Thinking Out Loud

July 26, 2017

Wednesday Link List

Ostein

Wednesday List Lynx – The lynx is considered a national animal in Macedonia where it is featured on the five denar coin

Thanks to a serious distraction involving Penn & Teller on Netflix, completion of this week’s link list almost didn’t happen. (R. & E., you know who you are!)

 



Don’t wait for Wednesdays; follow me on Twitter for brilliant insights like this one:

July 25, 2017

Church Funding in Europe

We almost walked by this little office, but the word “Evangelisher” caught my eye. A wonderful 15-minute conversation awaited us inside.

Actually, if a search engine brought you here and you’re looking for the definitive article on this subject this isn’t it. If you can deal with the pop-ups, this website is quite helpful.

But I do want to share some impressions we took away from a very brief meeting with an English speaking worker at Evangelisher Informationsladen in Nuremberg, Germany.

North American ears probably miss the significance of the phrase “registered church.” It’s part of life in many parts of the world. In Germany it’s significant in terms of the church itself being registered with the government, but also that members identify with a registered church. And here it gets interesting: 8% (in some areas 9%) of the members’ personal income is taxed and given to the church.

Solves the whole tithing problem, I suppose.  Or does it? Stay tuned.

If you did click the first link (above) you noted that a lot of people simply have themselves taken off the rolls in order to avoid the tax, even if they continue to hold a personal faith. That alone is enough to skew religious affiliation data. In both the Czech example mentioned a few days ago and this situation, it means potentially there might be more Christians in Europe than any official government stats show, just for different reasons.

But here’s another factor: Newer Evangelical or Charismatic groups don’t register at all. They meet in homes or find other spaces. Our contact was worried that these groups are becoming more numerous and more vocal.

It’s a concern for two reasons. First these groups have arrived on the religious scene under the banner of young earth, six day creation. Second, they have an extreme view of the sovereignty of God which leaves out any room for free will, even in more trivial details of life. We covered this a few days ago at this article. But it also means that numerically, some disappearing off the rolls of established Lutheran or Catholic churches are attending these newer churches, which would, by necessity, have to rely on something similar to a North American tithing model to meet any expenses that might arise, even without having to maintain an historical building…

…A few weeks ago Bruxy Cavey at The Meeting House in Oakville, Ontario told the story of a visitor asking, “How do you fund all this?” I guess he thought there must be some support at one or several levels of government in order to maintain their megachurch auditorium and adjacent Christian education meeting rooms and classrooms. Bruxy explained the people support it, but we know statistically that North Americans, on average, are not tithing 10%, or even 8%.

According to The State of the Plate study, in North America, the state of tithing moving forward may depend on the behavior of “young (i.e., future) donors. But their habits may prove difficult to capitalize on. According to the survey, people in their 20s and 30s are much more likely to miss church in the first place, making getting in-person connections and donations much harder…”

The report continues, “Young people (the same demographic) are also more likely to give less frequently than other generations, with 6 in 10 giving no more than twice per month and sometimes only once every few months. Perhaps most damagingly, though, only about 3 out of 5 (63%) young people give 10 percent or more of their income to church. For everyone aged 40 or over, the average is 4 out of 5 (83%)…”

According to the website Charity Navigator, “Total giving as a percentage of GDP was 2.1% for three of the four years, 2013–2016… Historically, Religious groups have received the largest share of charitable donations. This remained true in 2016. With the 3.0% increase in donations this year, 32% of all donations, or $122.94 billion, went to Religious organizations. Much of these contributions can be attributed to people giving to their local place of worship.”

But comparing the 8 or 9% church tax in Germany to the North American 10% tithing ideal changes when you consider that it’s not 8% of income, but 8% of income tax. A 2015 article at Catholic News Agency (CNA) notes, “When Germans register as Catholic, Protestant, or Jewish on their tax forms, the government automatically collects an income tax from them which amounts to 8 or 9 percent of their total income tax, or 3-4 percent of their salary.”

Do Christians in Germany make additional contributions? Is the offering plate passed on Sunday morning? Giving is part of Christian worship, so we must assume that is the case, but would someone contributing through payroll deductions bother to put anything additional in the plate? That was a question we didn’t get around to asking.

