Thinking Out Loud

June 15, 2015

An Open Letter to Steve Finnell

Filed under: blogging, Christianity — Tags: , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 7:13 am

Dear Steve,

I can only speak for myself here, but a number of us who have blogs have encountered you in our comments section, and despite the fact I don’t post your copy-and-paste remarks, they keep coming. I’ve tried to contact you directly on this, but with new comments occasionally continuing to arrive, I thought we’d try this format.

Steve FinnellI love your passion. Just a tree or plant explodes many seeds, you scatter a great many messages that land in a great many places. That takes time, and dedication and a deep conviction that you’ve got the hottest news on the rack.

But blogging was never intended to be what you expect of it. Rather, it started out as social media which means the comments created community. I can’t tell you how many people I now exchange offline communications with that began with our interactions in the response section of various blogs.

You can’t build rapport, or have a dialog with people when you simply copy/paste mass commentaries. You seem to to be content to be a troll, and as you’re trolling and looking for certain keywords, you then interject your comment/sermon without any direct reference to the article or piece in question.

Calling you a troll hurts, because theologically, we’re probably on the same team on the essentials. But, you’re going about it all wrong.

And Steve, you’ve been on the internet long enough to know that using CAPITAL LETTERS just turns people off. You’re yelling at them, Steve; and that’s not how to make friends.

You see, it’s not enough to have the truth. Ephesians 4:15 says (and I know you like Bible verses) “Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will grow to become in every respect the mature body of him who is the head, that is, Christ.” It equates maturity in the Christian life not to just speaking truth, but doing so in a loving manner. Part of that I believe comes in earning the right to be heard.

Steve, wouldn’t be a shame if instead of drawing people to the Kingdom of God, you were driving them away?

Your internet/blogging friend,
Paul.

June 5, 2015

Today is Blog Post # 3200

 So years ago, we were driving along in the car, when my oldest son suddenly got very loud and said, “LOOK at the odometer, it’s 143,517.” In his mind, this number was as worth celebrating as the ones that end in a lot of zeroes. (For my U.S. readers, and those in whatever is the only other country that didn’t go metric, that’s kilometers, not miles.) It was a rather funny moment. He tends to think outside the box. Last night, he cooked spaghetti and used cornbread to make garlic bread. It actually worked quite well.

But this truly my 3,200th blog post, and that’s just here at Thinking Out Loud.

Hairy Brother

As you might imagine, 3,200 posts can wear a guy out, so we thought we’d get lazy today and post some visuals. Hairy Brother is one of a long series of movie poster knockoffs created for the Orange kidmin (Children’s ministry) program. Click the image to get into the store and see more. A lot of churches use Orange, but some don’t know that the driving force behind it is Reggie Joiner, who started out with Andy Stanley at North Point. Considering that Louis Giglio (Passion Conferences) also started there got me wondering how many different ministries sprang from this one Atlanta church. Anyone got the time to research that one?

Also, a few weeks ago I ran a story on the current trend of revamping the hymns for fun and profit. I wish I’d had this cartoon at hand at the time. I’m not sure of who the artist is, but it’s from one of the many Christian comic collections that were common in the mid-80s.

New Tunes for Old Hymns

Finally, this video clip has been languishing in a back alley of YouTube for several months, with a very low view count. It’s an auto-tuned version of Handel’s Hallelujah Chorus. If you have the time click through to the video channel; the guy has some rather brilliant stuff posted. (Check out the National Anthem mash up.)

May 25, 2015

Blogroll Update # 3

This is the third time we’ve done this. Use the comments to add anyone you feel is missing, but make sure first they’re not in one of the previous lists. (Note: These are my personal bookmarks, and are not directly related to what appears in the published blogroll you see here every day.)

Here’s the link to part one. (The really big one.)

Here’s the link to part two. (Just two months ago.)

