Thinking Out Loud

November 21, 2015

For The University Student Looking for a Window into the Next Chapter

Filed under: education — Tags: , , , , , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 7:32 am

Today I met with a woman who told me that her son started sending out resumés when he was only in his first year of a four year university program. He’s had offers already and still has years to go before graduation.

Later in the day I met with another woman whose son is on the precipice of college and doesn’t have a plan. He’s definitely university material, but there isn’t a clear vision of which school to pursue and what program to take.

In the latter case, we tend to expect that things will crystallize, at the very latest, by the end of the college experience. They may jump in with shaky feet, but they will tweak their course load as they experience academic disciplines that are foreign to the high school experience, and eventually come up with something that catapults them into the working world, or more specialized graduate school education.

But that scene doesn’t play out for everyone. What if you’re approaching the end of four years without a fixed plan? And what if you’re doing that surrounded by the type of people who were getting career offers while still an undergrad?

I follow the blog of such a university student. There’s a reference here to opportunity which may play a part. Or at least perceived opportunity. Some times it does seem as if all the breaks go to others.

James 4 - Do not say tomorrowHowever, I also recognize that there are times when the people who seem to have life all planned out need to remember to be humble, and perhaps write their plans in pencil, not in ink. (See the Bible passage at right.)

Anyway, here’s what the student in question wrote:

So, today I’ve been feeling pretty useless.

As my university life approaches its end, I’ve been starting to think about what I’m going to do afterwards and I’ve got nothing. It seems that everyone in my year is smarter than I am and more creative. Many of them are Type-A personalities that have a billion projects going on at once, many of them are far more traveled than I am, and on top of that most of them are prettier then me.

I was feeling this way, but then I started wondering about this idea of ‘useless’. Can a person be useless? I definitely feel like I’m falling behind everyone I know, but at the same time I can think of skills that I have and abilities that I can offer if given the chance. Or maybe I have to make those chances myself but I have no idea how to do that and I find the prospect overwhelming so let’s just forget that for now.

I find it helpful in these moments of self-doubt to know exactly what I’m doubting. It’s easy to say ‘I’m useless’ but if that’s not really how I feel then I’m not going to get anywhere. My problem isn’t feeling useless, it’s feeling unused. It’s a fear over lack of opportunity and an insecurity over a perceived lack of affirmation. I don’t feel like I can’t do anything, I feel like I haven’t done anything.

No one is useless. I don’t believe that anyone is made without something to offer. Sometimes we just don’t get the right chances, at least in a given moment. I’m sure there are things I could do and do amazingly but nobody’s asking for them right now.

If there’s anyone reading this who feels the same way, I hope that you stay strong and get your chance to shine. Correction: You already shine, I just hope that somebody notices.

If you want to leave a comment today — especially some encouragement — you can do so at the original blog post.

September 1, 2015

Homeschool Parents’ Paranoia Extends To Sunday School Teachers at Their Own Church

This archive article is the second of two in a mini-series on the homeschool movement which I began yesterday. In this case, this will actually be the third time around for this one, but the other two were over five years ago…

homeschool fishFor seven months, Mrs. W. and I (but mostly her) were forced to become homeschoolers during a period when Kid One wasn’t quite fitting into the public school near our home. Despite the short period in which we did this, we became immediate friends with other people in the homeschool movement, and I would say we can somewhat understand their motivation.

So if you’re a homeschooler, let me say that I get it when it comes to not wanting your children to be under the influence — for six hours each weekday — of people who do not share your core values, some of whom may be 180-degrees opposed to your core values.

What I don’t get is not wanting to put your kids in the Sunday School program — some now call it small groups for kids program — of your home church. Not wanting anyone else to teach your kids anything. If your home church is that lax when it comes to recruiting teachers, or if you are that concerned that any given teacher in your church’s children’s program could espouse some really wacky doctrine — or worse, admit that he or she watches sports on Sundays — then maybe you should find another church.

To everyone else, if these comments seem a bit extreme, they’re not. Apparently, in one particular church that was under discussion this week, the homeschool crowd — which makes up the vast majority of those in the ‘people with kids’ category at this church — has decided that absolutely nobody else is going to teach their kids anything about the Bible. (Those same parents say they’re too tired from teaching their children all week to take on a weekend Sunday School assignment.)