According to a Wikipedia article on Religion in Berlin, “The largest denominations as of 2010 are the Protestant regional church body of the Evangelical Church of Berlin-Brandenburg-Silesian Upper Lusatia (EKBO), a united church comprising mostly Lutheran, a few Reformed and United Protestant congregations. EKBO is a member of both the Evangelical Church in Germany (EKD) and Union Evangelischer Kirchen (UEK) claiming 18.7 percent of the city population.”

But that needs to be seen in perspective as the article also says, “About 60 percent of Berlin residents have no registered religious affiliation. Berlin has been described as the ‘atheist capital of Europe’ in 2009.”

Furthermore, the Roman Catholic Church in particular doesn’t retain the church tax it collects, as the infographic in our initial link reminds us that, “a sizeable portion of the Catholic money is also channeled to The Vatican.”  Catholics who opt out face other issues as the CNA article notes:

German bishops – who each earn an average salary of 7,000 Euro per month (some up to 14,000 Euro along with free housing and cars, according to Lohmann) – issued a decree in September 2012 calling such departure “a serious lapse” and listing a number of ways they are barred from participating in the life of the Church.

The decree specified that those who do not pay the church tax cannot receive the sacraments of Confession, Communion, Confirmation, or Anointing of the Sick, except when in danger of death; cannot hold ecclesial office or perform functions within the Church; cannot be a godparent or sponsor; cannot be a member of diocesan or parish councils; and cannot be members of public associations of the Church.

If those who de-registered show no sign of repentance before their death, they can even be refused a religious burial.

And while these penalties have been described as “de facto excommunication,” the Pontifical Council for Legislative Texts, wrote in a March 13, 2006 document that opting out of taxes in a civil situation was not the same as renouncing the faith, and thus excommunication did not apply to such persons.

So while a cursory reading of a statement like, “The church gets 8% of the personal income tax collected;” seems to indicate a measure of financial strength and stability, declining membership and secularization would seem to threaten the future of that source of funding.

 

 

 

 

July 24, 2017

The Office of a College Campus Minister

Regular readers here will remember Jeff Snow from the three-part series about how divorce affects teens, which we actually ran twice. If you missed it, click this link and scroll down to Part One. Jeff is currently serving bi-vocationally doing campus ministry as part of Mission Canada, an initiative of the Pentecostal Assemblies of Canada (what the Assemblies of God churches are known as here.) The University of Ontario Institute of Technology (UOIT) shares a campus with Durham College, so Jeff interacts with people studying at both levels, not to mention that this campus is more culturally diverse than anything our American readers might imagine.

He shared the following in a recent newsletter and as we do have readers here involved in student ministry, I thought it was worth presenting.

I get the feeling I like to work when there is food around.

I’m sitting in my favorite corner of the local Subway restaurant on a sunny but cool day working on this letter and it makes me think back to last semester, my first full semester of ministry through Mission Canada at UOIT/Durham College, and consider my favorite place to work on campus.

The cafeteria.

Last year, as I shared my ministry plans with a colleague, one of the first questions he asked me was would I have an office on campus? I just smiled. I knew I would have an office, but not in the way he was thinking.

My office is the cafeteria.

In my years of high school ministry, we would at times hear stories about youth pastors who had developed such a well-respected ministry at a high school that they were given office space. This does speak highly of the respect given to a youth pastor, but an office is something I’ve never aspired to for a couple of reasons.

One is that on a secular campus it puts a bulls-eye on your back for those to aim at who don’t want a Christian presence on campus. One principal told me years ago, “You fly under the radar. We like that.”

Secondly, being in an office means you are but one more person that a student has to go TO in order to get help and support. It takes more time and patience, but the payoff is greater if we are able to travel in the young person’s world, become accepted in their universe, and, by being on their turf, be more accessible when they need help and support. The goal is to try and be where the young people are.

Like in the cafeteria.

