Thinking Out Loud

January 16, 2017

The Erosion of Language as We Knew It

giant_library_scene

Yesterday I provided a kind of soft intro to the topic I want to look at today which bears on larger issues than just why bookstores are struggling.

There are some widely circulating statistics suggesting that in North America, western Europe and perhaps Australia/New Zealand as well, for the first time ever we’re seeing a generation with a lower life expectancy than their parents and grandparents faced; in other words, after better nutrition and medical knowledge have allowed us to live longer for years, suddenly it appears the numbers have peaked for both males and females.

On top of that, we’re also seeing a major decline in economic expectancy. Millennials are struggling to find jobs and the prospect of amassing enough wealth to secure their retirement years has somewhat vanished.

I would argue that parallel to all this we’re also seeing a major decline in literacy, or at least literacy as we have previously understood it or measured it.

There are a number of reasons for this, but all related to the personal computer revolution of the past 20 years. This isn’t a technical revolution, because the technology has been around much longer, and it’s not really a computer revolution for the same reason. Rather it’s the effect of personal computers being a part of every home, or even every individual. In the Fall of 2009, Finland became the first country to declare broadband internet access a legal right and by the summer of 2010, every person was to have access to a 1Mb connection.

I’ve written elsewhere about how computers and the internet have accelerated social change and how we’ve basically lived 4 decades worth of shifting paradigms in just 20 years. Today however we want to focus simply on language.

The simple answer to the question, “Why aren’t people reading books like they once did?” is easy.

  • We don’t have the time. We’re spending all our free time with our devices, or more specifically, screens.
    • The small screen in our pocket associated with our mobile phone
    • The medium screen be it a desktop, laptop or tablet
    • The giant screen in the living room be it Plasma, LED or LCD
  • We don’t have the money. We’re using up all our discretionary spending money on the same screens.
    • monthly phone bill and data plan overages
    • apps
    • cable or satellite television
    • home internet connection
    • streaming services
    • software bundles
    • accessories, extended warranties, virus protection, etc.

That is all fairly obvious.

We’re also seeing some other things at play at the same time.

  • Spell-check – You don’t really need to know how to spell a word anymore since the computer corrects it for you. Grammar-check is also slowly improving.
  • Texting – This is the reduction of the English language in the extreme.
  • Emojis – This is the reduction of written communication in the extreme.
  • Acronyms and Initialisms – I hope you’re taking this article seriously and not ROFL or LOL.

But there are also other factors beyond what’s happening online:

  • The end of cursive writing – They don’t teach cursive script in many (if not most) schools now. I would argue there’s something different about what we write when confined to individually printed letters. But this is a moot point when you think about…
  • The end of handwriting, period – If you’re of a certain age and are right-handed, and you look toward the end of your middle finger, there’s probably a callus there from many years of penmanship. Today, most kids spend far more hours keyboarding than handwriting.
  • The increasing emphasis on numeracy over literacy – Your ability to process numeric data is increasingly more vital than your way with words.
  • The diminished need to learn – It’s no longer necessary to know anything as long as you have mastered search and can locate the information needed. Unfortunately however there is a less sense as to the expected answer one is looking for, or a healthy skepticism as to whether or not the source is trustworthy or accurate.

The technology has also inflicted more damage to traditional reading:

  • Shortened attention spans – I don’t understand the psychological ramifications and I’m sure much ink has been given to this in professional journals and forums, but simply put, there’s something about the technology that has made us restless resulting in the often-seen response, “TLDR” (too long, didn’t read).
  • Increased distractions – One person well when they said something along these lines, ‘The problem with the internet is there are too many off-ramps.’
  • Dependency on rich text – I am referring here to our inability to follow a sustained argument through a lengthy paragraph. Rather we have become dependent on the use of italics, bold face, subheadings, bullet points, pull-quotes, and even (horrors!) underlining, color and enlarged fonts. (Yes, guilty as charged here.)

Next, there is the particular challenge of eBooks:

  • When they were first introduced, eBooks were offered at a substantial discount. The problem with this is that when you only spend 99-cents, or get the book for free, you don’t really have any investment in it. Many people would read a chapter or two, figure they got their money’s worth and never finish reading. This concerns me on several levels:
    • It strikes me as cheapening reading, diminishing the value of the author’s worth.
    • For some, it was all about the downloading experience; loading the device with titles for which the person had no intention of reading
    • It grossly inflated eBook sales which signaled a death of print which never happened.
    • The side effects of sore eyes and headaches caused by the devices turned some people away from reading.
    • It made it more difficult, if not impossible to loan a book to a friend.
    • When someone really loves a book, they will tell five friends, of which only one (at most) will be another eBook reader; the other four will try to get the book in print. But to love the book they have value it and finish reading it.
  • The side effect of cheap eBooks and the introduction of the Amazon discounting paradigm created a perfect storm, wherein print books were more widely discounted, which cheapened the value of printed books and also resulted in a climate where people were not finishing reading what they had started.

