Thinking Out Loud

March 18, 2017

Parents to Kids: We’re Called to be Different

A lot of modern Christian parenting consists of making sure when your kids arrive at the age where they are making choices, that they avoid the pitfalls which have brought down many a young life. Usually mentioned are promiscuous sex and the varieties of drugs and alcohol. Many of these messages come across as “Don’t do this;” “Don’t do that;” Don’t ever let me catch you doing…;” and “I never want to hear that you…” (I think the wording of the last two needs some refining; it could suggest a workaround is possible if one doesn’t get found out.)

Better, I believe to say to your kids, “We follow Christ. We’re different from the world.” The NLT rendering of Romans 12:2a (and The Living Bible before it) has always stuck with me:

Don’t copy the behavior and customs of this world, but let God transform you into a new person by changing the way you think.

For a certain period of my formative faith years, I kept running across the phrase, ‘Maintenance of a Separate Identity.’ You don’t hear it much these days, and when I ran it through a search engine it took more than 30 results before I found one in a Biblical context out of the 70-odd results located. (Most of the results were in reference to ethnicity and nation.)

John White, in his book Flirting With the World, relates his experience growing up as a boy in the 1950s. He tells us that his church knew what worldliness was back then: lipstick, make-up, short skirts, bobbed hair, wedding rings and jewelry, movies, and church kitchens. Then he makes this statement: “Church leaders who fought the liberalizing trends of education, affluence, mobility, and urbanization may have pitched the battle in the wrong places, but you can’t fault their instincts. They knew that something vital was at stake: the maintenance of a distinct identity.[source]

If you’ve ever read Leviticus and wondered, ‘Why, oh why all these obscure rules and regulations?’ the answer may be found in God’s desire to see His people maintain a distinct identity; to be distinct from their surrounding neighbors. Why not wear garments woven with two types of fabric? I think there’s a lot more going on there than what appears on the surface, but it’s part of that unique characteristic God wanted his people to have. Why wear tassels on their garments? I believe it’s again, identity; perhaps a precursor to the days when soldiers in The Salvation Army would don a uniform to be highly identifiable in a larger culture.  The old KJV at 1 Peter 2:9 calls us “a peculiar people;” the NIV translates that as “God’s special possession.”

The idea of distinction is seen in the context of God’s revelation to Moses, and in turn his declaration to Pharoah as to what was planned for the final plague that will bring about their release from captivity:

Ex. 11:6-7 There will be loud wailing throughout Egypt—worse than there has ever been or ever will be again.But among the Israelites not a dog will bark at any person or animal.’ Then you will know that the Lord makes a distinction between Egypt and Israel.

On the surface, this is saying that the morning after, it will be clear that while the firstborn of all of Egypt’s families will have perished, the firstborn of all of Israel’s families will have survived. It demonstrates a difference that has always been despite the years of assimilation that have come before Moses’ mission to liberate those people.

So we tell our kids, “The world does their thing and we do ours. We are citizens of a different world. We intersect with the world constantly, but we’re following a different, though parallel script.” Or something like that; your kids may need that in simplified language.

In Matthew 13:30 we read how it is possible for there to be a people of God existing in the greater world but how God knows who is who:

Let the weeds and the wheat grow together until the harvest time. At harvest time I will tell the workers, “First gather the weeds and tie them together to be burned. Then gather the wheat and bring it to my barn.”‘” (NCV)

 

 

March 11, 2017

New Zondervan Childrens’ Bible May Undermine Faith

If I could spend five minutes in the board rooms of some of the publishers in the Christian book industry, my message would be, “Anticipate your critics.” Why release products that simply feed those who think their agenda is to actually undermine the Christian faith?

A few months ago I had a visit from someone far more trained in apologetics than I. We got talking about the various things published about Noah’s Ark and how few of them would be considered theologically accurate, either in terms of the text or the illustrations. 

He also said that we have to really avoid the temptation to talk about Bible stories. In a child’s mind, a story may or may not be real. Ditto the word tale. While it’s a bit above some kids’ pay grade, the term he liked is narrative. In other words, ‘Here’s how it happened…’

Any English speaker knows that “Once Upon a Time…” is simply code for “It didn’t really happen; but let’s pretend.” If you’re talking about the parables, then by all means. Jesus begins his parables with “A certain man…” which amounts to the same thing. But the parables are only a small percentage of the whole of scripture. “Once upon a time…” consigns the whole Bible to realm of fiction. It puts it on a par with fairy tales.

