Thinking Out Loud

October 26, 2017

The Relevance of the Christian Narrative

Filed under: children, Christianity, prayer — Tags: , , , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 9:04 am

Yesterday I had a conversation with a woman who teaches a pre-school class on Sundays and wants the kids to learn The Lord’s Prayer, preferably as she learned it in the King James Version. While she’s not hardline KJV-only (unless she wasn’t playing her hand) she made the case that if kids can start learning a second language by age 3, they should have no problem with a variance on the English they already know.

I am in two minds on this. To her credit:

  • Bible memorization is at an all time low in many Evangelical churches. She’s committed to a worthy goal.
  • Call God “Thee” or referring to “Thou” is a reminder that God is transcendent or “wholly other.”
  • The KJV, with its unique voice, can be quite easily committed to memory.
  • Going off a single script means kids may choose a translation randomly; each learning something different.

And yet as I pondered this I had some other concerns:

  • The obvious one is that this is a prayer guide; Jesus clearly prefaced this with the caution to avoid repeating the same prayers over and over. (That does not preclude memorizing it however. It can be a helpful prayer in times of extreme stress when other words won’t come.)
  • The flowery and ornate language of the KJV simply isn’t how people communicate in today’s world; it detaches the words from the 21st Century.
  • The formality flies in the face of the warmth of the use of the opening Abba (Daddy) in the original language.

We wrestled with this for years. My own church was an early adopter of the seeker sensitive evangelism strategy at one of our three Sunday services. Debates usually went something like this, “Do we make the gospel relevant or communicate the relevance it already has?”

Of course, a generation raised on the KJV version of The Lord’s Prayer is not the generation that’s dropping, like flies, out of church. There are dones and nones in my cohort, but they are a distinct minority. While I still insist that it’s time to move on, that version served us well.

In the end, whether she uses the KJV, The Voice or anything in between; I hope she teaches the meaning behind the prayer; I hope the kids can take ownership of what it really means to pray for the advancement of God’s Kingdom agenda and the carrying out of his will; to petition him for daily provision; to confess the areas where we have missed the mark and seek his help in avoiding them in future. To affirm at the end that it’s all his.

But more important, I hope they don’t miss the intimacy and communion that Jesus intended for his disciples when he taught them what was then a very radical approach to prayer.

 

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October 24, 2017

When Nones and Dones are More Closely Connected

Our friends offered to pay for dinner — a very nice treat in a newly opened restaurant where we both knew the owner from a previous venture she had sold — so the server was standing next to them as the machine processed their credit card.

Looking at me she asked, “Do you remember me?”

I focused my look at her and said, “You do look familiar. Where do I know you from?”

“You were my teacher in seventh grade.”

Ah, that. It’s easy for me to forget the one year I taught part-time at the Christian school. It seems like a whole lifetime ago.

But as soon as she said her name, and mentioned her mother, the other couple, who now attend the same church as her mom, rather dominated the conversation. It was clear from a comment she made that this young woman would not be attending church with her mom anytime soon.

Is she a “none” or a “done?”

I’m not sure, but she is a person whose life I was invested in — however briefly — many years ago and now here she was, up close and personal, and I saw the whole loss of someone to the body of Christ more acutely.

See…my kids are still in church on Sunday morning, and at this point, I don’t expect that to shift. They’ve set the trajectory of their lives, and barring catastrophic change, I think they intend to keep God in it. In the course of my work however I meet people who tell me stories of kids who lost interest in God, prayer, Bible reading, etc., but there is a difference: I didn’t know those kids when they were young.

The shepherd in me just wanted to grab this girl, enfold my arms around her — please don’t stop reading the sentence at that point (!) — and guide her safely and gently into the fold…

…This is to all those reading who have a son or a daughter who has wandered: I get it. Really, I got it before but now I have another name and face to add to the list of the many I’ve been aware of in this situation. I know with all your heart you just want to lead them back to Jesus and say, ‘Okay you two; sit down and talk.’

That’s what He wants, too. 

Pray for her


Coincidentally, I wrote this on Sunday at C201:

If you have a son or a daughter; or a brother or sister; and they have wandered away from their faith because of sin, it’s really important to encourage them to continue to keep the dialog going between themselves and God, even in times of brokenness.

In that spirit, we want to be a church that welcomes people — all people — even if that means people caught in addictions, same-sex couples, people covered head to toe with tattoos.

September 30, 2017

Empty Nest Syndrome: Be Careful What You Wish For

Filed under: children, Christianity, family, parenting — Tags: , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 7:59 am

A full year in and I can tell you that Empty Nest Syndrome isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. We’re knocking around in this great big house and I’m realizing that those empty rooms are not going to be occupied anytime soon, with the possible exception of a Christmas visit, and for one of our two boys, even that is partly in doubt.