Finally, as noted above the technology afforded the possibility of online sales which bypass the traditional brick-and-mortar store.

  • The Amazon paradigm — the company itself and various copycats — created a situation whereby books were shipped directly to a customer’s door, thereby creating a situation where people were less likely to interact with physical books in a retail store environment. Choices are made from a store which really has no filters and where obscure publishers can buy placement in ways unknown before the Amazon revolution.
  • Sometimes customers got burned. The book didn’t materialize as what was suggested in online.
  • Other customers took to using the traditional bookstore as a showroom for the online seller. They would check it out in a local store, but purchase it cheaper from the online vendor. This was (and still is) a source of great frustration for bookstore owners, many of whom didn’t need another reason to throw in the towel.

…Well, that about covers it, right? Not quite. Tomorrow, we’ll look at the particular issues which face bookstores more familiar to some readers here, Christian bookstores; the topic we originally set out to answer.

Feel free to engage the comments section to suggest things I may have missed. These notes are from many years of doing this extemporaneously and I may have omitted some things. If the omission is serious, I may update the text.

Borders - The End is Near

 

January 15, 2017

Christian Bookstores Wondering What Happened to Christmas

Only a small handful of you would know that I also write a blog specifically for Christian bookstore owners and managers in Canada. This past week we’ve heard from a few about how their year ended, and the common theme seems to be that the bottom fell out of the month of December. One store apparently had a 20% drop from the same month a year previous, others reported less severe drops, and I suspect many of our brothers and sisters in the US experienced a similar year.

So what happened? Were there weather factors? Was there a gravitational pull to other types of retail to buy hot items this Christmas? Was it the Trump effect?

I can only say that I know the value of these stores and the ministry that can take place when such a place exists. The “category killing” of bookstores in general may not have stopped people from reading, but where Christian stores are concerned, the loss of stores is a loss of a neutral meeting place for Christians of all denominations and the loss of potential referrals to those churches.

Someone put it this way:

we-heart-christian-bookstores-2

Tomorrow we’ll take another look at why the stores are hurting.

 

January 14, 2017

As Metaphorical as a Simile

analogy comparison metaphor simile

Maybe it’s because of the pending release of a certain movie which will go unmentioned which is based on a certain book which was so very controversial in 2007 when it released; but I keep thinking that some of us Christians are very narrow when it comes to embracing different art or literary forms…

Just because you heard the phrase, “Life is like a box of chocolates…” in the movie Forrest Gump, you shouldn’t extrapolate the individual comparison in a single scene in the film to be a general guiding principle for life. In most respects, life is not at all like a box of chocolates. Nor, as Google might lead you to believe, is like an arrow, a bicycle, a camera, a deck of cards, an elevator, a football, a grapefruit, a hurricane, or… I’ll let you work your way through the rest of alphabet. In my wife’s opinion, life is more like a sushi bar, or the bag containing the Scrabble letters, or herding cats, but I’m willing to bet this month’s rent that those don’t work for you either.

Comparing things can be helpful to our understanding however. In Jesus’ teaching ministry, he took examples from the world as his hearers knew it — mostly agricultural comparisons — and either made direct connections or taught the principles as parables because they were parallel to things his audience could relate to. In my world, I often will use computer jargon and terminology to create an analogy which teaches a Biblical principle.

Our language generally offers us two options: Metaphor and simile. (You’d have to be as dumb as an ox not to know the difference. Just kidding! That’s an example of simile. And sarcasm.) A popular technique in the broad category of metaphor would be allegory, with the most recognizable examples in Christian literature being Pilgrim’s Progress, or the Chronicles of Narnia books; along with a number of contemporary writers in the Christian fantasy fiction genre.

But there is another writing technique I would like to offer here as simply springboard. Skye Jethani does this in The Divine Commodity where he uses the art of Vincent van Gogh to get the discussion rolling, or in Futureville where the springboard is the vision of the future as offered by the 1939 New York World’s Fair. Mark Batterson does this with The Circle Maker, beginning with the legend of Honi.

You could also argue that almost all Christian fiction — while some of it allegorical — is mostly springboard for further discussion; consisting either of internal deliberation, or discourse with friends in your book group, church library or at the Christian bookstore.