So that’s why this particular NIrV Bible, releasing this month from Zonderkidz, has me very, very concerned. Did they anticipate their critics? I don’t think so.

March 7, 2017

Unequally Yoked: Advice Not Taken

dating-tipsWhile going through boxes of old books, I came across a 1962 publication by Back to the Bible Broadcast, Dating Tips for Christian Youth. Though only 64 pages in length, the booklet has no less than five authors dealing with the following topics at the length indicated:

  • Relationships with parents, 11 pages
  • Making sure you date the right person, 17 pages
  • The myth that “everyone is doing it,” 8 pages
  • The dangers of physical intimacy, 6 pages
  • Committing to a single person to date, ie. “going steady,” 11 pages

In other words, the chapter given the greatest weight in this 55-year old title has to do with the Biblical principle of not being “unequally yoked” which was and still is generally interpreted in this case to mean that Christians should not date non-Christians.

I have not spent a lot of time reading more recent books either written for teens or for people in youth ministry, but I would like to think this is still a rather important theme. Trying “unequally yoked” at CBD did not produce any youth titles, and “dating a non-Christian” only revealed a 2002 IVP booklet. On the internet however, “should a Christian date a non Christian” revealed 12,800,000 results. The phrase “unequally yoked” brought 345,000 results, and just to be sure I checked every one of them. Or maybe not.

Still, I’d like to think that youth pastors continue to advise the tweens and teens to make lifelong connections through church, youth groups, Christian concerts, church-based summer camps, and yes…with certain caveats…on Christian dating sites. In other words, not necessarily at school, their part-time job or, once they reach the legal age, at a bar.

So…

…I have to wonder if Christian kids grow up hearing this message over and over and over and over again, why is it that each week, in the context of my work, I hear the despairing voice of a parent lamenting that their teen or twenty-something is dating, is engaged to, or has married a non-believer. There are no words to describe the disappointment these moms and dads feel when, after a lifetime in church, their son or daughter has made a decision that they feel is the opposite of every core value they tried to instill in them on the subject of choosing a mate for life. Often, for this or other reasons, the relationship is currently in crisis.

The thing is, when a male and a female live together or get married (a choice that needs to be the subject of a different article) if one of them is not a Christian, while it’s sometimes the case that the non-Christian is willing to check out their partner’s church, the greater preponderance seems to be that both stop going to church.

recessive-faithI know nothing about biology but I remember hearing someone using genetics to explain how blue eyes are a recessive trait and as blue eyed people continue to crossbreed with non blue eyed people, the number of blue eyed people declines. I sort of feel like church attendance and faith commitment are recessive traits and as theological mixed marriages take place, we see the decline in church attendance and/or people identifying as Christian.

In other words, there’s more at stake than just the underlying reasons why Paul makes the statement in 2 Corinthians 6:14, though the context is quite broad and marriage is not mentioned specifically. (If you’re in a business partnership with an unbeliever, the principle would appear to apply equally.)

What’s at here stake seems to be the future of the church.

 

December 29, 2016

The Opposite of Infant Baptism: Why Evangelicals Opt Out

This article was a link list item two weeks ago, but I found myself thinking about it somewhat continuously since, and last night it came up again at the supper table. The writer blogs at Patheos under the banner Troubler of Israel but I’m otherwise unfamiliar with his work.

I’ve quoted this in full, though you are strongly encouraged to read it at source and join the over 300 comments; just click the link in the title below. The only difference here is that I’ve placed one paragraph in bold face type which I believe deserves special attention.

The Real Reason Evangelicals Don’t Baptize Babies
by G. Shane Morris

Friends (especially those expecting children) ask me with surprising frequency why I believe in infant baptism. For a couple of years, I replied by giving what I think the best biblical reasons are. But I usually don’t take that route anymore, because I’ve realized that’s not what convinced me.

