Thinking Out Loud

October 19, 2018

When Words Fail

Filed under: Christianity — Tags: , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 8:56 am

Very suddenly this week, our community lost someone who was known by people in many churches here. A few years earlier Alison had left her Pentecostal church to return to her Salvation Army roots. Two of her and her husband’s three children had elected to pursue a vocational ministry career in the Salvation Army.

And then this summer, a must unusual thing happened. Alison herself — never having taken the Officer Training Program — was tapped by district officials to jump in to, by herself, lead an army ‘corps’ in a city three hours away from us near the Quebec border. And she said ‘yes’.

Alison died on Tuesday at age 53. Those who knew her are in shock. While I didn’t know her as well as others, we spent nearly an hour in conversation the week before she moved, as she described the uniqueness of this particular ‘call’ to vocational ministry. I’ll simply never forget her story. Although she we will undoubtedly be remembered by closer friends or family for other things, this willingness to serve on such short notice is a tremendous legacy to leave.

She will be missed.

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October 17, 2018

Wednesday Connect

Two major authors guilty of plagiarism. I’ve included them here as items on this week’s Connect feed, but I might return to this, as its importance cannot be overlooked. Attribution is so easy to do, so why the reluctance? And why did one author remove an apology?

Also, remember that the blogroll (3 of them, actually) in the right margin (or at the bottom of the page on your phone) is always being updated. Check out the recommended writers, and if you find anything that’s been dormant for more than 30 days, let us know.

♦ “This year, for the first time, more Americans agree that the Bible’s teaching on same-sex relationships is outdated than disagree.” Also, “A majority of US adults (58%) said that worshiping alone or with one’s family is a valid replacement for regularly attending church. Only 30 percent disagree.” More at the Ligonier Ministries/Lifeway 2018 findings on “the state of theology” in the U.S.

♦ While the release of American Pastor Andrew Brunson from Turkey after two years was certainly newsworthy, it was the scene were he knelt to pray for the President that captured my attention…

♦ …But while Brunson is free after two years, it’s now been 1,000 days for an 84 year old Australian doctor kidnapped in Burkina Faso. “Dubbed ‘the Doctor of the Poor’, Dr. [Ken] Elliott was providing free treatment, saving patients significant amounts of money. Since the closure of his clinic, people travel via poor transport links hundreds of miles to the capital, Ouagadougou, for medical care. His wife noted,

“My husband did not have an easy and comfortable life: 46 years ago, he chose to raise his family among you, our friends and our neighbours. With God’s help, he performed thousands of operations and saved many lives. Those who asked for help often came from afar, they came to us at any time of day or night.”

♦Parenting Place: Think you’re doing well at the child-raising thing? Here are 12 things that family counselors look for.

♦ Watching The Shack in prison:

But more and more, as I spend more time living on the margins and less in my head, reading the Bible with the damned to use Bob Ekblad’s phrase, I’ve come to see how much of theology boils down to social location. I might not get The Shack, but these incarcerated men sure do. Many were in tears at the end. So I check my critiques. The critiques may be valid and important, and there’s a time to bring them up, but I don’t center or privilege them. I don’t allow my academically sophisticated theology to win every argument or be The Answer to every question

♦ Quotation of the Week: “Just like you, the student in the northern Ghanaian village is monitoring the number of likes her Instagram selfies are getting.” A look at the pictures missionaries take, the ones they publish, our culture of photo images, and the danger of exploiting people from other cultures

♦ By now many of you are aware of an announcement on the weekend concerning the decline in health of esteemed author Eugene Peterson. If not, here is a link to a Facebook page containing a note from his son Eric.

♦ From a book review on the history of atheism in the Soviet Union:

In Russia, there is a religious revival happening. Orthodox Christianity is thriving after enduring a 70-year period of atheistic Soviet rule. In 1991, just after the collapse of the USSR, about two-thirds of Russians claimed no religious affiliation. Today, 71 percent of Russians identify as Orthodox. One can now see priests giving sermons on television, encounter religious processions in St. Petersburg, and watch citizens lining up for holy water in Moscow. Even Moscow’s Darwin museum features a Christmas tree during the holidays.