Over the past semester, the two places I spent most of my time on campus was at Campus Church, the Friday night student-led campus ministry, and in the cafeteria. Usually I will make an appointment to meet one student for lunch, with a plan to stay in the cafeteria the whole afternoon. I bring a laptop to do some work and look studious during downtime, but more often than not there isn’t any downtime, as students that I’ve gotten to know through the Campus Church ministry will stop by, pull out their lunch, and start chatting.

The conversations usually start off light, and sometimes stay that way. But most of the time the conversations move to deeper issues. Relationships, school pressure, dorm life, church life, world issues, the future, ministry opportunities, prayer for family and friends. All have been topics for discussion. I have found myself being a pastoral presence on campus for a number of these students. Many of them have home churches and pastors, but my presence on campus gives them accessibility to a listening ear and support right there on their turf. And they don’t have to go to an office and make an appointment. They can find the support they need.

Right there in the cafeteria.

My desire as I look forward to the coming semester is to find ways to connect with students who aren’t necessarily Christians, connect with students who are not yet part of Campus Church. That is where an office could come in handy for the few who might seek out spiritual support. It would be a formal way of identifying where to find support rather than talking to some dude in the cafeteria. But until the school reinstates the chaplaincy, my best bet for meeting students is through my office in the cafeteria. Whether it is meeting pre-Christians through their Christian friends or through other means, I’m looking forward to opportunities to meet pre-Christian students on their turf and help them see how the Gospel connects with where they are in life.


If you’re interested in learning more about Jeff’s work or providing financial support, click this link.

July 23, 2017

Christian Books in Europe

I didn’t get to see any Christian books on display in Hungary or Austria, but in Germany and the Czech Republic we found numerous titles. Here’s a gallery of covers, and yes, I realize what follows may seem in contrast to the religious stats for the Czech Republic I shared yesterday. I offer no explanation for this, but I am told Amazon has not impacted bookstores there as it has here; it’s growth has been in other areas such as clothing and fashion accessories. Let’s begin:

One Czech store had The Case for Christ and The Case for a Creator by Lee Strobel…
while most had The Case for Faith
The only fiction author I could find was Wm. Paul Young, whose books were heavily stocked in both countries. These are also Czech…
…while back to German for a moment, The Shack movie was playing in downtown Vienna

Back to Prague, C. S. Lewis was in the religion section of every store, though one had a rather large display; the picture is not upside-down, remember this is Europe and the spines of books are printed the opposite way to North America and the UK.
There were videos as well. Bouncing back to Regensburg, this picture shows To Save A Life, Do You Believe, and Voiceless in German.
as well as God’s Not Dead and God’s Not Dead 2

Jesus Calling by Sarah Young — er, better make that Sarah Youngova in the Czech Republic.

This perfectly out-of-focus picture — and I hadn’t touched any beer at this point in the day — was assumed by me to be The Pilgrim’s Progress.
This one was a double win; a book by G. K. Cherston on St. Francis
This one by Larry Crabb is the only one for which I can’t think of the title right now. My wife and I have the same make and model of smartphone, but pictures on mine are always blurry.
Two titles by Henri Nouwen
John Eldredge’s The Utter Relief of Holiness.

For every one of these there are dozens and dozens of books I didn’t recognize. Most of them appeared to be more serious examinations of Christian life and doctrine. Not a Five Love Languages anywhere in sight.

July 22, 2017

A Place Where God Isn’t

Filed under: Christianity, personal — Tags: , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 8:43 am

Crowds in Prague are looking upward, not for some spiritual reason, but rather waiting for the 12:00 Noon strike of the Astronomical Clock

First of all, let’s deal with the theological error in today’s title. No, there is no place where God is not present, but I’m sure there are many places in this world, beyond the ones that we explored, where it seems that way.

Our last tour guide said something to the effect, “Most people here [Czech Republic] do not have a religion because we’ve [collectively, historically] tried religion and we see that it doesn’t do anything [help, solve problems].”

Again, we need to look at a statement like that theologically as well, because if the Bible teaches us anything it shows that when it appears “there is no one left” it often turns out that God has a remnant of people who have stayed loyal to him.

Peering through the glass doors at the back while a Priest leads a small group in a midweek 5:00 PM mass.