For most evangelicals, what stands in the way of baptizing infants isn’t a lack of biblical evidence, but an interpretive lens they wear when reading Scripture. That lens–shaped by revivals, rugged individualism, and a sacramental theology untethered from the church’s means of grace–makes conversion the chief article of the faith. We should expect this, since American evangelical theology was forged on the frontier, in camp meetings, to the sound of fire-and-brimstone preaching.

For Evangelicals, this is the far more familiar image which comes to mind at the mention of the term 'baptism.'

For Evangelicals, this is the far more familiar image which comes to mind at the mention of the term ‘baptism.’

The core assumption here is that you must have a conversion experience to be saved. You must turn away from a past life toward a new one, usually with tears and laments attesting your sincerity. And this view of Christianity works well in an evangelistic setting, where many have lived as open unbelievers. The problem is it’s an awkward fit when it comes to multi-generational faith.

Anyone who was raised in a Christian home and still believes in Jesus knows that there wasn’t a time when he or she transitioned from “unbelief” to “belief.” We were never “converted.” It was simply inculcated from infancy, and for as long as we can remember, we have trusted in Jesus for the forgiveness of our sins, whether we were baptized as a baby or not.

But because of the baptistic emphasis on conversion, many (if not most) raised in those churches found ourselves “converting” over and over, reciting the “sinner’s prayer” at countless altar calls during our childhood and teenage years, certain that each time, we were truly sincere, but always finding ourselves back at the altar. Some of us even asked to be re-baptized upon our fresh conversions. And everyone raised in evangelical churches will know what I mean when I say “testimony envy,”–that real and perverse jealousy you feel when someone who lived a nastier pre-conversion life than you shares their story.

This is where I think the chief difficulty with infant baptism lies, at least for American evangelicals. I don’t believe baptistic evangelicals really view their children as unregenerate pagans before their “credible profession of faith.” If they did, they wouldn’t teach them to say the Lord’s Prayer or to sing “Jesus Loves Me.” I think what’s really going on is a kind of alternative sacramentalism, where a dramatic conversion experience, rather than baptism, is the rite of Christian initiation.

Thus, children raised in this setting feel the need to manufacture tearful conversions over and over to prove their sincerity. And rather than their present trust in Christ, they’re taught (implicitly or explicitly) to look back to a time, a place, and a prayer, and stake their salvation on that.

Infant baptism runs counter to this entire system. It declares visibly that God induces a change of heart and a saving faith in those too young to even speak or remember their “conversions.” It illustrates that the branches God grafts in to His Son aren’t sterile. They bud and blossom, producing new branches that have never drunk another tree’s sap. And most importantly, it matches the lived experiences of believers’ children, rather than continually imposing a system on them that was designed for first-generation converts.

Almost always, I see the lights come on after explaining this point to an evangelical friend. And in most cases, their acceptance of infant baptism isn’t far behind.

 

December 3, 2016

The Season of Anticipation

nativity-calendar-enhanced-2

 

I’ll swear I never heard the word Advent until I was in my 40s. Growing up Evangelical, that just wasn’t our thing.

Let me qualify that slightly. I visited a wide variety of churches. I’m sure the word was used, but I had selective hearing.

That same hearing challenge would come into play when I worked in a Christian supply store. It took the first dozen occurrences to differentiate between whether the customer wanted an Advent calendar or Advent candles. In the first few years, either way, the answer was no. We didn’t have them.

I learned later the nuances of this particular season. Some would argue the season is best expressed in the carol/hymn O Come, O Come Emmanuel.

O come, O come, Emmanuel
And ransom captive Israel…

O come, Thou Rod of Jesse, free
Thine own from Satan’s tyranny…

O come, Thou Day-Spring, come and cheer
Our spirits by Thine advent here…

I think you could make an equal case the ideology of this season is expressed by the old Heinz Ketchup commercial that was based on Carly Simon’s song Anticipation.  Or better yet, this later one from 1973.

The context (of Advent, not the commercials) is Israel awaiting for a coming Messiah. Perhaps for those with young children, it’s more of a Will Christmas ever get here? vibe.

advent-candlesA few years in we did Advent calendars with our own children. Not the ones where you open a window and there’s a chocolate inside. Give me a break! There was a verse for each day and a definite focus on the true Christmas story. The story of Simeon (Luke 2) also works well with children, as his life was only made complete by seeing the child, the Salvation of the Lord.

