a former Presbyterian church now part of the North Point ministry family.) 

Prior to the vote, Ortberg led his congregation through a message titled “Immeasurably More” based on Ephesians 3: 20-21

Eph 3:20 Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, 21 to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen.

Ortberg’s bio on Wikipedia notes:

Ortberg has published many books including the 2008 ECPA Christian Book Award winner When the Game is Over, It All Goes Back in the Box, and the 2002 Christianity Today Book Award winner If You Want to Walk on Water, You’ve Got to Get Out of the Boat. Another of his publications, The Life You’ve Always Wanted, has sold more than 500,000 copies as of 2008…

…Ortberg earned his undergraduate degree from Wheaton College, and his M.Div. and Ph.D. in clinical psychology from Fuller Theological Seminary.

His latest book Soul Keeping: Caring for the Most Important Part of You releases April 22nd with Zondervan.

Menlo Park Presbyterian

Update: Christianity Today reported on this one day later with some helpful background links.

January 23, 2014

Home-Schooled Kids Speak Out

Filed under: education, parenting — Tags: , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 8:36 am

A few days ago, the cable network Al Jazeera America reactivated a dormant Twitter hashtag #homeschoolkid with this question: Should home schooling be regulated more?  There was also a link to this article on their website. Responses have been pouring in, and I thought we’d share a sample here for those of you who don’t do the Twitter thing.

  • As someone who was (very successfully) homeschooled for 12 years, yes.
  • Homeschooling was one of the best choices my parents made for me as a child. I was given freedom to learn – & I went for it.
  • H-schooling saved me from gender stereotypes (girls=bad at math). I delved into my interests w/o being pushed down by society.
  • We w/subjected to state tests yearly, and my family always ranked higher than school district.Here’s to not following curriculum.
  • Homeschooling allowed me lots of of time at home alone reading encyclopedias

Somewhere along the thread however, you notice a shift in response that is perhaps less Al Jazeera’s regular audience, and more from people in the Christian stream of home-schooling:

  • Pro – I became a great speller Con – I grew up believing Robert E Lee was just doing his Christian duty.
  • Maybe the bigger issue with homeschooling is this ‘divine right of parents’ thing that seems to have no boundaries.
  • I think homeschooling can be done well, but someone has to look out for the kids who aren’t getting the education they need.
  • Homeschooling should not be an altar raised for the gods of parental rights on which children’s rights are daily sacrificed.
  • I’m disgusted that my parents belonged to HSLDA, a group that called a man who forced his kids to live in cages a “hero”
  • I was raised with ACE, a curriculum that until recently, claimed that the Loch Ness Monster actually existed. Seriously.
  • As a #homeschoolkid I knew a few of homeschoolers who stopped school after middle school. The homeschool community did nothing about it.
  • My white mother and black father taught me history from Bob Jones [curriculum]
  • It’s always sad to hear people say my time as a #homeschoolkid “sounds like a lot of fun!” – it really wasn’t. I wouldn’t wish it on anyone.
  • I’m fond of telling people that I was Valedictorian, class clown, prom queen, and most likely to get pregnant.
  • new responses still being added…

July 4, 2013

When Faith Doesn’t Stick

Recently, my wife and I have had a number of recurring conversations prompted by comments overheard that among some Christian parents we know that their children have arrived at their late teens or early twenties only to reveal that the Christian faith they were immersed in, for lack of a better phrase, didn’t take.

At that point, I usually shake my head in despair and usually lament the time and energy that was poured into their Christian education would appear to have been entirely ineffective, at least to this point. Specifically, my comments repeatedly run along the lines of:

  • “…all those Sunday school classes…”
  • “…all those nights at youth group…”
  • “…all those weeks at church camp…”

and other variations you can fill in. 

The other day when I was finishing up this litany my wife said something that arrested me in my tracks. Now remember that, (a) she is very wise, and (b) she had the advantage of experiencing multiple repetitions of my soliloquy before issuing a comeback.

So when I said, “…all those years in church…” she said, “Yes, but you don’t know what was said in the car on the way home.”

True.

Or over dinner.

I can’t imagine that any of the parents in question would do anything knowing that it had the least potential of undermining the nurture of their children’s faith, but that’s just the point, isn’t it?

How many kids are destined for a young adulthood (and beyond) without a faith component because we inadvertently did a really crappy job of modeling for them what Christ-following looks like?

You don’t want to think about that.

So parents, be careful what you say in the car ride home on Sunday. Your comments are being picked up by little ears.

Coincidentally, The Pew Research Forum has just released a report on the religious life of Canada, my home and native land. The charts and graphs all speak for themselves — two are reproduced below — but the message is clear that an attrition is taking place in the church as we’ve not seen before. Furthermore, in Canada and the United States, the religious landscape is forever changed because of immigration policy.

Pew Research - Canada - 1

Pew Research - Canada - 2

The results are similar to a study done by the Evangelical Fellowship of Canada (EFC), called Hemorrhaging Faith, which we reported on here a few months ago. That study looked at four demographic areas: Evangelicals, Mainline Protestants, Roman Catholics in Quebec, and Roman Catholics Outside Quebec; and divided respondents into Engagers, Fence Sitters, Wanderers and Rejecters.

The Pew Study looked only at Protestants and Catholics, as well as respondents from other religions and the rapidly growing category known as “the nones” (not nuns) who check off the “none” box on census and other surveys. Unfortunately in the EFC study, the results for Evangelicals — while showing stronger adherence — did not point to a much brighter future over the long term.

Survey companies like Barna and Pew make money selling reports, and the very nature of the business means that bad news tends to get more attention. So books like David Kinnaman’s unChristian are better known than the counter response found in books like Bradley Wright’s Christians are Hate-Filled Hypocrites: And Other Lies You’ve Been Told reviewed here. People will flock to buy a book on how the sky is falling, but not so much toward one which advises the sky is intact.

But the Pew Research study and the Evangelical Fellowship’s study highlight statistics that are undeniable: Kids are leaving the church in record numbers.

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