This technique does not sit well with all readers. The purists who prefer expository preaching to topical preaching would, with horror, rate the springboard type of writing even further down the spectrum. It’s just all too easy to criticize; to get lost in the metaphor or allegory and miss the point. Some recent popular preachers shun illustrations entirely to the point where, several years in, their advisors corner them to say, “We don’t really know anything about you.”

So here are some reminders:

  1. Most metaphors are limited to single aspects of the thing being compared. Any similarity life has to a box of chocolates is overshadowed by other aspects of the box, the wrapper, the plastic inset, etc., and life generally does not come with a complete guide printed on the lid. This is because…
  2. …All metaphors eventually break down at some point. There are a few ‘perfect’ metaphors, but more imperfect ones. This can lead to a situation where…
  3. …Metaphors and allegories are easily misunderstood. Not everybody grasps the comparison first time around, especially if the chosen metaphor is something somewhat foreign.
  4. Borrowing a theme or idea from another world — whether it’s a legend from another religion or a principle of motorcycle repair — does not necessarily imply endorsement.
  5. The placement of a metaphor or discussion springboard in mainstream Christian literature may result in it being seized upon by people on the fringes of mainstream Christianity who want to use the metaphor to say things the author never intended.

However — and this is so important — the use of parables and similar teaching forms by Jesus should be an encouragement to us to find similar redemptive analogies in our modern world. If you’re a writer, avoid the pressure to be boringly precise and instead, introduce edge into your writing by finding the connection everyone else has missed heretofore.

Communication is only achieved when the hearer fully gets it, and that will involve drawing parallels between ‘A’ and ‘B’ rather than repeating the words of a definition over and over to someone who is missing the point.

January 13, 2017

The Busy-ness of Christian Living

Filed under: books, Christianity — Tags: , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 8:55 am

I’m about a third of the way through Unoffendable: How Just One Change Can Make All of Life Better by Brant Hansen Show host Brant Hansen. It’s probably lighter reading than many items I cover, but it’s what I need right now after a rather hectic fall season in which my reading schedule went totally out the window. The book in a nutshell: Christians should not be easily offended.

Here’s a quick excerpt.

unoffendableOne of my friends, David, said something this morning during our church gathering that I keep thinking about.  He said, “You know what? I think God is really just looking for spiritual people. That’s what He’s always been looking for.  He will handle the rest.  He wants a people who long to know Him, rest in Him, and love Him.”

That can sound like a “Well, yeah, obviously” moment.  But it didn’t strike me that way.  I’ve been thinking about it all day, how we love to do everything but “be spiritual.” (By the way, it’s not a generic “spiritual” we’re talking about here.  Spirituality must be “with” something or someone, just as much as romance or loyalty.  What my friend is referring to is a spirituality based on relating to God through Jesus.)

American church culture, generally speaking, does not encourage this sort of restfulness.  Quite the opposite, actually.  Instead of inviting people out of the exhausting storm of busy lives, we add to their loads.  We give them even more to do, or prompt them to feel guilty about what they’re not doing.

How do I know this? I’ve done it. I was good at it.

***

Mike was a smart high school kid in my youth group years ago, and very conscientious, too, which explains the question he asked me one day.  I think I’d just finished giving a lesson on tithing or something.  He earnestly asked, “So I get so confused with all this stuff.  Can you just make a list for us so we know we’re doing all the right things?”

“Great idea,” I said.  And that week, I made a very awesome pie chart called the “Discipleship Wheel,” broken into eight different parts, to distribute to all of them.

I used a computer.  I was proud. It was very professional looking.

“See, guys, just remember to do this stuff:  attend worship, do short-term missions, pray, evangelize, give your money to the church and the poor, study the Bible, be a part of youth group, and…”

I can’t remember what the other thing was. Something super-important.

“…and then you can know you’re doing all right with God.”

Mike said, “Thanks!”

I saw Mike – he’s now an engineer and a father of six – not along ago and I told him how sorry I was, and we had a good laugh. Thankfully, he now has a better picture of just how good God is.

He now knows that God did not call us into Pie-Chart Life, however smart-looking the chart.  God wants to know us.

Check out The Brant Hansen Show on these stations, enjoy the selected wisdom of Brant (and producer Sherri) in 20-minute segments on his Oddcast; or follow him on Twitter.

Unoffendable is available in paperback from Thomas Nelson.

January 12, 2017

Building a Bible Reference Library

The chart that follows was produced many years ago by Thomas Nelson. It may exist online now, but when I tried to track it down about a year ago I couldn’t locate it; so I was quite pleased to find it yesterday in a pile of papers.

Many of the suggested Bible reference tools listed below are now available online, to the point where it’s possible to need a particular nugget of information, and not necessarily classify it as to the type of information required. The internet probably blurs the distinctions below.