A few years after that I started noticing Advent candles in churches that were Christian & Missionary Alliance, Pentecostal and event Baptist. The word had spread, literally.

…Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel
Shall come to thee, O Israel.

Another “anticipation” hymn always comes to mind here. I prefer it to the Welsh tune “Hyfrydol” which is also used for other lyrics, and one I consider among the finest musical settings Christianity has produced.

Come, thou long expected Jesus,
born to set thy people free;
from our fears and sins release us,
let us find our rest in thee.
Israel’s strength and consolation,
hope of all the earth thou art;
dear desire of every nation,
joy of every longing heart.

Born thy people to deliver,
born a child and yet a King,
born to reign in us forever,
now thy gracious kingdom bring.
By thine own eternal spirit
rule in all our hearts alone;
by thine all sufficient merit,
raise us to thy glorious throne.

And that’s where we leave it today. If you’re Evangelical like me, and Advent is a foreign word that “those Anglicans and Catholics use,” I hope you’ll pursue a discovery this season of something that can only enrich your understanding of what you currently call Christmas.


Related Resources:

November 29, 2016

Growing Up in a Porn-Saturated World

22 Ways Your Kids’ World is Much Different Than Yours

kid-at-computerLongtime readers here know that adult content on the internet was once a more common theme here. Despite some publisher interest, when the book project didn’t move to the next steps, I moved on to other activities. What would have been very much needed at the time is now more widely covered by other writers, both in print and online. Plus, it’s a topic I no longer wish to be strongly associated with.

Nonetheless, I’ve continued to watch a certain aspect of the topic if only from a distance; that aspect being to try to gauge what is happening to kids who have simply always had access to graphic images of people clothes-less and/or involved in various types of sexual activity.

The world has changed. I believe this is one of the most important articles I’ve written, and I hope you’ll share this with others.

Here, in no particular order, are things I believe every parent needs to think about. I’ve put keywords in bold face type for those who find this longer than most posts here.

1. They have way too much unsupervised time after school. With both parents working, there is often two to three hours from the time they reach home to the time the parents arrive for dinner. Not at your house? Then perhaps at the home of the friend they head to after classes end. Unless they’re playing after-school sports, or are diligent at working at scholarship-level rates on homework, parents often are unaware where the idle time might take their children. This is an important factor in several of the items which follow.

2. They have experienced an utter and complete loss of sexual innocence and mystery which was not common to previous generations. Heck; I still feel there are dimensions to sex which I don’t fully understand, not because I lack the general knowledge or intellectual capacity, but because I grew up at a time when it was all meant to be mysterious. But they grew up with access to all the videos they needed to demystify every possible human sexual activity and all their variants. Fact is mom and dad, they could probably answer some of your questions.

3. Many of them believe that what isn’t intercourse isn’t sex. Maybe we can (indirectly) credit Bill Clinton’s “I did not have sex with that woman” for that attitude. So even within the church (or maybe especially within the church) we have a very high per capita rate of technical virgins who actually have an incredibly high degree of sexual experience.

4. It gets worse: For many sex is simply only sex; in other words, it’s not such a big deal. They might see your views on politics or environmentalism as a more powerful reflection on who you are as a person than your virgin/non-virgin status. The now-considered-quaint notion that teens should “want their wedding night to be special” is becoming as outdated as the notion of a wedding itself.

5. Which brings us to the point that whether consciously or sub-consciously, many assume they will have multiple partners in their lifetime; even among kids in Christian families. (I should qualify here and note that “the divorce epidemic” predates the internet, though the net has been an agent for what I term accelerated social change, something we’ll deal with again in a future article.)

6. They see themselves as sexual beings. There is a strange phenomenon right now where pre-teen and teen boys remove their shirts for their profile pictures on Facebook or Twitter. (A good place to remind everyone that younger ones are not officially allowed to have FB accounts; but we know that guideline isn’t always followed. The magic number is also 13 on Instagram, Pinterest, Tumblr, Reddit and others.)