In the 2011 census, 34.5% claimed no religion and 44.7% did not answer the question. That situation leaves us with 10.4% Roman Catholic, 0.5% identified with an Evangelical denomination there and 0.8% claiming affiliation with “Christian churches not exactly stated” along with even smaller percentages of other groups.

However, we know that historically, under Communism, answering a question about religion on a government survey would be unwise. It’s possible that in that combined 79.2% saying they are ‘nones’ or skipping the question there is room for belief.

Still, it stands in contrast to the vast number of cathedrals and churches and synagogues (0.01% present membership) that are clustered throughout the cities and countryside. It stands in contrast to the degree to which religious belief is interwoven throughout the country’s history.

At the end of June, a four day rally or festival was held in Prague, the third such summer event held as part of the Awakening Europe series begun with Nuremberg in 2015 and Stockholm in 2016.  On their website, one of the organizers wrote:

Even though it’s one of the most beautiful cities in the world outwardly, to my heart it seemed like Nineveh, caught in the valley of decision – not knowing where to go. There are many cities like it all across Central Europe…

That’s how I felt. Despite the history. Despite the beautiful churches. The words of the tour guide keep echoing as I write this.

On the second last day, I told her that for some of us, the Jesus story is real, and vital, and life-changing and something we commit our lives to daily. She was cordial, but I felt like I was being met by a blank stare.


Awakening Europe (June 29 – July 2) on YouTube. Organizers from the UK’s GOD-TV seem to have brought a Charismatic worship style, but I hope they presented a strong apologetic that would rationally and intellectually present the Christian message to seekers. My other concern with this event is that possibly the majority of attendees were simply Christians from other parts of Europe.

 

 

 

 

 

July 21, 2017

Getting to Know People in a Godless Society

Filed under: Christianity, evangelism, Faith, ministry, parenting — Tags: , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 7:54 am

I like to talk.

I don’t have a lot of hobbies, so I thrive on faith-focused conversations.  These usually take two forms.

The first is conversations with those outside the faith. I’ve learned a few things over the years about theodicy, that branch of apologetics which attempts to explain the nuances of Christianity to outsiders. I thrive on this. Just hours before writing this, I was talking to a pastor about a church we visited when our kids were small which had a staff member designated as “Minister of Assimilation.” Aside from any weird science-fiction imagery, I liked the idea of integrating new people into the family and explaining how the family operates, our traditions and our key values.

The second is conversations with brothers and sisters. Considering a doctrinal idea. Encouraging one another with a particular verse or Bible passage. Networking to connect someone with a particular individual or resource which can potentially make a difference in their life, or having them do the same for me. Praying together. Singing together. Sharing our faith stories…

…What was unusual about the trip Europe was that I couldn’t get the conversation going. At the end of Day Four, in desperation, I emailed eight friends back home:

I know I live a lot of my life in the Evangelical bubble but it is strange to be in an environment where a faith-focused conversation is elusive.

We met some people from Sydney so I asked them if they had heard of Hillsong. They had but that was the end of it. This has happened many times. I toss out key words. I quote Jesus as casually as if I’m quoting Mark Twain. The conversation shuts down. No one takes the bait.

I did get to talk to one guy & shared the idea that to make the claims he made Jesus had to be deranged, deceptive or divine. On the 3rd possibility he just shut it down with “But there is no God.”

Now I know why Missionaries work so long before they see results.

Otherwise things going well.

So aside from noting my brilliant alliterative update to the “Liar, Lunatic or Lord” apologetic, I think you can see the frustration that I was experiencing. I really, really wanted to find someone to connect with over the thing that most excites me (church, Bible, worship, teaching). Or the One (Jesus).

The conversations never happened. Not in the dining room. Not on the sun deck. Not in the buses. Not on the streets. Perhaps God was telling me, ‘I don’t need you to be working for me all the time; kick back and have a vacation.’

It was bad enough touring through a very post-Christian society without having to face it on the boat. Supposedly about 37% of my fellow travelers were American. So where were the Southern Baptist Republicans I’ve heard so much about?

Not, as it turns out, on an expensive river cruise with an open bar.