In other words, it’s not just people in the public school system who aren’t good enough to teach their kids, it’s also people in their home church.

I am so glad that my parents didn’t feel that way. I think of the people who taught me on Sunday mornings, the people who ran the Christian Service Brigade program for boys on Wednesday nights, the people who were my counselors and instructors at Church camp, and I say, “Thank you; thank you; thank you! Thank you for sharing your Christian life and testimony and love of God’s word with me when I was 5, 8, 11, 14 and all the ages in between. And thank you to my parents for not being so protective as to consider that perhaps these people weren’t good enough to share in the task of my Christian education.”

I also think of Donna B., the woman who taught Kid One at the Baptist Church that became our spiritual refuge for a couple of years. He really flourished spiritually under her teaching, reinforced of course, by what we were doing in the home.

What message does it send to kids when the only people who have it right when it comes to rightly dividing the Word of truth are Mommy and Daddy? And what about the maturity that comes with being introduced to people who, while they share the 7-12 core doctrines that define a Christ-follower, may have different opinions about matters which everyone considers peripheral?

Where does all this end? Are these kids allowed to visit in others’ homes? When they go to the grocery store, are they allowed to converse with the woman at the checkout? My goodness; are they even allowed to answer the phone?

I’m sorry, homeschoolers, but when you start trashing the Sunday School teachers at your own church, you’ve just crossed the line from being passionate, conservative Christian parents to being downright cultish.

…There’s more to the story (two weeks later) — In an off-the-blog discussion I realized there is a critical factor missing in the original article that couldn’t be shared at the time. Because homeschool families made up the majority of this church congregation, it kind of stopped the Sunday School in its tracks. But more important, it ended up preventing any kind of mid-week program that would have been an outreach to neighborhood families that the pastor regarded as a vital element of the church’s ministry; and ultimately the church simply never grew.

However, when all attempts at outreach were ended — the pastor was forced to give up that agenda — one of the core family parents said, and this is a direct quote, “Isn’t it great; all the new people have left. That’s right, the new families that had wandered in got that spidey sense that told them they just didn’t belong and they all left that church, and the remaining families were glad that they left. Talk about backward priorities.

Update (2015) — The pastor of that church ended up leaving the denomination and is now enjoying a ministry on another part of the continent. I do seriously question any Christian denomination allowing all this to happen without severing ties with the church in question. In that particular town, that particular denomination has a reputation and it’s not a particularly good one. If I were part of a district or national office staff, I would be quite concerned.

August 31, 2015

Homeschooling: Protecting Your Kids from The World and Other Christians

We have had contact with a number of people over the years who did homeschooling, including a former employee at the local Christian bookstore who, with her husband, became close friends. Heck, we even jumped into the homeschool pond ourselves once, for almost a full school year. But you do meet some interesting people in the homeschool movement. Recently, while looking up some past blog articles, I came upon two which I had completely forgotten, which will run here today and tomorrow; I apparently spelled homeschool differently back then…

My job necessitates a certain amount of interaction with what I would call the widest possible variety of people who consider themselves Christ followers. If someone is new to the community, I try to find them a place to connect with like-minded believers. This can take a great many forms, and I always try to leave the person with a choice of two or three possibilities, so it doesn’t look like I’m promoting one group over another.

I’m actually quite good at this. I say that honestly because I’ve identified about 35 worshiping ‘bodies’ in the part of the world where I live, and I’ve attended “main event” services at 31 out of the 35. So I think I know where a person is going to fit in.

The family that came in today would prove to be more difficult. After making it instantly clear that they were not interested in your standard, brick-and-mortar church, I quickly adjusted my pitch and told them about a couple of home church groups I’m familiar with; groups I am allowed to refer new people to.

This wasn’t good enough. Apparently, these people receive their teaching straight from the Word of God, and they receive their fellowship from each other. (My goodness, Mrs. W. and I would say it’s challenging enough when couples work together; where does this leave you if your total fellowship is your spouse and kids?)