7. They have full access to everything online with a data-plan enabled smart phone that you have on your computer. The notion that the kids need to be sitting in front of a PC or laptop in order to access the Internet’s dark side is somewhat outdated. They aren’t looking for 42-inch picture quality, instead they’re exploring and discovering a new, exciting world of possibilities.

8. They live in a world where sexuality is fluid, but fail to foresee that the present fluidity means there could be future fluidity. Kids on the fringes of traditional, mainstream sexuality see their LGBT-etc declarations to be permanent and greatly resent adults or friends suggesting that their views or attractions may change when they get older. (There may be an element where pride — in the more traditional meaning of the word — prevents them from recanting of previously categorical or dogmatic statements about the tribe with which they have the greatest affinity.)

9. They are empowered by the choices of sexual or gender identity. They get to pick and choose who they are off the rack in the same way they choose the colors and patterns of the cases for their phones. In the wrong body? That’s easy, there are drug therapies and surgeries to fix that. (This takes place even within church communities or even Bible Colleges; many youth workers are aware of people who were or are currently in their group who are undergoing gender reassignment; most also have at least one or two youth who are pushing boundaries.)

10. In all probability they have been photographed naked even if they took the picture themselves and immediately deleted it. For some it may be a body-image obsession and for others it’s simply something silly to do with that surplus of after-school time mentioned earlier. The cell phone camera is the new mirror and the unclothed image isn’t subject to any particular fashion trend or wardrobe budget.

11. Even among Christian kids there is a compartmentalization of the sacred and the profane. For example they may not see a contradiction in an actor or actress being photographed nude while wearing a cross. Many church tweens and teens live a double life, being a different person at home and youth group than they are at school or at their part-time job. In a way, that’s nothing new, but many church tweens and teens are also living a blended life where they opt in some of the Bible’s moral teachings but not others.

12. While they know some online images aren’t safe for school or home, they fail to realize that through constant exposure to the images, their worldview is being totally reprogrammed. Their opinions on everything from premarital sex to incest is subject to whatever online websites have been allowed to influence them.

13. Their sources for advice and counsel are often online forums. Rather than seek out their parents, youth pastor or guidance counselor; they are more likely to converse about vital life issues with people on chat rooms and forums, which means in many case they are getting peer counsel only; they are essentially sheep without a shepherd.   

14. Sadly, they are not particularly impressed with information about societal norms in previous generations. When their parents speak of life in the ’80s or ’90s, you might as well be describing the 1880s or the 1790s; to them it’s all ancient history and is therefore somewhat irrelevant, unless they need to know to understand a novel which is part of the literature exam.

15. Many of the ones who are sexually active are not likely to stop. As is often heard concerning this issue, once escaped it’s almost impossible to put the genie back in the bottle. 

16. Some of those who started early being sexually active are already sexually bored and are therefore looking at alternative sexualities, fetishes, or even asexuality. (Can’t help wondering if recruiters for convents and monasteries might want to note that last one.)

17. Underlying some of the sexual acting out is the fact that many of them of hurting. Their lives are not the Leave it to Beaver or The Brady Bunch type of lives of past generations. Many have had friends die — probably more than you did at their age — through accident, illness, criminal activity or at their own hand.  Others are broken by a home life that involves being passed around like a football due to joint custody arrangements, or suddenly sharing a bedroom (and a life) with a step-sibling as a result of a parent’s remarriage. For others, it’s the pressure of academic life which can start in the junior high or middle school years. Sexual activity provides a distraction or a release from those pressures.

18. Their sexual decisions may be taking place in atmosphere fueled by alcohol or weed. The latter, while now legalized in a small handful of U.S. states, is available everywhere even to kids at a young age if they are determined to gain access. 

19. Because of their access to all types of video files, their desire is to emulate what they see in triple-X-rated videos or what they read about celebrities doing. Whereas in past generations a kid might dream of being on stage or on television or recording an album like their entertainment industry idol, now their wish is to do all the things their idol is reported to have done (and by implication, get away with it on some level and continue to enjoy a career and a generally good reputation.) 

20. For some of them the catalog of possible sexual activity is like a bucket list and they want to experiment and see what they like; what works for them and what doesn’t. Furthermore, if you’re still harboring ancient stereotypes, this is as true for girls as it is for boys. (Increasingly, boys will talk about being raped by a girl; the language wasn’t extensively used that way in the past.) Some of this activity starts at an early age, with much taking place at weekend parties, though there are many possible venues. 