♦ A Georgia physician, Dr. Wayne Bloodworth has opened a clinic established to reverse Female Genital Mutilation as practiced 30 countries in sub-Saharan Africa as well as in Asia and the Middle East. “Dr. Bloodworth up until now has totally financed the operation and equipping of the clinic. Since there is no fee for the services, they depend on donations and grants.”

♦ Ask N.T. Wright anything: A new podcast is launching in the UK from the same people who bring us the Unbelievable! podcast each week. (You can send your questions now online.) 

♦ Another plagiarism case: Zondervan has reached a settlement with Carey Scott, the author of Untangled: Let God Loosen the Knots of Insecurity in Your Life (Revell, 2015) whose work was borrowed by popular author Christine Caine in Unashamed: Drop the Baggage, Pick up Your Freedom, Fulfill Your Destiny (Zondervan, May 2016), which has sold over 150,000 copies to date. 

“About two weeks before Caine’s book Unashamed was set to launch, I received a promotional email that contained a two-minute book trailer video. Some of the wording at the beginning of the video sounded very familiar, and after some digging I discovered that the first 30 seconds of her personal narration on the promo video came directly from a paragraph on page 55 of my book,” Scott told Publisher’s Weekly. “There are several examples of direct copying and substantial similarities.”   …

♦ … But sadly, not the only plagiarism case involving Zondervan: A quotation in Ann Voskamp’s book The Broken Way was attributed to her father but, “matched almost word for word the writing of author Cynthia Occelli on her social media pages.” In another case, she apologized for when she “lyrically paraphrased” a nine-point list by another writer. But that post was later deleted. Why? In this Occelli case, World Magazine notes:

The problem: Some readers probably missed Voskamp’s apology, submerged as it was in a long scroll of a post concerning a family trip to Israel, a Tim Keller talk, a Mister Rogers quote, Instagram photos from fans raving about her books, and more. The item’s burial was too bad, because this was a teachable moment about likely dangers at a time when internet files can be copied and mislabeled so readily, with unclear attribution.

♦ In other Christian publishing stupidity, author Thom Rainer has published what looks to be potentially an extremely helpful and hopeful resource for struggling, small churches, but you can’t buy it here in Canada, where the percentage of such churches is double what it is in the U.S., and Americans can only buy it at LifeWay stores. What a non-Jesus thing to do! (Freely you have received, now freely hoard it or make it exclusive to certain people.) For that reason, I’m not even mentioning its title.

♦ Canada Corner: The crucifix will continue to hang in the Quebec legislature, because — wait for the logic of this — although it represents Christian values it isn’t a religious symbol

♦ Across-the-Pond Corner: ICYMI, the UK Supreme Court vindicated Ashers Baking Company and its general manager Daniel McArthur in the world’s most celebrated “Gay Wedding Cake” case which “demonstrated the need for the law to reasonably accommodate family-run businesses with firmly-held beliefs…” 

♦ …also at the website The Christian Institute this disturbing news: “More than 125,000 people have been hospitalised after taking cannabis in the last five years, it has been revealed…The Mail on Sunday reported that around 15,000 teenagers and even some children under the age of ten were admitted after taking the potent drug.”

♦ The teaser for this article at The Federalist is: “The loss of confidence in Pope Francis reflects that his mismanagement of the crisis has been a scandal in itself. It may also reveal a growing public awareness of Francis’ own poor record.” Where does the problem lie? “From the start of his papacy, Francis has surrounded himself with a hand-picked inner circle of cardinal advisers—a kind of papal ‘kitchen cabinet’…This inner circle of nine cardinals close to Francis has become known as the ‘C9.’ The article proposes that group may be tainted. (One writer has used the term ‘mafia club.’)

♦ Christian singer Lauren Daigle is rockin’ the pop charts right now, so some readers might want to see her and get to know her better. After ten minutes without discussing anything of substance, she explains the song “Losin’ My Religion.’ (Budding journalists: When you get to spend time with a current news-maker, this is a good example of what not to do.) …

♦ …On the other hand, if you want to see her something more substantive, there’s nothing quite like her visit to lead worship in a maximum security prison.