The problem is that nobody is good enough. This man told me that he finds many church people to be lacking in personal holiness. No argument there. I again adjusted my pitch, to try to see where I could encourage this guy that there indeed ARE people out there who are striving to live and walk in holiness; keeping in mind that God’s demands for each of us may be different.

But once started on this theme, there was no stopping him. Like the proverbial freight train heading downhill, he attacked people who celebrate Christmas, people who don’t follow the ten commandments, and on it went. I tried to interject Paul’s bit from Romans about how one man says its okay to eat meat offered to idols while another chooses not to. Didn’t help. He then attacked me for having absolutely no fruit in my life. (He had known me for about five minutes at that point.) To wrap things up, he informed me Saturday is the only sabbath we should observe.

Well, actually, just before he got to that point, there was this big giant sign that lit up in my brain that said “CULT.” Instead of finding the perfect environment in which to advance Biblical faith, he had basically founded his own false cult, even if it did resemble a few others you may be familiar with.

And to think, all I was trying to do was welcome this guy to our town and make him feel that there were potential points of connection if he and his family so chose.

scared-kids-1Just before he finished boiling over, and while the neon “CULT” light was flickering on, he said to me, “Look, you’re scaring my kids; they had to go back to the van.”

Of all the parts of this conversation, “You’re scaring my kids;” was probably the one I’ll remember a week from now. It occurred to me later that this was a school day, and that these people were obviously home schoolers. Absolute, complete, total isolation of their kids from the world, and also, apparently from other segments of the Christian world.

Had these kids never been exposed to any real “discussion” of Christian doctrine? Had they never heard an opposing point of view? I was actually enjoying the discussion. I felt that the Lord brought to mind some key scriptures that spoke to some things he was saying, and at least three times his wife silenced him so I could get them out. This is the stuff that good small group meetings are made of; and had you been there, you probably would have been itching to add something to the thoughts that were already on the table.

scared_kids-2I was calm, I was relaxed, I was peaceful, I was asking God all the while to give me some love for this guy, and … also … I was scaring his kids.

If you read my post a few days ago about the worship gala we attended, you’ll see a comment posted followed by a very long defense of my desire to ‘critique’ the event. It seems though, that in some parts of the Christian world, there is a strong desire to shut down debate, discussion and differences of opinion.

These kids have probably grown up thinking that their dad is an ‘expert’ on all things spiritual, and have probably never heard anyone challenge his opinion. Well, today they did. Part of the “working out” of our salvation is “working out” our doctrines. As iron sharpens iron, in the course of give and take, we share our various “God pictures” and so better understand the ways of God.

I have personal doctrines that are written in pen and ink, but I have other beliefs that are written in pencil. I’m still working them out. Someday, perhaps soon, perhaps later, this couples’ kids are going to have to work out their beliefs; because each of us stands before God individually. My own kids have learned that there are a variety of doctrinal belief out there; they have the freedom to challenge my take on certain scriptures; they have visited a wide variety of church situations, have sat under DVD and audio teaching of the widest variety of speakers; they are in every respect shaping their personal spiritual future before the eyes of a loving God.

By the way, I’m not trying to make a stereotypical example of home schoolers. Please don’t write; it will just force me to post back something lame like, “Some of my best friends are home schoolers.” Instead, I’m just noting that these people reinforce that very stereotype. The home schooled kids I know are part of church kids or youth groups. They attend regional conferences or rallies or festivals. Some of them are also part of house churches, but they are house churches that are attended by several families. Not just their own family.

If you want to separate yourself entirely from the world; if you want to think that nobody can match you for personal holiness; if you want to ignore the verse in Hebrews about fellowship; that’s fine. Just don’t put your kids in that same spiritual bubble and think there won’t be a price to pay down the road.

It’s a real pity when a healthy exchange about doctrine frightens kids.

February 16, 2015

Design Team on the Ground in Haiti

Filed under: education, missions, parenting — Tags: , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 6:33 am
Image captured on Flight Aware mid-trip. I don't consider this helicopter parenting, it's more like satellite parenting.

Image captured on Flight Aware mid-trip. I don’t consider this helicopter parenting, it’s more like satellite parenting.

