Thinking Out Loud

April 13, 2019

Stories Can’t Change Lives if No One Reads Them

Filed under: books, Christianity, ministry, personal — paulthinkingoutloud @ 7:49 am

This “Bible Book Store” serves as a generic stand-in for our own. (I’m surprised Shutterstock doesn’t own this picture by now!)

Each week I work two days at the Christian bookstore that we own. By taking the two day shifts and working without pay I make it possible for the store to remain viable financially in a smaller market. Even so, the store is continuing to lose money. After filing this year’s tax return I fully expect Revenue Canada to tell me I either need to start working more weekly shifts or I need to shut it down.

The primary work that I do is done on my laptop at home. I don’t bring my computer to the store nor is there really a decent place to set it down — the store is that crowded — nor can the store afford Wi-Fi. Some work I do at the store consists of everything from merchandising and receiving shipments to emptying the trash in the washroom.

Business has been slow lately so I often pick up a random book off the shelf, open it somewhere in the middle and start reading. This time the book was Love, Skip, Jump, a 2014 book which Shelene Bryan did for Thomas Nelson.

She’s a good writer. The place where I had landed was a story about her volunteering to organize a community barbecue in a neighborhood in East Los Angeles she had always been told to avoid.

It was a moving story. There are similarities in it to situations that my wife has found herself in over the last decade in terms of ministry to the disadvantaged. At one point I got goosebumps as I was reading. At another point I felt tears welling up. Remember, I was only reading one chapter.

The book is a $4.99 bargain book in our store. It got chosen for stock among the hundreds and hundreds of books which have remainder status each year because the foreword was by Francis Chan who turned out to be Shelene’s pastor at the time. I don’t know that we’ve ever sold any copies.

I’m not sure where all of these books will end up after we close the store but it occurred to me that hers was a story which was moving me to tears but no one in my community might ever read. I thought how sad a situation that was; that such a powerful story is just sitting here for the taking at a reasonable price and yet no one will ever see or hear of it.

I don’t have a happy ending to this, I just think it’s unfortunate that we live in a part of the world where we have such a glut of print resources; instead we spend our time watching cats on YouTube.

Part of the reason I had time to pick up the book off the shelf is that over the winter I’ve had a real sense that we’re not immune from the circumstances affecting Family Christian Stores or LifeWay Christian Stores. Our store is also dying and there is a perfect storm of circumstances contributing to its death.

Amazon didn’t help the situation, but I remain unconvinced that the part of the market that it stole is actually represented by an equal amount of sales of the same types of products. My guess is that what many unsuspecting Christians are buying from them is a dog’s breakfast of doctrinal ideas.

As I write this my seven hour shift at the store is half over. So far I’ve had one customer and she is usually there waiting for me to open every Friday morning. I know the day can turn itself around, but sometimes it’s hard to pray; the reality seems to be so far removed from the desire.

When the kids were young we would have prayer time which would always include, “Please help the store to do well so that we can pay all the bills.” I realize now that’s not really the right goal. Through shrewd management we’ve been able to enter a situation where we actually are able to pay all the bills, but unfortunately cash position in and of itself is not an indicator a profitability.

My new goal would be, “Lord, please help us to be busy in the store so that the many stories contained in those books can be told to more people.”

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April 6, 2019

Press ‘D’ for Depression

Filed under: blogging, Christianity, health, personal, weather, writing — paulthinkingoutloud @ 9:00 am

The result of an image search for depression: This one seemed to sum it up best.

I haven’t been writing much here these last few weeks. The ideas come — sometimes I don’t write them down — and the computer beckons, but I either don’t write, or prioritize other writing, such as our devotional blog which continues to grow.

I’ve never been diagnosed with clinical depression. I’m still fairly certain that the textbook definition, which you can read about here, is not applicable. If those symptoms do apply however, be sure to seek help.

In my life depression has always been circumstantial. Change the circumstances, I’ve told myself (and God) and my outlook on life will change along with it.

As a result, I’ve tended to be judgmental or dismissive of those whose depression, not otherwise diagnosed as genetic, or chemical, or the result of family history, seems to be circumstantial like mine.

