Thinking Out Loud

May 18, 2020

‘Worship Leader’ Should Never Have Been Made a Paid Position

Today we have a guest post in which I agreed to allow the author to remain anonymous. Agree or disagree? Comments are invited. (Where the author responds, it might appear in the comments as a forwarded email under my name.)

The other day, a Facebook user on a worship music user group (there are several out there) posted a rather long-winded, tritely worded and somewhat repetitive rant on how modern worship music songs are getting longer and longer. The writer had, with quite deliberate irony, was illustrating (cleverly, some thought) how it may be a problem. In the rant, they had cited some worship song on YouTube from a prominent ‘song-mill’ that was about 15 minutes in length.

The irony was apparently quite lost on most, as I couldn’t help notice that it wasn’t long after the post that the majority of the post’s readers came at the writer with knives, daggers and claws out! I watched as the comments began to mount, one atop the other, calling him/her out as a ‘Karen’ (slang for a privileged white woman in her middle age who also happens to possess a cheesy bobbed haircut) and slagging him/her for such a negative post.

I think the writer had had enough of the responsive negativity, because when I went to comment, the post had been pulled.

I feel for this person, as I too am a worship leader who has been watching popular Christian worship music shift toward longer and leaner (light on originality and variation) songs, seemingly in attempts to foster a true ‘worship experience’ for attendees, esp. in the larger churches and gatherings. (If you’re reading this in the COVID-19 era ca. 2020, it’s even further irony that none of the above-noted protracted worship services can even be considered or thought of as reasonable for online church services as most social gatherings are suspended or restricted.)

Because ‘the times, they are a changing’ (showing my age much?) my team and I were ‘passed over’ for worship leadership in our former church when the pastor decided to go with this new model, figuring it would attract the younger generation. Hymns and songs older than 10 years? Out. Long ‘basking sessions’ of post-rock style worship with choruses that repeat over and over again til eye-rolling commences in even some of the young in attendance?  In.

But the post questioning the present state of Christian worship music and the visceral reactions from several worship leaders forced me to remember something.

Being a worship leader (particularly in the U.S.) for very many, especially in the very large mega-churches, is a paying gig.

Now I’m well aware that in the New Testament the itinerant or local preacher was paid for his pastoring (and ancient documents like the Didache back that up) but are we supposed to continue in this present millennia with the Jewish traditions of the Levite tribe for that which should really be volunteer work? Didn’t the apostle Paul – a roaming preacher of the Gospel – also have a regular job to cover his expenses to set an example and to never give the church a reason to say, ‘Well, if he weren’t getting paid, he’d not be teaching this newfangled doctrine!’ Yet, he affirmed that the ‘ox shouldn’t be muzzled while treading out the grain’ as well. But worship leaders? Where does it affirm in Scripture that worship leaders are to be paid for their singing/playing songs in a church?

I strongly feel that because many worship leaders are being paid (sometimes ridiculous amounts – I have a chart someone made somewhere that shows their average salaries), they are beholding to their craft, their worth and probably feel impelled to stretch out their song-playing – make the worship ‘experience’ a huge thing in order to justify or validate their salaries or church’s budget.

And maybe this is why Christian music now is so redundant, repetitive and long-winded in character. It was quite interesting to see how some of the folks who blasted the Facebook writer for questioning song-lengths and incessant stanza repetitions ran to Psalm 136, because it clearly shows the repeated phrase ‘His love endures forever’ and which, of course, justifies their 10-20 minute song audience-winder-uppers. The thing is, I can read/recite that particular Psalm in about 2 minutes flat reading aloud at an easy pace!

Another defense tossed about was, “You gotta go with the Spirit. If the Spirit moves, you gotta keep on going.” I am looking for a reference that occurred in the later days of the early church that shows that song-worship went for extended lengths of time. Nope – found nothing. The disciples prayed while awaiting Pentecost. I’m sure they sang songs too, but prayer was the big thing going on and that was BEFORE the Spirit moved on them in a special anointing. Afterward? I see a lot of ministry and amazing signs and wonders at their hands, but no protracted singing sessions, except maybe for Paul and Silas in their jail cell. |(I guess if your hands and legs are bound and you can’t serve the Lord in any other way, you’d be apt to sing a lot too to both praise God in your difficult circumstances and to keep yourself from going mad from the isolation. But it’s worth noting that their songs we’re being heard by their fellow prisoners who were not saved Christians.)

Another justification many Facebook Worship leader group members came up with for their hyper-extended worship songs and praise sessions was, “Well, buddy, you won’t like heaven then – cause you’ll be worshipping God all the time there!”

“Well, okay then”, I would have retorted had I the chance, “let’s work toward not spending more time in service to the suffering and poor or attending to the needs of our families while living on this often demanding earthly plain and just dance before the throne 24/7 right now.” Nope nope… that’s not what worship is. Romans 12:1-2 tells us what real worship is. Songs, hymns and spiritual songs are to be integral to our lives in Christ, but the whole worship scene … tainted by cash-in-hand paid-for-performance worship leaders who have too much invested in their own net worth.

Lastly, with paid worship leaders, another serious issue can arise: the salaried worship leader will oft be inclined to do whatever he or she can to protect his or her gig. When this factor is in play it affords little opportunity for incoming talent from within the local church (or from churches elsewhere) to be utilized in the church for worship leading. The salaried individual holds all the cards, can get possessive or even jealous and feels threatened by abilities that rival his own. And what’s worse, the rival doesn’t want to be a burden to the church by getting paid for their musical offerings. What a racket!