21. Many tweens and teens are at a point where they feel no need to cover-up; there is no sense of modesty. Someone once said that humans are a unique species as we are the only ones capable of blushing. That unique characteristic is slowly disappearing. 

22. Finally — and I know some of you have been reading through the whole list wondering where this one was — they may have been abused. There may have been one incident or many which means there are no sexual frontiers to protect and everything is fair game, especially if they are now in control. Conversely, their abuse may have very much diminished their self-worth propelling them into a pattern of increased sexual activity.

…I know there are some people who will read this and feel things are being overstated, said too generally, or that the whole point of this is to paint a ‘the sky is falling’ type of panic. That’s not the intention. I’m open to have people quote studies proving that things are no worse now than they’ve been in the past. I doubt that’s the case however, and I’ll come back to the topic of accelerated social change here in the future.  

What I do hope is that for parents, grandparents, neighbors, teachers, concerned friends I’ve raised some topics here that present a clearer picture of what’s being evidenced online in various formats and platforms. 

So what do we do? Many times people who try to put the brakes on a trend that seems spiraling out of control are simply laughed at, even within the church. ‘You can’t stop that; it’s inevitable;’ is the response heard so often, an echo of a previous generation’s, ‘Kids will be kids.’ 

Whatever my response or your response, it has to begin with awareness.

If you’re a parent whose children are not going down this road right now, be very thankful; but also be aware that some kids simply repress sexual thoughts and actions and then everything explodes when they enter college or university. I would say that you need to have some conversations, but not have others. The advice of Song 8:4, “Do not awaken desire before its time;” is useful here, but there is also a place for warning — Book of Proverbs style — your kids what is going to happen down the road of life. That seems like a good place to reiterate some text which has appeared on this blog many times:

no vacancyOur kids hated road trips. We would get to a city, walk into a motel, pull out our coupon book, and then be told that due to a soccer tournament, there were no motels with openings anywhere within an hour radius. Back to the car, hungry, hot, tired, and another hour’s drive.

Later on, we discovered the joy of planning destinations ahead, and making reservations, though by that point, the kids were older and opting out of our excursions.

Their road trip phobia later turned into an interesting object lesson.  I told them that somewhere in the future, they will find themselves in situations that will tempt them to compromise their principles, or do something foolish and unsafe. We said that like our motel example, they need to pre-book their choices. That way they won’t regret something done in the heat of the moment. Decide now what they will and won’t do.

November 1, 2016

Decompression

After weeks of running re-purposed content and ‘borrowed’ articles, it was good to see the blog get its groove back this weekend with five days of great pieces starting last Thursday. I hope you’ll take some time to look at what myself, Clarke and Aaron have posted lately.

If I had to define what I thought my life would look like after my mother’s death, I would probably have defined the period leading up to that day as one of intense stress followed by a great deal of relief (for her and us) when it was over. For more than two decades, my life — and thereby the life of my wife and kids as well — has been partially defined by the drama of dealing with my parents’ health issues. While we didn’t wish their death per se, I know that in my mom’s case she was ready to go, and her funeral was more a celebration of her life than a time of mourning.

However…I am finding myself in the rather strange space of trying to adjust to the new normal. I can only describe this period as a type of decompression.

decompression

This weekend we went on a retreat with some people from a local church. It was their Holy Spirit Weekend as part of Alpha, but it could have been anything; a romp through the genealogies of the Bible, or a 3-day study on Leviticus; we would have jumped at it no matter what it was.

For most people reading this — and especially other bloggers — this type of activity is normal, but for us, it was something that was relatively impossible; especially in the last 3 years.

I am an only child. That is part of the challenge. I have spent the last couple of decades acutely aware of living in the sandwich generation. Our two boys did not get the best parenting I might have delivered apart from the family circumstances.  On more than one occasion, their own aspirations for some activities or events have been directly thwarted by another scene in the continuing drama that marked our lives.

I walked around the grounds of the Bible conference and retreat center between Alpha videos thinking, this is normal for some of the people with whom I’m attending this event. It has not been normal for us.