And here comes part three. (Much shorter)

Bareknuckle Bible | Loving the truth even when it doesn’t feel good
Laughter is a Leap | Let’s hop to it!
AdamMearse.com | Musings, questions, and ideas of a minister/theologian
Millennial Evangelical
The Untenable Position of a Whale
Baptist News Global Perspectives – Conversations that matter
Beautiful Feet
Christian Standard | Archive for Mark A. Taylor
Life’s a Journey
Philosophical Fragments — Timothy Dalrymple
Sincere Son of the Sanctifier | Canoeing up denial river
David Black Online
thehopeforlife | Finding true freedom through Jesus
yes i like paul stanley
KindlingWord | Thoughts to ignite the heart
The Isaiah 53:5 Project | My chief concern is to try to be a humble, earnest Christian
Bedlam Magazine
The Rabbit Room
theologer
Paul’s Ponderings » Thoughts from an imperfect disciple.
Euangelion — A Post-Post-Modern Blog On Scripture, Faith and Following Jesus
For His Renown | That the glory of the Lord might cover the dry land as the waters cover the sea
blog | www.zacharybartels.com
In Focus | The Team Brilliant Blog
By Faith We Understand – the proof of what is unseen
Climbing the Assimilayas
Ponder Anew – Theology in Worship
Deeper Waters – Diving into the ocean of truth
Thimblerig’s Ark
Mark Moore’s Blog | I’m simply an apprentice. . .
AJ Swoboda | Blog
Brady’s Blog
Front Page About – Am I Called?
i already am – Learning 2 Be, Who I Already Am
A Christian Worldview of Fiction
CREATION to ESCHATON | J. Richard Middleton
One Passion One Devotion | know God… make Him known…
The Briefing | challenging convictions, encouraging ministry
HeadHeartHand Blog: Informing Minds. Moving Hearts. Directing Hands.
For Such a Time as This
Blake Mankin

Also, here’s a revised extended news link list, which overlaps on what you see daily in the side margin. If you know someone just starting out in Christian journalism, this list is worth its weight in gold.

FaithWorld | Analysis & Opinion | Reuters.com
Christianity Today Gleanings
Christian News, The Christian Post
Christian News on Christian Today
Faith and Leadership | A learning resource for Christian leaders from Duke Divinity
Christian news, church news, – FaithfulNews
Christian Newswire – Up to the Minute Christian News
Religion News Service | Religion News in Photos, Articles & Video
The Aquila Report —  Reformed and Presbyterian family of churches
Religion Dispatches
Christian News Headlines
RealClearReligion
K-LOVE News Page
News | The Christian Institute
R+R Weekly | Weekly News by Christian Booksellers Association Retailers
OneNewsNow.com – Your News Right Now
World Religion News, Religious Views, Spirituality – HuffPost Religion
GetReligion
RELEVANT Magazine
Spiritual Sounding Board
CBN News – Christian News 24-7 – CBN.com
On Faith: News and opinion on religion and politics – The Washington Post
NRB :: LATEST NEWS
Persecution News of Churches Persecuted & Christian Sufferings
Forum 18 Latest News
WORLD Magazine | Today’s News, Christian Views
Religious News – SRN News
OnFaith
Christian News Network
WND – Faith
BBC Religion & Ethics
Breaking Christian News
ASSIST News Service
Faithit: Change the World. Share What Matters.
TheBlaze – Breaking news and opinion
Holy Post | National Post
The Old Black Church!  (Ann Brock is one of my secret sources!)
Belief – CNN.com
News | LifeSiteNews.com
Premier Christianity
Mission Network News – Mission Network News
On Religion – The UK’s first magazine about faith, religion and society
God Reports
BuzzVine | The Christian Post
Converge MagazineConverge
Baptist News, Opinion, Resources, Inspiration | Baptist Standard
The Journal of Gospel Music –
Pew Research Center’s Religion & Public Life Project
Read the Spirit | Spiritual, Interfaith, Cross-Cultural Media
News | The Living Church
News & Events
Rush to Press, news from Christian publishing industry
Ecumenical News.com – Daily Christian, Ecumenical News Online
The Association of Religion Data Archives – U.S. and World Religion Statistics and Data
United Christian News
The College Fix
NEW ADVENT: Home
These Christian Times
Now The End Begins: End Times Bible Prophecy
Christian News Portal, South Africa
Parents As First Educators
Religion Dispatches
Christian Daily
Jewish News & Israel News – JNS.org
ABC Religion & Ethics (Australian Broadcasting Corporation)
Faith Feed Magazine
religion | The Africa Report
Religion News Blog
Sports Spectrum – Christian Sports Magazine, Christian Athletes and Profiles, Faith-based Influences
Christian Examiner Newspapers | Christian News, Commentary, Events