Everyone kept saying, “Oh! You’re going to have the house to yourself!” I’m not sure what they’re thinking we would do by ourselves that we hadn’t already figured out a way to do when the kids were here. Well maybe this one: Save on groceries.

But we had experienced an empty nest before. My wife did a great job of fostering independence in our children, and a Christian summer camp played a big part in that (at first weeks, then a month on junior staff, and then full summers.) Of course, so did being away at college. In a sense, our birds vacated the nest a long, long time ago.

That doesn’t make it any easier. It’s very empty now, if you buy the logic that an empty glass can suddenly become more empty; there are few scenarios that would render those bedrooms reoccupied.

The older is an hour away. The youngest is two hours away. I miss the activity. I miss the conversations. I miss the quality of togetherness that you can’t get from online correspondence. Maybe I just need a hug.

Or maybe this is part of a natural cycle and just when things are really quiet, suddenly the kids reappear with grandchildren in tow.

So far there’s been no sign of that.

So the nest is empty.

And please don’t add a comment containing the word “downsizing.” I’m not quite ready for that.

Photos: Ruth Wilkinson

November 21, 2016

Make Bethlehem Great Again

make-bethlehem-great-again

Every year my wife performs at a really cool thing they do in our part of the world where people take a 25-minute walk through the various stations or aspects of the Christmas story called The Bethlehem Walk. After entering, groups wait in a waiting area until their number is called and while there, they listen to live music with choirs, soloists and contemporary bands performing Christmas-themed music.

Lately I’ve been joining her on some of these excursions, and this year I played two songs, and backed her on two; she did the rest herself. While doing a very hurried sound check, I asked the people in the waiting room how many were there for the first time, and then said, “We’re gonna make Bethlehem great again.”

People liked that line. After that, my contribution to the evening went downhill.

But she did well. Here’s a sample of her songwriting.

 

July 31, 2016

Growing Up In a Social Media World

Quantifying your Popularity

We spent several hours in the car yesterday, and a Saturday morning program on CBC Radio totally rocked our world with this idea, for which the quote below is approximately how it was worded:

For the first time in history a child or teen can quantify their popularity.

This can’t be healthy. What does a parent say? It’s hard to argue with a number. It’s difficult not to compare numbers. Does this become the child’s measure of self-worth?

 

 

May 15, 2016

Open But Cautious

There’s a phrase that I think I first heard used in some Christian and Missionary Alliance settings about the gifts of The Holy Spirit: “Open, but cautious.” Simply put, it represents people who are open to Spirit-led expressions of faith and doctrine but with the caveat of keeping their eyes wide open (or perhaps having one eye on scripture).

While my wife and I don’t attend weekly worship in a Charismatic or Assemblies of God-type of setting, I would say I am very much onside doctrinally inasmuch as I (a) am not a cessationist1, (b) believe in the limitless power of God to do the things people count as impossible2, and (c) believe that the things of God should touch our emotions as well as our minds3.

That said, when info about this camp came across my Twitter feed last night, I found it disturbing:

Signs and Wonders Camp

As regular readers know, I’m a huge believer in summer camp ministry. Find a camp, make sure it’s affiliated with Christian Camping International or Christian Camp & Conference Association or your denomination; and then send the kids as soon as they’re able to be away from home for a few nights. (I even wrote recently about some long-term benefits to be gained, apart from the spiritual immersion value.)

I also recognize that in Children’s Ministry (or KidMin as its now often referred to) there needs to be a point in the curriculum where you emphasize the distinctives of your doctrine, and if your kids are being raised in a Charismatic church, you want them to both have an education and have experiences with different facets of that environment.

So, I like Pentecostals, like camping and like KidMin. So what’s the problem?

Open, but cautious.

I’m not sure; I would just rather it was an adventure camp, or a horsemanship camp; or if you must title it after the teaching theme, a discipleship camp or a Christian leadership camp. I’d rather pin the emphasis on the giver rather than the gifts. I would prefer to focus on the normal Christian life rather than the occasions where God breaks in with the supernatural. I also don’t want to raise expectations for kids about the whens, wheres, whys and hows of sign gifts that could lead to disappointment.

Maybe I’m just a lousy Charismatic. Maybe I’m not attuned enough to the language and culture of some of today’s popular doctrinal streams.

Hopefully I am a realistic Christian who still believes in the ability of God to do the impossible; but with the awareness that the thing that makes the exceptional the exceptional is that it doesn’t happen every day.  So parents, would you send your kid to Signs and Wonders camp?