Look at the graphic and then scroll down for my comments on each element. Click the image to view full size.

bible-reference-library

Tier One The Bible itself is foundational and there’s no point building a library about it without actually owning several good ones.

Tier TwoConcordances — listing occurrences of particular words in particular translations — are somewhat obsolete with what our desktop computers and phones can do. Still, a dictionary of Bible terms is helpful, but you need to be careful you’re not using a theological or religious dictionary. For example, the term trinity isn’t found in scripture, so a Bible dictionary won’t necessarily contain it. However, that may be the very thing you wish to examine, so then you’d want to additionally own a theological dictionary, or find a Bible encyclopedia that combines both.

Tier Three – I think that every Christian should have some familiarity with an in-depth commentary; the type that focuses on a single book, or the one-volume kind. Again, if you’re doing this online instead, you need to know it’s commentary you’re looking for. I would also argue that a Bible handbook, providing summaries of each book, should be moved up a tier. It’s something that new Christians often find most helpful. Word Study is a challenging field referring the etymology (origin) of key words in the original (Greek and Hebrew) languages and not everybody is ready for it. Still it’s good to have experience seeing how these books are constructed, or online, knowing it’s word study you’re looking for.

Tier Four – Right now books on life in Bible times are very much in demand as people seek to better understand the context and culture which brings passages to life. The second suggested resource, a study guide is probably what you already use in your home church group during the week and I expect the suggestion here is that you would be collecting many of these as you work through particular books. Bible maps are something I never placed great importance in, but I’m now seeing the value of them more than I did in my early Christian experience. Topical Bibles are helpful; even if you’re doing a verse-by-verse look at scripture it’s good to pause and consider the themes the passage presents in greater detail. 

Omitted – The chart makes no reference to the devotional genre, which I believe is necessary to make the Bible personal; otherwise all these books are just about hoarding information. I would also contend that in building a library like the one envisioned here, a foundational book on apologetics would be good to own. Others might argue that a prayer guide, such as Operation World are fundamental to the realization that the Church of Jesus Christ extends far beyond our local congregation, our region or even our nation. For those who have pursued a formal Christian education, the lack of a book on systematic theology is probably the most glaring omission. There are some books which simplify this and help new believers see the various pieces of the puzzle.

January 11, 2017

Wednesday Link List

youve-got-a-friend-in-jesus

Hey readers! I want to be honest; I put some extra hours into this one, both in seeking out some things you might not read elsewhere — I only check other aggregators after this is mostly wrapped up — and including some longer quotations so you get the main idea of each item. So please help spread the word by sharing this link to today’s list with your contacts.  http://wp.me/pfdhA-8Fg