So you can imagine my response to Seasonal Affective Disorder, the acronym for which is, quite appropriately, SAD.

‘Spring is coming,’ I will say to myself and others, ‘Just a few more weeks and we’ll be basking in sunshine.’

But then this winter never ended. Spring never seemed to arrive. We changed to Daylight Saving Time but the environment missed the memo.

As I write this, on April 6th, a warmer day is forecast for my part of Ontario, but there are still clumps of ice by my front door (which is in shade) and at the end of my driveway. I can see some neighbors houses with some packed snow (caused by snow ploughing) which hasn’t fully melted.

There was no January thaw this year.

Our week in the Caribbean was literally over far too soon.

And no matter what scientists tell you, living in Canada as we do, we are convinced that 0°C is definitely much colder than 32°F.

Furthermore, we’re not compelled by family traditions or a hyper business-driven economy to be on the road when common sense dictates otherwise. Americans simply risk limb and life to get the family — or the packages — where they need to be. Canadians stay home where it’s safe and pour another bowl of chicken soup.

No wonder I feel sad. Correction: No wonder I feel SAD.

Then last week I got sick. Like many of our friends, we held our heads high saying, “I haven’t been sick all winter.” But then, as March was giving way to April, our bodies simply ran out of immunity before the weather ran out of cruelty. (“Forget this” was my immune system’s exact words.) After directing my physician yesterday to issue a more powerful degree of opioids [Note: This could foreshadow another column in about three months*] I finally got a few good hours of sleep last night.

Sleep is good. Sleep is needful. Sleep also wards of depression.

When Jesus saw him lying there and learned that he had been in this condition for a long time, he asked him, “Do you want to get well?”

So yes, like the guy in the John 5 story, I wish to get well. I want a sunny day, chasing the clouds away. I want to be walking on sunshine. I want joy, I want fun, I want seasons in the sun. (See, the codeine isn’t affecting me at all.)

I want a week of this (about 93°F for you non-metric laggards; 0 mm of rainfall is very approximately 0 inches of rainfall):

If the drugs don’t work, I may be forced to try chocolate.


*The opioid crisis is real. So why doesn’t my computer’s spell-check know the word? How can so many systems in my computer be updating so often, but the machine’s basic dictionary not know a word defining an urgent medical crisis in the First World? Anyway, I didn’t want anyone to think I was treating this lightly. If you know someone still taking the pills, or cough syrup, or whatever; long after the illness has left, they have a problem and need to seek help.

June 17, 2018

Teddy Bears Baptist Picnic

Church Picnic Potluck: If you don’t like salads, pasta or casseroles, there’s always desserts.

Today, after the worship service we’re going to a church picnic.

Not any type of church picnic however, a Baptist1 church picnic.

And we’re bringing a salad2.

Oh no! How did that happen? What have we become?

The church where my wife has been serving as pianist for the last four months is having their Church Family Picnic, and while I would normally be attending a different service3, being together on Father’s Day seems like the right thing to do; plus just showing up for the food doesn’t seem right…

So… I wake up in the morning and like you do, I’m thinking about the day ahead, and the song The Teddy Bears’ Picnic jumps into my brain.

And then I realize it.

This is where, in my youth, in my formative musical years, I developed a thing for songs which have key changes; especially songs where the verse and the chorus are in fundamentally different keys and it alternates back and forth.

So here, for your Father’s Day entertainment, is Anne Murray4 singing the song, followed by a recording of the original. If you read this early enough in the day, consider taking Dad out for a picnic lunch5.