Maybe Luther (if it was him who said it) was right when he said, “The devil fell from heaven and ended up in the choir loft.”


Image sourced uncredited at Worship War Weariness in 2014; the artist may be Dan Nuckols.


Related article: Becky Goes to Church (June 2018)

February 24, 2020

Worship Community Knows No Language Limits

Filed under: Christianity, guest writer, missions, music, worship — Tags: , , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 7:31 am

guest post by Ruth Wilkinson

Four Canadians got out of the cab and started walking up the short rise to the small wood frame church building. A hot day, for we gringos, especially dressed in button-up shirts, long pants, socks and shoes. Because it’s church.

We’d come a long way to be here. Maybe not as long a way as the people who every week walk 2 or 3 km down and back up the mountain, but still.

Having visited Cuba a couple of times before and enjoyed the tourist experience, we’d started wondering how we could actually connect with Cuban people. The staff in the resorts are all very nice, and they all speak some English. But they wear uniforms and it’s their job to make those who’ve ‘come from away’ feel at home. The resorts are not Cuba. We wanted to make and be friends with people whose concrete block and palm wood homes we’d driven past between the airport and the reception desk.

I also wanted to go to church. We’ve travelled a bit and seen some impressive old churches in Europe, but never attended a service abroad.

I asked a Canadian friend who had some experience with this for direction, and he put us in touch with a Cuban pastor who is also an area supervisor, overseeing the educational requirements of 26 other Pentecostal pastors. Between his basic English and my aptitude with Google Translate, we’d emailed arrangements for Sunday morning.

And here we were. Walking up to the door.

The walls are a single layer of palm planks. The roof is red ceramic tile. The windows have no glass, but horizontal wooden shutters against the rain in the wet season. Out through one, we can see the pit where the pig was roasted for our visit on Thursday. Through the door we can see a sheep grazing on the front lawn.

The foundation is a thick concrete pad rising up from the ground, and tiled indoors with the smooth ceramic we see on every floor. The pews are unfinished wood benches with squared seats and backs.

The room is decorated with flowers made from twisted strips of brightly coloured paper that hang within easy reach from the painted, rough timber rafters. Encouraging passages of Scripture are hand written on signs around the room. A list of upcoming birthdays hangs at the front above a shoe box filled with small, paperbound hymn books.

Here we were.

We’d talked ahead of time about the fact that we didn’t want to end up sitting in the front row, preferring the back or somewhere in the middle so we could see what was going on. So we could look around and ‘experience’ the service.

Yeah, right.

Stepping from the bright sun into the shady cool of the room, we saw that every seat was taken. Except for the front row, left hand side. A young man we’d met earlier in the week smiled a welcome and gestured for us to come forward and sit in the seats that had been saved for us. So, trying not to look put out, we did.

The pastor had arranged for a translator to be there on our behalf, but he’d been called in to work. He was very apologetic, but we were more or less on our own and, in the words of my eldest son, “We did pretty well. Between the 4 of us, we understood about half.” It helped that one of the young women who is a leader in the church ran next door to the pastor’s house and brought us each a copy of a parallel Spanish/English New Testament with Psalms and Proverbs. She grinned as she gave them to us, knowing we’d brought them ourselves to give to the church. So, that worked out well.

The congregation began to sing. Or rather SING! It was loud, rhythmic, joyous. What Pentecostals do best. With just a guitar and some percussion, they raised the roof. Between songs, people spoke or shouted phrases, most often–over and over–“Gracias, Dios!” Hands raised, bodies dancing. Some of the choruses we were able to catch on to because they were simple enough.

It occurred to me that, if someone were speaking in tongues I might not know. Unless it was English.

But I wasn’t feeling it. Standing at the front, trying not to look like I was peeking over my shoulder, I could see and hear the heart of these people. But it wasn’t reaching my heart. I said to God, “I know You’re here. But where are You? Where are You?”

There was a disconnect between my mind and my spirit. I had already started wondering why I was doing this. Why was I in this room right now? You’ve heard of eco-tourism and adventure tourism? I was thinking that maybe this was just poverty-tourism. Come see the poor people. See how they live. Take pictures of their jerry-rigged existence–their cardboard box bulletin boards, their picturesque cracked walls, the sheep in the parking lot. Think, “How quaint” and put it all on Facebook. Don’t worry about the fact that they’re human beings. They don’t have Facebook, so they’ll never know.

That was my frame of mind in the moment. Standing in church, looking at myself from a distance.

When the singing ended, the pastor turned to my family and asked (we all thought), whether we had enjoyed the music and the time of worship. We all nodded and said, honestly, “Si! Gusto, si!”

Apparently the question we answered was not the one he’d asked because he handed the guitar to my husband and gestured us to the pulpit.

Oh.

Oh, dear.

What songs do we know? What can we sing that isn’t going to suck?

My husband whispered, “How Great Is Our God?” Yep, OK, nods. We know that one well enough to harmonize.

1, 2, 3, 4 “The splendor of the King….” Away we went. We sang through the first verse and started the chorus. “How great is our God, sing with me, how great is our God…”

And suddenly… I thought, “Oh, there You are.”

People in the congregation started singing along in Spanish, “Cuan grande es Dios…”

There You are.

People whose names I don’t know and possibly can’t pronounce raising their hands…

There You are.

Eye contact and smiles and recognition…

There You are.

Speaking the same language. The language of a Kingdom we share.