 

 

May 1, 2015

Connecting People and Resources

I’ve written before about the common thread in all the different ministry ventures I’ve worked with. With radio, I got to introduce people to new songs and new artists. With worship leading, I got to connect people to vehicles that could be part of their personal expression of praise to God. As a book and music reviewer, the motivation was more obvious. As a blogger, I get to share information about other voices online. As a link list curator for Leadership Journal, I was able, by the news and opinion pieces I noted, to be influential in the lives of Christian leaders.

radio-towerI guess I like facilitating a whole load of networking.

But let’s return to radio for a minute. If I were to return to it — and I did look into various avenues — I would no longer get to choose the songs being played unless I brokered the airtime and picked the playlist myself. Radio stations either use consultants or have their own formula for choosing what goes into the rotation. Even the morning show guys, when they’re done with their banter, simply play the next song on the list.

You could solve this, I suppose by being the consultant or music director, but there are only so many openings, and even in small-to-medium markets, it’s often just one guy who controls a number of regional stations.

With worship leading, similar formulas apply. There’s often a tacit understanding that if a new song was introduced by last week’s team, you’re expected to continue with that song over the next three weeks. In demographically wide churches, you draw from different sources representing different ages and tastes to create an eclectic music set.

Music reviews largely don’t exist. Unless you write for Relevant Magazine, you’re about 500 times more likely to receive books in the mail to review than a CD. (We’ve reviewed several here, but it’s the exception, not the rule.) Bloggers tend not to be excited about specific books as they were five years ago; as Christian publishing faces challenges there are fewer and fewer new writers stepping onto the scene; and there appears not to be the push by publishers to utilize social media.

With my role at PARSE now ended, I look for new ways to share the passion of sharing. The one role that never ends is my two days a week at the Christian bookstore. There, I still have some influence, though there is always the suspicion on the part of some that I’m wearing my shopkeeper hat, and not my role as friend, counselor, or helper. Where ministry and retail converge, it’s not always an ideal fit.

My observation there is always the same: The greatest connector for people and products is the local church pastor, but for that to work, the pastors first need to know about the book in question, and most don’t have the interest, the time, or both.

But trust me, from YouTube to the Christian blogosphere to the world of Christian music and publishing, there are a ton of resources out there.

Finding and utilize them will enrich your life, and the lives of family members, extended family, neighbors, co-workers and others in your circle.

April 18, 2015

Thinking Out Loud after PARSE

Link List - Out of Ur22 Months ago, an email from Skye Jethani changed things around here and forced me to raise the bar on what I was doing with the Wednesday Link Lists. He wrote,

I’m a fan of your Wednesday Link List. Not only is it helpful and concise, but I enjoy some of the wit and whimsy of your comments. I think the readers of Leadership Journal’s blog, Out of Ur, would benefit from what you’ve created. I wanted to explore the possibility of having your weekly link list published on our site in order to give it a wider audience.

Just days later, the first installment appeared at Out of Ur, later renamed PARSE.

I have always had great admiration for Christianity Today, and I wish there were space here to list the great Christian writers and leaders who have had staff positions with its various publications. I actually applied to be a columnist at Leadership Journal (their website is the parent to PARSE) in the days before the internet, and still have the rejection letter from Kevin Miller. If you’re going to be turned down, at least be turned by the best.

Out of UrI will admit that I got carried away at times. One of the lists had 38 links in it. So more recently we transitioned to a new format whereby there would be far fewer stories, much longer excerpts, and a twice weekly format that was originally envisioned as ten on Wednesday five on Saturday, but ended up being close to ten each time. I will admit that I still get carried away at times.

The biggest joy of writing for people at Leadership Journal was knowing that the material I selected was being seen by people in full time vocational ministry. It was, in its own small way, a means whereby an ordinary writer like me could be an influencer.  In an earlier lifetime, I had stepped down from a similar monthly column at Contemporary Christian Music (CCM) magazine with the closing line, “While it’s a fine thing to write the news, I think it’s a better thing to make the news.”  (Actually, it was the dark ages, and italics had not been invented yet.)