♦ You can’t be cessationist and also claim that God ‘led’ you to do something. But just in case He does, here’s the necessary workarounds to explain why it happened and didn’t happen at the same time.

♦ Quotation of the Week: “My ego always struggles with acknowledgment. I not only want my left hand to know what my right hand is doing (Matt. 6:3) I want them to get together and start an avalanche of applause because I’ve done it.” ~Jim Thornber at (the other) Thinking Out Loud.

♦ How not to write a movie review: I wanted to know more about God Bless the Broken Road but after hitting a few spoilers I realized this was just giving away the entire script from beginning to end.

♦ From that website with the weird name: 

♦ I wanted to include this item — about Ray Comfort and Penn Jillette — but had trouble finding the lede.

♦ Actual things said to women pastors by parishioners and male pastors in the North Carolina Synod of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of America. A six minute video.

♦ Another Christmas season; another school board excises any mention of Jesus from their Christmas concert. 

♦ Finally…what? We don’t have a ‘finally’ today?

This Anglican Halloween alternative has us curious. “Trick or treat at 15 doors with the saints.”

 

October 16, 2018

‘Twas the Night Before Cannabis

Filed under: Christianity — Tags: , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 8:08 am

Tonight at midnight, the nation I call home will undergo a rather dramatic shift, joining only the country of Uruguay in having fully legalized marijuana.

Right now, as I type this, it is illegal. On Wednesday, because the government went beyond the simple ‘decriminalization’ that many expected, possession and usage finally becomes fully permissible.

Some of us are worried, to say the least.

Although the film is an hour long — you may have watched it when we linked to it here last month — the documentary Chronic State: How Marijuana Normalization Impacts Communities by the group DrugFree Idaho shows what has happened in Colorado and gives cause for concern on many different fronts. (For example, in the first few minutes, the video shows three different toddlers inhaling…)

The video was produced by a group in Idaho trying to stop the same things from happening there. They say Colorado is the test case, and as such it’s a very cautionary tale.

Of great concern is what happens to those who partook of pot in high school or college, and now decades have passed and they’ve decided that just for ‘old time sake’ they will give it another go; only to quickly realize that the stuff being sold now is as much as 10 to 15 times stronger than what they remember. (Or don’t remember; given the nature of those experiences.)

On Sunday, following the sermon, our Lead Pastor took several minutes to outline the position of the church. Needless to say, no cannabis is allowed on the property or at church-sanctioned offsite events. More importantly, no one using cannabis recreationally can hold a position of leadership in the church. (Implied: If they do, at that point they’re done with that position.)

As final and firm as that sounds, he also confessed that this is uncharted territory, and if their position sounds too legalistic, he’s willing to discuss it. Uncharted, indeed. Nobody knows what the next few hours will bring, and more importantly, the first weekend when getting high on pot isn’t a crime.

We’ll be driving our cars slowly and carefully, and with the radio tuned to the all-news station for updates.

Magazine cover images (above) from the documentary film mentioned.

 

 

October 15, 2018

Joy is Available in All Circumstances: Book Review

by Gloria Matthies

John and Stasi Eldredge are two of my favourite authors, so I was excited when Stasi’s book Defiant Joy – Taking Hold of Hope, Beauty, and Life in a Hurting World (Thomas Nelson) became available. And it didn’t disappoint.

As in much of their other works, Stasi’s style is very readable – personal, authentic, real, relatable. I can see myself in many of her personal anecdotes. We’ve all been there – even accomplished authors!

It wasn’t the kind of book that keeps me reading long past the time I should be making dinner or going to bed. I actually couldn’t read it quickly because, even in its easy readability, there were parts that hit very close to home and I had to stop and mull it over, figure out how to apply it. Even after finishing the book, I find myself flipping back to the dog-eared pages and underlined passages again and again.

Stasi begins by laying the foundation: What is joy? How is it different from happiness? Why does she call it “Defiant”? She asserts – backed up with Scripture – that joy is always available to us in all circumstances, and especially in the really tough ones. She doesn’t shy away from “yes but, what about…” sadness, unmet longing, the waiting, loneliness, opposition, pain, suffering, comparison, resentment, misperceptions – all of which she addresses without judgement but rather with an invitation.