Though he’s been away from home off and on for many years, this is the first time we’ve ever been cut off from our son electronically.  It’s going to be a long week as we wait for the first communication when they return to the US and then Canada, though I recognize that for some of you reading this, Haiti is just a stone’s throw away compared to places in the world where you have close relatives.  If you’re coming in part-way through this story, I wrote about his 4-month internship with the organization at this blog post.

emi logo brickThe more I hear about Engineering Ministries International, the more impressed I am with this organization and the unique role they fill in world missions.  I’m so excited to be able to passionately tell their story.  At 9 minutes, this video is a little long, and requires you to read the captions, but it defines exactly what a design team does in the various countries in which EMI serves. They’re not doing the actual building, which means they’re not taking away work from locals.  They’re also living within the realities of the budgets the host organization is working with, and the construction materials that are available. In Haiti, the latter is a daunting prospect.

The director of the team he’s serving on wrote about all the things they’re taking with them.

We get 1 suitcase each. Between our 4 and the 2 belonging to the interns also leaving from Calgary, we’ve managed to pack:

  • water test kits, a pocket penetrometer, a TDS meter, measuring tapes, a portable printer and all sorts of other engineering-type stuff
  • first aid kits, headlamps, plug adapters
  • craft items, both from our own stash and donated by our church to do a craft day with the kids there
  • several quilts sewn by kids from our church
  • pillow case dresses and shorts sewn by a friend with a heart for orphans
  • hats knitted by [our daughter]
  • t-shirts from a friend of eMi
  • some hand-me-down clothes
  • small toys and school supplies from [our daughter’s] friends
  • some hot chocolate (a special request!) & peanut butter
  • toothbrushes donated by a friend and toothpaste donated by our dentist
  • donated soccer balls and a pump
  • more school supplies [donated]
  • oh – and our own clothes and toiletries and such

There’s a ceremony that engineers go through — family are not allowed to attend — in which they are given a ring. My son wrote about that recently:

As my graduation neared, I was given a steel ring to wear as a tangible reminder to double-check my work because, in engineering, I will often have people depending on it for their safety, but I’m finding that I don’t need the reminder. The spectacle and gravity of the work, and the humbling and uplifting character of the cause, are enough.

Anyway, this has been somewhat random, but I hope you’ll remember the team in prayer this week, and if you have engineers, surveyors, architects or people with similar gifts in your faith community; EMI is always looking for people to go on short-term trips.  If you know a student who is studying any of those fields, there is opportunity to do a internship — the other intern on his team is doing a co-op term — for professional credit. You can link to the various websites at these links:



November 22, 2014

Our Son, The Actor

Filed under: education — paulthinkingoutloud @ 6:25 pm

harvey_medThis year our youngest son switched programs at the university and is now registered as a Theater major. As if to confirm this choice, he auditioned and got the role of Elwood P. Dowd in a student production of Harvey. I’d long heard of this play but had never seen it, and last night we got to see the show and was thoroughly entertained. The school has a very professional and renown theater program and lived up to its reputation. Elwood is listed first in the cast list, and I suppose it was a central role, but this was very much an ensemble effort.

But I was completely emotionally unprepared for what happened when the cast came out to take their bows. They loved him.

I can’t say the emotion I felt at that moment was pride, it was more of just a general emotional overload. I felt so happy for him, especially after having had a couple of really rough years at the school.

And I don’t want to spoil that moment with words and over-analysis right now.

August 5, 2014

Canada’s Evangelical News Story of the Year

Tyndale College and Seminary - Arial View

Morrow_Park_Tyndale_Bayview_CampusIt’s only August, but I’m prepared to call it; I’m just not able to better report it. The short version is that Canada’s Tyndale University College and Seminary announced in the spring of 2011 its intention to “buy the house next door;” that is, to purchase the former Sisters of St. Joseph Convent, a rather imposing structure, visible from Toronto’s Bayview Avenue that more than a few visitors thought was the Christian university for many years.  The acquisition has been a slow and steady process dating back to 2007 and a $58M (CDN) fundraising program.

In fact this has been so long in quietly approaching fruition — students will fully occupy the facility in the second semester of the 2014-15 year — that leads me to make the “not able to report it” clause in my introduction. Basically, I think this story is the hottest news on the rack as far as Evangelicalism in Canada is concerned, but the institution has not exactly been blowing its own horn about it.