  • From High Society to the Mission Field: Raised as a debutante in Toronto’s upscale Rosedale district she rejected that life to work with Wycliffe Bible Translators. Canada’s national newspaper, The National Post gives extensive space to Ruth Thompson’s story. “Fifty years ago they didn’t wear clothes. Now they call Thomson on their cellphones.”
  • Essay of the Week: The above item. Hands down.
  • Women’s ministry in perspective: “I shifted in my seat at the women’s ministry event; the speaker said it again. “You are a beautiful, chosen, special woman of God. There is no one in the world like you!” …Again, it’s not a bad message. But it’s theologically deficient, and if the goal of a women’s ministry is to encourage and equip female Christians, the message has to change…When you create a culture that uses Jesus for little more than a spiritual feel-good, it’s no wonder the women it produces can’t get victory…”
  • Leadership Lessons: Don’t get caught saying, “I’m too busy.”
  • Grieving: “The early days of grief are a hazy, dizzying, moment by moment response to a trauma that your mind simply can’t wrap itself around. You are, what I like to call a Grief Zombie; outwardly moving but barely there… Most people understand grief as an event, not as the permanent alteration to life that it is, and so they stay up until the funeral and imagine that when the service ends, that somehow you too can move ahead.” 
  • Next Tuesday (17th) morning Shane Claiborne and other Christian leaders will hold a 2-hour rally in front of the Supreme Court calling for the end of the death penalty.
  • A 155-year old Baptist church in the heart of Washington, DC has appointed a gay couple as co-pastors. Both women have worked previously in chaplaincy, but buried deep in the article is the mention that one was an associate minister at Unitarian Universalist Church. The church — which bears the name Calvary Baptist — actually cut ties to the SBC in 2012.
  • The faith of President Obama, compiled entirely in his own words
  • This just in: Theology students at the University of Glasgow are being given trigger warnings in the course ‘Creation to Apocalypse: Introduction to the Bible (Level 1)’and in order “to protect the mental of health of vulnerable students” it appears that “Theology students are being warned in advance that they may see distressing images while studying the crucifixion of Jesus, giving them a chance to leave if they fear being upset.”(They’re right of course; I think a man dies in that scene. We can’t have that.) …
  • …Here’s a response to that nonsense.
  • Things like this only serve to set back Christian-Jewish relations in Israel. Fortunately most key comments on this story aimed at peacemaking
  • An Italian security official warns that the potential for a terrorist attack on The Vatican is very real.
  • America is suffering from a religious literacy problem starting with “media powerhouses” who “don’t quite get religion.” “Christians, in general, are ignorant about their own tradition. Half of Protestants can’t identify Martin Luther; half of Catholics don’t understand the doctrine of transubstantiation…Religious illiteracy is not a liberal problem. It is a function of two key factors: insularity and lack of education.” 
  • What if? (I thought I’d keep that teaser simple.)
  • Suicide Prevention: The son of author Anne Lamott shares surviving another day in an article, the very title of which ought to arrest you in your tracks. “How I managed not to kill myself today.”
  • A Theology of Sarcasm: The wife of a prominent Christian apologist provides a Biblical bibliography justifying the use of sarcasm. (Though some of the selections might be better described as hyperbole.)
  • Astronomers at Calvin College have confirmed two stars that will collide and merge in 2022, forming a binary star and producing a red nova.  No doubt as with the blood moon, this will produce a new crop of prophecy books.
  • The Singles Section: Looks? Personality? Both? An incredibly honest reflection on the attraction factor when hoping to fall in love.
  • Parenting Place: If your children get Highlights magazine and your values are conservative, you might want to check out the February issue before the kids do
  • …Somewhat related Devotional of the Week: An adult-portioned answer that begins with the kids asking what happens to their pet when it dies.
  • Having Carrie Underwood sing on the first day of the Catalyst Conference probably seemed like a good idea at the time, but the backlash has been considerable.
  • He moderated a County Quiz Bowl where “public school children did better on the religion, specifically Bible, questions than they did on the geologic time-table questions that had their basis in the theory of evolution.  So much for many people’s claims that public schools are brain-washing our children against the Bible.” See how do you fare — without scrolling down — on 30 statements which may or may not be from the Bible.
  • I’d love to live in a world where announcements like this did not exist.
  • Canada Corner: The longest-running religion editor of The Toronto Star, Canada’s largest circulation newspaper, Tom Harpur has died. His 2004 book, The Pagan Christ “digs deep into the origins of Christianity, and argues that there is no evidence that historical Jesus existed” and that “the story of Jesus was largely based on an Egyptian man-god and was simply an allegorical tale, meant to act as a guidepost for those striving to be better people.” The newspaper’s obituary quotes him as saying, “I’m not really a religious guy, you know.”
  • ♫ Worship Songs: We’ve re-formatted a few things at Christianity 201 and if you’re wishing to discover or re-discover some worship songs with substance without wading through YouTube’s search system, click this link.
  • The Family Squabbles of Jesus: Jesus and his mother didn’t always agree
  • Listicle of the Week:  The top searched verse on You Version in 88 countries; or if you prefer, this format.
  • Quotation of the Week: (a friend spotted this on Facebook) “We’re not here to fix this mess, nor to join it, or to befriend it. We’re here so if anyone gets tired of it, they can know there is an alternative to it.
  • ♫ Video of the Week: We couldn’t decide among several here from a band that I believe is set for greater recognition in North America in 2017. We’re talking about Rivers and Robots. (Yes, that’s the name.) Pick a song…
  • …Unless we’re talking about the uniqueness of the video itself. Then this international production by Rivers and Robots wins. Watch Lift Up My Eyes. A couple of times…
  • …or their most-watched Shepherd of My Soul.
  • ♫ Music Memories: Thumbing through the 1996-97 Tooth and Nail Records catalog is like opening a time capsule according to one person whose band was on their roster. He describes it as a time when music mattered.
  • I didn’t watch all 77 minutes of this, but street preaching is definitely one of the extreme sports of ministry
  • The world we live in: Two new spokespeople representing major makeup companies are not women.
  • Time-waster you’ll probably click: 13 Cats Resting on the Promises of God.
  • Finally, I’m happy that the editors at Baptist Press know what makes for a good religion news story.

every-eye-closed

 

Images: Hallmark store (upper); Baptist Memes (lower)

January 10, 2017

A Tale of Two Churches

What follows was inspired by yesterday’s article here. Lorne Anderson lives in Canada’s capital city and has a colorful resumé which includes missionary work in Liberia, Christian radio in Saskatoon and being a Parliamentary Assistant in Ottawa. It will appear later this week at his blog, Random Thoughts from Lorne.

tale-of-two-churches

They have been sitting just a few blocks from each other on one of Ottawa’s main streets for more than a century. The little red-brick Baptist Church, founded in 1888 and it’s beautiful stone Presbyterian counterpart that started 14 years previously.