Signs and Wonders IHOP


1 I have actually never owned a Cessna, nor do I have a pilot’s license. More seriously, I do not see the end of the apostolic age or the completion of the canon of scripture signalling the end of certain gifts.
2 This said, my faith can be as weak as the next guy’s in certain situations, not to mention a trademark Canadian pessimism that at times permeates my prayer life.
3 The things of God should touch our hearts and our emotions, but often they don’t. Spiritual complacency and apathy are always crouching at the door, and when a preacher tries to rev up an audience into emotional frenzy, I am often the first to want to shut down completely.

April 26, 2016

Camp Memories (2)

“This is Natalie. She has no English. She will learn, yes?”

With that, her mom left the registration desk and drove off leaving her little 11-year old girl in our care for six nights.

But we didn’t know the registration story until three days in.

Natalie (not her real name, at least I don’t think so) turned out to be a handful, but not in any hyperactive or disciplinary sense. Simply put the girl appeared to be a young nymphomaniac. She was very affectionate to the male sports instructors. She was very touchy-feely with some of the male counselors. She seemed to have no limits in rubbing against male senior staff members like a cat.

Not having the vocabulary to verbalize even the most basic things, she communicated physically. In ways that were inappropriate. In ways that suggested there was lot more to this than just a language barrier.

Today, we have the internet. Simple searches can reveal patterns. We know that sometimes a child that young has probably had their sexuality button switched on by abuse of some type. We talk about those things more freely. The internet, in many respects, makes everyone an expert on subjects that formerly have been left to the professionals.

middle school youth ministryBut flashback a few decades and those supports didn’t exist. In fact, it took several days for our assortment of instructors, counselors, kitchen crew, maintenance workers, and senior staff to combine their stories to form an overall picture of what had been happening at camp. People started comparing notes, and the anecdotal base grew rapidly.

Fortunately, this was an era where the staff, though very large, had a strong sense of morality and ethical integrity. These days, it seems that everywhere you turn there are stories of people in children’s ministry or youth ministry landing on the front pages of local newspapers. It would not surprise me to hear of camps hosting children like Natalie with totally different outcomes.

I got invited to the senior staff meeting. I mostly sat in silence except to say, “I’m not sure how she knows the difference between a 16-year old staff member and a 16-year old camper.” I went on to say, “I think we’re okay with our staff because they’ve been screened carefully, but don’t know that a camper might not take advantage of her.”

The meeting continued and eventually it was decided to quietly communicate the situation to the entire staff base — some 150 people — to make sure staff kept their eyes open; to make sure that any and all contact with male campers was being supervised.

Another half week later, Natalie got picked up and the staff breathed a collective sigh of relief as her mom’s car drove out the front entrance. In the ten minutes that followed I heard at least three people simply say, “It’s okay; she’s gone.”

I know this camp, and I know that in the intervening years there were probably a few more Natalies. I would wager to say that the number of kids who have been in abusive situations, even in seemingly-respectable upper-middle class homes is probably slowly increasing, and the number of adolescent and pre-adolescent kids acting out their sexuality is growing accordingly. But liability concerns dictate that camps, Christian and otherwise, make sure that staff at all levels are trained in negotiating various complex situations. For the most part, camp staff are doing the right thing.

For our camp staff, what was the issue here? Was the problem Natalie, or Natalie’s mom; the way she simply dropped her off and made a hasty exit off the property?

I went about 20 years and never thought about Natalie. But recently, as online reports about crises in youth ministry and children’s ministry seem to get darker and more frequent, she came back to mind, as my personal poster child for post-abuse. Sure, maybe some of it was hormonal, and I know that there are occurrences of kids acting out in this way simply because that’s how they’re wired, and I know that the lack of verbal communication messed up the dynamics that week; but despite that, I remain convinced that something in her past had triggered her precocious behavior, though our summer staff that year never knew what it was, and never will…


…On Saturday morning the kids leave and just hours later, you’re hosting a new batch of children, and dealing with different issues…

April 9, 2016

Podcasts and the Migration from Literacy to Orality

Filed under: children, Christianity, parenting — Tags: , , , , , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 7:03 am

Keyboard from steampunkworship dot com

There was a pastor whose blog I enjoyed reading about ten years ago. About five years ago, I think his keyboard stopped working. The blog still exists, but only to post video clips from his sermons. Other bloggers are using their blog solely to post their weekly podcast.

Inherent in podcasting is the right to ramble. Listeners get the nuance that’s missing in a traditional blog post (and this is one of the great liabilities of email) but they have to take the time to wade through the host(s) stream-of-consciousness narration. There’s no concision, a quality that decades ago Noam Chomsky had predicted would be, moving forward, a key asset in communications. A great concept that’s probably a seven or eight paragraph blog post instead becomes a 53 minute podcast.  Andy Warhol’s comment that “In the future everyone will be famous for 15 minutes;” might be modified to, “In the 21st century, everyone will have their own talk show or be the host of their own radio station.” 