1 If you know my part of the world, there are two dominant strains of Baptist here. The one — which we attended 20+ years ago for about 18 months — is the one more similar to the SBC. The one we’re going to is part of the denomination once characterized as moving in a more liberal direction, but definitely moving back to its more Evangelical roots. At least, I think that’s right.
2 It’s a pasta salad that looks like a casserole at a distance. We have several categories covered at once here, if need be.
3 They had their church barbecue last week. Nobody brings anything; they provide hot dogs and hamburgers, potato chips or nachos and a drink. (No desserts, however. Crushed ice and cotton candy for the kids. Sigh!) Planned correctly, a person could get on a circuit for these things in the month of June, and never need to make lunch. It’s not your church? What are they going to say?
4 If I were still doing things for Canadian radio stations, this would qualify as Canadian content, provided Anne recorded it in Canada, which I think she did. “CanCon” as it’s called here — which is in no way similar to ComicCon — requires that at least two of four factors be Canadian: Music composer, Lyric composer, Artist, Production. Arranged in a logo that sort of spells “maple,” the MAPL logo still appears on music product here, provided you can track down physical product at all.
5 Restaurants are a Mother’s Day thing, at least in my books. Better to make something special, eat it at home, and put less stress on the credit card or bank account.

May 22, 2018

Anniversary of a New Start: Are We There Yet?

Yesterday was a holiday Monday in Canada, and by about 9:30 PM, the local kids had used up their supply of fireworks. It was the silence, not the sound of bottle rockets, that reminded me of another May holiday Monday.

This one took place when I was 17. The impact wouldn’t be known until the next day, but on the Monday night, a beautiful young girl on our street was killed on the back of a motorcycle. My father came in my room on Tuesday morning and informed me of what he’d heard on the radio.

It hadn’t been a good weekend for me already. Clearly, my life was on a trajectory that wasn’t good. I had one foot in the church and one foot in the world and the gap between my feet was growing larger.

So I used Mary-Ellen’s death as a defining moment and decided, as the summer holidays came calling, to leave high school a different person and start college with a different focus, a better mindset, an attempt at cleaner living.

Which brings me to last night.

I don’t usually reflect on this on the May long weekend, but it occurred to me to ask — audibly — if I’m where I should be all those years later.

Clearly, my life was heading for a train wreck, and I’m considered a leader in the Christian community, and I’ve raised two fine boys who are serving Jesus, and I have several blogs, and lead worship and speak in churches, and… and… and…

But what about who I am? The inner life that few ever get to see?

Suddenly in the silence caused by the absence of fireworks, I had this sense that I’m not where I’m supposed to be; or at least being all that I could be. That I still have a long way to go. Most people, in a similar situation, would never admit this. But here we are…

…Sorry…it’s just me thinking out loud.

 

February 23, 2018

Ten Years of Thinking Out Loud

Today and tomorrow we’re celebrating ten years of this blog’s existence; ten years without missing a single day, as far as I can remember. Because the anniversary falls on a Saturday, I thought we’d spread this out over two days, but then again, we might take our cue from the wedding at Cana, and just let things go on for a week. Here’s some things gleaned from earlier anniversary notes.

Year Zero – The blog began in 2008 by accident. It was a continuation of a newsletter I was sending to a rather limited number (about 250) of people. Someone commented that they really didn’t like the newsletter itself, but they liked the little editorials I would add to it. I had a huge catalog of material to post so there were at least two items daily. In December, 2008, there were 70 posts. Not sure I could do that now.

Year One – Blogging was a big thing in within the Christian community in 2009. People were actively leaving comments all over each other’s pages and there were fewer trolls. Much of my best material was posted as comments on other blogs. There was a huge connection to whatever Christian publishing was releasing. Bloggers made many Christian bestsellers happen. As a book guy, I was now being flooded with review copies that had never happened in Christian retail, even though the stores need to sell the product for the system not to collapse.

Year Two On that anniversary I wrote, “I also want to continue to make this a blog for the ‘spiritual commoner.’ That’s the person who feels he or she has a real contribution to make to the life of their church, Christian fellowship or broader community, but isn’t as resourced as today’s modern pastor who, already equipped with both an undergrad and graduate degree, is still taking courses and jetting off to conferences.” In 2010 a lot of people were still on dial-up internet, so we were the blog that was kind to them and didn’t embed videos. We made up for it later.