Now I’m not so sure that was wise. Certainly, as a frustrated musician, it was hard to write of others’ successes, but this time around, in a world where everyone has a blog and is clamoring for attention, there is some honor in choosing what types of news stories and opinion pieces people see.

Working with people whose opinions and perspective on Christianity and culture resonate with me has been a blast, even if we’ve never met face to face. I can’t thank Skye Jethani enough for the opportunity, and also thank Paul Pastor, Drew Dyck and Tim Gioia for doing the legwork of making what I wrote visible to so many. 

But alas, things change, so last week I was abruptly told by Drew Dyck,

…After many years, first as “Out of Ur” then as PARSE, we will be shutting down our blog.  I’ve been incredibly grateful for the awesome job you’ve done for us. I still don’t know how you manage to track down all the relevant/interesting stories for church leaders around the web—and then do such a great job of setting them up. Anyway, with Paul Pastor gone, maintaining a multi-voice blog has been a challenge…

So as suddenly as it began, it ended.

Ironically, PARSE just won Third Place in the Blog category at an Evangelical Press Association awards night, and is also the #15 blog on the latest Top 300 list from Church Relevance. I’m not sure that dumping a relatively hot internet property like that is wise, especially when blogs are struggling to maintain readership numbers. But that’s their call.

Again, I am so thankful for the opportunity to work with a great team.

…And now we come to where I need your help. The Wednesday Link List will continue. I’m not sure about the Weekend Link List however. The question is, do you like the excerpts or would you prefer the original listing of nothing but bullet points?

Please email me via the contact page, or leave a comment right here or on Twitter.

And if you manage a Christian website that has a budget, use the contact page if you’d like to offer the Wednesday Link List a new home.

March 17, 2015

Here Come More and More and More Blogs

Filed under: blogging — Tags: , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 7:27 am

Back in October I dumped my entire load of bookmarks marked “Blogs” on unsuspecting readers. I’m not sure if anyone in particular really got a whole lot out of that, but now that my computer is definitely dying, I feel the need to preserve some of the newer entries in the cloud, while at the same time appearing to do something altruistic. Please note that this list does not include bloggers who themselves do regular link lists — I have those filed as “Aggregators” — or Christian news sites, which are already listed here in the margin. Oh, and some people are on this list simply because they have new addresses or the ones that appeared previously were incorrect.

Blogs
Philip Yancey | Author, Thinker, Climber
WorshipIdeas.com
Faith | Sue’s Trifles
GetBetterToday.com – Christian News | Inspirational Stories
Nearly Christian – A Christian community devoted to the journey
Blog – The Janet Mefferd Show
Michael May’s Adventureblog
Wineskins.org | Exploring the Heart of Restoration
KATE CONNER
The Blog of InterVarsity Christian Fellowship – intervarsity.org
Faith Archives – Faithreel.com
Power of Change
Ratanak International
The Morning Drive
Christianity 201 (I just snuck this in the list, it was already in the other one)
Blog | Tim Gioia
Blog – Deb Mills
Memes Archives | Catholic Memes
TN PRIME RIB
old time religion by Jim Linderman
Samuel’s Notebook – A Blog of Inklingations
Learning Domestic Discipline: The Blog (please don’t take this one too seriously)
Reflections – AllAboutReflections.org
Blog | KW Redeemer
Home – Ecelectic Contemplations
the Jesus Event | the blog of Tyler M. Tully
Soteriology101
Ken Wytsma
Desperately Wanting To Believe Again | From ashes to new life
Atlas Church
Sketches By Boze | An ongoing exploration of faith, culture, myth, life, art.
Café Seminoid | Inspiring the Aspiring
Archbishop Cranmer
David Santistevan | A Blog For Worship Leaders & Musicians
Then My Youth Said
Hope Stands | Never Without Hope
realsimplefaith
Paul J. Pastor
Tom1st.com
Christian Book Shop Talk (another one of my own)
Life’s a Journey
Ryan Huguley
Worthily Magnify | Helping Worship Leaders Lead Well
Phil Cooke « Engage | Influence | Activate Phil Cooke
Agnusday.org – The Lectionary Comic
Living On Tilt
Church for Men —
Live58
Bible Knowledge Ministries – Bible Teaching Website
ForeWords | Lectionary Musings within the Community of Christ
Tuesdays with Morris | Jason B. Morris
Christian Courier
Stand to Reason Blog
First Things | America’s Most Influential Journal of Religion & Public Life
Road Report by FarmingtonGlenn
The Heidelblog | Recovering the Reformed Confession
Not Ashamed of the Gospel – Share Your Faith
Alex Koo Blog – Staying Christian in a Millennial Generation
ParkingSpace23 – Carrying the tradition of boldly proclaiming the truth
Phil Cooke | Engage • Influence • Transform
subversive1
Strawberry-Rhubarb Theology
Innovate For Jesus | Grow the Church
Lead Small | A small group community
Children’s Ministry Curriculum | Orange 
Karen Zacharias | Karen Zacharias
Worship Tech Roundup | Worship Links
Jonathan Malm | Creator and editor of ChurchStageDesignIdeas.com
David’s Theology – Peering through the Biblical Lens
The Joyful Noiseletter
Home Brewed Christianity
Launch Clarity
Anxious Bench — The Relevance of Religious History for Today
Panorama of a Book Saint
mysteryoffaithblog
Story Time With Haley
In the Line of Fire
Loose Him and Let Him Go | Spreading the Gospel, ‘Bit by Bit’
Dirty Christians | How to serve God in a messy world
Discipline | &mirth.