Tyndale’s existing property has been sold to a housing developer. This is the fourth significant location for the school which began life in 1894 first in a church and at 110 College Street as Toronto Bible Training School, and then in downtown Toronto at 16 Spadina Avenue as Toronto Bible College (TBC). The move to its current location, 25 Ballyconnor at the very north perimeter of what is now Metro Toronto in 1976 occured eight years after a merger with the London College of Bible and Missions (LCBM) and a change of name to Ontario Bible College. The seminary was later added and a new name incorporates both the undergraduate and graduate programs.

This report is rather sparse because, at least in this writer’s opinion, the new Tyndale campus is probably a story not known to the broadest percentage of the Christian community in Canada’s largest city; the biggest religious news story in town that nobody knows about. Capital projects tend to play to the donor base, who are no doubt better informed, and so far, this has been a very large capital project.  A blog documents the month-to-month progress and contains hints of what the future campus looks like, including state-of-the-art IT equipment in the classrooms and a much improved library.

The chapel, pictured below, will be quite a change from the informality of the present one, though I expect the acoustics are rather amazing. Otherwise, Tyndale seems to be saving all the photo ops for when the facility officially starts receiving the bulk of its student body, expected to be the first week in January, 2015.

Tyndale College - Bayview Campus - Chapel

April 6, 2014

Liberty University & Benny Hinn: Too Late for April Fool’s

Filed under: education, Uncategorized — Tags: , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 8:26 am

Benny Hinn - Liberty UniversityReleased on April 1st, this story would have made more sense. Thanks to the blog Pajama Pages for alerting us to a story that through a series of subsidiary spinoffs, Benny Hinn is offering Liberty University Biblical studies certificates; hence the picture at left. Yikes. 

If you want to read Liberty’s distancing themselves from this oddity, click here. If you want to read and listen to Benny’s pitch for the diploma, click here. If you already hold one of the certificates, and feel this renders it just a little closer to worthless, click here. P-pages promises a further story in a few days. 

Is it me, or does Benny look a little weary of all this?

April 4, 2014

Bad Ad Placement

Filed under: education, ethics, media — Tags: , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 8:00 am

So last night I was relaxing watching The Big Bang Theory on CBS, and the local station ran a teaser for a story about a 49-year old teacher charged with kissing a 13-year old student. WIVB-TV reported:

WILLIAMSVILLE, N.Y. (WIVB) – A Casey Middle School art teacher is resigning after admitting she kissed a 13-year-old boy on the mouth.

Donna Sleap pleaded guilty in court on Thursday to endangering the welfare of a child. Staff members alerted administrators about her behavior in October, and the art teacher was placed on leave in December. The incident was reportedly caught on video…

[…continue reading here…]

Then, Big Bang Theory returned, but CBS begins each segment by plastering animated advertising over the bottom one-third of the screen. This one was for a new comedy series beginning April 24th titled — wait for it — Bad Teacher.

[series] Centers on a sexy, foul-mouthed divorcée who becomes a teacher to find her next husband.

[first episode] Former Trophy Wife Meredith Davis seeks a return to a life of leisure and luxury by posing as a teacher at an upscale Elementary school to meet the students’ rich, single fathers and land one to marry.

[…continue reading at IMDb…]

I guess I’m supposed to be outraged by the former, and then tune in to be entertained by the latter.

Still, the timing was strange. The local station had no idea what the network was going to do, and of course the network could care less what the affiliates are running.

…speaking of which; if there’s an ad currently running on this article, it’s not from us!




January 23, 2014

Home-Schooled Kids Speak Out

Filed under: education, parenting — Tags: , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 8:36 am

A few days ago, the cable network Al Jazeera America reactivated a dormant Twitter hashtag #homeschoolkid with this question: Should home schooling be regulated more?  There was also a link to this article on their website. Responses have been pouring in, and I thought we’d share a sample here for those of you who don’t do the Twitter thing.