There You are.

Somehow, I wasn’t a tourist any more. I was among family.

Before the service ended, these ‘poor’ people prayed for Canada. For revival. For Spirit power and fire.

They surrounded us before we left and all 42 of them gave us each a Cuban greeting. Cheek touching cheek, a kiss and “Dios te bendiga.”

And four Canadians walked back down the hill and got in the cab.

Dios Cuba bendiga. Gracias, Dios.

February 6, 2020

Beholder

Filed under: Christianity, guest writer — Tags: , , , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 10:27 am

by Ruth Wilkinson

It was hot.

I was tired.

That’s my excuse.

Late night, mid-summer. I was at camp, volunteering for the week and relaxing on a bench outside the main meeting room. The hall was well lit and I sat in darkness under an open window. Perfect for a little eavesdropping.

Staff were slowly coming and going as they found free time, but two in particular caught my attention. They were at the piano facing the open window by which I sat and their voices carried out to me. His camp name is Meatloaf. I have no idea why. He was senior staff that summer and played and sang in the praise band each morning. Her camp name is Joy for reasons which are obvious immediately on meeting her. She is legally deaf and wears two hearing aids that allow the rest of us to talk with her without having to learn her second language, ASL. Her experience of music is as much felt as heard and its expression more signed and danced than sung.

He had his guitar slung over his shoulder and had placed a chord chart in front of her as she sat at the piano. He showed her the names of the keys and told her to hit each note as he sang the word that was beneath it. They slowly progressed, haltingly, clumsily. He strummed a few bars, then stopped to show her which key to hit. She hit each in turn and held it ‘til he showed her the next. They worked through the song a couple of times, then laughingly gave up on it and he had to leave.

Joy stayed at the piano and began to play random collections of notes. No tune, no chords, just sounds. Then she started to sing. “O God, I love you! I worship you! Jesus, you are wonderful! I praise you, Lord!…” The notes she sang bore only occasional and coincidental relationship to the ones her fingers played. Her loud words carried the slur of the deaf speaker.

It had been a very long, hot day. I was looking for peace and quiet. I wasn’t enjoying what I heard, and began to wonder how long she was going to keep it up—“the noise,” as I thought.

That was when God smacked me on the back of the head, as he sometimes has occasion to do.

She’s not singing for you,” He whispered. “You don’t know what she sounds like from here.”

____

That half hour sitting in the dark has stayed with me because I learned two things:

The first: What grace looks like. Here were two people showing each other grace. Two people approaching common ground from vastly different directions. Two people with hugely divergent experiences and expressions of one and the same thing, trying to join forces to do something they both loved. Granted, what they produced was not going to hit the Top Ten any time soon, but as they patiently and graciously tried–as they gave each other space in a place they both occupied–it was beautiful.

The second: What worship sounds like. Joy wasn’t singing for me. She wasn’t singing for herself. She was singing because God has placed in each of us the need and the means to express what he’s shown us. Granted, the music I make when I play or sing should be my best. God deserves no less than that. But when I think that’s best isn’t as good as mine, I have forgotten that I don’t know “what it sounds like here.” Beauty is in the eye of the Beholder. Joy is in the heart of the Listener.

September 26, 2019

Local Church Initiatives: More Isn’t Better

Some background: On Tuesday I posted a brief article contrasting those churches which are programmed to death with those not offering enough avenues for engagement. You can read that article here.

That promoted this reader comment:

I’ve been involved as a leader in both “kinds” of churches…at one church, we had the philosophy that MORE ministries were better, in other words, it was like a smorgasbord of ministries that were available every week. The calendar HAD to be full. I constantly felt the pressure as a leader to fill positions, fund initiatives, provide space, and pressure people to be involved.

Then I started leading a church where the only ministries we had were the ones that “surfaced” within the Body itself…in other words, people who felt the leading of the Lord to begin a ministry, started them and “staffed” them with like-minded people they knew who shared their passion, I found so much freedom in that…and I found that the ministries took care of themselves better over the long haul.

I am now a firm believer in “less is more”…in fact, in most of the churches I’ve led since my “smorgasbord” days, the church has been healthier because we have allowed the Lord to lead us in birthing ministries instead of having a busy “template” for what church should look like. In fact, I think for most churches, they could let about 1/2 of their ministries “die” and they would be happier and healthier. The issue is giving people the freedom and encouragement to build their lives in the Lord IN the midst of their lives instead of forcing them to live the life we think they should live…one built around church activities instead of simply living for Jesus in the spheres of influence that is their daily life. That’s been my experience…

The comment came from Rev. Dr. Robin J. Dugall who describes himself as “Pastor, Professor, Musician, Teacher and follower of Jesus;” and writes at Spiritual Regurgitations. (see more below*)

Because of his insights with this, I invited him to expand on this…

More isn’t better: It’s exhausting and counter-productive

The editor of this blog started “thinking out loud” and, in the process, requested a bit more from a reply that I posted to “Volunteers Wanted.” This issue has been the story of much of my professional life in the Church. Without bringing up at all any thoughts regarding the differentiation between “volunteers” and those using their gifts in ministry as an expression of their unique Kingdom calling, I’ll wade into the invitational waters.

I never thought I would say this much less write it, but I’ve lived a good majority of my 65 years of life involved in some manner or form of “Church.” From parachurch ministries to outdoor ministries…from small congregational ministries to what used to be regarded as “large” church settings. Thanks to the Lord, I’ve never had the opportunity to live my Kingdom life within the sphere of the megachurch. There is a part of me that cringes simply imagining the intensity of financial and organizational pressure that goes along with the management of any large “company.”