Year Three – I began with, “I remember years ago participating in a discussion about the ’emerging’ internet where the main concern ran something like this, ‘How are they ever going to get enough content to keep those websites supplied with fresh material?'” I guess that problem solved itself. Thinking Out Loud enjoyed a good run in terms of blog stats due to posting things about the financial problems at The Crystal Cathedral and pictures of televangelists homes. No other blog writers found either interesting at the time, but if you needed to know Google was quite happy to send you here. Also noted, “Some of the best things that happen as a result of all this online activity are never seen online.” So true today as well.

Year Four – Blog anniversaries were routine by then, so I could be more whimsical: “On our stats page, ‘Akismet has protected your site from 294,600 spam comments already.’ I don’t know how that compares with the big boys, but I’m honored just to think that on 294,600 occasions Russian models and manufacturers of imitation European handbags found this particular blog so worth spamming. And while the rest of the blog stats may pale in comparison, just think how quickly they are about to rise now that we’ve used the phrase ‘Russian models.’”

Year Five – At the 2013 anniversary mark, I took time to mention the blog’s greatest spinoff effect: “And then there’s Christianity 201, which is very much a part of the Thinking Out Loud story. If you have trouble maintaining a steady Bible study and devotional habit, then start a Bible study and devotional blog. Seriously. Even if nobody shows up to read, it is its own reward…” I’m not the poster child for spiritual discipline, so doing this blog’s ‘little sister’ faithfully every day — even if some days I work on three articles at once — since April, 2010 has probably contributed to my own spiritual walk and, dare I say it, preservation. Christianity 201 is something I needed to force myself to do. A few days after that anniversary, I also joined Twitter.

At one time, blog counters were quite the rage, but you could rig the starting number before it kicked in.

Year Six – For 22 months, the Wednesday Link List became part of the Christianity Today family. I will always be grateful for that opportunity; it has always had, and still has, a stellar group of writers associated with it. In 2014, I wrote,”I still believe it’s a greater thing to make the news (in a good way, not the weird stories) than it is to simply write the news. But I don’t mind playing scribe if it means I get to choose some things I think are worth noting as part of each week’s passing scene… I enjoy simply giving away content here each day as long as people come by even though this, combined with my equally non-remunerative vocation was recently calculated to represent a loss of income over the past 20 years in the neighborhood of $1,000,000.00; The phrase “Do Not Attempt” should be at the bottom of each page.” This was one of my most candid posts, and one where I began to lament the situation whereby the blog has visibility and is read by people in many different countries, but in terms of local churches here, I’ve never been invited to the ministerial table. I still don’t get that.

Year Seven – I was becoming increasingly aware of the tribalism in Christianity at the same time I noted that, with some exceptions, blog platforms like WordPress were losing readers to short-form platforms like Facebook and Twitter. I also noted that, “I am forced to read the widest variety of Christian news and opinion pieces from a vast field of writers I might not otherwise consider. I may disagree totally with what they wrote Thursday and Saturday, but if they make some good points on Friday, I want to be able to celebrate that. I’d like to think that I am capable of sitting down for coffee with any writer who has trusted in the atoning work of Christ on Calvary for salvation. I do know that some of them might not want to reciprocate that. That is unfortunate and I believe grieves the Holy Spirit… I guess I’m just grateful for what this writing platform had done for my own Christian growth and understanding of the Church, the body of Christ. I’m also thankful for the books it compels me to read which enhance my understanding of God and His ways. And last, I’m thankful for you, the faithful readers whose page views and link clicks demonstrate a shared interest in these things.” That’s true today as well.

Year Eight – By design, I don’t talk much about my personal life or include pictures of myself here. Two years ago, I did a Q&A format anniversary article and attempted to fill in some blanks: “My beliefs are each rather hybrid in nature. On church government, I’m congregational but I believe in structure and accountability. On women in ministry, I am more sympathetic to the egalitarian position, but with a recognition of God-ordained differences between men and women. On eschatology, I believe ‘we see in part and we prophesy in part’ and that many of the models currently taught are still somewhat insufficient. On worship, I prefer doctrinal substance over empty emotion, but at the same time think that we can be passionate about God, about Jesus and about theology in general. On supernatural spiritual gifts such as miracles and tongues, I calculate that if 50% of the people are faking it, that means that 50% are having some type of genuine experience… Some doctrinal issues are above my pay grade. This is one of the few blogs that has risen to prominence that is written by someone who is not a pastor, not a seminary professor, not a local church pastor. I believe we can appreciate the complexity of a subject like substitutionary atonement or divine foreknowledge without having to dissect it, just as one can be a connoisseur of fine foods without necessarily being a great cook. If I can, in my lifetime, fully master just two things — incarnation and atonement — then I will have accomplished much.”