 

February 24, 2015

Seven Years of Thinking Out Loud

Number 7 Quickview Bible

The first post, February 24, 2008 We began this journey as a response to comments I was getting from an email newsletter I produced that people “liked the articles.” The first post was titled “Honestly! The world DOES need another blog page!” and consisted of some excerpts from the 2003 book A is for Abductive by Leonard Sweet, Brian McLaren and Jerry Haselmayer. Interesting to look back and consider that aspect of the blog’s beginning alone.

…It appears that God may be more active outside the church than in it. In other words, “inside the church” may not be the best place to share in God’s work, and if we want to be involved in God’s work, we may need to get out more.

…It may be more valid to celebrate this idea of God’s activity outside the church, because perhaps God’s purpose for the church all along has been to equip people to be agents through whom God works in the world.

…It may be helpful for us to distinguish between “church work” (i.e. our work inside the church to keep it going) and “the work of the church” (i.e. the church fulfilling its mission in the world). …The old complaint about 20% of the people doing 80% of the church work in this light may be misguided. If the minority (20%) can do church work, then maybe the majority (80%) can focus on serving God outside the box and boat.

First Anniversary, February 24, 2009 – Noted the day before that the first year I wrote 660 posts, an average of two a day.

I figured I wouldn’t write anything; I’d just use a huge backlog of articles I’d developed in other places for other reasons.    Boy, did I get that one wrong.   As every Israelite knows, the manna doesn’t stay fresh for long.

I also figured I’d read more stuff online, but didn’t realize that other bloggers would spur me on to read more books as well.   Do I get a diploma for doing this?   A little academic credit perhaps?”

Second Anniversary, February 23, 2010 – Had to celebrate a day early because the midweek link list was already becoming a priority.  It was noted that:

Thinking Out Loud began the same week as two other blogs, 22 Words and Stuff Christians Like…

…It’s also interesting to note that — as far as Canada is concerned — each day, I get to speak to six times as many adults than half of all pastors here see on Sunday morning…

Too bad those other two blogs never amounted to anything! My statement of purpose at this point was:

I also want to continue to make this a blog for the ‘spiritual commoner.’   That’s the person who feels he or she has a real contribution to make to the life of their church, Christian fellowship or broader community…

Third Anniversary, February 24, 2011 – Christianity 201 had launched that year…

I remember years ago participating in a discussion about the “emerging” internet where the main concern ran something like this, “How are they ever going to get enough content to keep those websites supplied with fresh material?”

How indeed?

In 2011, a better question might be, “How does one find enough hours in the day to read all the sites they are subscribed to or have bookmarked?” I figure a typical week lands me on about 1,000 different types of internet sites, and I don’t consider myself a heavy online user. Every single person reading this actually has a completely unique internet experience weekly.