  • As someone who was (very successfully) homeschooled for 12 years, yes.
  • Homeschooling was one of the best choices my parents made for me as a child. I was given freedom to learn – & I went for it.
  • H-schooling saved me from gender stereotypes (girls=bad at math). I delved into my interests w/o being pushed down by society.
  • We w/subjected to state tests yearly, and my family always ranked higher than school district.Here’s to not following curriculum.
  • Homeschooling allowed me lots of of time at home alone reading encyclopedias

Somewhere along the thread however, you notice a shift in response that is perhaps less Al Jazeera’s regular audience, and more from people in the Christian stream of home-schooling:

  • Pro – I became a great speller Con – I grew up believing Robert E Lee was just doing his Christian duty.
  • Maybe the bigger issue with homeschooling is this ‘divine right of parents’ thing that seems to have no boundaries.
  • I think homeschooling can be done well, but someone has to look out for the kids who aren’t getting the education they need.
  • Homeschooling should not be an altar raised for the gods of parental rights on which children’s rights are daily sacrificed.
  • I’m disgusted that my parents belonged to HSLDA, a group that called a man who forced his kids to live in cages a “hero”
  • I was raised with ACE, a curriculum that until recently, claimed that the Loch Ness Monster actually existed. Seriously.
  • As a #homeschoolkid I knew a few of homeschoolers who stopped school after middle school. The homeschool community did nothing about it.
  • My white mother and black father taught me history from Bob Jones [curriculum]
  • It’s always sad to hear people say my time as a #homeschoolkid “sounds like a lot of fun!” – it really wasn’t. I wouldn’t wish it on anyone.
  • I’m fond of telling people that I was Valedictorian, class clown, prom queen, and most likely to get pregnant.
  • new responses still being added…

March 5, 2013

Online Ordination Organizations Offer Sketchy Screening

Filed under: Church, education, ministry — Tags: , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 7:58 am

Wanna become an ordained minister in the next 24 hours?  If you do, the odds are that you’re doing it so you can perform weddings and funerals and enjoy the financial windfall that comes from officiating at those rites. Furthermore, a lot of people looking to do weddings are getting into the biz just so they perform same-sex ceremonies.

But what if you’re looking for something that at least suggests it might have credibility?

Decades ago, there was a classified ad in Rolling Stone where, for $2.00, I could become ordained in something I think was called the “Mother Earth Church.” On Sunday night, I was ready to respond to that, or any other solicitation if it meant acceptance into the secret club.

Well, one secret club. We were talking about how recently certain people had gained admittance  into a generally closed meeting based on some past certification and credentialing.

I have an unfilled wish to be in vocational ministry. And I also have a wish not to be in pastoral ministry. In many respects I am in full-time ministry, albeit absent the paycheck. I should be content with that, right?

But it goes unrecognized. Even the church I lay-pastored for nearly two years was never officially sanctioned by the clergy establishment of that town. I don’t want to perform weddings. I don’t want a title. I just want to see people in lay-ministry recognized for what they do. Without having to learn the secret handshake.

So I spent an hour online researching various Evangelical Christian groups that recognize the work people are already doing. Originally out of frustration. Just to dream about this was the most energized hour of my entire week. There are some good organizations that aren’t looking to make a fast dollar, and want to see some kind of statement of faith and testimony before they ship you the certificate.

My calling from God?  It’s in the mail.

And then there was this one, which got me as far as starting to click on some online forms. For this one, you had to establish a login, create a password and… well it was the verification hint that got to me:

Online Ordination Form

…And here’s the thing: I’m pretty sure the right answer is squirrel.*

For those who don’t get the last line…

* One Sunday a pastor was using squirrels for an object lesson for the children. He started, “I’m going to describe something, and I want you to raise your hand when you know what it is.” The children nodded eagerly.

“This thing lives in trees (pause) and eats nuts (pause)…” No hands went up. “And it is gray (pause) and has a long bushy tail (pause)…” The children were looking at each other nervously, but still no hands raised. “It jumps from branch to branch (pause) and chatters and flips its tail when it’s excited (pause)…”

Finally one little boy tentatively raised his hand. The pastor quickly called on him. “Well,” said the boy, “I know the answer must be ‘Jesus’ … but it sure sounds like a squirrel!”

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