As a “churchworld” (I’ll define that term below) leader, my responsibilities have ranged from that which would be regarded by some as the sphere of the Senior Pastor to the leadership of a plethora of “sub-ministries” including children’s, youth, music, small groups, leadership and theological/biblical development. So, in regard to this issue of “Volunteerism” and what it takes these days to not only “do” ministry but enable and equip Jesus following people to be responsive to the call of God upon their lives, I’ve had my share of experience.

I must say that I’ve made some drastic, strategic and, in my mind, God-honoring changes in my ministry philosophy over the past two decades. Much of those changes have occurred because of witnessing the futility and counter-productivity of the “more is better” mentality. I’ve been involved as a leader in both “kinds” of churches…at one church, we had the philosophy that MORE ministries were better, in other words, it was like a smorgasbord of ministries that were available every week. We operated under with the mindset that the “calendar HAD to be full.” Subsequently, it was. It wasn’t simply the fact that I was out of my home probably five to six out of seven nights per week, but we constantly felt the overwhelming pressure as leaders to fill positions, fund initiatives, provide space, and pressure people to be involved. The key aspect of the previous phrase is “pressure people”…and, trust me, that’s what happened.

When Christendom ruled, the belief stood that the Church should be the center of life. And, in some respects, Christendom did appropriately draw one’s faith journey into a rich life of worship, fellowship and encouragement in faithfulness. Yet what has occurred over time as many Christians have bemoaned Christendom’s demise is that a form of institutional tyranny arose in its place. The Church was no longer the center of culture, so Church people formed a hybrid (more of a mutation) of Christendom to take its place – something I call, “churchworld.” When I talk about “churchworld” I am attempting to put into approachable language some way to clarify the overwhelming, insatiable “hunger” of religious institutionalism to demand the whole of a person’s life and attention.

“Churchworld” is one-part theme park and one-part assembly line…one part “money pit” and one-part shopping mall. It is built upon the values of consumerism and utilitarianism – in other words, how can we get the most out of people in order to give back to people what we perceive they need. In my humble opinion, that’s what “churchworld” does…just as the price of a ticket to any Disney park has insanely and prohibitively increased in cost for day’s excursion, so has the “cost” in time, energy, money, and “personnel” of feeding the demands of “churchworld.”

My wife and I have adult children that are involved in “churchworld” ministries. They constantly give witness to the increasing demands for the totality of their lives to be focused on sustaining the institution’s strategy of ministry. They have shared with me the fact that many people who are their friends in the Lord have made it a habit to leave churches after a year or so simply because of the increasing burdens and demands of involvement. Once involved in feeding the “beast,” it is hard to back away graciously without risking the subsequent woes and grief given by overwhelmed staff. I would never coin myself as a predictive prophesy individual, yet it doesn’t take much forethought to see the coming fall of “churchworld.”

One of my favorite authors, John Kavanaugh compares Ancient Rome’s adherence to “bread and circus” (the book, Following Christ in a Consumer Society; John Drane says the same in his books on the McDonaldization of the Church) to that of “churchworld’s” fascination with entertainment and feeding/attracting the masses.

Contrast that experience with what happened in my life as a leader and fellow disciple when I started leading a church where the only ministries we had were the ones that “surfaced” within the Body itself…in other words, people who felt the leading of the Lord to begin a ministry, started them and “staffed” them with like-minded people they knew who shared their passion and sense of calling for that ministry. Some call this ministry strategy, “Organic.” Truthfully, that kind of language aptly describes what occurs in reality. The kingdom of God that Jesus described is viral, organic and, by nature, a movement. It grows where no apparent strategy or potential can be found…and it lives, not by human energy and ingenuity, but by spiritual mystery.

In the organic ministry realm, we are much more apt to be praising God for his leadership and fruitfulness in people’s lives than praising ourselves for the plethora of activities that we can effectively manage and multiply by sheer effort and relational intimidation. Personally, I found so much freedom living as a living “organism.” With that mindset, with a renewed embrace of the dynamic spiritual nature of the Body of Christ, I found that the ministries took care of themselves better over the long haul. For example, in my current congregational setting, we have a few teenagers who would benefit from a good youth ministry program. Now, I could for a ministry team, hire a youth worker and build an entire infrastructure to handle that ministry need…that’s the programmatic approach. Even so, we have no one in the church who is sensing the “call” of God to form another program.

In the past, I would have beaten down people in an attempt to build another program. I chose not to do that. Instead, I called a pastor friend of mine who leads another church in town. They have an amazing youth ministry program and have built a solid ministry strategy to disciple teens. I talked to the pastor; told him I was interested in “investing” the kids in our church into their youth ministry program. I felt that partnership was more important than simply duplicating what is happening right down our street (so to speak). I talked to the parents of the teens, the youth themselves and now they are loving what God is doing in their lives as they participate in that other church’s ministry.

Some might say, “well, aren’t you fearful that you will lose that family to that other church?” No, I’m not and if they did leave, I would bless them on their way. I’m not going to try to be “all things to all people” any longer. I’m not going to fear ministry partnerships…in fact, I want so desperately to affirm them.

Church, at least in what I read in the New Testament, has more to do with organic living than most people want to admit. I am now a firm believer in “less is more”…in fact, in most of the churches I’ve led since my “smorgasbord” days, the church has been healthier because we have allowed the Lord to lead us in birthing ministries instead of having a busy “template” for what church should look like. In fact, I think for most churches, they could let about half of their ministries “die” and they would be happier and healthier.