Today, this blog enters year four. I have mixed feelings about that. I’m happy that this blog has become a voice albeit in a crowded room of voices all talking at once. I’m continually amazed — and somewhat humbled — that hundreds of you show up here every day, many just to see what’s been posted recently…

…There is much to be thankful for today. I actually oversee seven blogs now, of which the latest, Christianity 201, has arrived on the scene since we celebrated this time last year. It keeps me humbled. Very humbled. While some endeavors in the Christian life remind you how far you’ve come and what you have accomplished, C201 reminds me of how far I’ve got to go.  Jesus set the bar rather high.

A handful of you also read my book industry blog, Christian Book Shop Talk… Yesterday’s post had someone suggesting bookstores are going the way of record shops and video rental stores. Sigh. In that setting, I get to be a voice in an increasingly empty room…

Fourth Anniversary, February 24, 2012 – A rather light and concise post:

I decided to check the blog’s dashboard to see what other meaningful statistic I could parade out before you on this solemn occasion, and I found this:

Akismet has protected your site from 294,600 spam comments already.

I don’t know how that compares with the big boys, but I’m honored just to think that on 294,600 occasions Russian models and manufacturers of imitation European handbags found this particular blog so worth spamming. And while the rest of the blog stats may pale in comparison, just think how quickly they are about to rise now that we’ve used the phrase ‘Russian models.’

Fifth Anniversary, February 24, 2013This one is probably the most interesting and the only one I’ll actually link to here. I listed, in no particular order, ten things I’ve learned in the course of reading and writing Christian blogs. I might re-run this item later in the week, but in the meanwhile, here is the link. There was also a regular anniversary column the day before:

I am really happy that I launched Thinking Out Loud all those years ago. I have met some of the greatest people, been encouraged to read some of the most interesting books, have been kept abreast of some of the most bizarre religious news stories, and mostly, I have been forced to think about things that I might have never considered.

Sixth Anniversary, February 24, 2014 At this point the Wednesday Link List had become part of what is now called PARSE, the former Out of Ur blog.

I’m also thankful that this summer, Thinking Out Loud gained a greater platform itself by becoming a weekly part of life at Leadership Journal, a division of Christianity Today. I still believe it’s a greater thing to make the news (in a good way, not the weird stories) than it is to simply write the news. But I don’t mind playing scribe if it means I get to choose some things I think are worth noting as part of each week’s passing scene.

I am truly grateful for being able to be in online contact with an organization I have always respected and some people who I was already aware of. Thanks to Skye, Drew, Paul P. and Tim for your encouragement.

…which brings us to Seventh Anniversary, February 24, 2015 

 

7 is the perfect number

I thought of including a screenshot of the first column, but like the McDonald’s logo, not much has changed here visually. 3,094 published columns later, I’m still happy I started this little project.

As blog readership continues to wane as people have so many choices online, I’m pleased to report that Christianity 201 continues to attract new readers. If you ask me which blog I think about first thing in the morning, it really does vary. I enjoy doing both, and while I could have kept both types of articles on a single platform at Thinking Out Loud, I’m glad that separating them forces me to look at both types of writing on a daily basis.

If you read widely on the Christian internet, you know that the definition of evangelical is currently under the microscope, but I want to keep the writing at Thinking Out Loud somewhat mainstream evangelical as I believe that the voices from the margins tend to dominate. That said however, those voices have much to contribute.

There’s an adage that “even a stopped clock is wrong twice a day,” and I feel that instead of looking for the thing to criticize, we ought to look for the little gems — the nuggets of gold — where writers we might otherwise disagree with actually do get it right. Unfortunately, there isn’t a lot of grace online, even among Christians. This always saddens me.

I think that’s why doing the link list is so much fun. Again, I am forced to read the widest variety of Christian news and opinion pieces from a vast field of writers I might not otherwise consider. I may disagree totally with what they wrote Thursday and Saturday, but if they make some good points on Friday, I want to be able to celebrate that.

I’d like to think that I am capable of sitting down for coffee with any writer who has trusted in the atoning work of Christ on Calvary for salvation. I do know that some of them might not want to reciprocate that. That is unfortunate and I believe grieves the Holy Spirit.