Four days later we discovered over lunch that one of the four people from Sydney was a Christian. Same denomination as I am, in fact. I looked forward to continuing the conversation and learning more about her church, but we never actually connected past that point in the trip.  


Sidebar: Be prepared. I packed three (different) Bibles to give away to people I met on the trip… and I brought three Bibles home with me. Just never had that sense to go ahead and give one. That’s a first.

July 20, 2017

Sensory Overload

Filed under: Christianity — Tags: , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 8:02 am

Up until the night we arrived in Prague, there were two times in recent memory when I experienced sensory overload.

The first was expected. Fireworks on New Years Eve at Walt Disney World in Orlando. They actually do an early show and then another at midnight and we stayed for both. But that was anticipated.

The second was unexpected, and happened in just a moment. Our youngest son had the lead role in a play at his college and when the curtain call came and the applause intensified when he took his bow, as a parent I wasn’t exactly pleased or proud. I was dazzled. That was our kid they were clapping for. I wish him more successes like that.

But now I must add a third one. We had arrived in Prague late in the day and after a welcome meeting in the hotel lounge, we were offered a “vicinity tour” consisting of nothing more than half mile from where were staying. Now remember, we had already seen Budapest and Vienna and various smaller places. We weren’t about to be amazed by the old buildings or the trams or the late night shoppers.

But what happens when they’re all there at once?

The city was just teeming with life. In fact if I have any impression of Prague it’s simply that the place is so very much alive.

We’re not the only ones to say this. There’s something about this city that simply hooks people. Some friends of ours got to live there for a year with their three kids. They returned last summer and now, having seen the place, I walked up to them individually at church on Sunday and asked, “How could you ever leave?” In one of the conversations I added, “There must have been tears;” and at that one of their daughters looked at me as if to be happy to find someone who gets it.

I get it. So does the guy we met on the tram on our last day. He came for a few weeks. He’s been there a few days. Work visa? “That’s something we don’t talk about on public transit;” he replied. I almost hope he gets to continue flying under the radar.

This trip was an extension of our river cruise — I’m not posting these impressions chronologically — that at one point in the three hour bus ride I started to question. Even the drive to the hotel and check in wasn’t particularly impressive.

But all that changed in about 30 seconds. If you get a chance to see this city, don’t pass it up. It’s alive!

July 19, 2017

Wednesday Link List

Meow

We’re back after a week away from link-listing. One of the big winners here each week is me! I get to prepare this thing and see such a wide swath of what Christians are thinking and doing. There are some topics here for your consideration. Take some time, and tell your friends to visit.