During the prayer time, the pastor prayed for me to experience joy. I’m not sure if he knew this empirically or supernaturally, but the prayer, “I just want my joy back;” has been on my lips many times in the last few months.

But you don’t just switch some feelings off and switch other emotions on. This may take some time.

 

September 27, 2016

The Music Store and the Career Path: An Analogy

Filed under: Christianity, parenting — Tags: , , , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 9:08 am

My son recently graduated from university and opted to move back to the city where the school is, in the hope that beginning a life there will be more fruitful than in our small town. The problem is, he graduated with two majors and a minor — writing, theater, and theology — and doesn’t really know which one to focus on.

Meanwhile we were at a music store on Saturday where I was wandering around from room and…well…I quickly wrote him this email, which I present to you relatively unedited.

guitar-inventory-2On Saturday afternoon we went back to Cosmo Music which is one of the largest musical instrument stores in the world.

We walked in the keyboard room first, and I thought, “I’m a keyboard player.” There were so many things I wanted to test out.

But then we wandered through the back and into the brass room. There was a baritone horn that reminded me so much of the one I played in the Junior Band at the church I attended all through my teens. I thought, “I’m a brass player.”

But then we went back toward the lobby and a kid was being fitted for a shoulder support for a violin, the type I should have had but never bought, and I thought, “I’m a string player.”

Next was the guitar room. I went to see what 12-strings they had; if any were like mine. “I’m a guitar player;” I told myself.

In the same area were the electric basses. Lots of five strings. Not cheap. Of course I thought, “I’m a bass player.” I want to try a 5-string sometime with a good amplifier.

But then your brother wanted to see the grand pianos upstairs. I used to work at Baldwin. They had high end instruments like this. Even the smell in the room was familiar. “I’m a piano player;” I figured I belonged in that room also.

On the way out, he asked about keyboard amps and we ended up in one of the little demo rooms. I was amazed at the things that came back to me being in that environment. I think I asked a few intelligent questions. Heck, “I’m a sound guy.”

And then it hit me.

The store was a microcosm of the choices you are now facing. You’re an actor. You’re a writer. You’re a student of philosophy and theology. There are so many choices.

But in the end, my walk around the store was a mile wide but only a few inches deep. I never really tried anything. We were there the better part of an hour and there was so much to see but I needed to just pick something and make that my focus; and if it turned out I sucked at 5-string bass, I could always come back another time and reacquaint myself with re-issued Arp Odyssey synthesizer in the keyboard room. But the arena of choices was so large that I was overwhelmed by it all, and more to the point I hadn’t gone with a specific purpose.

I know it’s hard to choose something at the expense of everything else but I would say this: Pick the most amazing thing that could happen, get on a bus, go to wherever it is people do that and walk in the door… That’s all.


Image: I believe this was taken at a guitar store in either Lansing, or Grand Rapids MI.

September 5, 2016

The Problem of Resource Engagement

Filed under: books, Christianity, parenting — Tags: , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 6:31 am
Christian parents in particular have never had so many resources available to build spiritual formation in their children

Christian parents in particular have never had so many resources available to build spiritual formation in their children

One of the recurring themes in my 9:00 to 5:00 world is a challenge to people, especially men, to be readers. There is a great need in families for children to observe and thereby have memories of their father sitting in a chair reading. I’m not picky on this; I’ll settle for a newspaper or magazine.

Reading separates us from the animals. I know this firsthand, as my cat was never much of a reader, and the one time I owned a dog, while he seemed enthusiastic about books, he would prefer to chew a book’s cover over cracking it open.

Technology has contributed to the erosion of the English language. Spell-check simply substitutes what the computer believes to be our intended words, and since nobody proofreads, nobody notices. Texting doesn’t even try for words. Children are over-stimulated, and a book simply can’t compete with visual media. Our attention spans have dropped to levels so low, it as though everyone has a measure of ADD…

…But this weekend, as I thought about this further, I realize that we’re also in the middle of a crisis involving resource engagement, especially in the church. There was a time we would talk about the buy-in factor. The church would have a special presentation on a weeknight, and the congregation would be encouraged to be there, but attendance was sparse. There would be a special project on the weekend, but few would sign-up. There would be a conference or retreat scheduled, but registration would be low. The special speaker brought a carton of books for sale, but only a handful of people would drop by his table.