The issue is giving people the freedom and encouragement to build their lives in the Lord IN the midst of their lives instead of forcing them to live the life we think they should live…one built around church activities instead of simply living for Jesus in the spheres of influence that is their daily life. This explains why Jesus did not ask us to go and “make gatherings or churches or home groups or…” He did not ask us to go and “make house churches.” He said, “go and make disciples.” Discipling viral disciplers is the end game. This places YOU and ME squarely in the midst of reproductive life that the kingdom is intrinsically about. We become movement-starters not church-starters. We release disciples who will influence the world throughout their lifetime and beyond.

When we start “churches, communities, meetings, etc.”, our focus tends to be on the communal gathering—what to do, how to do it, what it looks like, etc. We may say to ourselves that we are learning to “be” the church but often our priority remains on developing the structure/form/institution. When following Jesus and inviting others to follow him becomes our focus (discipling viral disciples), we have to shift from the “gathering” mentality to the “lifestyle-going” mentality. This shift will propel us from being church-starters to movement starters (where churches and gatherings spring up along the way).

One more thought – consider “wiki-based ministry.” In other words, I desire to build a “Collaboration based” ministry environment. I believe that God is active in EVERY person so that our community creates meaning – our ministry partnership is a reflection of a descriptive process with no prescribed meaning; we fix us, no experts are needed; leadership teams and pastors are good but only one of the gifts of community. We believe in a distinctly relational ecclesiology. That is organic…that is a celebration of less is more.

 


*From his About page: “Currently, in addition to being an Adjunct Professor in Biblical Studies at Azusa Pacific University, he is a pastor of a faith community, Adjunct Professor at Concordia University (Portland, OR) and an instructor/mentor of the Missional Training Team for the Lutheran denomination.”

November 15, 2018

This is For All the Lonely People

Lorne Anderson is a Canadian living in Germany. This appeared on his blog earlier today.

Lonely People

Guest post by Lorne Anderson

As an introvert, I try my best not to overload on people contact. I need space and solitude.

I’ve come to the realization that is one of the reasons why learning German is difficult for me. It is not just that the language is hard, but I was also thrown into a classroom with a bunch of people I didn’t know and expected to interact. Tough to withdraw into your shell in a such a situation.

Despite my preferences, I understand the need for human contact. Living a solitary life isn’t healthy, no matter how appealing it is. When my wife wants to invite someone over, I usually agree. And enjoy myself.

I am introverted, but not shy. I have no difficulty standing on a platform speaking to thousands of people at a concert, as I have had to do from time to time in my radio career. But that is something that comes with the job, not out of my desires.

Most people, I think, crave human interaction far more than I do. And with the social changes of the past 50 years or so, people are getting far less of that interaction than they want or need. As a result, many people are lonely.

I suppose it was inevitable that government would step in to deal with the loneliness problem. The United Kingdom now has a Minister of Loneliness. I seem to recall hearing that other jurisdictions are introducing similar positions. To say I have mixed feelings about that is an understatement.

I applaud that the problem has been recognized, while at the same time decrying the solution. I don’t believe government has the answers to our problems; nor do I believe government is my friend. I’ve worked in politics; if I was lonely it wouldn’t be politicians I was turning to for companionship.

Dealing with loneliness may become one of the central issues of our time. We live in a world where it is increasing possible to be always connected to others through social media. In theory people should not feel lonely, surrounded as we are by so many others.

Yet social media does not bring with it intimacy. It may indeed discourage it. Your posts are there for the world to see. It makes sense therefore to hold back some of yourself rather than let your personality show, warts and all. After all, others may be judging you. Better to put your best face forward. But is your best face your real face? Do you trust people with the real you? And if not, does that holding back take a toll, isolating you and increasing the chances of being lonely. Just because there are always people around doesn’t mean that you have anything deeper than a superficial relationship.

Which is why I doubt that having a Minister of Loneliness can have positive effects, aside from providing jobs for some otherwise unemployable social science graduates (full disclosure – I am a social science graduate.).  Government no matter how well-meaning, isn’t going to find friends for me, or anyone else who needs them. If it tries, I suspect it would fail – despite data mining, it doesn’t know me that well.

At this point I could make some theological observations about human nature and being created in God’s image, which would be relevant but would also make this post longer than it should be. So, I’ll hold back on that thought, maybe for another day.

One basic observation though. I wonder if the cure for loneliness starts with cutting back on or even eliminating electronic communications? Maybe we would be less lonely as a society if we spent more time fact to face and less time face to screen.

It couldn’t be that easy, could it?

 

October 30, 2018

The Ten Commandments in the New Testament

Filed under: Christianity, guest writer — Tags: , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 9:42 am

by Ruth Wilkinson

A group of us decided recently to read Andy Stanley’s book Irresistible, which is the focus of some controversy right now. And, yeah, I found it somewhat challenging.

Challenge accepted. If my life is not to be governed by, for example, the Ten Commandments, but I know that they were there for a reason at the time, I needed to find out for myself how those principles and taboos turned up in the teachings of Jesus and in the letters to the early church.

Whether, and if so how, they were taught and exemplified by my brothers and sisters in The Way.

Here’s what I found:

***

You have heard it said:

Do not have other gods besides Me.

And?

  • Jesus told him, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me.”