She invites us, dares us even, to step out in faith, to choose, hope, risk, trust, worship, remember God’s promises, in spite of our circumstances. And to be defiantly joyful people!


 

Gloria is co-coordinator of the Better Together Refugee Sponsorship project in Cobourg, Ontario and part time bookseller at the local Christian bookstore.

October 14, 2018

The “I Can Only Imagine Story” Still Evokes Emotion

Filed under: Christianity — Tags: , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 1:41 pm

Having seen the movie in a theater, I’m not a prime candidate to own the DVD or Blu-Ray for the movie I Can Only Imagine, which ended up becoming the 4th highest-grossing inspirational film of all time.

However, I got to see the nearly 2 hours of bonus features last night and found it very difficult to fight back the [whatever it is guys do, because the word isn’t tears.]

This is a powerful story. There’s no denying this.

And it’s a powerful song. Over the years, the band MercyMe has been flooded with letters from fans describing their own “moment” connecting with the song.

Even if you, like us, saw the film on the big screen, I’d encourage you to get your hands on this; or maybe find some fellow theater-goers who saw it as we did, and split the cost of the disc. I doubt the ‘extras’ are available for streaming.

…If you missed it, here’s my article from March, and then my reflections after actually seeing the film after it had taken off at the box office.

October 13, 2018

Intentionally Spending More Time Offline

Filed under: Christianity — Tags: , , , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 10:05 am

Our backyard. Not really. But this beautiful trail is within walking distance of where we live.

So there’s this thing the kids call “IRL” meaning, “in real life.”

I’ve been intentionally spending time away from my computer. Monday was a great example. A holiday here in Canada, we spent two hours walking with friends in a nearby ravine, followed by nearly five hours with other longtime friends enjoying dinner and conversation.

Seven hours when contact with the virtual world wasn’t possible.

And I never checked my email and social media once, but for the 30 minute break between activities.

Wednesday and Friday were work days during which there was no time to rest. On Wednesday, I ate lunch standing up. It was quite busy.

I used my phone in lieu of my computer to answer some inquiries — I’m getting better at this, but many sites are not mobile friendly — and did check mail very briefly around 1:00 PM; but otherwise my work days are blissfully offline.

Tomorrow is church. I’m still trying to decided if I can squeeze two services in, as I’ve been doing the last two weeks. Not sure if this the new normal or not. There are compelling reasons to go to both. At the first one, we’re beginning a new series that I’d like to catch from the start. At the second, there might be a chance I can help my wife out by playing bass for her worship team (if she lets me do this and still skip the rehearsal.)

Life is better lived IRL.

A few times I’ve been asked how I came up with ideas for fresh blog posts 365 days a year for ten years. While some were repeats, and more than a few were re-blogs of what others had written, I think that the largest percentage were inspired by real life conversations or events. Even if they weren’t direct citations of dialogs that happened, those interactions were the springboard for my thoughts the next morning.

…As you stare at your screen, I know you feel you need to be doing that right now.

But consider the option of just walking away.


IN THE WOODS

Scott, Frederick George

THIS is God's house--the blue sky is the
   ceiling,
 This wood the soft green carpet for His
   feet,
Those hills His stairs, down which the brooks
   come stealing
 With baby laughter, making earth more
   sweet.

And here His friends come, clouds, and soft
   winds sighing,
 And little birds whose throats pour forth
   their love,
And spring and summer, and the white snow
   lying
 Pencilled with shadows of bare boughs
   above.

And here come sunbeams through the green
   leaves straying,
 And shadows from the storm-clouds over-
   drawn,
And warm, hushed nights, when Mother
   Earth is praying
 So late that her moon-candle burns ill
   dawn.

Sweet house of God, sweet earth, so full of
   pleasure,
 I enter at thy gates in storm or calm;
And every sunbeam is a joy or pleasure,
 And every cloud a solace and a balm.