We probably have more resources available to us than at any time in history.

And yet, our resource engagement, on a per-capita basis is probably the worst it has ever been. The books and DVDs sit on supplier shelves. Only a few people use the church’s sermon media to catch up if they miss a service. Parents don’t even begin to scratch the surface on the Christian education resources available for their children…

…Enough cursing the darkness. How do we light a candle? How do we increase the buy-in? How do we get Christians to realize the wealth of resources that is available to them which they are basically ignoring and not utilizing? How do we ignite and fuel the passion?

Any suggestions?

 

 

 

 

August 12, 2016

To Christian Parents of LGBTQ Children

Yesterday we linked to a blog post by John Pavlovitz and last summer we featured his writing at Christianity 201, which we’ll probably do again soon. But this time I want to present an article in full because — and I hope John agrees — I want to make sure all Thinking Out Loud readers get to see this. I know there may be readers who may not agree 100% with everything here, but below is the link to the article. You can read it at source, and I’ll turn off comments here so that you may respond there.  Also, if this issue hasn’t come home to roost at your church, be assured that it will happen.

Christian Parents of LGBTQ Children: The Church Has Been Wrong

by John Pavlovitz

Christian Parents out there with LGBTQ children: I see you.

I see your held back tears and the weariness you wear and the weight upon your shoulders.

I hear you when you tell me how difficult this all is. I hear you when you talk about your frustration. I hear you when you share your stories of tears and humiliation.

I hear the grief in your voice when you talk about the faith you used to have or the prayers you used to say or the church where you used to feel welcome or the God your child once believed in.

I hear you when you say you feel like a failure—and I want you to know that you haven’t failed.

Your children haven’t failed either.

The Church has failed you.

It is the Church, not you who have been wrong:

If the Church ever made you feel like you had to choose between loving God and loving your LGBTQ kids, the Church was wrong.

If the Church ever made you believe that your children couldn’t be both gay and Christian, the Church was wrong.

If the Church ever forced or pulled your child out of a ministry position he or she loved simply because of their gender identity or sexual orientation, the Church was wrong.

If The Church ever caused you to resent your son or your daughter without realizing it, the Church was wrong.

If the Church ever shunned your family with silence or forced distance upon you because of your desire to love and accept your children fully, the Church was wrong.

If the Church ever caused a fracture in your friendships or your marriage or your family, the Church was wrong.

If the Church openly embarrassed your child by name on social media or from the pulpit or to the congregation, the Church was wrong.

If the Church threatened you with Hell for choosing to defend your children from its cruelty, the Church was wrong.

If the Church ever told you that you and your child could pray away something that was the truest part of who they are, the Church was wrong.

Now The Church for you, may be a pastor or local church staff you know well. It may be a group of people in your faith community you used to call friends. It may be a denomination or organization. It may be a high-profile Evangelist. It may be a callous, hateful stranger on social media.

Whatever the source of the damage done to you in the name of Jesus or on behalf of God, I want you to know that these people didn’t have the consent of God when they did these things—and I’m sorry that they’ve done them.

I’m sorry for every pastor, priest, preacher, Sunday School teacher, worship leader, small group member, sign holder, bullhorn wielder, or pew sitter who ever became a barrier between you and your children, or between your family and Jesus.

Christian Parents of LGBTQ KidsThey were wrong.

You deserve better.

Your children do too.

These words won’t undo the damage or repair your relationship with the Church or give you back all that you’ve lost, but maybe it will make you feel less alone, maybe a little more hopeful, maybe a bit more sane.

Maybe this apology, even if it’s not the one you need or deserve, will bring some peace.

Your children, as you’ve always known or are just beginning to remember—are beautiful.

They are deserving of your pride and your celebration and your bragging on them. They are deserving of joy and lightness and laughter, and I hope they have these things in great abundance for the rest of their lives.

I hope you never let the Church when it is wrong, temper your love for your children, your confidence in your own worth as a parent, or your belief in a good God who completely adores you and them.

If you ever need a pastor who will say the words your family should have heard from a pastor long ago, you know where to find me.

Be greatly encouraged today.

 

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