  • Essay of the Week: Shane Claiborne chronicles the history of Christian civil disobedience. “You can go to jail for doing something wrong. And you can also go to jail for doing something right. We went to jail for doing something right.” 
  • Listicle of the Week: 5 Sure Signs You’ve Been Hoodwinked by the “Prosperity Gospel.
  • Electronic Dance Music (EDM) in church? “It’s not supposed to draw out the voice of a congregation. It’s supposed to make people want to move and leave their rational selves behind. And buy music. And stay in the club longer and spend more on drinks. It doesn’t facilitate the liturgy, it hijacks the liturgy, making it something else entirely. ” (Some of the points here apply to more than just EDM at church.)
  • Making your church introvert-friendly: “Our church cultures are unintentionally designed to identify, groom, and celebrate a specific personality type which leaves most introverts unseen, undeveloped, and left with a stigma of guilt and shame. Our ministry and discipleship opportunities implicitly communicate what a ‘disciple’ looks like, what ‘ministry’ looks like, or what ‘leadership’ looks like. And most of those narratives are very, very narrow.”
  • Quotation of the Week: “Sadly, it seems like John Piper has trouble dealing with the fact that women have bosoms even though he is free from sexual feelings towards other women.” Documenting John Piper’s ongoing obsession with this particular topic, including mothers allowing their 2-year-old daughters to show their knees. (Trigger alert: This discusses the private parts of men and women.)
  • Colorado’s gay wedding cake case: “There is an impulse to frame every issue as a clash between the tolerant and the closed-minded. But the Masterpiece case doesn’t challenge, undermine or re-litigate the issue of same-sex marriage in America. Gay marriage wasn’t even legal in Colorado when this incident occurred.” 
  • Moving: After 25 years at Wheaton College in Chicago, New Testament prof. Gary Burge is joining the faculty of Calvin College in Grand Rapids.
  • Farewell, SBC: “Today I am officially renouncing my ordination in the Southern Baptist Convention, the country’s largest Protestant body, with about 15 million members, and the world’s largest Baptist denomination. My reasoning is simple: As a black scholar of race and a minister who is committed to social justice, I can no longer be part of an organization that is complicit in the disturbing rise of the so-called alt-right, whose members support the abhorrent policies of Donald Trump and whose troubling racial history and current actions reveal a deep commitment to white supremacy.” Lawrence Ware writes at the New York Times.
  • Apologetics Alley: Did Jesus speak Greek? When the subject of whether or not our Bibles contain the exact words of Jesus, we default to:
    1. Jesus primarily spoke in Aramaic.
    2. The Gospels were written in Greek.
    If Jesus ever used Greek to speak, then the Gospels may contain his exact words. Three reasons why Jesus probably spoke Greek at least some of the time
  • …Meanwhile, a different view at Zondervan Academic: “Jesus probably knew enough Greek to understand it. But he wouldn’t have spoken it as his first language. He also wouldn’t have used it in his daily conversation or taught the crowds in Greek.” …
  • …Also at the same blog, a look at both sides of the authorship of Hebrews issue.
  • Sermon Stats: “In these days of Ted Talks and 20 minutes messages, we were surprised that the most watched and beloved preachers in America preach almost twice that long!” Check out the average sermon length for ten popular pastors.
  • Dialing for Doctrine: Who exactly did Jesus die for?  The debate on “particular redemption,” which most of us refer to us “limited atonement.” (If nothing else, be sure to check out the 6-minute video.)
  • This is a developing story which may have changed by the time you read it, but the TGC website deals with the basics of the Charlie Gard case.
  • Sermon of the Week: Full disclosure, the one I chose was from June 23rd. The pastor is Levi Lusko a name that was new to me. He pastors Fresh Life Church in 8 locations around Kalispell, Montana. He was one of the ten pastors on the sermon stats piece above, and is the author of Swipe Right: The Life-and-Death Power of Sex and Romance from Zondervan. Enjoy all 39 minutes of The Things That Make for Peace.
  • The Christian Patriarchy Movement: “My father told me so often that God works through men to reveal his will for women. ‘You can’t know God’s will without a father or husband.” Of 30 of her friends who were subject to this mindset, she knows of only three who are currently following Christ.
  • Jesus and Yoga: For me this sentence sums up the entire article,  “I was once a super devout Christian, and I have a lot more ideas about my creator now from practicing yoga. It’s turned into another type of worship of me.” Or how about the woman who, “was actually a Pentecostal minister before she found yoga. When she became interested in the practice, she decided to eschew U.S. studios and traveled to India to study the yoga there. The choice forced her to reconcile her Pentecostalism with her new passion. “My yoga made it difficult to maintain my religious relationships, so much of that ended when I announced I was going to India.” An insight into the practice of what is called trap yoga.
  • In the four years 2012-2015, Trinity Broadcasting Network spent over $20M (US) in legal fees, and that number doesn’t include amounts paid out in settlements. “Besides examining a preacher’s theology, donors should determine if giving to them is good stewardship.” 
  • Marriage Matters: “What do I do when my spouse doesn’t have the same sense of calling to the poor, or mission, or ministry, that I do?” 4 Guidelines when facing a mismatched sense of calling.
  • Translation Troubles: We’ve all experienced it. Something like, “I don’t really like what the ESV does with verse 21, I think it should be more like…” Three reasons pastors should avoid a public put-down of particular translations.
  • Today’s Trivia Question: A classic preacher and author is quoted as, ““I can say quite honestly that I would not cross the road to listen to myself preaching.” Know who he is?
  • Breaking another glass ceiling, “Rev. Teresa “Terri” Hord Owens was elected …to serve as the General Minister and President of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) in the United States and Canada. She is the first African-American to hold this post and the second woman to lead the denomination.” (Or lead any mainline Protestant denomination…)
  • …Also, increasingly more black families in the US are choosing to homeschool.
  • Church on Wheels: His sanctuary is a 2009 Mercury Grand Marquis. His Uber passengers are his congregation.
  • ♫ New Music: Some recommendations from New Release Today:
  • Canada Corner: Booksellers on the prairie are always surprised when people keep returning to buy Paul Young’s The Shack.
  • Pot Calling the Kettle? Young Earth Creationists accuse Flat Earth devotees of taking the Bible too literally.
  • Catching up with the Phil Vischer podcast while I was away; a great interview two weeks ago with Kevin Palau who is the son of…well, you guys are smart…
  • …A week later, somewhere after the 30:00 mark, Phil suggests to Skye that a future badge of honor on consumer products might be “Made By Humans” in a world where robots and automation have replaced workers
  • Finally: “Probably a good idea would be to pick an age (maybe 73 or something) and agree to never get upset by something a Christian says once they’ve crossed that line. We could call it the King David Line, or the King David Rule.”
  • Finally, finally: One good Matthew Pierce link deserves another, and after debating it, I decided to actually conclude with this one about how to be an introvert in the modern church. ” PRO TIP: You can’t really get in trouble for anything if you’re not an official member. Then the pastors will come to you and be like “if you’re not a member, you can’t be a leader or vote on things” and even though that sounds really good, they mean it as a bad thing.”