October 12, 2018

Another Blogger Lost to the World of 280 Characters?

Filed under: blogging, Christianity, writing — Tags: , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 7:03 am

A milestone last night!

Visit anytime at: https://twitter.com/PaulW1lk1nson

The nice thing about Twitter is that nobody there is ever angry.

[pauses for ironic moment]

In case you now find yourself wanting to hear the song, here it is:

October 10, 2018

Wednesday Connect

Filed under: Christianity, links — Tags: — paulthinkingoutloud @ 4:58 am

The list which almost didn’t happen. (See previous activity here for context.) Welcome to Wednesday Connect #30. (There would have been a few more things but my computer, purchased brand new a year ago, is on its last legs.)

♦ No more Mormon Tabernacle Choir? No more Mormon, period? Just eight years after promoting its “Meet the Mormons” campaign, the church is ditching the use of the word, and moving to two hour services (which brought a cheer at their annual meeting.) The choir will now be known as “The Tabernacle Choir at Temple Square” RNS reports, “Church President Russell Nelson reiterated that his instruction is not a name change. ‘It is a correction,’ he said. ‘It is the command of the Lord.’ (Don’t think I’ve ever heard another church command that authority behind a rebrand.)

♦ The Larycia Hawkins story — the former Wheaton College professor dismissed for wearing a hijab — is now the subject of a movie.

♦ Leadership Lessons: Seven indicators that your church has what the author terms a “front door problem;” meaning that first time visitors simply never show

♦ The government of Sudan has released a shipment of Bibles that have been impounded for six years. (The article links to another story where property was returned to 19 churches a month earlier.)

♦ Podcast (1) Over the summer, Greg Paul, author of Resurrecting Religion: Finding Our Way Back to the Good News (NavPress) talked about social justice and faith on a podcast not known for interviewing Christian guests.

♦ Podcast (2) For those who love apologetics, this podcast looks at the difference between moral and civil law and asks if our civil law should support moral law. (Starts at 19:47)

♦ Provocative Headline of the Week: “Is Tim Keller a Marxist?

♦ A different reason to homeschool: This author contends it’s not about the kids, but rather, about you. “One of the primary means by which God works out the selfishness and carnality in our lives is by allowing crisis into our lives to show us what we are truly like. To accomplish this more effectively, God hand-crafted customized little button-pushers, who are strategically designed to bring out the worst in us.”

♦ Timely, but not recent: From 2016, a guide to why Andy Stanley is often misunderstood.

♦ Music: Francesca Battistelli is back:

 

♦ For women who are readers: A mixed bag of book reviews both fiction and non-fiction from a variety of publishers.

♦ Job Opening: LifeWay is in need of a Kingpin.

♦ All the Acronyms (AtA): Apparently Reformed and Calvinist people use more acronyms than the rest of us.

♦ Slightly (or not so slightly) altered scriptures: “The Lord’s Prayer, revised for Moral Therapeutic Deism.”

♦ Finally, “People living in one of the most gay-friendly areas of Sydney have received an epistle from Jesus, and not in a good way… And just to compound the misery, Jesus makes some basic spelling errors, first ordering Sydney’s mayor to ‘humbler herself, left I unleash my fury’, and then threatening to ‘brake your pride’. Heaven apparently has no spellcheck.” 


Getting the gang back together for one more concert.

 

Subway and bus advertising is probably more common in the U.S. for events like this, but more rare in Toronto where this event, with Creflo Dollar and others, happened last weekend.

 

John Crist and Beth Pilgreen imagine what its like to take a date to church for the first time.

 

 

October 9, 2018

When You Realize You Don’t See the World as Other Do

Filed under: Christianity — paulthinkingoutloud @ 9:46 am

You can simply give up trying.

Subscribers: I apologize for the five (count ’em) grammatical and spelling errors in yesterday’s post. I was coming off finishing a meticulous editing of our newsletter (on which this blog was based ten years ago) and should have taken an extra minute to do the same here, especially since this is seen by more people. A corrected version appears here. As today’s headline indicates, future posts may be sporadic.