By the mid-1970s, both congregations were past their glory days. The Baptist sanctuary could hold a couple of hundred people if they were really friendly with each other, but average Sunday morning attendance was closer to 80, most of them elderly. Obviously a church on its last legs.

The Presbyterians weren’t in much better shape. They had a bigger congregation, but the church always seemed empty with their 900-seat sanctuary. Their 12-speaker audio system produced more echo than sound.

It had become the custom, probably through a friendship that had developed between long-serving pastors, for the churches to have joint services in the summertime. In July the Presbyterians came to the Baptist Church while their pastor went on vacation. In August the traffic went the other way. The system worked well for years, with the churches saving the cost of pulpit supply, and the people of the two congregations discovering they were pretty much alike. Greying and not quite sure how to make the Christian message relevant to the age.

Then there was a change at the ‎Baptist Church. The new pastor wanted July off. He was told what the arrangement with the Presbyterians was, and wasn’t thrilled. The church board consulted their Presbyterian counterparts and a compromise was reached.

The Baptist pastor would have to take his vacation in August that first year. In subsequent years however they would alternate months. He was agreeable to having every second July for vacation, and apparently his counterpart was also. Everyone seemed pleased that the long-standing arrangement would continue.

In the second year the Presbyterians informed the Baptists that their pastor would be taking his usual July vacation, previous arrangements notwithstanding. The Baptist pastor’s family plans were already made. His board knew it would not have been right to ask him to change.

Being budget-conscious the Baptists turned to their congregation. Men (naturally) were asked to preach while the pastor was on vacation. People discovered gifts they didn’t know they had. The caliber of the lay preaching was pretty good. At least, the Presbyterians thought so. With their pastor on vacation their church just shut down for a month. Many in the congregation joined the Baptists in worship – that was what they were accustomed to.

Almost forty years later, that little red-brick Baptist church is still struggling. It still has an aging congregation and perhaps even fewer people most Sundays.

Three blocks away the story is quite different. That church is bustling, lots of young families, you can feel the excitement. It is so different than when they chose to shut for a month so the pastor could take a vacation. So much has changed in forty years.

I guess the biggest change has been in the use of the “P” word. Today’s congregation is Pentecostal. The Presbyterians closed up shop in 2008. The building sat empty for a couple of years, then this new Pentecostal congregation looking for a home purchased the magnificent structure at a bargain price.

I would argue that deciding to shut down that month back in the 1970s, in deciding there was no necessity to hold services, that Presbyterian congregation was laying the groundwork for the church’s demise.

A Presbyterian theologian might have said it was predestined. A Baptist would reject that.

 

 

January 9, 2017

Rethinking the Christmas Day Church Closings

closed signIn just 2176 days, in the year 2022, Christmas will once again fall on a Sunday. There was a great deal of angst this year about the number of churches which opted not to have a service. With only six more years to get this right, I want to address this issue now, while the subject is still fresh in my mind and yours.

First of all, I believe what we saw in 2016 was another example whereby the agenda for the church at large, at least in North America, is being dictated by the modern megachurch. The type of church service now in view is very complex and involves a multitude of staff and volunteers. Just the technical specifications for the worship service itself — and that’s not counting the children’s ministry, or the people directing traffic in the parking lot — requires an army of sound, lighting, music specialists as well as ushers. To expect a consistent turnout of these people on a morning when their hearts are at home, gathered round the Christmas tree hearing those familiar Christmas words, “This one says, ‘To Ben from your sister Julie'” is possibly asking too much.

The modern megachurch simply cannot offer an alternative service in a smaller room in the church where Mrs. Trebleclef will play some carols on the piano, the head of Men’s Ministry will speak, and then we’ll have a coffee time in the atrium. That would be a simple service. It would involve said pianist, the person giving the short devotional message, and the person to make the coffee, as well as someone to unlock the doors and check the restrooms. But that’s not the brand these churches want to offer. You can’t have a simple, grassroots service like that. Better to have locked doors.

Instead, the service is canceled and then the contagion spreads to smaller (and smaller and smaller) churches where not having the service becomes normative. Evangelicalism: Closed for the day. Be back next week.

Can you imagine a Roman Catholic church not having the mass on Christmas Day? No. Neither can I. Where did this day-off-mentality come from anyway?