In conclusion, I guess I’m just grateful for what this writing platform had done for my own Christian growth and understanding of the Church, the body of Christ. I’m also thankful for the books it compels me to read which enhance my understanding of God and His ways. And last, I’m thankful for you, the faithful readers whose page views and link clicks demonstrate a shared interest in these things.

Thinking Out Loud: Matters of Faith Because Faith Matters

Year 8 begins tomorrow with the Wednesday Link List

 

 

 

 

February 3, 2015

We Need a New Search Engine

Filed under: blogging, technology — Tags: , , , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 7:05 am

I don’t usually write about the tech side of my work, but I am increasingly convinced that we need someone out there to generate an entirely new search algorithm. I’m tired of being directed to news stories from 2002, sites that have been shut down or superseded, or an endless litany of sponsored sites trying to sell me things it thinks are related (so the search engine can report back that their ad had X number of views.)

But I’ve also done some additional thinking and have decided part of the problem is us. We want our search results now and we pay more and more for increased internet speed so we won’t be kept waiting.

Ask yourself, is it better to get 166,000 results in .03 seconds that are wrong or is it better to wait 30 seconds and get 8 results that are exactly what you’re looking for.

The bigger they are, the harder they fall.  I think it’s ironic that a company like Google has totally mastered the art of spying on us and knowing our every online move and all of our consumer preferences, but continues, day-after-day, to be a giant failure at the thing they set out to be in the first place: A search engine.

The future of the internet is indeed search. The company that builds a better mousetrap — and there most certainly will be one someday — will be heralded as the most significant enterprise to come along since the invention of computers and the internet themselves.

January 20, 2015

Today, You Get a Snow Day

Filed under: blogging, character — paulthinkingoutloud @ 8:18 am

I had a post all set to run here.

I spent an hour formatting it.

It was all cut-and-paste from a heated exchange I had online with someone. I figured after spending all that time writing all those words, it might be instructive for people to see what online intimidation looks like. To see someone’s true colors when they’re commenting on a forum that they can safely be sure no one sees.

But if I post it, I want it to be at the right time.

For that, you need the the extra perspective that comes with a few extra days.

And maybe a little bit of research.

And I don’t want to be guilty of the same attitude I see in him.

So enjoy your day off…there’s some good devotionals at Christianity 201.

January 1, 2015

LifeWay, the SBC, #the15, and God

#the15As I mentioned yesterday, the latest “tempest in a Tweet-pot” involves a group calling themselves #the15, who have expressed outrage on Twitter against the retail arm of LifeWay, a Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) publishing empire, because they sell so many things in their store of which #the15 does not approve, while at the same time claiming to operate by the highest standards. One blogger noted the company even sells a book by a self-professed mystic and Universalist.

In one corner, we have #the15. [Update] In an earlier version of this article, I mis-characterized them as ones whose Calvinism compels them to the most rigorous study of scripture which translates in the real world to acting as judge and jury on every published work, be it written by a blogger or national author. Like the Pharisees of old, they set the bar so high that very few obtain their seal of approval. Jesus said of such people,

They tie up heavy, cumbersome loads and put them on other people’s shoulders, but they themselves are not willing to lift a finger to move them. (Matthew 23:4)

Jesus replied, “And you experts in the law, woe to you, because you load people down with burdens they can hardly carry, and you yourselves will not lift one finger to help them.  (Luke 11:46)

[Update] After more careful study, I realized I had fallen under a misconception created by Ed Stetzer, and that the original #the15 were desiring to see the retail chain do a better job of being gatekeepers of what people see, than the usual Calvinist judge-and-jury situation which is more common. 

The problem of course, is what gets in and what’s excluded?

The debate has been going on for days now, with members of #the15 and those who align with them taking Route 15 highway signs as their Twitter profile picture.

Some of the books that LifeWay sells are easy targets, such as Jesus Calling by Sarah Young. None of us who work in and around this industry saw the controversy going in, but it’s now quite clear the title is theologically problematic. In the little independent store I oversee, the title will be taken off display tomorrow, though remaining copies will be sold as requested. I’ve emailed our staff over the holiday, and the consensus is that we’ve got to act responsibly in light of what is now so plain.