John 14:6

  • From that moment many of His disciples turned back and no longer accompanied Him. Therefore Jesus said to the Twelve, “You don’t want to go away too, do you?” Simon Peter answered, “Lord, who will we go to? You have the words of eternal life.”

John 6:66-68

So?

I look only to Jesus, and through Him to the Father.

***

You have heard it said:

Do not make an idol for yourself, whether in the shape of anything in the heavens above or on the earth below or in the waters under the earth.

And?

  • If you want to be perfect,” Jesus said to him, “go, sell your belongings and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow Me.” When the young man heard that command, he went away grieving, because he had many possessions.

Matthew 19:21, 22

  • The God who made the world and everything in it—He is Lord of heaven and earth and does not live in shrines made by hands. Neither is He served by human hands, as though He needed anything, since He Himself gives everyone life and breath and all things.

Acts 17:24, 25

So?

I’m called to avoid worshipping things I can touch and shape, things that are created by the One who created me. Even when those things are in my bank account.

***

You have heard it said:

Do not misuse the name of the Lord your God, because the Lord will not leave anyone unpunished who misuses His name.

And?

  • Whoever welcomes one little child such as this in My name welcomes Me. And whoever welcomes Me does not welcome Me, but Him who sent Me.”

Mark 9:37

  • “I appointed you that you should go out and produce fruit and that your fruit should remain, so that whatever you ask the Father in My name, He will give you.”

John 15:16

So?

If I am called by His name, I act in His name. And in His name I welcome, embrace, grow and bear fruit.

***

You have heard it said:

Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy: You are to labour six days and do all your work, but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the Lord your God. You must not do any work.

And?

  • Then He told them, “The Sabbath was made for man and not man for the Sabbath. Therefore, the Son of Man is Lord even of the Sabbath.”

Mark 2:27

  • Come to Me, all of you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. All of you, take up My yoke and learn from Me, because I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for yourselves. For My yoke is easy and My burden is light.”

Matthew 11:28-30

So?

I’m not obliged to sit idle on a particular day, but a day has been carved out for me to be free to rest. And the greatest rest of all is to be found in following the one who calls me.

***

You have heard it said:

Honour your father and your mother so that you may have a long life in the land that the Lord your God is giving you.

And?

  • Show family affection to one another with brotherly love. Outdo one another in showing honour.

Romans 10:12

  • Pure and undefiled religion before our God and Father is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself unstained by the world.

James 1:27

So?

The family I find myself in, the family of the Church, is one in which I have the joy and the challenge of stepping back from my own self importance, and learning to serve, to honour, to elevate those around me. Especially the vulnerable.

***

You have heard it said:

Do not murder.

And?

  • “You have heard that it was said to our ancestors, ‘Do not murder,and whoever murders will be subject to judgment.’ But I tell you, everyone who is angry with his brother will be subject to judgment.”

Matthew 5:21-22

  • None of you, however, should suffer as a murderer, a thief, an evildoer, or a meddler. But if anyone suffers as a “Christian,” he should not be ashamed but should glorify God in having that name.

1 Peter 4:15

So?

To indulge in the luxury of hatred not only wounds those around us, it wounds us. We carry the name of Christ. And His love is our standard.

***

You have heard it said:

Do not commit adultery.

And?

  • But from the beginning of creation God made them male and female. For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two will become one flesh. So they are no longer two, but one flesh. Therefore what God has joined together, man must not separate.”

Mark 10:6-9

  • You have heard that it was said, ‘Do not commit adultery.’ But I tell you, everyone who looks at a woman to lust for her has already committed adultery with her in his heart.

Matthew 5:27-28

So?

Adultery is a broken covenant. A tearing of flesh. A death of the heart. I have no right to kill a living promise.

***

You have heard it said:

Do not steal.

And?

  • The thief must no longer steal. Instead, he must do honest work with his own hands, so that he has something to share with anyone in need.

Ephesians 4:28

  • But Zacchaeus stood there and said to the Lord, “Look, I’ll give half of my possessions to the poor, Lord! And if I have extorted anything from anyone, I’ll pay back four times as much!”

Luke 19:8

So?

Honest work is an opportunity to share my time, my ability and my earnings. A chance to err on the side of relationship and generosity.

***

You have heard it said:

Do not give false testimony against your neighbour.

And?

  • You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbour and hate your enemy.’ But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.

Matthew 5:43

  • Since you put away lying, speak the truth, each one to his neighbour, because we are members of one another.

Ephesians 4:25

So?

I put away dishonesty and speak truth, because my job is, as far as I am able, to love and to live in peace with my ‘neighbour’, which means everybody.

***

You have heard it said:

Do not covet your neighbour’s house…. or anything that belongs to your neighbour.

And?

  • Therefore I tell you, all the things you pray and ask for—believe that you have received them, and you will have them.

Mark 11:24

  • I know both how to have a little, and I know how to have a lot. In any and all circumstances I have learned the secret of being content—whether well fed or hungry, whether in abundance or in need.

Philippians 4:12

So?

I stop looking around to see what I might be missing out on, and start looking up to the Father for what I actually need.

***

May 26, 2018

Offensive Jesus

Filed under: Christianity, guest writer — Tags: , , , , , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 8:00 am

by Aaron Wilkinson

I occasionally make trips into the downtown and pass by crowds of the homeless, mentally disabled, physically disabled, and otherwise down on their luck. I know I’m supposed to be compassionate but it’s difficult. Admitting that it’s difficult doesn’t change my responsibilities, but I acknowledge that I feel very uncomfortable around these people.