Well, actually it came from megachurches who have started doing a similar week off thing in the summer, usually on Memorial Day weekend. “If you come next week, we won’t be here.” Seriously? What about visitors who didn’t know that’s the pattern? Or the Griswalds, who have driven cross-country just to see the celebrity pastor? Goodness knows these big box churches are doing something right, so if they’re not having a service, perhaps our little 200-member church should do the same. Heck, we’ll also cancel Labor Day weekend while we’re at it; this is obviously a key plank in church growth, right?

But that diverts from the more serious issue. What about the people who are lonely? The people for whom weekend services are a spiritual and social lifeline? The people who need that one hour to ramp up to the 167 hours that follow? My wife and I learned from doing the Christmas Dinner on Christmas Day in our own hometown that the people who most need some level of fellowship or companionship — not that the capital-C Church is particular good at this — know no particular stereotype.

There’s also the matter of cost. By this I don’t mean the cost of turning on lights and having people consuming coffee cups and flushing toilets. No, I mean the cost of building church buildings and then having the auditoriums sit empty for the 13 days between one service, and the one which would follow in two weeks. It’s not about having offering revenue. Skip the collection on long weekends by all means. It’s about the investment in erecting places of worship and equipping them with comfortable chairs, state of the art sound and lighting, and engaging child and youth facilities, and then shuttering the place on what is usually the prime traffic day…

…Does this make any sense to you?

So where do those KidMin, worship and parking volunteers come from on Christmas and holidays? They don’t. You change up the brand image for the sake of one Sunday and using a skeleton staff, offer something for the people who really need to be connected. Maybe not Mrs. T. on the piano. Maybe it’s a film. It might involve a guest speaker or guest musicians. Perhaps it’s a shorter service.

Just. Don’t. Lock. The. Church. Doors.

If weekend worship has gotten so complex that we can’t do it without a volunteer roster the size of the Marine Corps, maybe we need to be rethinking what it means to do and be the church.

January 8, 2017

Blogroll Update # 6

Here we go again; this should pick up where the last list left off… First a recap.

blogThe link to part one. (October, 2014…six years worth of links to that point)

The link to part two. (St. Patrick’s Day, 2015)

The link to part three. (May, 2015, also included my news sources to that point)

The link to part four. (August, 2015, included blog aggregators and people who do things similar to the Wednesday Link List)

The link to part five. (August, 2016, a full year later)

The link to a mini update. (Just five weeks after part five the file was getting full again)

Blogs
Cardus Blog | Renewing North American social architecture
The Cross Court –
Charis: Subject to Change
flourishingchurches | Blog
The Domain for Truth
Sheologians | Theology for women, no doilies allowed. – Sheologians
The Little Friar
Man of Depravity | Serving Millennials on the Journey Toward Significant Life
Brazen Church: A Community of Free-Thinking Christians
blog.bible – Equipping you to encounter God in the pages of ScriptureBlog.bible
Dei-liberations | Thoughts on God and World
Above All Else | Thoughts from Kelly Needham
Freed Hearts –
Restless Pilgrim
Theology in Overalls | Where Theology Meets Everyday Life
Rohadi Nagassar | Missional to Mega – Ideas for Church & Culture
Talmidim Blogging
New Life » Blog
Michelle van Loon
The Life and Times of Bruce Gerencser | One Man’s Journey From Eternity to Here
Matthew Pierce: I write stuff.
Vita pastoralis – Website of Dr. Timothy R. LeCroy
Gentle Reformation | Speaking truth gently
Sean McDowell
InterVarsity Christian Fellowship/USA – Home – intervarsity.org
Living On Tilt
Blog | Ed Cyzewski: | Author, Contemplative Christian, Freelance Writer
100 Movements
More Enigma Than Dogma | Relationships, Culture & Current Events
David Santistevan
Into the Foolishness of God
Vox Susurrantis | Aaron Wilkinson
Author’s Blog Page | SGM
Joel J. Miller | Theology That Sticks
Ancient Faith Blogs – Contemporary Insight on Culture and Theology
Blog Feed — George H Guthrie
First Things | America’s Most Influential Journal of Religion & Public Life
Living in the Shoe
Over 40 of Today’s Popular Christian Blogs
Sharefaith Magazine – The Best in Church Leadership, Worship, Tech and Gear!
Speakingtruthinlove’s Blog
Convivium Magazine – Faith in our common life
Before The Cross | Glorifying God by Sharing the Love of Christ
Revealed8
The Thistlette | Christian & Feminist: You Can Be Both

January 7, 2017

Counseling the Counselor

Filed under: Christianity — Tags: , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 9:58 am

This first appeared in January, 2008 at Internet Monk and was re-posted yesterday. It would be great if you read it at source by clicking the title below.