But there are others I feel are being unfairly criticized like Mark Batterson’s The Circle Maker. In the book, Batterson borrows a story from Jewish antiquity about Honi The Circle Maker and propelling that story into a challenge to all of us “draw circles around” the thing or group of things that constitute our greatest needs or righteous desires. Admittedly, it’s not the analogy I would have chosen. But rather than meet with Mark and get to know him and what drives him, the analogy was just a little too outside the scope of conservatives, even though Jesus’ own story of Lazarus and the Rich Man contains elements of the afterlife which may or not be the case. (Commentators always point this out, that Jesus wasn’t indicating that people in Heaven and Hell can communicate with each other.)

Furthermore, now that he is branded, these same conservatives would be unlikely to touch Batterson’s new work, The Grave Robber, which is an excellent study of the miracles in John’s gospel.  (Actually, of all the stuff in the market, I’m amazed the DC pastor would be lumped in with Sarah Young and that he’s become such a target. I would dare these critics to check out the newer book, published by David C. Cook.)

In another corner, are those who are quick to jump on #the15 bandwagon and side with them in this, but this is more a vote against LifeWay than a vote for condemning books.

Still another group consists of people wanting to be identified as Calvinists who do not support #the15.

And finally, in the last corner, we have LifeWay itself. I have written about them before, and don’t wish to burden regular readers here with repetition, so you can simply check out these posts:

For them, it’s all about money. And more money. Regular commenter here and fellow blogger Clark Bunch replied yesterday:

LifeWay exists for one purpose only and that’s to sell you stuff. Any volunteer VBS director that has ever ordered materials knows that as well as anybody. A box of 15 paper whatevers are easily divided into “selling units” that cost 3X what you could get them for at Dollar Tree.

Heaven is for Real is a book they sell at LifeWay Christian *gasp* Bookstore. LifeWay is not a group of seminary professors or a board of trustees. It’s Southern Baptist Walmart. Our church uses LifeWay Sunday School literature for all age groups. Thom Rainer writes good stuff. But LifeWay should NOT be and I don’t believe claims to be in a position to say “this is what you should believe and teach others.” If you are a Calvinist, non-Calvinist or don’t know the difference, you can walk into their store and buy what you want.

If that’s all it is, a Baptist WalMart, then so be it. Let them stock whatever people are curious to read and throw in The Catechism of the Catholic Church and The Book of Mormon while you’re at it.

In our store in 2012, for several months we had a section captioned, “Heretics Corner – Because every bookstore should have one.” It was my place to include people whose orthopraxy makes others uncomfortable, though we do not stock popular liberal theologians like Marcus Borg or Shelby Spong because they undermine the rest of what we carry. And that’s an important distinction. I wanted to allow other voices to be heard even if I disagree with some aspects: Matthew Paul Turner, Rachel Held Evans, Nadia Bolz-Webber and even Peter Rollins, despite the lack of a third name.

That’s the part of this story that’s so confusing. I find myself agreeing the book censors because I view LifeWay’s hypocrisy as the greater sin. But I don’t support a very narrow judgmental attitude where only a few books get in. I am always reminded of the Life cereal commercial where the kids say, “We’ll get Mikey to try it; he hates everything.”   I wish all the energy that goes into condemnation was being used to celebrate the good things that God is doing through a whole new generation of leaders and writers instead of mistrusting them. (Life Cereal, LifeWay…I’m sure there’s a punchline there just waiting…) And I’m sure God can use the little boy’s story in Heaven is for Real despite my misgivings, just as he used Left Behind to propel people into a study of the end times, even though it’s not my personal eschatological cup of tea.

So today’s discussion, for me at least, blurs the normal battle lines.

Either way, it’s the online story that ended 2014 and as of the morning of 2015 was still going strong on Twitter.

I’d write more, but I have to prepare my Rob Bell text for this afternoon’s Christianity 201 devotional. That’s right, Rob Bell. He wrote about The Good Samaritan and despite others’ misgivings about the direction he’s been heading, I couldn’t find anything wrong with it. Yes, in 2015 the lines are quite blurred.


Read more about one of #the15 protagonists here.

[Update] It gets worse: read more about him at this story.  This guy is a menace.

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