I also pass by smokers, drinkers, angry people, rude people, smelly people, and people who dress without any sense of modesty. They aren’t down on their luck, I think to myself. They aren’t victims of a broken world, they are irresponsible, stupid, immoral people. I start to get angry. I am deeply offended that people like that exist.

I only moved into the downtown a year ago. Before then I was a child in a good Christian home, later working the summers at a good Christian summer camp, and then going to a good private Christian university. I wasn’t completely ignorant of the ugly side of the human condition but I almost never had to think about it and certainly didn’t have to regularly face it.

Now it’s becoming more and more apparent to me just what scum human beings can be and as this becomes clearer and clearer another idea becomes more prominent in tandem – these people are made in God’s image and he loves them.

Matthew 25 tells us that, to Jesus, the way we treat others is the way we treat him. When I was re-reading this chapter, I was surprised to discover that I had forgotten a part of it. I remembered the parts where he talks about feeding the hungry, giving water to the thirsty, and clothes to the naked. That all sounds very good. But he also talks about visiting criminals and comforting them in prison.

So I’m to understand that God is so intimately connected with inmates (and who knows what horrible things they did to end up there) that I am to see them as the image of God and treat them as I would treat him? I previously thought I understood this but it only occurs to me now how scandalous – how offensive that idea is.

And it’s not just that. The entire story of Jesus is one big scandal. The rightful king of the universe gets born to a disreputable mother in a place where animals poop, condescends to be baptized by John (despite his protests), lives his life as a homeless weirdo, spends his time with corrupt government employees and adulterers, washes his disciples smelly feet like a servant, and then gets humiliated and killed. If I were to see this guy on my block, I think I’d cross to the other side of the road.

Imagine if some guy walked into your church, grabbed the baptismal font full of consecrated water for a holy sacrament, turned that water into beer, and gave it to the drunk guy outside. That’s sacrilegious. That’s the Marriage at Cana.

I am certainly not saying that Jesus isn’t holy and uniquely worthy of our absolute respect and devotion. In fact, I’m trying to say that Jesus is uniquely worthy of our absolute respect and devotion. Not the traditions, rituals, catechisms, etc. If I, who spent the first two decades of my life in Christian circles, can be suddenly jolted and upset by Jesus, then clearly it’s not enough to passively inherit a nominal faith. A living faith will upset you from time to time. It’ll offend you. If we’re in relationship with a real person and not a figure of our imagination, every now and then they’ll be someone we didn’t want or expect them to be. Then we have a choice to either walk away, or be uncomfortable for a while.

I am learning to see Christ in the people I would otherwise despise. It’s upsetting and I’m glad it is. It tells me I’m going in the right direction.

God is pure. God is morally perfect. God is worthy of our recognition, not in part but completely. And if I’m really after God, I have to recognize that one time he became really really unpleasant in order to make the rest of us unpleasant people, including myself at times, more like him.


Aaron — who looks a lot younger in the picture than he really is — describes himself as a bibliophile, language enthusiast, religion enthusiast, aspiring performer, and above all, a writer. This article appeared earlier this week at Vox Surrantis: The Voice of One Whispering. Used by permission.

May 12, 2018

If a Sermon is Preached in a Forest, and No One is There to Hear it… ?

Filed under: Christianity, guest writer — Tags: , , , , , , , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 9:16 am

by Ruth Wilkinson

…Boston was one of our most recent expeditions. Really interesting city (American history machine aside). Cool architecture, good subway, Chinatown, really easy to get lost, terrible maps, good food. Perfect. Some historic churches. Mostly for “freedom” reasons, of one kind or another.

We chanced upon one that really struck me. Not as old as some of the others, probably. No “Paul Revere slept through the sermon here” plaques. But a lovely red brick building, tucked away in one of the more serpentine neighborhoods. We climbed a few steps to a back door and found it unlocked, so we went in. Found ourselves in a foyer of sorts, creaky floored and unlit. There was another door in front of us, so we pulled that one open. Creak. Stepped to the threshold. Creak. Peeked through the door. Creak.

It was beautiful inside. Warm and hushed and soaring. Stained glass windows, old dark pews, draperies and candles. It smelled of polished wood and wax and flame and time and prayer. But we didn’t go in any further. We closed the door and left. Creaking all the way…

…You see, the reason why we left without really going in is that when we opened that inner door, we heard something.

Someone speaking. One voice.

One voice echoing through the room, over the pews, off the windows. The pews that were completely empty, the windows that were telling their stories to no one.

One voice, chanting in what might have been Latin. Reciting a text that no one would hear. Except the speaker and God himself. Because they were the only ones in the room.

As we left, we looked at the sign on the fence outside. “5:00 pm. Mass”. It was 5 pm. So the Mass was being said. Whether anyone was there to hear it or not. It had to be said.

Why? I have no clue. But it had to be said. If only to the antique pews and the priceless glass and the glowing candles and absolutely not a living soul. Haunted and driven by tradition. Disregarded by life and humanity.

…Church with a sermon and no congregation.

original article at GTI

October 14, 2017

Walking on Eggshells

Filed under: Christianity, guest writer — Tags: , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 6:59 am

Guest Essay by Ruth Wilkinson

I have to be very careful, sometimes. Careful who I talk about and how. What’s too private to discuss and what’s OK to share. I use initials that are randomly selected, or mean something to just me. Sometimes I forbear from using he or she, or take creative license, genderwise.