Below, the Goliath Wall fresco in Regensburg, Bavaria, Germany. Not sure why I took this picture as there are exactly 2.43967 zillion of them online and they all look the same. Modern renderings in children’s Bible story books tend to put more distance between the two combatants. Could this be more accurate?

 

July 18, 2017

Mingling with the Wealthy

Filed under: Christianity, personal — Tags: , , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 8:01 am

River Cruise ships are quite different from ocean liners. The long rectangular design would fit well with Ken Ham’s vision of Noah’s Ark. This was home for seven nights. We were on the middle level. The weather never started getting rough and the tiny ship was not tossed, in fact it moved seamlessly through the course of the river.

Before I get into some of the previously mentioned titles in a series of posts about our first mega vacation, I want to address the elephant in the room: The price of such a trip.

We were in some respects out of our league here. First of all, most of the people on the trip were veterans at cruising; both in terms of river cruises and ocean-liner cruises. We were complete newbies. Secondly, although the “formal” dress code in effect for the evening meal was not strictly followed by everyone to the letter, clearly my wife and I do not shop in high end establishments.

For one meal, I decided to wear a tie, since I had brought two with me. I certainly remembered how to tie it, but it felt awkward, like Saul’s armor. In our little town, about an hour’s drive east of Toronto, there is a saying that if you see a man in a suit, that’s the Funeral Director. Church is casual. Our pastor and his two sons were leaving for Africa on Sunday and as they commissioned them in prayer, I saw two guys onstage wearing shorts. It is in that type of dress code I am more comfortable. For the last year, I have worked with a dress shirt that is not tucked in. Frankly, it makes more sense for the physical requirements of the average day. I am not at home in a tie, or a belt, or clothing in general. Local bylaws do not favor any expression of the latter condition, however.

The other thing is that I am not fully comfortable in any fine dining situation that runs 2¼ hours long. While I think we both quickly adapted, the wait staff could be quite intimidating if you’re not accustomed to pampering. At least at breakfast and lunch there was a buffet format. Oh, and as an aside, I might not always know which knife to use with the fillet, but I do know if a knife hasn’t been washed properly. But one hates to nitpick.

The other thing that is always awkward in our lives is dealing with the question, “What line of work are you in?” Yikes! I don’t even know the answer to that myself. It was gratifying a couple of times to be able to say in all truthfulness that my wife co-founded a non-profit that works with the economically disadvantaged. However, it wouldn’t be a stretch to say that for decades we’ve been economically disadvantaged ourselves.

A few times I mentioned that we “once owned a chain of bookstores and now are down to a single location.” That’s absolutely true. And I said I was a writer. Also true. But I also mentioned “ministry” and “working with churches” and “Christian publishing” to more than a few people. More on that in a future article.