Fridays with Michael Spencer: Jan 6, 2017

by the late Michael Spencer

Note: The following incident is fictionalized from real experience.

I look at my watch. It’s time for a counseling appointment. I clear my desk, bring in the extra chairs and wait.

My appointment arrives and the conversation begins. This is a first time conversation, with someone I don’t know. I spend a lot of time listening. Then questions. More listening. I try to put what I’m hearing into some kind of order; to make some kind of helpful response.

michael spencerI’m not a quick thinker. My feelings are always way out in front of my thoughts. So I have to be cautious in counseling to be sure I’m doing what’s needed and helpful.

My counselee says the conversation has been helpful. He leaves. It’s been an hour and fifteen minutes. Longer than I like, but not unusual for a first conversation.

What did I hear? I heard what it means to do the best with what you have, as God brings all things into himself through Jesus Christ.

I hear about a broken marriage. Silence. Distance. Public pretense. I hear about broken children. The fear of what’s next and the impact of what has already been. I hear about ministry; a ministry that goes on under stress that’s unimaginable to me.

I hear about faith and its stumbling steps to do what is right. I hear of guilt, the certain knowledge that one has fallen short. I hear the cry for restoration of broken relationships; the longing for Christian community and the church to be what family and friends have failed to be.

I hear about secrets and the reluctance to speak of them. I hear of the learned response of looking away; the habit of staying busy; of attending to “real life” and never looking at the inner world. I hear of the pain of sin’s lingering work, its blindness creating deception and its deep roots that drive us away from God, others and even ourselves.

I hear of persistent belief in God, prayer, the Bible, the work of the Spirit. I hear the ache for a pronouncement of forgiveness.

I hear the mystery of God’s call to be a servant and a minister when life is broken. I hear the mystery of God’s presence in the midst of brokenness that is not healed and darkness that does not lift. Yet, I hear of love for others and a simple, loyal, persistent love for Jesus and for the people Jesus loved.

I hear about doing the best you can with what you have, even when what you have is broken, wounded and bleeding from our human frailties and cruelties.

The world loves to point out hypocrisy among Christians. I want to point out the inexplicable, amazing absurdity of people who continue on with Jesus when any rational, reasonable person would abandon all hope. Of course, love is not reasonable or rational. Love suffers long, all the while rejoicing in the truth.

If you are a person who believes that all ministers and their families are picture postcards, let me break this to you gently: many ministers and their families are living in hell, and you don’t know it. Perhaps right in front of you. For them, the ride to church to face you may have filled them with fear that somehow you might see past their facade and into the failure and hurt.

The tendency these days is to project the image of the minister as young, absurdly happy, socially perfect and free from care and hang-ups. In fact, many ministers are living lives of pain and facing situations that would make you wince, if not curse. The price of being the shepherd of Christ is often high; so high ordinary persons could seldom stand to see it.

Perhaps some Christians are masochists. Or truly warped from being around so much need and paying too little attention to their own lives. I cannot say what is motivating an individual person to carry burdens that would break others, and do to it for the sake of Christ, his gospel and his church.

Part of me wants to say “Go fix your marriage. Be 100% available to your kids. Let the ministry go for a while.” That’s probably very good advice.

But another part of me senses that brokenness is part of ministry, and it is not for me to say to God or another person what forms of brokenness should stop the show, and what others can be carried on and through.

I do know that my eyes are opened, again and again, to the immense pain that surrounds me in the Christian family. So many of God’s servants are hurting in their body, families, marriages and in ways I cannot label or identify.

Yet these are some of God’s best servants and most Christ-filled saints. Some of his most useful, loving people. The crucible does not need to be approved by me or you to be effective. God chooses his own instruments, preparing, sharpening and equipping them as He chooses. His agenda is Jesus. Mine would be comfort, wholeness, happiness and so forth, with Jesus as the end result. God is only interested in making us like Jesus.

So the cross, and the instruments of crucified glory, are his doing. I am a listener; an observer.

I bow my head and pray for what I’ve heard and seen. I will do so many times in the future as I realize I am watching, in the midst of pain, a kind of holiness that is only a rumor for me.

We do the best with what we have given to us, or what we have left over or with what still works after the latest wreck. And God forms Christ in us, brings Christ through us, glorifies Christ in us and all in all.

In such colors, the Spirit paints the Incarnation every day, and presents the painting to the Father. And each picture looks more and more like the Jesus we have never seen with our eyes.

Or have we?

 

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