October 8, 2018

The Danger of an Inherited Faith II

Discussion about the political scene in the United States for the past (almost) two years since the election brings out the worst in all of us.

I promised myself I wouldn’t wade into discussions of that nature. This blog is intended to be consistently faith-focused and therefore apolitical. But a few times I have made exceptions.

One of those was Friday.

In my comments about Franklin Graham, I incurred some well-warranted criticism from two people I greatly respect and have known for a long time. That stung. In fact, I did something I never do, and that is I basically took the weekend off from blogging; posting only an infographic late Saturday. (That post did however earn a Twitter like from someone who I greatly respect and is greatly respected internationally. I wasn’t the only one who felt that way.) However…

I committed three very serious blogging sins.

First — and this is unusual for a blog which tries to put the cookies on the lower shelf — I did not provide any background as to what had provoked the post in the first place. In this case, the thing that really got me — my personal last straw — was when Franklin pulled all the Samaritan’s Purse and Operation Christmas Child advertising from Relevant magazine when all they had done was quote him. I did not do enough to document his descent from emissary of the gospel to political commentator.

Second, I allowed my writing to become more emotional toward the end. To use the semantic argument that a person who has “lost the plot” of Christianity might never have been a Christian in the first place is not an argument unique to me by any means. But it reeked of judgement. The last three paragraphs have since been edited.

Finally, I think in my mind I was partially conflating Franklin Graham and Jerry Falwell, Jr. who we will look at briefly today. Both are the second generation of a top-tier Evangelical brand and both have wandered down the rabbit trail of leveraging or brokering their base to cozy up to the current U.S. political administration. I should have dealt with both, instead of saving one for now.

So with Jerry Falwell, Jr., let’s be specific.

I made the mistake of assuming that the same people who read my blog posts actually are tracking developments on the weekly link feed. I found it grievous that the Liberty University film students who returned from holidays last January discovered they would not get to complete the two projects they had planned, but were assigned to work on The Trump Prophecy film. I (and they) felt it totally diminished the value of the program’s reputation and the diploma they would receive related to it.

Also, there was the more recent incident where students were bused to Washington, D.C. to show support for Judge Kavanaugh. Again, I feel this is diminishing the university’s reputation and the degrees those students paid top dollar to receive. If the students are Political Science majors, then yes, the confirmation process is important, but this particular story also spoke to the issue of sexual assault in a case where it was difficult to tell which side was telling the truth. I’m not sure how many of those students really wanted to take a position on this issue; though some may have simply gone for the bus ride or because their friends were going, or for the tour of the Capitol building which followed.

And there are many more stories like this.

But Falwell didn’t simply put his film students and protesters (or counter-protesters, I’m not sure) in the middle of his pro-Trump, pro-Kavanaugh agenda; he dragged Evangelicals in the United States and (in my case) beyond into a moral and ethical quagmire of reasoning, where the glaring bad fruit of a person’s life is set aside if it is believed their ascent to political power fits or is in keeping with some higher purpose.

One reader simply suggested people Google “Franklin Graham controversy” for more, and I would add that “Jerry Falwell, Jr. controversy” yields some rather bizarre stories, like this one. But I really don’t want to spend more ink on that, especially where so many minds are already made up.

Another thing I need to reiterate — for my good as well as yours — is Paul’s advice to Timothy that a soldier does not entangle himself in civilian affairs. We belong to a different kingdom and our main energies should be spent on advancing and building that kingdom, not the kingdoms of this world.

In the end however, simply changing the name, I find I must simply repeat what I said on Friday:

In the last several years, many of us have watched Jerry Falwell, Jr. make statements which grate against the Christianity many of us are practicing and what we know of the Jesus many of us are striving to follow.

His remarks and their underlying attitudes simply don’t pass the WWJD litmus test. The fruit of the indwelling of the Spirit has left the building.

There is a danger in an inherited faith.

and its conclusion:

If what I write or say doesn’t resemble Christianity or pass the WWJD litmus test, then I would expect you to ask the question, am I truly a Christian?

Yes. I get the irony. It’s possible that in its original form on Friday I would have failed that same litmus test.

Point taken. Such are the times in which we find ourselves.

 

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