Most of our readers either love or hate the Wednesday List Lynx, Thinking Out Loud’s most recurring character. But he (or she; we’re not sure) wanted to wish us a Happy Anniversary.

Year Nine – Eventually you start repeating material, so last year I mentioned the value of all the books I have been privileged to review; the off-the-blog interactions; the development of the C201 blog project; but I began with, “First you guys have forced me to discover who I am. Yes, the various labels are annoying sometimes or a caricature of what people truly believe, but writing every day and interacting with such a broad base of news stories and opinion pieces have helped me clarify my positions on a variety of doctrinal subjects and crafting a personal theology. Thank you for keeping us among the top Christian blogs in North America.” (The anniversary post last year was a day late, because of the sudden impact of the Family Christian Stores closing. I do try to respond to breaking news, though not each and every story.)

Year Ten – Which brings us to today, or more accurately, tomorrow. Not sure what we’ll do. I would have liked to include some quotations, but most of what appears here only works well in its full, original context. Besides, that would be a bit narcissistic. If you’re away tomorrow, don’t forget March 7th is the 400th edition of the Wednesday Link List.

February 3, 2018

That Moment Where the Dentist Drills and Fills the Wrong Tooth

Filed under: Christianity, personal — Tags: , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 11:31 am

It didn’t seem right.

I wanted to say something, but I didn’t speak up soon enough.

So yes this happened.

It happened this morning.

It happened to me…

…Except it was a mechanic, not a dentist.

He was plugging a tire, not filling a tooth.

And I sensed when he pushed the plug in he was widening a hole that had not yet been created and was out by about an inch on the hole that the nail had caused which he had just been working on..

…Brand new winter tires, scarred for life.

And me? The emotional trauma. The horror of it all.

Not exactly the dentist, but equally disconcerting.

 

January 27, 2018

Today’s (Cough!) Blog Post (Cough, Cough!) is Late (Cough, Cough, Cough!)

Filed under: Christianity, health, personal — paulthinkingoutloud @ 9:57 am

My wife was kind enough to share her terrible cough with me. (To think I always say she never gives me anything.) After walking around for a week smugly congratulating my superior immune system, I capitulated to the inevitable and started coughing a few days ago. It certainly does help you to appreciate the healthy days.

She just left for choir practice. I’m not sure if she plans to just stand in the loft next to everyone else learning the music, or simply sit in an empty seat at the back with her sheet music. I hope she doesn’t give it to anyone else.

Before she left she asked me for a kiss, on the grounds we’re both sick now anyway. I took the Jon Acuff route and gave her a side hug. There’s something counter-intuitive about kissing someone when you’re coughing. 

Someone once told me that doctors don’t catch things because all of the exposure to dozen of sick people every day builds resistance, and the contacts tend to be short; tend to be fleeting. When you live with someone, it’s different.

As I’m typing this I’m having to go back and correct spelling on a larger-than-usual number of words. Tired I guess. Working the backspace key and thankful we’re not back in the days when a serious typing error meant having to insert a new piece of paper and start from the top of the page.

It’s interesting that WordPress has kept the strikeout strike-out option but removed the option to underline. (I had to do that through the text editor.) Am I rambling? Lack of sleep. Eyes hurting from staring at the screen.

So thank-you Mrs. W. for the lovely gift. Forgive me if at some point in the future, I give it back.

Which brings us to today’s homework challenge: Martin Luther’s 95 Theses as Early Example of Blog Post. Discuss. (Cough, cough, cough! Ouch!)