Nobody writes, ergo nobody reads.

Our discretionary time is spent on our screens: The one we carry in our pocket; the tablet, laptop or PC; and the 42-inch one in the living room. Our discretionary income goes to the various service providers who make these devices possible. 

Books? The problem isn’t eBooks, the problem is that nobody is reading. Especially men. The time has been used up on screens. The money has been spent on screens.

Add to this the damage being done to the written word due to:

  • texting
  • spell check
  • predictive text
  • visual media: Instagram, Tumblr, YouTube, etc.
  • diminished attention spans
  • screen fatigue
  • reduced educational standards

A picture may be worth a thousand words, but if that’s true, a picture also replaces a thousand world.

Facebook, 2006: We just picked up a great deal on a used car. 5-years old. 4-door sedan. Only 40,000 miles. The body is in great shape, and we love the aquamarine color. Powerful 6-cyl engine. And we literally got it for a song.

Facebook, 2016: Look what we got! [posts picture]

English is eroding, and I suspect other languages in technology-infused countries in western Europe, Asia and South America aren’t faring much better.

Dads: When is the last time your kids saw you sitting in a chair reading a book?

I want to develop several aspects of this theme in some different ways over the next few days, we’ll consider this a brief introduction. Feel free to leave comments here or via email if you want to weigh in on this one.

 

April 3, 2016

We Were Created to Create

Created to Create Spring 2016

Last night I went to see a kids musical production being performed in a church that was almost within walking distance of my house. We don’t have children in that age cohort anymore, but I wanted to be supportive and the proximity of last night’s show — the first of three performances — left me without excuse.

If you had come with me you might have seen a kids play with a couple of missed lines, several audio problems, and some awkward scene changes, but I saw so much more; so very much more.

created to create logoCreated to Create is an initiative of our local chapter of Youth Unlimited, formerly known as Youth for Christ. Their focus with this creative arts program is inclusive of kids normally younger than you find at any given city’s branch of YU. This was, I believe the third such show they’ve done, and the second one I’ve seen.

What struck me last night was the producer/director’s commitment to excellence. The whole program was, I’m told, something that was conceived in her mind over a year earlier and incorporated content from three different primary sources, plus some original dialog and the addition of humorous video inserts throughout the show.

One of those video clips was filmed in Lake Ontario; so it had to be shot at the beginning of rehearsals in September, with great faith that the casting would stay the same over six months later in April.  Some actors played multiple roles — no small challenge — while others took on their parts rather convincingly, given that for some of them this was their first time in a dramatic production of this magnitude.

The thing that struck me the most was how, by the third and final act, these kids very much had their audience. The inside of the great fish was convincing, even if executed solely with Styrofoam pool noodles and black light. If you had been a neighbor or a relative of one of the kids and didn’t really know the Biblical story, there was enough of a message here that you got both narrative and practical application. In the finale, when ‘Old’ Jonah and ‘Flashback’ Jonah joined hands at the end to take their bow, I think the audience was fully aware of the thought and work that had gone into the production and completely convinced that the 90 minutes had been well worth their time.

We serve a God who inspires us with creativity. True, it hits some people more than others, but I believe we all have a measure of imagination inside us that can be used to inspire others.


Bonus item: Though not recorded at the show, here’s a song it contained, from the Newsboys: In the Belly of the Whale.

March 6, 2016

Preparing Your 10-Year-Old for College

Filed under: children, Christianity, education, parenting — Tags: , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 2:41 pm

Christian Camp

Christian CampingToday we were treated to lunch, and the subject of college and university experiences (both our own, and that of our children) was the main topic for about 15 minutes. One thing we agreed on strongly was this: The kids who have a summer camp background have a huge advantage over the kids who don’t have camping experience.

They are better equipped to deal with independent living (in the sense of living away from home) but also in the sense of communal living (in the sense of being in a dorm or student apartment). They also have a confidence that comes from wider and deeper living experiences.

Parents… send your kids to camp! My advice: Make it a Christian camp. In the U.S. click the link in the graphic at right for the CCI (Christian Camping International) directory to find a camp near — but not too near — you. (Just enter your zip code in the field at the right of their page; a similar site exists for Canada.) Will your child get homesick? Ask yourself which is easier to deal with: A homesick 10-year old or an 18-year old homesick college freshman? Choose the former to avoid the later.

If your kids are Jr. High or High School youth, start right away with a weekend spring camp experience. Contact a local church that has a vibrant youth ministry, or a branch of a parachurch organization like Youth For Christ or Young Life.

Bonus: It is said you can accomplish as much or more in the spiritual life of a child with one week of camp than with 52 weeks of Sunday School.

summer camp campfire

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