And then there was the guy the very first day who summed up our situation with, “You’re here on an inheritance.” Well, yes in a way, but we also managed my mom’s finances for 13 years after my father died without receiving any compensation for doing so, nor having access to any of the funds. Some of the investments we picked for her performed well, and I have no qualms about spending some of that interest income. (Full disclosure: My mother paid my wife $200 a year for doing this. 200 Canadian dollars.)

So perhaps everybody knew we were fish out of water, and perhaps we were even the subject of some conversations. I don’t really care. At least we didn’t show up in the dining room in slippers, as one person did; nor were we rude in saying “These seats are saved” when we wanted to sit with someone who, as it turned out, wasn’t saving the seats for anyone. (I avoided the phrase, “What am I? Chopped liver?”) I got the feeling that among some of our fellow-travelers, there was a certain sense of entitlement.

So we mingled with the rich and with those spending an inheritance and with those whose how-they-got-there stories we’ll never know.

We thanked God that we got to have such an experience. Even when there were times I wondered if we really belonged.

Attending a classical music concert is something with which I do in fact have considerable familiarity. This one at the Palais Liechtenstein featured orchestral and operatic music as well as ballet. We were on the front row, which means Ruth came extremely close to being drafted for the waltz demonstration.

 

 

 

July 17, 2017

Conservative Christians in Germany

Filed under: Christianity — Tags: , , , , , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 7:54 am

It was interesting to learn that if anything frustrates Evangelicals in Germany, it is the emergence of conservative Christians who have decided to march under the banner of six day creation instead of, well, perhaps the message of Jesus.

Also at issue is the sovereignty of God. Perhaps this was really dumb on my part, maybe I was tired and missing something, or maybe I’d been away from my computer and the Christian blogosphere for too may days, but I didn’t see this as framed in terms of Calvinism vs. Arminianism — which I never thought to mention — but more in terms of a very narrow view of what constitutes man’s freedom in the everyday; perhaps something more akin to the debates on open theology.

On returning home however, I connected the dots and realized that Neo Calvinism is certainly having an influence there as it is doing here. Probably just as well we didn’t go there, as we had other places to visit and things to see.

But it was the creation thing that rather irked me. I am being greatly influenced by many writers who would belong to the theistic evolutionary view on this, but it’s too early to say I’ve changed my views. If God wanted to do what he did — and the not-so-peripheral issue of intelligent design has to always be on standby in any discussion of this nature — in six twenty-four hour days, then he certainly could. He wouldn’t need a secondary agency in order to accomplish this and he could certainly give this created world an apparent age. But why would he leave us so many indicators that point to something different?

Again, I’m somewhat undecided, or perhaps even apathetic. Let me explain.

My Christianity doesn’t hinge on the first two chapters of Genesis. Not for a moment. I no longer think I can see that as the Genesis so much as our Genesis. As a science professor who was also a Christian explained to me so clearly, to believe the Bible you have to include an Adam who walked with God in the cool of the evening.” I like that Genesis 3:8, which uses that phrase, also introduces our sin story.

But now we’re into the third chapter of the Pentateuch, long past the origins narrative.

What if I had grown up in a culture where evolution is a settled fact? Upon being given a Bible, how would I deal with the conflict or contradiction of Genesis 1 and 2? Perhaps I wouldn’t see it. Hopefully, the person who gave me the Bible would direct me to Mark and John and Luke and Matthew. Hopefully I would meet Jesus first and then, as I gained a deeper understanding of what God’s bigger plans and purposes are — the book of Hebrews would provide the perfect introduction — I would understand the system that was in place prior to the incarnation of the Christ.

To decide to that young earth creationism is the hill to die on is simply to walk into the arena of religious thought looking to pick a fight. There are better ways to be Evangelical than this.


Hunting for a graphic image to associate with this article I came across this article which raises some issues not discussed here. I don’t agree with some of the more inflammatory nature of his approach, but I think he’s making some good points.

The actual image used was from this Seventh Day Adventist article.

Older Posts »

Create a free website or blog at WordPress.com.