And not only when it’s about something negative. Respecting peoples’ privacy is important, not only because I don’t want to get yelled at or sued or ostracized, but because they’re people, after all, and I like them and care about them.

So this post is something I’ve given some thought to, and even as I’m writing it I’m not sure I’ll put it out there. If you’re reading it, obviously I decided to go for it. Otherwise, it’ll go into the “trying to figure out the world” file.

Our group hosted a ‘meet and greet’ in town for people interested in social and justice issues. We invited a great whack of folks who work for agencies, both government and independent, to come and tell us what they do and why.

Quite a few came, and we had about two hours of information, asking each other questions, explaining our areas of passion and concern and getting to know each other. Very cool.

A few days before the meeting, everybody on the team that planned it got an e-mail (we’re great believers in the Reply-All) from one of the newest members of the team. We’re just getting to know this couple and coming to appreciate their giftings and passions, and to find out how much they have to contribute.

So this e-mail from LA suggested that we should all pray and fast, if possible, on the day before, so we’d be open to whatever God had for us at the meeting. The idea was that maybe God wanted all of these community leaders and servants to get together in one room.

Very cool suggestion, of course. I felt a little badly that I hadn’t come up with it. I thought, after reading the e-mail, that I should have, though my job description as Figurehead is a little vague.

The response to the e-mail was universally positive and some of us said, “Count me in.”

After the meet and greet was over and a few of us were congratulating each other on how well it had gone, one person mentioned the e-mail and said wasn’t that great? How come none of the rest of us thought of it? We’d been planning the meeting for a couple of months and none of the old guard had said, hey, let’s pray.

And I’m like, yeah, really.

The other person said, “I read it and I’m all, yeah, absolutely, completely agree, but I didn’t have a folder to put it in, ya know?”

And I’m like, yeah, totally.

Not because we’d never fasted and prayed before. Not because nobody had suggested anything before.

Because the person who made the suggestion, who had exercised such spiritual vision, showed such leadership, who had reminded us all to pray and depend on God’s leading, is gay.

And for many of us out here, who have been told certain things and taught to see the world through certain lenses, receiving spiritual leadership from someone who is gay is a new thing. We don’t have a folder to put it in.

When I first met this couple, we got together for coffee to talk about what we do and how they might participate.

Around the same time, I ran into someone from a local church who’s been very encouraging and supportive of what we do and I mentioned our new team members.

That person’s response was, “I don’t have a problem with that, as long as they’re not in positions of leadership.”

I responded that we don’t really have that kind of a structure. That we don’t have an authority based org chart.

And, on the ground, we don’t. It’s very hippie-organic. We get together every couple of weeks and talk about what’s happened and what might happen and how we should respond to or proceed with ideas or suggestions or dreams. We function by consensus and it works quite well, since we’re all like-minded. Conflicts are over minor issues or semantics and either resolved quickly, or agreed upon with disagreement.

Everybody has equal opportunity to exercise their gifts, spiritual or practical (except nobody ever asks me to sing. Sigh.) and everybody has the chance to learn from each other and to teach each other out of invaluable experience where to step boldly and where the quicksand is.

For those of us who’ve grown up in and, for some, grown out of, trad evangelical church structures, the way we do things is wonderfully freeing and we don’t begin to understand why everybody doesn’t do it this way.

But it means figuring things out on the way. Like what do you do with the things that don’t fit into folders. Things you don’t have any previous definitions for. Like “gay Christian”.

Problem with chucking the folders is that you have no place to stick the labels anymore. They don’t stick to people. Because they’re, well, people.

They have hearts and hopes and they love and they belong or they don’t. Which mostly depends on how other people decide to react to them.

And all of a sudden, all of the theology and interpretation and shoulds and shouldn’ts aren’t so important and all that matters is “Love one another as I have loved you.”

Because all of a sudden, you’re wondering what it’s like to be a gay Christian, on the fringes of the church, and maybe, on the fringes of the gay community and you start to feel deeply glad to be on the fringes of the church, yourself.

Because otherwise, you might not have had the chance to get to know two very cool and lovable people.

And otherwise, who would have reminded us to pray?


©Ruth Wilkinson

July 10, 2017

If I Pray It But Don’t Live It

Yesterday and today we’re featuring the better writer in the family, my loving wife Ruth Wilkinson. This is a liturgical type of reading she wrote for our church service last week.

If I pray “Our Father”
and then fail to come to you as a child, trusting and learning –
Forgive me.

If I pray “who art in Heaven”
and then spend all my energy on earthly things –
Forgive me.

If I pray “Holy is your name”
and then, carrying your name, live unholy –
Forgive me.

If I pray “Your kingdom come, your will be done”
and then fail to listen for and obey your voice on Earth –
Forgive me.

If I pray “Give us our daily bread”
and then ignore the immediate and desperate needs of others –
Forgive me.

If I pray “Lead us not into temptation but deliver us from evil”
and then choose to go where I know I’ll be tempted –
Forgive me.

If I pray “Yours is the kingdom”
and then fight for my own rights and my own way –
Forgive me.

If I pray “Yours is the power”
and then live according to what my neighbours or friends or society might say or do –
Forgive me.

If I pray “Forgive me”
and then hold grudges and dig in my heels –
Lead me in your way.
Give me your strength, your grace and your love for those around me.

So that I can pray “Amen”.

“So be it.”

“Cost what it may, this is my prayer.”

Forever.

Amen.

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