December 28, 2017

When Someone You Love is Ill

Filed under: family, personal, prayer — paulthinkingoutloud @ 9:22 am

 

Over the nearly ten years I’ve been writing here, I’ve covered many times the challenges we faced as a family dealing with the health of my parents.

Now the focus has switched from the generation above to the generation below. Over the past month, our youngest son has found himself dealing with undetermined digestive tract issues, and also intense anxiety. Needless to say, each condition probably is feeding off the other.

I’d appreciate it if you could pray for Aaron with respect to both issues. He just wants to get well so he can get on with serving Jesus through his life and work.

December 22, 2017

Claiming Bragging Rights

Filed under: Christianity, media, personal — Tags: , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 7:11 am

Something in the human psyche longs for connection with the rich and famous…or perhaps simply for bragging rights on Facebook.

This year I passed on a couple of opportunities to meet two authors for whom I have great respect. Both had books made into movies and at the end of the press preview for each there was a meet and greet where you stand in line and get to shake the person’s hand and tell them how much their writing has meant to you.

Don’t get me wrong, it’s an honor to be invited to these things and if they were a little closer, or ended at an earlier hour before the drive home, I would probably rearrange my schedule.

But I would be going for all the wrong reasons.

Basically, while I would have a memory of meeting them, they would have absolutely no memory of meeting me. That’s the simple dynamics of these things. It would not be that I “had coffee with” or “sat on an airplane next to” them; rather, the contact would be superficial, fleeting. Usually the takeaway from these things consists of two possible responses: “She was taller than I expected;” or “He was shorter than I expected.”  (Bonus marks I suppose for those rare times you walk away saying, “He had a very firm handshake.”)

We do have these experiences in our life as a couple. One time, just about ten minutes before going on stage, my wife gave a popular Christian singer a much-needed cough candy. (“Local woman saves performance by international musician…Film at 11:00.”) Every once in awhile his name comes up along with the requisite candy mention…

Had I gone to the film screenings, the result would have been quite simple: Bragging rights. I would have earned the right to say that I’ve met the person in question, and then presumably others would say of me: “You know Paul has actually met him. In person.”

There would be no exchange of business cards and personal e-mail addresses and I would not have heard, “That’s sounds interesting. Let’s get in contact at the start of next week.”

The event would, I suppose serve the intended purpose of increasing my passion with respect to that author’s books and movies. But that passion would have already been there for me to have traveled to the preview.

That said, I really wish it had worked out for us to attend both events. I regret that we could not make the schedule work A year needs some high points. Perhaps it’s about legitimizing what I do and the vocation that occupies my daytime energies.

Maybe it would be about telling myself, ‘I actually met him. In person.’

December 10, 2017

Deleted Content

Filed under: blogging, Christianity, personal, writing — paulthinkingoutloud @ 8:15 am

I bookmark articles I think will be useful to myself or to readers. Occasionally, I return to some of these only to find the writer has deleted that particular item. They continue to post daily, but I guess they want their site to reflect well on them, or perhaps they’ve recanted certain perspectives, or perhaps something that was quite current at the time is no longer relevant or even amusing.

The internet’s ability to be updated is both a blessing and a curse. I will often write an article, hit “publish” and then minutes after the subscribers got their copy, I’ll notice an omission, a spelling or grammatical error or a lack of citation. Some pieces are subject to constant revision over the course of the day.

A few of the earlier pieces here are perhaps a little embarrassing. I didn’t fully understand the nuances of an issue. I weighed in on an issue that was above my pay grade. I quoted a source I would not endorse today. I predicted an outcome which never took place.

But delete them? It never occurs to me. It’s what I wrote that day.

These things are called blogs because it’s an abbreviation for web-log. It’s like a diary. You wouldn’t rip out pages out of your personal diary just because…well…okay, some of you might.

We sometimes operate them more like websites than blogs, and at that point we lose the personal aspect. Yes, I have some training in journalism, but this is also my personal online diary. It contains the things I was thinking out loud that day.

Deleting content would be revisionist. To use a journalistic term: Stet. Let it stand. Leave it as it is. Warts and all.

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